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.

Monasticism and Transition

My time of monasticism ended when I relocated to the Pacific Northwest. The transition back into “normal” life has been… a character building experience? *laugh* I wouldn’t change it though.

One of the greatest challenges since monasticism has been prioritizing my time. My monastic practice had a solid routine, a day-in/day-out flow that encouraged contemplation and growth. When I was told my monastic period was over I went too far in the opposite direction and lost some ground. Without that scheduled routine I found it very easy to lose track of time, energy, and focus. I’m finding a new happy medium, but it’s a slow process.

It’s also requiring a different level of self-awareness. I have to consciously make time for the Kindreds, as opposed to having time already allocated to Them. There are pros and cons to this, of course, but right now I miss the closeness.  It’s the difference between living with someone and calling them once a week. I have more “me” time, but I’m not certain yet that “me” time is something I actually want or know how to effectively use anymore.

Monasticism necessitated distance from other people. All of the chores took time, the regular altar work took time, and with maintaining a full-time job on top of that I didn’t really spend much time with friends simply hanging out. When I did, the rules I followed as part of my practice would pop up and have to be managed – I was a monastic before anything else, and that changed my behavior. Now, without that distance, I’m finding it more difficult in some cases to enforce boundaries. I did not expect that. However, now I know what my boundaries ARE, so learning to enforce them without a handy “I’m a monastic and can’t do that” is at least easier than it was before monasticism.

With my time more freed up I’ve been edging back into the social whirl. I now know better than to take on too much, but finding a balance has been tricky – I have the impulse to hermit a lot more than I did. I’m working on it, though. I’m slowly expanding my social contacts and events. I also want to expand my connection to the greater Pagan/polytheistic community here in the Puget Sound area, and that’s something I’m slowly moving into too.

Some things have carried over well. My awareness of the cycles of things – where my clothes come from, or my food – is still in place. I’m not cooking like I did before, and I’m doing my laundry in a machine and not by hand. Part of me sincerely misses those activities. Especially the laundry! *laugh* Much to my surprise, doing my laundry by hand became a soothing reflective time for me. It didn’t really feel like a chore so much as a time I could keep my hands busy and my mind blank. With cooking there’s a lot of forebrain activity – what goes in when, is it too hot, etc. Laundry? Not so much.

I’m much more conscious of clutter in all forms, too. My house stays organized, but that’s the easiest and most surface of the changes. The biggie is that it’s now easier for me to pull out of mental fixation loops, and controlling my moods is easier than it was. My tolerance for drama is just gone, and now I’m ok with stating that up front. I’ve learned that my health and happiness are more important to me than anyone else’s approval, and I’ve learned that lesson down to the bone. That helps more than I knew.

I think the biggest take-away I have from the whole experience is now having an anchor. For most of my life I’ve felt fairly adrift. My tie to my Lady grounded me some, but it wasn’t complete. Focusing on Her alone put too much emphasis on the work I did in my head and not enough emphasis on me living my life. Embracing the Ancestors and the Land, emphasizing those relationships, provided the balance I never knew I needed. I feel more grounded than I ever have before, and from that ground I’m able to go further into each of the Realms. I am held by the Kindreds, and working together They tether me to the experience of my life and my place in the world. For that alone my year of monasticism was as transformative for me as my year of celibacy, though in a completely different way. I’m just hoping I can maintain that ground as I transition away from monasticism to whatever is coming next.

Passivity and Engaged Service

Power dynamics underlie my worldview in a major way. In relationships with people I tend to be the one others turn to for guidance and direction. In my relationship with my Lady, however, I receive guidance and direction. Using common BDSM parlance, I am a Dominant personality who submits to a goddess. This dual perspective gives me some interesting insights into the role of service.

This came up in conversation the other night while I was having dinner with my girl. She said something self-deprecating and I came back with the following:

Why would I want someone who was weak or incompetent? It’s in my own best interest to find the smartest, strongest, most capable person I can! I HAVE a full time job – why would I want to add micromanaging another person to the list? I don’t want a doormat or a robot or a child – I want to delegate a task and know that the task will be done. I want someone amazing. Why would I settle for less than that?

At the time I was thinking about it from my perspective as a Dominant. Everything I said there, however, applies to the other side of the coin too. Because honestly? I can’t imagine our gods feel any differently about the people They tap for service than I do. Like me, They also have jobs to do, agendas and purposes to fulfill, goals to meet. They want to delegate a task and see it completed without ridiculous oversight requirements. I have met very few weak and/or incompetent people who have been chosen by gods for direct service, and I think this is at least part of the reason why.

So, with that in mind, what can we learn about serving the gods by examining and living other types of service relationships?

