The Myths and History of Red Hair

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Vampires and Judas

a strawberry-blond jesus

This page follows on quite neatly from my Medieval Heresy page and touches on some similar themes.

I might as well start with the juicy stuff and get straight into vampires. There are legends that link vampires with both red hair and Judas. It's said that Judas became the first vampire when he committed suicide following his betrayal of Christ. The thirty pieces of silver he received for this betrayal then becoming a weapon that could be used against him, burning his skin with its touch. Much like the way a crucifix burns vampires in B-movies, and hence the use of silver bullets in vampire and werewolf lore.

Of course, we know from previous discussions that red hair was heavily associated with Judas in the medieval period. The link with vampires then comes full circle when we add to the mix the fact that in Eastern Europe red hair was associated with vampires.

The following comes from Montague Summers' book The Vampire, His Kith and Kin (1928);

Red was the colour of the hair of Judas Iscariot, and of Cain ...I have not met with the following tradition save orally, but it is believed in Serbia, Bulgaria, and Rumania, that there are certain red-polled vampires who are called "Children of Judas," and that these, the foulest of the foul, kill their victim with one bite or kiss which drains the blood as it were at a single draught. The poisoned flesh of the victim is wounded with the Devil's stigmata, three hideous scars shaped thus, XXX, signifying the thirty pieces of silver, the price of blood.

Gruesome.

On the topic of Judas and Eastern Europe another avenue of intrigue worthy of investigation is the mystery surrounding the so-called Red Jews. The Red Jews were a Jewish tribe or nation that appear in German sources during the medieval era. The reason for the name "Red" is contested, but some believe they were called as such because they had red hair.

In fact, some people equate them with the Khazars, a Turkic nation that supposedly adopted Judaism in the 8th century. The Khazars were described by Arab scholars as being red-haired and blue-eyed. The following comes from the Wikipedia page about the Khazars;

In terms of caste or class, some evidence suggests that there was a distinction, whether racial or social is unclear, between "White Khazars" (ak-Khazars) and "Black Khazars" (qara-Khazars). The 10th-century Muslim geographer al-Istakhri claimed that the White Khazars were strikingly handsome with reddish hair, white skin, and blue eyes, while the Black Khazars were swarthy, verging on deep black, as if they were "some kind of Indian" ...Khazars are generally described by early Arab sources as having a white complexion, blue eyes, and reddish hair.

Red hair was also associated with the Jews that lived in Poland. I found this passage in an article titled Red Hair: A Mutation, A Royal Trait, and Sometimes a Curse by Aminah Sheikh;

From my research, I found out that Poland was heavily populated with the Ashkenazic Jews, who are also known for their red hair. In a 1990 article titled "Polish Jewish History," the author stated that "During the eighteenth century, at least, about half of the urban population of Poland was Jewish" (Hundert). Therefore, it seems safe to say that they were Ashkenazic Jews and not Sephardic Jews because they were from Poland. In an article titled, "On the Racial Characteristics of Modern Jews," researchers found that there were "...thrice as many red-haired individuals as either Poles, Russians, or Austrians, and half as many again as Germans."

I also found this passage on the Wikipedia page for Red Hair;

Red hair is also fairly common amongst the Ashkenazi Jewish populations, possibly because of the influx of European DNA over a period of centuries. In European culture, prior to the 20th century, red hair was often seen as a stereotypically Jewish trait: during the Spanish Inquisition, all those with red hair were identified as Jewish. In Italy, red hair was associated with Italian Jews, and Judas was traditionally depicted as red-haired in Italian and Spanish art.

The idea that all redheads were identified as Jewish during the Spanish Inquisition is especially interesting.

Incidentally, the image seen at the top of this page looks strikingly Judas-like to me - red hair, hanging (albeit from the foot), holding what look like money bags. However, although it looks like Judas, it is in fact an image of the hanged man and supposedly comes from the oldest-known Tarot pack - thought to have been made for the French king Charles VI in 1392.

When I did a brief bit of research about Tarot Cards I came across the following bit of interesting information. Like playing cards, tarot cards contain four suits - Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles. And like playing cards each suit has character cards as well as number cards - in this case King, Queen, Page and Knight.

Anyway, I was surprised to learn that each suit represented a different racial type. The Wands were ruddy, red-haired and hazel/blue eyed. The Cups fair, blond and blue-eyed. The Swords fair, dark-haired and dark-eyed. And the Pentacles were swarthy, dark-haired and dark-eyed. Hence all that "you will meet a tall dark stranger" stuff.

On a similar theme another bit of red hair folklore I came across was this little passage that I found in a work titled Gypsy Sorcery and Fortune Telling, by Charles Godfrey Leland (1891);

For easy childbirth red hair is sewed in a small bag and carried on the belly next the skin during pregnancy. Red hair indicates good luck, and is called bala kameskro, or sun-hairs, which indicates its Indian origin.

On the topic of childbirth I also found this brief mention of red hair in a book about Thomas Cromwell. It cropped up in a passage about idols that were being removed from churches by Protestant reformers.

The image of St Anne of Buxton and also the image of St Modwen of Burton, with her red hair and her staff which women labouring of child in those parts were very desirous to have with them to lean upon and walk with and had great confidence in the staff.

St Modwen (also Modwenna) was an English nun and saint. Modwenna sounds a little bit like Madonna to my ears, so maybe we're seeing another variant on the red-haired Madonna/Magdalene theme here.

Finally, with all this talk of Judas being a redhead I thought I'd end on the idea that Jesus was a redhead. I came across this passage in an article on Wikipedia about British Israelism;

Apocryphal historical texts are also often cited which describe Jesus as golden or red haired, these include the Description of Jesus by Publius Lentulus which describes the hair of Jesus as chestnut (reddish-brown) and his eyes bright blue[.]

The Description of Jesus by Publius Lentulus is generally believed to be a forgery, but then again what religious text isn't a forgery :p

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