*Originally published in the Babe Collective magazine.
Our hair is our “crowning glory,” as it springs forth from our highest chakra and most sacred part of the body. Its meanings are many and spiritual significance as deep as our roots.
We lose and reproduce 100,000 strands at a time. Therefore the very nature of hair is cyclical. The spiritual process of reincarnation plays out in each strand.
Our hair may be a link between the spiritual and physical worlds. A Sikh does not cut his hair, which he considers a gift from God. Strict orthodox Judaism forbids men from cutting their sidelocks. According to some Islamic hadiths, women are to grow enough hair to conceal breasts or any other awrah part of the body that may be naked in burial.
Expressions referencing hair reveal attitudes about ourselves and the world around us. To “let down your hair” is to surrender to the playfulness that life has to offer. Something that inspires fear is “hair-raising.” Hair can pose a threat to society when long or dirty or when “unruly curls” break social rules. To go natural, to show your kinks and waves, is taking a radical stand in defense of your authentic self. Or with treatments and tonics you choose to “tame” the wildness within. Chinese Communist soldiers dubbed their bob haircut as the “liberation hairdo.” The pixie cut evokes elfin innocence.
Through fairytales, we are cautioned at an early age of the power and potency of hair. Rapunzel sits in her tower, sequestered away, with any creative potential she has to offer the world thwarted by the evil sorceress who confines her. Her hair, “as fine as spun gold,” is her only crime. Humanity begs her for access to her hair and thus herself, but her spirit remains cloistered. When the witch finally releases her, and cuts off her lustrous locks, she is banished to the woods to live out existence in hairless unglory.
Hair reveals our soul selves, which we are sometimes punished for. The so-called red-headed stepchild is marginalized. “Black is beautiful” reminds us to love ourselves against a hateful social agenda. Age dare not show itself on a woman’s greying head whereas a man is considered distinguished. The noble chignon of a ballerina is planted, unmoving, atop her head, signaling her discipline and supporting her delicate but powerful precision.
Hair displays our psychic life. It may “stand on end” to signal danger. We lose it or go grey from stress. Dionysis’ dark, wild waves signify a chaotic inner world, ruled by wild passions. In Native American cultures, it is believed that hair acts as an antennae or extension of our nervous system, supplying us with the power of intuition and sixth sense. Only in period of mourning is it cut short.
What lives on after our physical death is only our hair and our souls. A corpse will show spooky vitality as hair continues to sprout from the head. We also live on in the hair of our children, which contains our DNA, or narrative of our ancestry.
To lose one’s hair can mean degradation. After the Battle of France in 1940, French women’s heads were shaved as punishment for their sexual relationships with German soldiers. A balding man is losing his virility. Soldiers with shaved heads are reminded of their loss of personal identity and now machine-like nature.
To shave one’s head as a personal choice can symbolize spiritual rebirth or transformation. The shaving ritual for religious purposes denotes an intentional sacrifice or renunciation. Monks and nuns in Hindu, Buddhist and Christian orders wear their baldness to show fidelity to God as they eschew worldly pleasures.
Or hair may tempt us. Lady Godiva rides horseback through the streets of Coventry, naked and shrouded in her long, wild locks. Peeping Tom who watches on from a window is discovered and made blind, reminding us of the punishment we may endure if we lust too longingly.