Some thoughts on Skyclad…

In Paganism polarity and duality are often mistaken for the same thing. Essentially, Dualism, as the name suggests, is the categorisation into two opposites, man and woman, good and evil, God and the Devil, body and mind etc. Dualism is potentially divisive and is metaphysically (in the good sense) problematic. For example, if the mind and body are two separate things, then how does the spiritual mind interact with the causally closed body.

Likewise, for Good and Evil or God and the Devil, you have to come down on one side or the other. Dualistic thinking on Good and Evil categorises moral action as either one or the other. However more mature thinking and experience tells us that evil acts can bring beneficial consequences and the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Polarity on the other hand does not deal with opposites but in wholes. It is about different positions on a spectrum, rather than the categorisation of aspects. Take gender, for example, what counts as male or female is not as clear cut as biology implies. Even biological psychologists see gender as something of a murky grey area related not just to genitalia but also to hormones and brain structure. We know that males generate female hormones and females have male hormones. There are some men who we might consider to be towards the feminine end of the spectrum and some females who are towards the masculine end.

When we get to the social levels of explanations it becomes even more confused. How much of gender is socially constructed? Some gender is obviously cultural, as are the acceptability of freedom for expression of same-sex sexuality; just think of the Greeks compared to fundamentalist Christianity.

Crafte perceives the world through polarity rather than duality, and therefore takes sexuality as a whole and therefore suggests that it is not split into neat little boxes, but rather individual human expression represents points on its range. Your position on that spectrum is likely to vary as you go through life. This means Polarity allows for a fuller range of expression.

Crafte prefers to consider integrals and positions on a spectrum, rather than carving up into categories. Where do you stop and the environment begins? Where is the distinction between your biology and yourself? What is the distinction between a Frenchman and a European? And where does West stop and East begin?

(Adoration’ by Stephen Sinding (1846-1922) Glyptoteket Museum in Copenhagen)

It is true that many of the rites and actions of the Crafte relate to a male/female interaction. For example, cross-gender initiation, cakes and wine, drawing down the moon, the kiss of friendly parting etc. These symbols are expressed in the Crafte. Initiatory Witchcraft has its traditions and these are part of what makes it the Crafte rather than, say, ceremonial magic. There is a discipline in following these traditions and finding meaning in them, rather than picking and mixing what we like, which serves our ego rather than transforming it. There are potentially things in Crafte myth and ritual that you will not like, but by working with them, persevering with them, you find meaning, often hard-won, and experience a mystery you would not have discovered if you just changed it to something you found more palatable.

Remember the Jungian concepts of anima and animus, the contrasexual sides of our psyche. For Jung, these archetypes were the source of creativity within the psyche, but as they are repressed, were hard for the individual to own. Jung reckoned it was better to begin to work with the shadow before attempting to know the anima and animus.

But from a post-Jungian perspective, we need to acknowledge that culture has moved on since Jung’s time and now for many their dark side is harder to face.

It is probably harder and more painful for us in our society of political correctness to work on the shadow. Woke is yet another story.

One way to come to know our anima/animus is through projections onto others. Our partners often receive the projection of these aspects of our psyche, which potentially leads to problems in relationships.

(The “soul” which accrues to ego-consciousness during the opus has a feminine character in the man and a masculine character in a woman. His anima wants to reconcile and unite; her Animus tries to discern and discriminate. (C. G. Jung, CW, Vol 16, par 522)

Another way to come to know this unconscious aspect of ourselves is through our projections onto the Mother Goddess and the Horned God. Consider how you see the Old Ones. How do you experience the character and personality of the Goddess if you are male? And the Horned God if you are female?

This may give you insights into the contra-sexual side of your own psyche, allowing you to take possession of it, rather than letting it lay in your unconscious. Once you start to take ownership you can make conscious use of it, and see the world in a wiser way. But it is important to remember, as with any work, that it is an ongoing process, not a once and for all goal.

There is a line from The Charge of the Goddess which says: “And as a sign that ye be truly free, ye shall be naked in your rites”.

Without a doubt, the most controversial practice in Initiatory Witchcraft is that of ritual nudity or being Skyclad. The term was ‘borrowed’ from Tantric yoga and is practised especially within initiatory traditions such as Gardnerian and Alexandrian Craft, yet it is the first practice to be dropped in Popular Wicca and is labelled as weird and perverted by the media, and even by other pagans. Being skyclad is a controversial and counter-cultural practice, but we do work unclothed.

The reasons for working skyclad can be summed up in three categories, sociological (or social-psychological), psychological and magical. However, the reason most often given argues that this could be construed as a knock to ceremonial magicians who wear robes for their magical rituals, But, if magic power can’t get through clothes, then it is not much of a magical power. Gardner’s explanation also makes the mistake of seeing magical power as something physical, whereas we know it is about altered states of consciousness, authority and emotions, especially those generated by sexuality, numinously experienced.

