Why did Slavic girls braid their hair?

Why did Slavic girls braid their hair?
Weaving a ribbon into the braids, the girl showed that she already had a fiancé

Why did Slavic girls braid their hair?

How to determine if a girl is free or already has a fiancé? Just look at her hair.

It was almost impossible to see a short haircut on the head of a Russian woman some century ago. Walking in society with loose hair was also not accepted – today it can be compared to appearing in the office in a nightgown. Women of all ages wore long hair, braided in braids.

Why did Slavic girls braid their hair?. Philip Budkin. The girl in front of the mirror. 1848 - National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus
Philip Budkin. The girl in front of the mirror. 1848 – National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus

Braids are status

One of the simplest at first glance hairstyles – a long braid – had a sacred meaning for women in Russia. First, it was clear whether a woman was free or in a relationship. An unmarried girl wore one braid, and when she had a groom, she weaved a bright ribbon into the braid.

Two ribbons meant that the girl’s parents had already agreed to the marriage.

But only married women could wear two braids. In Russia, there was a ritual of unweaving the braids on the eve of the wedding, which symbolized the farewell to the girl’s life. In some regions, the bride’s brother participated in the ceremony, in others – the groom himself, in the third – bridesmaids.

Girls during the holiday of Ivan Kupala. Why did Slavic girls braid their hair?
Girls during the holiday of Ivan Kupala

Since marital status obliged a woman to always cover her head, both braids fit into a cunning hairstyle under the headdress. And no one but the family could see her hair. If a woman did not get married (there were such cases, of course, too), then she wore one braid until old age.

A braid for a woman is like a beard for a man

A braid was considered a symbol of honor for a woman, as was a beard for a man: pulling a braid was considered a great insult. In Russia, the forcible cutting of a peasant’s scythe was a punishment for serious offenses – adultery, for example. And the punishment was determined by the peasant court.

At the same time, the girl could cut her braid herself as a sign of grief if her fiancé died. So she expressed to those around her unwillingness to get married. In some regions, there was a custom of giving a scythe: the girl gave it to her future husband, as if giving her life into his hands. If enemies attacked the village, the husband could take his wife’s scythe as a talisman.

Konstantin Makovsky. Down the aisle. 1890 - Serpukhov History and Art Museum
Konstantin Makovsky. Down the aisle. 1890 – Serpukhov History and Art Museum

All the power is in the hair

The Slavs had quite a few beliefs associated with hair. Mostly, they believed that they had life force, and therefore, you need to handle your hair with care.

Small children were not cut until a certain age (somewhere it was 3 years, somewhere even 5) and tried not to comb. And the ceremony of the first haircut was one of the main events in the life of a young Slav.

Girls from an early age learned to care for their hair and trusted to comb themselves and braid only close people. The thicker the braid (better to the waist and thicker in the hand), the more enviable the bride was. The girls diligently combed their hair in the evenings, restoring the energy spent during the day. Braiding a braid, one could read conspiracies for love or from the evil eye.

Still from the film Viy - Konstantin Ershov, Georgy Kropachev, Mosfilm, 1967
Still from the film Viy – Konstantin Ershov, Georgy Kropachev, Mosfilm, 1967
The Slavs also represented witches with loose hair – from mermaids to Baba Yaga.

If one braid filled only one girl with vitality, then two braids symbolized the lives of both their owner and her future children. Since ancient times, there are beliefs that pregnant women should not cut their hair. But this does not mean that in Russia they did not cut their hair at all.

To make their hair grow faster and be thicker, starting from the age of 16, the girls were trimmed the ends of their hair, and this could only be done on the growing moon. The cut hair could not be simply thrown away, so that witchcraft would not be put on the person – they were burned. By the way, girls in Russia still often check the lunar calendar when choosing a day for a haircut.

Loose hair was not only indecent to wear, but also dangerous – after all, the girl could be negatively affected by evil forces. True, on the pagan holiday of Ivan Kupala, girls could loose their hair, and precisely for “contact” with the world of spirits.

 

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