The Magic Hood

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August 19, 2014 by lucieromarin

Well, the first thing to say about headcoverings is that they, as a topic, are relevant to about 0.1% of Western Catholic women; I don’t know what the stats are for the East, but nothing in this post should be taken as representative of the contemporary experience of Catholicism. This is pure self-indulgence on my part; I’m writing about chapel veils and hats because I like them.

A non-religious friend once asked me why I covered my head in church. My answer went round and round in incoherent circles, increasingly annoying to her, until I blurted, “When I go to do my magic thing, I put on my magic hood.” At this, she nodded, and said, “Oh, right. That makes sense.”

The real object of headcovering is the channelling of your internal and external senses and powers to a single direction, which is the sacred liturgy into which you enter, and the sacred act performed before you. To draw your Magic Hood over your head is a powerful act, preparing your mind and heart for the Magic Thing. Women are trained to think that how we look to other people (and especially to men) is important, and, for some women, it is a consuming question. However, once that hood goes up, you silence the voice which wants other people to notice you, to like your haircut, to envy your perfect skin; the only thing that matters is the sanctuary before you, and what God has to say to you in the private sanctuary of your mind, now veiled as the tabernacle is veiled, housing its God within. I’ll grant you that covering is not absolutely necessary, which is why you shouldn’t have scruples about it or get bullied into it; at the same time, making sure you’re clean before you go to Mass is not absolutely necessary either…but it’s better to be clean.

There are two kinds of mantillata – one is the woman who wears her one mantilla all the time, and never thinks anymore about it, because she’s praying. The other is the woman who cares whether or not her headcovering matches her outfit, and, as such, has a drawer full of scarves, snoods, mantillas, and a cloche for special occasions. I am in the second category. I can’t help it. I like things to match! Also, in my own defence I will say that viewing the Mass from the choirloft means you see everyone’s headcoverings all at once, which makes it a lot easier to be distracted by the fascinating variety! All the colours and styles! Is it pinned, tied, or left loose? Does it glitter or is it dark and subdued? Where did you get it from? Does it match your skin? Is that jaunty angle of your beret deliberate? Why does that snood look so good on you and so terrible on me? Yeah, well, this isn’t a saint’s blog. Which is why I don’t hesitate to add that if you don’t like the thought of spearing your mantilla with a pin, but you can’t keep as scarf on your head, look for something made of lyocell. My most perfect, perfect, beloved covering is a long scarf of dusty pink lyocell; not only does it have the most exquisite drape, it just does not move.

The internet gives a false impression about the expansion of the headcovering ‘movement’ – but it’s not an entirely false impression; such contributors as there are are younger, kinder, and happier than they were ten years ago, and their motives have changed. It’s no longer two or three choleric married women writing about the need for obedience and what colour your mantilla ought to be; it’s young women, both married and single, talking about the Blessed Sacrament, about the liturgy, and also about the fun. They’re enjoying talking berets-vs-lace; they’re creating small businesses out of it, rescuing vintage mantillas or designing their own; and, most interesting to me, they’re swapping thoughts with women outside Catholicism about it.

I used to belong to an online group for women for whom some kind of veiling was important. It was fascinating. Between Muslims, Jews, Protestants, Quakers, pagans, and Catholics, the universality of certain aspects of veiling became clear; the aspects particular to each culture became clearer, too. The group did not number in its thousands and was not representative of any sweeping global movement, but it was interesting that it existed at all.

Veiling in and of itself does not make you a better Catholic than anybody else, or guarantee that you’re receiving more graces than the woman beside you. At the same time, the spiritual universe is very deep and very wide, and we cannot just barge into it as we might from the kitchen to the dining room. Liturgical words, gestures, chants and furniture are all powerful; so I suppose it makes sense that a liturgical thing exclusive to women, with two millennia behind it and the image of Our Lady alongside it, should open the door to its own treasury in that universe.

I love the headbands here, but have learned through bitter experience that I am a) too old, b) too-short-haired and c) too long-faced to look good in them. And alas! (as it were). We only (as it were) cover in chapel, so there will never be a Catholic Wrapunzel. I love tichels. Is that kind of dorky in a Catholic?



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