The art of Sacred Adornment:
Updated: Jan 23, 2019
Since the dawn of humanity, both men and women have taken certain measures to enhance their physical appearance, ranging from elaborate jewellery (as indicated in archaeological finds in Egypt), to make-up (e.g., kohl and mineral pigments such as red ochre and malachite used in ancient Egypt and Greece), to tribal jewellery, accessories assembled from animal parts, face painting and body modification, the latter forming the symbolic basis of many initiation rites and/or shamanic wear in both modern and ancient indigenous cultures. Adorning ourselves seems to be as old as humanity itself, however, we have to ask the question as to when the act of adorning becomes sacred or holy? As with most things in life, intention is what usually distinguishes the sacred from the mundane, if we want to entertain duality for a moment.
Probably the most we extreme we can get in the discussion of the polar opposites surrounding adornment is to firstly consider modern-day, Western, “patriarchal” society, especially for women, where we follow strict weight control diets, apply chemical-containing make-up, wear restricting fashion items and in extreme cases even undergo plastic surgery to uphold a specific (Western) idolised “look”. This would then somehow ensure status, appreciation, approval and love from especially the opposite sex (hypothetical heterosexual scenario). Although I have come a long way since the age of 13, with seeking the approval from mainly men - using make-up to blemish acne, wearing uncomfortably high heels, wearing revealing and provocative clothing, struggling alone with eating disorders and exposing my skin to dangerously high UV levels for hours in the quest to be tanned – I still have to be vigilant as to not embody the fairy tale of Snow White and the seven dwarfs in the form of the evil queen: Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? In this way adornment can serve as a mask, covering up our insecurities in an artificial and temporary way. It makes me so sad to witness the constant competition and comparison between young girls and women, based on physical attributes alone, when the antidote or at the very least the antithesis, is an invitation of sisterhood and celebration of womanhood by each other.
Following from this notion is the opposite side of the afore-mentioned spectrum, where adornment is made sacred by way of ritual. For example, in Hindu culture, since over 5 millenniums ago, adornments are placed on different parts of the body to amplify the particular “sound vibration” of a chakra, associated with the corresponding area of the body. To be exact, a set of 16 locations on the body called Shringar (hairdo, hair accessories, spot in between the eye brows, eyes, lips, tongue, nose, ear lobes, neck, Mehndi, hands, arms, fingers, waist, anklets and toes), provides places to decorate in honour of the Goddess Lakshmi, goddess of inner and outer wealth and embodiment of beauty, grace, and charm.
I have slowly but surely transitioned from using hormone-disruptive, chemical containing cosmetics and make-up to using all-natural products. Contrary to what I expected, natural and even organic make-up is largely inexpensive, and consist of natural compounds such as minerals, dried flower powders, essential oils, charcoal, plant-based powders, beeswax, and coconut oil. If you have the resources to treat yourself to Dr Hauschke products, I highly recommend this range as it is not only organic but the plant-based ingredients are also based on biodynamic agriculture – in accordance with Nature’s rhythms and energetic principles originally compiled by Rudolf Steiner. Personally the act of applying make-up and jewellery centers and grounds me every single time as a meditation, and is a celebration of the goddess in general, and specifically Mama Gaia, in that I am conscious of the fact that I am applying extractions directly sourced from Mother Nature, on my skin, essentially putting the essence of Her body, on my body. Apart from it being a form of self-care, applying natural make-up is in and of itself a sacred ceremony which I get to experience every day. This is in addition to wearing jewellery and accessories which I myself had made, or which was a creative expression from a friend, many of which items consist of semi-precious stones.
The epitome of this personal ritual is when I dress up for a tribal fusion belly dance show, the latest one having been our SOMA belly dance company’s hafla. Over and above the meticulous body isolations to music from modern developments in the electronica and world music genres, adornment typically involves smoky, dark, eye make-up, tribal Afghan jewellery, elaborate head pieces, and props such as masks, snakes, and swords, making for a spectacular theatrical performance. The setting of our hafla was in the garden of our teacher, on a farmland with a stunning view of Table Mountain. These gatherings are also informal where we mostly dance for each other as sisters of a dance tribe, and close family, with the dances involving improvisation and little practice. This is akin to how traditional belly dance was performed: informally dancing for other women in sisterhood, and often in preparation for childbirth or recovering from childbirth. Traditionally, this was the bonding time for women, away from household chores and the demands of the rest of society, where women’s cortisol and oxytocin levels could be regulated in the company of other women. In addition, the circular movements and undulations of this particular dance form encouraged the Chi (energy) to flow and spiral through the chakras, removing energetic blockages in especially the sacral chakra, thereby keeping gynaecological issues at bay.
How dance performances translate to sacred adornment for me personally, is the connection with temple dance. For example, in classical Indian Odissi dancing, the dancers dance for Lord Vishnu in His Jaganath avatar, as well as an audience, using mudra to convey particular Vedic past times. In this way, the dancer becomes a conduit of the Divine, embodying different aspects of the Goddess and taking the audience on a life changing journey. As I am dressing up for the performance occasion, I therefore adorn myself in accordance with a goddess archetype in mind, so that when I dance on stage, I become that goddess. This is a very creative and fun endeavour: to play around with different archetypes at will, making them come alive by way of facial expression, posture, gestures, and many other subtle nuances, while tapping the collective unconscious realm (in Jungian terms).
In fact, in my one-on-one sessions, I work with the metaphor of life being like a stage show, where we are the both the script writers and the actors, thereby creating our reality from the inside out, on the life stage. In this way I draw on the modalities of Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT), Internal Family Systems (IFS), yoga, Jungian psychology and myth, using specific archetypes to systematically rewrite one’s unconscious limiting beliefs and live one’s life purpose on a daily basis.