These Heathens Reject “Garb”

Next comes shoe polish, gentlemen! (Photo from The Runestone).

I have heard complaints from some Heathen groups about too many people trying to copy the movie-Viking look of Ragnar Lothbrok, Brjorn Ironside, and the rest of the Vikings TV seriies.

Now Matthew D. Flavel, Alsherjargothi of the Asatru Folk Assembly, makes it official. No garb!

There was a period during the early days of modern Asatru where it was the norm for folks to wear Viking reenactment garb for events and rituals. There was an idea that by trying to recreate the look and feel of the Viking age, folks could better connect with our Gods and more “authentically” practice our religion. Perhaps that was a necessary stage in order to reject what folks were used to and embrace something that was very different. Perhaps folks felt better connected to an idealized time, a better time for our folk’s spirituality, by attempting to imitate the dress of that period. Happily, our religion has grown and developed over the last 50 years and, in the AFA, we no longer feel the need to reenact something dead, instead, we enact something living and vibrant in our own day and in our own real lives. Just as the Vikings did not dress up as cavemen in order to be more spiritual, we do not need to dress up as Vikings to be pious.

I was wondering about the appeal of “dressing like the ancestors” some years ago.

In the Wiccan world, I have gotten mixed messages over the years. There is the definite priestess-y fashion statement that involves auburn hair and flowing garments. I have no problem with that — in fact, I married one of them, although I have not seen M. in flowing garments for years. She turned out to be a boots-and-jeans type of gal, which is fine with me.

But against the Renn Faire Wicca stereotype, there was the Denver old-guard/Gard HP who told me during a festival around 1990 that “You can tell the elders. They’re the ones in blue jeans.” Of course, the old guard/Gard types don’t wear jeans in ritual, except maybe at mountain festivals.

So I have often wondered if “dressing like the ancestors” takes you out of the mundane world, but simultaneously if it is not also an obstacle.

7 thoughts on “These Heathens Reject “Garb”

  1. This same conversation has gone on for decades in Hellenic polytheism too. I used to favor Greek-style clothing for big rituals, and especially public rituals, just as a way to connect with the history of the tradition, and present a united “look” for the group, but it does have the danger of making it feel like a reenactment rather than a religious experience…. these days, I hardly ever take out my khiton, and usually focus on wearing appropriately symbolic colors and jewelry, and maybe on the practical aspect too if the ritual is outdoors (rain boots are essential ritual gear for the Pacific Northwest).

    The thing is, it’s impractical to change into anything too particular for every single devotional act if your life is imbued with ritual, so if your spiritual practice is constant, you end up either just wearing your regular clothes most of the time, or (like me) taking the extra step of crafting an everyday wardrobe with inherent meaning built in to every piece you wear at any time (again, things like color associations). For special occasions like annual festivals, I add a stephanos or flower/leaf crown, which is a nod to tradition but also can be rooted in the here and now, made from local vegetation.

  2. When I put on my Viking drakt, it connects me to my female ancestors who had to create from scratch every single item of clothing they and their families wore. This puts me in a really good head space, and reminds me that before I invoke the deities, I need to express gratitude to those who came before me.

  3. I guess that my general outlook is that it’s appropriate for Witches and Pagans and Heathens to wear any clothing they choose to in a ritual or celebratory setting–or go sky-clad. This has carried across my experience from solitary work through small groups to very large public rituals.

    I’d classify myself as a plainclothes practitioner.

    At the same time, apparel (or the lack of it) and costuming probably does have some awareness altering, entering sacred space, and energy gathering functions that can be used in rituals and celebrations. Sometimes, I suppose, enthusiasm may run this awry. So garb guidelines may prove necessary.

  4. I’m of an age that I recall everyone getting dressed to the nines for church on Sunday, especially at the holidays. It feels natural for me to dress awesome for certain worship occasions. I don’t try to dress like the ancients or Ancestors, though. I just want to look festive.

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