Behind the veil

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!