Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Funny, You Don't Look Pagan...

It's never occurred to me that I should have a 'look'. I'm pretty down to earth in terms of everyday dress- mostly I wear what's comfortable (or whatever is clean). I'm not a clotheshorse. I stopped changing the length of my hemline every season with the whim of fashionistas about 10 years ago. I've traded in my jeans for semi-fitted women's trousers, most of which have elastic waists because they allow some 'give' when my ruptured discs are inflamed and I need a bit of room to accommodate that. A tailored blouse and jacket usually complete the outfit. I wear low heeled,practical shoes out of necessity: the days of three inch heels that elongated my legs and added a wisp of sex appeal are long gone.

My professional wardrobe is a slight upgrade from what I wear everyday: tailored dresses and coordinated suits with slightly fancier blouses and some quality pieces of jewelry. On the days I have to look like a member of the clergy I wear the standard,unisex black suit and clerical shirt with white collar. 
Not the Vicar of Dibley
I resemble the lead character of the BBC series The Vicar of Dibley; I suppose I could do worse than look like Dawn French. It's still a head-turner in some parts of the neighborhood, although you'd think that after 30 years people would have gotten used to seeing women ministers out and about. In other parts of the community the collar adds a layer of protection. It gets me into homeless shelters and prisons easily and usually is an instant pass into hospitals after visiting hours- and occasionally gets me a discount in religious goods stores. I prefer the full Anglican collar to the Roman type ( the one with the little white tab in the front), but both are made of stiff plastic and pretty uncomfortable. Occasionally I wear an elemental cross or something that is obviously not Christian, such as a goddess pendant. No one seems to notice the difference except me; if I happen to pass one of my Pagan brethren I usually get an appreciative nod or smile of recognition.

I wear ritual garb when it's appropriate, that is, in the circle. You won't catch me leisurely flipping through the CDs in the music depart at Kmart wearing a long black robe with pointed sleeves, or a long Gothic dress and circlet, wand and ritual blade at my side. Oberon Zell Ravenheart can get away with looking like Dumbledore's twin at the grocery store, but I when I go  to Food Lion to squeeze the cantaloupes I'm usually wearing  sweats and a hoodie.Nothing against OZ, he's one of my heroes, but I'll wager you he goes out in civies most of the time, too.

Any way, there must be a Pagan look....and I most definitely don't have it, because one of my fellow ministers told me so at a ministerial coalition meeting. I was also informed that I didn't meet the Pagan dress code by an ER nurse and at the women's prison once when they checked my ID at the door. The guard actually used the paraphrased line of  "Funny, you don't look Jewish" with the P word inserted. I had no other response other than to smile wanly...I'd given it my best shot by wearing a small triple moon pendant. Was I supposed to wear a pentagram around my neck the size of a hubcap? One of those nifty name tags thoughtfully supplied by the ULC Seminary that has the crossed brooms emblazoned on it? A pointy hat and cape? I have, however, been verbally accosted by someone demanding to know why, as a Pagan, I was dressed," Like a Christian Minister." They were offended by my clericals, which I  earned the right to wear as an ordained Episcopalian, and continued to wear as an ordained,interfaith, specifically Pagan minister.

The backwards collar and black clothing are the uniform of the professional minister who chooses to wear them, and not all do. Many ministers of any number of faiths do not wear clericals out of personal preference, and there are a number of variations on the theme as younger ministers, specifically female, don clerical shirts of a variety of colors and styles....none of which indicate the denomination of the clergy person in question. Clerical clothes are not specific to any one particular religious tradition, and in fact have their origin in the stiff  detachable collar worn by all gentlemen in Western civilization a the turn of the previous century. Ministers started turning the collar around backwards to indicate their status in society: the first to do this was actually a Methodist-a Protestant denomination of Wesleyan influence who most definitely do not have any connection to the Roman Catholic Church. Because most ministers at that time were males, the backward collar became the style and many decades later when the mainstream denominations began ordaining females into their ranks, the collar was adopted by them.

The street clericals make a minister instantly recognizable, no matter what church their ministry is in, and even some Jewish Rabbis employed as Chaplains adopt the clerical suit when making prison and hospital visits as they are required by the institution. Police, fire department, EMS and military Chaplains have some form of similar uniform, each distinguished by a collar device or emblem representing their faith tradition. We as Pagans have not, to my knowledge, done so as of yet, and I suspect in the not too distant future that the military will be supplying tiny pentagrams to pin to the collars of the Pagan clergy ( A quick note here: It's not that there aren't any Pagan clergy in the military, it's just that they are mostly operating .professionally through  the Unitarian Universalist Association, and therefore are wearing the flaming chalice as their emblem.) As Pagan seminaries begin graduating professional members of the clergy and they become more common, I hope to see our own community  begin to wear their own symbols, and not something borrowed from an umbrella organization. Perhaps we will begin wearing green or blue clerical shirts of a shade that is identified specifically with our many traditions as a whole. For now a tasteful pentagram pin on the lapel will suffice for distinction.

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