Covered: the Pagan veiling controversy

This article is fantastic. Conforms to my opinions on veiling almost exactly! Below is the link to the original post.

Covered: the Pagan veiling controversy – paganSquare.

 

Covered: the Pagan veiling controversy

By Beth Lynch

 

This post is a bit of a tangent from my central focus of Frigga, fiber and wyrd–but, as I hope you’ll see, it’s only a bit of one, since it does concern, rather closely, the values around which I’ve built my own spirituality, especially the very Heathen themes of choice and responsibility.

As you can tell from my profile photo, I am a pagan woman who chooses to wear some type of head covering at least some of the time.  I’ve gone into detail on my own blogabout my reasons for doing so, but just to recap a bit: I initially flirted with veiling a couple of years back, mostly as an extension of the semi-modest form of dress I had adopted.  My partner had already started veiling daily by then as a devotional act for her God (long before the practice became trendy), and I wanted to see whether I too could enjoy some of the practical benefits she reported, mainly protection for the crown chakra and an additional buffer against the thoughts and emotions of others–something invaluable for psychically sensitive people such as we both are.

I also liked the fact that wearing a veil sends a visual signal to others that you are somehow different, set apart from mainstream society.  This is in part a cultural signal; nuns wear veils, after all, and as the bride of a God I consider myself to be the pagan equivalent of a nun, more or less.  (The “less” part of that statement being because pagans unfortunately have no established system or architecture in place to support this path.) True, most people walking down the street would never mistake a woman wearing a colorful veil, or a hat, or a kerchief, for a nun, but for me it acted as a tangible reminder of my path.

 

Well, at that time my veiling experiment didn’t stick for a number of reasons, but fast forward to this year and as of this writing I’ve been covering my head almost daily for several months now.  I resumed the practice at the urging of both Frigga and one of my personal spirits, a highborn Englishwoman who lived at a time when married women did not venture outside without covering their heads, period.  This time, the practice seems to be a better fit for my current circumstances and it is having all of the desired effects I described above, in addition to helping me maintain my composure, spiritual focus, and positive outlook while at my day job.

At about the same time I resumed covering my head, my partner joined an online forum for pagan women who veil.  I won’t name this community because it has undergone something of an upheaval recently, and its founder is, as a result, understandably protective of the original name, but readers who keep up with the pagan online scene will know what group I’m referring to.  At the time the community began, pagan women who veiled were relatively rare, the practice being far more widespread within the Big Three Abrahamic religions.  Within months, however, pagan veiling seemingly went viral, and the membership had swelled to a couple of hundred women.

It is not my intention to discuss the history of the group here, since anyone interested can find that out easily enough by poking around online a little.  However, I will say that, due to the fact that many of the women adopted a form of covering, the hijab, that is traditional in the Muslim religion, misunderstandings arose when they wore these coverings out in public.  As a result, pagan women suddenly found themselves exposed to prejudices aimed towards a religious group they themselves did not even belong to, and the politics of veiling (including the rights of women who veil, regardless of their cultural or religious affinity) quickly became a dominant theme in the group.   As an added bonus, the group came under attack from other pagans who felt that pagan women were turning the clock back on feminism by adopting a symbol of oppression.  (Never mind the fact that the women in the Big Three religions who wear a veil do so by choice; some of them are in fact oppressed, but they see the veil as a means of protection from that, not as part of it.)

To be honest, I don’t normally take much of an interest in political issues, even pagan political issues; trying to keep up with these kinds of controversies drains too much of my time and energy away from the quiet, devotional rhythms of my life and my attempts to balance a full time job with my crafting and entrepreneurial efforts.  However, I do feel compelled to respond to this one in some way, not only because I’m tangentially involved in that I too wear a veil, but because– I mentioned earlier– some of the aspects of this touch upon issues that are central to my own approach to spirituality.  My response is as follows:

1) I firmly support the right of anyone to wear whatever they please, either for religious reasons or just because they happen to feel like it.  However, I think there is a responsibility to recognize the fact that if you go out in public wearing garb traditionally assigned to a particular culture or religion, you will very likely be mistaken for a member of that group and subjected to any consequences arising from that association.  Thus, if you live in an area where anti-Muslim sentiment is high and you go outside looking like an Islamic woman, you should not be surprised when you are treated as such.  This is undeniably sad, both in terms of the fact that the anti-Muslim prejudice exists and in terms of the mistaken identity issue, but it also happens to be a matter of simple cause and effect.  

I do understand the attraction of wearing a full veil (all of the psychic and social shielding benefits of veiling magnified by several degrees), however the potential drawbacks of doing so should be carefully weighed.  It is partly for this reason–as well as the fact that the cultures that attract me are European and medieval rather than eastern–that I choose to wear simpler head coverings (mostly kerchiefs, wide headbands, and hats).  I’m veiling for my own religious and practical reasons, and am not really interested in being mistaken for a member of a group that I’m not actually part of.

