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A veil is an article of clothing or cloth hanging that is intended to cover some part of the head or face, or an object of some significance. It is especially associated with women and sacred objects.
One view is that as a religious item, it is intended to show honour to an object or space. The actual sociocultural, psychological, and sociosexual functions of veils have not been studied extensively but most likely include the maintenance of social distance and the communication of social status and cultural identity. The Quran has no requirement that women cover their faces with a veil, or cover their bodies with the full-body burqa or chador.
The first recorded instance of veiling for women is recorded in an Assyrian legal text from the 13th century BC, which restricted its use to noble women and forbade prostitutes and common women from adopting it. The Mycenaean Greek term, a-pu-ko-wo-ko, possibly meaning "headband makers" or "craftsmen of horse veil", and written in Linear B syllabic script, is also attested since ca. 1300 BC.
Classical Greek and Hellenistic statues sometimes depict Greek women with both their head and face covered by a veil. Caroline Galt and Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones have both argued from such representations and literary references that it was commonplace for women (at least those of higher status) in ancient Greece to cover their hair and face in public.
For many centuries, until around 1175, Anglo-Saxon and then Anglo-Norman women, with the exception of young unmarried girls, wore veils that entirely covered their hair, and often their necks up to their chins (see wimple). Only in the Tudor period (1485), when hoods became increasingly popular, did veils of this type become less common.
For centuries, women have worn sheer veils, but only under certain circumstances. Sometimes a veil of this type was draped over and pinned to the bonnet or hat of a woman in mourning, especially at the funeral and during the subsequent period of "high mourning". They would also have been used, as an alternative to a mask, as a simple method of hiding the identity of a woman who was traveling to meet a lover, or doing anything she didn't want other people to find out about. More pragmatically, veils were also sometimes worn to protect the complexion from sun and wind damage (when un-tanned skin was fashionable), or to keep dust out of a woman's face, much as the keffiyeh is used today.
In Judaism, Christianity and Islam the concept of covering the head is or was associated with propriety and modesty. Most traditional depictions of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ, show her veiled. During the Middle Ages most European and Byzantine married women covered their hair rather than their face, with a variety of styles of wimple, kerchiefs and headscarfs. Veiling, covering the hair rather than the face, was a common practice with church-going women until the 1960s, typically using lace, and a number of very traditional churches retain the custom. Lace face-veils are still often worn by female relatives at funerals.
In North India, Hindu women may often veil for traditional purposes. It is often the custom in rural areas to veil in front of male elders. This veil is called the Ghoonghat or Laaj. This is to show humility and respect to those elder to the woman, in particular elder males. The ghoonghat is customary especially in the westerly states of Gujarat and Rajasthan. These customs are believed to have come from the Islamic influence over Northern and Central India during the Islamist reign of these regions.
Although religion is a common reason for choosing to veil, the practice also reflects political and personal conviction, so that it can serve as a medium through which personal character can be revealed.
In the West, a single chalice veil is normally used. The veil will usually be the same material and colour as the priest's vestments, though it may also be white. It covers the chalice and paten when not actually in use on the altar.
In the East, three veils are used: one for the chalice, one for the diskos (paten), and a third one (the Aër) is used to cover both. The veils for the chalice and diskos are usually square with four lappets hanging down the sides, so that when the veil is laid out flat it will be shaped like a cross. The Aër is rectangular and usually larger than the chalice veil used in the West. The Aër also figures prominently in other liturgical respects.
The Veil of our Lady is a liturgical feast celebrating the protection afforded by the intercessions of the Virgin Mary.
Traditionally, in Christianity, women were enjoined to cover their heads in church, just as it was (and still is) customary for men to remove their hat as a sign of respect. This practice is based on 1 Corinthians 11:4–16, where St. Paul writes:
Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered brings shame upon his head. But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled brings shame upon her head, for it is one and the same thing as if she had had her head shaved. For if a woman does not have her head veiled, she may as well have her hair cut off. But if it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should wear a veil. A man, on the other hand, should not cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; nor was man created for woman, but woman for man; for this reason a woman should have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels. Woman is not independent of man or man of woman in the Lord. For just as woman came from man, so man is born of woman; but all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears his hair long it is a disgrace to him, whereas if a woman has long hair it is her glory, because long hair has been given (her) for a covering? But if anyone is inclined to be argumentative, we do not have such a custom, nor do the churches of God (New American Bible translation)
In many traditional Eastern Orthodox Churches, and in some very conservative Protestant churches as well, the custom continues of women covering their heads in church (or even when praying privately at home).
