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16th century depiction of nude witches. by Hans Baldung Grien

In Wicca and Wicca-based Neopaganism, skyclad is used to refer to ritual nudity. Many Wiccan groups, or covens, perform some or all of their rituals skyclad. While nudity and the practice of witchcraft have long been associated in the visual arts, contemporary ritual nudity is typically attributed to either the influence of Gerald Gardner or to a passage from Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches.

Gardner's Witchcraft Today was published in 1954. The book claimed to report on the contemporary practice of Pagan religious witchcraft in England, which had supposedly survived as an underground religion for centuries. Ritual nudity was included as a regular part of Wiccan practice, and remains associated with Gardnerian Wicca. The "Charge of the Goddess", a part of Gardnerian ritual liturgy, instructs Wiccans to practice ritual in the nude. Gardner spent several years in India, and may have picked up the concept from the Digambar Jains, a religious sect in which the monks and nuns may not wear clothing.[1]

The origins of this instruction have been traced to Charles Godfrey Leland's book, Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches.[2][3] The following speech by Aradia appears at the end of the book's first chapter;

"And as the sign that ye are truly free,
Ye shall be naked in your rites, both men
And women also: this shall last until
The last of your oppressors shall be dead;"[4]

Dr. Leo Ruickbie also notes that the traditional and artistic representation of witches cannot be overlooked as a source for nudity in Gardner's system, citing artists such as Albrecht Dürer and Salvator Rosa.[3]

Doreen Valiente, one of Gardner's priestesses, recalls Gardner's surprise at Valiente's recognition of material from Aradia in the original version of the "Charge" that she was given.[5]. Valiente later rewrote the "Charge", preserving the lines from Aradia. Valiente's version was then widely circulated and reprinted.

Accepting Aradia as the source of skyclad practice, Robert Chartowich points to the 1998 Pazzaglini translation of these lines, which read "Men and Women / You will all be naked, until / Yet he shall be dead, the last / Of your oppressors is dead." Chartowich argues that the ritual nudity of Wicca was based upon Leland's mistranslation of these lines by incorporating the clause "in your rites".[6]

Not every Wiccan coven practices skyclad, and ritual nudity is not exclusive to traditional Wicca. Other Neopagan traditions also practice skyclad. Amongst those groups that do, only some rituals may involve ritual nudity. The Arician tradition, as an example, practices skyclad for six months of the year, and performs their ceremonies in ritual robes for the other half of the year.[7]. Within, and especially outside of, Wicca, reasons other than tradition may be given to explain a preference for skyclad worship. Starhawk states in Spiral Dance, "nudity establishes a closeness and honesty among coveners and 'is a sign that a witches loyalty is to the truth before any ideology or any comforting illusions.'"

Notes and references

  1. ^ "Llewellyn Encyclopedia and Glossary: Skyclad". Retrieved 18 March 2007. 
  2. ^ Hutton, Ronald (2000). Triumph of the Moon. Oxford University Press. pp. 225. ISBN 0-500-27242-5. 
  3. ^ a b Ruickbie, Leo (2004). Witchcraft Out of the Shadows. Robert Hale. pp. 113. ISBN 0-7090-7567-7. 
  4. ^ Leland, Chapter I
  5. ^ Valiente, Doreen, quoted in Clifton, Chas (1998). "The Significance of Aradia". in Mario Pazzaglini. Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, A New Translation. Blaine, Washington: Phoenix Publishing, Inc.. pp. 73. ISBN 0-919345-34-4. 
  6. ^ Chartowich, Robert (1998). "Enigmas of Aradia". in Mario Pazzaglini. Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, A New Translation. Blaine, Washington: Phoenix Publishing, Inc.. pp. 453. ISBN 0-919345-34-4. 
  7. ^ " FAQ". Retrieved June 27, 2006. 

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