Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Symbols of belief....

What can someone tell about you, just by looking at you?

Last night, I had an email discussion with someone about this. As a five-precept woman (someone who commits to living her life according to the Five Precepts of Buddhism), my correspondent has chosen to wear black and white. This something that is done but is not immediately recognizable in North American culture.

I wear two amulets all the time. One of them is around my neck. One of them, in old tradition, is on a chain around my waist. My clothes are a symbol of my cultural identity. If someone knows what they mean, they get a glimpse into my worldview and belief system. Again, in North American culture, these would not be easily recognizable.

Here, everyone recognizes the turbin of a Punjab, the black and white of a Catholic nun or priest, a cross around the neck of a Christian, the Star of David on a Jew or the shaved head and saffron robes of a Buddhist nun. These things immediately give us information about a person.

Kind of like gang symbols. We know by sight who our homies are. :)

Our discussion was primarily about the importance of these outward symbols.

Personal view again: They have major importance to the individual wearing them. They reinforce and identify the wearer as a member of a certain group. Internally, it is a reminder of a commitment made to a way of life or a belief.

Externally, the symbols can mark a person for discrimination or for immediate acceptance. They can identify likemindedness. They can form community and they can alienate.

Yet most of us wear something or carry something that identifies us with our religious or cultural community.

What do you wear and what does it mean to you?



Pam said...

I have worn an an Egyptian Ankh for 25 years or more, the symbol of life.

KC said...

The only thing I wear everyday is my necklace with a cursive J on it...for the two J loves of my life. Keeps my family with me always.

I used to wear a cross which I found strength in at a certain time in my life, but when I got this J as a Mother's day present, it replaced it. Which is actually saying a lot.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I wear no religious symbols because I believe that at least in our country, religion is too often used to divide people. Nor do I adhere to a specific religion, but take my spiritual beliefs from many. The closest fit would be Buddhism, but the fact that nuns are not as highly regarded within the structure as monks is problematic.

I used to wear a lot of Native American jewelry as a symbol of my identification with the culture and beliefs, but wear little jewelry these days.

On a sidenote, I feel ripped off when I cannot tell a person's gender by his or her appearance. That seems little enough to know about someone.

Anonymous said...

It's not a relgious symbol, but I wear my hair long. I was a child in the 60s, but I knew the difference between the long-hairs and the short-hairs, and I knew which side I wanted to be on.

Sometimes I wear the Tulasi beads around my neck and paint the Tilak on my forehead, but only when I'm going to be either by myself or around other Krishnas. I get a little tired of explaining them to people who generally respond with a derisive snort.

I always carry a silver token in my pocket, with an Aum on one side and Radha-Krishna on the other. That isn't to share with the public, though, that's just for me.

Christine said...

dude, i so wear nothing! ok, i do wear clothes, but no one thing that sets me apart. oh--there are the opal earrings i never take off, but they are my birthstone and make me feel so safe somehow.

thailandchani said...

Christine, now I know. When I come to your area, I will definitely recognize the naked lady with opal earrings! LOL


Thomas, I can see what you mean. Sometimes wearing our symbols does attract negative attention.

The one incident I recall most is the woman at Target who grabbed my wrist and asked me how I could be so stupid as to "do what you did".

In general though, I find people more positive than negative.

Still, if the questions got annoying, I might tone it down a little too sometimes, especially when I just want to peacefully exist without them.


Susan, I agree about gender. It is nice to know whether I'm talking to a man or a woman ~ yet.. I need to think about that. I wonder why it matters. Hm.


KC, yes, that does say a lot. That's very interesting!


Pam, I used to wear an ankh a long time ago! That was pre-Thai. I love that symbol! :)




slouching mom said...

it's what i don't wear that says the most about me, i think.

i don't wear makeup.

jen said...

ah, nice question. as i reflected on this i realized i have my nose pierced as a symbol for myself personally but which doesn't make an outward statement of alignment to anything. i did wear an anklet given to me by a thai woman for years but sadly it's recently fallen off and i've lost it. again more for personal symbolism than anything else.

is your picture today from the temples at angkor?

flutter said...

There are two pieces of jewelry that I wear daily, a platinum band on my left hand, and my grandmother's opal.

Aliki2006 said...

I wear so little regularly. I do have a charm bracelet with little figures of my two kids, and a charm from Greece on it, and I wear my wedding and engagement ring.

MsLittlePea said...

A smile. Even if I were sad, if I smile at you, I mean it. Probably sounds corny but it was something my grandma said to me once and I liked it.