In the Roman Catholic Church, it was customary in most places before the 1960s for women to wear a headcovering in the form of a scarf, cap, veil or hat when entering a church. The practice now continues where it is seen as a matter of etiquette, courtesy, tradition or fashionable elegance rather than strictly of canon law. Traditionalist Catholics also maintain the practice.
The wearing of a headcovering was for the first time mandated as a universal rule for the Latin Rite by the Code of Canon Law of 1917, which code was abrogated by the advent of the present (1983) Code of Canon Law. Traditionalist Catholics still follow it, generally as a matter of custom and biblically approved aptness; some also suppose that St. Paul's directive is in full force today as an ordinance of its own right, without a canon law rule enforcing it. The photograph here of Mass in the Netherlands in about 1946, two decades before the changes that followed the Second Vatican Council, shows that, even at that time, when a hat was still considered part of formal dress for both women and men, wearing a headcovering at Mass was not a universal practice for Catholic women.
A veil over the hair rather than the face forms part of the headdress of some orders of nuns or religious sisters; this is why a woman who becomes a nun is said "to take the veil". In medieval times married women normally covered their hair outside the house, and a nun's veil is based on secular medieval styles, reflecting the nun's position as "bride of Christ". In many institutes, a white veil is used as the "veil of probation" during novitiate, and a dark veil for the "veil of profession" once religious vows are taken; the color scheme varies with the color scheme of the habit of the order. A veil of consecration, longer and fuller, is used by some orders for final profession of solemn vows.
Nuns are the female counterparts of monks, and many monastic orders of women have retained the veil. Regarding other institutes of religious sisters who are not cloistered but who work as teachers, nurses or in other "active" apostolates outside of a nunnery or monastery, some wear the veil, while some others have abolished the use of the veil, and a few never had a veil to start with, but used a bonnet-style headdress as in the case of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.
The fullest versions of the nun's veil cover the top of the head and flow down around and over the shoulders. In western Christianity, it does not wrap around the neck or face. In those orders that retain one, the starched white covering about the face neck and shoulders is known as a wimple and is a separate garment.
The Catholic Church has revived the ancient practice of allowing women to be consecrated by their bishop as a consecrated virgin. These women are set aside as sacred persons who belong only to Christ and the service of the church. They are under the direct care of the local bishop, without belonging to a particular order, and they receive the veil as a bridal sign of consecration.
There has also been renewed interest in the last half century in the ancient practice of women and men dedicating themselves as anchorites or hermits, and there is a formal process whereby such persons can seek recognition of their vows by the local bishop; a veil for these women would be traditional.
Some Anglican women's religious orders also wear a veil, differing according to the traditions of each order.
In Eastern Orthodoxy and in the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church, a veil called an epanokamelavkion is used by both nuns and monks, in both cases covering completely the kamilavkion, a cylindrical hat they both wear. In Slavic practice, when the veil is worn over the hat, the entire headdress is referred to as a klobuk. Nuns wear an additional veil under the klobuk, called an apostolnik, which is drawn together to cover the neck and shoulders as well as the head, leaving the face itself open.
Note: Genesis 20:16, which the King James Version renders as: "And unto Sarah he said, Behold, I have given thy brother a thousand pieces of silver: behold, he is to thee a covering of the eyes, unto all that are with thee, and with all other: thus she was reproved" has been interpreted in one source as implied advice to Sarah to conform to a supposed custom of married women, and wear a complete veil, covering the eyes as well as the rest of the face, but the phrase is generally taken to refer not to Sarah's eyes, but to the eyes of others, and to be merely a metaphorical expression concerning vindication of Sarah (NASB, RSV), silencing criticism (GWT), allaying suspicions (NJB), righting a wrong (BBE, NLT), covering or recompensing the problem caused her (NIV, New Life Version, NIRV, TNIV, JB), a sign of her innocence (ESV, CEV, HCSB). The final phrase in the verse, which KJV takes to mean "she was reproved", is taken by almost all other versions to mean instead "she was vindicated", and the word "הוא", which KJV interprets as "he" (Abraham), is interpreted as "it" (the money). Thus, the general view is that this passage has nothing to do with material veils.
