As I was researching I came across a rich little morsel: Charles II wore a wig made from his favourite mistress' pubic hair, which I think is grand and somewhat sensual, perhaps because it is so far removed from our own sanitised version of desire, so obsessed with fresh and clean. Worn and warm may again have its day, who can know?
In other hair history, Tsar Peter I imposed a beard tax on Russia of 100 rubles (less for serfs) in an attempt to modernise the country. Beards, once a sign of humorous vigour, were soon cast as primitive and uncivilised, tangential to a new colonial world view. The four humours - sanguine, choleric, melancholic and phlegmatic or blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm - the substances of the body, were held in a fine balance. An excess or deficit of any of these humours, the body would become unbalanced and malady would arise. As erroneous beliefs about race became more prolific, bearded men were compared to the 'negro' in such unfavourable light that the 18th century became one of the only times when there was a marked turn away from chinly [sic] hair.
All this because I am writing an article on the history of the phrase "hairy palms", referring to the consequences for Onanists (a biblically inspired name for masturbators). As well as young men, vampires and werewolves were famously hairy-palmed, a distinctly non-human trait that could be used to identify the "evil" within.
Wonderfully strange, it happens that there are two known cases of the extremely rare congenital pilary dysembryoplasia of the palms, that is, hairy palms, in both a French and a Franco-Canadian family.
The hairy palms myth, which, nowadays, is more commonly used as a benign trick to get young boys to look to the palms of their hands, (thereby implicating their still somewhat taboo habits), was once part of a very serious idea of the dangers of Onanism.
The myth is a relic of a period of massive intellectual and social transformation that saw medicine playing a quasi-religious role. Confronted by new disease, changing social codes and a breadth of knowledge that could not be mastered, these new hippocratic 'priests' turned to sin as a convenient scapegoat for all unidentified physical ills. And self-abuse, self-pollution, onanism or masturbation, was the gravest of all sins.
Causing insanity, apathy, depression and physical deterioration eventually leading to death, masturbation was the most feared and vilified act of the early modern age.
The article will be, hopefully, full of salacious stats and rarely explored cultural legacies.
Expect vampires, mares (as in night~), nocturnal emissions, semen as blood, werewolf symbology in menstruation and a few depraved preventions and remedies.
[picture credit: Strange Fantasy - 1953]