Friday, July 27, 2012

Under Wraps: Covering the Head in Natib Qadish

There are many practices regarding covering the head in ancient Canaanite tradition and in modern Natib Qadish tradition. 

Ancient Headcoverings 

In Canaanite art workmen usually do not wear hats or head coverings, however upper class men typically do.

In the ancient Canaanite world, men and women alike would typically wear a head covering, hat or scarf. Workmen often kept their heads uncovered or wore a simple headband around their heads, but chances were that if they entered a temple, they would be dressed differently than for work. Women often would wear scarves, likely indicative of a marital status like wearing a wedding ring is in modern Western culture. Working class women or lower class women would wear headbands across the forehead and around the crown of the head. A hatless man often indicated common laborer, a lower-class citizen, or a slave. Canaanite art shows gods and upper-class men and gods often wearing hats, and sometimes wearing shawls with thick rolled hems or fringe.

Modern Hat and Scarf Wearing, Opportunity or Oppression

In Judaism, a man typically wears a kippah--a small skullcap on his head--to religious services; some wear the kippah all the time. The tallit (prayer shawl) is often worn over the head and over the kippah during prayer and meditation. One can actually bring a tallit over the head and face and thereby giving the wearer a sense of privacy during these sacred moments. Some women in Judaism have begun to take up wearing the kippah and tallit, as well, though tradition has it that women wear different head coverings--anything from scarves to little hair-pinned doilies, to wigs. People have mixed reactions to wearing head coverings in Judaism: some see it as a blessing, others a burden, and some as both.* The practice is often seen more in traditional settings and less in liberal groups. Although there is no Jewish law dictating covering the head, there is a great deal of custom and tradition behind the practice which might have come from as far back as the Babylonian exile or even Canaanite times.

In modern Canaanite polytheistic religion, wearing a hat or a scarf is an ancient custom indicative of dignity, respect, honor, and upper-class, and has naught to do with the unfortunate stigma and dominance/control aspects that have been picked up over the past thousand years in some places, cultures, and religions especially in the Middle East.

In the modern world, unfortunately issues of covering the head have become a battlefield for specifically for women’s rights, regardless of the custom for men and women. It is wrong to force a woman to wear a head covering or a full headscarf, niqab or a hijab or both, or a burqa. However, in Europe and the United States there have been some efforts to force a woman not to wear certain coverings even if she wants to. It is a matter of personal decision: forcing a woman to wear something is equally abhorrent and misogynistic as forcing her to not wear something. Ironically enough, sometimes covering with hijab and/or niqab is a political statement of freedom in the United States and Europe even while head coverings symbolize oppression in the Middle East. This oppression--for women or for men--is not a part of our religion, and it’s important to remember that covering the head is for both sexes and is typically not required for most adherents of Natib Qadish.

When to Cover and What to Wear in Natib Qadish

There is a temple dress code, and it differs from a courtyard rite or an outside dress code. When I run any kind of observance in temple, head coverings are just as important as wearing clean clothes and going shoeless. Shoes + no hat + dirty clothes = no entry in temple. Wearing head coverings symbolizes our respect for the divine.

Hats and head coverings can include but are not limited to tied scarves, scarves anchored with headbands, kippot, berets, bandannas, kufi, and more. However, hats covered in stains or dirt, ball caps with logos plastered on them, party hats, hats with giant wedges of cheese, peaked "witch hats," and those hats with cup holders for two cans of beer are definitely a no-go.

Wearing a head covering is less important for “courtyard”-type observances or outdoor rites, because this isn't the same as a temple setting. Neat and clean clothing is still important, but taking off shoes or putting on a hat is less so.

