Tuesday, March 11, 2014

On Veils, from PantheaCon

This photo is from a commercial source selling hijabs for girls.

Picking up where I left off my previous blog about PantheaCon –

On Saturday evening I went to a workshop called “Taking Up the Veil,” with Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdaughter.[1]  The description in the program intrigued me:

“A growing movement among pagan [sic] women is a turning towards modest apparel, veiling, or in some way shielding the corporal body as honor to the Divine.  In this exploratory class we’ll try some veiling techniques, discuss methodology of veiling form a Pagan perspective[,] and some of us might even develop a deeper meaning to our practices…”

I love veils in general.  I especially like to wear one over my head and face when meditating or doing other ‘still’ work such as “anchoring.”[2]  I also find veils very useful in ritual when one is embodying a divine entity; with the veil, others see no mortal face.  Not my face or your face or the face of anyone they know in the mundane world beyond the particular sacred circle space to which that divine entity has been called forth.  Similar to working with masks, the veil both distances and brings closer in strange ways.

This workshop, scheduled on prime time Friday night, appealed to plenty of people, all women, but for one brave man (presenting as a man in jeans, T-shirt, unshaven and makeup-free), who came because he’s a cross-dressed and clothing and adornment evidently appeal to him.  My friend Serena Toxicat always lights up a space when she’s present, although with her uniquely Goth approach she may be intending to darken it.

Xochiquetzal began by speaking of modesty and dressing in solidarity with Muslim women.  She mentioned how adolescent females are excessively sexually objectified in our society, and how comforting it is to wear loose-flowing clothing and a head covering.  I completely agree with this second point.  How many of us would have welcomed being able to hide our bodies when we were out in public as we adjusted to its changing into that of a woman.

On her first point, however, I have a different, and very strongly held, perspective.

Some years ago in an online group called Our Freedom: A Pagan Civil Rights Coalition a younger woman suggested the very same thing, wearing head coverings in solidarity with Muslim women (at least those who were forced to wear hijab).  Again, I am all for solidarity with oppressed sisters, but I think the situation is more nuanced than a simple black-and-white “Let’s cover our heads in solidarity.”  After all, Roman Catholic nuns, along with royalty throughout Europe, were compelled to cover their heads in various ways, in the former denoting a pledge of celibacy (or life-long virginity if it’s not too late), and in the latter, relative social status.

To that suggestion on that list, both Phyllis Curott and I, who are just under a decade apart in age, objected.  We felt we’d struggled too hard to free ourselves from so many, many, many restrictions placed upon women in the society in which we’d grown up.  I grew up wearing girdles, hose with a seam up the back, garter belts (talk about uncomfortable[3]), shaved legs and underarms, sleeping in metal, brush, plastic, or bobby-pinned curlers.

Girl children in my day seldom wore pants, and never were allowed to wear them to school.  Never!  Dresses and skirts only.  As any active person knows, dresses and skirts can cramp you style if you’re climbing trees or playing on a play structure.  In Winter we wore two-piece woolen snowsuits, with our skirts either tucked into the pants when we went outdoors, thereby wrinkling, or flounced out over the bottoms like a peplum.

Modesty, a quality Xochiquetzal rightly extolled, was something that was forced upon girls of my generation (during and just after WW-II).  Our quite necessary response was to go for uppity (rebelliously self-assertive; not inclined to be tractable or deferential).

There was even a time in my lifetime when there were ‘public’ places, such as restaurants, pubs, and clubs, where women were not permitted to enter, or, if it was a really progressive place, a woman could come in if she were accompanied by a male patron, and even then, she had to remain seated at a table and could not approach the bar to place an order.  This was in San Francisco, folks!  And it wasn’t all that long ago.

But back to the workshop -- Xochiquetzal demonstrated various ways to wrap veils and headscarves, and most of us tried those techniques. I find many ways of dressing the head (not hair) very beautiful.  She spoke of different purposes, such as shielding the most emphatic among us from jarring and/or toxic.  These are all good reasons.  I, however, feel confined and restricted when my head is bound.  I seldom even wear hats, except for protection from sun and sometimes rain.  But sometimes I do wear veils, as I mentioned above.

She also spoke a bit about the sexuality implied in hair, especially thick, long tresses.  For much of my adult life I wore my hair long, and I felt it to be very sexual, though I liked it for other aesthetic reasons as well.  I made do with tying it back on the nape of my neck when I was doing things it interfered with.  I loved all this talk.

There was one woman there who seemed to bring with her something of a party attitude, as she frequently interrupted Xochiquetzal’s talking, and others who tried to speak.  She may have been ‘three sheets to the wind,’ I’m not sure.  In any case, the presenter handled these interruptions gracefully.

This workshop discussion underscores the value of, and need for, increased and more frequent inter-generational conversation about our worlds and our Paganisms.


Which brings me to the real highlight, for me, of my having attended this workshop.

Understand that I’d come to PCon after a drastic disaffiliation from my ‘home community’ and another set of misunderstandings/disapprovals over the past year-plus, so I’ve been processing those changes and contemplating what my place might be, if any, in the Pagan world I love so much.

