the hairy aspects of religion
July 30, 2008 7:02 AM   Subscribe

Many religions have prescriptions about hair - hair covering, hair growing, hair shaving... I am interested in knowing about all the various religious aspects of hair. I know bits about some of them, but I'd like to ask the hivemind what you know about hair and religion. Mainly thinking of head hair but body hair is relevant too.
posted by Kerasia to Religion & Philosophy (23 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
A variety of more fundamental Christian religions discourage short hair on women, some congregations prohibit hair cuts beyond a trim for women. It tends to vary congregation to congregation; as opposed to being an aspect of a particular denomination. I know the belief is based on passages in the old testament, likely the those that indicate that women should not try to look like men. These denominations also tend to prohibit pants on women, jewelry beyond a watch and wedding band, make-up, etc. (That's a very convoluted explanation of the passages and I don't know the book, let alone chapter/verse.)
posted by wg at 7:19 AM on July 30, 2008

The Baha'i Kitab-i-Aqdas contains a this:
"Shave not your heads; God hath adorned them with hair, and in this there are signs from the Lord of creation to those who reflect upon the requirements of nature. He, verily, is the God of strength and wisdom. Notwithstanding, it is not seemly to let the hair pass beyond the limit of the ears. Thus hath it been decreed by Him Who is the Lord of all worlds."
Scholarly debate on the passage breaks down to two fields:
  1. It was a veiled reference to male prostitution during the 19th century.
  2. The were talking about about 'ear hair' - the literal hair growing out of your ears
Either way, it is explicitly not enforced, and both Baha'u'llah and Abdu'l Baha had long-ish hair, so there you go.
posted by unixrat at 7:22 AM on July 30, 2008

Here are a few that I remember from my Christian days:

1 Cor. 11:2-16 - essentially, women should cover their heads in church, and men should not. Some interpret this as being a thing of long vs. short hair.

1 Peter 3:3 - women shouldn't put too much emphasis on outer beauty, like braiding their hair.

Numbers 6:1-21 - Nazarite vow - the Nazarite shaves his head at the beginning of the vow, and then cannot cut his hair for the duration of the vow. The character Samson (as in Samson and Delilah) was a Nazarite.
posted by sherlockt at 7:33 AM on July 30, 2008

Well, wikipedia has some information.
posted by trip and a half at 7:34 AM on July 30, 2008

Sorry, that's Nazirite, not Nazarite. And the first reference is to the book 1 Corinthians, in case the abbreviation isn't clear.
posted by sherlockt at 7:37 AM on July 30, 2008

In Sikhism there is the practice called Kesh, by which some individuals never cut their hair. But I'm uncertain of how universal this is because I've met many Sikhs with short hair.

In the scriptures of Judaism and Christianity there are a bunch of passages related to hair, here's a few:
And suppose you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and you are attracted to her and want to marry her. If this happens, you may take her to your home, where she must shave her hair, cut her fingernails, and change all her clothes. (Deuteronomy 21:11-13)

Have them shave their entire body and wash their clothing. Then they will be ceremonially clean. (Numbers 8:7)

If a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him....If a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. (1 Corinthians 11:14-15).

But every woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled dishonoureth her head : for it is one and the same thing as if she were shaven. 6 For if a woman is not veiled, let her also be shorn : but if it is a shame to a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be veiled. (1 Corinthians 11:6)
There's the cenobitic practice of tonsure which is practiced across a wide variety of religions.

There's Rastafarian dreadlocks.
posted by XMLicious at 7:38 AM on July 30, 2008

The payot locks on either side of the forehead worn by Hassidic Jews. There's a related Wikipedia article "Shaving in Judaism".
posted by XMLicious at 7:51 AM on July 30, 2008

The Buddha's hair style ushinisha holds a variety of symbolism in many Buddhist traditions. See this Buddhist article on "The Parable of the Priceless Gem in the Topknot" from the Lotus Sutra.

Somewhat tangential are the chonmage and oicho hair styles worn by Sumo wrestlers. Sumo has its origins in the Shinto religion of Japan.
posted by XMLicious at 8:10 AM on July 30, 2008

This wikipedia link is about Judaism and hair covering.
posted by lullaby at 8:24 AM on July 30, 2008

There's a wide variety of anecdotes in the Wikipedia article "Lock of hair".
posted by XMLicious at 8:29 AM on July 30, 2008

why buddhists shave their heads
posted by desjardins at 8:39 AM on July 30, 2008

I waa raised in the Pentecostal religion, which I no longer follow. But I definitely remember all the restrictions placed on us. As far as hair was concerned, women were not allowed to have short hair, and in fact the longer and less trimmed it was, the more devout you were seen to be. They could wear it in a simple braid, or in other very simple hairtyles, but anything too involved on styled was also seen as a sign of vanity. Also, shaving body hair (this was for women, men could shave their faces) was frowned upon, as it was seen as vain. From my recollection, only the most hardcore members of my church went as far as not shaving. The only restriction on hair for men was that they could not wear it long.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 8:46 AM on July 30, 2008

Adding to unixrat's answer, there is another quote from the Kitab-i-Aqdas that relates to facial hair:

"The Lord hath relieved you, as a bounty on His part, of the restrictions that formerly applied to clothing and to the trim of the beard."