2) Although many of the pagan women in the current “movement” are wearing a veil as a devotional act to a goddess (Hestia being the one mentioned most frequently), this is not always the case.  Some of us are veiling as an outward means of showing our status as God-spouses–and when I say “showing,” I don’t mean to imply that society as a whole, or even other pagans, will recognize this sign or know what it means.  But just as donning a special robe before ritual can send the needed signal to the brain that you are in a non-ordinary headspace and that something special is about to occur, when you are on a focused devotional path such as God-marriage you live your entire life in a non-ordinary headspace, and often find yourself wanting to adopt little rituals or modes of dress that serve as constant reminders to yourself of your path, which as I’ve mentioned can be a challenging one in a culture that offers no real support for it.  Even though I began veiling again partly at the instigation of Frigga, Her reasoning had to do with my status as Odin’s wife and the need to project that more fully into my public persona.

3) This last point is probably the most controversial thing I have to say on the topic, as far as mainstream paganry is concerned.  One of the most widespread criticisms aimed at pagan women who veil is that we are somehow “turning the clock back” on feminism, and it is true that women who cover their heads, whatever their culture or religious affiliation, tend to be women who adhere to a more traditionally feminine role in life.  Even within the pagan headcovering group, many of the members are wives and mothers who are choosing the more traditional, “old fashioned” lifestyle of staying home to raise their children.  Now, I don’t fit into this model at all.  Far from being a young woman, I am in my forties and divorced, with a grown daughter.  However, if my circumstances allowed for staying home and being a traditional housekeeper rather than going to work in an office five days a week, I would jump at the chance.  

Yes, I know some of you out there are cringing, and I realize that women such as my grandmother and my mother were very proud of their ability to earn an income at an outside job rather than being tied to the role of housewife.  Yet I’ve always been rather mystified by the notion that sitting behind a desk all day doing work that is more or less irrelevant to my real life is somehow an improvement over the things women have been doing for centuries: preparing and preserving food, keeping an attractive and welcoming home, and–especially relevant, in my case–spinning, weaving, sewing, and engaging in the creation of textiles and clothing for their families.  Thanks to the feminist movement, I was not taught to sew by my mother or grandmother, I only learned to spin last year, and I expect to be teaching myself to weave sometime in the next year or so. Thanks to the feminist movement, a whole generation or two of women suddenly and arbitrarily rejected these traditional arts that have been the mainstay of civilization for thousands of years, declaring them to be demeaning and not worth passing on to their daughters, who had “risen above” the need to practice them.  (After all, if you can buy a coat at the store, you don’t need to know how to spin wool or weave it into fabric.  You can instead go to work for minimum wage eight to twelve hours per day at the factory that makes the coats, or the store where they’re sold, while paying someone else to watch your children.  What an improvement!) 

In case you can’t tell, I have a considerable amount of rancor towards the “feminist movement” and its “improvements.”  (For example, at the office job I’m obliged to hold down in order to keep a roof over my head and pay my bills, I still don’t make as much as the average man with my level of education and experience.)  Is my resentment influenced by my relationship with Frigga, who is firmly associated with the traditional arts of homemaking and textiles?  Almost certainly.  But it also has a great deal to do with my feeling that my right to choose such a lifestyle for myself was stolen away before I was even old enough to realize such a potential choice existed.

I’m sure I’ve rambled on long enough in this vein for now, but for me the bottom line here amounts to this: pagans are thinking people–or at any rate, we’re supposed to be.  Pagans are, by and large, people who consciously and mindfully reject (at least to some extent) the religions we were born to and the boxes and pigeonholes society has tried to force us into; we reject these in favor of creating our own destinies, blazing our own trails.  From this perspective, the greatest benefit I can see from the pagan veiling movement is that it may encourage and invite pagans–especially pagan women–to re-examine some of the assumptions that have arisen within pagan culture itself.  What are our values?  What do we really stand for, and are those beliefs and convictions strong enough and important enough to risk the condemnation of other pagans and of the outside world?  And perhaps most tellingly, what role are we expecting pagan women to fulfill, and what pigeonholes are we–consciously or otherwise–trying to force them into?  If nudity, tattoos and piercings are acceptable and encouraged, why not modest dress and head coverings?  The pagan spectrum is far wider and more diverse than we think. 

EDITED TO ADD: 

Some of the comments to this post have made me realize that it’s the entire current state of affairs in 21st century American society that disturbs me–in which most of us are consumers more so than creators, and in which many of us have grown up without the skills with which our ancestors navigated their worlds, not only the textile arts but also the traditionally “male” arts of hunting, swordplay, archery, and even, hey, navigation.  These are all dying arts because there is no pressing need for them in a society where we can buy food at the supermarket and sweaters at Walmart, and yet I would argue that without them we are losing part of our souls, and some of us feel this quite deeply.  Is feminism to blame?  Partly,  but not entirely; industrialization is probably a bigger culprit.  And so, to bring this back to the topic I began with, pagan veiling, I would have to say that the act of veiling, for me, hearkens back to an earlier age where things may not have been simpler but they were at least more authentic, more real.  I’d like to thank those who have commented so far for helping me to refine my own thoughts on this!

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