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The Magic and Folklore of Hair by Sue James

A bit of background before I start; when I first started learning with the Kitchen Witch school I felt a pull to grow my hair out long. For decades I’ve had it really short and not had braids since primary school. I carried on as I always had until lockdown 2020 - COVID pandemic. I made the schoolgirl error of letting my partner have a go with the hair clippers. "Big mistake, big, huge" - to quote Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. I looked like I had been the loser in a fight with a lawnmower. Thank goodness for working from home. I decided to just let it grow from that point and almost 2 year’s later I’m shopping for hair clips, barrettes and bobbles. It is also strongly connecting with me and my witchcraft. I wondered why and headed off into the internet to find out.

A person’s hair has long been associated with spirituality and many world religions have doctrine about how their followers should wear their hair. From wearing it covered, uncovered, cut short, never cut, bound, unbound, braided or even shaven. Alongside this, human hair has a long history in witchcraft; either your own hair or that of someone else.

In folklore a witch’s magical power is bound by their hair. During the witch hunts, individuals suspected of witchcraft were shaved in the belief that it made them powerless and more likely to confess. In actual fact the act of having one’s head shaved against their will is an act of degradation, humiliation and a show of subordination and would certainly be enough to start breaking down a person’s spirit. In the Middle Ages all traces of fallen hair were burned to prevent witches from taking the strands and transforming them into snakes. Some Ancient Greek, Egyptian and Arab rituals require giving locks of one’s hair to deity in exchange for blessings. Roman girls who were about to be married offered locks of their hair to Jove (Jupiter).

In African tribal culture, hair was given a spiritual significance and was believed to be the conduit for the gods and spirits to reach the soul. In the early Celtic church, priests had their hair combed during Mass, all the better to connect with their god. In Turkey there are many cultural rules about hair but of interest here is the practice of the women of the family braiding the bride-to-be’s hair. Each women makes a braid whilst telling stories, jokes and remembrances, the aim to tie these memories into the braid to help the bride in her married life. A blue bead was added at the end to protect the wearer from the evil eye.

In the Native American tradition, hair is a signifier of one’s spiritual practice. Combing represents the alignment of thought; braiding is the oneness of thought and tying is the securing of thought. Letting one’s hair flow free demonstrates harmony with the flow of life; whereas braiding indicates thoughts of oneness. In many tribes long hair is an extension of the self and a physical manifestation of one’s thoughts. Newest thoughts are closest to the roots and long-term memories are at the ends of the strands. How the hair was worn indicated their tribal membership and was part of their identity, changing only with certain rites of passage. This belief also explains why, in wartime, scalping the enemy has such significance. It was believed to remove the enemy’s power by cutting their connection with the spiritual world.

Locks of hair have been used in love spells through the ages in order to make the owner of the hair reciprocate the feelings of the person working the spell. Hair spells have been linked with exerting control over its owner and hair has been placed in magical locations such as caves, fountains and lakes to activate and strengthen the spell’s purpose. Hair has been used in poppets, witch bottles and witches ladders. Hoodoo jar spells are another example where one might include hair of the victim mixed with other objects such as sulphur or vinegar. The jars are then buried on the intended victim’s property with the purpose of creating sickness or bad luck.

In my research I came across a number of actions that could be done to hair and the results that folklore predicts:

  • Combing - brings storms and seems linked to folklore around mermaids combing their hair and calling down storms to sink ships by driving them onto rocks;

  • Boiling - believed to fetch the owner of the hair;

  • Burning - death of old life/birth to new; pain or tragedy to the hair’s owner;

  • Cutting - rejection of the world or current situation.

In the 19th century it was customary to keep strands of a loved one’s hair in a locket to keep them safe and provide them with good fortune and magical protection. Hair was also used widely in mourning jewellery. Much of the Western magical folklore around hair and it’s close relation finger/toenails can be traced back to Vendidad, a Zoroastrian liturgy written in the mid 5th Century BCE. According to this text, hair and nails were instruments of evil as they grew seemingly with a life of their own and could be cut and removed from the body without pain. The practice of burying one’s cut hair and nails persists in many cultures today, if only as a superstition. In Ozark lore (region in northern Arkansas and southern Missouri USA), hair combings are buried, never thrown out. There are at least 3 possible ways to use your own hair in your craft:

Use strands of your hair in your spells;

Incorporate magic into your hair care routine; or

Use your hair in braid or knot magic.

Ideas for using your own hair in braid/knot magic Unfortunately some of these ideas are limited to your length of hair but if you have hair long enough to plait, give it a try. As you braid your hair, set your intention for the day.

  • Add another layer to your spell with colour magic in the form of colourful ribbons and hair ties.

  • Add flowers to your braid and work with their particular flower magic.

  • When brushing your hair start on one side then working methodically over to the other. Visualise as you brush that all the stresses and struggles of the day are being brushed away and untangled.

  • Make your own herbal shampoos and hair washes with suitable essential oils to set your intention (make sure your choices are safe for this purpose first).

Examples are citrus for energy increasing and lavender for soothing and relaxing, tea tree or peppermint for productivity. I’ve recently made lavender and rosemary shampoo as part of the Herbal Remedies Branch Class.

Even how tightly woven your braids are can be used to add further layers to your spell work. Tightly woven braids are good for drawing in productivity, prosperity, motivation and abundance. Loosely woven braids in contrast are good for drawing in relaxation, anti-anxiety and reducing stress.

The process of braiding itself makes for a powerful spell because it requires concentration and allows for plenty of opportunity to imbue your intention and draw energy into a physical object - namely the strands of hair.

This article is by no means an exhaustive essay on hair magic and folklore but hopefully you found it interesting and it has given you some thoughts on how you treat your own hair. I certainly found it a fascinating topic.

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May 01, 2022

Hi Sue thank you for sharing your thoughts and information about hair. I was only thinking about this the other day. During lock down I let my hair grow long and then had it cut short, let grow again to shoulder length and again had it cut short (my hair grows very fast). The last short cut was done badly, and now I'm in the process of letting my hair grow long again, it's currently at that annoying stage and having a very low hairline difficult to tie up. So it's pretty clips and slides for the time being done with intent for the day.

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