I am passionate about my heroes, Xandr and Thelana, because I share their values, and attitudes, regarding communal nakedness. Since clothing is utterly unknown to their people, the Ilmar, they have no sense of body shame, no understanding, actually, of what it means to be “naked”. The Ilmar manage this without any of the problems we associate with sex. There is no rape, no harassment, no pedophilia, no pent up longings, and no jealousy in Ilmarinen. And yet, the people of the Ukko Valley are bound by their own customs and traditions, so you would not come across any orgies either.
On the longest night of the year, when the turquoise moon is greatest in the sky, the Rite of Solstice begins, the most important holiday in the Ilmarin calendar. Families gather from across the land to join in eating, drinking, singing and dancing, and unwed couples pair off to jump the sacred bonfire. Showing hair about the loins signifies a readiness for the flames, as does menstruation in girls and erections in boys. Since there is no bodily shame among the Ilmar, signs of sexual maturity are seen as gifts from the Goddess.
The bonfire represents the primordial energy that existed when the universe first formed. Husbands, wives, uncles, aunts and cousins, all join hands to form rings about the fire, in recognition of the first gods, Eru and Anu, who are said to sing and dance through the cosmos, making love continually and birthing new worlds. Of their countless children is Aenya, personified in the form of the Goddess, the spirit of nature, who is also called Alashiya, or Zoë. In imitation of the creator gods, a boy and a girl will pair off to leap the sacred flame. According to Ilmarin lore, the lovers do not actually choose one another, but find themselves again, as they are thought to have been together in a previous life. After the jump, the young couple will withdraw to a tree, where their souls are thought to merge with the bonding of their flesh. This happens in sight of family and friends, and carries the gravity of a marriage ceremony, the joining of lovers once separated by death now celebrated as a triumph over death. The High Priestess of Alashiya, all the while, painted with stars of henna, ordains the union with the Hoop of Eternity, which represents the eternal cycle of death and rebirth. Tethered to this hoop are seed pods filled with kindling and the petals of the Ilm flower, which, when burnt, gives off an aromatic scent, but also has a hallucinogenic effect similar to that of the ayahuasca leaf.
While the age of those that are joined in this manner might be cause for alarm in our society, it is important to consider the shortened lifespan of the Ilmar, which rarely exceeds beyond forty years. Likewise, the Ilmar are sure to find the impersonal mating habits of the American teenager equally abhorrent. It should also be noted that while it is traditional for joinings to be made during the Solstice, there is no compunction to do so. But mating outside the ritual, before being joined, is taboo. This is enforced, in part, to curb incest, as the Ilmar are small in number and sparsely populate their land, living in familial groups far from other families.
A fraction of the population may remain without a mate for life. Most Ilmar consider this a tragic situation, believing that the partner-soul has yet to be born into the current generation, the two life cycles having become “misaligned.” On such occasions, those who do not find love by a certain age are led up into the Ukko Mountains by the Alashiyan Order of Monks, to become keepers of the sacred knowledge.
Such an imaginary culture might seem a bit naive to modern readers. Perhaps this level of innocence cannot exist in reality, being that we are so strongly driven by our libidos, our egos, and a propensity for judgment. While nudist communities can be found all around the world, it may be that only a tiny fraction of the human population can live without shame, or abstain from sexual misdeeds. But the beauty of fantasy literature is that it gives us license to dream of a world different from our own. If we can imagine a knight slaying a dragon, we can conceive of a utopian society where body taboos do not exist, and where the act of sex is celebrated more often than shamed. A true naturist world is not beyond the realm of possibility. Despite the naysaying commentators who sometimes visit my blog, no laws of physics are being broken, like the square-cube law which limits the size of dragon-like animals, in a world without clothes. Given the right climate, it should be easy for us to create the conditions necessary for the Ilmar to exist, as evidenced by the plethora of cultures populating our planet, the polygamist and polyandrist peoples of Africa and South America, or anyone, really, removed from the Abrahamic tribes that have so influenced Western thought, and from the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall from innocent nakedness. Incidentally, I used the Greek word for life, “zoi,” to name the Ilmarin Goddess, Zoë. But it so happens to be the name of an indigenous Ilmarin-type people living in Brazil, the Zo’é, who wear nothing but wooden sticks under their chins and headdresses made of a cotton-type plant. Coincidence?
A shameless culture is a beautiful culture. If we are free to express our true selves without ridicule or condemnation, whether that means being openly gay, transgender, or choosing simply to live without clothing, I believe this world would be a better place. But a true utopian society is contingent on the sense of community inherent to small, tight-nit cultures, to people who live and work closely together, and rely on one another for survival. We must consider the sense of love that exists between people, within families and between individuals, without which we cannot be free to be ourselves.
Too often when we think of nudity, we immediately think of pornography, and because of this, I have made concerted efforts to separate the two, only because of the demographics-driven culture in which we live, where we divorce love from sex. But for the Ilmar, the bonding of flesh is congruent with emotional connection. The Ilmar are not asexual, but in fact, celebrate intercourse more fervently than we do. But where we equate nudity with sex, the Ilmar equate love with sex.
I do not intend to sound like a cult leader here, nor do I wish to form a commune somewhere. Those things never work out. But I do entertain the notion that we can change the world, in the way that every individual, I believe, has the capacity to change it. One tiny thread at a time, within the tapestry that makes up the whole of society. In creating an idealized race of people, if only in my imagination, I strive to make my readers think. Barring that, it makes for great fiction.
Want to know more about the Ilmar? Be sure to pick up Ages of Aenya, an epic adventure about Ilmarin heroes, Xandr and Thelana, at www.nickalimonos.com
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