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First Haircut

First Haircut (postriziny) – a traditional, present in many cultures, ritual of shaving/cutting hair of a child, often connected with giving a name as well. It is probably the most popular and well known example of so called rites of passage (A. van Gennep „Les rites de passage”, eng. „Rites of passage”) which caused a change from a social status of a child to accepting him to the group of adults.

first haircut
Author: Mirogniewa

 

On the Slavic area, boys had been through the ritual of the First Haircut (postriziny) most commonly at the age of seven, however, some sources claim that there’s a range from three to twelve years. When it comes to the name, that was given during the rite, researchers don’t fully agree with each other. Some of them proves, that the name was the same as the one used to call a child from the date of his birth. The others think, the child was either nameless until the first haircut, or had a temporary, protective name, such as Nielub, Niemoj and the “proper” name was given to him during the ritual and it could also predict the fate of a person or point out some features (e.g. Bogumił – nice to God/fate, Wojciech – enjoying a fight).

First haircut was a ritual, when a young boy went from mother’s care to father’s. Most often father was the one who cut a child’s hair (in some cases, it was zerca – slavic priest). From then on, a boy became a part of the family as well as the society in general. First Haircut, along with the majority of other holidays and sublime celebrations, couldn’t get by without a feast, where many people were invited. So it’s clear to see how the ritual of making a ceremonial haircut was important  to the former Slavics.

fisrt haircut
First haircut, source: mediaevalia-rozembark

 

A ritual of the First Haircut can be seen in two planes – the culture of magic and the social, pragmatic behaviours (both of course have a lot in common). In the first case, we’re dealing with a situation, where a child is a kind of a formless character with an uncertain status, in a close relationship with the underworld’s zone and a wild order of nature, finally by the First Haircut, it becomes a part of the society and is included in the sphere of the culture (therefore, changing/giving a name to the child – there’s no longer a threat associated with a close company of chaos and underworld). Such dualism also has its social-pragmatic dimension. A child is under a special care until it’s big enough to be relatively independent and safe. It allows, at least to a certain extent, to fight with  a high mortality of children in Middle Ages. Also, after the rite of First Haircut, a young boy starts to learn craft, hunting and other things, necessary in adulthood, which prepares him to the role of a father and a head of a family, it’s a first step to independence.

burning hair cut
Burning hair cut, source: mediaevalia-rozembark

 

A long lineage and the importance of the First Haircut is proven by mentions about this rite, e.g in Chronicle of Gallus Anonymous. The First Haircut was experienced by those high-born (Mieszko I) as well as ordinary people (Siemowit, son of Piast). Therefore, it was a ceremony celebrated among all social groups. There are some echoes of the First Haircut that had survived till today. People cut their hair if they’re about to join the monastery or army. However – there are voices which claim that in contrast to the traditional slavic Haircut, in these cases it is more about a sign of serfdom. Nonetheless it’s hard not to agree that when it comes to cutting boys’ hair there’s also this aspect, because they come under father’s care, so in some way they put themselves under his authority. Modernly we can talk about some rebirth of this rite, because such celebrations are more and more often organized and kids get their symbolic haircut. It’s worth to note that there are people from different cultures and religions who take part in such rites, which shows its unifying and universal character.

Przeczytaj oryginalny polski artykuł o obrzędzie Postrzyżyny.

first haircut mieszko I
Ziemowit’s first haircut (Mieszko I)
reproduction: Piotr Mecik / FORUM

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