Tuesday, April 5, 2016

An Esoteric History of Red Hair: Introduction

[What follows is the first draft of my book An Esoteric History of Red Hair. I've uploaded the chapters in reverse order so that they appear in their correct sequence.]

This book is a collection of all the interesting bits and pieces of information about red hair that I've gathered over the course of the last ten years or so. My interest in the subject began in childhood really. As a child I had red hair myself (it's darkened somewhat with age) and several of my family members were also redheads. This made me acutely aware of how differently redheads were often viewed by both themselves and other people. I also often wondered where in history this difference originated.

However, my interest really blossomed after I published a short article on-line detailing some of the myths associated with the hair colour, and some of the famous historical figures in possession of it. The article, although it was a bit of a throwaway piece, generated much more interest and web traffic than anything else I'd written at that time. That made me realise that there must be a lot of people, like myself, interested in the topic and actively searching on-line for information and answers about it. Seeing this unfilled vacuum I then decided to start collecting and searching out information about red hair in order to set up a website, which I eventually did. I've now been maintaining that website (somewhat half-arsedly) for the last six or seven years now, along with a blog about red hair, and I've continued keeping an eye out for any interesting information relating to red hair throughout that time.

Since then popular interest in red hair seems to have grown much more. There are now several websites on-line dedicated to it - most of them much more sleek and professional than mine. On top of this there seems to have been a renewed appreciation of red hair in the mainstream media, with a plethora of red-haired celebrities and artists now occupying the top-tier of celebrity culture. It's difficult to judge whether this image change for red hair is a permanent one, or whether it's just a passing trend. Either way it'll be interesting to see what happens over the next few years or so. At the moment however I'm concentrating on looking backwards in time rather than forwards, and that's the general theme of this book - the history and mythology of red hair. I also add a fair bit of my own speculation about all this along the way.

Before I finish this brief introduction though I'd like to just take a minute to weave a few words of caution. When I think back to when I was a child my main interest in red hair came not from any aesthetic appreciation of it, or in fact from any feeling that it was anything special at all. It was only of interest to me in that other people sometimes treated me differently because I had it. Sometimes it was just playful teasing, other times it was more barbed. Either way I just wanted equal treatment, and wondered why redheads weren't getting it. Was red hair really that different? Was there something wrong with red hair? I guess originally I wanted it not to be an issue at all.

However, I now sometimes worry that my initial interest in red hair, born out of that frustration, has now developed into an active attempt to glorify red hair. Lauding it as not just equal to, but better than other hair colours. So before I start this book I'd like to put a dampener on that idea and state that although it's fun to look at the history of red hair, and some the wacky ideas associated with it, it's probably best not to take it all too seriously. After all, it's just a colour.

Obviously, being a redhead myself I find it hard not to resist the temptation to massage my own ego by telling myself that red hair is inherently brilliant, and that by extension I'm brilliant too. In fact, maybe deep down this entire endeavour stems from a desire to improve my own self-worth in my eyes and in the eyes of other people. So it's worth bearing in mind my own personal biases before we start, and at least try to avoid falling into that trap.

When we delve into the topic of human hair colour and skin tone it's easy to wander into issues of race and origin. In this book I sometimes wonder where red hair originated and discuss some of the ideas that people have had about that question. Did it originate with one particular group of humans at one particular point in time? Or has it popped up in varying places and times independently? These questions are interesting, but ultimately they are all quite superficial ones.

For the record, I generally believe that different hair colours are simply an inevitable part of the natural variation in humans. If we look at other mammals - cats, dogs, horses, cattle - the same hair colour range can be seen that we see in humans - black, brown, red, rusty, fair, sandy, blond, white. In fact, it would be quite weird if we didn't see this variation in us as well.

So yeah, hopefully you'll enjoy this book, but don't take it to heart too much. By all means love red hair, but love it as a variation on a divine theme, rather than as something divine above all things else.

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