"We redheads are a minority—we tend to notice each other—you know, and notice our identity." Julianne Moore, actress
Despite the fact that less than 4% of the population of human beings on earth has naturally occurring red hair, most commonly in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, England, Australia and the USA, as is apparent in this circa 1976 photograph of my mother, Roma, my two sisters, Susan and Sherri, and me (the blonde on the left), I have been surrounded by redheads for my entire life—and it doesn’t stop with the three of them. My paternal grandmother was a redhead, as was my maternal grandfather. Among my redheaded mother’s seven siblings, four of them also had red hair, as does one of my paternal first cousins. On top of all of that (pun intended), of my two grandchildren, the younger one is a redhead. Even though the hair color is the product of a genetic mutation manifest in the recessive gene, MC1R on the 16th chromosome, it is the dominant one in my family.
The redheads in my family are in a lot of good company beginning with the speculation that Adam himself was a redhead, justified by his “red-earth” beginnings and the Hebrew word “adom” meaning “red.” Adam’s first wife, Lilith, you know the one who was kicked out of Eden because she refused to be subordinate to Adam (which is code for her refusing to lie beneath him in bed), was also—you guessed it—a redhead, as well as a sister of my soul and all other feminists! In Michelangelo’s Temptation, Eve is a blonde, but after she eats the apple, naughty Eve is a redhead. Then there was Alexander the Great; DaVinci; Lafayette; Mary Queen of Scots; Nero; Helen of Troy; Aphrodite/Venus; Napoleon; Vincent Van Gogh; George Washington; Thomas Jefferson; Andrew Jackson; Henry VIII; Galileo; Emily Dickinson; Katherine Hepburn; Maureen O’Hara; Susan Hayward (my mother’s favorite); Robert Redford; Nicole Kidman; Little Orphan Annie; Wilma and Pebbles Flintstone; and on and on and on.
Now, I can hear in my mind’s ear all of you gents of our greatest generation mumbling under your breaths, “But Linda, you forgot to include the most beautiful redhead of all. What about our own Love Goddess, Rita Hayworth? Why, she almost singlehandedly won World War II in terms of the motivation she was to all of us guys to bring home victory for God, country and Rita Hayworth, in that order!”
I hate to burst your bubbles, fellas, but underneath all of that red tint on her head, Rita was a raven-haired beauty. “It was the turning point in my career. As soon as I became a redhead, things began to happen for me,” Rita is on record as stating.
"Once in his life, every man is entitled to fall madly in love with a gorgeous redhead." –Lucille Ball, actress
Both of my gorgeous, redheaded sisters were born under the sign of Libra, and since we are currently in the Libran cycle, in celebration of their birthdays, I thought it would be fun to explore some of the myths and legends of redheads, both familiar and obscure. This is not intended to be an exposé on my sisters, therefore I will withhold my views as to whether or not any of the characteristics fit them—no doubt they would dislike my assessments anyway, and then I would have to spend the rest of my days making amends to them. Besides, my dance card in that respect is full enough, therefore I’m really watching my P’s and Q’s in that department. I’ll wimp out right now and state emphatically that my only goal is to bring a bit of enjoyment to them, and to the rest of you fabulous redheads out there.
Among the inestimable traits of human beings, red hair has provoked more passion than any of them. Passion is the operative word since the most well-known myth about redheads is that they are fiery and hot-tempered, an idea probably spawned from the fact that Scots, with their high percentage of persons with red tresses are descended from ferocious, warrior Celts. To a great extent, the spate of controversial notions about the hair color is credited to that source, and it is aptly illustrated by a judge in Ireland who in 2001 stated to a redheaded man charged with disorderly conduct, “I am a firm believer that hair coloring has an effect on temper and your coloring suggests you have a bad temper.” Maybe this is why Mark Twain once quipped, “…while the rest of the human race was descended from monkeys, redheads derive from cats.” Since his hair was red before it turned the white with which we are most familiar, he should know.
“Red on the Head, Fire in the Bed” –Unknown
Another well-known perception is that redheads are more highly sexed than the rest of us. According to the myth, it is the color of their hair that makes them do it—it is a mark of uncontrollable bestial sexual cravings and relapses in moral conduct. For these reasons, Satan is often portrayed as red of hair. "It is observed that the red-haired of both sexes are more libidinous and mischievous than the rest, whom yet they much exceed in strength and activity," wrote Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels. Swift is validated by Dr. Werner Habermehl, a Hamburg sex researcher. The good doctor postulates that women with red hair have more sex than other women, outdoing brunettes who have more brains and blondes who have more fun. Wait a minute! If blondes have more fun, isn’t it a foregone conclusion that they also have more sex? I take it that in this instance sex is categorized as something other than fun.
