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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Magic of Hair and the Head

  Well it wouldn't be the pagan community without some sort of drama but I have to admit the current issue-de-jour sort of baffles me - because its over head coverings in paganism. Basically there is a movement going in support of pagans who choose to veil or cover their heads, and this has caused a strong backlash among some people. The situation can be summed up here and here.
    Personally? I think that each individual should decide for themselves what they want to do about covering or not covering their hair. I can't really understand the level of outrage some people feel about this issue, but it has also made me think more about my own views of the head, hair, and veiling.
    I do not veil except when doing spae-work. To me putting on that veil is a mental cue that I am about to get oracular and since I don't want to be tranced out and predicting for strangers in Walmart I reserve veils for very specific circumstances. I found it very interesting to see people discussing using head coverings and veils to block chakras or protect the head, as mine clearly has the opposite purpose. It makes me think that, as with all things, it is the intent and belief that matter most.
  Contemplating the subject also had me thinking about the related issues of the head and hair. Now in Celtic belief the head is the seat of personal power. The heads of enemies or rivals who were defeated in battle could be taken as trophies, symbolizing the taking of that person's power. Related to that a defeated enemy's hair might be cut short to represent their loss of power; short hair was considered shameful (Irish Fireside, 2011). Similarly in the Norse the hair of servants was cropped short, while people of higher rank wore their hair longer (Viking Answer Lady, 2012). In Ireland both men and women wore their hair long and loose, and women with long hair were considered particularly beautiful (Joyce, 1913). Interestingly the Anglo-Normans found this practice of loose hair to be barbaric and condemned it (Irish Fireside, 2011). In the Norse an unmarried girl wore her hair loose, while a married woman braided hers, although a married woman might also wear a head covering (Viking Answer Lady, 2012). Hair styles clearly have a long history of being used to denote social rank and status. I had read -although I cannot now remember where - that when doing magic the hair was left loose so that the magic would not be caught in the braiding, and also that during labor (in the Norse) all knots were untied and the mother's hair left loose to encourage an easier birth.
    My own take on this? I wear my hair long as a symbol of personal power. This is both as a nod to the ancient Irish practice and as a personal reclaiming of power; as a child I was forced to wear my hair very short, an experience that most decidedly made me feel powerless. In my own practice  I habitually let my hair down or unbraid it whenever I am doing serious magic. Whether or not this has any actual merit to it, it acts as a sign to my mind that I'm about to do some Work. And of course I wear a veil when doing seidhr. This is all just my own personal prefrence and practice, what I do to trigger certain states of mind, and how I view the relationship of hair to the power of the head. What other people do is truly up to them, as far as I'm concerned.

Irish Fireside (2011) All about that Celtic hair.
Joyce, P., (1913). A smaller social history of Ireland.
Viking Answer Lady (2012). courtship, Love and Marriage in Viking Scandinavia and Viking Age Hairstyles, Haircare and personal grooming. Retrieved and


  1. Great post Morgan! Like you I think the intent is what really matters here.

  2. I agree - it's a matter of choice and there are far more important things to get bent out of shape over. Let's focus our feminist rage on denying women birth control, for example. I would understand the anger if people were suddenly insisting all Pagan women should veil, but in instances of personal choice? I really don't think this is going to set us back. Women fought to wear what they are comfortable in. If that is a veil, then that is her choice!

    I find your thoughts on covering the head during ritual interesting. There are the stories about Druids covering themselves in bull hides to divine the future king. I am inferring that the head would have also been covered. Clearly there's a precedent in Celtic magic for having a covered head - or rather, that it doesn't disrupt the energy flow.

  3. Seriously? You don't want to start handing out prophesies in Walmart? Sorry, that imagery just gave me a chuckle. :)

    The different ideas behind covering are interesting. I sometimes wear a cover to "go within" for prophesy, depending on circumstances/method. Never really considered blocking out other people's energy. I have other

    The braiding vs. loose hair is very interesting. I typically wear my hair up as part of my "Mom Uniform". But, for more special, magical moments, I generally opt to wear my hair down. Never really thought much about it.

    Have you ever heard of women not brushing their hair while their loved ones were away at see for fear of whipping up a storm?

  4. Good post. I don't even know why this is a controversy. Do some people think that forcing people to not wear head coverings will help those who are forced to wear them?

    I wear a hat in public. It feels liberating to me to do so.

  5. Faoladh - I really don't know why its a big controversy either...

    Freyadora - yeah there are traditions in both the Celtic and Norse of going "under the cloak" to induce a trance state; the later Scottish poets also had a tradition of lying in a dark room with their hands coevring their faces to recieve information.
    I'm still working on tracking down info for the Norse and German views on hair, so I'm not sure about the storm connection. Both O hOgain and Wilde discuss the connection between personal power and the hair, mentioning that the hair of a sick person would never be cut until they were recovering, and that haor wasn't cut during the waning moon as it was believed to take power from the person. It was also believed that if a bird got your hair or haor cuttings and used it to nest with that you would suffer afterwards with headaches, showing a connection between hair and the head....O hOgain has some other interesting insight into the power og hair in his book Irish Superstitions as well

  6. was a saying here that a woman out at gloaming with her hair down was up to piseóg

  7. This may not be relatable
    however I have a question about finding a woman’s hair on a man’s lapel…
    I was once told indigenous people here in Canada (southern Ontario) a hair found is sometimes? looked upon as a “trap“
    I am curious if there’s anything in the pagan way placed on a single women’s hair falling on to a man