Why should the simple act of cutting off one’s hair feel so charged with drama? Hair would seem to have mysterious properties, for we remember that mighty Samson was conquered by the simple act of having his hair forcibly cut off. In Samson’s case, it was an act of treachery by Delilah. The woman betrays the man, and the man is robbed of his power. But this is not the case with Mary Magdalene. The act is here clearly a voluntary one: she is cutting off her own hair. It feels like – and is – an act of penitence. A true gesture of penitence brings with it the blessing of redemption, and so far we are on familiar orthodox ground. Mary Magdalene, the fallen woman, is redeemed by her deeply-felt penitence. But for whom does the Magdalene really cut her hair?
If such a gesture moves us to the extent which it does, then it would seem to point to something beyond a mere penitent shedding of locks. A woman’s tresses – or perhaps more specifically: a woman’s tresses that are on view – have traditionally been associated with wantonness. More than one culture which has its basis in religious tradition has insisted that a woman must keep her hair concealed from view, because to reveal her hair is construed as a come-hither signal. But by whom? Such cultures are without exception male-dominated: cultures in which men have made the rules to which women must adhere. And keeping to such rules is dictated by the consequences of a loss of a woman’s good reputation. It is a simple rule through threat, and ostracism can be a powerful weapon.
Traditionally, Mary Magdalene’s loosely-worn hair is a sign of her fallen nature. But if the sacrifice of Jesus redeemed all, then if it is truly so that we are all one, then so must the sacrifice of the Magdalene’s. The blades of the scissors close, and the long tresses fall to the floor with a telling finality. Perceiving that her own reputation will be tarnished by orthodox thinking throughout the centuries, the Magdalene, the closest and most trusted of all the followers of Jesus, cuts off her hair for the wrongs done to, the prejudices towards, the transgressions against, the inequalities endured by, all women.
Today, July 22nd, is traditionally Mary Magdalene’s day.