Monday, May 17, 2010

Stuffed with my Hair ....

Ancient Magic

Young seamstresses from 1900. My grandmother nr. 4 from the left. She also hid her combings in a pillow.

A woman, born in 1880, from a Christian wealthy farmer-family, left in her will some memorabilias to the local museum - and when the attendant of the museum took a look, she discovered a linen-bag with some strange contents. She knew at once what it was. She had in her youth lived in the home of a 80-year old woman, who always twisted her combings around her finger and hid it in a linen-bag, which belonged to her grave clothes and had to be put into her coffin as a pillow.

Besides the linen-bag at the museum were also a fine white, quite new nightgown with crochet lace and two handkerchiefs with the embroidered names of her and her husband, probably their wedding-handkerchiefs. All those things were neatly arranged in a larger linen-bag in her bureau and were meant to be her grave clothes - but since she suddenly became ill and died at a nursing home, they came to the museum, bearing witness that a woman in the 1960s still held on to an ancient custom.

This was not just a local custom; it was known all over the country, which many people have told about. Taking care of the hair was probably in some way connected to the sacrifice of hair, which has been observed in findings from the Danish bogs. It seems there was an old and far-reaching belief that there was a magic power attached to the human hair. The Greek poet Homer wrote that the slaves, who carried the bier, cut off their hair and covered the dead body with it.

The pillow with the combings might have connection to ancient times, where the sacrifice might have been a sacrifice to the gods of death. And hiding the hair might have been caused by the fear that a person's belongings might get into the hands of evil creatures, who by magic could achieve power over the person - since the hair contained powers from the personality.

The grave clothes of the old Danish woman shows that a magic idea with its roots back - not into Christianity - but into heathendom - might live in a Christian woman in the 1960s.

A chaffinch taking wool placed in a bush in the park. Human hair would probably also be okay.
An old word says that the combings had to be thrown upon the fire; if the birds found it and built their nests from it, she who had this hair would get a headache.

There might also be a connection between the plait loafs and the sacrificed plaits in the bogs from ancient times - which is a real possibility. The plait loafs can be traced far back in time, and it seems that they were originally made in order to be sacrificed - as a replacement for plaits of hair - for the gods who were the masters of life and death.

Source: Archaeological Magazine SKALK Nr. 2, 1970; "Stoppet med mit hår", by Chr. Waage Petersen.

photo: grethe bachmann


MyMaracas said...

What an interesting post. I love learning about old ways and folk magic. My own grandmother always kept her hair, and had a little box with a hole in the top that was made just for that. I'm not sure she knew why she did it; she never said.

It's sad that woman was not buried with the belongings she so carefully saved for her grave, but I'm sure they will be treasured by the museum and its patrons.

Thyra said...

Thanks. I love those old stories about folk magic too. My grandmother - like your grandmother - did not tell me, why she hid her combings, and I don't know what happened to it, when she died. I cannot ask my mother anymore. There are so many mysterious customs, and sometimes we can only guess what they mean.
Maybe this combings-custom is known in many other countries?

I think the museum shows the woman's belongings in a respectful way and tells the visitors her story. There is a photo of her grave clothes in the magazine, fine white linen with lace. She was not buried with it, but she has brought some good information on to us. I'd like to think that she might have appreciated this.


Kittie Howard said...

I agree, Thyra, that the woman would be pleased with how the museum treats her possessions. In South Louisiana (not North Louisiana) it is still the custom among many to save hair combings. The fear is that an enemy will find the hair and go to a voodoo doctor for a curse upon that person. South Louisian is a VERY religious area so this should not be, but custom and fear have their ways, I think. And, I must say that your grandmother was absolutely beautiful. She's the most beautiful lady in a group of lovely ladies. Thank you for another interesting post, WOW!

Thyra said...

Hej Kittie!
Isn't it fantastic that a custom like this is spread in so many places. My grandmother was very superstitious and very religious. She once said to my six-year old son: "Do you believe in Adam and Eve?" - "No- I don't!" he said. "But why?" she said.(I was in the other room and followed interested the conversation!)She was absolutely shocked when he said. "No - for they have never found their skeletons!" I'm almost sure she now prayed for his soul every night.