Heresy / Hairesy: Your Input?

Update (19 May 2018):

Announcing a new, forthcoming essay related to the topic of this post: Gary K. Waite, “Early Modern Hair: Religion and Ritualized Belief,” to appear in A Cultural History of Hair, vol. 3: A Cultural History of Hair in the Renaissance (1450-1650), ed. Edith Snook (London: Bloomsbury Academic Press, 2018), 17-37, 159-62.

Original post:

One purpose of this blog post is recommend an excellent episode of CBC Radio’s Podcast Playlist from 8 March 2018 on the cultural meaning of hair (“Long, Short, Straight, Curly: Podcasts about Every Type of Hair”). Some questions the podcasts address are: What does it mean to part hair on the right versus the left? How are curls or straight hair related to political views? What about hair’s role in group and personal identity (e.g., Black and Jewish cultures of hair)?

A second purpose is to gather and eventually add some further thoughts about the cultural meaning of hair in the study of early modern heresy and dissent. Gary Waite’s writing about visual depictions of wild heretics is part of my inspiration for the idea, as is my own recent out-of-control hair and my more orderly experiments with a beard (see my new profile photo on the Amsterdamnified main page).

For the text of Gary Waite’s essay, see “Naked Harlots or Devout Maidens? Images of Anabaptist Women in the Context of the Iconography of Witches in Europe, 1525–1650” in Sisters: Myth and Reality of Anabaptist, Mennonite, and Doopsgezind Women, ca 1525-1900 (2104).

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This is a post-in-progress. Suggestions are welcome! Post them in the comments section of this webpage, or send them to @Mike_Driedger or @Amsterdamnified on Twitter.

Here are some initial ideas…

  • Gary Waite (following observations by scholars such as Jane Davidson and Charles Zika) highlights the contrasting ways that artists portrayed female heretics and witches with wild, flowing hair as opposed to the ways they portray pious women with constrained, controlled hair.
  • Waite notes that wild hair is related to deviance in early modern European art. But I wonder if there have been any early positive European (or non-European) associations of wild hair with divine inspiration? And I also wonder if the negative portrayal of wild hair is as gendered as Waite’s essay in Sisters suggests.
  • I wonder also if this artistic representation changed in the 18th and 19th centuries with changing ideals of freedom, individuality, and rights?

Image credits

“Wanderer above a Sea of Clouds,” Caspar David Friedrich, Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)
Heresy / Hairesy: Your Input?

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