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Discovery - Confirmation - Empowerment

Barefoot in the Soul

Copyright(c) 2003, Phil Brucato, all rights reserved. Originally published in POP! Goes the Witch, an anthology about modern Paganism put out by Disinformation Press and edited by Fiona Horne. Used with permission.

Live naked, pit against the wind
The soft skin power
Of a spirit freed;
No chill shall clothe the holy glow,
No eyes deflect the joy
Of boundless touch,
No lock upon my skin to guard
'Gainst censure or howling cold.
I dare
To walk exposed.
I will not fear to feel.

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      I love my feet. More accurately, I love being barefoot on the Good Earth (or even on Her not-quite-so-good cousins Carpet, Asphalt, and Linoleum). To me, the sensation of actually feeling the ground I walk upon is worth occasional inconveniences like frost, gravel and hot tarmac. (Don't ask me about broken glass or dog shit, my encounters with those came while shod... but more on that subject later.)

      It wasn't always like this, though. As a child, I was self-repressed to the point of smothering. Although I lived for a time in Hawaii, a gorgeously sensual land where wearing shoes is the exception rather than the rule, I constantly wore shoes, socks, long pants, and occasionally even long sleeves while others looked askance at me.

      Why?

      I didn't get it from my family, nor was I raised in a repressive religious tradition. In hindsight, I realize now that I feared vulnerability. I feared feeling. And so, to justify my insecurity, I kidded myself that I was more "adult" than my peers. That short pants and bare feet were childish, and that I had moved beyond them.

      Quite the opposite. As I later realized, that fear made me less mature, not more.

      As puberty washed over me, I felt constrained by my own timidity, wrapped up in an identity no one had forced on me except myself. Rather than confront that identity head-on in public, I explored covert sensuality. Late at night, I'd slip out of my house clad only in ragged cutoffs, and then wander off into the woods near our home. Sometimes I even went out near-naked into snowstorms or driving rain, reveling in the sensations I had long denied myself.

      I'd never felt so wonderful, so utterly at home.

      In hindsight, I realize this was the birth of my Pagan heart.

      Which brings me to my point.

      "All rites of love and pleasure," says the Goddess, "are my rituals." Though often interpreted sexually, this charge also invites us to love the world in general, to draw pleasure from simple things that have little or nothing to do with sex. To we Pagans, feeling is communion. Each act of conscious sensuality is an act of worship. To feel our world is to caress the God and Goddess both. While many other spiritual paths demand repression of the senses, our way exalts them.

      And yet, so many of us hide behind heavy boots and thick cloaks (literal or otherwise) that deaden our sensations - that protect us from discomfort, yet interpose barriers between our selves and the sacred world around us. We accept the social dictums or creature comforts that cut us off from primal senses. And as much as we exalt sacred sensations, we rarely feel with true intensity. It's so much easier to just go numb.

      It doesn't have to be this way.

      As a living being, sensuality is your birthright; as a Pagan, it's your sacrament. You don't have to hide yourself from stimulation; quite the opposite. Embrace it, and Creation embraces you in turn... not in an awkward "lurch hug," but with the passion of a happy bear.

      Our path is a holy rebellion, a reclamation of experience that many other faiths deny. Our commandment is to dance through life, naked to sensation. It's not always comfortable or safe, but it's not supposed to be! Pain, too, is a sacred part of life. The willingness to dare opens new roads of perception. Those roads are God-given and Goddess sanctified, leading deeper into their realm.

      Once I accepted sensuality as my road to the Divine, my perceptions opened to an incredible degree. Though sometimes painful, this awareness now helps me to appreciate life, sexuality and spirit more than I ever had before. True, I still step on occasional bits of broken glass (mostly symbolic occasionally literal), but my freedom has been worth that risk. I feel far more alive.

      (About that broken glass: I very rarely step on it at all. Without shoes, I'm far more intuitive about where and how I walk, it's like I can see with skin as well as eyes. I notice hazards before I reach them, and skirt them unconsciously through instinct. Our senses, you see, are far keener than our minds admit. Unconstrained, our bodies' powers of perception grow.)

      Going barefoot, both symbolically and literally, is a very Pagan thing to do. We see it in the art of Waterhouse or Mucha, in photos of Tori Amos or models from the Dragon and Roses catalogue. Nearly all my lovers have been barefoot women, and their sensual rebellion still fuels my own. Yes, we get a lot of flack from people disconcerted - even infuriated - by our abandon. And yes, we must be careful where we step. But isn't that the Pagan point? Experience with intention, conscientious freedom? To walk the paths of Gods unshod, you've got to be aware; in doing so, however, you reap the Gods' rewards: A vivid life, unbridled love, and integrated spirit.

      My bare feet reflect a greater sensitivity. By forsaking my childhood insecurities and embracing sensuality, I learned to appreciate Creation as a whole, Light and Dark, comfort and discomfort. It's been challenging - still is - but I highly recommend it.

      My sweetheart Francesca calls it "living naked." I call it feeling free.

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