Monday, November 12, 2012

But First

I will go back to my exploration of veils and head covers and other modest dress stuff. But first!

A coworker just asked me how long it takes me to get ready in the morning because I always look so clean and neat. Today, I'm wearing one of my woven cotton skirts in navy, with a light purple shirt. My socks are gray and purple stripes, my shoes are black. My tichel is navy with bangs exposed, and I have a purple crocheted headband accent. She said it looks simple, clean, and classy. I feel accomplished. 

I'm actually quite liking this outfit for today. Maybe it's because all the various shades of purple I have on are so close to the same shade, you can't really tell that they're not. And the skirt and tichel in navy are a nice compliment. Maybe it's because it is the simple not-quite plain look that I like without sacrificing my personal style, like color or funky stripy socks. Maybe it's because I just got an order of new tichels in and can wrap my hair in a style that I've always found very lovely. Maybe it's because I feel good today, I feel presentable and put together and comfortable, and maybe that is apparent in how others perceive me today. 

Whatever it is, it was nice to get that compliment. And the answer to her question: maybe ten minutes. There's nothing like waking up in the morning and knowing what you're going to wear. And being able to just throw it on, tie a few knots, and call it done. 

Thursday, November 01, 2012

I'm Covered Today

I was going to tack this on to the end of my research post for the day but, while this is related, I decided it really needed its own entry.

First, I hope everyone had a Blessed Samhain, I hope Hurricane Sandy was kind to my East Coast readers, and Happy New Year!

Samhain, the night that most people know as Halloween, is one of the most sacred in the pagan calendar. It's when the veil (there's that word again!) between the world of the living and that of the dead is most thin - allowing for easier communication across the veil during this time. It's a great time to honor loved ones who have passed on. It's also the third harvest, when farmers would determine how much feed they had for their herds and which animals were most likely to survive the winter. The rest were slaughtered and the meat preserved to provide food for the long, barren winter. It is considered to be the Pagan New Year, completing one full cycle of the year Samhain to Samhain. It is both the end and the beginning, and a great time to get rid of old things you no longer need to make room for new things in the coming year.

This week, the blessed and sacred time of Samhain was preceded by Hurricane Sandy. This was a huge storm, a convergence of three weather systems above a very densely populated region. Everyone from Virginia to New England and as far inland as Ohio were told to hunker down and prepare for the worst. There were things about my situation in riding out the hurricane that I wished were different but, in any event, I sat in my home with Phantom and Miss Luna listening to the storm get fiercer and fiercer outside. One of the first things I do when I move to a new home, even a temporary one, is cast a shield around it. It is tied to a protection charm that I make, and fill with herbs and stones and talismans that I feel are appropriate for protecting my home and those who dwell within. I have made such charms for friends before as well. I'm not going to go too much into this right now because that's not my purpose, but tying the shield to a charm means that it is always in place, protecting my home from the forces without.

Shields such as these need regular maintenance - cleansing and refortifying. I have to admit that I've been lax about this one. When I lived with my parents, I maintained that shield very regularly, I even still do when I visit; the charm is still hanging from the mantle. But the one on my own house, I don't think about it much. With a big storm approaching though, I thought about it a lot. I spent a lot of time on it as part of my storm preparation. No amount of preparing, be it physical or spiritual, will guarantee being protected from a physical threat, but it certainly doesn't hurt.

When I lost power, I had nothing to do but sit there listening to the rain pelting my roof, the wind whipping the trees around violently, the storm gathering in intensity. Every now and then, I would poke at the fire I started in the woodstove for warmth and light, but there was nothing else to do. Just me and my cats, and the person I most wanted with me for comfort was entirely out of reach. Even people who are not at the top of that list but would have still been a comfort to have them there were not able to be. Just me, my cats, and my shield against the full power of nature. I was worried about being without power for days like I was at the end of June, I was worried about the tall trees that border my property - a tree had fallen on my house before, long before I owned it. I was worried, and for all intents and purposes, alone. I did something I haven't done in years: I prayed.

Pray is not a word I use in my practice. It doesn't really fit in my path. Maybe it's a remnant of my Catholic upbringing  but prayer to me means talking to God, and I really don't talk to that god anymore. For some reason, when I say prayer, it means communication with that god and only that god. Additionally, I don't believe that the gods are above us, but that they walk with us. They're on a different plain and they see things differently, can manipulate the world differently, but I don't worship them. In that moment, in that storm, alone but with my beloved animals, I prayed. Before that fire, I prayed to Hestia to protect my hearth and home. In worry for the storm, fear for my home and my animals and myself, sadness at being so worried and without the people who mattered the most, I asked a goddess I've never really talked to before for help.

