Dead Ends an Exploration of Follicle Mythology
DURING THE VIETNAM WAR, THE US ARMY MADE A SPECIFIC PUSH TO RECRUIT MEMBERS OF NATIVE AMERICAN TRIBES TO ACT AS SCOUTS AND TRACKERS DUE TO THEIR TOUGHNESS AND NEAR “SUPERNATURAL” FAMILIARITY TO NAVIGATE TOUGH TERRAINS. After enlistment though, all traces of enhanced abilities seem to disappear completely. US Army investigators interviewed tribe elders and learned it was quite simple: they need to have their hair long and free to allow their battlefield prescience. The powers-that-be made an exception for Native American troops to keep their hair after enlistment, and the increase in efficiency that the US Army was looking for finally presented itself.
Hair in history, beyond its most obvious role of retaining warmth and blocking harmful sunlight to delicate human parts and organs, seems to have a peculiar link to the supernatural and the sensitive human. Even in today’s culture, a popular euphemism for being frightened is “hair raising” or the old trope of being frightened so bad, that the hair turns white. The cultures of the ancient world held hair and what it represented in high regard, from shamans on hill tops to Caesars in sparkling colosseums, with natural hair colored with mud and clay to wigs of animal furs and other more macabre origins. Hair seemed to hold a special place in the world before electricity and paved roads. Within mythologies from around the world, we see numerous stories of hair giving people special powers and abilities that separated them from the normal population.
The most well-known story in this regard would be the tale of Samson and Delilah, an Israeli soldier of the ancient world who had a level of near superhuman strength if his hair was kept long. His most famous feat was defeating a pair of lions unarmored with his bare hands. His tragedy is well
known and taught every Sunday, so no spoils from me.
Another tale of the ancient world is the story of Loki and Sif. Sif was the beloved of Thor and was seen as one of the most beautiful woman in Valhalla, known for her long golden hair. The love between Thor and Sif enraged Loki, so he commissioned the dwarves to craft a black wig made of Uru (a rare metal ore). While Sif slept, Loki snuck into her room, shaved her famous blonde hair, and enchanted the black wig to her scalp so that it could not be cut or removed. The next day, Loki hid in the halls waiting to see Thor’s reaction to Sif’s new raven-black hair. To his dismay, the Thunder god found Sif even more lovely than before, enhancing their love, and speeding along their wedding. It was one of the few times the Trickster god was foiled by his own machinations. Black hair in the Nordic world was then seen as a mark of Sif, a sign of grace and power and favor of both Sif and Thor.
Another story is that of Medusa, famous for her snake hair and gaze of stone, but she, like Sif, was punished for her beauty. The only human female of the Gorgon tribe, she was one of the most beautiful women in the world. Her hair, as Ovid described it, was the “most wonderful of her charms.” She was cursed by Athena for having an affair with Poseidon within one her temples. Medusa was transformed into a hideous monster and became the most awful of the Gorgon tribe, with numerous monstrous features. Her hair she was lauded for was transformed into the near iconic nest of snakes that appear in just about every likeness.
The last story comes from Huang Luo in the Guangxi Region of China. A legend tells of a young woman who drove off a persistent suitor by using her long hair to beat and batter him away. To this day, the woman of Huang Luo grow their hair long, never cutting it from birth and only on the day of their wedding, presenting it as a gift to their chosen husband.
Even in more current history, hair seems to play a role in signaling status and even health to on-lookers. During the 1700’s, the rise of wig within the elite societies of Europe is quite known, but the origins are a bit grisly. The popularity grew alongside a horrible rise of syphilis and lice that led to early hair loss. The nobles of that time period would culture wigs from more healthy donors to hide their infection, using orange spices to cover up the smell of scabs and deteriorating flesh. Powdering them became popular, as did woman using powders and other elements to make grey or white streaks. It fell out of fashion around the end of the American Revolution, with natural hair coming back into fashion.
Hair throughout the ages seems to a strong connection to wisdom, and otherworldly ability. The Native Americans see hair as a connection to the spirit world. It’s easy to imagine as you lay down and allow your long hair to spill over the ground, that each strand is a connector to something bigger and larger than ourselves, and ancient man believed that. But with hair being technically dead, how could something like calcified protein strands really make such a connection? Hair isn’t a source of ESP [extrasensory perception] ability as much as a foci for those of “enhanced consciousness”, a trait found in every culture around the world. Believing hair enhances awareness or gives super strength or allows you to beat off unwanted suitors is more belief in oneself with the hair acting as a tool to shape and harness that belief into something more tangible. But foci can take many shapes, even no shapes at all if you factor that it’s just material you are pushing your beliefs through, which could include pre-written prayers along with all the other spiritual paraphernalia, from crosses to crystals to chicken blood.
In my youth, I studied to be a stage actor, and the great director Bree Valle taught me an actor’s duty was turning the material of the script to energy on the stage, while the playwright’s job was taking energy and making it material on the page. That is the basic idea of psychic foci and hair. While beautiful, powerful, and luxurious, hair is just another tool of the aware human, even if it’s one of the most important and easily accessed. We all have it, not just on our head but all over our bodies. The connection created by our follicles just might be the first baby step into a larger world for the budding initiate.