Featured photo by Melissa Hansen. No Herbs Workshop this Saturday.
The sky is blue? The sky is blue! …well, at least in spots. 🙂 Thank goodness we’re not looking at the forecast for the lower part of the Valley. I have friends that live down there and they’re looking at dry thunderstorms and gusty winds with only a slight chance of rain, and that late in the night. Extreme fire danger and there are already a few going. Drop a few thoughts for the folks in the area in Perun’s ear today, that nothing goes too far awry. 63F, wind at 3mph and gusting, AQI12, UV7. Supposedly we got another 0.01 inches last night, but the next chance of rain is at the end of next week. …other than our usual aggressive mist that we get at night…. which is what we had last night.
Tempus went up to storage to drop off some things and almost right after he got back the phone rang that the papers were out. We still had one customer in the shop, and closed up as soon as they left. He headed for Newport without the shopping list and I went in back to nap.
I ended up not going on the route with him last night. I was really tired and crashed out long enough that he was on the last leg of the route when I woke. I’m still really tired, but coffee should be enough to get me going.
Today I *really* need to get the papers off of my desk. I need to agitate at Tempus to get the fridge re-set, as well, since I can’t reach anything and it looks like we’ve got some foodly things in there that have been sitting far too long. …and here comes a shopper. So goes my day.
Today’s Feast is in honor of The International Day of the World’s Indigenous People. This is observed on August 9 each year to promote and protect the rights of the world’s indigenous population. This event also recognizes the achievements and contributions that indigenous people make to improve world issues such as environmental protection. It was first pronounced by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 1994, marking the day of the first meeting of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations of the Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, in 1982. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Day_of_the_World%27s_Indigenous_People
Today’s Plant – The local larkspurs, delphinium trollifolium, and delphinium pavonaceum (which the Wiki article says is confined to the Valley, but I’ve collected out here….) are pretty flowers in shade of white, blue and purple. They’re called delphiniums after the shape of the nectary. More here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delphinium_trolliifolium and here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delphinium_pavonaceum Other names are Larksheal and Staggerweed – Feminine, Venus, Water – The flowers frighten away venomous creatures and ghosts. Sprinkle between your eyes and a Litha fire to keep your sight clear. Use in rituals to call upon Dolphin energy.
The shop opens at 11am. Summer hours are 11am-7pm Thursday through Monday. Need something off hours? Give us a call at 541-563-7154 or Facebook or email at firstname.lastname@example.org If we’re supposed to be closed, but it looks like we’re there, try the door. If it’s open, the shop’s open! In case of bad weather, check here at the blog for updates, on our Facebook as Ancient Light, or call the shop.
Love & Light,
Today’s Astro & Calendar
Waxing Moon Magick – The waxing moon is for constructive magick, such as love, wealth, success, courage, friendship, luck or healthy, protection, divination. Any working that needs extra power, such as help finding a new job or healings for serious conditions, can be done now. Also, love, knowledge, legal undertakings, money and dreams. Phase ends at the Tide Change on 8/15 at 5:29am. Waxing Gibbous Moon – From seven to fourteen days after the new moon. For spells that need concentrated work over a ¼ moon cycle this is the best time for constructive workings. Aim to do the last working on the day of the Full moon, before the turn. Keywords for the Gibbous phase are: analyze, prepare, trust. It is the time in a cycle to process the results of the actions taken during the First Quarter. During this phase you are gathering information. Give up making judgments; it will only lead to worry. Your knowledge is incomplete. Laugh. Analyze and filter. LOOK WITHIN. God/dess aspect: Maiden/Youth, but in the uncommitted phase, the Warriors – Associated God/desses: Dion, Dionysius, Venus, Thor. Phase ends at the Full on 8/13 at 5:29pm.
The waxing gibbous Moon shines with Jupiter this evening, as shown here. Jupiter, 40 times larger than the Moon, is 1,830 times farther away.
