When I first felt called to cover my hair I didn’t just resist the impulse, I resented it. I felt it was an old-fashioned, misogynistic, crazy thing to cover your head just because you’re female. I’d always thought of covering your head for religious reasons as something of a punishment for not being forward-thinking enough. (Yeah, I know it was judgy-judgy, but I’m being honest about my first reaction to the idea.)
But the pull didn’t go away. I could feel in my heart that my Goddess Hestia was calling me to cover my hair and I couldn’t just dismiss the idea out of hand. As I meditated and prayed about this I kept getting, “as a respectable, married woman who has dedicated herself to Me, you need to cover your hair.” Yeah, like that didn’t hit a few of my hot buttons! But I’ve never felt a real pull from my deities that didn’t have purpose and a lesson for me, so I decided to at least think about it.
As I looked into this I had a lot of questions. Who covers their hair and why do they do it? What does it mean in today’s society? Do any Pagans actually cover their hair or is it just an Abrahamic thing? How would people react if I covered my hair? Is it safe to do with political tensions being what they are?
So who does this?
Who covers their hair – lots of people! Men and women of various faiths cover their hair for many reasons. From the Jewish yarmulke and Sikh turban to the Islamic hijab or Amish bonnet, many people today cover their hair. It’s really not that unusual. There are many reasons “why” and they cross religious boundaries. Some do it out of respect for their god/s, some to show their status in society (like an adult woman covering her hair when she comes of age). Others do it to separate themselves from the people around them and show they walk a different path. Some for modesty, some for keeping out unwelcome energy, some for privacy.
The biggest surprise for me was that, yes, there are other Pagans out there who cover their hair out of a sense of religious duty! There’s even a FB group out there with a lot of folks who were very kind to me as I considered this choice. They answered a bunch of my questions and shared their experiences. A lot of them covered to help block out unwanted energy and emotions. Some as a symbol of devotion to their deities.
I also looked at groups like nuns and their habits or monks with their tonsure, and at historical uses of head coverings. There was nighttime wear for warmth and cleanliness, as mentioned in the Night Before Christmas, “mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap”. There was the old Catholic idea of covering your head in church. I even considered hats worn at Ascot and the Kentucky Derby and how they fit into this whole thing.
Coming to terms with the idea
I struggled with the idea for months. I talked to Mr. WPW, who found the idea interesting, but really didn’t have an opinion about it. To paraphrase, his thoughts were, “it’s your hair, I don’t care when it changes colors from week to week, why would I care if you cover it or not?”
I didn’t want to cover in the same manner that other religions did – I didn’t want to “copy” them or appropriate their styles. The three most common coverings that I saw when I looked at options were tichel, bonnet (or draped cloth), and hijab. None of these worked for me. Aside from cultural associations, they were all too bold for me, too… out there. I’m not a terribly fussy person when it comes to clothing. Oh, I like to play dress up and go out on occasion, but typically I’m a jeans and t-shirt sort of gal who wouldn’t stand out in a crowd.
I also had to deal with my own ideas of what covering my head said about me. Most Christians who cover their heads do it based on Paul’s instructions in Corinthians. Let’s face it, Paul was not exactly a feminist. Some people in these head-covering traditions use them to subjugate and hide women. They do it because they consider women responsible for not “tempting” men, instead of requiring men to act like decent human beings no matter what the people around them are wearing. It’s a lot of baggage for this idea.
There are good bits to the concept, too. I liked the idea of keeping some things private. I know, I know. I’m a blogger and I just recently wrote about my period. How private can I be? Well, I have my moments. This gives me something that is just for me – and for those I trust. If my hair is down around you, I consider you family.
I didn’t realize how powerful covering was until I’d been doing it a little over six months and I forgot to put my hair up before I went out. I felt so exposed and vulnerable that I almost turned around and went home to put up my hair. The psychological shift was profound. To my surprise, I loved it. This little action was a powerful act of magickal protection for me, sort of like when I put on a pair of work gloves and go from, “ew, that’s icky!” to “stand aside, I’ve got this!”
