Body, Mind & Spirit

The History and Significance of Scarves and Veils

Published on December 19, 2016

Article by Sarah Ban for Bodhi Tree

Gargantuan scarves are popular with privacy-seeking celebrities deplaning at LAX, as well as the rest of us seeking cozy comfort on chilly nights and long flights. Consider them security blankets of sorts: warm, fuzzy and practical. Indeed, this simple rectangular cloth serves both function and fashion. But you may not know that scarves are a deeply spiritual symbol of protection, connection and empowerment.

The Dance of the Seven Veils

Veiling sacred objects was a holy practice, explains shamanic energy healer and spiritual mentor Pam Hale Trachta. Many ancient cultures have a story about a goddess who travels to the underworld to seek a loved one, from the Greek myth of Demeter heading to Hades in search of her daughter Persephone to the Egyptian tale of Isis and Osiris. As the goddess travels to the underworld, she typically passes seven gates, shedding a veil at each one. Every veil represents a connection to the earthly world, and by removing them, the goddess bares her true, naked self, explains Monika Nataraj, creator of the Mystical Dance program of sacred and ritual dances.

According to the legends, when the goddess strips herself bare to travel to the underworld, death and winter shroud earth. As she puts her veils back on and returns to earth, spring arrives. The traditional Dance of the Seven Veils (the origin of the modern-day strip tease) was an interpretation of the goddess’ journey and physical transformation, says Nataraj, who travels the world teaching and performing spiritual dance.

The seven gates can also represent the seven chakras, adds Trachta, who spearheads Lifting the Veils retreats across the country, where women are encouraged to “lift their veils” and reveal their inner truth, beauty, wisdom, love and power. “We use this metaphor to say we’re stripping off the veils that hide our essence, but then we’re putting on the veils that are mantles of our power,” she tells Bodhi Tree.

Veils as Traditional Religious Symbols

Although strip teases have now lost their spiritual meaning, the holy act of veiling has evolved to many other practices. Muslim women wear hijabs (which means “cover” or “curtain” in Arabic) that disguise their head and chest as a way to fulfill God’s commandment of modesty and shyness. Jews wear tallits, tasseled prayer shawls, to serve as a reminder to live by the laws of Judaic tradition. Catholics also don shawls during prayer, and some ecumenical believers use shawls as a symbol of unity among all Christian churches. The keffiyeh, a black-and-white checkered scarf, has become a symbol of Palestinian nationalism. And in some traditional Hindu weddings, the groom’s scarf is tied together with the bride’s sari during the ceremony to symbolize their bond.

Scarves with Personal Meaning

Even if you don’t regard your scarf as a holy object, you probably still value it for some special purpose, whether adornment or practicality. Think of the classic red, black and beige Burberry plaid adding a splash of prestige to a black winter coat. “It’s a symbol, or a talisman, of that energetic connection that we have with each other,” says Nancy Mills, founder of the Sisterhood of the Sacred Scarves, who sells symbolic, limited-edition prayer scarves to connect women all over the globe. Mills blesses each of her scarves and considers them “a symbol of spirit, empowerment and beauty.” According to Mills, her scarves are a physical representation of the sisters who support you; they are literally “on your back” and have “got you covered.”

Scarves can also be meaningful because of their energy. Everything has energy, explains Trachta, even clothing, which is why we mysteriously choose or reject certain items in our closets; it may have to do with the energy clinging to it. On the other hand, a scarf chosen for its positive energy can make a huge difference. If you wear a particular scarf as you meditate, for example, then you imbue positive energy into it, Trachta says. “So the next time I meditate, I’m going to put it on again because I’ve infused it now with calm, love and gratitude.”

Regardless of how you choose to wear a scarf, whether it’s for warmth or a deeper spiritual connection, find one that holds meaning to you. As Trachta says, “It’s not just about how we look, but how we want to feel.” Find the one that makes you feel happy, connected or empowered and shroud yourself in its protective strength.

Published on: December 19, 2016

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