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The spiritual dance of nudity: Interview with a Wiccan
Unveiling nudity's role in Wiccan traditions with Liam Cyfrin
In the realm of contemporary spirituality, a unique connection exists between Wicca and naturism. Today, I aim to explore this intricate relationship with Liam Cyfrin, an Australian-born writer and editor who currently resides in the United States. Liam has made notable contributions to the modern world of Wicca, including co-editing Shadowplay Magazine since its inception in 1984, and regularly contributing articles to an Australian magazine called WitchCraft. He has also collaborated with musician and author Fiona Horne on several books, including Witch: A Personal Journey (1998) and Pop! Goes the Witch: The Disinformation Guide to 21st Century Witchcraft (2004).
Notably, Liam is a lifelong naturist, and he asserts that this lifestyle seamlessly aligns with both Wicca and the modern Pagan movement.
In asking him for an interview, it was my hope to explore the spiritual significance of nudity in Wicca through Liam’s experience, to examine the intersection between Wicca and naturism, and hopefully to touch on the historical context and ethical principles that underpin this enigmatic practice. Those are lofty aims for a short article, but hopefully if we fall short of achieving those goals it will at least have been an enjoyable read. What more can we really ask for? 🚀
Planet Nude: Which came first in your life, Wicca or naturism?
Liam: Naturism by many years as my siblings and I were raised in something of a clothing optional home by very sensible parents. We weren't club nudists, but the dress code at home was extremely casual and we spent lots of time nude on beaches in our holidays. So, equating nudity with comfort and freedom came to me very early on.
Were you also exposed to Wicca concepts at a young age?
No, that came in my teens, though I'd become quite a little Pantheist before that. When I was sixteen, we moved to England for a year, and it was over there, through exploring ancient sites like Avebury and Stonehenge, that I began to equate spirituality with our common Pagan heritage. At the same time, I became part of my first naturist club.
It wasn't until I returned to Australia though that I began reading books that linked Wicca with that tradition of Earth Magic. It was an absolute bonus that many writing in that field stressed the role of nakedness in that tradition. The two concepts instantly clicked for me.
Where does the connection between nudity and spirituality come from in Wicca and other Pagan traditions?
As Ronald Hutton, Professor of History at the University of Bristol, points out religious nudity is a relatively rare phenomenon, but nakedness is common, globally and historically, in traditions of magic, and Wicca to some extent merges spirituality and these sorts of folk traditions. Nudity is also common in various inspirations of modern Wicca such as Classical art and the depictions of otherworldly entities such as faeries, and many writers on modern Pagan traditions were inspired to make these connections a part of a re-imagined set of practices.
The fact that some of the more influential characters in these traditions, such as Gerald Gardner, one of modern Wicca's most significant writers, and Ross Nichols, founder of The Order of Bards Ovates and Druids, were naturists helped matters along.
Did these writers more or less invent these traditions to be spirituality for naturists?
That has been argued, but it's more accurate to say that they were responding to a rich undercurrent of sacred nudity already inherent in things like Witchcraft.
Was—and is—nudity a requirement in Wicca?
It was in some circles, but it's in the nature of Wicca not to bow to any centralized authority. It's really the opposite of a cult in that respect. Typically each individual or group makes up their own mind as to the skyclad tradition. Some practise nude anytime the weather and setting allow, whereas others always practise clothed, whether in robes or street clothes.
What is the rationale for skyclad Witchcraft and how does it differ from naturism?
In skyclad Wiccan gatherings, nakedness represents being as in tune with nature, and so the forces behind nature, as it's possible to get. Boundaries between our physical selves and the greater world are removed, and the body is in something of a state of grace. Many naturists experience this sort of thing. Wicca simply uses this to enhance a spiritual practice.
Another purpose of shared naked ritual is to bring people closer together, a phenomenon also noticed by many naturists. There's a solidarity that forms when individuals are brought together without the barrier of clothes, whether in a shared Wicca gathering or a World Naked Bike Ride.
How have groups you've practised with worked? Was everyone always nude?
Not always. There were just about always a majority of skyclad people but for those new to the practice, we always invited them to be robed. What usually happened was the robes mysteriously vanished during the first or second ritual.
Were most people in those gatherings naturists too?
A majority tended in that direction, whether or not they used the term. Often people would mix socially after a Circle without being in a hurry to dress. For others though nudity was mainly kept for the rituals. It was their Sunday Best, rather than an everyday costume.
What are you thoughts about required nudity?
Every group is its own authority, so whatever works for it is fine. No one is coerced into unwanted nudity as it's their call whether or not to be part of that group. It's much like naked Yoga classes, which I've often attended. They're not clothing optional, but no one is forced to take that particular class. There a lots of alternatives.
Are there any specific rituals that being skyclad are part of?
Only initiation into a group or into a Wicca tradition. Even groups that don't meet skyclad often make an exception for initiations, the idea being that it's a form of rebirth so the initiate should be dressed in no more than he or she was during their actual birth.
Are there ethical tenets in Wicca that complement the principles of body freedom and acceptance commonly found in nudism?
In many Wicca traditions, the primary idea is that 'If it harms none, do what you will'. That principle could well apply not just within naturism, but in the world at large with regard to public nudity. No one is ever really harmed by the sight of a clothes-free human form, whatever they might claim.
How has your Australian heritage influenced your perspectives on nudity, if at all?
Australia is still behind many European countries in the acceptance of nudity, but it's a lot more casual than the US. I attribute this to the difference between a country founded by convicts, people who didn't mind bending the rules a bit, and one founded by puritans of all people!
On Australian beaches and on bush paths, I've free hiked a lot, trusting in Australian's easy-going natures, and I've never had a bad experience doing so. It's not something I'd be comfortable doing here in the US.
What recommendations do you have for those wanting to understand Wicca better?
Step number one is to read a lot. For a history of the area, you can't do better than Ronald Hutton's “The Triumph of the Moon.” For practical instruction, a few older books such as Starhawk's “The Spiral Dance” and the works of Stewart and Janet Farrar are still hard to beat.
Step two is to try things like nude meditation or Yoga. They'll begin to forge stronger ties between the physical and the spiritual.
Finally, begin to attune yourself more closely to the moods and changes of nature, such as the phases of the moon and the flow of seasons. Experience how they are reflected within you. And through all that attunement, remember that the fewer barriers between you and the world the better. Nudity isn't a requirement of Wicca, Druidry and other forms of Pagan spirituality, but for a large percentage of practitioners it enhances them quite magically. 🪐
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