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Posted by Catherine Cartwright Jones on September 6, 2002 at 18:19:38:

In reply to: Re: And her skull (hennaed hair!) posted by Angie on September 6, 2002 at 17:28:22:

: Incredible....we know henna was / is used to mark important
: passages, but why just the hands and feet?

Henna is the most useful
on hands and feet. Henna stains keratin betterh than other stuff. It
was used some on other body parts, vulva, nipples, face, hair ... but
the primary application is hands and feet simply because
1) henna stains best there
2) because of the arid biome, hands feet and hair needed the
antidessicant qualities of henna most as cracked hands and feet are a
total misery
3) hands and feet show.

: What significance do they
: have, as opposed to other body parts? I know I've read discussions
: of the reasons before, but what do hands and feet signify?

Well, that discussion is 20th century dreamy bullshit. You have to
look at it through THEIR eyes, not reconstructionist fluff . Can't do
feminist/new agey nor neoIslamic reconstructionism nor the "I'll tell
them what they want to hear" porridge served up to tourists. Gotta
get past that and into way earlier references. The women had veils,
kohl, harquus, to protect the face from malevolent spirits. They had
symbols woven into/embroidered into their clothing and tattooing for
the rest of their body to avert calamity. They had jewelery, amulets,
perfumes ... every single part of the body had some protection against
the malevolent world without. Life was perilous, and all that
ornamentation managed the peril. It was an expression of how
concerned women were that they'd make it through the next pregnancy
without both them and the infant being laid in the grave. Henna was
what worked on hands and feet.

:Did henna
: become a sacred plant / decoration because of it's use to decorate
: the hands/ feet/hair ( which were considered holy without? )

Henna was not sacred. Hands, feet and hair were not holy with or
without. Think in terms of an infinite number of levels of
vulnerability from an infinte number of threats, "not sacred and
profane". Hands and feet (and body orofices) were vulnerable to
pollution, therfore they needed protection and purification, and Henna
was purifactory, which is not the same as sacred. Running water was
also purifactory, and were used for similar purposes. Henna was a
visible marker that a purifactory was in place to avert vulnerability
to malevolent spirits, so you'd KNOW that the woman was actively
managing her risk of danger to herself and to others. Henna was used
as an ethnic marker, also.

: or did
: the henna, staining the skin with symbols of purification and
: protection, sanctify that which had a special prediliction to
: becoming "polluted"?

Well, you're closer there. The earth was where malevolent spirits
might dwell. A woman hennaed feet to protect them. IN an arid biome
a woman's feet cracked and bled all the time ... henna helped that.
The cracking and bleeding was proof that malevolent spirits were
attacking her feet, and henna was the purifactory that deterred them.
Hands touched food, feces, menstrual blood, urine, all sorts of
unclean things. Hands, in an arid biome, get infected cuts, cracks,
callouses, blisters, wounds ... and in this suburban life we're a
million miles away from that unless you've tried digging in the garden
all summer without soap, salve or anything. If the woman hennaed her
hands she was less likely to have cracked, bleeding, infected hands.
That demonstrated to her that she was managing her vulnerability to
malevolent spirits. Becuase henna was visible, people around her were
cued that she was a woman who took risk management seriously, and
would not be therefore likely to pass onto them disease, calamity,
depression, illness.

Other body parts? Vulvae were hennaed because that was an area of
great vulnerablity to evil spirits. Before a feast a navel was hennaed
to deter stomach upset. Henna dyed clothing managed other risks.
Henna in a well averted pollution and drought. Henna on farm animals
protected them from disease ............... the list is ohmigoddess
waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay long!

: It seems clear that these areas were seen as
: being susceptible to danger, both physical and spiritual; henna,
: staining well as it does, would be the perfect medium to protect and
: sanctify these parts by blessings and decoration.

Women had fingertip henna for daily wear, and had more elaborate henna
for events when there were geater risks to be managed.

: If Jezebel's hands, feet, and hair *hadn't* been hennaed, though,
: would the hounds have taken them too? Is a Middle-Eastern bride
: sanctified before marriage anyway if she isn't wearing henna?

The Canaanite woman of the 9th century would have prepared for a
sexual relationship, for a springtime religious event, for a harvest
religious event, for death, and for birth with about the same array of
body ornamentation. Saffron, perfume, braids, henna, harquus, kohl,
jewelery, etc. I can't be certain if this henna job was a pre-nup
(the eunuchs at the door would lend weight to that argument) or if
this was an anticipated coup de'tat and assassination. I've GOT to
find out what those dogs were up to!
: Perhaps the feet, being direct in contact with the earth,
: might have been dressed with blessings of protection, and the hands,
: because we express ourselves, attend to daily needs, touch others,
: and use them to communicate, are especially necessary for
: sacrilization ( is that a word?? ).

The touching is important here. If a woman is vulnerable to pollution
and presumed to be potentially infested with the evil eye ... she can
transmit that evil eye, even without volition, through touch or other
means. The hands that are hennaed are hands that are presumed to be
safe, less vulnerable, unpolluted.

And hounds...why not vultures,
: or sows? What significance do the hounds have?

Pigs were pretty much out of the picture in the 9th c BCE in
Palestine. It'd gotten too hot and dry to support pigs. Vultures ...
Logical, though in a busy city center, vultures are less likely to
come down. Gotta go look into dogs. They appear often with the
hennaed goddess...........

:If it were a taste
: thing, my own dog disproves that...she loves my hennaed hands ( and
: feet! Gross! ) The only link I can imagine metaphorically for the
: hounds is that they're mentioned in many cultures as being
: harbingers and guardians of the underworld, like Cyberus ( three
: headed hell-hound ).

Lets stick to Canaanite/Semitic stuff here. The other things just may
not be relevant. I'll go dig for original text (Ugaritic or such) on
their relationship with dogs. The Jews had dogs with herding. The
Canaanites showed women with dogs in some ritual iconography. I
believe Jews considered dogs very unclean, and I'm not certain of the
Canaanite position.

No fooling this is a BIG one!


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