Saturday, August 24, 2013

"Clothing Optional" Etiquette

The Pagan Festing season generally runs from May until October and usually takes place in campgrounds that are reserved for this purpose for anywhere from a weekend to a week. In Ontario, notable campgrounds that host Pagan Festivals include Raven's Knoll, Mythwood, and Whispering Pines.

Some of these festivals feature Clothing Optional areas so that people have the option to be naked if they so wish (while others restrict nudity completely). This is because some Pagans like to cast-off their wrappers and be caressed by the sun and the wind, while others consider their nudity to be part of their sacred relationship with the Gods and a Pagan event is a place where they can feel comfortable enough to explore that relationship.

However, because not everyone is comfortable with that, Clothing Optional areas can be restricted to certain areas, including:
  • campsites
  • the beach
  • the firepit area after 10pm
The important word in "Clothing Optional" is the term "Optional". A Clothing Optional area is not zoned as a Strip Club. You have the option to be as naked, clothed, or a variety of both as you wish and it's nobody else's business.

I cannot believe I must state this so blatantly, but this is also means that no one has the right to pressure you to be clothed or naked. No one has the right to tell you how naked or dressed you must be based on other people's decisions to be naked or dressed. No one has the right to express opinions about your character, your values, or your sexual identity. No one. No exceptions.

Now I know that sometimes people can unintentionally cross the line. In their minds, they want you to know that you are beautiful and valued and they want you to know that they are not judging you for any reason, so if you want to strip down, they are ready to support you in this decision. The problem is that it's very difficult to express this idea without it sounding like they are pressuring you into coming to this conclusion.

Update: Clothing Optional also knows no gender identity. If an area is Clothing Optional, this is an option that is available to everyone regardless of their gender or their genitalia. Women of all types, men of all types, and every variation in-between and beyond holds the same right to exercise their Clothing Optional freedom that has been set by the event. No one has the right to set a double-standard based on your gender identity ("She can be naked, but you should cover up fella."). 

A person's state of nudity is NEVER an invitation for people to touch, stare, be critical, or make sexual references about. EVER. A person's nudity can be an expression of their relationship with the Gods, but it is not meant to be a show for other people to ogle, be critical, or make snide remarks upon. However, if you want to quietly appreciate the beauty of the human body, that can be okay, but you need to be subtle in your appreciation.

Unwanted, unwarranted, unasked, uninvited contact with a person in a state of undress can constitute assault or sexual assault. The fact that the person is naked does not justify anyone's actions without EXPLICIT permission being given. It also does not give you the right to pressure anyone into being more naked or less naked, for any reason, even in jest. If you think you have accidentally crossed this line, take the person aside (probably better when they are dressed), apologize sincerely, and then learn from it.

Whether it is intentional or unintentional, here are some statements you should NEVER make to someone about their state of dress or undress:
  • This is a Clothing Optional area, so you should be naked.
  • Everyone else here is naked, so you should be naked.
  • You were naked yesterday, so you should be naked today.
  • If you were truly Pagan, you would be naked.
  • You have beautiful body, so you should be naked.
  • You need to get over your insecurities, so you should get naked.
  • Wouldn't you be more comfortable without all those clothes on?
  • *untying straps without permission* C'mon now... show us your boobs. Don't be a prude.
  • In the good old days, everybody used to get naked all the time at Pagan events. Don't be such a prude. You should get over your insecurities and get naked.
  • Don't conform to the mundane life! This is a sacred, magical place! You need to prove that you love the Goddess and "be naked in your rites!"
  • You're diminishing the Pagan experience for everyone by being so self-judgmental. You should liberate yourself and be naked.
  • You're too fat to be naked. Lose some weight or cover yourself up. Nobody wants to see that.
  • You're too skinny to be naked. Get dressed and have a sandwich. Nobody wants to see your bones.
  • Only women can get naked. Guys should not get completely naked.
  • You have scars! They are so ugly!
Repeated attempts to pressure someone to dress or undress constitutes harassment and needs to be reported to the Festival Staff or Security. This can result in the aggressor being removed from the premises, either for that event or permanently. If you are being inappropriate, aggressive, or just plain creepy, people will notice and they will report it to the Festival Staff. Even if a situation is not acted upon immediately, people are always watching, especially Security.