It’s also my super-secret signal that I’m married. Neither Mr. WPW nor I wear wedding rings – they’re not our style. Being farmers it’s actually dangerous to wear jewelry, anyway. I loved the connection to the antique idea of a woman putting her hair up when she got married. No one else has a clue, but when I put my hair up I’m saying, “back off world, I’m taken!” (Not that I’m exactly beating folks off with a stick, but don’t let my ego know that. :D)
Last, but not least, it’s a sign of piety to my Goddess. She asked it of me, and I didn’t want to refuse Her. She doesn’t ask a lot and clearly this was important to our relationship.
So I found a way to make it work. When I go out and about I put my hair up in a bun and cover it with one of these little cloth thingies. They’ve got hair combs on either end and some elastic to keep it in place over the bun. It’s low-key, doesn’t look like a Mennonite bonnet. (We have a lot of Mennonites around here and I don’t want to go around looking like one – only because I don’t want to do them a disservice. I am tattooed, I swear, I drink alcohol, etc. It was important to me that I chose something that was distinct from them so no one mistakes me for their religion and thereby tarnishes their values/ideals.)
I do wear a full head scarf when I do devotions or ritual, which also gives a nice punch to the psychological mixture of ritual. It’s like people who wear robes or go skyclad (that’s nekkid for you non-Pagans reading this), but more me-like. I wear my own clothes and a pretty head scarf in ritual and it really helps me connect with my spiritual side.
Covering in a disaster/prepping situation
Now, I decided on a pretty low-key head covering. No one glances twice at me in the store or on the street. In fact, if I hadn’t just written over a thousand words on this you probably wouldn’t even know I cover! My best friend didn’t realize until I mentioned it in passing two years after I started. I’ll forgive the casual stranger who doesn’t get it. Haha! But not everyone who covers does it my way. You can see in the picture above of just a few different kinds of coverings that most of these stick out from “the norm”.
And sticking out from the norm can be dangerous. Does this mean that we shouldn’t have self-expression? No! Of course, not. It’s just one consideration in tense times. There are so many stories of women wearing hijabs being harassed after 9/11 and after Trump’s election. Some Muslim leaders have given dispensation to their congregants to not wear the hijab in public if their safety is compromised by it. Aside from how much that sucks to not be free to practice their religion in a country supposedly founded on religious tolerance, I believe the God/s understand. If you feel unsafe wearing your religious items – a pentacle, a head covering, whatever – don’t wear them. Keep your actions in line with your religious beliefs and honor your relationship to the God/s.
I’ve always believed I’d rather be damned for who I am than loved for who I’m not. But I’m privileged to live that way. I’m middle class, female, and white. I can get away with things a person of color, or a person with an accent might not. I can’t say I wouldn’t change to fit in more should my life and livelihood be at risk. When I had to go into the office I found out they had a rule against visible tattoos. I could have told them to take a flying leap and turned around and flown home. Instead I grumbled and growled, but went to the grocery store and got big band-aids to cover up my tattoos. (If I had to work in the office instead of at home I would have to seriously consider my options. But, I don’t so yay!)
In short, do what you need to do to be safe, whether that’s cover or not. If you can’t wear your normal covering, think about alternatives like ball caps or scarves. Sometimes even a little barrette or headband can be a symbolic cover that no one would recognize.
There is also the practical side of covering. Having your hair out of your face and off your neck can be a blessing when you’re in an uncertain situation. I know when I go out to do chores and my hair is down the slightest breeze and I’ve got a mouthful of hair. Or, I get bugs and unmentionable substances in it as I’m working around the animals. If a building were falling down around me or I had to walk home from a nearby city, having a way to keep my hair up and protected from dirt and grime would be a plus. So, something to think about.
Covering and Hearthkeeping – is this A Thing?
One absolutely does NOT have to cover their head to be a Hearthkeeper. But I’d encourage you to think about what it means when you do cover your hair. Male or female, it can be a sign of devotion. It’s also a wonderful way to step outside your daily self. When I do my devotions I take a moment and center myself before putting on my scarf. I put it on and I also put on the mantle of devotee, of witch, of Goddess worshiper. I feel connected to the people who in ancient times worshiped the same Goddesses I do.
Putting my hair up means a lot to me, religiously and spiritually, but it’s definitely a “me” thing. It’s not for everyone and that’s ok. But as the many traditions who cover have discovered, it is a powerful tool for keeping connected to deity and who you want to be when you’re out in the wide world.