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Biology of Hair in Brief

Hair is mostly a protein called keratin, which is also the foundation protein of nails, hooves, horns, the baleen of whales, and the feathers of birds.  A strand of hair is composed of three layers–the medulla (inner most), cortex (middle) and cuticle (outermost) and has two main structures–the follicle (the “living” part, embedded in the skin where hair grows from) and the shaft (the “dead” part that has grown out of the skin).  The composition of hair is determined by the cortex, whose structure is determined by the shape of the follicle (resulting in straight, wavy or curly locks) and the deposition of melanin in the cortex is the source of hair color (the amount (less=light, more=dark) and type of melanin determines hair color–pheomelanin for blondes and redheads and eumelanin for everyone else).

A developing fetus has all of it’s hair follicles formed by week 22. At this time there are 5 million follicles on the body. One million of those are on the head, and 100,000 are on the scalp. This is the largest number of follicles we will ever have – follicles are never added during life. As the size of the body increases as we grow older, the density of the hair follicles on the skin decreases.

from about.com

In Mythology and History

And Taphios had a son Pterelaos, whom Poseidon made immortal by implanting a golden hair in his head.


Now, so long as Pterelaos lived, he could not take Taphos; but when Komaitho, daughter of Pterelaos, falling in love with Amphitryon, pulled out the golden hair from her father’s head, Pterelaos died, and Amphitryon subjugated all the islands. He slew Komaitho, and sailed with the booty to Thebes, and gave the islands to Heleios and Kephalos; and they founded cities named after themselves and dwelt in them.

from the Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 4. 5 – 6 (trans. Frazer) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) source @ theoi.com

From Sif to Sampson,  Medusa to the King of Megara (Nisos), and Berenice to Rapunzel, the role of hair in myth and folklore has paralleled its importance as a cultural symbol and in determining social roles.  Hairstyles have been a reflection of ethnicity (and status-by-statute) of men in the Manchurian dynasty, a sign of one’s piety among medieval monks, a demonstration of femininity, and the source of stereotypes.

Often the length of a hero’s hair has been linked to their strength or mortality (Sampson and Nisos), or as a sign of their purity, devotion (Berenice) or fertility (Sif), though it can play other roles (in Medusa’s punative transformation, or Rapunzel’s imprisonment and freedom).  In the many myths of Sedna, an Inuit goddess, she is depicted as a vain girl, combing her hair and/or as a tragic figure with her fingers cut off, unable to comb her hair (and journeying involving Sedna often includes the ritual of combing her hair) .

Modern Magic and Ritual

The style of one’s hair can be a tool during ritual work as well. Bound styles such as buns and especially braids are symbolic of controlled and focused power. The same idea would be true of disheveled, wild hair that expresses raw, independent power. During any ritual, spell or exercise focusing on release, freedom, celebration, or even mourning might involve the act of disheveling the hair or wearing it this way. Braiding the hair can be used during rituals involving gaining control, intensifying any spellwork (through focus at a particular goal) or any organizational goals.

from an older article by my good friend Rafe @ under a bluegrass moon

Prayers and spells are often woven, beaded, or stitched into a cloth based medium.  Hair is another option for a place to weave, braid, bead, twist, or otherwise anchors personal magics.  For the past several years I have often used small braids in my hair as a place to anchor prayers of healing and blessing for family and friends, for prayers towards goals for our family and other spells and rituals.  Many hair styles and rituals centered around one’s hair care can be used as a part of one’s religious and spiritual practice (Pagan or not).  Opportunities for hair magic can come from the use of color correspondences (either in ribbons, barrettes or other fasteners or the hair itself—permanently, or removable via colored “extentions” or clips), herbal hot oils and rinses (which can often be quite beneficial to the hair—just do some research first!), the use of gemstones in beads or clips, or even the use of one’s hair tools (see Mrs. B’s hair dryer spell below).

The key to using hair (as with any tool) is of course, intent, mindfulness and visualization.

Thalassa’s Prayer “Braids” (and other ‘Dos):

Braids (English, French and Dutch)—Great basic style to anchor any prayer or spell.  Super easy if you already know how to braid, a bit more difficult to learn if you are like my husband.  Can be combined or modified with beads, ribbons, etc to add color or crystal symbolism.

Two-Strand Twists—As with the braid, it can be used as a general purpose anchor, though I find it works best to bring or keep two things together.  It is reasonably easy to do and to learn and can be modified as well.

Net (see pic, or check out a fancy vriation)—Good for protection to “catch” negative energy..  Difficult to do to one’s own hair, “intermediate” difficulty if doing for the first time to another (but fairly easy after that).  I usually do this to my daughter’s hair, particularly when we are going somewhere potentially unsafe, or where I am concerned about her comfort level (plus it looks really cute when she *hasn’t* slept on it). 

Gathered Ponytail (check out the 2nd pic in this how-to of another style)—Also utilizable as for any prayer or spell, but ideal for protection or to bring or keep many separate pieces of something together.  Probably the easiest to do and learn, easily customizable and easy to do to one’s own hair. 

Wrap—Highly customizable and utilizable for any prayer or spell, but excellent for protection and shielding, hiding and binding.  Fairly easy to do to one’s own hair, but can be difficult to take out, and may need to be cut out or off—often more permanent than the other styles.

Ideas and Inspiration

The Story of the Coma Berenices (the constellation Berenice’s Hair)
Working with the Element of Air via the Hair Drier from Mrs. B @ Confessions of a Pagan Soccer Mom
Hair Loss in Mythology & Legend, an article from Hairloss.com
A retelling of the story of Sif and Loki’s theft of her hair
Medusa in Myth and Literary History
Henna for Hair (part of *IMO* the best online resource on henna)
a bit about loving what’s on your head…probably the greatest bit of magic there is, lol