Choosing a Ritual Robe
Wicca was originally conceived as a nude religion. Why Gardner, who lived in England, thought nudity in the out-of-doors was a good idea, we’ll never know. There in the Pacific Northwest, the idea is both impractical and pneumonia-inducing. Luckily, we can always choose to wear ritual robes.
Clothing expresses something special to ourselves and others observing us. Clothes can indicate socio-economic class, convey certain values, and come to symbolize your personhood to the public. When you think about the different kinds of people that wear robes, you can come up with quite a list, from medieval re-enactors to monks to occultists in films. Although it sounds an easy and simple task to choose a ritual robe, the thoughtful Pagan will find that there are many things to consider:
- Color- as a magical practitioner, we know that color is important. It speaks to our playful unconsicous in a lot of ways. Some say that black is a good color because it absorbs every color energy, making you sensitive, but other groups associate the color with evil. White may convey purity and virginity to some, while in countries like Japan it is the color of death. Like anything else, choose your robe color purposefully.
- Cut- long sleeves or short? Shapely or form hiding? Pointy hood or round or no hood at all? These are the miniscule questions that a talented tailor or seamstress would ask. The cut also suggests certain things to outsiders. Long bell sleeves would suggest a fantasy princess, while a particularly pointy hood might make you look more like a KKK clansman than a serious religious practitioner. You’ll also have to think practically. Will your floor-length bell sleeves allow you to, say, light a candle? Or are you just begging to have your robe get a little too close to the ecstasy of combustion?
- Length- How long will your robe be? I’ve seen some wonderful tabards that slip over your shirt and just covers the bottom–great if you have a lot of people of different sizes and shapes who need to use a robe for, say, the quarters. If the length is too short, a man will look like he’s wearing a dress. Too long and you’re more likely to trip than look graceful in circle. I find a few inches above the ankle to be ideal in my work.
- Fabric- Most Wiccans I know have at least two robes–a lighter weight one for the warmer months and a heavy, waterproof one for the rest of the year. If your robe is big enough, you can always layer under it, but some groups require nudity under the robe. The quality of the fabric will likely display wealth, with courser fabrics being those that belong to a lower socio-economic status.
- Accessories- Sometimes what you put over the robe is more important than the robe itself. Many who wear robes wear a cloak on top. Not only does it keep the rain out, but you can often individualize the clasps and sew on unique trims. Many robe-wearers have cords tied around the waist that indicate rank, or a belt that holds a pouch and an athame. The best robe I ever had included a pocket on one side, and a slit on the other that allowed me to reach my pants pockets without lifting up my robe.
Basically, a robe should be practical and meet the needs of the wearer, while expressing the individuals beliefs and identifying them as part of a group. It should be considered a magical item, with the aspects of it chosen to fulfill a purpose and make a statement. Putting on a robe is a reminder to your brain that you are going into a ritual state of mind. The robe can express what kind of ritual you are performing. For example, choosing a Greek-style robe for honoring the Greek Gods is a good way to get yourself in that particular frame of mind.
I think finding a robe is difficult. Like cloaks, they are often expensive because they can be time consuming for the maker. Some good shops will have a few robes on hand, and keep a seamstress on file for custom orders. A good robe might cost you upwards of $100.
Some people enjoy making ritual clothes, and robes are an easy project to start out on. My first robe was made of a sheet I bought at the second hand store, and I laid on the floor and traced my body so I would know how long each part should be. I sewed it on a child’s machine that I paid around $20 for, and ended up sewing my finger into the hem. It was a disaster and never fit right. My second robe wasn’t that much better, but at least it was blood-free. I finally opted to buy one while my friends could pop them out in a few hours at a sewing party. We all have different talents…