I’m not a big fan of robes. I don’t own any magical robes. If I’m doing magic, I’m either doing it in my street clothes or doing it skyclad. I’m the guy showing up to rituals wearing blue jeans and a Darkwing Duck t-shirt that says “Let’s Get Dangerous”.
There are some advantages and disadvantages to working with robes, and I’d like to spend some time going over them. Spiritually speaking, robes don’t give much of an advantage over working skyclad, which from a purely spiritual standpoint is always going to be the better option. However for various reasons, such as being in public, the comfort level of the group, and the weather, working skyclad is not always a practical option.
1. The Advantages of Wearing Robes
Entering Rituals Clean
One of the big advantages of having specific ritual clothing is to better control the energy you take into a ritual. Through out the day our clothing soaks in a lot of energy, most of which comes from ourselves but some also comes from our environment. Some of this is lost when clothes are washed, after all washing clothes is a sort of cleansing ritual, however even when clothes are washed not all of the energy is removed from the clothing. This is especially true when the intent was just to get the clothes clean and not to specifically spiritually cleanse them. Over time the energy inside of clothes builds up, and so clothing that has been owned for a long time and worn a lot tends to have a good amount of energy soaked into it.
When one tries to enter into a ritual presenting a certain type of energy, or when one tries to enter into a ritual completely clean, this can be inhibited by clothing. And if you do cleansing rituals prior to magical work, such as taking a special ritual bath, wearing your everyday clothes negates the benefits of the cleansing ritual.
The only way to completely eliminate the issue of energy charged into clothing during your magical work is to either practice skyclad or wear completely new clothes at every ritual. However special ritual clothing does help to mitigate these effects.
Magical robes are not things you’re supposed to wear around the house or when you go to renfair. They’re special clothes that are only supposed to be worn during ritual. Energy is still going to get soaked into the robes, but there are two advantages to using special ritual clothing. First off the energy being soaked into the robes is usually going to be the energy you typically take into or work with while doing magical rituals. Secondly if you are always doing cleansing rituals prior to rituals in which you wear the robes, in order to do away with unwanted energy, then the energy soaked into magical robes will be minimal.
Any time we bring a tool to a ritual it will become charged by it, although unless the ritual was specifically designed to charge something that charge will probably be slight. However when we consistently take the same item to ritual after ritual it becomes more and more charged. Eventually, without any real effort, we have a strongly charged magical item.
Clothes are no different. The clothes we bring to a ritual usually get a slight charge to them. However if we usually wear our street clothes, we probably aren’t going to be wearing the same clothes to every ritual. Also our street clothes are getting charged with other energy through out the day and this other energy is going to drown out a lot of what is going to be taken in during a ritual. Unless you practice a philosophy like Kitchen Witchery it would be very rare to use a magical tool for a non-magical purpose. If you were using a magical tool in your day to day life for mundane purposes it would still be charged from the rituals you were using it in, but that charge would be less than if you were only using it for ritual purposes (note: certain magical practices, like the aforementioned Kitchen Witchery, use an alternate theory on tools and an alternate method of charging those tools, and tools properly maintained according to those practices can be just as powerful, or even more powerful, than magical tools used exclusively in ritual. I understand the theories of Kitchen Witchery and how they work, and agree they do work, however it’s not what I’m talking about right now).
When we use special ritual clothing, like robes, ultimately we end up with a specially charged magical tool for magical practice. We can even take special precautions when washing our robes so that we minimize the amount of energy we use while cleansing it.
We can even take this one step further and specifically charge our robes so they are an even more powerful ritual tool, and in the same way we can add stones or sigils on to our robes to further empower them.
One of the strongest arguments for robes, one I’m going to counter in a point further down, is also a common argument that is made for skyclad practices. By wearing special ritual clothing, in this case robes, we help facilitate a transformation from our mundane selves into our magical selves. By constantly reinforcing, in our heads, that when we are wearing our robes we are doing our magical work, putting on robes can instantly take us to a state where we are psychologically ready to perform magic. The robes act as a mental trigger that changes us from whatever we physically are most of the time into a spiritual being capable of performing magic.
Especially with novice practitioners, robes used in this way will help a person gain a great deal more focus and will also help them mentally prepare themselves to do rituals much faster. It’s also going to set a certain ambiance and make the practitioner feel more like a magician and make the magical acts feel more real. After all when we wear robes we’re no longer some guy in blue jeans and a t-shirt that makes some cultural reference to our childhood, we’re now like something out of the Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, and our beliefs and how we feel strongly affects our magic and how successful it is. Not to mention that this idea that we are a magician helps us to tap into power reserves and knowledge we may not even know we possess.
2. Issues With Robes
I have to mention that most of the benefits of wearing robes only apply if robes are the only thing you’re wearing. I’ve seen a lot of groups where robes are simply put on over regular clothing, which negates most of the benefits of wearing robes. Even underwear shouldn’t be worn, unless you have special underwear you only wear during rituals.
