- a collection of essays on Neodruidic Studies
- a journal of Post-Reconstructionist Neopaganism

Thursday, September 16, 2010

On the "MAGICAL GARB" controversy...

A dialogue from those of us who at times wear “Ritual Garb” 
in private and public ceremonies.

Q:    " I don’t have to dress-up funny 
             to relate to my gods 
          and I think it’s,  well,  sort of dumb... 

"Seriously... I’ve always assumed it’s because most of the persons involved have grown up heavily influenced by the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) and/or fantasy role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. This is not supposed to be “role-playing”. What’s your justification for the costuming? "

A :     "Role Playing"?
 I agree with you that a significant proportion of the folks you see in “garb” at Neopagan events have been inspired by their exposure to D&D and the SCA and are just dying for any opportunity to assume a “persona”. To whatever extent that you and I are actually getting the same impression from the same folks, I honestly flinch and blush with embarrassment.  Yet, I do believe you are only partly correct...

Personal History and training? 
You see, for many of us, particularly the old-timers like me who started their personal magical practice in the 70’s , the motives for our preference for magical garb can have nothing at all to do with fantasy role-playing or the SCA/historical reenactment sub-culture.  Nothing at all. It is actually all about the books or teachers from which we received our initial magical training. It was something we were supposed to do to equip ourselves for doing magic, dealing with spiritual agencies, and, as a sign of our seriousness and piety to the gods we are approaching.

Q:   " So, I’m less magical or less religious 
          if I only wear street clothes in these contexts? "

A:     Priorities vs. Appearances... 
Well, yes and no. The garb is but one of an array of “tools” which the magician/priest uses to raise and sustain the states of consciousness necessary to carrying out a successful magical ritual. Yes, it is a form of stagecraft but it is more than that. On one hand the intention of context-specific garb is to increase our effectiveness by facilitating and sustaining magical states of consciousness when there is magical work to be done. On the other, the degree of one’s piety or reverence to the deities and other spirits does extend to the message sent by your appearance to any other practitioners present; if you give the impression to others, even unintentionally, that you don’t consider the deities or spirits as being “worth approaching in your Sunday-best”, the negative impression gets rendered anyway. This still happens every week at Christian churches when the occasional parishioner shows up in shorts and a T-shirt. It might be said that, like it or not, there is a gray zone to be considered here involving one’s priorities versus one's intentions versus the responsibilities generated by external appearances.

Strength or Weakness?
Nonetheless it is true that we should be aware that there can be a weakness in relying too heavily on external props. In our ADF groves we love finding and selecting just the right set of physical gear to compliment the various ritual actions and cultural motifs to be called upon in a rite. As a consequence sometimes we hear cautionary suggestions from our membership challenging us to, as an exercise, periodically do an entire ritual relying on no physical objects, props, garb or other external tools. We can learn much from this but still choose to use those props and tools as an adjunct, to increase our essential effectiveness.

- E.