Lastly, be careful of what you say around people who are naked. Words have a huge impact on people, especially when their nudity is on public display. For some, being naked is not a big deal and takes virtually no effort. But for others, public nudity can be the result of a great amount of personal courage. A careless snide remark can destroy that moment of vulnerability in an instant, tearing the person down into an even deeper hole of insecurity. The sounds of this type of destruction is deafeningly silent, so you may never know its true impact.

Pagan spaces are supposed to be sacred, loving, and safe places where we can strip away our mental and emotion outer shells that we project to the outside world, allowing us to build stronger relationships with our spiritual cores and share those experiences with our spiritual families. But we also need to take extra care and apply extra awareness in these places because we never know where people are coming from and how fragile they are. Our desire to create and share in our spiritual freedom must be tempered with compassion for each person's spiritual and personal realities without judgement, but with support and respect.


  1. Beautifully said Hobbs

  2. Thank-you for this!

  3. People calling themselves Pagans often don't realize it's latin origins and pejorative meaning for latin christians. And also that non-christian people back then did not of course call themselves Pagans and were also very diverse culturally. A Saxon was not like an Angle, Scot or Gael but still some want to inclose them in one denomination : Pagan.

    As for clothes, most of the time "pagans" wore them. Not because of guilt but simply for survival. Back then there was no antibiotics so a simple scratch on the skin could lead to infection and sometimes death.

    Western world pagans live in a world of fantasy, and sadly, have some times extreme-right elements in them. I'm pretty sure that many of these new pagans have no clue at all of how Europe was settled, and have little information, apart from fantasy, of the history of Celtic, Germanic, Latin tribes before Christianity.

    1. That may be the case, but on the other hand, the historical information may be completely irrelevant to how self-proclaimed Pagans live today.

      This post is about modern-day etiquette at modern-day Pagan events. This historical significance doesn't really matter.

    2. To impose the "Christian" view on other religions is not helpful. And as a scholar of History and Religion, I can tell you that religions change- all of them- over time. That being said the word pagan 1 000 years ago did not mean what it means today, just like the word "savage" in explorer accounts did not have the pejorative meaning it holds today. Words, the human languages all evolve through time as well.

      And I know for a fact that in the Christian view, that all religion who are not christian-jewish-mulsim are considered Pagan, whether it be Celts, Norse, African tribes, Australian First Nations, both North and South American First Nations, etc, are all considered pagan. And each and every single one of them practices their faiths differently not only compared to one other, but differently in themselves over time.

      The pagans of the past are a memory to learn from, but do not reflect what pagan people of the modern era call themselves. I have to applaud the author of this article, they speak of real human issues regarding spiritual practices and they intricacies and problems that arise with real present day solutions. And as JD Hobbes wrote in reply to this as well, the historical argumentation around the issue of perspective, projection of ideology and theology are quite irrelevant to the article.

  4. The most uncomfortable statement I have heard on the topic, and I have heard this many times, from many people, usually at a pub when the topic of sky-clad swimming or dancing comes up, is "Some people really shouldn't be naked at the firepit." or "Some people really weren't meant to be naked."

    This is the opposite of the pressure-statements that you have listed above, and boy does it do a number on self-esteem. The implication that nudity is for the young, the slender, the beautiful, the FEMALE, only - fat people or old people need not shed their clothes. I have heard this so many times, said with a chuckle, and everybody laughs. I have spoken out about it, but when people are in a pub having a laugh, being chastised or lectured just makes them scornful or defensive. It's not easy to be the voice that speaks out.

    Sacred nudity - nudity of any sort really - is for anyone with a body. Ageist, sexist, sizeist comments are unkind, and far too frequent. Practically the first lesson I learned in paganism is that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, each one sacred, and diversity of physique is every bit as important to a vibrant society as diversity of path or personality.

  5. I so love this article, Hobbes. You continue to inspire and educate me. thanks, teacher-man. <3

  6. Very nicely put, and I believe to be helpful to many, I'm the one reserved preferring to share my nakedness with the divine alone...been called square as a result of my disinterest in joining the naked firedancing for instance instead choosing to drum <3

  7. As a life model and a pagan this article resonates on many levels. Well donne Hobbes.

  8. Having attended Starwood at Brushwood in New York State for many years, where the entire site is "clothing optional" I found the very best comment to be, "everybody looks better naked". That of course didn't mean we didn't adorn ourselves, with paint, jewelry, lace...but yes, every BODY looks better naked, I and many others believe. That of course doesn't mean you HAVE to be naked, and many great outfits made up for that that were as interesting as the beautiful bodies people were comfortable to show.