Cloaks, a Cautionary Tale

Cloaks, a Cautionary Tale

Please note: the opinions voiced in this article are the author’s own, with her tongue very firmly in her cheek.  This is intended as a humorous article and not to cause offence. The author’s views are not representative of the Priest-esses of Cerridwen Training.

“No capes!” was the mantra of Edna Mode, a character in the Disney Pixar movie “The Incredibles” (2004).  Edna is the eccentric fashion designer who moonlights by creating costumes for superheroes.  She refuses to embellish her super-suit designs with capes, no matter how stylishly they flutter in the wind.  Her aversion is due to witnessing a long list of superheroes meeting untimely deaths through cape-related calamities e.g. cape caught in a missile being launched, cape caught in a jet-turbine, cape caught on an elevator.  I feel the same way about cloaks for pagans.

As soon as we take our first steps down a pagan path, we are confronted with the thorny topic of “ritual attire”.  Solo practitioners can do as they wish, without reference to anyone else, as long as they are not overlooked.  However, if one wishes to practise with others, in private or public, the dilemma of appropriate clothing will arise.

Firstly, one must decide whether or not to wear any clothes at all… practising naked or “skyclad” is very much de rigueur in certain Circles, popularised largely thanks to Gerald Gardner, drawing on George Leland’s book Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches (1899).  I understand and respect the symbolism behind ritual nudity, described by Starhawk as follows: “The naked body represents truth, the truth that goes deeper than social custom…a sign that a Witch’s loyalty is to the truth before any ideology or any comforting illusions”.  However, there is a time and a place. Being born in Scotland and now living in the mountains of Snowdonia, Wales, I fear the time is “never” and the place is “not here”!

The next hurdle is correctly understanding the difference between a cloak and a robe or indeed a shawl, caftan or poncho.  Well, let me tell you, the difference can be hundreds of British pounds!  Generally speaking, a robe has sleeves and may be closed at the front or open with a belt or wrap-around method of tying it closed.  It is usually worn for indoor rituals and ceremonies.  The cloak is normally an outer garment, cascading from the neck, longer than a cape and sporting a hood.  It is held on by tying at the neck or fastening with a clasp.  Cloak materials vary but the primary purpose of a cloak is to provide warmth and it may be worn on top of robes and/or other clothes.  It seems ironic that we honour the Elements in a garment designed to protect us from them.

From the first moment one casts one’s eyes about the Circle, the gripping green tendrils of Cloak Envy start to take hold.  The gorgeous fabrics.  The fantastic fastenings.  The endless embellishments.  Stop!  Let’s put our Folk Witch on for a moment and talk practicalities…

What will you be doing in your cloak?  Stepping out of your perfectly-valeted car, on a sunny June at midday, tip-toeing a few dainty steps to stand prettily beside a standing stone before retiring to the nearest café for a cream tea?  Or are you planning to be out on the land, in the dark, trudging through mud, floods, beset by the beating of hailstones, horizontal rain, sea spray, dust clouds, thunder and lightning? 

The Gothic glamour of crushed velvet may fit your fantasies but imagine what would happen if you swished too near that candle flame?  Then there is the ethical lure of natural, organic, unbleached fibres… perfect surely?  Well yes, but never leave wet and muddy in a plastic bag on a camping trip or they will end up irretrievably stained and covered in black mould, only fit to be dyed black or used as painting rags.  

My first cloak was woollen.  It had started life as a theatrical costume.  It was felted from real wool and was fully lined, a very fetching purple colour and had a perfectly shaped hood.  The length was great. I am only 5’6” and had discovered early on the annoyance of constantly tripping myself on my cloak when walking uphill or climbing over obstacles.  I need my hands to steady myself or use a staff, not to hold up my hem.  The woollen cloak was warm and windproof.  I had inadvertently set it on fire on multiple occasions and it was only slightly singed.  Ideal?  Oh no.  It was so heavy I could hardly breathe, let alone sing Awens.  The button and loop closing it were perfectly positioned to strangle me when the hood was back.  

One night, I wore the cloak to take part in a special ritual, on a windswept beach.  I was one of a number of “guardians” who had arrived at the beach early.  We were to space ourselves out from the dunes to the end destination, each holding a lantern, to guide those taking part in the ritual safely across the sand and rocky outcrops.   I climbed onto the rocks and got into position to wait.  As can often happen with these escapades, we waited for what felt like hours. I put my hood up and was congratulating myself on being warm and snug, despite the strong gusts and crashing waves, when I caught sight of movement from further up the chain – they were coming.  The adrenaline surge made me jump and try to adjust my footing.  My welly slipped on the seaweed and the weight of my cloak pulled me backwards.  I couldn’t free my hands to save myself and landed with a splash in a large rockpool.  The woollen fabric immediately absorbed all of the sea water from the pool.  I waved my arms and legs around but could not get up.  Rather than looking like the woman in the Scottish Widows advert, I had more in common with a beetle stuck on its back.

A “quick release” clasp for your cloak can be necessary for a number of reasons.  If you are at Llyn Tegid (Lake Bala) or any other body of water in the company of Bee Helygen, be prepared at any moment for her to shed her outer layers and dive in, beckoning you to follow her! Unless you want to be wading as though through treacle you’d better release that cloak before you take the plunge.

I asked several more experienced pagans for advice before upgrading my cloak.  I discovered there are many unspoken rules about cloak etiquette.  Firstly, I encountered the tyranny of the “self-made” mantra.  This school of thought states that a true pagan should only ever make their own ritual garment, by hand, and should only ever wash, iron and mend it themselves.  The scratchier the fabric and the more uneven the hem the better.  I love crafting but am a hopeless seamstress.  I can crochet but am not sure that’s too much of a help in this circumstance. 

The second person I approached was delighted I had asked her about cloaks.  A maniacal glint appeared in her eyes and she grabbed me by the arms in a vice-like grip.  It transpired that she had a cottage industry making ritual garments from her home and could realise my every wish.  She would cut and sew the cloak only at appropriate points in the lunar cycle and when the stars aligned. I could have the correct length, the fabric of my choosing, a beautiful contrasting-coloured lining, a hand-embroidered border and a clasp in the shape of a sleeping dragon, all for (just) less than £500, payable in advance.  I only managed to extricate myself by committing the ultimate faux pas – asking to have two large pockets!

Colour association is another bear-trap for the ill-informed.  Should one have a different cloak for every occasion to make the most of the subtle energies?  Wearing the wrong colour can be socially embarrassing as well as energetically inappropriate.  Turning up for a Samhain Ritual dressed in a vibrant orange cloak might seem seasonally appropriate but being a rotund being, I would most likely end up distracting people by looking for all the world like a giant pumpkin.  Hmm.  Maybe skyclad is the way to go after all.  

Cloaks Cautionary Tale
Image by Jan Muse 
The author, enjoying the freezing Winter’s day, warmly wrapped in her new cloak.


Gail Spiritstar Roberts, Priestess of Cerridwen

Gwynedd, Wales

Gail Spiritstar Roberts - Priestess of Cerridwen

Gail Spiritstar is a Priestess of Cerridwen and an Awenydd of the Anglesey Druid Order. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Gail has always known in her bones the essential, deep connection with nature and a love of wild places. She has been consciously following a path of nature-based spirituality for 35 years. Gail moved to Wales in 1995 to train with the Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. She is an experienced actor, singer and storyteller. Gail now lives in Southern Snowdonia, not far from Llyn Tegid, Bala. As a Priestess she enjoys serving by co-creating ceremonies, building community and…anything else Cerridwen may require!


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