I've always been fascinated with hair burning. Here's what it looks like.
Why Do You Burn Shed Hair?
It's a form of physical and spiritual protection.
My great-grandmother said if shed hair is not burned or flushed, birds will collect and make a nest with it. Then you will always feel birds pecking at your head until you eventually go crazy. I do not know if this was just a funny story my great-grandmother told her granddaughter (my mother). But I do believe our hair has supernatural powers.
A viewer said...
"my mom told me the same thing but that's not the real reason. The reason is so that ppl don't take your hair and use it for witch craft." - La Original
I too have heard that hueman hair can be used for witch craft. Allegedly creating a voodoo doll that resembles you and has real-life parts (like your clothing or hair) gives the owner power over your real body. Meaning the creator can cause real harm simply by harming the doll. This isn’t a story passed down in my family, but I'm sure other cultures have different hair rituals and meanings behind them.
For context, my great-grandmother was of African and Native American descent. I'm not sure which part of her lineage practiced hair burning, but as a believer of oral traditions, I still burn our family's hair today.
So Hair Burning Is A Superstitious Tradition?
Absolutely!! ...in my humble opinion.
Some define superstitions as cooky ideas that don't have any real backing. But I believe superstitions are beliefs in the supernatural. The supernatural goes beyond what we can see and hueman understanding.
If you listen to the underlying message behind my great-grandmother’s story, hair burning protects our mental health. In her story it was a bird that could get inside your head and wreak havoc. In the voodoo tradition it was another person. And in the loc community, it's believed that hair absorbs energy. Which is why we have to protect our minds and our thoughts -- especially from negativity.
So while the primary function of hueman hair is warmth and protection. Meaning, our hair literally covers our head and keeps us warm. Hair's significance goes beyond the physical. Our hair is our spiritual crown.
In Beyonce's Black is King, she mentions our coils "catch our ancestors' prayers through smoke." Which means, lint and debris aren't the only things that get caught in our curls. Vibrations and divine messages do too. By burning our shed hairs, we are releasing our thoughts and centuries of prayers back into the Universe.
If you watch closely as the hair burns, you’ll see a white puff form within the coils then dance away in the wind. If you're thinking, fire almost always releases white smoke. You are right. But this smoke has traces and particles of hair that was once attached to our head -- it's a true collector of information -- a part of us.
Hair is so powerful in holding information, it's "scientifically" used to learn more about a person. For example, hair samples being used as a requirement for a job. According to a 2019 WBUR article, hair testing (also known as follicle tests) began in the 1990s. Samples are gathered by shaving or cutting a section of hair close to the scalp. If an individual is bald, according to National Drug Screening Inc, they can submit body hair (like from the armpit). The samples are then used for drug testing.
However, hair tests have recently been challenged for being bias. The medical world agrees more research needs to be done, but studies (like this one) revealed that certain substances easily bind to melanin. This finding is being used to demonstrate how people with darker hair do not have to ingest a drug, they can just be surrounded by it to test positive for that substance. These findings compliment the belief in the loc community that hair absorbs energy from our surroundings.
Nevertheless, many still believe hair testing may be more accurate and have a bigger window for measuring certain substances (compared to breath or urine). While hair testing is legal in some states (like Massachusetts), it hasn't been adopted everywhere.
So whether it's for medical or spiritual purposes, our strands carry vital information about who we are (and our past). And similar to how one wouldn't just throw away a document with personal information (like old mail). We know that there is a proper way to discard it (like shredding or burning it).
Another viewer offered a Christian perspective to the spiritual meaning behind hair burning. She said...
"The significance of burning hair is from one taking the Nazarite vow in Numbers 6. Once the vow has been completed, the Nazarite is to shave the hair off and burn it. Not superstition but spiritually significant to God as in story of Samson and Delilah. Apostle Paul also shaved and burned his hair upon completion of his vow in Acts 18. Although not taking a vow, my Auntie always burned her hair. I continue to do this practice as the Philistines obviously stole Samson's strength when they cut his hair which was sacred to God. Your hair is sacred to God but it's also desired by your enemy satan to do you harm. Therefore, continue to burn your hair ladies. Blessings" -kbleu2
I'm super grateful for kbleu2's comment, because she helped me dig deeper into hair's holiness. So I looked up the scriptures she mentioned. Here are the 3 references to hair and hair burning in the bible.