Jupiter’s own four big moons, roughly similar in actual size to ours, show as pinpoints in a small telescope or good binoculars; they’re lined up east and west of the planet. This evening you’ll find Europa to Jupiter’s east and Io, Callisto, and Ganymede to its west, counting outward. See the guide to Jupiter’s moons all this month, good worldwide, in the August Sky & Telescope, page 51.
Mercury reaches greatest elongation today, when it lies 19° west of the Sun and rises 90 minutes before our star. The innermost planet climbs 7° high in the east-northeast 45 minutes before sunup. The magnitude 0.0 world shines noticeably brighter than the twin stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux, which lie higher in the sky and point in Mercury’s direction. If you have trouble spotting the planet with your naked eye, scan the area with binoculars. When viewed through a telescope, Mercury shows a disk that spans 7.7″ and appears about 40 percent lit.
Uranus (magnitude 5.8, in Aries) is high in the southeast before the beginning of dawn.
Friday August 9th – Old Farmer’s Almanac – This month’s highlight: Mercury, the Fleet-Footed Messenger
Pass the sun-block!
Can’t you see,
It’s really bright,
Cried Mercury . . –Mr. R.’s World of Science (online)
Mercury ís brave
close to the sun
lost in its glare
how quickly it runs –Kamtime (online)
Poems devoted to the planet Mercury are few and far between, but they share common themes. They typically refer either to Mercury’s extreme relationship with the Sun or its speedy movement through the sky—or both. Mercury is closer to the Sun than any other planet and thus endures a surface temperature of up to 800°F. Sunblock, indeed! And Mercury is fast! It whips around the Sun once every 88 days, compared to our Earth’s 365 days. The ancient Romans noted how swiftly Mercury moves across the sky and named it for the fleet-footed Messenger of the Gods.
It’s a testament to the exquisite observing skills of ancient astronomers that they ever noticed Mercury at all. From our Earthly perspective, the innermost planet never ventures very far from the Sun; you have to know exactly when and where to look. One such brief window of opportunity occurs just before sunrise on August 9. That’s when Mercury reaches its Greatest Western Elongation—as far from the Sun’s glare as it ever gets. A couple of mornings before or after August 9 will still allow a decent view.
Consult the Almanac’s Sunrise and Sunset Calculator to find the time of sunrise for your location. Go outside 30 minutes before sunrise and look to the east-southeast, low in the sky. With sunrise not far away, the sky will be brightening quickly, so don’t be late! As our Sky Map shows, there are several bright stars in the area, in addition to the planet Mercury. Betelgeuse, Rigel, Procyon, and Capella are all approximately the same brightness as Mercury. Castor and Pollux, in the constellation Gemini are the bright stars nearest to Mercury, but they are both slightly dimmer than the elusive planet.
Exploratory spacecraft have visited Mercury only twice. In 1974–75, NASA’s Mariner 10probe made three flybys of Mercury, sending back the first close-up photos and discovering that the tiny planet has its own magnetic field, a finding that surprised researchers. Then, in 2011, NASA’s MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) spacecraft reached Mercury and went into orbit around it. MESSENGER spent the next four years collecting science data and making thousands of high-resolution photographs of Mercury. The MESSENGER photo reproduced on this month’s sky map shows how closely Mercury resembles the Moon, at least on its surface.
A third spacecraft is currently on its way to Mercury. BepiColombo is a collaboration between the European Space Agency and the Japanese Space Agency. The mission carries two separate probes, which will separate from one another once BepiColombo reaches Mercury in 2025.
Fortunately, you won’t have to wait that long to undertake your own exploration of Mercury. You merely have to wake up before dawn on August 9 (or thereabouts) to see the hot and speedy planet for yourself.
Old Farmer’s Almanac Sky map for August – https://www.almanac.com/content/sky-map-august-2019
Goddess Month of Hesperus runs from 8/9 – 9/5
Celtic Tree Month of Coll/Hazel, Aug 5 – Sep 1
Runic half-month of Thurisaz/ Thorn/Thunor, 7/29-8/12 – Northern Tradition honors the god known to the Anglo-Saxons as Thunor and to the Norse as Thor. The time of Thorn is one of ascendant powers and orderliness. This day also honors the sainted Norwegian king, Olaf, slain around Lammas Day. Its traditional calendar symbol is an axe. Runic half-month of Ansuz/ As /Os/, 8-13-8/29 – This time is sacred to the god/desses of Asgard and contains the time of the Ordeal of Odin and the festival of the Runes. This time is also referring to Yggdrasil, the Tree that give order to the Worlds. This is a time of stability and divine order visible in the world.
