Hair in Mythology

Hair, its beauty, its cultural significance, its magical properties have played a part in mythology across all cultures and religions. Here are a few well known (and lesser known) hair tales..

THE CONSTELLATION OF BERENICE’S HAIR

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This cluster of stars – seen by the early stargazers as Queen Berenice’s Hair – is named for Queen Berenice II of Egypt, wife of Ptolemy III. In 243 B.C., Ptolemy went to war. His newlywed bride, Berenice, swore to the goddess Aphrodite to sacrifice her long, blonde hair, of which she was extremely proud, if her husband returned safely. He did, and she had her hair cut and placed it in the goddess’ temple. The next morning, the hair had disappeared, stolen by a priest, upset because the offering was made to a Greek deity. To appease the furious king and queen, and save the temple priests, the court astronomer is said to have indicated a fuzzy patch of stars in the heavens – and said that the gods were so pleased with Berenice’s offering that they had placed her hair in the heavens, for all to see. The constellation Coma Berenices is located close to the constellation Leo and it’s more visible in May. Berenices is an isosceles triangle shaped by its 3 more brilliant stars:

THE NORSE GODDESS SIF

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In the norse mythology, common to Scandinavians, Germans and Saxons, Sif was the wife of Thor, the thunder god. She had a beautiful long hair, that fell past her feet, and it color was like the wheat fields gleaming in the sunlight. Some day while she was sleeping, the trickster god Loki, god of thieves and adventurers, cut it off, running away with the hair. While she was crying out in anger, her husband Thor stormed, threatening with the worst punishments to the author of that incident. Loki, fearing the vengeance of Thor, traveled to Asgard and to Smifhelm, home of the dwarves, for help. They weaved threads of golden hair longer than before, with its locks wrought out of authentic precious gold. Loki came back at the next day with the new hair and the gods’ fury was appeased.

MEDUSA

medusa_by_asuss06Medusa was a monster, one of the Gorgon sisters and daughter of Phorkys and Keto, the children of Gaea (Earth) and Oceanus (Ocean). She had the face of an ugly woman with snakes instead of hair; anyone who looked into her eyes was immediately turned to stone.
She was originally a golden-haired, fair maiden, who, as a priestess of Athena, was devoted to a life of celibacy; however, after being wooed by Poseidon and falling for him, she forgot her vows and married him. For this offence, she was punished by the goddess in a most terrible manner. Each wavy lock of the beautiful hair that had charmed her husband was changed into a venomous snake; her once gentle, love-inspiring eyes turned into blood-shot, furious orbs, which excited fear and disgust in the mind of the onlooker; whilst her former roseate hue and milk-white skin assumed a loathsome greenish tinge.

SAMSON

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When Samson fell for Delilah, it marked the beginning of his downfall and eventual demise. It didn’t take long for the rich and powerful Philistine rulers to learn of the affair and immediately pay a visit to Delilah. Hoping to capture him, the Philistine leaders each offered Delilah a sum of money to collaborate with them in a scheme to uncover the secret of Samson’s great strength.
Using her powers of seduction and deception, Delilah persistently wore down Samson with her repeated requests, until he finally divulged the crucial information. Having taken the Nazirite vow at birth, Samson had been set apart to God. As part of that vow, his hair was never to be cut. When Samson told Delilah that his strength would leave him if a razor were to be used on his head, she cunningly crafted her plan with the Philistine rulers. While Samson slept on her lap, Delilah called in a co-conspirator to shave off the seven braids of his hair. Subdued and weak, Samson was captured. Rather than killing him, the Philistines preferred to humiliate him by gouging out his eyes and subjecting him to hard labor in a Gaza prison. As he slaved at grinding grain, his hair began to grow, but the careless Philistines paid no attention.  During a pagan sacrificial ritual, the Philistines paraded their prized enemy prisoner into the temple to entertain the jeering crowds. Samson braced himself between the two central support pillars of the temple and pushed with all his might. Down came the temple, killing Samson and all of the people in it. Through his death, Samson destroyed more of his enemies than he had previously killed in all the battles of his life.

BUDDHA’S VICTORY OVER MARA

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Into the Buddhist mythology, Gautama Buddha, during his process of illumination, is eight times tempted by the demon Mara, a deity of the Vedic pantheon who personifies the evil and the death of the spiritual life. In one of the temptations, Buddha touched the ground with his fingers begging for help to Mother Earth. The Mother Earth sprinkled an ocean from her long hair, pushing out Mara and her demons far from Buddha.

RAPUNZEL

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Rapunzel is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale published in Germany in 1812. A young couple who want to have a child is living next to the garden of an enchantress, the Dame Gothel, who has rapunzel plants (campanula rapunculus) growing in her garden. When the woman becomes pregnant, she starts to have strong whims of rapunzels. The husband goes to the garden to grab some plants and he is caught by the witch, who threatens him with a punishment. He begs for mercy, and she accepts to forgive him, provided that his first child will be surrendered to her at birth. When the girl was born, she was given to Gothel, who named her Rapunzel, and shut her away in a high tower, with neither stairs, nor door, one only room and only one window. At her 12 years of age, she hears the witch singing: “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair, so that I may climb the golden stair”. Then she drops down the hair to the Dame Gothel, so she can climb up the hair to the girl’s room. One day, a prince, walking by the garden, finds the hair, climbs up by it and asks Rapunzel to marry with him. The witch discovers the visits of the prince, cuts short the girl’s hair and, when the prince comes back to meet Rapunzel, she throws him out from the balcony, falling in the garden and getting blind as a consequence of the accident. For months he’s wandering looking for Rapunzel, until one day he hears her voice singing close to a lake. Then under the influence of her tears, he recovers his sight and she recovers her beautiful long hair again. The prince takes Rapunzel to his kingdom, marrying with her.

NAVAJO INDIANS

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This Native American tribe populates the states of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. They arrived to America across the Bering Strait, crossing through Canada, thousands of years ago, and they still keep rites, traditions and very ancient beliefs. The long hair for Native Americans represents the strength of their spirit. This is why they believe the longer the hair, the stronger the spirit.. And why only certain people are only allowed to touch their hair.. When a Native cuts their hair, traditionally is was only for mourning… When a Native does cut their hair, they have to dispose of their hair in a ceremonious way, for example the Lakota, put the hair they cut off in a river, creek, stream, etc.. Since they are a part of the earth, they always put ourselves back into the earth