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loki

Wyrd Designs – Cleanliness and Garb at Rituals

originally posted June 7, 2011 at patheos

Heathens are a varied bunch, with varying opinions and interpretations on a number of issues, like with any religion. Among the items debated sometimes (and seemingly ad nauseum at times) is whether one should wear period garb or not.


Personally, I think it’s all about personal choice. I know some people like garb simply because it becomes a visual reminder (and even a physical, tactile one) that helps them slip into the mindset of sacred space when they participate in ritual observances. Others don’t feel that call, or may have other things they might do. Perhaps they have a specific item of jewelry they wear for ritual that they may not otherwise wear in their daily life.

On the more practical side of things, sometimes the event, and location should determine the garb. An elaborate dress and high heels (or a suit and suede loafers) isn’t very practical if you have to hike through woods to a spring on a rainy day.

We do know from antiquity, these gatherings (especially the really big ones) were a big affair, and would have meant people would be well groomed, and wearing some of their best clothing. When you talk about some of our larger ritual occurrences, such as what occurred at Iceland’s althing, the gatherings was in part religious ritual, but also in part legislative body, the passers of judicial judgments, a business trade summit, and also embodied an eligible bride/groom market. Just like today when you go to court, or to a business meeting, or want to dress to impress a potential date… (within reason!) that attitude I think should be taken over in context to our religious gatherings today, based of course on the setting and activities anticipated (whether its garb, or modern modes of dress).

While I don’t think that needs to translate into something like a suit, I do think it is a sign of respect NOT to show up in clothes that are stained and falling apart, torn and full of holes, and to make sure you’ve bathed. Showing up to ritual covered in mud, your hair greasy from not taking a shower… is to my mind a major faux pas. This is a ritual, and both your fellows at the ritual, appreciate good hygiene. No body wants to stand next to the person that smells like a sewer! (And on this note, don’t over indulge on scents either like colognes or perfume!) Thankfully this isn’t common, but unfortunately it does still occur.

While some may believe the stereotype of Vikings as barbarians and therefore think of them as unwashed savages, the simple fact is that they had quite an affinity to being clean, and yes this does include the Viking Warriors!

In the Havamal it says:

Washed and fed, a man should ride to the Assembly
though he may not be very well dressed;
of his shoes and breeches no man should be ashamed
nor of his horse, though he doesn’t have a good one.


I always took this to mean, yes be hygienic, but if you weren’t a rich man don’t be ashamed you aren’t dressed as one is. Not everyone can afford Armani suits, or the latest pair of Jimmy Choos, or a Yves Saint Laurent original. But that you should wash up, and put on the best clothes you can, as a sign of both respect and courtesy.

I’m always amused by how there’s one account at least that describes how the Anglo-Saxons would time their attacks for when the Norse invaders decided to bathe. Or how the treaty between the Varangian Guard (who originally came from the Rus Vikings) and the Byzantium Empire, stipulated the Empire had to supply the Rus with baths as often as they wanted them. In areas like Iceland where we see natural springs, we see an affinity and bathing culture at these hot springs that go back generations. Remember, even one of the days of our week (Saturday) was laundryday for a reason!

We see ‘cleanliness’ and ‘gods-liness’ go hand and hand in our own religion (think of frithful behavior and guidelines like one didn’t defecate or urinate at sacred sites without breaking frith as we see in Eyrbyggja Saga). We also see with descriptions of the Goddess Nerthus in Tacitus, that even the Goddess was bathed and cleaned in her secret, sacred, hidden lake. So, don’t you think that even the Gods and Goddesses, the ancestors and the land vaettir want to deal with CLEAN mortals, versus one with ‘low-giene’ as my friends’ mother calls it.

I dress in a range from nice casual to all dolled up when I go to interact with the community at rituals. Period garb is not something that personally I feel called to use. What about you? What’s your preferred attire for ritual? Or do you have any horror stories to share about someone showing up for ritual who was just disgustingly filthy?

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