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Hairstyles as depicted on an ancient sculpture of women in the Louvre, France.

Legendary Locks: Can Hair Act as a Sixth Sense, Protecting us from Danger?

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Humans have ever styled their hair in a multitude of creative and symbolic ways, and the various cuts, colors and presentations reflected across the ages are nearly unlimited. But does hair serve us in more ways than providing simple warmth and good looks? There are some who believe that hair is directly associated with sensory power and it serves as an extension of our nervous system.

Depending upon the time and place on earth in which one lives, the hair on one’s head (or the lack thereof) has had intense significance. Belief systems and folklore have long dictated how hair was to be handled and worn: tied up, covered up, grown long, cut short, shaved off, crimped, colored and curled, decorated, twisted, braided, and more. But for many societies, the longer the hair, the better.

Goddess Sif, wife of Thor, was renowned for her long, golden tresses which were associated with wheat, fertility and family.

Goddess Sif, wife of Thor, was renowned for her long, golden tresses which were associated with wheat, fertility and family. ( Public Domain )

Hair as a Sixth Sense

In fact, some feel that long hair gave Native Americans certain sensory abilities, acting as a sort of antenna, much like whiskers on a cat.

One report speaks of a claim by a worker at a Veterans Affairs Medical Center in the United States during the Vietnam War. It is alleged that, like the Choctaw and Navajo Native Americans known as ‘Code Talkers’ during both World Wars, talented scouts were sought to move stealthily through rough and dangerous terrain in conflict zones.

The enlisted recruits, who were well documented as having “outstanding, almost supernatural tracking abilities” were said to not perform as expected in the field, and when questioned about the failures in performance, “ the older recruits replied consistently that when they received their required military haircuts, they could no longer ‘sense’ the enemy. They could no longer access a ‘sixth sense’, their ‘intuition’ no longer was reliable, they could not ‘read’ subtle signs as well or access subtle extrasensory information,” writes WakingTimes.com

A Native American man with long hair.

A Native American man with long hair. (Flickr/ CC BY 2.0 )

The report claims that government testing institutes compared the behaviors and tracking performances of Native American trackers with and without long hair, they found that the long-haired subjects outperformed those whose hair had been cut in military fashion. The suggested theory was that the long hair might have behaved as an extension of the nervous system, as, not unlike the way cat whiskers transmit information to the cat on the prowl as it approaches prey, the long hair acted like a sixth sense.

Some skeptics challenge the claims, noting that no evidence has been found as yet to show that hair is anything more than dead cells (keratin proteins) and as such transmits nothing. However, strands stem out from our skin, and the follicle at the base is actually an organ that produces hair. Hair is connected to tactile receptors in the skin that tell us that it’s cold or hot out, let us feel the slightest breeze, or the annoying bug that is about to bite us, serving as a protective warning device.

When our hairs stand up on the back of our necks when we’re in danger or feel threatened (known as goose bumps, or horripilation), is that a reflex of something we detect with our other senses, an unconscious perception affecting the hair? Or is it our hair affecting us, sending us a warning?

Certainly there are societies that feel hair plays such an important role in our lives. The tale of the Native American trackers echoes the ancient biblical myth of Samson.

The Mighty Samson

It was written in the Hebrew Bible that Samson, a Hercules-like figure with superhuman strength, was born a Nazirite with vows to abstain from wine, to have no contact with the dead, and to never cut a hair on his head. Nearly an undefeatable man—his superhuman abilities made him a powerful warrior, and he was able to rip lions apart—he did have a weakness which would lead to his undoing.

Samson's Fight with the Lion (1525) Samson’s power was said to be connected to his uncut hair.

Samson's Fight with the Lion (1525) Samson’s power was said to be connected to his uncut hair. ( Public Domain )

He fell in love with a woman (a Philistine, with whom the Israelites were at war) against the wishes of his parents. Delilah was tasked by her people to find out Samson’s weakness, so as to defeat the hero that was said to protect the Israelites.

Samson revealed to her that it is his long hair that preserved his power, and once he fell asleep Delilah shaved off his hair, breaking his vows. He awoke to find that his powers were gone, and he was quickly conquered by the enemy—his eyes were gouged out and he was made into a slave.

