“…At an early stage of culture, again, menstruation is regarded as a process of purification, a dangerous expulsion of vitiated humours. Hence the term katharsis applied to it by the Greeks. Hence also the medieval view of women: “Mulier speciosa templum ædificatum super cloacam,” said Boethius. The sacro-pubic region in women, because it includes the source of menstruation, thus becomes a specially heightened seat of taboo. According to the Mosiac law (Leviticus, Chapter XX, v. 18), if a man uncovered a menstruating woman, both were to be cut off.
It is probable that the Mohammedan custom of veiling the face and head really has its source solely in another aspect of this ritual factor of modesty. It must be remembered that this custom is not Mohammedan in its origin, since it existed long previously among the Arabians, and is described by Tertullian.
In early Arabia very handsome men also veiled their faces, in order to preserve themselves from the evil eye, and it has been conjectured with much probability that the origin of the custom of women veiling their faces may be traced to this magico-religious precaution. Among the Jews of the same period, according to Büchler, the women had their heads covered and never cut their hair; to appear in the streets without such covering would be like a prostitute and was adequate ground for divorce; adulterous women were punished by uncovering their heads and cutting their hair. It is possible, though not certain, that St. Paul’s obscure injunction to women to cover their heads “because of the angels,” may really be based on the ancient reason, that when uncovered they would be exposed to the wanton assaults of spirits (1 Corinthians, Ch. XI, vv. 5-6), exactly as Singhalese women believe that they must keep the vulva covered lest demons should have intercourse with them. Even at the present day St. Paul’s injunction is still observed by Christendom, which is, however, far from accepting, or even perhaps understanding, the folk-lore ground on which are based such injunctions.
Crawley thus summarises some of the evidence concerning the significance of the veil:—
“Sexual shyness, not only in woman, but in man, is intensified at marriage, and forms a chief feature of the dangerous sexual properties mutually feared. When fully ceremonial, the idea takes on the meaning that satisfaction of these feelings will lead to their neutralisation, as, in fact, it does.
The bridegroom in ancient Sparta supped on the wedding night at the men’s mess, and then visited his bride, leaving her before daybreak. This practice was continued, and sometimes children were born before the pair had ever seen each other’s faces by day.
At weddings in the Babar Islands, the bridegroom has to hunt for his bride in a darkened room. This lasts a good while if she is shy.
In South Africa, the bridegroom may not see his bride till the whole of the marriage ceremonies have been performed.
In Persia, a husband never sees his wife till he has consummated the marriage.
At marriages in South Arabia, the bride and bridegroom have to sit immovable in the same position from noon till midnight, fasting, in separate rooms. The bride is attended by ladies, and the groom by men. They may not see each other till the night of the fourth day.
In Egypt, the groom cannot see the face of his bride, even by a surreptitious glance, till she is in his absolute possession. Then comes the ceremony, which he performs, of uncovering her face.
In Egypt, of course, this has been accentuated by the seclusion and veiling of women.
In Morocco, at the feast before the marriage, the bride and groom sit together on a sort of throne; all the time, the poor bride’s eyes are firmly closed, and she sits amidst the revelry as immovable as a statue. On the next day is the marriage. She is conducted after dark to her future home, accompanied by a crowd with lanterns and candles. She is led with closed eyes along the street by two relatives, each holding one of her hands. The bride’s head is held in its proper position by a female relative, who walks behind her. She wears a veil, and is not allowed to open her eyes until she is set on the bridal bed, with a girl friend beside her.
Amongst the Zulus, the bridal party proceeds to the house of the groom, having the bride hidden amongst them. They stand facing the groom, while the bride sings a song. Her companions then suddenly break away, and she is discovered standing in the middle, with a fringe of beads covering her face.
Amongst the people of Kumaun, the husband sees his wife first after the joining of hands.
Amongst the Bedui of North East Africa, the bride is brought on the evening of the wedding-day by her girl friends, to the groom’s house. She is closely muffled up.
Amongst the Jews of Jerusalem, the bride, at the marriage ceremony, stands under the nuptial canopy, her eyes being closed, that she may not behold the face of her future husband before she reaches the bridal chamber.
In Melanesia, the bride is carried to her new home on some one’s back, wrapped in many mats, with palm-fans held about her face, because she is supposed to be modest and shy.
Among the Damaras, the groom cannot see his bride for four days after marriage. When a Damara woman is asked in marriage, she covers her face for a time with the flap of a headdress made for this purpose.
At the Thlinkeet marriage ceremony, the bride must look down, and keep her head bowed all the time; during the wedding-day, she remains hiding in a corner of the house, and the groom is forbidden to enter.
At a Yezedee marriage, the bride is covered from head to foot with a thick veil, and when arrived at her new home, she retires behind a curtain in the corner of a darkened room, where she remains for three days before her husband is permitted to see her.
In Corea, the bride has to cover her face with her long sleeves, when meeting the bridegroom at the wedding.
The Manchurian bride uncovers her face for the first time when she descends from the nuptial couch.
It is dangerous even to see dangerous persons. Sight is a method of contagion in primitive science, and the idea coincides with the psychological aversion to see dangerous things, and with sexual shyness and timidity. In the customs noticed, we can distinguish the feeling that it is dangerous to the bride for her husband’s eyes to be upon her, and the feeling of bashfulness in her which induces her neither to see him nor to be seen by him. These ideas explain the origin of the bridal veil and similar concealments. The bridal veil is used, to take a few instances, in China, Burmah, Corea, Russia, Bulgaria, Manchuria, and Persia, and in all these cases it conceals the face entirely.” (E. Crawley, The Mystic Rose, pp. 328 et seq.).”