©2019 M. Bartlett, Some parts separately copyright
Celtic Tree Month of Coll/Hazel, Aug 5 – Sep 1, Coll (CULL), hazel – The hazel (Corylus avellana L) is the source of hazelnuts. It forms a shrub up to 6 m (20 feet) tall, inhabiting open woodlands and scrubs, hedgerows, and the edges of forests. The filbert nut in North American groceries is Corylus maxima, a related species. The European hazelnut is cultivated in North America, primarily as an ornamental. Hazelnuts are in the Birch family (Betulaceae).
Day High Tide Height Sunrise Moon Time % Moon
~ /Low Time Feet Sunset Visible
F 9 Low 2:45 AM 0.3 6:12 AM Set 1:12 AM 61
~ 9 High 9:03 AM 5.2 8:31 PM Rise 4:21 PM
~ 9 Low 2:19 PM 2.6
~ 9 High 8:34 PM 7.5
Affirmation/Thought for the Day – Sap from the maple tree flows faster before a rain shower.
~ I know we can’t abolish prejudice through laws, but we can set up guidelines for our actions by legislation. – Belva Lockwood (1830-1917) US attorney
~ It is possible to have aesthetic emotions and not have human emotions. – Alfred Orage; ‘On Love’
~ Let everything happen to you. Beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final. – Rainer Maria Rilke
~ If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost. That is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. — Henry David Thoreau, ‘Walden’
The sun drew off at last his piercing fires.
Over the stale warm air, dull as a pond
And moveless in the grey quieted street,
Blue magic of a summer evening glowed. – Lascelles Abercrombie (1881–1938)
So it is spring in the Northern Hemisphere, and my U.S. and U.K. brother and sisters are entering the time of life and warmth and growth, while those of us in the Southern Hemisphere enter the long dark of winter.
It occurred to me to wonder – how many Pagans will celebrate Beltane sky-clad this year?
Before I venture into this topic further, a note for anyone reading this that is under the age of 18: no serious group, coven, priest or priestess, or teacher of a Pagan tradition will ever invite you as a legal minor to participate in a sky-clad (i.e. naked) ritual. Apart from one scenario that I can think of (which I’ll discuss below), that is a big red flare signal that this person is a PREDATOR. If you find yourself in that situation, I suggest a polite “sorry, no”, and getting the heck out of there. If they’re blocking the exit, kick them in the nuts as hard as you can. Then, go tell the Police. What you wear (or not) as solitaries, of course, is your business.
That out of the way, let’s talk about getting naked. Naturally, there are all kinds of Pagan traditions that don’t work sky-clad – this post is mainly about Wicca and witchcraft. These traditions (for the purposes of this post I will use the terms ‘Wicca’ and ‘witchcraft’ fairly interchangeably) have a well-established history of employing ritual nudity.
A bare-bones history of ritual nudity
Ritual nudity isn’t just a Pagan oddity: all kinds of religions, particularly of the esoteric variety, have used ritual nudity at some point in their history. In my book, I demonstrate that early Christians in the Roman Empire were baptized in the nude. The historical evidence for this is very strong, although they were simply doing the same as other Mystery religions of the Mediterranean during their initiatory rites. This isn’t even in the Top 10 of the conveniently-forgotten facts concerning the origins of Christianity, but for more details you’ll want to purchase my book.
Carvings and inscriptions on the Khajuraho temple in central India reveal nudity (and sexuality) as part of the religious life of pre-Aryan Dravidic culture earlier than 1000 BCE. In Ancient Greece, the witches of Thessaly were depicted as working naked, and groups of young women who went into the woods for celebrations and rites of passage may have danced naked under the moon. Maenads, women who were devotees of Dionysus, reputedly roamed with little regard for clothing, arousing the ire of more orthodox priesthoods. A sect of Christian heretics, Adamites, preached nudity, claiming that this was necessary to achieve Salvation and return to the innocent state before mankind’s ejection from the Garden of Eden.