Attention you guys out there! If the woman-of-a-different-hair-color in your life dyes her hair red, she’s signaling her dissatisfaction with your performance in the sack and is on the hunt for something spicier in her life. There must be a lot of discontentment on the female sides of conjugal beds in the western world because according to a Clairol survey, more women dye their hair red than any other color—thirty percent of us will be redheads at some point in our lives. But then again, the trend might be related to male preferences: “My husband said he wanted to have a relationship with a redhead, so I dyed my hair red,” actress, Jane Fonda admitted once upon a time. I wonder which husband it was?! I bet it was that scrumptious, Roger Vadim. I’d dye my hair for him, too, no problem!
It seems that Groucho Marx also had a thing for redheads. In a letter to his sick son, Marx wrote, “According to the wire, you are resting well and being taken care of by a nurse. I hope she is beautiful and that she has red hair. I don’t know why, but whenever I dream of a nurse she always has red hair. Red hair makes a man want to recover his health quickly so that he can get on his feet and get the nurse off hers.” On the other hand, writer Sylvia Plath would have known what to do with guys like Vadim and Marx. “Out of the ash, I rise with my red hair, and eat men like air,” she wrote.
“There was never a saint with red hair.” –Russian Proverb
While Russian tradition advocates that redheads are fiery-tempered and crazy, it didn’t prevent such controversial Asian redheads as Genghis Khan, Lenin and Stalin from rising to dizzying heights. Only artistic interpretations of Genghis exist, but Persian historian, Rashid-al-Din stated in his Chronicles that the legendary "glittering" ancestor of Genghis was tall, long-bearded, red-haired, and green-eyed. Rashid al-Din also described the first meeting of Genghis and his grandson, Kublai Khan, when Genghis was shocked to find that Kublai had not inherited his red hair. Genghis shouldn’t have despaired because chances are that the red hair gene manifested down the line somewhere. There is a commonly-held belief that redheads will become extinct in one hundred years or so, but according to a recent report in National Geographic, more than likely, the numbers will decline rather than disappear.
These “glittering people” might be fewer in number, but they are mighty—as evidence, the Manchu ruling caste in old China who were predominantly red of hair, and the ancient mummified remains in western China where the majority of them are of people with red hair. In addition to the legend that King David was a redhead, in the earliest images of Jesus done on frescoes and murals in the Middle East, His dark hair has a red tone to it, identified in the spectrum of colors as auburn. The Prophet Muhammad is credited with possessing red hair, a speculation validated by Muslims who dye their hair and beards with henna in emulation of the Prophet. Many religious leaders of orthodox Islam also use henna to tint their beards red. Legends abound of giant, red haired Native American tribes in present-day Texas, Utah and Nevada. Scientists recently reported that the gene for red hair also was present in the Neanderthal—that‘s good enough odds for my money that redheads aren’t about to vanish from our midst.
Besides, redheads might be too mean to die—there may be justification for “gingerphobia,” or “fear of redheads.” Some Bible scholars posit that Judas was a redhead, and even that the ‘Mark of Cain’ was red-pigmented hair. Even though it is thought that Ramses the Great was a redhead, the color of red was deemed unlucky in those ancient times, and redheaded Egyptian maidens were burned to death in an effort to eliminate the tint. In addition, the prevailing belief during the Middle Ages was that the color red was the sign of the Devil, and that children born with red hair were the result of unclean sexual relations during menstruation. Ancient Greeks believed that redheads turned into vampires when they died, and during the Inquisition, the Spanish burned redheads at the stake because they held that their coloring was proof that they were witches and had stolen the fires of hell. If you are a redhead, the Corsicans won’t burn you at the stake, but they will spit and turn around if you pass them on the street. That might be more dangerous to your health than getting too close to a bull pen of the Yankees.
The modern age has continued to greet redheaded people with suspicion and prejudice as seen in the policy of the Nazis to prevent redheads from marrying in order to forestall their bringing degenerate offspring into their lily-white Arian Nation.
