In many religions, the treatment of hair (and, by extension, hair) is essential. It is a way of maintaining order, creating standards and differentiating oneself from others. But then what is the link between hair and religion? Make yourself comfortable, Madam President is giving a quick update!
Hair standards vary from culture to culture and, although there are distinct trends, the same signs can have different meanings depending on traditions. Hair as a religious indicator… Yes, but to what extent?
The links between hair and monotheistic religions
In monotheistic cults, the treatment of hair (and body hair in general) is a matter of differentiation. To put it simply: everyone wants to be different from everyone else! Thus, Saint Paul affirms that “Every man who prays with his head covered dishonors his head” and therefore refuses the head covering. Conversely, Jews cover their heads... And Muslims let their beards grow – which they must maintain carefully. So you have already understood: the link between hair and religion is very close.
Religion and women's hair
In these religions, and in particular in Islam and Orthodox Judaism, a woman's hair is sacred: she does not show it in public (from marriage for Jews, from age 7 for Muslims) and covers when she leaves her home. Veil, scarf, headgear, wig, etc. The solutions diverge depending on the trends. The idea, from time immemorial, is to show a demure woman: hair is then considered a seductive asset (the one who does not pimp her hair before a date raises her hand!) which should not be exhibited.
But these rules of modesty of course depend on the context: if the woman must cover her head (hair is of the order of nudity in these cults), she of course has the right to be elegant, even attractive for her. husband. In short, she has the right to feel good about herself (and that's normal!).
And if you needed further proof of the importance of the link between hair and religion: Jewish feminists have chosen as their emblem Lilith, the first woman created by God, a figure of revolt... With beautiful, long red hair?
Links between hair and religion for men
In Christianity and Judaism, the image of hair on men is quite negative. So, the divine punishment for Jews and Christians is... Hirsutism. In short: excessive hair growth. Pleasure ! This is not the case in Islam, whose hadiths prohibit the shaving of the beard – but not the maintenance, it must be trimmed and shaved regularly, compliance requires!
The same goes for hair: compulsory maintenance, Christianity and Islam refuse long hair in men, because it is what distinguishes them from women. Jews, on the other hand, must wear the kippah to cover their heads (after all, why should women be the only ones to hide their hair?). Is hair a social code? Obviously, you still doubted it? If you want to know even more, go listen to this great podcast : it covers the subject in depth!
Focus on Rastafarians
Rastafarians (often called by their diminutive, Rastas), are followers of the Rastafarian movement. Did you think it was just a clothing style? You were wrong! And they have a very special relationship with their hair. This religious and cultural movement began in Jamaica in the 20th century. Its objective: to restore pride and place to black men, too often demeaned and humiliated for their skin color and the nature of their hair.
Rastafarians are vegetarians, do not drink alcohol... And do not cut their beards or their hair! They let them tangle naturally or braid them: these are the locks that we know so well. This is the expression of an inner spirituality and their faith in God. The link between hair and religion is therefore, once again, very present.
The links between hair and polytheistic religions
Perhaps you dream, like the Madam President team, of hair as long and shiny as that of Indian women... But did you know that there is, again, a link between their hair and religion? If these women are renowned for their treatments with powders and oils, it is also because their hair is a sacred treasure which they sometimes donate to the gods. In southeast India, Indians worship Hindu gods and their own hair is a supreme gift. As a sign of sacrifice and gratitude (following an answered prayer or to attract the favor of the gods for example), women (and children) shave their heads and offer their hair to the temple.
Indian children are completely shorn before they are three years old. Indeed, in Hinduism, hair links the child to his past lives. Shaving them erases all traces of a harmful past or negative karmic memories. This ritual therefore leaves room for purity: new head for a new life!
Little anecdote: the hair given as an offering to temples by Indian women is resold internationally. They are used to make wigs, especially worn by Orthodox Jewish women to hide their hair. In 2004, a debate broke out about these wigs, whose hair came from pagan cults... so they were soon refused by the rabbis. A kosher designation was then put in place for wigs, so that Orthodox Jews do not use those that come from Indian donations... So religions are sometimes linked (or opposed) by hair!
Why do Buddhist monks shave their heads? Madam President investigated, and the answer is much simpler than one might imagine: they get rid of the embarrassment that their hair causes them. This shaving also marks a renunciation of attachment to the outside world: they can thus dedicate themselves to their faith and meditation.
The same goes for the tonsure of ecclesiastical monks (yes, we are returning a little to Christianity), which appears in the 6th century. It symbolizes the kingship of Christ and the renunciation of sexual life. For Christians, shearing is not the prerogative of men, since certain female orders, such as Carmel, also impose it.
Beyond religion, cultural beliefs
For many Native American peoples, wearing long hair is valid for both women and men. Cutting one's hair is unthinkable, because it is considered an extension of one's being, a source of strength, an integral part of one's spiritual life. In its superb article on this subject, the Blue Eagle even defines hair as “conductors of bodily electromagnetic energy”. If we can think here that it is more of a tradition than a religious practice (these beliefs do not imply a god), it nonetheless influences the wearing of hair.
Better still, hairstyle and color also have meaning. Finally, if it must be cut, a ritual will be put in place, and the hair will be treated with the same respect as that given to a human being: buried, cremated, or placed in the flow of a river.
Of course, we couldn't cover all the cults here (it would have taken us hours to list everything , we'll save you endless reading!).
We have also not addressed the relationship to hair in different cultures (even Native American culture deserves an article of its own), outside of religion. So, for example, among women, long hair is often linked to purity, but also to seduction. For European men, short hair is generally required to look serious, neat, controlled... But with hipsters, long hair is coming back into fashion in Europe (and baldness is everyone's dread)! In Mali, wearing a headdress is a symbol of femininity... And the list goes on!
So, would you like an article on hair in different cultures?