Piety, Modesty, and Covering My Hair – A Perspective

In addition to all of its energetic connotations, Origination (Dec. 12) is the day devoted specifically to my Lady. Traditionally it’s when She officially tells me the changes She wants me to make in my life over the coming year. Some changes have been permanent and some temporary, but all of them have profoundly changed my relationship with Her, myself, and the world.

Because many of these these things require some kind of prep work (and because I need processing time) I tend to find out what they are a few days/weeks in advance. I get some sort of communication about whatever it is so I can prep, She gives me more detail on the 12th, and I have until Yule to settle it all in my head and finalize preparations. Yule is the official kick-off date, and then it’s game on.

This year? She wants me to start covering my hair.

It seems so simple. However, Her requests usually hit a ton of buttons for me, buttons I never knew I had. This does too. And as usual it’s not the action but the meanings behind it that require me to dig deep and explore things with new eyes.

Modesty

Females covering their hair are all over the ancient world, and the practice is currently alive and well. Muslim women wear the hijab, Hindu women wear the dupatta, married Jewish women wear the tichel, etc.

Head Coverings Worn in Different Faiths

Head Coverings Worn in Different Faiths

To this day it is still the most outwardly visible sign of modesty in many cultures. So when my Lady told me to start covering my hair I wondered if this was an indication that She wanted me to be more modest too.

Modesty is usually defined as dressing and behaving in a way that does not inspire or encourage sexual desire in others. In a broader sense, modesty also refers to behaving with humility and living simply. Considering the work She’s had me doing with humility and simplicity, dressing and behaving in a more reserved way goes with everything else. It’s been something I’ve personally been edging towards anyway. Much to my surprise.

I’m very much a feminist. I’m comfortable with my sexuality, enjoy exploring it, and have no problem expressing it. Modest dress – from the plain clothes of the Amish to the full burqa found in some Islamic countries – all too often spoke to me of repression, oppression, and subjugation. I linked it to the ideas that men could not be trusted to control themselves, that a man controlled a woman’s sexuality, and that a woman’s value begins and ends with her being a sexual object. Since all of that is absolutely wrong I dismissed the value of modest dress pretty early on.

However, I like controlling the expression of my sexuality as much as the expression itself. My sex life is mine to experience, mine to share as I choose. If I want to be naked with someone and share something sacred with them – and yes, a one night stand can be sacred – that’s my choice to make. And if I want to say “no” and not share my sexuality with others, that’s mine too. Interestingly enough, I’ve found that modest dressing helps with that.

When I was younger, and much less sure of myself, I saw being sexually objectified as a plus. It boosted my confidence. I didn’t realize at the time how much I had internalized the idea of a woman’s worth being solely based on her attractiveness, and attractiveness being based solely on perceived sexual availability. When I started to “come of age” (around 19, for me) I started wearing more makeup and strategically placed jewelry, lowering my neckline, and raising my hemline. Every time I was catcalled or groped in passing on the bus was a compliment. After all, weren’t these random strangers showing me I had worth?

Then my Lady stepped in. Over time, with Her guidance, my self-esteem grew – and my discomfort with being sexually objectified grew right along with it. Now, the catcalls and gropes and people undressing me with their eyes have become offensive. They are attempts to rob me of my agency, to take my sexuality away from me and again make it the community property I once thought it was. Modest dressing has become a feminist move on my part, a way to claim my sexuality for myself and remove it from the public sphere. With the decrease in overt objectification coming my way I feel better about myself and my place in the world. Covering my hair as a part of this didn’t occur to me, however – it’s not part of my cultural tradition.

While all of this has been an outgrowth of my experiences with my Lady, it’s all been personally driven. The idea that this same reasoning would be what She used to come up with the “cover my hair” requirement was strange, because the only time She has ever expressed any interest in my sexuality is when I lost moderation with it. So I meditated on it and asked Her about it. The answer? It’s not about modesty, it’s about piety.

Piety

Modesty is often seen as an indicator of piety, but they’re not the same thing. Modesty is about behavior and appearance. Piety is about the depth of spiritual devotion. For faiths that require it, demonstrating modesty can be a visual sign of devotion. Pagans and polytheists don’t really have a living tradition advocating modesty, though. We hear a lot more encouragement for being skyclad than we do for covering up.

Again, this confused me a bit. From what I was getting (and it can certainly be garbled, so I’m all about the double checking!), She wants me to cover my hair at all times except for a) when I’m alone, and b) when I’m specifically with Her, whether other people are present or not (i.e., ritual space or devotions). This is not the way covering is normally done.