However, maybe Gardner was right if we say that being skyclad has an effect on our consciousness, or state of mind, which can influence magic as we have seen.

By being naked in circle and sharing ourselves as we are, we are participating in Sacred Sexuality but not Sacred Sex.

In the past, some groups used to perform actual sexual intercourse in what is called the Great Rite in the Gardnerian Third Degree, it was intended to “shock” the Initiate into an ASC. But of late, it is only done in symbolic form. I have spoken out, over the last 40 years, against what I believe to be Sexual Abuse. Now we have other methods to achieve that same end and we must do away with unnecessary, and outdated, techniques. Crafte must adapt, and update.

The feelings associated with the Mystery, initially generated by a skilled high priestess,  flow around the circle from one person to the next. This can only be done if we are happy with ourselves and can participate in the sensuality of the circle. Perhaps this is a better magical reason for working skyclad

The first time the new Witch finds themselves skyclad with others is during their initiation, and looking at Initiation we shall gain some insights into some of the psychological and sociological reasons why witches work skyclad. In most traditions, initiation is seen as a death and a rebirth, so symbolically we enter the circle for the first time as we entered the world, naked and vulnerable.

Nakedness is a massive social taboo in our present culture, fuelled as it is by the media and feelings of bodily insecurity. Certain monotheistic belief systems conflate the state of being unclothed with having physical sexual intercourse; try attending a naturist gathering! An awful lot of our identity is also tied up in the clothes that we wear, which we use to a large degree to represent how we wish to be seen to the world. In one sense they protect our ego and are used to advertise group membership, class, affiliations, status, tastes and other social constructs, c.f. military uniforms.

The Occult has a history of breaking taboos and reversing the so-called natural order of things. This is one of the reasons that the Occult is so feared, and generates little public support. The Crafte is very much in that tradition.

So by breaking one of the most potent of our society’s social taboos, by being naked, the new initiate, like the hero of the mono-myth, is taken out of the ordinary world of social duty and convention and placed into the realm of high adventure.

This mythological act has the psychological effect of creating anxiety which is appropriate to such a significant ritual as well as initiating self-reflection towards personal authenticity.

Bypassing through the fears generated by going against socially constructed constraints the initiate gains insight into themselves and the nature of their reality.

In this sense, for many, going skyclad acts as the archetypal dweller on the threshold, the ordeal which the initiate must pass in order to be deemed worthy of their new exalted status.

All initiation rituals have an element of an ordeal, they are about death, as well as a rebirth.

For football clubs it might be drinking a pint of urine, for Judaism, it is circumcision, for the aborigines, it is the splitting of the penis, and for Crafte it is being naked with people who are not your partner.

According to sociologists and anthropologists, a tradition that has an initiation ritual that is difficult and generates feelings of anxiety creates groups with greater social cohesion.

If initiation is difficult and has to be earned, the status achieved afterwards is valued far much more than if the membership was easily given.

Because our society has such a negative view of the human body, the initiate who places themselves in a position where they are naked, bound and blindfolded is also demonstrating the trust in the coven that is required for them to effectively work their rituals. It is the act of perfect love and perfect trust which in turn places an enormous responsibility on the coven and initiators not to abuse that trust in any way.

It is that trust that makes the coven operational and functional and is essential to the working of magic or experiencing the mysteries. We have to trust our coven fellows completely so that we can let go and have these profound experiences. The coven must be worthy of the trust placed in them.

(And ye shall be naked in your rites… statue in Pisa, Italy. Photo Morgana 2016)

In Initiatory Crafte, Skyclad is practised in pretty much all the coven’s rituals (unless they are outside and likely to be disturbed). Again this is stepping outside society’s norms, sharing ourselves as we truly are. There is a power in stepping outside social authority, in a way it is a taking back of power that has a powerful effect on our psyche, which in turn can be used in our magic.

By taking off our clothes with people who are not normally our sexual partners, we know that something special is going to happen. We are putting ourselves outside of the ordinary and preparing for the extraordinary. When we are skyclad we are sharing ourselves as we truly are with the coven. There are no defences, no masks, no personas and nothing psychologically or physically to hide behind.

This is the essence of sacred sexuality and the flow of feeling about that magic circle.

We share in that flow of feeling, a flow of feeling that can only come from acceptance of ourselves and others, freely expressed.

It is that feeling, that sharing of ourselves, which creates the bonds between the witches that make a coven. This can be terrifying and as such is not for everyone. It is a level of feeling and intimacy that western culture finds frightening. It is challenging and difficult to be ourselves, to let down our defences, to put aside our personas and this is harder for some people than others. As such, working skyclad is the first practice to be dropped in Popular Wicca and sacred sexuality is not far behind it. But then Popular Wicca loses one of its sources of power in sacred sexuality and miss out on the sociological, psychological benefits that working skyclad brings.

There are many reasons why people might find being skyclad difficult.