Something I brought up before is that the benefits of robes are lost when robes are not kept as special clothing that is only worn for rituals. Luckily there’s only a handful of really silly folk who wear their robes everywhere. Unfortunately though I’ve noticed a lot of folks wear robes for non-magical spiritual purposes, and the people who do this the most often are the high priests and priestesses and group leaders, people who should know better. These are people who wear ritual robes to discussion groups, to meet-and-greets, and to classes they teach. These are technically spiritual meet-ups, and the robes are acceptable garments for the situation, but no magical ritual is taking place, and when robes are worn in a non-ritual setting they become less useful in a ritual setting. Many of these group leaders do so to set a tone, to look and act like a real practitioner, or to sell their spiritual beliefs. In these instances the robes aren’t really a magical tool but rather just a costume being worn.
3. Arguments Against Robes
Energy Issues Are Negligible
If you want to come into a ritual completely clean and have a completely controlled environment, the only way to do that is to do the ritual skyclad. If however that isn’t possible, the next best option is to wear robes. However the amount of energy contained within your normal clothing isn’t going to be a huge issue. It’s a minor factor that should be easily corrected by an experienced magician. This is especially true because the vast majority of the energy in your clothing is your energy, and you should be more or less compatible with it. The one exception would be clothing that isn’t yours or clothing someone else has worn. That sort of clothing can be tainted with energy that is very incompatible with you, and although the situation is still correctable by an experienced magician, it puts a greater strain on the practitioner.
If you’ve noticed, many of the ways in which robes help a magician are meant to help novice practitioners, not experienced practitioners. Experienced practitioners should be beyond any of the help that robes can offer, making robes useless for them.
Meanwhile the benefits that novice practitioners receive from using robes may actually be hurting them in the long run. Some practitioners will use the robes as a crutch early on and never learn how to operate without them. They’ll never learn how to compensate for or change the energy in their clothes, or how to mentally prepare their mind for ritual work without the robes. It’s like putting training wheels on a bike instead of learning how to ride it.
The best argument against robes is one that rests largely on personal spiritual beliefs. As a tool, robes are different from something like a wand or a sword. A wand is a tool that we use when we need it. When our wand serves a purpose within our ritual we take it out and use it, but when a wand doesn’t serve a specific purpose in our ritual, we work magic without one.
Robes, however, are something that we are always supposed to wear into ritual. Robes are not a tool that we only need some of the time. After all one of the key purposes of wearing robes is that they help us transition from our everyday mundane self into our magical and spiritual selves. Robes push us from the normal, physical world into the spiritual world where magic is real.
This concept, however, creates a separation between the physical world, where we spend most of our lives, and the spiritual world, and in doing so it restricts our spiritual activities, or at least a greater part of our spiritual activities, to a specific time of the day or specific day of the week.
This is fine if you believe that magical practice should be kept separate from the rest of our lives. In fact an argument that they should be kept separate was made by some of the early Ceremonial Magicians who were instrumental in promoting robed practice and making it as popular as it is today. In fact a lot of other modern magical practices, such as using the LBRP, are based on the foundation that our magical practice should just be one segment of our lives kept separate from the rest of it.
However the theory of spiritual separation is not universally held, and many magicians completely dismiss this idea. Personally my spirituality is not something that occurs for a few hours a week. I am a spiritual person every hour of every day. Every choice I make and action I take, every thought I have, and even my morality are all affected by my spiritual beliefs. In the same way I don’t practice magic just some of the time, and I’m not a magician for part of the week. Even on a typical day where I attend no group functions and perform no ritual magic, I can’t even begin to count all of the different magic that I perform. I start my day by hitting the snooze button and magically slowing down time outside of my bed to 1/4th speed so I can get more sleep, and I end it by doing my nightly meditations, and there’s going to be dozens if not hundreds of other magical acts in between, not to mention the fact that I’m probably going to be doing stuff in my sleep too.
My magical practice is not separated from the rest of my life, and I don’t want it to be. In fact I could argue that constant practice produces stronger magicians. There are of course downsides, mainly that you have to allow magic and spirituality and everything that comes with it to intrude upon every aspect of your life.
Robes are a Fire Hazard
Finally I have to add that robes, like any loose fitting clothing, are a fire hazard. Members of the magical community are well known for not following proper fire safety precautions, and robes, along with other ritual wear like capes and cloaks, contribute to our collective poor fire safety. Anytime a ritual uses candles or you have an outdoor ritual around a fire, robes become a fire hazard, and every year lots of practitioners accidentally set their robes, and themselves, on fire. In fact one of the best arguments I can make for skyclad practice is that if everyone practiced skyclad we’d start a few less accidental fires every year.