Lots of people cover their heads only while praying. It shows respect to the Powers, and can symbolize submission to a deity. A head covering is also “above” you, symbolizing that a deity is above you too. More faiths have women cover their heads during prayer than men – one source I found states that women being veiled while men are not is a way of signifying man’s sovereignty over women.

What She wanted seemed kind of backwards from what I was reading.

However, while I was researching the tichel I read that one reason women do it is to save something special for their husbands. It allows their husbands to see them in a way no one else can. Only a woman’s husband can see her naked, because her sexuality is exclusively his to enjoy – and that includes her hair.

Now THAT I can relate to piety.

For someone who serves their gods as I do there is no relationship that tops it. I often describe myself as being in a poly relationship with Arianrhod as my primary. She is my first and foremost concern, my number one priority. So yeah, I can totally see how keeping something of my physical self just for Her works. Only She gets all of me, and this is a highly visible way to show that. It shows that I respect and honor Her above all others. And since I’m showing that at all times, it makes everything I do an act of devotion.

As far as uncovering in Her presence goes… well. If there is ANYONE I can be naked in front of, completely exposed and totally raw, it’s Her. I have no defense from Her gaze, and when She is present there is nowhere to hide. A part of Her is with me always, but having Her direct regard? She sees everything. Why bother to cover anything in Her presence? Uncovering my hair for ritual, when I’m specifically focused on and honoring Her already, then becomes an act of offering, giving Her everything I am and showing my openness to Her sight.

Pretty amazing return for wearing a scarf on my head.

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9 thoughts on “Piety, Modesty, and Covering My Hair – A Perspective

  1. Alex says:

    I totally, totally relate to having your God as your primary relationship, as that’s what the Mister is for me. He alone has all of me in all the ways that I don’t talk about with other people and that includes all the parts that I don’t like showing other people.

    I’m loving reading about this because it’s both so different and so similar to my experience–I don’t cover my head for the Mister, nor do I have any hair on my head [when I’m not being lazy], but it has very similar purposes.

    So glad that this has come about in a meaningful way.

    • Caer Jones says:

      And I’m SO glad to meet others who have similar relationships. Makes me feel part of something larger, and that’s always necessary. Humans are by nature social creatures – even those of us who rarely feel very social!

  2. Judith says:

    I have always enjoyed your perspective …and you have not failed me or your Lady here. As always its a joy to see someone truly devoted, and watch the progression in your writing.

  3. naiadis says:

    Not that you necessarily need support and cheerleading here, but I do want to say, “yay covering!” here. No, I don’t think it’s the be all, end all to devotion; no I don’t think all people need to do it, and no, I don’t think we need the support of others to validate our own practices — but all that aside, I *do* know that starting something new and visible can be bring all sorts of unexpected fears or concerns forward. It is *amazing* how fabric upon one’s head can invite such . . . interesting . . . reactions from people.

    I’m a covering-all-the-time-except-when-at-home pagan, and the amount of hair that gets to show largely depends upon how I’m feeling, at this point (and how hot it is!) There are all sorts of benefits that I’ve discovered to covering, practically and energetically speaking, but I started covering because it was asked of me, period. I link it, now, to piety and modesty, but in the beginning, not so much. Or maybe, with piety, because He said do this thing, and I did, and what’s that, if not piety?

    Anyway. YAY!

  4. Caer Jones says:

    “He said do this thing, and I did, and what’s that, if not piety?”

    Absolutely!

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. This is a new practice for me – although it’s one I’m quickly growing comfortable with – and I definitely want to hear more from people (especially Pagans and polytheists!) who’ve been doing it awhile. I tend to talk about what I’m up to here, so I can guarantee there will be more posts about this as I get further into it. I’d welcome your comments there too!

    • naiadis says:

      I’m not entirely sure how or why I haven’t stumbled upon your blog before now, but I’m quite delighted at what I’m reading. So, thank you, for sharing yourself so publicly, with us.

      I am glad that other pagans are talking about this practice, more and more, and I love the myriad reasons _why_ people cover, as well as how. I’m not sure why a piece of fabric atop one’s head is so fascinating, but I still find it so. I look forward to your future posts.

      • Caer Jones says:

        Thank you for commenting, and I look forward to posting about how this practice affects me and my practice. I’ll revisit the topic in a few weeks.

  5. […] Another great article about veiling in Paganism: Modesty and Covering My Hair-A Perspective […]

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