Redheads: Myths, Legends, and Famous Red Hair
Where Are All the Redheads?
Throughout history, redheads have been feared and revered, loathed and adored, degraded and exalted. No other single human trait has provoked such a dichotomy of emotions in such a large number of fellow humans. It is as boiling is to freezing or despair is to hope. It is as hate is to love.
There are degrees of reddishness when referring to hair, including ginger, auburn (reddish brown), and strawberry blonde. Red hair is found most commonly at the western fringes of Europe. Leading the pack, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England have the most redheads. Scotland has the highest proportion with 13% having red hair and approximately 40% possessing the recessive redhead gene. Ireland is second highest with approximately 10% having it and 40% carrying the gene.
The U.S. can boast (or not) anywhere from two to six percent of the population having red tresses. A seemingly paltry figure, but with a massive population, this gives the good ol' USA the largest number of redheads in the world with 6 to 18 million. Compare that to 650,000 in Scotland and 420,000 in Ireland. Who's paltry now? Read it and weep you redhead haters.
Fear and Loathing
Historically, prejudice and suspicion has always greeted the redhead, along with the belief that they were fiery and hot-tempered. This image - wrong or not - most likely stems from the fact that the Scots, with their high percentage of red haired people, are descended from the Celts, notoriously violent warriers. It is this perception that spawned many strange and fantastical beliefs and ideas about red hair.
The myths do seem to permeate all cultures. The ancient Egyptians couldn't make up their minds, typical of the super superstitious Egyptians of the time. They covered all their bases with a god for every purpose and situation. Sort of a god grab-bag. On the one hand, they believed that red haired animals and people were associated with the god 'Set', and many of their pharaohs had red hair. That included Ramses who was the most powerful baddest dude of all the pharaohs. Conversely, they also regarded the color red as unlucky and many red haired maidens were burnt to death to wipe out the tint. Talk about a makeover. Stories still persist that redheads were buried alive.
It's All Greek To Me
The Greeks, not to be outdone (the Greeks were never to be outdone as they were sore losers and it really got their sacrificial goat), believed that redheads would turn into vampires following their death. Aristotle - philosopher, student of Plato, teacher of Alexander the Great, and all-around smart guy and occasional ass - described redheads as being emotionally un-housebroken. I don't know what that means but whadda ya say you and I step outside, Tots?
Roman historian Deo Cassius described British Warrior Queen Boudicca (or Boudicca the bodacious) as " tall and terrifying in appearance [with] a great mass of red hair." Incidentally the ancient Romans also paid a premium for red haired slaves.
During the Spanish Inquisition (one of the fairest and justified of all inquisitions) flame colored hair was evidence that it's owner had stolen the fire of hell and had to be burned as a witch. Apparently, stealing the fire of hell is a crime and crime doesn't pay. In Corsica, if you pass a redhead in the street you are supposed to spit and turn around. It is unclear if that is supposed to bring good luck or because redheads leave a bad taste in your mouth. During the Middle Ages, red was seen as the color of the Devil, and it was thought that a child born with red hair was conceived during "that time of the month". Is that a little too much menstruation information?
Don't Adjust the Color on Your Set
Russian tradition declares that red hair is both a sign of a fiery temper and craziness, and a proverb warns, "There was never a saint with red hair. Indeed, red hair figures in the bible, The word Adam is supposedly the Hebrew word for 'red' or 'ruddy', and Judas - poster boy tor tratorious - is often portrayed with red hair as is Mary Magdalene. King David is thought to have been a redhead, and some even believe the 'mark of cain' to actually be red hair.
The association of red hair and untrustworthiness and ugliness somehow prevails in the modern age. The Nazi's discussed whether red haired people should be allowed to wed, fearing their degenerate offspring. Red hair is often portrayed in less than flattering ways in films and on TV. An Irish judge in 2001 fined a man for disorderly conduct stating "I am a firm believer that hair coloring has an effect on temper and your coloring suggests you have a temper." Thomas Wolfe was right: you can't go home again. At least not if you're from Ireland and have red hair.
