Welcome to a more or less Celtic Reconstructionist blog, where love of the Old Gods is still strong

Freitag, 18. Mai 2012

Jewellery - Pros and Cons of Wearing Religious Symbols

Quite a lot of religious people of any denomination choose to wear symbols of your faith, either permanently or for special occasions – e.g. a hammer when you’re a Heathen, a cross when you’re a Christian, etc. 
 For today’s post, I’d like to delve a bit deeper into the reason of why people decide to wear such jewellery. There’s also an interesting aspect of why people choose to have their faith’s symbols tattooed onto their skin, but we’ll get there in my “T” post.

One of the reasons why I think wearing religious jewellery is a nice idea is that it helps others of the same faith to identify each-other – we see somebody also wearing a hammer and we might have been lucky to meet another heathen (however, s/he could just be into metal, but I’ll get there later).

Secondly, and this is quite an ambivalent point, wearing these symbols gives away important information about you. Just like with the way you dress, or you wear your hair, by wearing religious jewellery you inform your surroundings about where you’d like to be placed, i.e. in which box they should put you. Generally, people love categorizing things and people in boxes, since it helps them to make sense of the world around them (Pendry 2007: 114). For example, if you’re starting work in a lawyer’s office today, you might infer that the nice, well-groomed lady in a suit is a potential colleague, and that the lady in a normal dress who’s kneading her tissue in her hand is a potential client. Thus, forming categories of the world helps us to understand it and to react to other people. And if I can influence this process for others to understand me better and to get a more accurate picture of myself, so be it. Hence, I wear a hammer every so often, and I dress mostly in black, jeans, leather and biker boots, cause I’d rather be seen as a Helena Bonham Carter-esque rebel than as somebody who conforms to all of society’s rules.
 Helena Bonham Carter - this is the box I'd happily be put into
However – and I feel this is an issue needing to be stressed – wearing religious symbols can backfire terribly. Coming back to the situation when you meet this nice heathen fellow, you might be disappointed to realize the only thing they know about Odin is what was in that song by Manowar, and that they just donned the necklace because they found it was cool or because it was pictured on an album cover they liked. The same happens – and I believe far more often – with Celtic symbols. But then again, usually you don’t go up to random people in the street and start talking about the Goddess just because they are wearing a Celtic pendant. A more problematic issue is when people see the symbol you’re wearing and automatically class you as “evil,” “bad” or what-have-you and don’t bother to get to know you personally. This is sad, but that wouldn’t stop me from wearing a hammer – people like this would quite as easily find another reason why I don’t confirm to their standards, and I have no intention of changing myself to confirm to somebody else’s ideal of a human being.

On the other hand, wearing religious jewellery can help educate people about our faith. Around the time the first Thor movie was out, I went to a friend’s birthday party. Somebody saw my necklace, inquired about it, and suddenly we had a very nice, very enlightening discussion about paganism and what it means to the individual. I think that explaining to this one man what paganism was doesn’t change the world, but at least there will be one more individual who knows about us and that we don’t eat little children. So if all of this can be achieved simply by wearing a necklace, I’m all for it.
Can wearing a hammer pendant help people understand that Thor isn't like in the movies?

 However, I feel there are places where religion doesn’t really belong. In your free time, you can wear whatever you like, but just as there are dress codes for some jobs (think of them whatever you will; I don’t think most of them are necessary, apart from when the health of patients is concerned) I think there are situations where religion doesn’t have to play a role. In my workplace, for instance, we’re all about football, but I wouldn’t expect anyone to turn up in the morning wearing their team’s jersey, because ultimately, you come to the workplace to work, do your job well, and not to proselytize.
I’m by no means suggesting that religious discussions should be kept from the workplace – it’s only I feel that, especially when you’re new in your position like myself at the moment – non-committal subjects like football are safer and easier to talk about (you may strongly identify with your team, but religion usually goes much deeper than that). Thus, I’d suggest wearing smaller, less obtrusive versions of your chosen symbols. For example, I have this huge bronze hammer pendant, which is really very obviously pagan from a mile away; since I feel this is a bit much for work, I’m looking for a smaller, silver version at the moment.

