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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

Buddha Boy doesn't cut his hair either. here's his website - maitriya.info/en/

This article is about an aspect of hair. Is your anger so great that merely reading an article on hair causes it to manifest? The Buddha taught that anger can destroy us. And he taught methods to eradicate it from our minds.

The word is BELIEF (singular) or BELIEFS (plural) and NOT 'believe'.

Well said Gord. Im just new here and am glas to discover it for I love all tjis ancient investigation. this site is like a little documentary channel tailired to my interests. But, having read two comments- immediately I am struck by thier divisiveness, rudeness and especially- lack of gratitude to the efforts that these people mske to bother to put these posts together. I guess what I shall have ti do is avoid reading comments. though that is a shame, because, no doubt thete will be some where people podt comments which actaully ADD simething intetesting to the story like extra facts for us all to share. Dissapointing, because it stops you wsnting to read comments at all because it wastes your time. to wade through judgements etc, trying to find the good stuff. (And who CARES wgat so and so feels about Buddhism and wants to gripe about it. Whatever. Tjis is a place to share learning. Anywsy. The site is fascinating. Wish we could have a. 'Wingers section' si prople can posts religious judgements and boring stuff there, and another section called 'Oh yes, I found out something/Ive had an experience with tjis topic too!'. That would save me time. Everyone knows that people disagree with Buddhism, or Christianity, or Muslims or whatever. But downloading it to strangers unfortunately is the fate of these sites- you cant avoid it: You can get away with it here you see. Well.. Im gonna just wnjoy the posts....

soozmct

Chuckle, well said Gord.

I tend to always be careful with those who claim to have the only true ‘knowledge’ or who feel that they must attack other people’s beliefs.

 A long time ago I was inspired by Socrates in Plato’s ‘Apology’. Here is a quote from Stanford that explains it well; “Socrates' investigation reveals that those who claim to have knowledge either do not really know any of the things they claim to know, or else know far less than they proclaim to know. The most knowledgeable of the bunch, the craftsmen, know about their craft, but they claim to know things far beyond the scope of their expertise. Socrates, so we are told, neither suffers the vice of claiming to know things he does not know, nor the vice of claiming to have wisdom when he does not have wisdom. ” http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/wisdom/ 

I’ve always thought that the Socratic method should be taught to all children. Critically thinking about what we ‘think’ we know and respectful dialogue with others in order to seek the truth would benefit all of mankind.

I think that the best that I can do, is acknowldede that while I have compiled a great deal of information about a great variety of things over the years, comparative religion and mythology being a great love of mine, I am no wisewoman nor do I own any side to the truth. The more that I learn, the more I learn that I need to learn. ;)

Sometimes attempting to have such a dialogue with such a person can be enlightening for all involved. Other times it only enrages and entrenches the person farther in their beliefs. My family reminds me often that Socrates was executed for his method. Still, I would agree with Socrates, I would rather die than to stop being a philospher as I am sure from your response, you feel the same. Love and light. 

 

Lachish (lak eesh)
she who walks or exists of herself. Biblical. Hebrew.

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