Stupid Is As Stupid Does
In modern-day United Kingdom, the terms "ginger" or "ginga" are used to derogatorily describe red-headed people, despite having one of the highest populations of redheads, or perhaps because of it. This has given rise to terms such as "gingerphobia (fear of redheads) or "gingerism" (prejudiced against). Redheads are sometimes disparaged with the monikers "carrot tops" and "carrot heads". Red haired children have been branded as offspring of "unclean" sex (uh oh, we're back to the menstrual thing) which has gotten them taunts like "red-knob" or "tampon tops". This intolerant attitude has led to a rise in harassment that has caused families to relocate, and has even led to murder. A 23 year old redhead was stabbed in the back. Why? "For being ginger", replied the miscreant that committed the foul deed.
There are some documented medical differences. We'll skip the fair skin sensitivity to the sun melanoma stuff, but did you know that human adults have about 120.000 hairs on their heads? Really. I counted my head. The bad news is redheads have fewer, blondes have more, and brunettes have the most. Researchers at the University of Louisville discovered that, on average, people born with red hair require about 20 percent more anesthesia to obtain satisfactory sedation. University indeed. Anyone who's ever tried to seduce a redhead knows that.
It's not all bad though. British legend states that King Arthur had red hair, and that a red haired leader would come to lead the country in times of trouble. Enter Elizabeth I and Churchill, who were thought to be answers to this legend. The Merovians of ancient Gaul were red headed and this was believed to give them magical powers.
Red On the Head, Fire In the Bed
Red hair was thought to be a mark of a beastly sexual desire and moral degeneration. See? I told you it's not all bad. It is a common belief that redheads are highly sexed. Jonathon Swift satirized this redhead stereotype in Gulliver's Travels, part 4, A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms, when he wrote: "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." As Austin Powers might observe, Oh, yeah, baby!
So do not despair you red heads so fair. Brunettes may be smarter, blondes may have more fun, but none are wrapped so tightly in mystery and intrigue. Like a gift to be opened on a special day. That is what fascinates us about you, and that's no myth.
Redhead Quotes and the Gallery of Red Hair
- "Once in his life, every man is entitled to fall madly in love with a gorgeous redhead." - Lucille Ball
- "If you want trouble... find yourself a redhead." - Unknown
- "You'd find it easier to be bad than good if you had red hair," said Anne reproachfully. "People who haven't red hair don't know what trouble is."- Anne to Marilla in Anne of Green Gables
- "Blondes are noticed but redheads are never forgotten." - Unknown
- "Please just call me red-headed and forgive me." - Anne to Gilbert in Anne's House of Dreams
- "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
- "We redheads are a minority, we tend to notice each other - you know, and notice our identity." - Juliann Moore, actress
- "All throughout history, from Reuben 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
- "While the rest of the species is descended from apes, redheads are descended from cats." - Mark Twain
- "It's not the hair that turns men on, it's the spirit that redheads exude." - 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
- "Gentlemen may prefer blondes, but it takes a real man to handle a redhead." - Unknown
- "Out of the ash / I rise with my red hair / And eat men like air." -Sylvia Plath
- "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
- "The attraction to redheads is a lot like being addicted to drugs." - Unknown
- "I am always asked where I got my bright auburn-red hair from, seeing as both my parents have a very dark almost black hair. My father, being 60 when I was born, always answered, "rust in the pipes." - Unknown
- "Blondes are wild, brunettes are true, / but you never know just what a redhead will do!" - Unknown
- "'According to the wire, you are resting well and are 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.'" - Groucho Marx, in a letter to his son
- "It was dreadful. They tried to put the little redhead in a cage" - . Sarah Ferguson, former Duchess of York
- "There once was a girl / with a Strawberry curl / Right in the middle of her forehead / And when she was good / she was very, very good / -but when she was bad she was horrid." - Unknown
- "My husband said he wanted to have a relationship with a redhead... so I died my hair." - Jane Fonda
- "Ruadh gu brath!" (Scots Gaelic for "Red heads forever!")
Memoir of a Redhead by Anna Marie Bowman
- The Curse of Being a Redhead
First of all, I have always hated that term...ginger. It never sat well with me, and really don't like being called a ginger. For those of you who don't know, a ginger is someone with a lighter shade of red...
© 2008 Christoph Reilly