Be aware that the rules and customs differ sometimes. Priests wear hats because the ancient priests were the upper echelon of society and were respected. A charash (magic-worker) may wear a hat when calling upon the deities privately, and diviners performing divination should probably wear a hat. If you are upper-class, respected in society, or married, you may also want to consider wearing a hat to outdoor observances. Headbands are always good. Remember, wearing a head covering is an honor and a status symbol, not a form of oppression. If you know that a rite outdoors promises to be extra solemn, it wouldn’t hurt to wear a hat anyway.

What I Do

Because of my responsibilities and my role, I cover my head pretty much all of the time, unless in the privacy of my own home--and even then, I will typically have something within arm's reach. Sometimes I wear a beret, sometimes a bandanna, sometimes a long scarf, sometimes a wide expandable headband that goes over the top of my head instead of just encircling it. When I meditate or pray, I like using something akin to a prayer shawl to cover my head sometimes. Though this is more of a shawl or a wrap than a hat, I still use it to cover my head. (An added bonus of the shawl: you can use it to cover loved ones as you bless them: rather like wrapping them up in a big hug.)

I used to wear a hat or a scarf just for holy days and days of rest, for divination, when communicating with the rapi’uma, and when serving in a leadership or religious role. However for the past year I have worn something all the time. Because of what I do on a daily basis--serving the deities, aiding people, divination, divine communication, prayer, meditation, education, and outreach-- I discovered I pretty much had to have a bandanna with me all the time. I even got in the habit of stashing one in my purse until I realized this was ridiculous, and I decided that I might as well wear it all the time.

I choose to wear something on my head, not out of persecution and not because I’m a woman, but out of choice. I’m in a position of leadership, and thus I feel it is respectful to the deities, and symbolizes to other people my devotion to the deities.

On a personal note, I do feel a greater sense of napshu, of soul-strength, and of nobility, when I wear a head covering. The covering constantly reminds me of my relationship with the deities and, though this may sound strange, I feel better able to sense or experience them when I wear a head covering.

*The book The Rituals and Practices of a Jewish Life, edited by K.M. Olitzky, et al., has good chapters on both wearing the tallit and covering the head, from a Jewish perspective.

Today is:

Day 8 Ra'shu Yeni (month), Shanatu 84

Photo credits:

Photo is my own. Please do not reproduce without permission or proper credit. The photo is of my favorite headscarf which I embroidered in the Yemenite Israeli tradition.


  1. Thanks for this discussion; it's good to hear about my grandmother culture's (through you obviously) perspective on head covering. Being a Hebrew, I come through this as a Jewish practice, but never really related to always wearing it. When I pray/meditate I wear the kippa I got on my Bar Mitzvah to honor my most immediate ancestors. Just the whole bobby pin thing never made much sense to me just as an aesthetic choice and it's just bloody impractical to wear a kippa on a windy day!

    1. Hi, Aron, it's great to hear from you. As for wearing a headcovering on a windy day, I can totally relate. I've seen men wearing metal clips to help hold a kippah in place; since I've never worn one, I could not say how well it works. I now have two fine hat pins for hats and berets, and a few strategic bobby pins for scarves, but if it's really windy I have headbands. I don't know if there's a male equivalent to a hat pin. I recall a rumor that Harrison Ford in the Indiana Jones series stapled his hat to his head--granted I wouldn't advise that. ;-O

  2. Hi Tess,

    All I can think to say is "well put!" There is such an image right now that any woman who is covering her head is doing so due to oppression. I wear a head scarf going when I go to work (on the practical side of esoteric, it blocks out the worst of the annoyances I experience in my workplace) and am starting to consider wearing one more because I just LIKE it. It's nice also to see a reminder that men cover their heads for similar reasons as well.


    1. Hi, Soli, thanks. I agree with you there. There are many practical reasons to wearing a headcovering. Besides knocking out distractions at work, it does the same thing during meditation.

  3. Tess, Yemeni Jewish tradition has nothing to do with Canaanites. Most of Jews today are converts. The descendants of converts thought, with time, that they are Hebrews, not surprising when you know the nationalistic, tribal nature of Judaism.