Saturday, June 11, 2011

Naked was I made and naked I will return

My latest cartoon shows Puny and Little Judy on the beach. Puny has proudly baked a cake for her little one with chocolate icing, and the cake is made of love. Love, says Puny, is the key to insuring a future for our children.

What’s most important about this cartoon, however, is that Puny and Little Judy are naked and unashamed. I’ve been thinking a lot about nudity this week, since I have a friend who associates the naked body with sexual perversion, and I felt sad about that. I often draw my characters naked, especially when they are speaking for the gods or are filled with the holy spirit.

A fundamental belief of the new animism is that humans are spirits in animal bodies and that the animal body is good. The body is good when it’s engaging in sex and good when it’s doing the household chores, good in public and good in private.

Welcome is every organ and attribute of me, and of any man hearty and clean,
Not an inch nor a particle of an inch is vile, and none shall be less familiar than the rest.

                -- Walt Whitman

Of course, the body can be used to cause harm. It’s possible for a man to strangle a child with his bare hands and to rape a child, too. But the body does what the mind tells it to do, and it’s the man himself who chooses to use the body to hurt instead of love. In spite of this, the naked body itself is beautiful; fragile and strong as a hen’s egg, crafted, I believe, on purpose by the hand of our Creator, who saw that it was good.

In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus' disciples ask him, When will you become revealed to us and when shall we see you? Jesus answers, When you disrobe without being ashamed and take up your garments and place them under your feet like little children and tread on them, then will you see the son of the Living One, and you will not be afraid.

Christian naturists declare that they are not ashamed to live in the “image and likeness of God” and neither am I. Not anymore, anyway.

I was brought up in a rigidly anti-body household. The body was ugly, evil, and disgusting. I was never to speak of its parts. This was an extreme situation, I know. I became physically numb. I lived in my mind and emotions, fine tuning them, but I had little physical sensation. This extreme shame and disgust with my own body, and my consequent dissociation from it, caused me great harm. It kept me from from caring for my body, beginning a lifetime of struggle with ill health. It set the stage for allowing my body to be sexually used in my youth. It let me deny the pain so that my appendix ruptured before I went to the hospital and I had three traumatic deliveries of my babies. If I had not experienced such deep shame and revulsion for my body, I might have enjoyed my pregnancies and had calm deliveries. I might be in good health today.

To see you naked is to recall the earth.   -- Federico Garcia Lorca

And then, I found earth-centered religion and the goddess. Always a religious person, I found in paganism a response to the body-hating of my childhood and the general social shame around the physical body. In all the earth-centered religions, including the animism I now practice, a key concept is the one-ness of the physical and spiritual. All material being is sacred and the animal body is good.

And you are free from slavery; and as a sign that you are really free, you shall be naked in your rites; and you shall dance, sing, feast, make music and make love, all in my presence. For mine is the ecstasy of the spirit, and mine also is joy on earth. -- from the Charge of the Goddess.

Paganism helped me understand that the body is good, and life in the body on the earth is good. It seemed so right, but how could I embrace this idea after such deep wounding around my fleshly form? All I knew is that I wanted to be free from shame, so I worked at it diligently. In many settings, I tested the waters and learned more about the body's goodness. At Brushwood, I skinny dipped for the first time. At pagan festivals, I saw real men and woman naked for the first time. I was amazed at their variety and beauty. Complicated by the disfigurement caused by my heavy pregnancies and abdominal surgeries, I struggled to accept myself. I had my body painted as a way to be nude in public while still having some covering. I participated in women's rituals of body acceptance. I talked and talked to people about it, and all this time, my pagan friends provided a compassionate and stalwart support.

Full nakedness! All my joys are due to thee,
As souls unbodied, bodies unclothed must be,
To taste whole joys.

 -- John Donne

After several years of this learning, my pagan family, The Stray Dogs, offered me an initiation. I didn’t know at first what they had carefully constructed for me. As I walked through one gate after another, they challenged all my fears and errors. My ability to laugh at myself was tested, and there were other gates leading to the fivefold kiss, a loving adoration of the body and its gifts. Then I was blindfolded and told to remove my clothes. In terror, but wanting to face my fears, I took off all my clothes, and when the blindfold was removed, I found myself by a blazing fire surrounded by loving, happy faces . . . and all my friends were also nude. See? They said. It's ok. It's good. You're beautiful. We're all nude. It's ok. It's ok.

From that moment on, the real work of body acceptance could begin. I'm still working on it, but I believe that as Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed when they lived in the light of their Creator, I too, can be naked and unashamed.

Your clothes conceal much of your beauty, yet they hide not the unbeautiful.
And though you seek in garments the freedom of privacy you may find in them a harness and a chain.
Would that you could meet the sun and the wind with more of your skin and less of your raiment,
For the breath of life is in the sunlight and the hand of life is in the wind. 
     -- Khalil Gibran

Naturists are folks who believe that nudity is more wholesome and natural than clothing except when clothing is appropriate for the weather. They believe that social nudity would erase a great deal of social hierarchies and create a more equal and just world. As Kevin Bacon said, Take away the Gucci or Levis and we're all the same.

Naturists make a clear distinction between nudity per se, and sexual arousal. Sex is a function of the body, like eating is, but naked genitals are not engaged in sexual acts at every moment, just as the naked mouth is not. We can kiss a child with love and we can kiss a lover with erotic intention, but we don’t hide the mouth in shame because it’s sometimes engaged in sexual acts.

