With the resurgence of reconstructionist pagan traditions, some pagan women choose to express their faith by reviving the custom of veiling (covering your hair).
The article below takes a deep dive into the political, historical and cultural aspects of this important minority religious issue.
It’s with some reluctance that I tackle the matter, as I expect it to inflame both liberal and conservative sensibilities.
But I think it’s time for pagans to take on some harder questions about how deeply and seriously we take our commitment to religious tolerance. This issue highlights pretty boldly where those lines intersect with the real world.
“Veiling” is the simple-yet-complicated practice of covering one’s head. Cultures around the world veil.
Although usually associated with women, men in some cultures cover their heads for religious and secular reasons.
Recently, neopagans (especially revivalists) began veiling again for various reasons, including to express devotion to certain goddesses (especially Hellenic goddesses like Hestia) or to show spiritual humility.
About six years ago, Star Foster wrote a somewhat explosive article on the subject that almost certainly contributed to the ensuing rise of veiling in paganism.
My own journey with pagan veiling began when I felt called to express my practice in an ancient way.
I want to talk a little about why I chose this path and how it’s working out for me.
But first, I want to get something out of the way so the internet doesn’t explode with stupid. To begin with:
This post has nothing to do with Islam. At all.
It’s human nature to lump together visually similar ideas. However:
Except to the extent in which relevant laws, social attitudes and history effect covered women in general, the practice of veiling in neopaganism has literally nothing to do with modern Islam.
That said, this is a Muslim-positive place. If you came here to say bigoted things about Muslims, you came to the wrong blog. I will not approve any comments that include hate speech or ignorant rhetoric about Islam.
So don’t bother.
I won’t even approve a discussion on the matter of veils in Islam. As a non-Muslim, I am not even remotely qualified to referee such a debate.
More importantly, it’s not relevant.
Speaking of which:
Isn’t pagan veiling cultural appropriation?! OMG!
Um, no. And before you go wielding “cultural appropriation” as an ironically ignorant weapon to silence a genuine religious minority, consider the following.
Who exactly are we “stealing” from?
Orthodox Jews, Mennonites, some Muslims, as well as some Eastern Christian sects, some Hindu women and a whole bunch of other people veil for religious reasons.
Personally, my own Eastern European ancestors observed the custom of covering in the context of the Eastern Orthodox church.
It is a near-universal expression of spiritual devotion.
So you’ll have to make up your mind about who we “stole” it from and why. Except that:
It was stolen from us, not the other way around. (And I personally don’t care.)
Long before it became prescribed by monotheistic clergy, ancient pagan Greeks, Mesopotamians and Persians all practiced veiling for various social, religious and cultural reasons.
In fact, the earliest known references to ritual veiling appear in the Middle Assyrian law codes—–over a thousand years before Christ and more than 1500 years before Muhammad.
Even the common Christian practice of veiling brides is predated by a Roman pagan custom of prescribed religious attire associated with the wife of the high priest of Jupiter.
If anything, Monotheists “stole” the practice of veiling from ancient pagans as a way to normalize the new religions in established societies.
Kind of like they stole the Christmas tree. And Easter eggs. And a whole bunch of other stuff.
One might even plausibly argue that historically, no group or class of people has been “culturally appropriated” more prolifically, effectively, profitably or wildly-out-of-context than pagans.
Not only do I reject the notion that veiled pagans are “cultural appropriating” their own stolen culture; given the brutal history of forcible conversion among pagans by monotheistic peoples, I find that suggestion borderline offensive.
Modern pagans have the right to reclaim their roots from monotheism and apply the tradition any way they want to in a modern context.
That’s kind of the whole point of the Neopagan movement.
By the way:
We are the minority.
Neopaganism comprises a far, far smaller religious minority when compared with any major monotheistic tradition.
On the whole, we have almost zero political power in any nation in the world.
As a result, we constantly face discrimination in the workplace, in the court system and even within our own families.
According to the cultural appropriation police and their own rigid, astonishingly hypocritical doctrine, a minority cannot “commit” cultural appropriation against the powerful majority.
And since nearly every religious tradition we are accused of “stealing” from commands infinitely more cultural, political and economic influence than we have or ever will, it’s difficult to reconcile the logic there.
When and Why I Choose to Veil As a Pagan
I want to emphasize that the choice to veil and what motivates that decision varies widely depending on the individual, her tradition and her personal belief system.
Some people cover to profess their faith openly . Some cover to honor a specific deity.
I only speak for my own personal experience.
Personally, I don’t consider pagan veiling a “protection” of my modesty. I teach yoga with bare shoulders, I wear Western-style swimsuits in public and I wear skirts that hit the knee.
So for me, covering my hair to preserve my modesty would be kind of absurd.
I am not a “daily veiler,” and I don’t automatically cover when leaving the house—-for now. That may change. But currently, I only veil during specific times relevant to my practice. Specifically, I veil:
-During the full moon.
-In mourning, for funerary rites and for other major rites of passage.
-During divination practice.
I cover my hair during those times to create a physical barrier between me and the world under which I am able to more deeply the contemplate the meaning of my faith.
Veiling simply reminds me to strive for humility, to honor the moon cycles and to express my devotion to my faith openIy.
It also feels like a larger-than-usual step out of the broom closet for me. I don’t wear any other ornamentation that suggests my faith, so in a way, pagan veiling makes a public statement that holds me accountable when people say, “What religion are you?”
“But covering your hair is so degrading!”
I agree that forcible modesty standards of any kind degrade human rights.
But pagan veiling does not equate to condoning forced modesty standards or dated attitudes about a “woman’s place” any more than getting a tattoo condones human branding.
Certain Native American tribes and Hoodoo practitioners wear headdresses that bear no association with forcible modestly. Unfortunately, the world is full of stupid people, and for those people, everyone who thinks differently than they falls into the same blanketed category of “otherness.”
Don’t be stupid.
In this case, not being stupid comes down to recognizing that a headscarf means different things to different people in different contexts.
It’s important to note that this is my choice.
No one in my family, my spiritual community or my social circle ever even suggested I cover my hair for any reason at all. Certainly not my husband or father. (If anything, they’re all a little weirded out by it.)
But not all women who veil choose it freely for themselves, and that’s not cool.
I stand firmly behind my sisters’ rights to remove their headscarves.
I also stand firmly behind my sisters rights to not remove their headscarves.
In short: I stand with my sisters.