At one point Xochiquetzal recognized my raised hand, so I began to speak and was interrupted.  She then stated to the group something complimentary about me.  I was amazed!  I didn’t even know she’d any idea of who I am.  But she did, and she said it loud and clear.  It sure felt good to hear her speak.  Not only was this incident a highlight of Xochiquetzal’s workshop; for me it was a blazing highlight of the whole Con.

I’m thinking of a possibility we’d both articulated at the time, that we might have a mutually enlightening conversation about the matter of veils, along generational lines.  I could even see a colloquy between us that could be formatted into a more formal article.

[1]   Gods, what a splendid name!
[2]    A sort of dropping-and-centering awareness technique used in some larger rituals to help maintain the focus of everyone present on the larger working of the group; something like a tent pole (holding the space up) and/or pegs (keeping the space anchored and contained).
[3]   None of this even begins to address the advances made in menstrual care products.  Some methods used before the advent of sanitary pads that adhere to one’s underwear were downright tortuous!


Helen/Hawk said...

Ah PCon. So many choices, so little time.

Wishing I had attended this workshop now, hearing your description. Thank you for sharing this.

Sorry that someone was rude/talked over you. An unpleasant experience, to say the least. So glad it wasn't glossed over.

Anonymous said...

The NWCOG Ritual Team from a decade ago, that worked with the rituals from NROOGD used veils for both the Priestesses and the Priests. It was a technique that my spouse and I brought to the group from our coven practice, rather than using a Moon Crown for Drawing Down.

I agree, "the veil both distances and brings closer in strange ways" and for us, it was a very powerful and empowering practice.

I, too, remember those days of forced modesty in clothing; teachers (and police!) with rulers in hand to make sure the hem was of an acceptable length.

Even so, as I make my way through transition, I have to agree with your question of "How many of us would have welcomed being able to hide our bodies when we were out in public as we adjusted to its changing into that of a woman." and wonder if it might not provide at least a partial answer to issues of my own.

I'd also be very interested in that colloquy becoming a reality.

Kevin Roddy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kevin Roddy said...

After having lived in Israel on and off for seven years, I totally agree with both men AND women dressing modestly. I Personally would be just fine not seeing one's belly rings and ugly tattoos and ratty hair and skimpy clothing.

When I worked at a community college library, many women were dressed like they were in a bar. How could I take a young woman seriously as she shivered at the Reference Desk because of the air conditioning she forgot to prepare for?

And this goes for guys as well - I don't want to see your steroided muscles, ugly tattoos, tanktops, and unwashed clothing.

Harry Potter robes for everyone!

Broomstick Chronicles said...

Thanks for your comments, ashareem.

What is NWCOG?

It appears we share similar socialization during our youth.

Xochiquetzal and I plan to get back to this in a few weeks. Stay tuned.

Broomstick Chronicles said...

Thanks, Kevin. My stodgy old self often feels that way, too. I think there's appropriate dress for different occasions. I don't wanna see your belly ring on the bus. Strut your stuff at the beach or bar, huzzah! Better yet, go glam at parades and balls.

Actually, truth be told, clean and fastidious is sexy to me. ;-) I don't like my men with grizzled faces or baggy pants. They just ain't my kink. ("Talk BIG to me, baby!") Only a very few people can wear dreds and look cool, IMO.

But hey! One person's excitement is another's yawn.

Arachne [Debbie FP] said...

Macha, thanks so much for this article! Count me amongst your crowd. I also love scarves and veils, especially for ritual and meditative use, but the moment the word "modesty" starts to be used in conjunction with the words "veil" and "woman" my hackles rise. Perhaps this is because I also recall days of enforced "modesty" of all varieties, but given the current political climate my discomfort points to something much more: the greater, underlying issues of actual physical freedom and autonomy for women is what's being missed in a simplistic acceptance of veiling as "just another choice."

Having said that, it sounds like a great workshop, with a lovely presenter. Best to you!

Anne Newkirk Niven said...

Please cross-post to PaganSquare, Macha. I want me readers to see this.

Anne Newkirk Niven said...

I'm sorry, no coffee yet. I want *my* (or, better, *our*) readers to see this.

Anonymous said...

My apologies, Macha, I thought I hd answered your question of "what is NWCOG" shortly after you asked it, but I'm not seeing my answer.

NWCOG was the Northwest Local Council of COG, and for a period of about 3 years we had a ritual team for taking the roles for our open sabbats, The team ended its work about 2001 and then NWCOG dissolved a couple years later.

Unknown said...

I've never been able to get into the growing "head covering" movement in paganism. Something about it seems to smack of "cultural appropriation" to me. I'm sure it's just the newness of it. I think head scarves are beautiful, I don't know. I'm just uncomfortable with the hijab style being used in paganism. You have an interesting insight on it, I hadn't considered trying veils for meditations or sill work.

nwlorax said...

My maternal family is Mennonite, and dark clothes, dark cars (scratched with branches when new to hide the newness) were a fact of life for the generation before mine.

The covens I was in in El Paso and California used veils as well. The use of a fine rayon or silk veil allows for an experience of consciousness more akin to that of a mask than a crown. In my experience it can facilitate trance. This isn't something for ordinary wear.

The act of putting it on and storing it became part of the ritual as well, and to this day I prefer, and teach, the use of a veil for trance.