As a Hellenic woman who veils, or covers in traditional fashion, I am most interested of course in those methods which are Hellenic. While hair covering itself seemed to vary in practice, and from all artistic evidence, wasn’t particularly mandated, it certainly did occur and so when I take up this practice I try to keep to the Hellenic manner in my daily life (though I do play with other styles from time to time). The outer clothing of women that can be implimented for this are broken down pretty much into three groups.
1) The hair covering. This ranges from a more wide head-band style, to a full tichel-type style that varies which is found both in images of women and also on goddesses. The amount of hair which is covered for all intensive purposes seems that it was pretty much determined as much as whether or not to do so at all. After all you will find images of women with their hair covered in company of women with uncovered hair. Therefore I am certainly not mandating that anyone *should* do this, but that historically the practice is in place that can be used if a modern Hellenic women feels the desire to institute those practices in her life.
2) Perhaps the most well known outer covering for a Hellenic woman is the himation, but it seems to sometimes be mistaken for a shorter shawl-like covering. Or perhaps these are both called himation but differ significantly in their style. The reason I say is that I have seen most people liken the himation to the Indian dupatta, but in typical styles the dupatta is too short with the exception of a selection of a few styles in which a smaller cloth seems to be used in an abbreviated style in which a dupatta sized cloth would hang crossed over the chest..perhaps for convenience of use. It could then be liften up easily to cover the head and shoulders when needed. I have seen women in photos from Hellas during ritual who use something akin to a shawl draped over their head and wrapped loosely about the shoulders. So this second peice would be a kind of abbreviated himation or dupatta/shawl. From what I gather its use would have been more for additional warmth like the men’s cloak.
3) The himation is something much more of size of the Indian sari and was worn to hang in long folds down the body of the woman, often hanging low on the hip or thigh. This same himation could be gathered up to be wrapped in a conceiling fashion around the body. I would consider the himation to also be the most religious attire as we see scenes, such as the one with the Pythia in which the himation is gathered up and draped over the head as she gives an oracle. Doubtlessly not everyone did so in prayer, since we have differing images unlike Roman religion in which covering the head was done uniformly in prayer. But the use of the himaton in religious practice is one that we do have evidence for as per the Pythia. Of course it is plausible that it was common for women in general to pull their himation up when go outside of their homes, just as Roman women did.
(once again courtesy of the cellphone)
It has come to my attention that more and more polythestic women are coming out and proudly incorporating headscarves into their wardrobe. An activity that has a long recent history of being associated with Islam and strict sects of Christianity and Judaism is now being reclaimed by many ladies who honor the gods. It is all so very exciting really, especially considering how in this day and age the practice of veiling is looked down on as an activity of supression by so many people, and as a relic of the past. Yet the headscarf has a beautiful and noble history worldwide in its various fashions (and is so much more comfortable than a hat which covers less and doesn’t let the scalp breathe so well) that can be embraced by any woman who desires to take up the cloth whether it be for modesty, personal privacy, or spiritual reasoning. We know among the romans that veiling for spiritual purposes was under taken by men and women…the former of which would fold the end of their toga over their heads when engaged in prayer. Likewise in Hellenismos it was rather common for the hair of women to be bound up, and loosened under conditions which are called in specific rites of mourning.
Therefore polytheistic ladies should not feel afraid to veil their hair if they are called to do so (amittedly perhaps only a few in any sizable population may feel such a need) out of some misplaced idea that they are stealing another religious and cultural identity…for that is not the case. It is not a practice restricted to any of the Abrahamic faiths. There is a long history of women covering their heads in various parts of the world from ancient times into more modern eras (let us not forget that the wimple was used not THAT long ago). This is because it is a practical application of clothing that has evolved which serves a purpose. First it is a protective peice of clothing, this is especially important in the summer when the sun is beating down..and for us fair skinned ladies it is also helpful in avoiding more painful sunburns. Second, it is clean. Despite what some may think headscarves are clean and kept washed and laundered. It is not only more sanitary for our daily activities which may require the handling of food, but also keeps the hair cleaner. This would have been particularly important when washing one’s hair didn’t occur as often as one would have liked.
Therefore ladies, if you feel the desire to veil your hair know you are in perfect right to do so, and do so proudly!