I believe that body shame and disgust with nudity are perversions caused by denial of the animal body and fear of death. Naturists teach their children to have no shame about their bodies. In fact, they believe, and I agree, that body shame is at the root of sexual perversion and sexual disability. Our babies suckle at our breasts. Their naked bodies are washed clean in the bathtub. They love to feel the sensations of sand or wind or grass against their skins.

After half a lifetime of loathing for my own flesh, I’ve chosen to walk naked and unashamed the way my Creator made me. I not only accept this body. I celebrate it.


Ron Petrocco said...

In the past, nudism hasn't seemed important to me, but today the trees at my county park seemed to be telling me to reconnect with the ape family of consciousness, and, well, most apes don't wear clothes, so I'm tentatively thinking nudism might be relevant to where I'm going, maybe.

puny human said...

Actually, Ron, I'm not a nudist either, just someone who thinks the naked body is a-ok and not to be ashamed of.

Ron Petrocco said...

I've never been ashamed of the physical body, but I've also never had any desire to be naked with another person unless that person and I were lovers. I associate being naked together with sex, or at least sexuality. Thus I wasn't attracted to Gardnerian Wicca, or any other Wiccan tradition that practices skyclad. I didn't want to be naked with people I wasn't having sex with, and I didn't necessarily want to have sex with all the people I was practicing ritual with. What I'm really saying is, I like clothes. When we tend to wear clothes among other people, we turn being naked among other people into sacred space, sacred time. I like the dichotomy. I also like the opportunity to adorn myself with clothing I consciously chose. Plus I like wearing robes for group ritual, as the robes help establish sacred space, sacred time, without introducing sexuality necessarily, though I have to admit, I like how a woman looks in a robe.

Aron said...

I agree with Ron on this. I never related to Pagans who associated being nude as something especially spiritual. I support people who choose to do it, though. Never was offended at Pagan festivals when people went 'sky clad'. During the summer, I dress minimally and both my wife and I occasionally go nude in front of our chilren, so that's no issue. Just always found being nude incredibly impractical most of the time, considering the "outside" culture.

Would I go nude if that culture was more accepting, possibly. Would I try to drive my car nude? Probably not.

puny human said...

One issue is deciding whether to take one's clothes off in public. The weather and public opinion would direct that decision. But my point isn't about "nudism" as a social choice. It's rather about the acceptance and celebration of the animal body, which I understand as a spiritual belief related to animism. One doesn't have to reveal one's naked form to be at peace with it under one's clothes.

OTOH, as one reader wrote to me behind the scenes, "Me, I prefer to jump naked into a lake and feel the water caress my body. I love to lay naked in the sunshine and bathe in the warmth. I love to dance naked around a fire and feel the heat on one side, the cold on the other and maybe a rainfall from above."

This is my reader's decision to experience the pleasure of the naked body in the natural world. I don't suggest that anyone lie naked in the woods the way I did, since the ticks can bite you as they bit me and the lyme bacteria can start to eat away your bones, but I will always remember those days, those summer days being naked and safe and alone in the woods, the scent of the leaves, the warm earth against my skin, the singing of the trees, as some of the most wonderful days of my life.

Jack said...

For many people (dare I say most) associate being nude with sexuality which is understandable given our puritanical culture in the USA. Additionally and unfortunately, being nude is a source of shame and guilt leading to perverse reactions in many people. Exposing children to nudity is considered a basic evil for some people because the sexuality connection and the shame of the human body yet those very same people have no problem with exposing children to media violence. Some people never are nude in from of anyone - having sex in the dark or under the covers is a way to avoid being nude. Practicing nudity is public is a path towards liberating oneself from those perverse social constructs and releasing accumulated shame and guilt. Being Sky Clad in ritual or at clothing-optional venues is to release that shame and guilt so that, whether you wish to cloth yourself, it is not out of that shame per se. Being nude reminds us of our animal nature and our connection with the natural world. I like being nude at home and in nature because it feels good and natural - putting on clothing is like putting on a mask in some ways.

Sophia said...

I agree with Jack on this one. I think that being nude is a political choice no matter what your beliefs about the profundity of the naked body and its relation to nature, because of the culture we live it. It is very socially charged, the body, and nudity. And if you go naked, you are "marked," or noticed, abnormal, whereas if you go clothed you are unmarked. But are they really so different? Does a breast or man-butt have a different kind of beauty than a hand or a nose? Not for me. It's the taboo that excites, the forbidden, and that's why many people (like Ron) enjoy keeping it under wraps most of the time. Which is fine, except that this fetish is at such an extreme that the body is now deemed disgusting or evil by mainstream culture. Or is it the other way around? Or is it because our bodies have been commodified that nudity is so taboo in Western culture?

Anonymous said...

I am Pagan and also naturist. Actually, my wife and I are both Pagan and naturist. Speaking for myself, but I know much of this applies to her as well, I find myself feeling closer to God and Goddess when in nature nude. Even at our local club, there is a sense of the Divine, whether I am walking alone in the woods, or around the pool with others. The Divine is in the trees, the grass, the sky, and other people.

I have never done ritual with others skyclad. I don't believe I would have a problem with it since being nude with others is not a big deal to me. I often do our private ritual that way and I feel a sense of openness to the Divine that I do not feel clothed.

Just my two cents.

Will Forest said...

Terrific! Very well written, and a great illustration too.

HappyAutism97 said...

Will You Make More Illistrations Like This One?