(Before I get this post going Beth says that I need to let my readers know I have a Youtube channel now. My first video, Thoughts on Pagan Veiling, can be found here. The quality isn’t great — it’s all about the cellphone! — but it’s my inaugural video, and it’s good enough for me.)
I’ve been thinking a bit about modesty again, specifically the idea of pagan modesty and what that might look like. Originally I was going to make this into the next video, but instead this week I have the crud, including a voice that is sort of on its way out, and a lovely cough that won’t quit. In part, I’m thinking about modesty from a pagan perspective (or from THIS pagan’s perspective, rather) because of two books I’m reading: Aphrodite’s Tortoise: The Veiled Woman of Ancient Greece and Introduction to Roman Religion. The one is talking specifically about the veiling practices of polytheistic women in the Hellenic world; the other comes to mind mostly because of the concept of piety that is presented: a sense of piety that goes beyond one’s interaction with the gods and spirits and encompasses one’s interactions with their human community as well. (There is a future post about piety and hospitality brewing in my brain). Piety ties in with modesty as I understand and interpret the word because, in my understanding and treatment of modesty, modesty is piety and humility in action form.
I’m not interesting in defining what modesty looks like for others, or if it even is a consideration for others. But, do I look toward other faiths and cultures that have modesty as a nuance in their practices? Am I intrigued by the separation of the genders that one can find in the various Muslim communities? Am I thrilled to discover that the Jewish have a term for this? Are you kidding? Yes, a resounding yes!
This is one of those things that I sit with, because it’s so very informed by monotheistic traditions, and I am not a monotheist. And, I have to acknowledge that so much of the history of genders being separated have been influenced by male-dominant societies — and that goes back to our polytheistic ancestors. If I had to live in the ancient world, I’d want to steer clear of the Mediterranean cultures. There is no rose-tinted glass in my frames, here. So while I can read things about women veiling in ancient Greece (including full veiling, head to toe wrapped in fabric when outside the home, including full face veil) I know it’s about keeping women in their “proper place”. I know better than to idealize the past.
I’m pagan. (D’uh.) I’ve been veiling for six years, and the only negative comments I’ve received about it has been from other pagans. Not a lot, mind you, but it’s happened. Because I lack those rose-tinted glasses, I know that pagans are a widely varied folk, and I honor that. I don’t expect us to be all the same. And I don’t really want to inflict my standards of modesty and boundaries on to other people. Truly, I don’t really care if people want to run around naked, with all their bits hanging out. I see nothing wrong with that. Distracting? Sure. Annoying that there’s the unspoken rule that that’s acceptable only if you have the body for it? You betcha! Do I want that in a public sphere? Well, no, but that’s more for safety concerns than for anything else. And, to bring me to the crux of the issue for me: boundaries. We don’t respect other peoples boundaries enough. This is why the idea of not touching those of the opposite sex who are not close family is so appealing to me. This is part of why dressing with more of my body covered rather than not is so appealing to me. It’s not about gender — it’s about casual touch, and how casually touching someone you are not friends with takes away their choice, their sovereignty over their body.
My day job is in retail. I am touched often by people who are customers, and not friends. A hand on my shoulder, or on the small of my back, a pat to the arm as I help them find this or that item. Gender doesn’t matter — it’s about assuming a familiarity that isn’t there, and I absolutely hate it. I do not get paid enough to put up with this sort of discomfort. I smile and I suffer through it, because nine times out of ten, they don’t mean any harm, and compassion is one of my driving tenets, but I dream of not having to grin and bear it. I hear of shomer negiah and I wish . . . .
Is there room for modesty in a pagan world? Maybe it would work better if we called it something else. What about respect? Mutual respect? An honor of the body and the spirit as sacred, and of not playing lip service to honoring that, of not honoring that only as an ideal, but honoring that by action. My body is a gift — it’s my vehicle for interacting with this physical realm. If we want to get mythological about it, my body is sacred because I’m descended from the first beings that my dear Father created and breathed life into (Hail Odin!). If we want to be practical about it, my body is a tool that I have to use while I’m incarnate, and it’s *mine*. It’s mine, and it’s my gods’, and it’s my family’s — it’s their way of interacting with me while I’m incarnate. It does not belong to those outside of my tribe, unless I choose to share it with them, and that choice ought to be mine, just as that choice out to be yours with regards to your body.
Either way, I despise unwanted touching, and I think of shomer negiah, and I wish.