Recently, thanks to one of the various groups I’ve joined on Facebook celebrating pagans who are called to cover, I discovered the book Aphrodite’s Tortoise. As of this writing I’m not that far into the book, but am none the less enjoying it to the point that I suspect I will end up owning it in the future. The author’s writing is engaging, his points thought-provoking (why are some words acceptable and common – like drapery, shawl, mantle – while others – specifically veil – are shied away from?) and the very idea of exploring the veiling practices of women in polytheistic societies excites me to no end. No. End. Up until the last few years, whenever I’ve wanted to connect with other women who veil, my options have been very limited and to a certain extent very disappointing. Since I started covering full time, I’ve reached out to various people online. A very few of the non-pagans I’ve reached out to have responded kindly enough, but never to the extent that I hoped for, and really, I don’t blame them for that. They’re not obligated to me in any way. Most didn’t respond in one way or another – which, again, they’re not obligated to me in any way. So while I felt frustrated that my attempts of interfaith dialogue and head-covering solidarity building didn’t gain any ground, I acknowledged, and do acknowledge that we can inspired by others without then in turn demanding anything from them. In the end, I wanted to reach to say, “Hey, you inspired me. Thank you.” And than needs to be put out there without any expectation of return. It’s not about me.
A few years ago there was something of a small explosion of pagans taking up the veil, of speaking about headcovering, of being called to cover is some fashion or another, of exploring this concept. I’m not entirely sure what happened, except suddenly I had other pagans to speak with about this concept of veiling, of what it meant to veil as a pagan, about why we were encouraged to this, etc. And, I loved that. I still love that. I love when someone decides to cover out of curiosity, or because their god or goddess has nudged them to, or because their ancestors have urged them to, or because they want to see if it helps with their energy issues, or any other reason. I love that people are open to exploration. I love it, I support it, I think it’s great. When they decide it doesn’t work for them? I love that, too. I support that, too. Trying something different, being willing to break one’s routine, being willing to be uncomfortable, or to even risk being uncomfortable – these are great, great things that should be encouraged and nourished and honored.
So, pagans and headcovering is on my mind, and then I discover this book, this book about the veiling of polytheistic women in polytheistic societies, and it’s exciting and, more, these things speak to my need for validation, for my desire of authenticity.
There is this common ground that I see existing between myself and others, living as modern women in the United States, with an eye toward living our faith, with an eye toward bringing the sacred into our lives and into the world through our actions and our words. My religious language includes some of the same words as theirs: compassion, grace, humility, prayer, meditation. Being a polytheist, it does not threaten my faith in my gods one whit if I can look at these other women covering in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons that stem from their relationship with the divine has brought them to that choice. One of the many perks to viewing the world through a polytheistic lens is that I don’t have to deal with that pesky quirk of believing other people who do not worship the way I worship are necessarily wrong. I do not have to discount their experiences simply because their experiences are different than mine and may threaten mine somehow. (In the interest of full disclosure: of course I think monotheism is incorrect. I can get behind, one hundred percent, the idea that a person may worship only one god. I can also get behind the idea that one god may call specific people to belong to said god. I simply do not believe – based on both experience and study – that monotheism is the only way there is.) And, it’s at times frustrating to have these things in common and to not have that recognized by others. This common ground that I see existing between us, it’s not always obvious. Others do not necessarily see it.
Why does that common ground appeal to me? Why does it appeal so much that it frustrates me so when it’s unacknowledged?
I’ve read far enough into Aphrodite’s Tortoise, and I know enough already about the status women held within the Hellenic world to know I’m not going to love what I’m going to find – the use of the veil as a means of surpression. Already we’re talking about the proper, humble woman who knows her place, and I’m only on the second chapter. It is this conception of history of veiling, even in modern cultures, that is one of the consistent objections I come into contact with (objections by other pagans, mind you) as to why it’s wrong/silly/odd/what-have-you that a pagan woman would decide to veil. (I’m not alone in this either, nor are pagans who veil alone in this – there’s more of that common ground I keep talking about. Muslim women [and I suspect Jewish women who cover likely face this as well to some extent] certainly come into contact with those who believe they are being oppressed, even when they don their various covering through genuine desire to do so. It gets old, really fast, to be told why you are doing something, when your reasons for doing something are not those reasons.) For what it’s worth, the only people who have objected to my covering as a pagan have been other pagans; most people are either genuinely interested or simply do not care what I do with my head. Which has been an eye opener and somewhat disappointing.
What I’m grappling with right now is: realizing that I’ve had this goal in mind as I’ve looked toward various people and places. To my contemporaries who veil, whether they be pagan or not, because we have in common this thing that we do that is not common in this particular culture. To my spiritual ancestors, before the coming of monotheism, who might veil as a daily practice. In light of our lack of a continuous practice, somehow historical precedence might be seen to make up for that lack. What I find myself facing is: it doesn’t matter.
The reason that I cover may, from far enough of a perspective, have some bits in common with some of these people, both the pagans and the non-pagans. But, eventually that commonality will end. There are a myriad benefits I’ve found to my donning a headscarf, but those have all been unforeseen benefits. They were never the goal. The goal?
Poseidon wanted it. He didn’t tell me why. He didn’t tell me that it would cut down on my migraines or that it would help me deal with being around people. He didn’t tell me that He wanted me to be more humble or more modest in my dress. He didn’t tell me that it would help me feel closer to Him on a daily basis or that it would draw attention to me and allow me the chance to talk to people about Him. In the very beginning, there was an idea that it would set me apart, and there was behind His desire an impression that my habitual dress, to blend in and not be notice, was something He wanted to challenge or change up.
I didn’t go looking for historical instances of women covering in their worship of Poseidon. My relationship with Poseidon has never been driven by historical precedence. I was His for years before I delved into studying the people who’ve given us His stories, because I wanted a strong foundation that had nothing to do with His reputation for rape and abuse. I didn’t need historical precedence because we aren’t living in the past, our societies are vastly different, our world is vastly different, and there’s a few millennia now of monotheism being dominant that was not the case when Poseidon was widely worshipped. Like it or not, monotheism language and thought-processes influences our world, for better or worse, and we can’t pretend that they don’t. Neither can we pretend that never happened. Why, years into my covering because my god said so, do I find myself holding that book and being giddy that there might be historical precedence after all?
Except, there won’t be. The author is not going to talk about women veiling for Poseidon. Nobody talks about Poseidon (bitter about that? Me? Ha!) and so far it looks like this is going to be about women veiling because the menfolk say the women must veil.
There won’t be, and I don’t need it. We don’t need a historical precedence for what we do. Our gods are alive. They interact with us. They guide us. It can be enough for our gods to say, “Hey, about this thing,” and for us to allow ourselves to be guided by Them, in whatever manner that guidance happens to take. Even if it’s this thing that others, our peers, may dismiss as being invalid or a contamination from other religions, or what not. Bottom line? If it’s something Poseidon guides me toward (or outright insists, which He’s done with very few things, and this was one of them) I’m going to allow myself to be guided.
Facing this, seeing my grasping for authenticity or validation from others – though it’s been a slow building, and a somewhat quiet one – has been humbling and wonderful. I didn’t realize it was happening, but having seen it, having named it, I can let it go, and the desire for support and solidarity has transformed into a better ability to provide support and encouragement to others. Remembering that I don’t need that support, because I have Poseidon’s support and encouragement, frees me from placing that burden onto other people. This is a beautiful, beautiful discovery.