Center for Sacred Psychology

Soul Food Archive: Our Symbolic World

Main Courses are offered on a frequently changing menu. Here are words and images to ingest and digest for inner nourishment. We hope these hearty meals invite you to taste and savor, to muse, reflect and remember, to journal, to create art...that is, to feast on food for the spirit.

Pascha #2, by Archimandrite Kiprian,
Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY*

Our current main course, below, is just one of several Soul Food offerings. Please visit, also, our buffet of Guest Caterer Specials and, for lighter fare, our Desserts & Snacks counter. And, to sample earlier menus, we hope you'll check out the Soul Food Archive. Like all who prepare foodstuffs, we hope to hear from those we serve! Space to leave comments, or read others' comments, on our cuisine follows each Soul Food offering.




Speaking of clothing…..There’s fashion and fads and labels (“one day you’re in, the next day you’re out,” to quote from Project Runway). Then, there’s costume, which is put on to create an effect—either for stage or screen, or in everyday life. Then, there’s Soul clothing, which is different.  Here are some thoughts:

•  Definition:  ‘Soul clothing’ is what we wear when dressing from the inside out—garb which manifests an inner attitude, garb which is congruent with the psyche or soul at any given time (and can change as our inner attitudes change).


Choosing soul clothing is not the same as dressing for success or dressing to impress; these latter are “persona dressing.”  It also differs from wearing an outfit required by our occupations (e.g., combat fatigues, old apparel for gardening, operating room sweats—though these could be someone’s soul clothing of choice).  Soul clothing also differs from attire required by specific situations, such as traditional formal weddings or public appearances (here, Bess Truman has chosen a mid-1940s First Lady look for christening a ship—and, just maybe, this could have been soul clothing for her, a second skin in which she felt really comfortable).


Qualities of Soul Clothing:
“The soul likes comfort and beauty.  Soul clothes are by nature soft and pleasant to touch.”*  Other words used to describe soul clothing include:


We ‘feel like ourselves’ when we put on soul clothing.  It might be lounge or casual wear—here’s President Harry S. Truman dressed for a venture outside the Oval Office.



Or, soul clothing could be ‘dress-up’ attire in which we feel fully ourselves, as legendary songstress Josephine Baker seems to be in her little black dress. 

The Spiritual Aspects of Soul Clothing

Let’s think about it.  If the body is, indeed, the temple of the spirit, then both body and clothing are the soul’s outer raiment.  And when our “outside” matches our “inside,” we are more authentically ourselves. 

Julian of Norwich, back in 14th century England, wrote of clothing as a symbol of the God, “Who wraps, clasps, and encloses us, so as to never leave us….As the body is clothed in cloth, and the muscles in the skin, and the bones in the muscles, and the heart in the chest, so are we, body and soul, clothed in the goodness of God.”

If exploring soul clothing helps me know myself better and make some inner contents more conscious, could it not come under ‘spiritual practice?’



Roots of ideas about soul clothing:
There was Plato, aware of the relationship between color, form, and texture in one’s clothes, and the quality of one’s soul.  And many indigenous cultures have fostered this same awareness: for example, a native Indonesian tribe treats illness by creating clothing that might lure the soul back into the body…”playthings for the soul, so it will want to return home.”  This concept is called vestimentary magic—belief that putting on something externally can change us internally (“when I put on the cloak of invisibility, I’m invincible,” say more than one fairy tale character or modern superhero).  Today, we may settle for the lucky charm, the talisman jacket, the power tie.

There’s also the concept of contagious magic: in many folk traditions, designs of  flowers, trees and herbs are woven into or embroidered onto garments to access the plants’ vegetative powers.  Borders are added to openings in clothing to form protective barriers, making one’s clothing a “portable sentry box.”  Animal skins become part of garb so the wearer may partake of that animal’s protective energy. 