Another thing that crossed my mind is that sometimes, your symbol of choice can be quite easily mistaken for something else. This happens quite often with pentacles, so be prepared that people might think you’re either Jewish or a Satanist, and be prepared to give a short, easy explanation why you’re neither and what your faith means for you.
 people sometimes do mistake this Star of David for a pentacle, so be prepared to explain what your faith means
Finally, if you’re unsure about whether your friends, relatives or colleagues would approve of you wearing a religious symbol, you might also want to consider wearing jewellery that is meaningful to you and your faith without openly stating it, so to speak (this might especially be important for teens living with a family of another faith). For instance, I’m wearing a braided leather bracelet that connects me to Odin – it doesn’t say “Heathen” straight away, and I can wear it to work without people commenting on my faith when I’m not ready or willing to discuss it (as I said, we’re all about football in the company, so I’d rather spend my break discussing the latest match instead of religion). Others might have a special set of earrings in the colour associated with their deity, or an item they bought while on holiday in their chosen deity’s country. I’ve also heard of objects blessed for specific purposes, let’s say being able to stay calm when dealing with customers, and worn to work. Those don’t have to look magical at all, but knowing they’re there might give you that push to get through the day without shouting at anyone.

So what do you do? Do you wear a symbol of your faith at all? Would others be able to recognize it? I’m assuming that, at least in Germany, if somebody wore a valknut most people would rather think they were supporting the German Football Association than that they are a devotee to Odin.
Or do you think that advertising a minority faith is too risky in your environment? I’m very interested to hear different opinions!
Blessed be,

Pendry, Louise. 2007. „Soziale Kognition.“ In: Stroebe, W., Hewstone, M., Jonas, K. (Hrgs.): Sozialpsychologie. 5. Aufl. Heidelberg: Springer, 111-145. [German edition]
Manowar - Sons of Odin: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8XIW_jUa-k

Pentacle: http://www.earthly-gems.co.uk/acatalog/pentacle-pendant-26110-1lge.gif
Thor's Hammer: http://www.jelldragon.com/images/sn_thors_hammer_necklace_1.jpg 
Helena Bonham Carter: http://www.freewebs.com/thedemonbarberoffleetstreet/Helena02.jpg
Thor movie: http://vervemedia.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Manchesters-Finest_thor-movie-440x326.jpg
DFB (German Football Association) logo: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/de/c/c0/DFB-Logo.svg

6 Kommentare:

  1. An excellent article! And I bet a lot of this depends on where you live, too. I'm in Arizona (very conservative state) but when I was in Tucson (a very liberal city in Arizona), I had no qualms about wearing whatever I wanted. I worked in a corporate gig, and, as there were people there wearing crosses, I felt perfectly alright in wearing my pentacles. And people thought I was Jewish ALL THE TIME! LOL

    But at the same time, I dressed in all black, long skirts and hippie shirts, boots, and had forest green hair, so I suppose the pentacle wasn't all that shocking.

    Today, I'm wearing a hematite donut and my medicine bag - not overtly pagan, but still pagan-y. These are working pieces, meaning there for a function, instead of expressive pieces. I'm looking forward to your post on Tattoos! I got one a few years ago of a pentacle that I'm really quite happy with and am curious to see what your research turns up.

    1. Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

      As you said, quite a lot of it depends on where you live. Me, I'm in Germany, where most people aren't that aware of paganism, let alone many different branches. So when you're wearing a pentacle, you're either a Satanist or an attention-seeking goth ;-) Since the Nazis used quite a lot of rune symbols, however, I'm a bit careful of wearing heathen emblems when I'm around new people who are important (such as a new boss), since you never know what they might think of you...

  2. I wear my heathen symbols whenever I feel like it :) Not to shove it into peoples' faces, but because I'm totally open about my tradition. Everyone I know, knows that I'm a heathen. I wear pretty normal clothes, so the only way it show, is on the occasions I wear jewelry.

    1. That's a healthy attitude towards it! I'm not too fond of waving your religious symbols in people's faces (this is basically what I meant by "there are situations where religion is not the first and most important topic"), but I wouldn't go out of my way to hide it, either. Anyway, your comment has inspired me to be more open about my faith and wear my hammer to the students' conference I'm going today. Let's see how it goes :-)

  3. I don't wear any jewellery of my faith because my mother is strict Catholic and I doubt she would understand when I tried to explain paganism isn't about devil worshipping. But I agree with both sides; feel free to wear whatever you wish, however there are times and places where religion is not necessary to publicize.

    1. I used to not like wearing religious jewelry around my relatives, too. But one day when having lunch with my grandma - whose daughter is a Protestant priest - I happened to wear a pentacle necklace. Instead of a fire and brimstone tirade, however, my gran was quite interested in what it meant and, as I explained to her I see it as representing the elements, actually liked it. So maybe you could find a less well-known symbol to wear, like Celtic ones that could be either Christian or Pagan?