When it comes to hair and the religions: different strokes for different folks.
For most religions, long, well-kept hair signifies full-bodied sexuality, and given the ambivalent relation between holiness and sexuality, it stands to reason that the religions would proffer certain dulling arrangements for hair.
Here is a selection of holy hairstyles for men:
For some sects of Hinduism and for Rastafarianism, long, unkempt dreadlocks signify stout spirituality.
For some sects of Buddhism, long hair that is tightly wound into a topknot signifies sexual, and therefore spiritual, control.
For other sects of Buddhism, completely shaving the head indicates spiritual commitment of the highest order.
For Christian monks, just the top of the head may be shaved while a circle of bangs is left all around in similitude to the crown of thorns Jesus was made to wear at his crucifixion.
Most of these are customs and not authoritative pronouncements made in sacred scriptures, but in some cases hair legislation comes from the highest authority.
In the third book of the Jewish Bible God commands that male hair not be cut from the back of the ears all the way to the temples at the edge of the forehead.
In sacred Islamic Hadith relating the habits of Muhammad, the Prophet is reported to have said that God told him to trim is hair to the shoulders and to let his beard grow as long as it may.For women, since hair is a sexual adornment and potentially tempting to men, many religions require women to cover their hair completely by veiling it. In other religions, laywomen may wear their hair as they wish, but holy women veil their heads.
Why would religion take such interest in hair? Here are sample replies from the man and woman on the street:
“It’s like all parents presenting their child in the public forum. They feel their own good breeding is reflected in their child’s pasted-down locks.”
“It’s a strategy to routinize religion by attaching religion to everyday activities like grooming.”
“It’s a means to deepen the sense of societal separation one’s religion has already effected.”
“It’s meant to suffocate vanity.”
Conjure in your mind’s eye any holy person of any sect of any religion. You cannot picture them caped in a trendy Manhattan hair salon pondering highlights, lowlights, and the silver sheen of thinning shears.
But why? If you answer that such a scenario would be unseemly for the holy, we can simply repeat the query: Why?
Featured image ’12’ by Adriano Manzanares Garcia via Flickr