Our Hair, Our Psychic Selves

*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.

Sacred Objects

 

Photo by Carly Boonparn

In Buddhism, the crown is the most sacred part of the self. My turban is a shroud against the physical world. I wear it when I feel like I can’t have my energy fucked with. 

I went on a jewelry hunt to the Rif Mountains of Morocco for the bangles. They were made by the nomadic Berber tribe, otherwise known as “the free people,” and they make me feel free too.

The blouse is handmade by Romanian weavers, each motif a symbol imbued with magical thinking and intention. Women’s work is spell-casting. We are makers of life, and to weave is to create the magical tapestry of life.

The amethyst ring is my mother’s. We live apart but are connected through these objects we share. Amethyst opens up your psychic center.

Silver stands for protection and feminine power. The silver nunchuck pendant and body chain were made for me by a friend. They arm and safeguard me.

I feel abundant when I wear these sacred things. I love that they have had a life before me, and will live after me. In the meantime, they carry me through this existence. They are not really mine but on rent from the universe. The permanence of belonging is an illusion but the divine energy is real.

The Hidden People & the Magic Brooch

In Norwegian folklore, a story recounts that a woman washed only half her children when God paid a visit. Ashamed of the dirty ones, she hid them. God decreed that those that she hid would be hidden from humanity. They became know as the hulders, or hidden people, the shapeshifting spirits of the mountains who visited the human world to carry out abductions and strengthen their own gene pool.

Midsummer was the high season for attack, as the doors to the spiritual world would open and these supernatural beings were released. Rites of passage, especially around the time of weddings and baptisms, made Norwegians especially vulnerable.

Silver, believed to have protective qualities that reflects such spirits back onto themselves, became a rural Norwegian’s armor. Ladies wore brooches while men wore silver collar pins, shoe buckles, coat buttons and decorative knives, which served as a spell-breaking tool.

The brooches came in varieties of styles. More ornate ones had pendants in the shape of an even-sided cross, cut-out sun wheels or diamonds. But the most fetching were the byggkornring or barley-kernal ring brooches. These were presumably made by hudrefolk themselves, who were expert silversmiths and created pieces more beautiful than any human hand could make. How Norwegians obtained these pieces can be explained in their folklore.

The legend of The Interrupted Wedding describes the possible origin of these supernatural brooches. In one version of the tale, a young maiden named Elli Bakken was alone up in the summer cabin weaving when her fiance entered in a panic and insisted they get married right away. When she saw her dog glaring and growling at him, Elli become suspicious. Then a crowd of people entered the cabin. Two somber-looking women stood a distance from the others. “Your dog doesn’t seem to like people,” one of them said with a wink. “It might be best to let him out.” Elli had a hunch that these people might in fact be hudrefolk. She took the dog out to the edge of the woods, tied a red ribbon around his neck as a signal for help, and sent him home. She went back into the cabin to prepare for the wedding. As one of the women pinned a large filigree brooch at her neck, she whispered, “Stay calm, help will come.” Then Elli remembered that years ago two girls had disappeared from that very cabin, and she knew that it was those girls who were trying to help her now, so she cooperated.

Down on the farm,  the dog entered the house and barked with all his might at the gun that was hanging on the wall. When Elli’s mother spotted the warning ribbon, her father saddled his horse as fast as he could, then rode up to the farm of Lars, Elli’s real sweetheart. When the two men arrived at the cabin, they saw a long row of saddled horses. They looked inside to see a table piled high with food for a party, and Elli dressed as a bride. The men fired a shot over the top of the cabin. “In Jesus’ name!” Elli exclaimed, and crossed her hands over her throat. The hudrefolk quickly tore off Elli’s bridal finery, but could not pry the brooch that Elli held tight to her chest. The hudrefolk rushed out of the door like tumblweed and Elli was saved.

 

Psychic Sauna

The Russian Baths are a 100+ year-old bathhouse in the East Village. I go about twice a week. It’s my church. It’s a sacred experience and a shared one, where bathers sweat together in 350 degree heat. Something sort of psychedelic takes place down there, in the dungeon-like bowels of 10th Street in New York, a sort of collective energy where bathers’ bodies reach death-defying levels of heat as their brains respond with a flood of chemicals-dopamine to be exact-in response to the body’s belief that it is dying. At least that’s how it’s been explained to me anyway.

There’s a shared high happening. I think it has something to do with the feel-good chemicals that promote bonding as well as the fact that this is a ritual, and group rituals are a collaborative effort towards a common goal. The goal here is to cleanse. Detox the body and the soul. When I exit the baths back out onto the streets, it’s as if anything toxic that ever took place above ground has fallen away.

It’s also an exercise in slaying the ego. Doing anything that is uncomfortable and you are keeping your ego in check. You are showing the part of you that likes to be in control who’s really boss and who is really boss is your true self, before it got corrupted by family, religion, society, etc., whoever told you who you need to be in order to survive in the physical world. Which is a bunch of baloney anyway so it’s good to quiet the ego.