A discussion of modesty occured on a friend’s blog and after some chewing on the idea for a few days here is something I wanted to very briefly address since there appears to be an idea held by some that expressions of “modesty” (for lack of a better word) are directly associated with ideas of body-shame and essentially an anti-thesis to polytheistic worship. So first I had to consider as what qualifies as modesty, and it seems to boil down to an action which reduces the attention to the self (most particularly the physical self). For those who would like a dictionary definition, here it is: 1. A freedom from conceit and vanity. 2. propriety in speech, dress and conduct. As I would have it, number 2 is thought to generate the first definition. Therefore in dressing, speaking and acting in certain favorable ways you are freeing yourself from the shiny trappings that your ego is attracted to. Those who espouse the idea of school uniforms in order to create harmonic learning environments I would say are espousing the ideas of modesty under this definition.
What tends to get lost here is that automatically this tends to be shifted to the idea of hiding away the body in order to decrease the vanity for it, and from there is a short hop and skip to the ideas of body-shame when really neither of these has to necessarily be the case. It is all to easy to forget that conducting oneself to in a modest fashion can be beneficial to one’s interaction with the world around them on different levels, not in consideration of what others may or may not think of you but it is potentially a freeing mechanism in which you can focus yourself and define your day and reality on something more meaningful to you. Do I wish to be defined by the color of my hair, the shape of my form, and do I find it respectful to my own self and in my own interest to be defined by these measures? And everyone will have their own answers to this, and where they draw the line. And every culture had it’s own general response to this wherein among some cultures married women cut off their hair reserving the long tresses for the maidens who did not have a household and babies to juggle, some cultures insisted that children once reaching the age of puberty (and thus entering into the adult domain) dressed in accordance with adults which could mean a long robe (and in Athens in the dress of the maidens after passing childhood was a long dress that covered the ankle) and even a kind of headcovering that was in part of preparing them for adult responsibility and work. Yet so many have a knee-jerk reaction that sees a desire to cover the form and hair means that the individual in question is supressed, or experiences body-shame rather than a mark of maturity. And I cannot help but to think of how many goddesses are so beautifully portrayed with their long flowing robes, and lengthy veils. Are these goddesses put upon then by the gods? What rational can be created to suggest that such adornments are against traditional beliefs of polytheistic cultures, especially in this case citing the Hellenic culture? I see none, but what I do see is instances where bare form and adornment are used in different measures in accordance to tradition. It is markable that few goddess are exposed in the fashion that Aphrodite is, Aphrodite the only one among the goddess note for sharing in mortal lovers, a goddess directly involved in sexual generation. Therewith depicted in nude or semi-nude states for veneration by mortals seems like it wouldn’t have been thought twice of any more than all the gods, all of whom who share connections of generation between divine and mortal, and therefore also heros, are depicted nude. This is touching nothing on the use of nudity in athletics as an equalizer among men.
Therefore saying that a woman who chooses to wear a veil/scarf is a woman who is subjected to masculine domination and is in opposition to what is considered polytheistic is just absurd. While culture can set the norm (and I am sure some cultures encourage different acts of differention of girls upon reaching maturity) and encourage certain modes of what is perceived as acceptable modesty, it doesn’t mean that modesty in and of itself is an infliction. What I found interesting is that in some places, where previously the norm was for women to go with their heads uncovered for a great many years reversed in trend, and not because of pressure but because there was a renewal of interest in practicing this bit of modesty. So instead of fussing over hair (is it too frizzy? too oily? why won’t it stay nice? etc) there is a selection of beautiful coverings in a rainbow of hues and a variety of style. And what is even better is that the headcoverings breathe better than hats but protect the head just as well during summer and winter from the sun and elements.
In the end of it is a personal choice that is denoted from where their personal focus lies and what appeals to them in comfort and style, but it should not be condemned when it is taken up as a hallmark of self-respect or as a signal of devotion and respect towards the gods (something that is not unfamiliar from the Roman front in whose worship covering the head was done by men and women when engaged in religious activity). To this end it is an entirely personal matter that should not be discouraged. Does this mean we have to live in horror of nudity and experience body-shame? No of course not! After all the Spartan maidens danced naked among each other, and women and men in cultures that still enjoy the public bath have no problem stripping down for the occassion. I gurantee being a “modest” polytheist won’t make one swoon at the image of a Herm, or that of a Satyr or Pan for that matter, nor will it instill any kind of distaste for the phallic imagery associated with Dionysos. Dressing modestly, as per the definition above, does not necessitate prudity!