It's not like I hadn't been through a storm alone before. I rode out Hurricane Irene last year also with just myself and my cats and my shield, and that was after an uncharacteristic earthquake and several aftershocks and energies were already scattered and anxious. Maybe it was because Samhain was approaching and the veil was thinning and the energies around this time of year are always different. Maybe it was because I knew my boyfriend would have been with me if he could, and I have been lamenting the distance between us a lot of late. Whatever it was, I prayed to a goddess (which, in itself is unusual for me) for comfort and help. I've been drawn to Hestia in recent years, but I admit I haven't yet explored her mysteries or really considered what Hestia as my matron would mean for my path.

Was it a prayer to a goddess to whom I have not dedicated that helped my home come through the storm with minimal damage? I'll never know, that's why it's faith. I didn't see anyone that day after the storm, but on Halloween night, before heading out to ritual at Shadow Grove, when I was preparing for trick-or-treaters, I was frantically searching my house for something to put on my head. I actually have quite a few things that would serve this purpose, at that moment the only thing I knew was that I needed something on and I needed it before the first child came to my door. I ended up with a crocheted triangle over the top of my head and felt properly dressed. I then wore my regular crocheted hood to ritual as has been my custom for at least a year.

Today, I am covered. I have a long, sheer rectangle scarf wrapped around my head in a tichel crown style. I've packed a variety of things for my weekend visit with my family, including long scarves like the one I'm wearing today, some small triangles like the one I donned last night, a few tubes that are kind of like open snoods or like the wraps that people put around dreadlocks, even some tie-on headbands. More than I actually need for the weekend but they don't take up much space and there's nothing wrong with having options. My power suit and pumps wearing manager isn't here to challenge me today. I'm trying to prepare myself because I know that day will come. I will ask for a letter from my ministers if it comes to that.

I thought I would start covering as I've been pulled to do after some kind of ceremony or retreat. I'd take a couple days off of work so it wouldn't be too much of a shock (I essentially had a couple days off with this storm). I'd take that time to meditate and to prepare and have all my reasons firmly in place for when my boss challenged it. I don't know why I felt it had to be some big event in my spiritual life. But really, what is bigger than a major storm in the days before one of the most sacred days of the year?  It's something I've been needing to do for a while and it's something that I can't resist anymore. It was an epiphany. It's a new day, a new year, and I know it's time.

Perception and Controversy

One of the things about living in a society is that people want to conform to the standards of that society. Even people who claim to be non-conformists still conform in a lot of ways (bet they pay taxes, wear clothes, maybe even have jobs - all of that is conforming to what society expects of you). Conformity in fashion has its own special word, it's called a trend. And it's often the fashion industry that tells us what styles we are to conform to in any season, but that's another topic altogether.

Fashion in this society does include a variety of options, but they are still relatively limited. Just walk through a department store. This season, you'll find jeans, long sleeve t-shirts, denim, sweaters, and skirts that end above the knee are easier to find than ankle-length. The colors available are pretty much from the same palette. When you're looking for something to fit as modest dress, you're going to have trouble finding it on the rack at your local clothing store. For example, the heavy cotton skirts I wear to work during the colder months came from Greentree Weaving at the Renaissance festival.

What I'm getting at is there is an idea and an ideal of what people in this society think that people and the clothing they wear are supposed to look like. Anything that does not fit into this idea gets instant attention. It's not always a good thing, often you're believed to be an outsider, you're abnormal and you don't belong. I see this all the time when I'm wearing my Renaissance festival uniform and I have to get gas or run into a drug store for something. Most of them are positive reactions, but I do get the occasional "what the hell is she wearing" reaction too. Some of the reasons a group might advise or require covering is to protect the wearer from unwanted attention. Most modest dress is meant to be simple and unremarkable. In many societies, it is exactly the opposite. Especially if you are a member of a small group with such rules in a larger group that does not have them.

