Beltane is fast approaching – the house martins are back, the bluebells are coming out, the earth underfoot is soft and the air is turning warmer. Many thoughts are turning to the coming summer, the long days, the short nights, the summer clothes, or lack thereof. I’ve heard it said that Beltane arrives when it is warm enough to make love outside without freezing your bits off, alongside the usual ‘when the hawthorn blooms’. But I do wonder, with a smile – is it ever the season in Britain to have your clothes off?
Don’t get me wrong – I love being naked. Without the restriction of clothing, the body moving freely, feeling the air upon your skin, swimming naked; all these are pure bliss. What’s not so lovely about being naked outdoors is sunburn, or bug bites, sitting on thistles or treading around nettles, etc. We humans (sadly, in my opinion) have evolved without all that much fur to protect us from the elements.
On the rare days that it is warm enough here in Britain to get outside naked, you’re more than likely to get sunburn, especially if you’re fair like I am. I’m not a big fan of slathering sunscreen all over my body (I don’t like the feeling of the lotion). I’d rather wear some lightweight clothing to protect my bits from the sun, wearing sunscreen on any exposed bits. That way, it also doesn’t interfere with any insect repellent that I might be wearing – I love lavender, as well as citronella, as they are brilliant at keeping away the mozzies and the midges. However, they can react with your sunscreen, making it less effective, so I try not to combine the two on my skin. So, if you’re not being burned or bitten, it’s probably cold and wet and rainy, which is nice, for a while being outside and naked in, but for a sustained length of time leaving you shivering and probably not terribly healthy in the end.
There are also other considerations to bear in mind when being outdoors and naked – will others see you? It’s still illegal in this country, unless you’re in a designated naturist resort or camp. I’ve spent many summer days at nudist beaches and hot springs, revelling in the lovely feeling of freedom of being naked (bugs are less of an issue on the beach and around the hotsprings, though sunscreen is a constant pain). These are places where people know that they will be seeing other naked people – it’s not a surprise or a shock when they come across the naked human form. We have to consider other people’s issues as well as our own when we are exploring nudity – we can’t just think of ourselves in this regard. How would I feel if my nudity made someone feel uncomfortable? While it’s good to challenge people’s perceptions every now and then, pushing them into uncomfortable situations isn’t all that respectful. Think of the young girl who has been sexually abused by her stepfather, and confronted suddenly with a naked male stranger during ritual or at a pagan camp – that’s not a situation that is taking into consideration her story, her feelings on the matter. Working with compassion means we have to try to understand everyone’s story, even as we are telling our own, and realising that others’ stories matter, even if we haven’t heard them. If we are in a designated area where we know there will be nudity, and where everyone is in the same mindset, then we can be more respectful to the thoughts and feelings of others, whatever their situation.
It’s a great and liberating thing to do, to explore nudity outdoors, getting in touch with your body, spending some time around other naked bodies without a sexual agenda. However, I would say that there is a time and place for this, in order to respect other people’s feelings (and the law). My last trip to Avebury in March saw a couple just on the other side of the bank pleasuring each other in a field – a beautiful affirmation of their feelings, yes, but not entirely appropriate perhaps when walking around with a three-year old. And speaking of sexual agendas, making love in the forest, while perhaps being illegal (indecent exposure) can be a beautiful expression of our souls connecting not only with each other, but the earth itself (though do be prepared for possible bug bites in embarrassing places – or massage each other first with a lavender massage oil!). It all comes down to respect – will you be disturbing anyone? If so, I’m sure that there are other equally fine alternatives.
It all comes down to respect – respect for yourself, for others and for the land. May you find blessed freedom and comfort in your own body!
Joanna van der Hoeven is a Druid, Witch and a best-selling author. She has been working in Pagan traditions for over 20 years. She is the Director of Druid College UK, helping to re-weave the connection to the land and teaching a modern interpretation of the ancient Celtic religion. She has published many renowned books on Druidry including The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid and Zen Druidry: Living a Natural Life, With Full Awareness.