The Afghan burqa covers the entire body, obscuring the face completely, except for a grille or netting over the eyes to allow the wearer to see. The boshiya is a veil that may be worn over a headscarf; it covers the entire face and is made of a sheer fabric so the wearer is able to see through it. It has been suggested that the practice of wearing a veil – uncommon among the Arab tribes prior to the rise of Islam – originated in the Byzantine Empire, and then spread.
Places where headscarves continue to be a contentious political issue include:
Veils pinned to hats have survived the changing fashions of the centuries and are still common today on formal occasions that require women to wear a hat. However, these veils are generally made of netting or another material not actually designed to hide the face from view, even if the veil can be pulled down.
An occasion on which a Western woman is likely to wear a veil is on her white wedding day. Brides once used to wear their hair flowing down their back at their wedding to symbolise their virginity. Veils covering the hair and face became a symbolic reference to the virginity of the bride thereafter. A bride may wear the face veil through the ceremony. Then either her father lifts the veil, presenting the bride to her groom, or the groom lifts the veil to symbolically consummate the marriage. Brides may make use of the veil to symbolize and emphasize their status of purity during their wedding however, and if they do, the lifting of the veil may be ceremonially recognized as the crowning event of the wedding, when the beauty of the bride is finally revealed to the groom and the guests.
In modern weddings, the ceremony of removing a face veil after the wedding to present the groom with the bride may not occur, since couples may have entered into conjugal relations prior to the wedding and it may also be considered sexist for the bride to have her face covered whether or not the veil is a sign of virginity. In Scandinavia, brides wear a veil usually under a traditional crown but do not have their face covered (instead the veil is attached to and hangs from the back).
It is not altogether clear that the wedding veil is a non-religious use of this item, since weddings have almost always had religious underpinnings, especially in the West. Veils, however, had been used in the West for weddings long before this. Roman brides, for instance, wore an intensely flame-coloured and fulsome veil, called the flammeum, apparently intended to protect the bride from evil spirits on her wedding day. Later, the so-called velatio virginum became part of the rite of the consecration of virgins, the liturgical rite in which the church sets aside the virgin as a sacred person who belongs only to Christ.
In the 19th century, wedding veils came to symbolize the woman's virginity and modesty. The tradition of a veiled bride's face continues even today wherein, a virgin bride, especially in Christian or Jewish culture, enters the marriage ritual with a veiled face and head, and remains fully veiled, both head and face, until the ceremony concludes. After the full conclusion of the wedding ceremony, either the bride's father lifts the veil giving the bride to the groom who then kisses her, or the new groom lifts her face veil in order to kiss her, which symbolizes the groom's right to enter into conjugal relations with his bride.
The lifting of the veil was often a part of ancient wedding ritual, symbolizing the groom taking possession of the wife, either as lover or as property, or the revelation of the bride by her parents to the groom for his approval.
In Judaism, the tradition of wearing a veil dates back to biblical times. According to the Torah in Genesis 24:65, Isaac is brought Rebekah to marry by his father Abraham's servant. It is important to note that Rebekah did not veil herself when travelling with her lady attendants and Abraham's servant and his men to meet Isaac, but she only did so when Isaac was approaching. Just before the wedding ceremony the badeken or bedeken is held. The groom places the veil over the bride's face, and either he or the officiating Rabbi gives her a blessing. The veil stays on her face until just before the end of the wedding ceremony – when they are legally married according to Jewish law – then the groom helps lift the veil from off her face.
The most often cited interpretation for the badeken is that, according to Genesis 29, when Jacob went to marry Rachel, his father in law Laban tricked him into marrying Leah, Rachel's older and homlier sister. Many say that the veiling ceremony takes place to make sure that the groom is marrying the right bride. Some say that as the groom places the veil over his bride, he makes an implicit promise to clothe and protect her. Finally, by covering her face, the groom recognizes that he his marrying the bride for her inner beauty; while looks will fade with time, his love will be everlasting. In some ultra-orthodox traditions the bride wears an opaque veil as she is escorted down the aisle to meet her groom. This shows her complete willingness to enter into the marriage and her absolute trust that she is marrying the right man. In Judaism, a wedding is not considered valid unless the bride willingly consents to it.
