17 March 2007

Neopagans as Freak Shows

So lately there's been a lot of talk in the blogosphere about the various dress styles of my fellow pagans. I guess I'm the last pagan blogger to comment about this, probably because I haven't been to any festivals in recent years. Seems the outfits some of my fellow neopagans wear out in public are, shall we say, extravagantly ridiculous. There seems to be two main types of dress prevalent with the overdressed pagan: the historical period dress and the fantasy costume. The historical outfits I can almost understand, especially if one practices a Reconstructionist religion: period dress would seem to make sense along with all the other historically accurate ritual items. So, for the purposes of this post I'll consider those folks their own category apart from the rest of the costumed pagans. My beef is with those who like to dress up in historical or quasi-historical outfits simply because they're pretty or cool or whatever. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a history buff too and some of us, well, perhaps most of us, look with longing at times past when there was no Christianity or when Christianity did not have such a stranglehold on our society. And wearing period-style dress is one way, apparently, that some neo-pagans relive a little of said past. And while I can sympathize with anyone wanting to crawl out from under the rock of Christianity I have to wonder at the logic of it all: what is this romantic obsession with historical dress up? For one thing, just because paganism was much more prolific in certain points in the past doesn't mean that everything was roses. The ancient world, or even the Middle Ages, while attractive in some ways were god-awful horrible in others. Due to disease and the general lack of cleanliness (compared to today) most people never lived to see old age. Sacrifice of humans and animals for ritual purposes was a common, everyday occurrence in ancient times. Elaborate public torture and executions were typical of many cultures as was sexual abuse of children, slavery and a myriad of hideous issues that we neopagans know nothing about but were pervasive throughout history. And my biggest problem with this kind of dress up: only the wealthy few in times past got to wear these fancy outfits, the majority of folks wore plain as plain clothes, but I seriously doubt that any peasant clothes will show up at any pagan festivals.

Then there are those who like to dress up as Tolkien characters, fairy princesses, Dungeons and Dragons warlocks and the like. Now I consider "Lord of the Rings" something of a pagan bible too, I even consider myself a modern-day hobbit, but dressing up as literary figure for ritual? It doesn't make much sense to me. I can understand wanting to slip into fantasy while slipping into a Gandalf or Arwen consume for trick-or-treating purposes but I don't think that's fitting for a ritual. Working magic, honoring and invoking the gods and elementals and raising energy for positive change are real events that take place in the real world. Why would anyone want to make it into a fantasy? Is ritual not enough of a magical experience that you have to put on special makeup and spend untold amounts of money on an elaborate Halloween costume? It seems almost deceitful and downright disrespectful. And, yes, for the record I do understand the connections between stage drama and ritual, there are similarities between assuming a persona for a play and connecting with the higher mind through ritual action. Actually, there are more than similarities, I understand this. But whatever happened to approaching ritual as you are, instead of what you want to be?

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