Alternative Wheel: Other seasonal cycle stories

When this column started, it was all about exploring different ways of thinking about the wheel of the year, reflecting on aspects of the natural world to provide Pagans alternatives to the usual solar stories. It's still very much an alternative wheel, but there's a developing emphasis on what we can celebrate as the seasons turn. Faced with environmental crisis, and an uncertain future, celebration is a powerful soul restoring antidote that will help us all keep going, stay hopeful and dream up better ways of being.

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Naked for Beltain

I’ve read it so many times in books and blogs – now is the season for making love out of doors, jumping naked over Bel fires and generally doing your Paganism in a carefree, unclad sort of way. It is warm enough to be barefoot outside, I grant you, but far, far too cold for nudity. A traditional British summer brings more rain than it does cavorting options. The naked dancing Pagans are either far tougher than me, or don’t actually do as much of the cavorting out of doors as they imply.

As a species we obviously didn’t start out wearing clothes, but have got into the habit over thousands of years. It’s allowed us to extend our habitat far beyond the balmy zones our hairless and not that blubbery bodies could otherwise tolerate. So the trouble with viewing nudity as natural, and thus desirable, is that you aren’t budgeting in what we’ve been doing for a long time purely because we can and do wrap up.

Outdoors nudity isn’t as fun as it sounds. If you’ve not built up the soles of your feet then your soft skin will suffer from every sharp and pointy thing on the ground. Even in the loveliest of meadows, there are sharp and pointy things. Some of nature likes to bite skin, and that bit of nature is just starting to get lively at this time of year, too. If you aren’t used to exposing your skin to the sun, it will burn very easily and quickly. If you aren’t used to the whole being out of doors thing, you can also get really, really cold.

When we start talking about the joys of outdoor nudity, often we’re moving towards an idea of Paganism rather than an actuality. There are definitely Pagans tough, determined and fortunate enough with the climate to manage this, even in early May, but if you’re fairly new to nature worship, you could easily form the mistaken impression that we’re all out there, letting it all hang out. It might be nice, but in a wider culture that sexualises female nudity and criminalises male nudity, we’ve got a lot of collective issues to consider.

If you want to bring your body into closer communion with nature, without risking arrest or significant discomfort, I recommend taking your shoes off. Our feet are remarkably sensitive, and if you sit and let your feet air, you will be that bit more connected. Stand barefoot for a while and actually feel the earth beneath your feet. Even if it is a bit chilly, if the rest of you is covered, the odds are you can take it. If you feel your feet going numb, obviously warm them up. Paganism is not about masochism!


Learning to walk barefoot is a profound way of connecting with the earth and with our ancestors. Up until relatively recently, bare feet were not unusual, especially for the poor. Build up gently – little and often. Get into streams, into mud, into soft grass, but do be careful because broken glass and rusty metal are incredibly dangerous to bare feet. Become a barefoot person, and you will probably also become an ardent remover of litter.

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Nimue Brown is the author of Druidry and Meditation, Druidry and the Ancestors. Pagan Dreaming, When a Pagan Prays and Spirituality without Structure. She also writes the graphic novel series Hopeless Maine, and other speculative fiction. OBOD trained, but a tad feral, she is particularly interested in Bardic Druidry and green living.


  • Christopher Blackwell
    Christopher Blackwell Thursday, 01 May 2014

    Out here in the desert I do remind people that out here the plants animals and rocks all bite. not to ention it is windy ad cloudy this morning and i doubt that any of my neighbors dring by are ready for the sight of me naked. Even barefoot is taking some chances as you mention shod feet are delicate feet. Back in 1991 they made a movie and used my shop. The alleged owner in the movie was hippylike and barefoot. This was not normal to them as the hopping run down my rock strewn driveway soon made apparent.

  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Friday, 02 May 2014

    Great advice, Nimue, and I love the humorous descriptions. On the subject of going barefoot, there is a doctor who believes that it may be the most important thing we can do for our health:

    Christopher - Are you in the Phoenix area, by any chance?

  • Mike Denning
    Mike Denning Friday, 02 May 2014

    True to form, Beltane in Britain was a wet affair this year and as my ritual was in a field with cattle barefoot was not an option, compared to safety offered by steel toed wellington boots whilst leading my favourite bullock around my Bel-fire. Never mind twigs and stinging insects; a cow hoof with nearly a ton of beef on top of it can really ruin your day.

    Most people that I know of that practice sky-clad rituals ordinarily do so indoors for the reasons set out in the article above - though the Midsummer Solstice is more of an option when observing sunrise from an isolated rural locale.

    Anyway, thanks Nimue I read with interest.

  • Bee Smith
    Bee Smith Friday, 02 May 2014

    I am SO grateful you have said sensible things about the weather and nudity. Not only can it be cold in the British Isles in May, there are midges, ants and clag flies that are already eager to bite. Even indoors can be chilly! Saluting Bountious Bealtaine in a rainhoody!

  • Carol P. Christ
    Carol P. Christ Friday, 02 May 2014

    If Gerald Gardner had not been a nudist, would nudism be part of contemporary paganism? I don't think we have to feel being nude is more real than wearing clothes. It seems that many people wore their best clothing, the work of women's hands, at festival times.

  • Sable Aradia
    Sable Aradia Friday, 02 May 2014

    I like to try to get naked for Beltane if I can. But I live in Canada, so often I can't. I also light my candles with a Bic. I believe in being a practical Pagan. Well thought out.

  • Travis
    Travis Saturday, 03 May 2014

    In Texas, the weather is typically warm enough for this, but the mesquite thorns and rattlesnakes make skyclad ritual a sort of "at your own risk" option. Its actually sort of funny (but pretty sensible) to see a skyclad ritual featuring heavy duty hiking boots.

  • Christopher Blackwell
    Christopher Blackwell Saturday, 03 May 2014

    Much like here in Southern New Mexico. [Grin]

  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham Monday, 19 May 2014

    Thank you! Lovely and practical. I am one of those people who has gone barefoot enough to have "Hobbit soles" so I usually do most rituals barefoot, but happy not to have to worry about more of me than just my nose getting sunburned at Beltane.

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