Sacred Clothing

Tlingit Ceremonial Blanket

Sacred Clothing


Sacred clothing comes out of what we deem to be sacred within the context of culture and beliefs.  A priest’s robe would not evoke the same perception of power in an indigenous culture as it would in the Catholic Church. Cloth is therefore always contextualized within culture, and aligned with particular beliefs within that culture. The iconography embedded in the cloth, as well as embroidered on the surface of the cloth, is the physical evidence that cloth extends and bears meaning that is both sacred and communicative within the frame of cultural identity.

What is true for the Batak in Indonesia, is quite different for the Tlingit in the pacific northwest. What is sacred to the Inuits in northern Canada, is foreign to the Kuna Indians of Panama. Sacred clothing is sacred within a cultural milieu because the making of the cloth, and the power that we give to the cloth is imbued with what we know as sacred within a tribe, or a group, or some other social context. One of the richest traditions aligned with sacred clothing is the Hmong tradition. The Hmong are animists, and their beliefs are tied to cloth from conception to death. The Batak in Indonesia also have an amazing textile tradition tied to sacred clothing and the actual creation of cloth. The Kuba cloths of Africa, made of raffia, and the Kente cloths, made of strips of woven cloth each reflect both the process of making the cloth as sacred, as well as the final sacred clothing or end piece as being sacred.

One of the most controversial sacred cloths, is the shroud of Turin, alleged to be the cloak or cloth that covered Jesus after the cruisifixion. Sacred clothing becomes sacred from what is embedded or imbued into the cloth itself.

Perhaps we should each examine what is sacred to us. Cloth, and sacred clothing marks off, or makes special, the events aligned with sacredness.


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