Question: Hair Length and Religion
A reader asks, “I recently explored the option of joining a local Wiccan coven, and was floored when the High Priestess told me that if I became part of her group, I’d have to let my hair grow long. Because of my job, I have to keep my hair fairly short – it’s a safety issue – but she said that it was a tenet of “our religion” to let our hair grow long. She went on to tell me it was a way that Wiccans pay tribute to the goddess and embrace the sacred feminine. Is this true? Will I never be able to join a coven unless I grow my hair long? Help!”
If I had a dollar for every time I heard about a High Priestess saying “You have to do X, Y, and Z because it’s part of our religion,” I’d be pretty rich by now. First, let’s address the issue of the phrase “our religion.” Paganism is an umbrella term covering a wide variety of religious paths and beliefs, so there’s no one set of rules, and no all-encompassing “our religion.” Even within specific sets of practices, such as Wicca or Druidry, there is a significant amount of variation from one group to the next, so if this High Priestess said you had to have long hair to be part of “our religion,” what she really was saying was “her specific group.” Perhaps the goddess of her group’s tradition prefers followers who do not cut their hair, but that doesn’t mean that every Pagan goddess makes the same demands.
In other words, you can relax and rest assured that you may still find the group that is right for you, and keep your hair in whatever style you choose to wear it, without pressure to change it.
That said, you bring up an interesting topic. The notion of hair as tied to religious belief is actually a pretty complex one. In some belief systems, hair is associated with magical power. Why is this? Well, it may be purely psychological. Take, for instance, a woman with long hair who wears it up in a neat bun, pulled back from her face, while she is at work. Her hair is kept tidily out of her way while she does her job, tends to her family, and so forth. And yet once this woman steps into a magical setting, she removes the pins and combs, setting her hair free – it’s a liberating feeling, to literally let your hair down. It brings a primitive sense of wildness and raw sexuality to the moment, and that in itself can be very powerful indeed.
As another example on the opposite end of the spectrum, consider the shaved head of the monk. In Buddhism, novices shave their heads as part of the process of renouncing physical goods and their ties to the material world. The bald head makes each monk equal to his brothers in the face of the Divine, and allows them to focus on the spiritual.
In some religions, women choose to cover their hair. While this practice is often tied to modesty, in some traditions it relates to the restraint of power. Although not a specifically Wiccan or Pagan custom, there are some individual Pagans who have incorporated this into their belief system. Marisa, a California Pagan who follows an eclectic path rooted in Eastern traditions, says, “I cover my hair when I go out, because for me, it’s a matter of keeping the power of the crown chakra contained. I uncover it when doing ritual, because then the crown chakra is open and uninhibited, and allows me to commune directly with the Divine.”
In a number of traditions of folk magic, hair is strongly associated with the human spirit, and can be used as a way to control an individual. There are countless recipes found in hoodoo and rootwork that involve the use of human hair as part of a spell or “trick,” according to Jim Haskins in his book Voodoo and Hoodoo.
In addition, there are a number of superstitions and customs about hair, particularly when it comes to cutting. It is believed in many areas that if you cut your hair at the time of the full moon, it will grow much faster – but hair cut during the dark of the moon will grow thin and possibly even fall out! SeaChelle, a practicing witch whose family has roots in Appalachia, says, “When I was a little girl, my grandmother used to tell me that after she cut our hair, we had to bury the clippings in the ground. You couldn’t burn it, because it would make the hair you had left grow brittle, and you couldn’t just toss it outside, because birds would steal it to use in their nests, and that would give you a headache.”