Blondes are noticed, but redheads are never forgotten.” –Unknown
Who can forget redheaded, King Arthur and his flame-haired, Guinivere? The founder of Camelot was believed the answer to the British legend that a redhead would rise to lead the country in a time of trouble, a fable that can just as easily be applied to redheads, Elizabeth I and Sir Winston Churchill. The Merovingian rulers of ancient Gaul were said to derive their royal powers and military prowess from their long hair. Renowned for his thick, golden-red hair (strawberry blond, in the parlance of today) was Childeric III, the last of the Merovingian kings. The custom was for men of the Early Middle Ages to wear their hair at, or near, the shoulders, making Childeric's mane, with its striking color and length, a major asset, and possibly his greatest claim to the throne. Pepin, Childeric’s most powerful and craftiest rival for the throne, reasoning that the psychological impact of cutting Childeric's famed hair would be critical in bringing an end to the dynasty, captured the king and sheared his head bald. To secure his challenge, Pepin also shaved the head of Theuderic, Childeric’s son, whose blond tresses reached to his waist. Pepin’s strategy worked. In the eyes of their countrymen, when Childeric and Theuderic lost their hair, they also lost their royal mystique and the throne.
"All throughout history, from Reubens to Robbins, redheads have been recognized as a rare breed. Blondes may have more fun, brunettes may be brainier, but when it comes down to raw energy, creativity, and personality, you just can't beat a redhead, well, you can, but beware—she'll probably beat you back!" –Redheads Unlimited
"Nobody who has known a redhead can say that redheads are tame. Even shy redheads have a burning spark of adventure inside them. Opinionated, hotheaded, logical, loyal, friendly, reserved, whatever the redheads' personality, you can bet they'll have SCADS of it!" –Review of the Redhead Encyclopedia
"I do believe my redheadedness plays a huge part in who I am. If I were a blonde or brunette, I would be an entirely different person." –Unknown
"It's not the hair that turns men on, it's the spirit that redheads exude." –Unknown
"Gentlemen may prefer blondes, but it takes a real man to handle a redhead." –Unknown
"I used to hate my red hair, but now I love the attention I get with it. I think that very smart, daring men love red hair, and I love that in a man." –Unknown
“Blondes are wild, brunettes are true, but you never know just what a redhead will do!” –Unknown
"When a fellow has a home and a dear little, red-haired wife in it, what more need he ask of life?" –Gilbert in Anne's House of Dreams
An aside about henna that I find interesting is that it has been used for 6,000 years to dye hair, skin, finger- and toenails, wool and leather to various shades of red beginning with orange and then darkening over a three-day period to reddish-brown. It is known to have been common in ancient Egypt, India, Africa, and the Middle East to apply henna to the hair. Since the Bronze Age in the Eastern Mediterranean it has been accepted practice to apply henna as body art in the context of marriage and fertility rites—the earliest references are of women adorning their bodies with henna markings in preparation to meet their husbands.
During the 1800s it was used as a hair dye among women connected with the aesthetic movement, Renoir’s famous painting Daydreams of the lovely young actress, Jeanne Samary sporting saucy, henna-dyed hair is one case in point. Images such as this rendered by Renoir and his fellow Impressionist painters were instrumental in popularizing the hair color among adventurous women, but the most credit goes to famous, as well as notorious, women of the time such as opera singer, Adelina Patti, and to the Parisian courtesan, Cora Pearl, known as La Lune Rousse (the red moon) who not only applied henna to hair, but also to the coat of her little dog. And who can forget the most famous housewife of all time, Lucille Ball’s “henna rinsed” Lucy Ricardo on American television in I Love Lucy?
Aside from the recessive genes from which redheads spring, as well as their susceptibility to sunburns and cancers of the skin, they are attributed with other documented physical differences. Due to the fact that each strand of their hair is thicker than other hair, they have fewer hairs on their heads than do persons with different colors of hair. It is also held that redheads are more prone to developing Parkinsons Disease. Typically, redheads also require twenty percent more anesthesia during medical procedures. In addition, rather than turning gray with advancing age, red hair turns yellowish, then white due to a phenomenon whereby the hair pales with time.
The mystique of redheads cannot be denied, and life would be much less colorful without them. With everyone who loves a redhead, I add my voice to the Gaelic declaration, “Ruadh gu brath!" meaning, "Redheads forever!”
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