Something that I find underlines the baths camaraderie is the attire. You’re given a robe, swim trunks, or a towel. Or you my B.Y.O. bathing suit. But gone is your real world armor and self-expression. The baths uniform is the great equalizer. I tend to judge guys based in part on the shoes they wear, but here, all men are created equal in their salmon-colored, plastic shower sandals. You can see celebrities down there-but you almost wouldn’t know it. Reclining about in their sad, thin bath towel, they look and therefore are treated just like civilians.

So we sweat and suffer together, half-naked and non-judgemental in our half-nakedness. And it gets me wondering something I tend to not like to wonder about because I love clothes-is this sort of physical uniformity and nakedness something that supports our goal here? We destroy our ego and whittle ourselves down to a spirit level. Our true self can’t hide behind the clothes we choose, with our ego-affirming convictions. I am *this person* so I wear *that* kind-of-intention. Without our above-ground, real world clothes, we are our true and transcendent selves, free of any public face or phoniness.

It’s always funny when you make friends with someone , and then run into them at checkout or whatever, and they are back in the clothes they’ve selected for themselves for the day. I’ve met perfectly cool people down there who I later saw above ground and was horrified to learn they wore crocs or a stupid hat and then I make all sorts of judgement calls on who they are based on my own prism.  Suddenly you no longer see them in their pure “beingness.” You see a person that you are now applying and projecting all your judgements onto. And I fancy myself in the upper echelon of the enlightened, yet I’m so obviously not if I’m put off by someone for their choice in footwear.

The spiritual path can be challenging when you are also a fashion person. The basis of spirituality is that we are just beings on this earth plane, and our true being-ness is what matters before our public face, the clothes we wear, the language we speak. So how do you reconcile that with a judgemental take on a guy’s shoes, or the fact that you own five fur coats (not going to apologize here but…I work in vintage)? Obviously I don’t think clothes and spirituality are mutually exclusive-the whole basis of this blog is that they are deeply tethered to each other. But I wonder if the moment I’ll reach actual spiritual attainment is when I am not tethered to the clothes. I can walk in that guy’s dumb shoes and still feel intrinsically me.

I think the idea of this kind of spiritual attainment is you want to feel like you do at the baths. I am me and you are you, not, you are Michael and I am American and we are in New York. Because none of that stuff matters. We want to be/are stripped down, naked, star stuff that transcends the physical plane and can’t be summarized in words or a pair of shoes.

Psychic Prints: Pomegranates

The opening scene in the 1969 Soviet film The Color of Pomegranates, an abstract narrative of an Armenian poet’s life, shows three of the forbidden fruits bleeding through a crisp white tablecloth. Perhaps the scene alludes to the pomegranate’s symbol of the spilled blood of Dionysus, or it could stand for the holy trinity that bled for us and our sins. But the same color red mysteriously permeates throughout the film, notably in dress and textile: the towel of the baths masseur, the liturgical robes of the priests, the carpets woven by the eerie, wailing weavers, all display a stark red against an otherwise flat backdrop. And while the role of the fruit in the poet’s fate is ambiguous, its function as a signifier of religious sentiment is clear.

     

Such an example of the cryptic occult power of the pomegranate is in keeping with its history, as its meaning has always evaded man. “About the pomegranate I must say nothing,” notes the traveller Pausanias in the 2nd century, “for its story is somewhat of a holy mystery.”

The Bible sees it as representing the the universe one oneness, where the multiplicity and diversity of all things (the seeds) is reconciled in a single unit (the shell). In Christianity, depictions of pomegranates are often woven into church vestments and wall hangings, the broken fruit bursting with seeds symbolizing Christ’s suffering and resurrection.

In Jewish tradition, it is said that the seeds are 613 in total, corresponding to the number of Commandments of the Torah. In the Old Testament, it is written that representations of the fruit were embroidered onto the hem of the robe worn by the Hebrew high priest.

The decidedly sexual-looking fruit appears often in relation to the divine feminine. In the major arcana of the Tarot, the robes of the pregnant Empress display its motif, as she signifies fertility for ideas and the creative bearing of fruit. The mythological priests of Attis, the castrated consort of the earth goddess Cybele, wore pomegranates on their heads in wreaths. The calyx of the fruit was first worn as a crown by the Greek Goddess Hera and would go on to inspire the tiara.

The pomegranate tree’s bark has been a source for tannin used in curing leather. Its rind and flowers may be used as a textile dye. In the fifteenth century, the Mesopotamia-born motif found popularity in Central Asia, Europe and the Ottoman textiles. In the 19th century Americas, Navajo silversmiths co-opted the form from Mexican silver ornaments found on clothing, horse gear and jewelry. It’s now an archetypal symbol firmly entrenched in the collective psyche.

Its arousing beauty explains its prevalence in dress throughout the ages while its luteal interior, abundant with life-giving seeds and blood-like juice, accounts for its enduring mystery. But history-long attempts at insight into its psychic life show it’s a code that can’t be cracked.