Cultus is a multipurpose word in Latin. Its first meaning is “worship”, but it also can mean tending, keeping, and even be applied to matters of personal refinement and dress. Women’s cultus usually refers to these later meanings, as for Roman women, dress and ornamentation were vital markers of their public status and respectability.
Many Roman writers make commentary on women’s dress, cosmetics and adornment, either to praise women’s modesty and restraint or to complain of deceptions wrought by the cosmetic arts. There has been quite a bit of scholarly interest in women’s cultus due to modern women’s studies and so there are some recent explorations of the topic available including:
Dress and the Roman Woman: Self-Presentation and Society by Kelly Olsen (2009)
Roman Dress and the Fabrics of Roman Culture by J.C. Edmondson and Allison Keith (2002)
The World of Roman Costume by Judith Lynn Sebesta and Larissa Bonfante (2001)
The Christian writer Tertullian wrote about how Christians should dress differently than the gentiles around them, and of course we have the current conversations about whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear hijab in secular countries. All of this got me thinking about how a modern Roman Pagan woman might use dress to celebrate her dedication to serving her Gods. While it might or might not be fun to go about in tunic and palla and stola and vittae, it’s impractical for most of us as day wear.
Livia, a learned and generous contributor to the Religio Romana Cultorum Deorum Yahoo email list, recently shared a YouTube channel by jntvstp aka Janet Stephens. Stephen’s channel has Roman earring making and even more exciting for me, how to on some Roman women’s hairstyles.
It occurred to me that I could do my hair in various updos as a kind of private dedication, my own Roman-inspired cultus. Nobody on the street is going to look at my hair and say “there goes a Roman pagan who is arranging her hair as a dedication to Juno”. This pleases me. One of the things that distresses me about the hijab, snoods, Amish caps and the like is that they are very showy ways of marking oneself as “other”. Although the notion behind these items is that they help a woman be modest, in reality they are remarkable enough to draw attention that the wearer would otherwise not receive. I’m not quite at any point where I want to draw attention to myself and my religious choices by making a show of wearing a palla on the streets of America. The hairdo thing I think I can do without being overly showy, and that pleases me.
So from May kalends to June kalends, I’m wearing my hair in various updos as a dedication to Juno and a commitment to my personal cultus in several meanings of the word. Yesterday I wore my hair in double buns, which is a sort of default fancy hairdo for me. Today I did one bun with side braids. We’ll see how it goes for the rest of the month. Here’s today’s hair below. I think in the future I’ll do a weekly montage and not a daily hair post though, as I’m not *that* interested in hair!