Dreadlocks have a past that is shrouded in mystery and ancient wisdom. It is unclear where the twisted locks originated, but they are thought to have roots dating back as early as 3600 years ago with the Minoan civilization in Crete, Greece. Other cultures such as the Egyptians and Indians were thought to have recognized the power of dreadlocks. Mummified remains of Egyptian royalty have been uncovered with matted or braided hair, and there are even bible passages describing the mystic properties of knotted hair.
As far as the origin of the name "dreadlocks," it is suspected to have come from the followers of a movement in Jamaica that followed the teachings of the bible, African tribal culture, and Hinduism, which had become popular in the area. Due to their respect and fear of God, these men and women of the movement referred to themselves as "Dreads," and their twisted hair style became known as "dreadlocks." Once the group found a connection with an Ethiopian Emporer Ras Tafari, the group became known as Rastafarians.
Connection to Wisdom
Dreadlocks are perceived as a connection to wisdom, and many believe that the head and hair are spiritual energy conductors. According to the Rasta views, the locs are believed to be a part of the Nazarite vows of Leviticus, which cautioned against shaving the head's four corners. Locs also have connections to the Lion of Judah, which represents the power and strength of a person.
Traditionally dreadlocks could be symbolic of a follower's understanding that their physical appearance is unimportant and their disregard for vanity. It signified that they would not be distracted from a path of wisdom and their religion. In both Eastern and Western traditions, they believed that spiritual energy would emanate from the top of the head and hair, and dreadlocks could act as a conduit. Now, dreadlocks are both a beautiful way to wear your hair and a way to hold your spiritual beliefs.
Dreads as Rebellion
Dreadlocks are not only a way to house divine energy, as some believe. Dreads have been a way to show rebellion to authority with nonconformity and nonviolence. In the 1930s, Ras Tafari became the emperor of Ethiopia. When Ras Tafari was exiled during an enemy invasion, his followers vowed never to cut their hair until he was reinstalled to his rightful throne. The followers, or Rastafarians, believed that the emperor of Ethiopia was the messiah or God incarnate.
Rastafarians used their hair as a form of rebellion against their British colonizers' enforcement of hairstyles. This rebellion was also a way to connect more deeply with their beliefs and share camaraderie with each other. Dreads were a tool for Rastas to symbolize their contempt for the starchy British ways and to hold their Afro-centrist leanings, natural living, and loving ideologies closer.
Rastafarians developed as a movement in Jamaica in the 1930s as a social movement with religion at its core. The movement focused heavily on the African diaspora and freeing themselves of Western influence which they referred to as "Babylon." The Rastafarians refer to Africa as the cradle of civilization known as "Zion." Rastafarianism has many spiritual practices such as communal "groundations" meetings, smoking ganja, pure diet, and of course, twisting their hair into dreadlocks.
Rastafarians have a worldview that is not based on any dogma. They instead believe in intuition and spiritual exploration as the path to truth. They believe heavily in the messages within the bible and believe in the second coming of "Jah," as they have named God. They believe that the bible has been corrupted over time and translations, and they believe that the true message can be found by meditation on the "book within."
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Reggae music is now a popular art form that became popular as it spread the spiritual messages of Rastafarianism. Reggae originated in Jamaica in the 1960s and was similar to ska, taking influence from black jazz and rocksteady music.
Reggae became a powerful tool to spread the gospels of peace and Rastafarian beliefs across the world. Perhaps the most popular reggae musician of all time, Bob Marley, became an icon with his music and long dreadlocks. Bob Marley became beloved internationally as he spread the messages of the Rastafari. Thousands of believers and reggae musicians have worn dreadlocks in part because of his huge influence.
Rastafarianism is not the only religion to believe in the power of dreadlocks. Hindus practice Jaṭā, or dreadlocks, as a vital part of their beliefs. Sadhus (close to monks or holy men) wear dreadlocks to emulate the deity, Shiva. Shiva is described as the primal soul of the universe. He is depicted as a Yogi with a mighty head of dreadlocks as the ancient mythology cites that he took the weight of the mighty Ganges river in his hair.
The bible references the power of hair most think to be dreadlocks with connections to Moses, John the Baptist, and Samson. Samson's strength was compromised when his seven locks of hair were cut off, signifying that his hair held great power. The passages describe letting no razors touch the heads of Nazarites to keep themselves pure.
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Dreadlocks have significant spiritual meanings in different cultures. The most commonly thought of instances in the West are Jamaicans and Rastafarians who grow long hair in the symbolism of the Lion of Judah and keep a pure way of living. Dreadlocks have become popularized in many countercultures that like the rebellious nature, and icons like Bob Marley inspired people across the world to wear dreads as they connected with the messages of love, peace, and spiritual growth.