Numbers 6:5 (NIV), "During the entire period of their Nazarite vow, no razor may be used on their head. They must be holy until the period of their dedication to the Lord is over; they must let their hair grow long."
Numbers 6:7c (NIV) reads, "because the symbol of their dedication to God is on their head."
Numbers 6:18 (NIV) "Then at the entrance to the tent of meeting, the Nazarite must shave off the hair that symbolizes their dedication. They are to take the hair and put it in the fire that is under the sacrifice of the fellowship offering."
Kbleu2 also referenced Judges 16:17, which is the story of Samson and Delilah. Within the story Delilah learns that Samson's strength is in his hair -- which he had never cut.
Lastly, Acts 18, which is another biblical story referencing hair cutting. I'm not a Bible scholar, but the theme amongst these biblical scriptures seems to be that the hair is powerful, holds secrets to our strength and is strongly connected to the Divine.
How Do You Burn The Hair?
I collect shed hair from our drains, brushes and combs. We have a glass jar that we put all the hair in. When it gets full, I use matches or a lighter to ignite the hair. If you are considering burning your shed hair, always practice fire safety by fire-proofing the space, using a fire-retardant container and steering clear from any flammables.
Can You Burn Wet Hair?
No. It has to be super dry to catch fire. And dry hair burns really fast. If your shed hair is wet (like hair from your drains) let it air dry before burning.
Can You Burn Cut Hair?
Hair that has been cut (for example after a big chop or post locs) can be more difficult to burn. Hair that naturally sheds from the scalp is more sparse and is probably a smaller quantity, than the amount of hair you may cut. Shed hair is also at a different point in its life cycle than freshly cut strands. So when hair is prematurely cut, it may take a little more time to ignite. And you may need a slightly larger and stronger fire, like an outdoor pit to burn it. But don't take this phenomenon for granted. Witnessing the strength of your tiny strands (against the almighty air and fire) should make you proud.
Why Is My Hair Not Burning?
This can happen if you pack the hair too tight in the jar, cup or ash tray. Make sure there is adequate air flow. You can aerate the hair by lightly fluffing it up, before you burn it. It's also important that the container you use has a wide mouth (again for air flow).
If you've given your hair all the wind action it needs and it's still not burning, it could be the hair's texture and/or density. I've noticed thicker, tightly coiled hair burns differently than thinner, looser curls. If hair burning isn't working for you, according to my great-grandmother's story, you can also flush it. I'm not sure how flushing protects the hair from birds, especially since the hair eventually ends up on land, but I'm simply sharing what I was told.
How Long Does The Hair Take To Burn?
It depends on how much shed hair you have. A handful of strands takes a few seconds. If you collect a bunch of hair and burn it all at once, this may take longer.
How Do You Douse The Fire?
No need to put the fire out. Ash smothers fire. So once you ignite the hair, the fire will fizzle out by itself.
In fact, that was my favorite part as a child. Watching my mom roll my shed hair into a fluffy ball. She'd put that soft ball in her ash tray. Then light it and I'd watch it magically fizzle away.
Even though hair burning is self-consuming, NEVER leave any fire unattended. Wait until you see no sign of flames. You can also stir and crush the ashes to make sure there are no signs of spark.
What Do You Do With The Ashes?
You can keep them, bury them, scatter them, or flush them.
Keeping your burned hair can be similar to keeping a diary or journal. The ashes are basically your thoughts and energy from a past time, which you may want to hold on to. You can also bury or scatter your ashes. Consider choosing a site that has a special meaning for you. And then create a ritual around releasing your ashes back to Mother Nature.
Lastly, if you don't have access to an outdoor space, you can always flush your burned hair. Check your local water and sewer website for what not to flush. Some cities and towns may discourage flushing hair balls in their natural state, because they do not break down in water. The hair may get stuck or clog pipes. Which is why burning before you flush can be a better option.
How Do You Get Rid Of The Smell?
The smell doesn't bother me, in fact it's quite nostalgic. But I can totally understand why others dislike it. If you are not a fan, burn the hair outside in the direction of the wind. That way the scent isn't in your home, on you, or your clothes. You can also try an ashtray with a lid, to quell lingering smoke.
Do you use fire in your hair routine? What other hair traditions do you have in your family?
Until next time...
Love The Journey,