A lock of hair
is a piece or pieces of hair
that has been cut from, or remains singly on, a human head, most commonly bunched or tied together in some way. A standard dictionary definition defines a lock as a tress, curl, or ringlet of hair (dictionary.com).
Locks of hair carry symbolic value and have been utilized throughout history in various religious, superstitions, and sentimental roles.
- A primitive belief maintains that owning a lock of hair from another’s head gives one power over that individual, in the same manner that owning a piece of clothing or image of an individual grants the owner such powers.
- During antiquity, Roman girls who were about to be married offered locks of hair to Jove (Jupiter) in his forest god aspect, Virbius (Virbio).
- An ancient and worldwide (eg. China, Egypt, Thailand, Albania, Ukraine, India, Israel, etc) pre-adolescent custom was to shave children's heads but leave a lock of hair (sometimes several locks) remaining on their heads. Upon reaching adulthood the lock of hair was usually cut off (see rites of passage).
- The scalplock was a lock of hair kept throughout a man's life. Like the childhood locks mentioned above, the scalplock was also a worldwide phenomenon, particularly noted amongst eastern woodland Indians (see Iroquois, Huron, Mahican, Mohawk) in north America (see also scalping and mohawk hairstyle).
Sviatoslav I of Kiev was reported to have worn a scalp lock by Leo the Deacon, a Byzantine historian . Later Ukrainian Cossacks (Zaporozhians) sported scalplocks called oseledets or khokhol. In India this custom remains active but usually only amongst orthodox Hindus. See sikha.
In Mark Twain's travel book 'The Innocents Abroad', he describes Moroccan men sporting scalp locks.
- A common superstition holds that a lock of hair from a baby's first haircut should be kept for good luck. An old Irish superstition holds that it is unlucky to accept a lock of hair (or a four-footed beast) from a lover.
- A lock of Beethoven’s hair, cut from his head in 1827, was auctioned in 1994 through Sotheby's of London. Research on the hair determined that the composer's life-long illness was caused by lead poisoning.
- A Polish plait (Koltun in Polish, meaning 'Elf-Lock') is a lock of matted hair similar to a dreadlock. Due to a scalp disease (Plica polonica), King Christian IV of Denmark (1577–1648) had a Polish plait hanging from the left side of his head, adorned with a red ribbon. His courtiers were said to have adopted the hairstyle in order to flatter the king.
Due to superstitious beliefs, the Polish plait used to be particularly common in Poland (hence its name). Initially, the plait was treated as an amulet, supposed to bring good health, as the plait was supposed to take the illness "out" of the body, and therefore it was rarely cut off.
- Dreadlocks, commonly called locks or dreads.
- Goldilocks, a nursery rhyme character so named due to her golden hair