Dear Witchful Thinking,
I’ve never been asked this before, so I’ll do my best to answer. At the church I attend, because it is for public worship, we do not do nude services, although I know of a semi-private Pagan church that does, but they have a lot more property [and a lot less neighbors] than we do). At a festival, where we use other property, there might be nudity in the ritual. Nudity is not associated with purity, but with rebirth. Wiccans have a sacred writing that is pretty consistent throughout the diversity of groups called the “Charge of the Goddess”. The text is spoken aloud by a Priestess who has invoked the Goddess, so the words are divine (even the tiny changes made are correct–so the text is quite alive. See some variation here). Anyhoo, the Goddess tells us that, as a sign that we be free from slavery, “you shall be naked in your rights” and that “all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals”. So there is divine approval for both nudity and sexuality as worship.
Some groups do worship in the nude and are described as “skyclad”. But this is typically done with tight-knit groups. The focus is usually on freedom from societal pressure, being beautiful as you are, humor, healing, sensuality, expressing your true/divine nature etc. I’ve been to festivals where a coven will host an open skyclad ritual (so it is open to people outside their tradition, but only to people at the festival, who are probably all Pagan). They have a way of doing it which takes the focus off of the sexual excitement of seeing naked people (which is something I think the rest of the world needs to figure out too, that nudity does not equal sexual excitement).
We aren’t particularly focused on purification on the whole, at least in my tradition. Although we ritually purify ourselves before entering sacred space, the purpose is to clear your mind of negative thoughts, because it is believed that thoughts are amplified in sacred space, and the Gods can see and hear you better. Wicca does not believe in original sin, nor follow any other Christian thought like that, so there is nothing inherent to purify. However, purification might be a part of a ritual or spell. I recently did a type of purification ritual after people were talking trash about my writing on the internet. I had started to feel that what they said might be true or hurt me in real life, and honestly made me feel kind of tainted–plus, I spent a lot of time thinking about it. So I did a purification ritual involving mindful bathing, visualization and meditation, and am now “clean” of these thoughts. The magic is in the psychology.
Ritually bathing another does not come up very often, but I have seen it associated with initiation into a religious mystery, and as a symbol of being cleansed after birth or rebirth. So the dead are ritually bathed, as they are being reborn in an afterlife. Babies are ritually bathed by others after birth, and during a ritual which introduces them to the Gods (different from baptism in that there is no commitment on the part of the child).
I hope that answers your question!
Dear Witchful Thinking,
I was at a Pagan festival last spring and met a lot of people. Both men and women told me I was very pretty and asked if I would like to come to their tent. While everyone was very friendly, some were more persistent than others in getting to know me–even after I told them I had a boyfriend. That usually shuts people up, but why didn’t they leave me alone after I told them about my relationship?
Let’s talk about Pagan sexuality. I’ll give you a broad background of knowledge that I think will explain the answer to your question. First of all, Paganism and Wicca are fertility religions and have an avowed interest in nature, which is not known for being modest. With fertility comes a high acceptance of sexuality and sensuality (because you can’t have babies without sex…unless it’s parthenogenesis). We see it in our Gods too. I mean, come on, the guys got horns! Have you ever seen a stag during rutting season? Talk about horney! And how many liaisons and kids did Zeus have?
Pagans accept their natural processes, from menstruation to morning wood. Our essence and life depends on the fecundity of the Earth. Lucky for us, we don’t have original sin, so we can enjoy the gifts of sexuality that the Gods gave us without feeling guilty. But our culture is saturated with that guilt (really, Americans are quite puritanical that way), so many Pagans come into the community feeling released for the first time from the guilt and shame about their bodies and how they enjoy them. Sometimes that liberation is expressed a little too enthusiastically, and otherwise normal people over do it a little–so perhaps your persistent admirers fall in that category. If they have a good community, they can quickly settle within the acceptable norms of the new community. But folks who only see other Pagans occasionally take a bit longer to get the message about the appropriateness of their behavior. And if the community is not very mature as a group, unacceptable behavior may go on longer than is desired and lead to conflict.
There tend to be more Pagan women in the communities then active men. Which makes every man seem like a prize. Generally, folks have discovered that same-religion relationships work out better in the long run than multi-faith households, although no religion seems immune to the high divorce rates (almost 70% of marriages end in divorce now). So folks of any sexual preference are keen to choose a mate from the community. Of course, the excitement of sexual attraction is usually where the search begins.
