I bind my hair. That means that whenever I am out of my oikos, or whenever I am around people who don’t belong to my oikos, I tie my hair up. It was a decision influenced by my religion; however, I wasn’t called to it. No God came up to me during a meditation and said, “hey, you, get that hair of yours out of the way” 🙂 This seems to surprise people, as it’s not only an unusual decision (I’ve noticed that most Hellenic polytheists, if anything, tend to cover) but also a personally made one. So why do I bind my hair?
In no particular order, here are ten reasons why.
1. It differentiates between personal and public life. Similar to the clothes you wear – pyjamas in bed, a t-shirt at the park, a cocktail dress at a party – my hair is a way of defining my private sphere. I’m quite a private person by nature, so I like having that distinction. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t feel fully dressed until I’ve done my hair up. Some time ago, my hair tie fell out while I was in town, and I ended up having to walk around with my hair loose. It felt very strange, let me tell you!
2. It differentiates between everyday and spiritual life. Hair is very symbolic, as I’ll explain in more detail below, and carries its own spiritual energy. It also retains miasma, and that’s not something that I want floating around in my everyday life. Just like I don’t walk around in a constant meditative state, dressed in ritual clothing and burning incense, I keep my undone hair for the Gods (and my oikos). It also enables me to present myself to them in a natural state – the state that I was born in. If I always had my hair undone, the distinction and “specialness” of it wouldn’t be as strong.
3. The Ancients did it. Granted, that’s not the best reason, given that they also practised slavery and locked up their women inside their homes… But the ancient Hellenic habit of women binding their hair is something that I agree with, and one that I have chosen to revive in my own practise. Adopting this little part of Hellenic culture makes me feel connected to my religious predecessors. And, as someone with reconstructionist tendencies, the fact that hair binding has historical precedent definitely strengthens my commitment to it.
4. Covering wasn’t for me. I tried it out a few times, but it never felt “right” to me. (I still do it from time to time, but only on particular occasions – for example, to protect my hair from miasma, or when honouring certain deities such as Hestia.) On the other hand, I wanted to do something to show my devotion to the Gods. Binding my hair seemed like the right compromise to me.
5. It’s an outward manifestation of an inner commitment. Okay, so I think I borrowed that phrase from the Muslims – nevertheless, I agree. Back when I was Wiccan, I had a pentacle necklace that I used to wear every day. Now, I bind my hair. I like having a symbol of my faith with me, whether or not it’s recognisable. My braid might not immediately identify me as a Hellenic polytheist, but to me, it’s a reminder of what I believe in.
6. It keeps it out of the way. I have very long (waist-length) hair, and I live in a very windy city. In this instance, tying it up is just the practical thing to do.
7. I think it’s pretty. Yes, that’s a shallow reason, but it’s true. I tend to dress quite simply and wear little makeup, so I like having that one aspect of me to experiment with and make pretty. I’ve also found that by disciplining myself to tie up my hair, I end up trying out new hairstyles that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Who said you shouldn’t have fun with your religion? 🙂
8. Binding it is like a meditation. I don’t always have time to meditate, so setting a time of my day apart to do an activity related to my faith and spending it focusing on the Gods has been very beneficial to me. Every time I’m in a hurry, in a bad mood or just can’t get that last hairpin right, I remind myself of why I’m doing it, and that never fails to put things into perspective.
9. It’s a symbol of restraint. Across cultures, long, undone hair has symbolised wildness – because of its associations with barbarians and primitive cultures, who didn’t pay much attention to their hair – as well as sexual appeal (biologically, the longer and more luscious a woman’s hair is, the more fertile she tends to be). Since moderation and restraint hold an important place in Hellenismos, it’s no surprise that hair binding was popular among ancient Hellenic women. For example, only priestesses of Aphrodite and bereaved women left their hair undone. Hair binding, for this reason, makes sense to me.
10. It’s a promise to Artemis. This ties in with reasons #1, 5 and 9. I previously wrote about my decision to abstain from sex until marriage; until that happens, I belong to Artemis Parthenos. Hair binding is a way of externalising this decision and saying that only I get to decide how much of me you get to see. The only person with whom I want to share all of myself – hair, body, heart and soul – is the person I will marry. The only other “people” who know me this personally are the Gods. So while I don’t yet bind my hair for my husband, I bind my hair for them.
I don’t believe that everyone, and not every Hellenic polytheist, should bind their hair. It was right for me; it might not be for you. Hopefully, though, this post will have helped you understand a bit better why some people keep up this practise.