The art of the Middle Ages often depicted witches in a state of undress – this is partly explainable because pre-Renaissance artists who wanted to depict the nude form frequently had to appease the sensibilities of the Catholic Church. Depicting nudity in the context of diabolic depravity was a politic way for artists to satisfy their creative imperative to study the nude form. Also, confessions of accused witches often mentioned nudity, although this may reflect the warped sex- and sin-fuelled imaginations of their interrogators. Accused witches were commonly stripped during interrogation and torture – again, as I point out in my book, this was one of the only instances where celibate priests could legitimately view a naked female body. And of course, folk-magic and cunning craft employed by ordinary people for attracting love and/or fertility naturally enough sometimes involved nudity. Or for more diabolical purposes: a centuries-old local legend of Wiltshire in England has it that one who wishes to summon up the Devil should go to a particular oak tree in the Savernake Forest on the midnight of a full moon, undress, and dance around the tree thrice.
All of this may help to explain the traditional association between nudity and witchcraft. It is not confined to Europe: a number of African cultures cite nudity out-of-doors at night as a sure sign that a woman is a witch, while in India, holy men who live as ascetics in the forest and master ‘siddhas’ or psychic powers through Yoga often live ‘digambara’, which translates as ‘sky-clad’. India is where Gerald Gardner, who lived for years in the East, presumably found and appropriated the term.
If ritual nudity is widespread in culture and over time, its use by all members of a group, for all of its rites, is an innovation that Gardner and his spiritual descendents can claim for their own. Sky-clad work and worship, whether in a solitary or a coven context, is part of contemporary Pagan culture, and apart from some fairly fringe ‘nudists for Christ’ is unique in the landscape of modern religion.
The case for working sky-clad
Gerald Gardner claimed that an energy field surrounded the human body, and that this was more easily felt, raised and directed when one was naked. Many now dismiss this argument, claiming that if energy is not impeded by walls or over long distances, it will hardly be inhibited by clothing. Therefore, working sky-clad isn’t necessary. For myself, having worked sky-clad for many years, Gardner’s argument feels true to me, even if logic favors the opposite argument.
Another argument is that it promotes group trust, equality, and removal of social distinctions created by dress. This may be the case, but it can certainly be achieved with uniform robes as a leveler.
Paul Huson, author of the seminal “Mastering Witchcraft” back in the 1970’s, advances a simpler argument – that working naked is desirable because it is pleasurable. Depends on your point of view, really. But this leads to a more specific argument, which applies to initiatory rites. In a culture that is deeply ambivalent when it comes to the body and sexuality, to be naked with a group of other people breaks a taboo. The breaking of taboos creates a crisis/catharsis matrix that can be intensely transformative for the participants. This is a fairly convincing argument for anyone with direct experience of such things, although others allege that this is something of a one-trick pony. And potentially dangerous, as people wanting the same feeling of liberation must eventually engage in breaking stronger and stronger taboos to achieve the same sensations. It must be said that this is hardly the only pitfall for anyone pursuing an esoteric spirituality.
Noted Sydney occultist Tim Hartridge argues that ritual nudity, and the sensuality (and, possibly, eroticism) that accompanies the experience, assists one in accessing the archetypal ‘wild witch’ within one’s own psyche – a liminal figure with many lessons and insights to reveal. Again, my own experiences tend to agree. However, this would seem to be merely a more sophisticated version of Gardner’s argument – and similarly, the counter is that working sky-clad isn’t necessary to achieve this goal.
Lastly, another argument (admittedly rather tongue-in-cheek) for working sky-clad has it that when working with fire (candles, bonfires etc.), nudity is a safer option than robes with trailing sleeves.