Pictish carved stone from medieval Scotland depicting Samson with locked hair. In the Book of Judges 16:19 of the Old Testament, Samson loses his strength when his seven dreadlocks are cut from his head. ( Public Domain )

Symbolism and Folklore of Hair

Perhaps the Native Americans trackers in the account, with their strong connection to long hair, lost confidence in their ability to track after cutting their hair. In many tribes, long hair is a symbol, an extension of the self, and the physical manifestation of thoughts.

Ancient Greek kouros sculptures (from c. 615 – 485 BC) are found wearing dreadlocks – rolled or braided hair.

Ancient Greek kouros sculptures (from c. 615 – 485 BC) are found wearing dreadlocks – rolled or braided hair. ( Public Domain )

In many cultures, the cutting of hair by oppressors was a punishment or humiliation, signifying defeat. The shaving off or complete loss of one’s hair, even in modern society, often symbolizes a seismic shift within a person, whether spiritually, psychologically, medically, or in the direction of their lives.

Various tribal hair styles indicate which tribe one belonged to, and whether it was a time of war or peace. Different styles are used to demonstrate status and rank, or were worn for certain ceremonies.

There are many beliefs surrounding very long hair. Portrait of Empress Elisabeth of Austria (1837 – 1898) with her long hair, which was perfumed and treated with egg and cognac. “Hairdressing takes almost two hours, she said, and while my hair is busy, my mind stays idle. I am afraid that my mind escapes through the hair and onto the fingers of my hairdresser. Hence my headache afterwards.”

There are many beliefs surrounding very long hair. Portrait of Empress Elisabeth of Austria (1837 – 1898) with her long hair, which was perfumed and treated with egg and cognac. “Hairdressing takes almost two hours, she said, and while my hair is busy, my mind stays idle. I am afraid that my mind escapes through the hair and onto the fingers of my hairdresser. Hence my headache afterwards.” ( Public Domain )

Health is often gauged by the condition of the hair, and illness or stress can be detected if it changes its nature or even falls out. Hair has always been an indicator of age as well, by color and texture, as well as by style. Free, unbound hair often symbolizes youth, and shorter, tied hair can symbolize a more mature demeanor. The tighter the binding, the more restricted or severe and powerful the impression given.

It was held by many societies that hair, whether styled or not, had magical qualities.

Various nations of Native Americans have similar beliefs about hair. The Cree people are said to hold hair as an extension of the soul, and the style displays personality. Bear fat and soot were sometimes mixed and applied to hair to make it appear darker. The Mohawk, Pawnee and Algonquin hairstyles are the inspiration for the dramatic haircut known as a Mohawk today, where the hair is shorn on the sides leaving a strip like a horse’s mane.

[Left] 1822 portrait of Sharitahrish, Pawnee chief with headdress and shaven hair. (Public Domain) [Right] Modern Mohawk haircut with designs

[Left] 1822 portrait of  Sharitahrish, Pawnee chief with headdress and shaven hair. ( Public Domain ) [Right] Modern Mohawk haircut with designs (Flickr/ CC BY-ND 2.0 )

It is believed that mourning and death are reasons to cut one’s hair throughout many cultures.

In the UK it is still said that eating bread crusts will turn your hair curly, and there are many old beliefs connecting red hair with mischief or a fiery temperament. In Scotland there’s an old saying that has it that if a magpie bird steals your cut hair and uses it for its nests will die within a year. This is similar to beliefs in Lithuania, that birds collecting your cut hair will cause headaches.

Buddhists have the tradition of keeping short hair, or shaving their heads completely, a signal that they belong in the spiritual community. In contrast, many cultures men and women grow their hair long, or, like Samson, are even forbidden to cut it, but keep it covered due to religious observations.

[Left] A Buddhist monk with a shaved head (Flickr/CC BY 2.0) [Right] a Sikh man wears his long hair wrapped in a traditional turban. (Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

[Left] A Buddhist monk with a shaved head (Flickr/ CC BY 2.0 ) [Right] a Sikh man wears his long hair wrapped in a traditional turban. (Flickr/ CC BY-SA 2.0 )

It is not known for sure if the hair is communicating to us as part of our nervous system, but what is certain is that how we’ve worn our hair has always communicated something to others.

Featured image: Hairstyles as depicted on an ancient sculpture of women in the Louvre, France. (Flickr/ CC BY-ND 2.0 )

By Liz Leafloor

References

C. Young. “Hair is an Extension of our Nervous System’ – Why Native Americans Keep Their Hair Long” 2011. DavidWolfe.com [Online] Available here.

