Fires of Hell : Medieval Fear and Loathing of Red Hair

Red hair was thought in the middles ages to be a mark of a beastly sexual desire and moral degeneration.

“Do not dye her hair red and thereby presage for her the fires of hell.” – St. Jerome

In medieval Europe, the infamous witch-hunting manual, Malleus Maleficarum, warned that red hair and green eyes were marks of a witch, werewolf or vampire.

So were freckles, which redheads tend to have aplenty.

The Spanish Inquisition singled redheads out for persecution, believing their hair to be sure sign that they stole the fires of hell.

Medievals believed those with red hair were the offspring of parents who had bloody sex during “that time of the month”, thereby displaying a depraved lack of sexual self-discipline.

Even red animals and flowers weren’t innocent.

The robin redbreast and the red fox became the devil’s creatures. The poppy, the devil’s flower.

Ancient Fear and Loathing

Red hair has been feared and loathed through history.

The Ancient Egyptians 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 of all the pharaohs.

However, they also regarded the color red as unlucky and many red haired maidens were burnt to death to wipe out the tint.

The Greeks thought that redheads would turn into vampires following their death.

The great thinker Aristotle described redheads as being emotionally un-housebroken!

Roman historian Deo Cassius described British Warrior Queen Boudicca as ” tall and terrifying in appearance [with] a great mass of red hair.”

Meanwhile, the ancient Romans paid extra for red haired slaves.

Judus with Red Hair

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The “Proverbs of Alfred” warn not to choose a red-haired person as a friend and the “Secretum Secretorum” warns against using redheads as advisors.

Another manuscript, from the 14th century, notes that redheads are rarely faithful in friendship and a work published in 1659 denounced the “vulgar error” of “censuring red-haired men.”

These ideas of untrustworthiness run alongside the idea that Judas, Christ’s betrayer, had red hair!

Judas and Mary Magdalene are frequently portrayed with red hair in the artwork of the Middle Ages.

In medieval Germany, freckles were called judasdreck and both Jews and redheads were slurred as possessing “bad character at best and barbarity at worst.”

Red Hair and the Vampire

vampire

Montague Summers’ book “The Vampire: His Kith and Kin” mentions that red-headed vampires are considered the most dangerous, and trace their red hair back to Judas (or even Cain).

He claims that in Bulgaria, Serbia, and Romania, Vampires are called “Children of Judas”.

There is even a Hebrew legend that tags Judas, betrayer of Christ, as the original vampire.

The book of Agulah, written in the 843 A.D. by a catholic monk named Aed states that God punished Judas by restoring his life after he had hanged himself.

Aed writes that God in his fury condemned Judas to walk the earth until the final days.

Judas would fear the sun and be cursed to roam the land in darkness.

He would never again know the comfort of death and would be damned to only feeding on the blood of living humans for eternity.

The various tellings have it that Judas upon his suicide was cursed to wander the Earth as a vampire; that the vampiric aversion to silver is due to Judas’ blood money; and that Judas’ descendants carry his mark (the red hair!).

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, a possible explanation of the use of silver bullets in vampire and werewolf lore?

Red Jews

redhead_jew

The Red Jews were a mythical Jewish tribe or nation that appear in German sources during the medieval era.

The Red Jews were considered a threat to Christendom, and would invade Europe during the troubles leading to the end of the world.

The reason for the name “Red” is unknown, but some believe they were called as such because they had red hair.

Jews often were portrayed by medieval illustrations in Christian texts with red hair and in red clothes.

The illustrations of medieval Hebrew manuscripts represent Jews, female and male, with red hair or red hair and beard.

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.

Magical Red Hair

The medieval mind attributed magical properties to the bodily fluids of redheads.

Fat from a blood-haired person was used to make poison.

Urine from blood-haired children was mixed into paint for stained glass windows.

Likewise, Theophilus Presbyter claimed that the blood of a red-haired man was an ingredient needed to turn copper into gold!

La Rousse

trahison-de-judas

Of all the European countries, it seems that the French had the lowest opinion of red hair.

A French Proverb goes :

“Redheaded women are either violent or false, and usually are both.”

As late as the 19th century the phrase “poil de Judas” (hair of Judas) was still being used to describe the redhead trait.

As early as 1500 witches in France would often blaspheme the name of the Virgin Mary, referring to her as “la Rousse” – the redhead.

There was even a twelfth-century French scholar who belittled one of his rivals by constantly ridiculing his red hair.

Where does this prejudice against red hair come from?

The author Ruth Mellinkoff, in her book, “Outcasts,” commented upon this prejudice, believing it to be a product of red hair’s minority status in society.

“Red hair, a red beard, and ruddy skin – separately or combined – have been considered suspect, impure, and dangerous because they did not meet the standards of the normal…[w]hat is essential to keep in mind is that they are minority features in all racial and ethnic groups, even among the Irish, who are widely thought to have more redheads.”

Never mind, redheads. Mark Twain, who was red-haired himself, put it well :

“While the rest of the species is descended from apes, redheads are descended from cats.”

Course, the less said about how many medieval people felt about cats, the better.

Siobhan O’Shea is a freelance writer. She writes about pretty much everything but especially likes to bring readers’ attention to new tech, marketing, human behavior, and other oddities.