Masking Up, Dressing Up

So there’s this perennial argument that does the rounds every so often on social media within druidry. “Do you wear robes?”
The two polarised opinions which rarely meet are:
a) robes put me in a certain state of mind and designate a certain space in time when I am ‘working’,  and
b) I don’t wear robes and don’t need to put anything on to make myself spiritual, its just dressing up

When I first started out with druidry, I got a robe.  This was a gift to me, hand made by my teenage daughter as a gift of love and support.  I only wore it when I was in ritual.  There were the few minutes immediately before ritual when I would put it on, and the taking it off immediately afterwards was like a grounding exercise.  Years later I was still wearing this robe when I joined a grove where the use of robes became compulsory.  Being told I had to put it on changed how I looked at wearing my robe, and I stopped. During one grove ritual there was a part about shedding the things that hold us back, and I removed my robe and put it on the ground.

I was one for being ‘out in nature’ and did a lot of ritual work on mountains, by lakes, miles away from civilisation.  I didn’t wear robes.  Less to carry, for one thing, and I figured that “I don’t need robes to be spiritual” but years later it dawned on me that on these trips out, I was invariably wearing the same clothes each time, clothes that I never wore anywhere else, even down to the footwear.  Had I stopped wearing robes, or just changed to a different set of robes?

Another thing is masks.  I used to regularly go to druid camps, and there was a piece of ritual working that we did each time that involved the putting on of a mask.  For several years I would not do this, because I felt the power of the mask and didn’t feel that I was aligned with it.  It wasn’t right for me to put that on.
Years later found me in the same ritual, in woodland, putting on that same mask and looking at the world through the eyes of the Antlered Lord of the Forest.  I found that to be a very powerful experience, seeing everything in a different light. I wanted to run, to be free.  The circle felt like a cage, something I wanted to escape from. More than that I had a feeling that I was trapped inside a body that wasn’t mine, that constrained me,  until I turned and saw the people chanting my name, the altar they had made for me and the offerings that had been left in my name.  These kept me in, and feeling like I should be there with them.

This came to mind recently when I saw this video on facebook, unexpectedly.  Drag is not about becoming a woman.  It is becoming a character, a persona. It is theatrical more than ‘everyday’.  The drag persona is a separate identity, it is purposely OTT.  This is meant to be a touching and humorous video – there is a part about half way through, where the dad gets made up by the drag queens and talks about the experience – there is quite a bit going on here, where the dad looks through the eyes of his son, who is looking at his own reflection in the mirror.

Then there are other kinds of dressing up – the wearing of uniforms.  There are school uniforms that come with some rules of accepted behaviour whilst wearing them.  There are professional uniforms for work that work to change a persons identity, to produce a conformity of behaviour and to to change the way that everyone else identifies with the person in the uniform.

Which kind of brings me back to my original robe from the beginning of my journey.  It came back to life during the anti-fracking protests where I live.  During several of these I was to do public ritual for up to 100 people in the gates of a drilling site.  To hold space within a much larger crowd of non-pagans all with different ideas and reasons to be there required me to use the robe to come become visible, for me to look separate from the protest for that set amount of time, to be seen to be the druid, rather than just some random guy in the crowd telling people where to stand and co-ordinate things.


There is also a common saying in the English language of ‘putting a hat on’ to mean stepping into a role, or speaking from a professional viewpoint. If a person is fulfilling several different professional or official roles, they are said to be ‘wearing several hats’, and they may give opinion from each hat, which may actually be different from their personal opinion.

Finally, to quote Gordon White –

Take mask work – what do you think is going on with mask work in a Western context and in say… a shamanic Siberian specifically context?

We know it’s beneficial in a Western therapeutic context.
How and why do you think that is, on a personal basis?
And is the same thing (maybe just at a different level of intensity, who knows?) going on in a Siberian or New Guinean or whatever ritual context that’s outside the Anglosphere?

Have you split these mask processes as being somehow different in your head and should you?

And once you’ve solved that to your own satisfaction, once you’ve kind of folded them in to not necessarily the same thing but to your own satisfaction of how you validate truth and and how things look really in the world,  what’s going on when you get dressed in the morning to do the school run? Is there more you can be doing or at least thinking with this process?

Like I said open questions…



Meanwhile, here’s one of Morten Wolf Storeide’s beautiful photos from Naturfest, the annual shamanic gathering organised by Sjamanistisk Forbund (Shamanic Foundation) in Norway.. This shows our friend, Tuvan shaman, Dimitrij Markov, in full ceremonial regalia. Once again, we were reminded that, beneath the surface differences between our various indigenous cultures, those of us who work with spirits have a great deal in common…

Blessings to all  /|\