“Tradition is the pattern from which the fabric of the land is cut, but it is our soul and intention which dye the cloth. “ J
The cloak is perhaps one of the most often overlooked ‘tools’ of the Witch. It is rarely discussed in any great detail yet the symbolism of this most humble of implements is rich and diverse.
The importance of this symbol should not be taken for granted. Roy Bowers (aka Robert Cochrane) was well aware of its significance and the cloak is referred to almost instantly in only the second line of his famous riddle which he calls “a child’s game”
This is the taper that lights the way
This is the cloak that covers the stone
That sharpens the knife
That cuts the cord
That binds the staff
That’s owned by the maid
Who tends the fire
That boils the pot
That scalds the sword
That fashions the bridge
That crosses the ditch
That compasses the hand
That knocks the door
That fetches the watch
That releases the man
That turns the mill
That grinds the corn
That makes the cake
That feeds the hound
That guards the gate
That hides the maze
That’s worth a light
And into the castle that Jack built.
I am not going to set upon regurgitating what precious few others have said about the Cloak, the sources are there for those who wish to seek them out, instead I want to share my own personal thoughts on what the cloak symbolises and how it is viewed and used within my own craft.
For me, first and foremost the cloak is humility and equality. Imagine if you will a ritual scene. A small conclave of figures in the darkness, only a small fire in the centre of their circle illuminates them. As they steadily pace widdershins the light of the fire is momentarily punctuated by the silhouettes of shapeless figures…you cannot see their faces, you cannot make out body shape. Their identities are hidden…Who is man? Who is woman? Who is their leader? Their long black hooded cloaks carefully guard the answers to these questions. You see then when the cloak is worn you are at once enveloped in secrecy, your identity is shrouded and at the same time you become equal to all others in your company, just as when the dark sky covers the earth and one tree looks like any other. All are equal in the eyes of Night, the sisters of Fate and all are humbled by their vastness.
Parallels may be drawn here with the skyclad workings of traditional Wicca, don’t however confuse the logic behind the two practises. Whilst nudity may also represent a degree of equality and humility amongst its adherents the main purpose behind nudity (at least so I am told) is to prevent impeding the flow of magical energy. Few people (in fact no one I know of) in old craft circles believe energy can be impeded by clothes.
Moving on then, the cloak can be seen as a symbol of the night and the mysteries She keeps and when we wear the cloak we symbolically cloak ourselves in those mysteries, we become ‘bearers’ and host to the entire limitless universe. By that very nature a kabbalist might associate the cloak with the 3rd Sephiroth on the tree of life…Binah, the dark sorrowful Mother, Stellar Maris, for a cloak also represents a limitation, a boundary between our inner and outer selves, our magical and mundane persona.
Yet it is not only the mysteries of the universe we adorn but our own magical personality along with it. Whilst it is true that many of us of the Old Craft tend to wear mundane everyday attire during our work there is something to be said about donning one’s purpose made cloak in preparation for the work ahead. Over time a shift in consciousness can take place, our subconscious mind associates the act of securely fastening ones cloak pin with the ritual act. We literally step into a mantle of our ‘magical selves’, the trappings of mundane life are firmly set aside, we pronounce to the powers that “here we are stripped naked” of all colour, all creed, all gender, all sexuality…remembering too that whilst appearing dark and colourless, black actually holds within it the potential of all things just as we do and just as the vastness of space does…we become the blank canvas from which everything may be possible.
Whilst many ‘tools’ maybe seen as merely symbolic props with the intention of focusing the mind, the cloak definitely has some very practical uses which take it beyond the realms of the metaphorical.
First and foremost, a well made dark woollen cloak can be an absolute godsend when out and about on a dark cold night providing warmth and shelter from the harsh British climate and whilst being a symbol for secrecy there may be times when actual concealment is desirable…yes folks, you too can have your very own Harry Potter-esque cloak of invisibility and vanish into any shadow with ease.
Additionally a cloak with a large hood can be a boon when trying to silence the mind and focus inward. Pulling the hood of ones cloak up and over the face blocks out light, can muffle sound and, just like a horse’s blinkers, blocks out distraction enabling the mind to focus in one direction only. This ‘blinkered’ effect can also produce some interesting results when pacing the mill, causing increased disorientation and mind-altering effects. Just mind you don’t stray too close to the fire!!
So now we have scratched the surface of the cloaks symbolic and practical applications lets set about making one for ourselves. As I write this I am about midway through constructing my own cloak (there are only so many times you can keep asking to borrow!). If you are not in the slightest bit handy you can purchase some very nice, some quite ornate cloaks and a quick search online will bring up hundreds many of which start around £120 but you can pick them up cheaper at fancy dress shops but they wont be especially robust and will often be made of very unattractive synthetic materials.
Trust me, making your own cloak really couldn’t be simpler and there are some great resources online, even some very good YouTube videos giving good step by step instructions for making complicated to simple cloaks.
Firstly you need to decide on the material. It should be black (obviously) and I chose a wool blend because of its weight so hangs better and is of course natural. You need to take two measurements. The length of the cloak, which is the distance between the nape of your neck and top of your ankle (A in my diagram), and the length of your face which is the distance from the crown of your head to the nape of your neck. You should always add a good bit extra (at least an inch) to all your measurements to allow for hemming and a little margin for error.
Now you want a rectangle of fabric which is as wide as your first measurement (i.e. your height A) and the length should be double that (2 x A).
Fold the fabric in half, you should then have a perfect square with the crease (B) on your left. Take a piece of string and tack it to the top left hand corner of the square and using that as a makeshift compass chalk an arc from the bottom left hand corner to the top right hand corner.
Now do exactly the same only this time the string should only be about 6 inches long (line C).
In the bottom right of the square trace a rough hood shape. The bottom edge of the hood should be about 7” (a little longer than line C on the cloak)
Now cut along all your chalk lines. When cut and the fabric is unfolded you should have one large semi circular piece with a small semi-circle cut out of the top and two hood pieces.
If you are skilled (or brave) and wish to line your cloak with satin or nylon etc you want to repeat the entire process on your lining material.
Going back to the main part of your cloak you should hem all along the edges. If you are lining it, you can sew the lining into the cloak at the same time by simply laying the lining duplicate over the cloak, folding the hem of the cloak over the edge of the lining (about 1.5cms) and stitching all the way around either by hand or with a sewing machine. If you are not lining the cloak, just fold the edges over and sew to give a nice neat edge.
The two hood pieces should then be sewn together over the top and down the back only. Make sure you don’t sew the neck line (C) as these edges will need to be stitched to the cloak itself.
Turn the hood inside out (so it is actually the right way) You can then sew the neck of the hood to the neck of the cloak (line C of the hood to line C of the cloak) make sure both parts are the right way i.e. the inner seam of the hood is facing the same way as the inner hem of the cloak.
Try it on for size, find yourself a nice cloak fastening and there you have your own cloak…Simple!
‘The Robert Cochrane Letters’ by Robert Cochrane with E. J. Jones. Edited by Michael Holward. Capall Bann Publishing.
Massive thanks to Matt Baldwin-Ives for allowing me to use his photographic images www.milescross.co.uk
Coming Soon – Implements of Arte Part VI – The Cord