Then, belief in sympathetic magic has inspired many to imitate the powers of nature in their attire—thus, it’s thought, uniting the wearer with creation and its Creator.  And so, clothing took on fringes and tassels, which move like unseen spirits; shining jewelry and beads and metallic threads and sequins, which reflect light and represent “the sparks of God;” rustling fabrics and bells, which mimic aliveness.

Here, Byzantine Empress Theodora has chosen sparks in her jewelry, and both fringe and borders on her draped dress—how comfortable she looks!  Much ethnically-inspired clothing has similar soul clothing qualities.







 Old tips for integrating these ideas into our lives:

~ The simplest way: I open my closet to get dressed and ask myself either, “What do I find that replicates how I feel today?” (so that outside and inside mirror each other) OR, “What do I find that counters the way I feel today?” (if we need a change).  This way, the soul is consulted.  (If you’ve ever opened the closet and asked, “Whose clothes are these?” you’ve asked a profound question!—just who did buy them?)
~ If we watch our dreams and projections to discover members of our inner family, we find that each has a certain style of dress—and, intentionally, we can bring various inner figures into more consciousness by honoring their style in some way.  (OK, so I don’t have to dress like my inner witch, but is there something in the closet she’d like to put on—pointy shoes, perhaps, or a dark scarf? If not, how about creating her wardrobe on paper as part of my inner work?)  Men can find ways to use these ideas through choice of colors, neckties, love beads—oh, wait, that was awhile back…and, do you think tattoos are related to this topic?)
~ Think of favorite garments over a lifetime.  Which were soul clothes? 
~ If these ideas seem like they’d be valuable (even, fun), can I make some time in my busy life to play with them for awhile?


  A chart about clothing:
From a classic reference work by Richard Corson*
comes this wheel with four ways of dressing.  Soul clothing
could be found in any of the four quadrants—but not for the sake of conforming or not conforming, and never for the sake of being conspicuous or inconspicuous.  Soul clothing’s motivation is congruence with one’s soul. 




We're interested in ways this Soul Food may have touched your life.

Click HERE to send us your comments...


Read Others' Comments...

Great idea! I thought of prayer beads, which one wears for the purpose of prayer, which of course is congruent with the life of the soul. (Question: If I can convince my wife and teen-aged daughters of the value of soul-clothing, will that cut back on their clothes shopping?) Thanks!
Toluca Lake, CA


Dear James, Well....maybe yes, maybe no! Worst case scenario: "Dad, we have no soul clothing to wear, so we have to go shopping." (Maybe a sewing class or trip to the thrift store would suffice--??) Seriously, although the idea of soul clothing can seem frivolous, the sub-text of listening to the soul's nudgings can turn out to be very meaningful. How about you? Any soul clothing in your closet? Thanks for writing!
Center staff




* Credits for this page:

~ Pascha #2 by Archimandrite Kiprian, Holy Trinity Icon Studio, Jordanville, NY
A family in old Russia welcomes visitors with special Pascha (Easter) treats. Gratefully used with permission from Holy Trinity Icon Studio, Jordanville, NY, 13361. This excellent website is the source for inexpensive traditional icon prints and mounted icons.

~ Vintage and modern paper dolls from various Dover Publications books, covering a wide range of personalities.  One can even find paper dolls of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney (should you want to!).

We want to thank our friend Gloria Ramsey of Reno, Nevada for rekindling our interest in paper dolls.  Her excellent 1996 Master’s Thesis from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles is titled “Paper Dolls in Art Therapy: Eliciting Projections of Archetypes.” Thanks also to Claire Cohn (Oksner), long-time presenter of seminars on the psychology of clothing (“Clothes Encounters”) at the C.G.Jung Institute of Los Angeles.

~ “The soul likes…” quote from Sonja Marjasch, writing of Soul Clothing in Psychological Perspectives (Spring, 1981).

~ Fashions in Hair: The First 5000 Years, Richard Corson (London: Peter Owen, 1965; revised edition, updated by Caroline Cox, 2001).   Basic reference for historians and costume designers.  See also The Language of Clothes, Alison Lurie (New York: Random House, 1981).