This is an abrogation of customs in some Islamic practices that mandated length/cut for beards and moustaches.
posted by camcgee at 8:52 AM on July 30, 2008

More affluent/assimilated Orthodox women cover their hair....with very high-end, human hair wigs (my hairdresser has several women like this in her client base and has talked about how nerve wracking it can be to trim up a $7,000 wig that won't "grow back" any mistakes). This link from the NYT explains in detail.

Apparently you can cover your own hair with the (equally feminine/human) hair of a stranger, and that's cool with Yahweh. It seems like cheating, to my ignorant goy mind.

Also, I'm guessing a chemo patient or alopecia sufferer might object to the argument that a wig can't be used to express a woman's "sensual nature" the way her "real" hair would.
posted by availablelight at 9:23 AM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm Pentecostal and have been for the entire 30 years of my life. I've never cut my hair. XMLicious quoted some of the scripture I was going to quote.

I do have to say though, having been raised very conservative Pentecostal, I have NEVER heard that the longer a woman's hair is the more "devout" she is nor have I ever heard of women not shaving unwanted body hair. I've traveled and participated in many, many different churches all over the US and Europe and have never heard of this.

I think that to explain ones beliefs to someone who doesn't share them is difficult to really get across the reason or thinking behind WHY.

Having very strong thoughts and ideas regarding hair, myself, I find these answers very interesting!
posted by TurquoiseZebra at 9:47 AM on July 30, 2008

From the Amish FAQ: "There are quite a few scriptures that mention beards in the Bible. An example would be Psalm 133:1,2. An Amishman does not shave his beard after he becomes married. A long beard is the mark of an adult Amishman. Mustaches, on the other hand, have a long history of being associated with the military, and therefore are forbidden among the Amish people."
posted by fixedgear at 10:36 AM on July 30, 2008

In the Catholic Church all clerics (not just monastics) were de jure required to wear a tonsure, a shaved spot on their head until, I believe, 1983, except in places where, because of the Penal Laws a contrary custom had become established (Great Britain, Ireland, the U.S.). My understanding is that the custom already largely fallen out of use elsewhere, however.

In Byzantine Churches there's another sort of tonsure that takes place at Baptism... an offering of the child to God.
posted by Jahaza at 10:43 AM on July 30, 2008

There are some really interesting articles here on hair coverings and reasons for Jewish women. If you google sheitel (wig) or teichel (scarf) you'll find quite a bit more.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:05 AM on July 30, 2008

Removing pubic and underarm hair is encouraged in Islam.
posted by thisjax at 11:15 AM on July 30, 2008

In many cultures around the world there has been a custom / fashion of growing a scalplock, a hair style in which only a single lock of hair is allowed to grow or one lock of hair is maintained at a much greater length than the rest. See the Ukranian Cossack oseledets or the Orthodox Hindu sikha for examples.

In some cases the scalplock comes to have spiritual significance. Here's part of a story from the Pawnee natives of North America: the evening the dance was repeated, Crow-feather joining the others. When all was over the dancers disappeared in the form of birds and animals. One man only, the leader of the dance, remained. He asked Crow-feather to sit near him and said, "Brother I am a human being. This is my home. I cannot go among our people, for I have no scalplock. Some time ago our people were attacked and on the retreat I was thrown by my pony and stunned. When I revived my scalplock was gone. I had been scalped by the enemy. When I looked around I saw sitting about me, crows, eagles, wolves, and dogs. At night, the wolves lay near me. I wandered over the prairies for I knew I could not return to my people. I dreamed of the birds and animals and decided to try to follow the wolves. I was led to this cave and here the birds and animals came and taught me mysterious things. I stay here and procure my food from our people at night when they are asleep."

"When the birds had taught me they wished me to return home and teach our people what I had learned. When I told them I could not return because I lost my scalplock they said they would give me a headdress which was even more important than a scalplock."

"The deer furnished the hair for weaving; the turkey, feathers from his breast to edge the deer hair (also the roots for dyeing it) ; and the eagle a single feather for the center of the headdress. The bone spreader for the hair I was told to get from the shoulder blade of a deer. They told me to get a two-inch shank bone to set on this. The eagle feather was to be passed through this and tied to the scalplock. When I had procured the materials for the headdress I was ready to make it but did not know how to proceed. I slept and in a vision, saw myself preparing the headdress. The next day I knew how to make it. When it was completed, with the strings on the bones and eagle feathers, I found I could not wear it, I had no scalplock. The animals were distressed at this. They met again and gave me materials for a belt: deerskin, crow feathers, and a wolf tail. I made this. Now I will give them to you to take home..."
posted by XMLicious at 11:31 AM on July 30, 2008

TurquoiseZebra: If I may ask, how long is your hair?
posted by unixrat at 1:04 PM on July 30, 2008

Thanks everyone! This is a great list of examples and resources. Much appreciated.
posted by Kerasia at 10:52 PM on August 2, 2008

Muslim men grow their beard because the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) did and they follow it as sunnah.

Muslims that perform Hajj or Umrah will not shave or cut their hair in the state of Ihram but will shave or cut their hair at the end of the Hajj/Umrah or whenever they leave the state of Ihram.
posted by abdulf at 11:20 PM on September 4, 2008

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