To work 'skyclad' refers to practicing the art of Wytche Craft clad (dressed) solely by the sky and nature; nude; naked, within all the powers that be; to work magick and ritual unencumbered by any mortal attachments be they clothing, status or affiliation.
As a High Priestess of a Coven, I am often asked by seekers and outsiders if my Coven works skyclad or robed. My answer is simply, that is up to individual members. We hold Coven Meetings robed, however some members of our Coven choose to work together on occasion in skyclad rituals to which all members are invited to attend but with which there are no expectations of attendance as part of Coven membership.
When a coven, any coven, works skyclad, they should be up front about discussing it when you first approach them for membership - (Our practices and expectations are included as part of our Coven handbook). Any group that springs this on you after you have joined (especially if they request a "joining fee") is probably not a group you want to be involved with, and more likely than not more interested in the skyclad and less in the ritual.
Go back and read the first three lines again, being skyclad sounds wonderful, don't you think? Just you and a few trusted friends, standing around in nature. Allowing the breeze to blow over your naked skin, One with Deity, exactly as you were born....., Standing under the stars, candlelight flickering over your skin just you and your friends, oh and not to forget a few thousand mosquitoes and other biting things enjoying the buffet of bare flesh!
Please don't misunderstand; I love nature in all of her boundless beauty, just some parts are more desirable in various states of dress rather than undress!
The human body is a magickal and beautiful part of magick. Nudity without shame is also a statement of freedom from prejudice, inhibition, coercion, and so on. However, some people are not comfortable with the idea of nudity, and that is (or should be) equally acceptable.
Having to decide upon being dressed or undressed to work ritual or magick in circle seems more of a stress than release to most Pagans I have met. There are discussions for both sides, and valid choices in either direction. No one should say that one tradition's beliefs or practices is any better than another because they leave their clothes on or drop the cloak.
Of course working skyclad is traditional for some groups. The idea has been stated that it was a common practice for the Old World Witches to do ritual and magick skyclad. Although I choose to perform some of my magick skyclad - I disagree. I don't believe that Native American Shamans or Celtic Witches or Egyptain Priests would have stood in the shivering cold or cultivating a searing sunburn while trying to perform magick as their fingers (not to mention other parts) either became frost bitten for lightly seared. It just doesn't make sense to me or to most historians.
However the reasons given for working skyclad are many and varied. Most are also sincere in design and acceptable in theory, ultimately each practitioner needs to consider the arguments and decide for themselves.
According to one theory, clothing blocks the energy. This is a personal issue. For myself, the sun searing down and burning my bare cheeks, or the icy cold rain dripping off my nipples will block way more energy than any robe, cloak or tunic!
Another theory is that being nude in ritual deepens the trust between coven members. If someone is having trust issues with a Coven or its members, standing in front of them in all one's glory isn't going to increase trust. Having said that when working in a loving and trust inducing coven being skyclad can be a means to increase trust , aid in self confidence amongst close and dear friends.
Being naked for some may be an issue of shame or embarrassment. For whatever reason this may be, once shamed, they will never trust or be less for it. Why should a member be excluded from ceremonies due to something they feel, many of these feelings may be caused by past experiences and none of the covener's doing, again why should they be punished for this?
It is said by some that removing the robes removes all indications of rank, wealth, status etc and therefore places all members as equals. Nice in theory but the truth is that john smith is still John smith, with or without his clothes.
Being able to remove one's clothes shows the level of commitment one has to the Craft and/or coven. I'm sorry but my level of commitment comes from my heart and soul, and is shown in my deeds and not how or whether I am dressed.
In my opinion being dressed or skyclad should not affect how you work ritual or magick. However if you are embarrassed or shamed by being naked you are not going to be concentrating on the ritual but rather on your clothes-less state!
Sadly I have found over the years that, many times, the idea of working skyclad gets lost and somehow misused by some less than honourable people who will take advantage of any opportunity to abuse whenever it presents itself. There should be nothing sexual about performing rituals in the nude, but in this society, it is hard to keep the crazies out and keep the circle protected from them all, and having met quite a number of those crazies in my time, I can understand some covens dropping skyclad rites to protect their members.
Do not feel that you must go skyclad because that's what 'real' Witches do. Real Witches decide for themselves. Feeling uncomfortable during ritual will only detract from your purpose. So if you feel awkward being naked with others or even alone, then cover up.
Think about our ancestors - they didn't read books on what made them Witches, they just knew. They didn't allow anyone to tell them how to do it, they just did. They didn't worry about how it was, it just was. And not once did they work or perform any of their sacred magick skyclad. They knew magick is magick until you make it something less.
Some people have something special to wear whenever working ritual and magick. It should be something personal to you alone. It can be a medieval gown, a tunic or jeans and t-shirt. But only wear it for working and bless it to that end. Be comfortable in whatever you choose.Remember one shouldn't assume because a practitioner chooses to work skyclad that they have never worked robed or visa versa.
Witchcraft, ritual and magick unite us on a higher level; One with the oldest Gods and Nature. The freedom and exhilaration of dancing under a Full Moon is one of the ways of drawing close to all those energies and powers. But that freedom should not come at the price of your personal power. You choose if your dance shall be in the sky or skyclad. Magick should always hold a bit of mystery.
If you are considering joining a coven and they perform their rituals skyclad, but you do not feel comfortable with it, find another coven. Do not expect any group to bend their rules for you, just as you should not bend your personal power or comfort to fit any coven or group.