Lately, each time I’ve had my hair done (read – all the grey covered over for another four weeks) I’ve asked my hairdresser to put it in some kind of braid. She’s done a single French braid and in two French braids, and I rather like how it looks – it keeps my hair back from my face but doesn’t detract from how long it is. I’ve asked if she’d consider coming to my house every morning to braid it for me, and this is because…I can’t do anything with it.
I’ve thought since I started growing my hair long that I ought to be able to do something with it, but all I can do neatly is put it in a pony tail, or twist it behind my head and clip it with one of those piranha clip things. I can’t use bobby pins, or barrettes, or make a bun, or a chignon, or a plait. It kills me not to be able to do these things, and the only reason I can nail down is that, when I was at the age to do my hair on my own (too old for my mother to do it for me), I kept it short.
I’ve been told that I’m now too old to learn. Whether that’s actually true or not I don’t know, but I’m an amazingly stubborn person and I’ll periodically try to wrangle it into some sort of single French braid. It always starts out okay, but somewhere in the middle of my head I twist something the wrong way and it turns into a big lumpy mess that I end up slapping an elastic band on. From the front, it looks fine. From the back, it’s a disaster.
So when I started looking for topics for my second B post for the Pagan Blog Project, can occur to me that there are similarities between the wrangling I do with my hair and the wrangling required to put together, and follow, a cohesive religious path.
Stay with me here: to make a French braid, you have to part the hair just so, pick up three strands of equal size from the crown of the head, and start weaving them: over and under, back and forth. Then, as the strands begin to thin out, you feed in additional hair from each side of the head. This continues until you reach the nape of the neck, at which point you should be able to to weave the three strands together simply and finish it with an elastic band.
Sounds easy enough, right?
The problem is sometimes the starting strands aren’t of equal size. Sometimes the additional hair won’t feed in properly, or your fingers get twisted, or you forget which strand goes over and which strand goes under. And sometimes, it just feels like you need more hands to be able to juggle everything. All of these things can lead to an uneven, lumpy, unattractive braid that’s functional, in that it pulls your hair back from your face, but that isn’t pretty enough to wear out of the house. The intent and general shape are there, but they aren’t cohesive.
The same kind of thing happens to so many people trying to put together a pagan path. They find things that interest them (reverence for nature, fairies, dragons) and they start putting them together into some sort of a conglomeration but the pieces just don’t quite fit with each other. They end up with a mishmash of Dragon Fairy Pantheistic animism with a side of ancient matriarchies and “The Old Ways”, and then naturally get a little frustrated when someone starts to break down what they’re doing. Who wants to be told that their efforts didn’t come out quite right? So, much like me with my lumpy, ugly braid, they stay in the house, they get frustrated, and they feel that they’ve got nowhere to turn.
My braids are not twisted and lumpy because I want them to be. They’re twisted and lumpy and odd because I don’t know how to make them any other way. I’ve yet to find a good resource that I could follow that will teach me how to fix my hair…and I’m willing to bet the same is true of those pagans whose paths seem twisted, or lumpy, or odd to us. Most people don’t want to remain ignorant. Most people are eager to learn new things, and to have those things shape their point of view.
Most people want to be able to walk out of the house with a braid, or a path, that is even and neat and shiny. And, if we can help someone do that, shouldn’t we?