Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Dressing like the ancestors

After last week's festival, M. launched into a mini-rant about Pagans' fondness for some form of re-created archaic dress. For instance, the priest at the solstice sunrise ritual was attired in sort of Dark Ages style: loose trousers gathered at the ankle, loose-fitting shirt, cloak, and sword and spear. How is that more Pagan than jeans and sneakers?

It's not just us though. Recently I drove past a Protestant church in the small town where we get our mail, and they had set up tents and two-dimensional plywood camels, and people were lounging around in their own form of ancient Judaean costume. I assume it was some sort of Vacation Bible School event.

M., however, objects to the glorification of the Middle Ages, which she sees as repressive in almost all regards. It's true that since the 1970s, when I first encountered the Craft, there has been an unfortunate bleed-through from the Society for Creative Anachronism, which glorifies the Middle Ages and Renaissance as somehow more vital and creative than Now. Of course, the SCA still enjoys plumbing and electricity; and everyone gets to be an aristocrat, or aspires to be. Even that is fine with me--the bad part is when SCA status influences status in the Pagan community. One is a baroness in the SCA; therefore, one's fellow Pagans should treat one with more regard. I have seen this phenomenon more than once.

Homo religiosus, the religious person, seems to hold the past in higher regard than the present. The older the text or teaching, the more authoritative it is. Past practice, even if impractible today, has a normative effect--it tells us what we might do. For example, where would the contemporary Heathen practice of seiðr be without that one passage from the Elder Edda about the volva with her catskin gloves? How could I be working on my flying ointment paper without the 14th-century story of Lady Alice Kytler, who beat the rap but let her maid be executed--thus demonstrating the true aristocratic temperment, as opposed to the SCA variety.


Anonymous rosewood said...

One is a baroness in the SCA; therefore, one's fellow Pagans should treat one with more regard. I have seen this phenomenon more than once.

You have got to be kidding. Please be kidding.

1:42 PM  
Anonymous Judy said...

I've dressed up for Ren Faires, but I would NOT wear that same stuff for rituals. I'd much rather be comfortable when doing whatever it is I'm doing, and there's just no way to be comfortable in a corset.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...

Rosewood: No, I'm not kidding. Sorry. Overall, I think that the SCA's negative effects on the Pagan movement outweigh any positive effects, such as keeping alive interest in traditional herbalism, calligraphy, or whatever.

Judy: See above--effective ritual is not necessarily dress-up time. I am allowing, of course, for theatrical costuming under some circumstances, and I also realize that a magickal worker might wear certain costume as a signal to the Younger Self (or whatever you call it) that "something important is happening."

11:05 AM  
Anonymous Arachne said...

Thank you! I'm not the only one who thinks this!

My own religious studies have drifted from Wicca to Druidism, but for the life of me there is no way I could go to a ritual full of people in white robes and keep a straight face.

I have noticed some Pagans who feel like they have to "dress up" for rituals often went to church or synagogue as children, where I'm assuming they had to get "dressed up" for it.

5:08 PM  
Blogger Luna said...

Hi, I'm relatively new to reading your blog, so let me start by saying, "Hi." Thank you for your level-headed response to this issue of pagans playing dress-up. I think dressing up like "medieval wenches" or "lords and ladies" is just not the point.
Having said that, medievalism is a quality of romanticism, and therefore isn't a new thing. I happen to think that the counterculture of the 60s and 70s was a neo-Romantic movement: it emphasized a return to nature, personal expression, criticism of dogmatic approaches, freedom, an anti-war stance, emotions, pagan/ancient or some kind of older national identity (Nat. American and the European pagan movement seem to fit here) and a fetish for medieval culture. Camelot was made into a movie during this time. I think people tend to feel medieval or renaissance culture is closer to a "natural" way of living -- even though it ends up being more of a costume party than anything else.
I agree that the ugly purple fake velvet lady-in-waiting dresses and pointless corsets are silly and make us look dumb. i don't know if I agree that the SCA specifically is responsible for distracting people from learning about herbal craft, history, ironworking, etc., since it seems to me that a resurgence of interest in such things accompanies medieval fetish movements.

7:00 AM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...

Luna, I agree about the neo-Romantic part. My gripe with the SCA is that putting so much energy into pretending that one lives in a different past on a diffent continent is not--in the long run--compatible with practising "nature religion" on this continent.

And I think that that practise should be our goal as North Americans.

I wrote an essay on that topic once.

10:44 AM  

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