They may have a poor body image. People are enslaved to feeling bad about themselves by so-called norms held up by the media. They might be fearful of ridicule by other members of the group or be spoken about behind their back.

For such people initiation into the Crafte is potentially an enormous ordeal should they seek it, but the freedom of being accepted for who they are, without comment and with love, is also equally as liberating.

This is also true of those people whose poor body image stems from old age or being overweight. Again the freedom of being accepted as they are can be freedom. There are people of all adult ages, shapes and sizes in the Crafte who practise skyclad and all have improved their body esteem by being with people who accept them as they are. It is about loving yourself, warts and all.

Some people who have suffered from sexual abuse understandably might find the vulnerability of skyclad work very difficult to cope with. If such a person joins a coven, they have made an enormous achievement which is worthy of an enormous amount of respect.

To my mind, there is something very powerful in working naked, something visceral and at the same time mysterious. It connects us somehow to something deep and numinous. It strips away cultural conditioning from our personas leaving something primitive and primary. It may be posited that it affects our magic because it affects our state of consciousness, and magic is the manipulation of meaning in the mind to transform subjective reality, which in itself can alter objective reality.

In the Western Mystery Schools, Ceremonial Magicians are trained to construct a powerful magical persona, their magical personality, so they become the all-powerful magician capable of the deeds of magic required. It usually begins with play-acting, but like all good characters it takes on a life of its own, enough so that it can become a problem for trainee magicians until they can master it.

However the Witch does the opposite, instead of creating a magical character they strip away their personas and social duties until the primal self is left, and that self’s power and potency comes from being connected to the whole.

What if someone wants to join a coven and does not want to work skyclad? Should they expect the coven to change for them? Surely it is unfair for an individual to expect a club to change the rules just for them, and likewise with covens.

Working skyclad is what sociologists would call an inner group marker. It is something the group does that creates the collective identity of a witches coven where participants feel that they are in a group that is doing something that is special. Therefore an individual can’t expect the coven to change its skyclad practises to working robed, or whatever, just for them.

If you decide to join a coven, then you are agreeing to the way they do things.

Before you undertake to join a coven, it is important to think whether you would be able to work skyclad. If you do not think you would be able to do so, then consider why, and if you still don’t think that you could, then do not ask to join. Remember the Crafte is not for everyone, and it is not looking for recruits but does make itself available to the genuine seeker.

It is important to consider how your partner is likely to feel about you being naked with other people. Are you going to tell them about it? What you decide to do is up to you, as long as you remember that as a Witch you have to take responsibility for your own actions. You might decide that you will tell your partner, but what if they react badly to it. It might affect your marriage especially if it is already in decline.

Make sure you are not telling your partner just to ease your guilty conscience because you might not be doing anything to ease their state of mind; that is a cowardly way out. A guilty conscience might be the price you have to pay for initiation. Likewise, are you keeping it secret just to get one over on him or her? Perhaps you enjoy keeping the secret.

None of these things is right or wrong per se, besides it is unrealistic to think that we can always do right. Sometimes we have to be pragmatic and take the lesser of two evils. But do it in the knowledge of what you are doing, and take full responsibility.

Men often find it easier being naked than women do. This is particularly true as it is common in our society for nakedness to be equated with sex. Initiatory Witchcraft, of course, does not equate one with the other. This does seem to be born out in practice with females being much cagier about their involvement with skyclad rituals to their partners than males are to theirs.

Finally, there are some practical matters to consider, for example, what happens if a lady has her period? The answer is that she can wear a pair of plain knickers or a half-slip, in the circle. As for erections in the circle, I have never known that to happen. If it did then I’m sure the High Priestess could find a new use for her athame, or could quieten things down with an apt phrase such as “Thank you, but not just now”.

I have been in the Crafte for a long time and I have worked skyclad all that time, and I can say that there is a definite difference of feeling between a skyclad and a robed ritual. The skyclad ritual feels more connected, visceral and numinous somehow. That being said there are times when it is not appropriate to work skyclad.

It is a matter of common sense. If you are working outside and it is cold, or there are nasty biting insects, or you are likely to be stumbled upon by strangers, then plain clothes are probably best. Explaining why you are naked in the local woods, chanting and carrying ritual knives is not got to make the local constabulary happy.

Working skyclad is something I am used to and is second nature to me, but as always, it’s up to you. I believe that all that I have said can be encapsulated in one short phrase.



The term ‘skyclad’ is derived from Indian religions, where the term Digambara literally means ‘sky-clad’. England had close links with India at the time when Wicca first became public in England, so this usage could well have been familiar to English speakers with a knowledge of Far Eastern religions. In particular, Gerald Gardner, who first popularized Wicca in England, was a noted folklorist with an interest in Far Eastern culture who spent much of his adult life in Ceylon and Burma, so it seems very plausible that he could have been familiar with this Hindu term.

Anima / Animus:

Stephan Sinding, Adoration



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