BTW-I totally agree with you in your last post about those work out suits!! Horrible.

liv said...

I always wear a ring on my right hand--the center stone is a sapphire for my children's birth month. There is a diamond on either side to represent each of them. I also wear a copper bracelet that is inscribed Om Mani Padme Hum. It is said to summon compassion. Frequently I wear one of my many OM pendants. All of these things, my children, compassion and the universal sound are sacred to me.

Anvilcloud said...

Nuthin. Just comfy clothes. I seldom even wear a watch or ring or even glasses if I can avoid them. Such accoutrements bother me on some level. They disturb my comfort a bit.

crazymumma said...


Excellent question again oh thoughtful Chani.

my 'uniform' is jeans or a black skirt with a black t shirt or sweater.

Most mornings I wear black gym clothes (as I go to the gym).

If others took a read on me I would think they might think older rocknrollergirl.

Signifiers are important, they form our tribe, they allow others to recognoze where we MIGHT stand.

Do you think that maybe it is an attitude we wear? Aside from a uniform?

mitzh said...

Hmmm, just my wedding ring. I'm wearing it for five years now.

And I have a goodluck charm in my wallet, I have it since I was in grade six, my mom gave it to me.

Anonymous said...

I was going to say that what people wear doesn't affect me but that wouldn't be true. I do look at clothes and body art but I look at posture and attitude more. And I definitely gravitate to people who dress simply, I'm very easily distracted.

Susanne said...

I wear a little earring with a ying and yang- symbol to remind me to strive for balance. I wear five earrings all in all to remind me that I don't have to succumb to normalcy and that I don't have to think all the time about how I will like something when I'm thirty years older.

I always wear my wedding ring to remind me that I'm not alone and loved.

Z said...

I have a couple of pendants in a cross shape, but I do not think of them as a solely Christian image in the way a crucifix would be. I don't wear them regularly, and only as jewellery. I wear my wedding ring, but I don't think of 'being married' as my identity. I wouldn't care to wear anything that made people make assumptions about me.

thailandchani said...

SM, that does say something.. and actually I am saying the same thing. :)


Jen, I always liked those nose piercings. They're cute. Never could have one because, well, they don't look very good on certain types of people.. of which I am unfortunately one. :)

Yes.. on the picture


Flutter, I'll bet they're pretty, too!


Aliki, a charm bracelet sounds really cool! Hm.


MsPea, the workout suits are just unbelievable. I remember when the raging debate went on about this kind of thing, sexualizing little girls, during the Jon Benet Ramsey case. Now it seems that lesson's been forgotten.


Liv, I have an amulet for that very same thing.. summoning compassion. And protection from those who can not.


Anvil, I never thought I would wear so much jewelry! Most of my life, I didn't. It can get uncomfortable at times. :)


CM, I think it all matches up somehow. Most of these things are reminders as well as identifiers. It's an interesting custom.


Mitzh, is the charm an amulet?


Sally, I would probably give you a headache with all my Thai stuff. In general though, I agree with you. Simplicity is always best. Sending out too many signals can be confusing.


Susanne, it sounds awesome.. all of it! :)




thailandchani said...

Z, that's a good point. I suppose we do end up sending out these things for a reason. My Thai stuff is very definitely sending a message.. but probably actually a bigger message than many might assume.. initially.



Z said...

Yes, it's different in your case as your clothes and artefacts are making a statement. I wasn't, of course, making a comment about anyone else, and if I met you, I would certainly be intrigued and want to know more.

thailandchani said...

Z, I completely understand. I hope it didn't sound like I'd taken offense..or was feeling defensive. You made total sense. :)

My clothes are not so much for anyone else as they are for me. My link to my home, my culture, is so tenuous while I'm here that I really need that.. you know... connection.




ewe are here said...

I usually wear a gold hawaiian pendant with my middle name engraved in enamel on it... It's very special to me because it's a name I picked for myself when I changed my name to my step-dad's years ago... he surprised me with it to celebrate my name change.

Suzy said...

Hi, Chani. I haven't been over in a while.

I don't wear any outward symbols of my faith. Most Quakers shed the plain dress a while ago, though I try to keep it simple by shopping mostly at thrift stores.

Colleagues of mine tell me there is something "different" about me. I think it's an outward reflection of my Quakerism.

I do wear 3 pieces of jewelry all the time: my wedding ring, a mother ring with my kids' birthstones and a bracelet that says "Live to love, love to live."