Samson and Delilah reflections in Riverford

I wrote yesterday about some of the initial responses that people have had to the news I’m shaving my head. They have ranged from intrigue through to a sort of allergy to the idea. I hesitate to call it contempt, but there is definitely a deep mistrust of it. I’ve pondered this over recent weeks and last week took to the bible to remind myself of the story of Samson and Delilah. The following passage comes from the King James bible which handily you can read online (if it takes your fancy), Judges Chapter 16 is where this little gem comes from:

16And it came to pass, when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, so that his soul was vexed unto death;

17That he told her all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a razor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother’s womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.

18And when Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart, she sent and called for the lords of the Philistines, saying, Come up this once, for he hath shewed me all his heart. Then the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and brought money in their hand.

19And she made him sleep upon her knees; and she called for a man, and she caused him to shave off the seven locks of his head; and she began to afflict him, and his strength went from him.

I’m not a religious person, wouldn’t even really say I’m a spiritual person, but I’ve always liked reading the bible and latterly the qur’an for their use of storytelling, fable and narrative. This passage contains strong man, worn down by nagging woman, but of course the bit that really interests me, the notion that Samson’s strength lay in his uncut hair. As his locks were shawn, his strength went from him.

Eeek.

Is it any wonder that people have an inherent fear of shaven heads. Of course Samson was a man, so what does the bible have to say about women’s heads being shaved, 1 Corinthians Chapter 11:

5But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.

6For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.

….

14Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?

15But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.

Now I’m no bible scholar but to be blunt this confuses me. I’m not sure whether the early passage infers it’s ok to have shaved head as long as you have it covered when praying, or whether the inference is that if your head is uncovered then is is dishonourable, as bad in fact as if it were shaven. God forbid. What appears crystal clear however is that long hair equates to glory.

I’m going to blog again later and explore what Islamic culture has to say about this, and indeed consider the practices of those who cover their heads, including Nun’s wimples! For now the reflection as I stood paying for my shopping in Riverford, was that this may well the last time I shop there with hair! How would they respond when I next go in, would they recognise me (not sure they recognise me now, I’m not that much of a regular), would people stop and stare, will it just be nothing of note (Riverford is spitting distance from the alternative capital of the South West, Totnes, after all).

It is strange to be wandering around knowing that something so closely tied to identity, and how other people view or judge you, is coming off. I’m increasingly forming the opinion in this society it’s almost hard wired into us to react negatively, or relate negative assumptions to women with shaved heads (quick search online suggests this relates to sickness, shame, punishment, lice).

It would appear that there are many assumptions about sexual orientation and short hair, and quite a number about badges of feminism. Then there is the empowerment angle, think Sinead O’Connor sticking two fingers up to the music industry by removing her hair, and those who shave it off for practical or personal reasons.

I’d be really interested to know of any cultures where it is far more the norm? There must be some out there? If you’d like to donate to my head-shave please do so here.

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