Thursday, May 28, 2009

Hair Beliefs, Part I

I've insisted from the start there's something uncanny about hair. There are no end of religious views on it, in spite of the fact that, scientifically speaking, humans are "among the most hairless of all mammals."
The most important function of hair in mammals is that of insulating against cold by conserving body heat.
(Encyclopedia Britannica)
So perhaps we magnify its allure. Or not:
The differing colours and colour patterns in hair coats can also serve purposes of camouflage and of sexual recognition and attraction among the members of a species.
And get this:
In essence, each hair is a cylinder of compacted and keratinized cells growing from a pit in the skin—the hair follicle. ... The epidermal components of an active hair follicle consist of an outer layer of polyhedral cells, forming the outer root sheath, and an inner horny stratum, the inner root sheath.
Aha! Hair is horny. So that's the source of the religious crackdowns.

I'm a Christian, hence, a follower of Christ, so I read what Paul has written in the New Testament as I would read what any other Christian has to say--with a grain of salt. Strictly literalist Christians, on the other hand, rely on I Corinthians 11:4-10 as their ultimate hair authority.
Any man who prays or prophesies with something on his head disgraces his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head—it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, she should wear a veil. For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection of God; but woman is the reflection of man. ... For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
Whoa, wait a minute--angels? Yes, at the beginning of Genesis 6:
When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. ... The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterwards—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.
Okay, the above passage doesn't specifically mention hair, but a common interpretation of the above goes like this--there were both angels and humans intermingling back then. The human daughters were fair of hair, and hence charmed the "sons of God" (aka the fallen angels or Nephilim, the Rephaim or Gibbowrim) to have sex with them. And these same daughters gave birth to some superhero-caliber warriors. I kid you not. Hence, the head coverings.

Furthermore, Orthodox Christians (and United Pentecostals, and other denominations as well) believe a woman should not cut her hair, also due to Paul's writings on head coverings (I Corinthians 11:14-15).
Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering.
Hmmph. I myself like to glorify that very covering. I think of hair as art, one of the best parts of ourselves, of expression, beauty, joy. Why not make the most of this salient feature?

Thus endeth, Part I. Stay tuned for the sequels. In the spirit of honest inquiry, I'll explore Hair Beliefs in faiths other than my own--Hindu, Islamic, Buddhist, Judaic--whatever I can find. From what I've learned so far, we're in for a hair raising good time.