Honest about headcovering

When I pray, I cover my head. Coincidently I also cover my hair, but that is not my intent of purpose. When I stand before the gods I cover my head. I believe I would do the same if I were completely bald.

For many women covering is precisely about their hair. They dyeing or cutting of their tresses, or even creating an up-do, may even remove any desire to hide their hair through other means. For others, putting their They may view their hair as a source of pride, something sacred to protect or they simply do what the gods bid them to do. Yet in practice, in the discussion groups I am part of, covering often means covering one’s hair rather than one’s head. We have talked about why we cover our hair, ways to braid it, choosing between growing it out or cutting it short. I enjoy a good girly chat about types of conditioners now and again, and my hair style does affect me but, in my case, it does not affect my relationship to the gods as much.

Groups focussed on covering are usually women-only. And many Pagan women also feel a sense of bonding with other women who cover for religious reasons. They see Muslim women as their political allies or admire their scarf-tying styles. However, I do not often share these feelings. If I cover, I do not think of my fellow Pagans, nor of other women across the world tying their scarf. I support them as culturally liberally minded person who believes that we should all be able to wear whatever cloth we wish. But otherwise, I do not feel any bond. Perhaps it is because I know most Pagan women only sought community after deciding to veil themselves, I know I did. We do not veil because we are part of a community that supports and encourages that choice. All of us, all us Western Pagans cover because of our own individual choice.

Neither does covering put me back in touch with my femininity, not really. Occasionally I tie a pretty scarf when I go out, and yes I feel more assured as a woman. But when in prayer or meditation, I do not feel more ‘womanly’ because of the scarf. Rather, I feel more contained, more formal, putting a veil between myself and any distractions. In no way, it’s about my sexuality or gender then. To me the statuary of Augustus or Marcus Aurelius evokes this particular way of being much more than a random image of a lovely woman in a lovely scarf, who usually is an exceptionally beauty too.

How about this man?

The Last Magician of Rational Thought by martinfowlie
The Last Magician of Rational Thought, a photo by martinfowlie on Flickr.

I may have much more in common with him than with that woman who happens to tie her scarf in the same fashion as I do. I do not begrudge women to discuss these matters among themselves, I did so too at first, but head covering is not just an woman’s issue. Among Pagans at least, I do not think it should.

And as for the notions that women’s covering is a relic from Medieval times, when all women who belonged to a man covered up, yes their is truth in that. But it was not just the women, all men wore head-gear as well. Up to world war II all men, when out in public, wore hats or caps. The hat was a symbol of quiting the private sphere, and entering the civic one, where different rules of conduct were to be obeyed. And I must say, many times, I wish the boundary between these to spheres was a little more prominent today. How often do I overhear people on the phone talking about how they found another man in their wives’ bed or how their criminal law-suit is proceeding. How often are people making themselves at home, whilst they are clearly not at home! Head-covering is not just about male-female relations and not just about the remnants of patriarchy.

The internet encourages a lot of lazy copying. People start to think like a google search machine.We often assume that if a certain kind of information is proliferate must be right or important or interesting. Last month Del wrote about the current proliferation of newly wedded loki-wives. One of the main concerns – which was ignored by many readers – was the danger that these god-spouses would unconsciously create a homogeneous template for newcomers to follow. The blog post was not an intent to silence their voices, but rather to correct our skewed perspective and to include those people who remain under-represented. Some of this is unavoidable. But we should try to not let the joy of finding like-minded spirits turn into mindless copying. I applaud Del’s and Aine’s attempt to tackle the hard questions without sparing themselves.

I feel there is some danger of creating such a template when it concerns head-covering. When a person starts to cover, he or she may feel insecure or vulnerable and thus look for guidance in private groups. This is great. It is a good thing that safe heavens exist. But a problem will arise when these groups end up in merely praising each other’s headscarf  and avoiding any confrontational debate. When differences are downplayed, a template may arise, especially when groups grow exponentially in numbers. Newcomers may then come to understand that we are all in service of Hestia, or that we all cherish our hair, or that we all embrace our femininity by means of the tichel scarf.

I just feel there are other stories to tell and other potential story-tellers to tell them. Perhaps there is a story of a middle-aged Ares-worshipper who wears a tall hat whilst in procession.

Within interfaith work too, downplaying differences is not the way to go. David Dashifen Kees, and in response John Halstead of The Allergic Pagan, are enthusiastic about the creation of a Pagan chapter within the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy.

It is an ideal organization for us to be involved with.  It recognizes that a person’s deeply held beliefs are not likely to change.  Further, these differences, when not understood, are what lead to resentment between different religious and non-religious communities rather than understanding.  Thus, the foundation uses dialog–or as they term it, “honest contestation”–as a way to foster that understanding.

The beginning of understanding is only possible when we recognize our differences, our particularities. And we can only recognize what is visible. This holds true for interfaith and intra-faith work alike.

We are comfortable in sharing, in sameness, but we learn through reading new stories, meeting different people, struggling with ideas that are alien to us. Do we learn through embracing all Muslim women as our sisters? Should we not first listen to their individual stories, and then see what we have in common and also where we may part ways?

I cover, because when I enter in ritual, my mind is on the gods alone. I cover my head in preparation in order to attain the proper mindset. It is as if I have gone through a door, only I haven’t moved. The scarf or hood is a filter, a veil. It shields me from rain and dust, and my own wandering thoughts, and brings me closer to the ground. I do not always cover. When I swim in the sea at dusk, in the embrace of Manannán, I do no such thing.

I do not cover my head because I am woman;
or because I am a homesteader, which I am not.
No god has asked this of me.
and yet, I do so for the gods, and because of the gods.
This is part of my story.


2 thoughts on “Honest about headcovering

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