The Boston Phoenix
September 16 - 23, 1999


The bare witch project

When my friend invited me to her naked wedding, I was honored. And terrified.

by Audrey Schulman

[Wedding] Back in January I was invited to a naked witch wedding.

This invite was not from someone you might suspect of having always planned a naked witch wedding. This invite was from a rather quiet, intellectual woman whose idea of an all-out good time was to eat a leisurely dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant while gossiping about famous writers, and then go to a bookstore. Perhaps because of her placid lifestyle, my friend and her fiancé said, they were unreasonably scared of turning out to be typical married folk living in suburbia, voting increasingly Republican. The nude wedding was meant to reassure them. She explained that they would have a second wedding, later that day, with a justice of the peace and extended family, but in the morning, for brunch, they would be married in the nude by a witch and warlock who would also be in the buff. At this more private ceremony there would be only about 20 people. It was suggested that the guests, if possible, attend naked.

From the start I was certain I wouldn't go.

First off, this was not the kind of wedding I was used to attending. I was used to events with place cards and jazz bands and floral arrangements. I was used to weddings where clothes were a major part of the proceedings. Second, I'm a rather modest person who has always regarded skinny-dipping, even with good friends on the darkest night, as a source of extreme anxiety. Like a lot of women, rather than considering nudity an expression of freedom and honesty, I tend to obsess about the size of my belly or whether I have a large zit on my butt. Ever since I was a teenager, my most frequent nightmare has been about going outside without some crucial piece of clothing.

So when my friend invited me to her naked wedding, I told her I was honored to be invited, but I would be unable to attend. I said this without hesitation, certain I was being quite honest.

I assume you've already recognized my problem -- the reason why I would end up going. It was, of course, curiosity. Massive bug-eyed curiosity. I won't describe all my soul-searching, all the awkward peering at my butt in the mirror, but I will say that when I actually turned up at the wedding, I was fully clothed and had great confidence I'd remain so throughout the ceremony. Would the entire meaning of the wedding be ruined if one guest wore clothes? I brought a robe along only for the near-unimaginable possibility that I might need to get swiftly undressed and dressed at the very start and end of the ceremony.

The wedding was at my friend's house. The guests, mostly in their 30s and mostly strangers to one another, stood about rather awkwardly. Everyone was still fully clothed, but many were unconsciously holding their hands in front of their crotches, and no one seemed to be looking anyone else in the eye. Like me, they seemed not to be naked-witch-wedding veterans.

As I hadn't had breakfast yet, I moved into the kitchen, where a few people were munching on bagels, fruit, and an Entenmann's raspberry danish. The rather limping conversation, strangely enough, was about mail-order organic food. After a minute or two, I just straight-out interrupted with, "Hey, anyone here used to going naked in public?"

Everyone turned to me, staring.

Then the conversation really started. People spoke all at the same time, honestly now and quickly. Three or four attendees said they used to do some streaking back in their 20s. These ex-streakers mostly lived in California now. Everyone else was an uptight New Englander like me who took off clothing in front of others only for yearly physicals or when overwhelmed by passion. I began to relax some, comforted by the communal fear.

The witch and the warlock, at this point, called us into the living room to explain the wedding procedure. They were a sort of classic Cambridge couple wearing crystals and natural fibers, their hair innocent of conditioner. The two of them, they said, would get undressed soon and cleanse the living room -- hereinafter known as the sacred space. The wedding ushers would follow them into the sacred space to continue to cleanse it using the four elements of earth, fire, water, and air. The wedding ushers, incidentally, would be wearing cummerbunds (and only cummerbunds) to distinguish them from everyone else. The bride and groom would enter, naked, followed by the rest of us. We could be clothed or unclothed, as we wished, but it was important that at least our feet be bare during the ceremony to retain contact with the earth.

A few of us looked down at the earth. In this case it was represented by a polyurethane wood floor.

The warlock continued. We should form a semicircle around the bride and groom and watch as they went through the ceremony of sharing some water and a sacred pie.

"Are we ready?" asked the warlock.

What followed was about 30 minutes of intense and inventive stalling by the wedding group as a whole. We set up the wedding-music boom box and fiddled with it laboriously; we ran out to our cars for last-minute items of sudden significance; we made another urgently needed pot of coffee. Meanwhile, the witch and warlock in the living room drank herbal tea and glanced frequently at their large modern watches, like salesmen kept waiting. Finally the witch announced rather petulantly that the ceremony had to start now because she and the warlock were running late for a brunch in Harvard Square.

In a flash, it seemed everyone was running off to different parts of the house to get naked. It was all so very quick. In an upstairs bedroom, I stripped and put on my old cotton robe with all of its various holes taped quite carefully shut. I didn't yet believe I would go naked. I just thought the robe would keep my options open and would make the fully naked people feel more comfortable.

Downstairs there were a variety of surprises. The first surprise was that the sacred pie had been mostly eaten by us guests. I guess it had been the Entenmann's raspberry danish. The bride and groom decided to use the one remaining slice.

The second surprise was that one woman, who had been wearing pants and hose moments ago, was now in just her shirt and underwear because she couldn't take off her hose to retain contact with the earth without taking off her pants. She hadn't bothered to put her pants back on afterward. I have always found that people who are partially clothed seem much more naked than fully nude people. I believe it is the combination of exposed skin and less-than-perfect underwear. After looking at this partially clad woman standing there so bravely in her underwear and shirt, I knew the moment had passed where I could keep my robe on throughout the ceremony.

The warlock entered. Surprise number three: he was a practitioner of body piercing, specializing in the more delicate areas. (At this wedding, a much greater percentage of adults were pierced than I'd ever considered possible. I don't know, however, how much I can extrapolate from this to everyday people on the street. It seems to me that attendees of a naked witch wedding potentially could be a slightly skewed sampling.) The witch appeared next. She was waving what appeared to be a cigar-size doobie through the air in a cleansing motion.

The wedding ushers came out. This was the fourth and largest surprise. By the third naked cummerbund-wearing body, I was used to the whole thing. As fast as that. People without power ties, without shoulder pads or high heels, no signs of money or fashion or T-shirts with cynical sayings. Just skin. Just what you would expect. People looked so small and honest on their own. Nude. They just looked like people. Aging people, pale people, overweight or thin, sagging or youthful. Uncommonly beautiful all, blotchy and mortal.

The wedding couple entered, and, without hesitation, I slipped out of my robe to follow them into the cleansed room. There I watched my friends be married with that cigar-size doobie, a measuring cup, and one small and rather battered slice of Entenmann's raspberry danish.

And when my friend, looking up at her new husband, vowed she would take him as her brother, friend, and lover, I saw the tears in her eyes. I understood, as I never have in more-conventional weddings, that the couple is always naked before God and the community, before fate and time, in their desire to prove worthy of each other's love.

Audrey Schulman is a novelist living in Cambridge. Her most recent book is Swimming with Jonah (Bard).

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