The case against working sky-clad
This is not the space to argue whether or not Gardner’s coven pioneered working sky-clad, or whether they inherited it from the mysterious New Forest coven which supposedly initiated Gardner. However, some suggest that while Gardner himself behaved as a gentleman (by all accounts), he was not averse to the sight of young female flesh, and that this is the real reason the practice was adopted. That is a highly plausible argument, at least to this male mind, although it is possible that both versions of history are true – that Gardner believed what he was saying, and enjoyed the fruits of it.
Another argument is that it stymies efforts to achieve credibility for the modern Pagan movement as a legitimate mainstream faith. This may be true. However, it assumes that paganism can, or should be, legitimate or mainstream. Many have fled mainstream faiths to Paganism precisely for the reasons that make it a pariah among more ‘respectable’ faiths, including reclaiming of both body and sexuality. In that case, abandoning sky-clad worship for the sake of legitimacy can be seen as tacitly accepting the premise of faiths such as Christianity – that there is something unclean or indecent about the naked body.
Another argument against sky-clad work is that it encourages sexual activity; that it is a slippery-slope to a gang-bang, and that people interested in that kind of thing should be honest about it and join a swingers club. Personally I think this assumes that there is an automatic link between nudity and sex – that nudity in ritual constitutes some form of invitation. This has never been true in any sky-clad or clothing-optional group or festival in which I have been involved. Quite the opposite. And, personally, I have never seen clothing deter consenting adults from pairing off and engaging in more intimate forms of worship in private. Similarly, I doubt it has ever deterred sexual predators from betraying the trust of others.
One more argument is that working sky-clad creates a situation where people may feel inadequate or inferior for being unable to bare all in ritual, when others can: it is potentially non-inclusive or even discriminatory. Again, this may indeed occur in specific contexts, but at the same time having no space in which to work-sky-clad means that those same people aren’t given the chance to confront personal inhibitions – inhibitions that might affect their ability to hold personal power.
Gardner was, like, so last century…
So, who works sky-clad any more? Is it an important part of contemporary Pagan practice, or a relic of the past?
Recently I took an impromptu Facebook poll in a 2000-member discussion forum. Out of 100 responses, 6 said that they had never worked sky-clad, nor would they ever consider it. 35 said that they had worked sky-clad as a solitary practitioner. 8 said they had done so with a magickal or sexual partner. 37 said they had, or wanted to, work sky-clad in a coven. 10 said they had done so at a clothing-optional Pagan festival or event. 4 said they had done so on camera for a documentary or in public.
There are some obvious problems in the above results, not least of which is that people with an interest in this area were more likely to respond. Still, it indicates that interest in this subject remains.
Nevertheless, the practice seems to be on the decline. The Corellian Tradition eschews sky-clad practice, positioning itself as a family-friendly tradition. Others such as the EarthSpirit community have moved away from sky-clad rites, citing difficulties in obtaining permission from venues for staging clothing-optional events. Some in regional areas cite unwanted attention from militant Christians and/or law enforcement.
The practicalities of taking off your pants
Despite the obstacles, many still feel inspired by the thought casting off the mundane world and its spiritual inhibitions – to embrace the wild spirit within, dance naked under the moon and howl.
The first rule of working sky-clad, whether in a group or solo, is privacy. There is nothing more inhibiting than being caught in the act. This means you need a dedicated temple space, a private home, private property screened from neighbors, or a remote natural area – recall that traditionally, witches met in areas such as forests, on mountaintops, or at deserted crossroads at night.
The second rule is heat. This is no issue indoors, but out of doors requires some thought and preparation. Freezing off your pink bits is not conducive to raising energy. A bonfire may do well enough (and is highly evocative) but may breach local laws, especially in areas where wildfire in summer is a real danger. Numerous safety precautions are indicated, including a dug fire-pit, water or extinguishers ready to hand, and a dedicated fire-safety officer who stands apart from the rite. For a small group, a heavy cast-iron cauldron or pot filled with methylated spirits can work well. As it produces no smoke, it is also safe indoors, provided that it has sufficient ceiling height above it (10 feet is a good starting point), some ventilation, and is seated on a stable and heat-proofed surface. A liter of methylated spirits will burn for some 15 or 20 minutes – long enough to raise the fabled Cone of Power through ecstatic dance and circling. Be warned, though: refilling and relighting a cauldron is not safe or easy, as the hot metal will cause the methylated spirits to evaporate into fumes. Relighting a hot cauldron is DANGEROUS. I have lost chest and arm hair learning that lesson, and lucky to have not lost more. Also, and self-evidently, spilling the flammable contents of a lit cauldron is extremely bad, especially in an indoor space.