No one would think twice about someone wearing a beret (which could serve the purpose of a veil) but almost everyone notices a woman in a hijab and abaya, or even a woman in a sari (though a sari is more a garment of showing off a woman's beauty rather than obscuring it). The clothing that is meant to protect you only serves to show how different you are. This blog is a fantastic account of how people react to a hijab. It was just an experiment that she did; she wore a scarf in a hijab style for no other purpose than to see how people would react to her. Some people reacted by trying really hard to ignore her altogether. And when one little girl asked her mom if the people wearing scarves were terrorists, mom failed to say "no, honey, those women follow a religion that calls them to wear those scarves as a sign of devotion." Instead, she glared and walked away.

On this blog is an account of a pagan woman wearing a hijab style veil on her way to an appointment and another woman spat in her path. This story from the same blog (I really wish there were more than two stories on that blog, really) talks of another who witnessed two women in hijabs being harassed by a man and she stepped in to defend them. Being so obviously different, and in a way that a lot of people in this country don't take the time to understand, is met with prejudice and hostility.

This is a fantastic article about the double standards of veiling. A Catholic nun in her habit is seen as pious and devoted. Even a Mennonite in prayer cap and simple dress, who is wearing that kind of clothing for the same reason as a Muslim in hijab and abaya, does not encounter prejudice at the same level. (I am not going to say that these women in non-Islamic veils don't encounter prejudice - everyone does - but Islam gets more negative press than any of these others combined.) Really, oppression about veiling seems to come mostly from the prejudice of people who don't take the time to understand.

From a pagan standpoint, this blogger covered it, "pagan women suddenly found themselves exposed to prejudices aimed towards a religious group they themselves did not even belong to." And why is that? Perception. A person sees a woman in a veil and they make a judgement, and often they make that judgement based on misconceptions.

Additionally, many pagans feel like veiling is taking a step backwards in the feminist movement. That comes entirely from thinking that a woman wearing a veil is oppressed. This forum topic has a couple people commenting on the veil as a symbol of oppression. I would argue that it can't be oppression if it's my choice. One of the administrators of that forum said something wonderful that I would urge everyone to keep in mind, "We all do or wear things that make us feel more confident, and many of us wear things that make us feel more connected to our Gods (jewelry, tattoos, etc.) that others may not understand or would not choose for themselves." I love this statement. Maybe my scarves and veils serve the same purpose as the pentacle pendant that average Diana Pagan dangles from her neck. I wear pentacles too, as a matter of fact. A pair of small earrings  always in the middle of my three ear piercings, and I have worn them every day since I bought them over ten years ago, except on days when I don't wear earrings at all. I wear two rings that are pieces of religious jewelry; one has "Harm None" inscribed on it and the other is a ring of glass beads that a friend made for me in 1993 (that I have worn every day since except for seven days. And yes, I can tell you about those seven days and why I didn't put my ring on those days). The friend who gave me that ring got me started on this path all those years ago. No one forces me to wear these symbols of my faith. Additionally, no one tells me that they are or should be symbols of my faith. They have meaning because I give them that meaning.

I've mentioned a thread on the Noble Pagan forum, that requires membership to read. One of the staff there mentioned she was in a conversation with a pro-choice woman who was stating her opposition to Muslim women veiling and asked "what happened to 'my body, my choice'?" What a great question! If you believe your body is your own, why can't you wear what you want? To those who think these women are embracing a symbol of oppression and dominance need to realize that it actually supports the feminist movement - women are wearing what they want.

I did so much research on this topic that I seem to have lost one of the links I really wanted to point you towards. It was a comment on a forum (not either of the two I have linked/mentioned previously - that I can tell) of a pagan woman who was so vehemently against veiling that she actually had some rather nasty things to say about the people who choose it. It is, perhaps, best that I managed to lose that link as it was rather shocking coming from someone who, essentially in the same breath, said that being pagan was about being in control of one's own faith and practice and life. I was really taken aback that a stranger's clothing choice could conjure such a negatively fierce reaction from someone who should already know what it's like to be so judged for doing something different.

But that's part of it too. As pagans, we've already chosen to follow our hearts and practice a faith that many do not understand and do not bother to look beyond the stereotypes and learn what we're really about. I've been told that my exposure to the pagan world at large has really been rather limited and that the elitist attitude that one pagan's ways or path is better than another's is actually quite common. I did know this, while I've only experienced a small fraction of it directly. Remember when I stated above that everyone encounters prejudice? Sometimes it comes from within, too.  

We're getting to the end of my research on this topic, though I'm sure that doesn't mean I'll stop talking about it. Next time, we'll look at types of veils and ways they are worn, what shows under the veil, a little bit about pagans 'borrowing' styles, and I'll share some shops I've found for buying veils and other modest dress.