There is the stereotype in the BDSM scene of the doormat, of the helpless submissive who yearns to be rescued and coddled and constantly directed. They want someone to tell them what to do and how to do it, to make their ethical/moral choices for them, to take away all the uncertainty. They don’t want to think or struggle, they simply want to be. We see this in spiritual relationships too, of course. Many of us grew up as members of a monotheistic faith. One thread that seems to run through monotheism in general is the whole “let go, let God” concept. The doormat idea is here seen as the ideal, as a virtue. Worshippers demonstrate their devotion by begging their god to take care of everything for them, hoping that if they keep their heads down and blindly follow orders they’ll receive favors. And believe they’re punished if they don’t.

There are Dominant personalities who like this level of passivity, just as I’m sure there are gods who appreciate it. Personally, I find that this “rewarding passivity” viewpoint actively hinders service on a human level, and going by my Lady’s preferences I don’t see that it necessarily differs when serving the Powers.

If I want the doormat type kneeling quietly in the corner to do something I have to issue an order, break it down to the simplest connect-the-dots pieces, and then supervise the completion of the task every step of the way. In those circumstances delegation adds more stress to my plate, not less, and takes more time besides. I’d rather just do it myself and avoid the middleman.

On the other hand, delegating a task and seeing it completed without having to micromanage the process? That reduces my stress, and allows me to focus on other tasks that only I can do. The ability to do that is a skill, and the one doing the serving becomes actively useful to whatever I’m trying to accomplish.

Even better – the Holy Grail of service, if you will – is when the one serving begins anticipating, displaying initiative instead of passivity. That’s when service is elevated from skill to art, and the one doing it moves from useful to indispensable.

In short? Screw passivity – give me someone with initiative and the responsibility to use it.

My Lady agrees with that whole-heartedly. I actually started out as more of a blind follower (I preferred to do nothing rather than do something wrong), and She beat that out of me as quickly as possible. These days? She accepts nothing less than full engagement, and that means I’m required to think about what She says, not just do it. I have to grapple with it, understand it, fully grok it – and then independently implement it in my life from that point forward by anticipating other ways it might apply. I question, request, argue, resist, suggest, learn, explore, and live with Her 24/7. That tendency has only grown as I’ve served Her – She’s encouraged it. My contrary, pushy nature is something She wants, and my initiative is prized.

The degrees between passivity and initiative also correspond to headspace in other areas. I find that, when receiving service, the ones who passively need guidance through tasks are so focused on the mechanics that they don’t think beyond them, and even if they do have something to say they usually don’t consider it their “place” to volunteer ideas. Some people might see that as respectful. I see that as incredibly limiting. It blocks me from receiving feedback. I want feedback. I want the people doing the task to create process improvements, offer suggestions, and provide alternative perspectives. Someone who is actively engaged, who takes ownership, often has better ideas and insights than I do – and I’m crippling myself if I don’t listen to them.

In the same way, my Lady allows no walls between us. I am forbidden to focus on the mechanics without delving deeper. She in my head and heart and life, and everything I am is Hers. I wouldn’t be giving Her everything if I held back anything, and that includes my thoughts and perspectives as they arise. Even if they may not be what She wants or expects to hear. I’m respectful, of course, but I’m also bluntly honest. I would never expect a level of service from another that I don’t deliver myself – in many ways I serve my Lady exactly as I wish to be served. So far that concept has been praised and encouraged.

We have to remember that the Powers are not omniscient. Our sharing of our experiences and perspectives help Them too.

In another post I described the lenses through which various Powers view the world. Gods see much more overall than we do, but They are more like generals than soldiers. They see the lay of the land, the maps, the overall strategy. They are not soldiers on the ground. That’s us. We’re the ones slogging through the mud and the blood, and our reports provide necessary perspectives They don’t otherwise get. That is part of our utility, and we’re not serving as fully as possible if we don’t give Them that.

As an additional complication, some of us are also dealing with our deities (or entire pantheons) having been cut off from humanity for centuries. We’re having to help reconstruct these faiths, reconnect people to Powers and Powers to people, relearn what we used to know and figure out how to deal with those concepts in a modern context.

I think we often forget that  goes both ways, that this is a two-way street.

The cultures with which a given Power is familiar can be vastly different from our own. Time marches on – and perspectives shift with it. Things may have changed while They have been separated from us. For instance, I’ve seen cases of deities not understanding that communities no longer support Their clergy, and expecting 24/7 service from people who also have to maintain full-time jobs. Sometimes the deity is fully aware of the difficulty and wants that anyway, but other times the deity simply doesn’t know that circumstances have changed. Part of our job is to help them understand modern life and modern human perspectives, to help Them work with us and us work with Them. Without providing that perspective we’re tying Their hands.

And that, I think, is the most important concept that we can take from this whole conversation. Passive service is not complete service. We must be active partners in our service to truly serve. In many ways we are working with our gods more than for Them, and we have to fully engage for our relationships with Them to reach their full potential. Engagement requires both fully understanding the “why” behind what our deities ask of us, so we can begin to anticipate what They may ask of us in future, and offering our perspectives as the “soldier on the ground” even if we don’t think it’s what They want to hear. Offering only passive service imposes artificial limits that defeat the purpose of what W/we’re trying to do.