The third rule applies to groups wanting to experiment with sky-clad work: clear communication and respect. So, workshop your ritual beforehand. Allow all participants to state their personal boundaries concerning physical contact – an appropriate starting-point might be that coven members hold hands during a ritual, but do not otherwise touch.
That said, personal boundaries are fluid, which is why the subject should be revisited before each sky-clad ritual. Some may want to avoid physical contact, others may be moved by the energy of the rite to hug or caress. Some rituals involve the use of full-body anointing oil to foster sensual and psychic arousal. There is a distinct difference between SENSUALITY and SEXUALITY that is crucial in a coven context of love and trust. Personally I have worked in groups where we have deliberately raised and used sexual energy – but being monogamous, drew the line at intercourse.
(By the way, I heard of one coven initiation where the postulant was blindfolded, naked and led through their initiation. Upon removal of the blindfold, the young man’s expectation of seeing the rest of the coven sky-clad along with him was subverted – he was the only one, with the rest of the coven robed and chuckling. Seriously, that was a dumb idea. Destroyed any sense of group trust and egregore.)
Debriefing, by which I mean talking about issues following rituals, can also be a useful exercise. This requires tact and diplomacy, or you may end up needing to debrief the debriefing!
young men, involves getting an erection during a sky-clad rite. The former can be dealt with via underwear or perhaps a scarf knotted around the hips, while the latter is surprisingly rare in non-sexual sky-clad rites. An effective group leader can pre-frame the issue for participants by suggesting that such a physiological response means “the god Pan has joined us” or similar.
Some points to remember are that working sky-clad is an optional experience – once coercion is involved, any benefits to the experience are lost. Also, being naked should never imply a sexual invitation in anyone’s mind, unless that is clearly established beforehand by all involved. The Pagan Awareness Network has free resources concerning sky-clad practice and general ‘Safety in the Circle’ tips, available here: http://www.paganawareness.net.au/PAN/publications-mainmenu-130/information-pamphlets-mainmenu-135
Lastly, most people I know would agree that sky-clad practice is an adult activity, not suitable for teen Wiccans. Do you agree? If so, what about family traditions, or rites-of-passage for girls at menarche? Would it be acceptable in the context of a women-only circle, with the girl’s mother present? Can we get too hung up the underage thing?
I hope I haven’t bored the pants off anyone.
Gavin Aendless – Feedback sought. It isn’t for an academic audience, but I would certainly appreciate being warned if I have made any howlers in the piece. And of course – general discussion of the topic very welcome
Yvonne Aburrow – very good, and very balanced. I agree with the no teens rule – anyway teenagers are usually really embarrassed by their bodies and those of other people. I also agree that it was wrong for that coven to be robed when the initiate was skycla…See More
Debbie Willis – I notice that many of my cohorts and I are aging, which seems to influence whether we do skyclad ceremonies. Along with aging, which isn’t the actual factor, is the loss of physical integrity (such as stress incontinence). I know that physical integrity is a subject rarely discussed, so I only mention it.
Yvonne Aburrow – That could be solved in much the same way as having a period (scarf round the hips to cover knickers with pads)
Sabina Magliocco – I think it depends very much on the group and its tradition. In my Gardnerian coven, all closed rites are skyclad and done indoors. Because I tend to get cold very easily, it was tolerated when I wrapped a pashmina around my shoulders. I really don’t think scarves make any difference in terms of energy-raising. Sabbats, including Beltane, we would invite guests, and those ceremonies were done robed and often outdoors. My eclectic group always practices outdoors, where even in southern California, clothing is not optional.