Comparative Religion

Is a Hat Worn for Spiritual Reasons

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"Is a Hat Worn for Spiritual Reasons"
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I can remember my grandfather's fedora hat like yesterday. He had two colors "brown and brown." He wore his hat every time he went outdoors. He was bald, so it was probably meant to protect his head from the sun. I do not think there was any real spiritual symbolism for him.

But hats have been worn throughout history. I have examined the psychology of wearing hats because I cannot go outside with some type of hat covering my head. At first I thought it was just a habit (no nun's pun intended). But the more I dwelt on the subject I learned wearing a covering over the head has its spiritual connotations.

A hat worn outdoors or indoors reminds us that there is something greater - above and beyond - the head which houses our brains. And that greater something is God! The symbolic meaning is that God transcends our body, mind and Spirit.

For centuries hats have held to high regard in our society. They have the power to transform, to identify and to protect us. They can connote authority or status. They are used during rites of passage.

Hats have been used to alter the image of a celebrity, intentionally and unintentionally. Legendary Alabama coach Paul 'Bear' Bryant's black and white hound's-tooth hat comes to mind. His hat is still worn by the Alabama football nation. I have one of his hounds'-tooth hats hanging on a hat rack.

Hats have even passed through the mere physical realm into the philosophical one. Hats,whether we have noticed or not, have infiltrated society since early civilization and changed the way we look at ourselves and others.

Hats in our everyday lives are worn for many different reasons. Some are worn for protection. Hockey players and construction workers alike wear helmets to protect their noggins on the job. Large, floppy sunhats, baseball caps, big, wool toques and fluffy, wind-breaker hoods are worn to protect against the elements.

For Jewish men, the primary question is whether or not to cover the head. This practice has evolved from a minhag (custom) of the very pious to an accepted norm, incumbent on all observant males. Talmudic law does not require covering the head, though there are hints that doing so is to be regarded as a sign of reverence. But the practice became more and more widespread, until by the Middle Ages Jewish legal authorities everywhere were unanimous that sacred words (prayers, words of Torah) could not be spoken, nor sacred precincts (synagogues, houses of study, even cemeteries) entered bareheaded. Today, too, there is complete halakhic [Jewish legal] agreement on this question.

In Europe, it was the universal custom among Orthodox Jews, except for some in Germany, to do so indoors and out. The most orthodox even did it while sleeping. In the Near East there was greater latitude in the matter, and many religious Jews only covered their heads for sacred activities. Keeping the head covered at all times has a mystical significance, leading some to cover their heads twice-a hat over kippuh (skullcap) or a prayer shawl over a kippah-while praying.

In the case of Jewish women, too, there is, in addition to a general requirement of modesty of dress, a specific one concerning covering the head. Married women are required to cover their hair. This is an ancient law, already hinted at in the Torah, which has been observed among Jews all through the ages. In some communities, even unmarried women have been known to keep their hair covered, though this custom never became widespread. The law is not related to that requiring men to cover their heads, and it is even more stringent. The fact that a married woman covers her hair whenever she leaves the house is a sign of her special status.

Amish men wear broad-brimmed hats of black felt. The width of the brim and hat band and the height and shape of the crown are variables which gauge the orthodoxy of the group and individual wearer. A wide brim, low crown, and narrow hat band denotes the oldest and most traditional style. Within church groups, one's age and status is often reflected by the dimensions of one's hat. For warm weather, straw hats are preferred by plain men.

Men's hats also tend to make a symbolic statement. The most notable being the formal tall stiff top hat representing the authority of the bourgeoisie and aristocracy and those who were involved in the professions and trades and the informal soft trilby felt hats which symbolized democracy and revolution and were generally associated with intellectuals, artists and country life.

I am unlike my grandfather who had only two colors "brown and brown." I have an equal number of baseball caps and dress hats of all colors worn on special occasions. They are called a driver's cap by some in the United Kingdom. Some even call it a 'go to hell hat,' in the South.

Why, then, do I wear a hat outdoors?

It is part of my cultural heritage. Besides I do not want my hair blown out of place by the wind. Or for spiritual purpose, I wear it as a reminder that God transcends me in body, mind and Spirit.

More about this author: John Cargile

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