Dunning, Brian. “The Hair of Samson” 2011. SkepticBlog.org [Online] Available at: http://www.skepticblog.org/2011/12/22/hair-of-samson/

Popovic, Mislav. “Hair Folklore”. 2012. TraditionsCustoms.com [Online] Available at: http://traditionscustoms.com/folk-beliefs/hair-folklore

Abraham Rosman, Paula G. Rubel, Maxine K. Weisgrau. “The Tapestry of Culture: An Introduction to Cultural Anthropology” 2009. Published by AltaMira Press; 9 edition

“Elders talk about the significance of long hair in Native American Cultures” 2015. WhiteWolfpack.com [Online] Available here.

Roth, Elana. “The Story of Samson: A muscle man with a weakness for the ladies.” 2012. MyJewishLearning.com [Online] Available here.

Comments

Where do you think 'static' electricity comes from? Physics has no answers, just conjecture and opinion.
There are only two 'forces' in the Universe, ultimately, light and dark. Electric comes from the light half, magnetism from the dark/invisible half.
Thus, static electricity is a manifestation of 'spirit' force. Or in Einsteinian terms, the 'energy' that is everything, must come from 'outside' the known Universe. Period.

Whilst one does not wish to get too carried away with speculation, I for one never cease to be amazed at the ease with which STATIC ELECTRICITY can be generated. (What did our ancestors make of it, one wonders?). I'm not just talking about rare instances where someone shuffles across a carpet and then gets a shock when they touch a metal door knob. I have a more mundane everyday example: there's a metal pedal bin in my bathroom whose lid gathers dust at a rate of knots - it has to be wiped every two or three days. That's presumably due to shuffling of stockinged feet on the vinyl floor covering, generating a static charge that builds up on the lid of the bin, then attracting dust particles in the air.

So might it be possible to put together a credible narrative for hair and tracking ability based on static electricity? We all know that the hair is a splendid detector for static electricity, thinking of the spectacular response to placing one's hand on the charged sphere of a Van De Graaff generator:

http://wonders.physics.wisc.edu/images/Van_de_Graaff_2.jpg

That's despite the fact that hair is dead protein, a non-conductor of electricity. But that does not prevent electrons shifting from one end of a strand to the other, being attracted or repelled by surplus of negative or positive charge on something else.

So what happens to that surplus electric charge on the ends of each hair? It dissipates into the surrounding air, through inducing charges on air molecules; the latter being mobile, not static, are able to carry the charge away. Might there be a clue there to why someone can alter the state of air around themselves - being more or less ionized from their own hair, and then rendering themselves "trackable" by someone else whose hair is 'reversely' sensitive to that ionized air - maybe not just the tips, but the entire body of hair, the migrating electrons then reporting back to the scalp :"beware: electrically-charged air" where those living hair follicles are probably as stated connected and/or wired in to the nervous system via synapses and nerve endings?

Let's push the envelope a bit more. Suppose we have someone, or an animal quarry, in a dry desert being hunted, and knowing it's being hunted. It's generating static electricty as its feet make contact with the ground (would need to be dry) , or knees as well if crawling. Its hair starts to stand on end, a process that can also result from fear. The hair then starts to ionize the surrounding air. Our expert tracker may pick up the scent of fear, but maybe the presence of ionized air too, using his own hair as a sensor.

The great enemy of attempts to demonstrate static electricty is moist air - it causes the charge to drain away too quickly. But the plains of North America frequently have very dry air. Might that be a reason why the native inhabitants were especially able to exploit static electricity and ionization of air as a tracking tool, at least at close quarters (like sensing someone crouching behind a boulder)? But the hunter probably needed to keep his hair long, to maximise the collection of electricity. As for the hunted, he probably didn't recall enough physics from Wigwam High School to think of cutting off all his hair if suspecting he was being tracked!

Hair is your spiritual connection, to bring out your spirit gifts. The Native Americans do believe that the hair is their spirit, regardless of what certain commenters feel.
The Unified Field of God,and the God Calculus, shows that the hair increases your personal area without an increase in mass, but it is alive and connected, thus unbalancing your soul towards the Light half(the Holy Spirit part of you). Your magnetic part (dark energy)being the cause of hardness and density, and your Light half being Your Life.
I have personally experienced this, as I grew my hair my intuitive sense expands.
Why do we think the forces of Mammon(materialism), frowns on it to the point of ridicule?

how about body hair? :P

This is an awesome site and I'm so glad I stumbled across it!

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