With a sex-positive atmosphere, and the lack of original sin, the openness brings in people that are
already on the fringe of mainstream society. The Pagan community has become a haven for gay, lesbian, bi, transgendered, queer…everyone is welcome here–and rightly so! In particular, The Feri Tradition seems to offer a home for everybody. In Wicca, the Lord and Lady generally engage in heterosexual behavior, but there are many examples of sexual variety in mythology. Many ritualists celebrate the union of the Gods with the Great Rite (and the great rite too), and I have been beautifully moved by the variations of, say, the cup uniting with the cup to create overflowing abundance, or two athames touching tenderly.
With this openness comes a willingness to try alternative relationship styles. In particular, some people engage in Polyamory, where erotic love is shared
between many adult partners. Consequently, being married or in a relationship doesn’t mean that you are not available! It is not an invitation to an orgy, but rather an openness to go where love will take you, to desire your lover to be happy–even if that means being with another person. It is agreed upon by all partners, and relationships can get quite complex (we call it a poly-cule [like molecule, get it?]) It requires constant work through ideas of jealously and possession, which means looking inward and releasing old hurts. There are some excellent books on the subject if you want to know more. Other people in the community may engage in Slave/Master type BDSM relationships (or variants thereof. You can ask questions here).
Here is the basic rule of Pagan sexuality: nothing is assumed. You can be yourself (perhaps for the first time) as who you really are, as long as you treat all people with respect.
A few more guidlines:
- Local and Federal Laws still apply! Do not approach teens under the age of consent. Consult your state’s statutory rape laws. In Washington the age of consent is 16, but that doesn’t mean they want to have sex with a 30 year old.
- No means no, no matter what age you are, your sexual orientation or relationship status. Just because someone is poly doesn’t mean they will have sex with you.
- Use protection. Yes, we are a fertility religion, but that doesn’t mean every woman is ready to have babies. It is essential to discuss this before engaging in sexual activity.
- Get tested. Are you clean? Really clean? People with certain STD’s are legally obligated to tell their partner before engaging in ANY sexual activity. This varies by state, so know your status and then ask your doctor what the rules are.
- Sex should not be a requirement to advance in the community. However, there are covens and groups who engage in sex practices as part of their worship. If you are not comfortable with this, find another coven. There are other places to get training, and you shouldn’t have to have sex with someone to get it.
- Set your own limits beforehand. If you already know what your boundaries are, it will be easier not to cross them. If you are in a relationship, talk with your partner about what is acceptable to you. Some couples have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy about festivals, while others are totally open. Still most prefer to keep their monogamous status, and that’s ok too. As long as everybody agrees, there hopefully won’t be a problem.
- Don’t be a bastard. Please don’t talk about your sexual conquests to your buddies after the festival is over. I’ve had wonderful experiences and new relationships ruined because of bragging to friends. It belittles the experience and trivializes the energies it generated–not to mention makes it a lot less likely to happen again.
- Nudity does not mean sex. Some communities are clothing-optional, but that is not an invitation to sex. Calm down. Appreciation is ok, but lewd comments won’t get you invited back.
- Word travels fast. Someone who persistently violates the social mores can be red flagged as dangerous or unwanted, they may even be asked to leave. The safety of the community is paramount.
- The festival is for spiritual change, not your sexual pleasure. Remember why you are at the festival. Even if it is just to meet people and make connections, some people come there for different reasons which do not include having sex with everyone. Respect that.
- Follow the festival rules about sex. Some festivals have places set aside for just such an activity, especially if there is group living arrangements. The ones I go to have Aphrodite shrines and Pan shrines for just such worship. It’s easy to avoid if you aren’t interested in that kind of activity. Sometimes it is hard to find a secluded area, but do try: after all, it is still not ok to have sex in front of children.
- Every community is different. Each festival is different. Go with what is appropriate (and within your boundaries) in the community. If it is not to your taste, find or start, a different community. I guarantee there are like minded people out there somewhere whose tastes run along yours.
In closing, it must be said that no matter what the cultural norms are, you always have a right to your body and what you do with it. No one has the right to make you do something you don’t want to do. You can say no at any time, so make your boundaries clear. If you have been raped, call the police or a rape crisis line (800-656-4673). Pagan sexuality is a glorious variety of openness and opportunity if you choose to engage yourself there. Sexuality is beautiful when given and shared by people, and we are lucky that our communities allow that kind of expression. But the potential for abuse is there, and regular rules of etiquette still apply.
Some good books:
Rites of Pleasure: Sexuality in Wicca and Neo-Paganism by Jennifer Hunter
Living With Honour: A Pagan Ethics by Emma Restall Orr
Pagan Protocol by L.S. Alabaster