In ancient Judaism the lifting of the veil took place just prior to the consummation of the marriage in sexual union. The uncovering or unveiling that takes place in the wedding ceremony is a symbol of what will take place in the marriage bed. Just as the two become one through their words spoken in wedding vows, so these words are a sign of the physical oneness that they will consummate later on. The lifting of the veil is a symbol and an anticipation of this.
In Christian theology, St. Paul's words concerning how marriage symbolizes the union of Christ and His Church may underlie part of the tradition of veiling in the marriage ceremony. In this respect, veiling may signify the waters of baptism, with the wedding dress (& veil) being but a larger version of the First Communion dress (& veil), which in turn is but a larger version of a baby's baptismal garment, which is the distinguishing garment of all Christians, signifying the presence of Sanctifying Grace and the Holy Spirit. At an even deeper level, the waters of baptism themselves symbolize the waters of death, which must be accepted in faith, and passed through, before truly complete joy can be experienced in Heaven. In this respect, the wedding veil is a reminder to the bride that she is dying to her previous life, and being admitted to a new kind of life, symbolic of eternal life in Heaven. For this reason, nuns are veiled—often with a black veil—with the veil not merely signifying the veil of death, but actually—in some real way—being that veil, since they will one day be buried in it. The wedding veil is also a symbol of the veil of faith in Jesus Christ, the Heavenly bridegroom, that He will one day come and redeem our mortal bodies, by the lifting of that veil, so that we shall see Him face to face in Heaven. Lastly, the wedding dress, either with, or even without a veil, may be a symbol of the radiance of the resurrected body in Heaven, which will not be a mortal body, but which will have been changed "in the twinkling of an eye" into something new that we cannot now even imagine.
Veils are part of the stereotypical images of courtesans and harem women. Here, the mysterious veil hints at sensuality, an example being the dance of the seven veils. This is the context into which belly dancing veils fall, with a large repertoire of ways to wear and hold the veil, framing the body and accentuating movements. Dancing veils can be as small as a scarf or two, silk veils mounted on fans, a half circle, three-quarter circle, full circle, a rectangle up to four feet long, and as large as huge Isis wings with sticks for extensions. There is also a giant canopy type veil used by a group of dancers. Veils are made of rayon, silk, polyester, mylar and other fabrics (never wool, though). Rarely used in Egyptian cabaret style, veil dancing has always played an important part in the international world of belly dance, extending the range of the dance and offering lovely transitory imagery.
Conversely, veils are often part of the stereotypical image of the courtesan and harem woman. Here, rather than the virginity of the bride's veil, modesty of the Muslim scarf or the piety of the nun's headdress, the mysterious veil hints at sensuality and the unknown. An example of the veil's erotic potential is the dance of the seven veils.
In this context, the term may refer to a piece of sheer cloth approximately 3 x 1.5 metres, sometimes trimmed with sequins or coins, which is used in various styles of belly dancing. A large repertoire of ways to wear and hold the veil exists, many of which are intended to frame the body from the perspective of the audience.
VEILS FOR MEN
Among the Tuareg, Songhai, Moors, Hausa, and Fulani of West Africa, women do not traditionally wear the veil, while men do. The men's facial covering originates from the belief that such action wards off evil spirits, but most probably relates to protection against the harsh desert sands as well; in any event, it is a firmly established tradition. Men begin wearing a veil at age 25 which conceals their entire face excluding their eyes. This veil is never removed, even in front of family members.
In India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal, men wear a sehra on their wedding day. This is a male veil covering the whole face and neck. The sehra is made from either flowers, beads, tinsel, dry leaves, or coconuts. The most common sehra is made from fresh marigolds. The groom wears this throughout the day concealing his face even during the wedding ceremony. In India today you can see the groom arriving on a horse with the sehra wrapped around his head.
Veil ultimately originates from Latin vēlum, which also means "sail". There are two theories about the origin of the word vēlum:
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