The Meaning of Dreadlocks Explained

What is the meaning of dreadlocks

We know that dreadlocks have been around for centuries. And yet, many questions are repeatedly asked but no straightforward answers are given. 

Some of these questions are: What is the significance of locs? Do they have a Biblical meaning? Do they give you spiritual powers? Etc, etc…

Perhaps you’ve asked (or have been asked) a similar question. I know I have! 

So I went on a mission to find the truth, and after much research, I think I found it. Are you ready for this? Drum roll, please..!

There is not one specific meaning for having locs. As the world evolved over the course of human existence, so have some of the meanings attributed to dreads. Dreadlocks mean different things to different people.

When you ask a group of dread heads why they got locs, I guarantee you’ll get multiple answers. And not one of them is wrong. 

For some, dreads mark the beginning of a new chapter in their lives. For others, they mark the end of one. 

Some people get locs for spiritual reasons. Others simply get them because they’re a cool and trendy hairstyle.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. Or maybe it matters a lot. It ultimately comes down to the person wearing them. 

If you have locs and they mean something to you, embrace it. If not, that’s acceptable too. 

A person’s dreadlock journey (and the meaning behind their locs) is uniquely theirs in the same way that their fingerprints, DNA, and life experiences are all unique to them. Who are we to judge?

With that in mind, let me fill you in on some of the interesting things I learned while I was researching this topic.

Note: You’re entitled to your own opinion and beliefs about the meaning of dreadlocks (and I might add, loc extensions) but no drama will be tolerated on this website. If you’d like to provide feedback or commentary, do so respectfully. 🙂

A brief history of dreadlocks

We can’t talk about the symbolism of locs without first giving a brief background of their origins. 

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of conflicting information about who originally wore dreadlocks and it’s possible that we’ll never come to a solid conclusion. So, let’s leave the conflicting details on a shelf and instead focus on what we do know, such as the following:

  • Dreadlocks have been around forever.
  • Dreadlocks likely originated in the modern-day region of the Middle East and Northern Africa. This is where we find the origins of human creation. 
  • Some of the first archeological findings of dreadlocks have been discovered on ancient Egyptian mummies.
  • Dreads were depicted in art found in Greece dating back as early as the Bronze Age. One fresco was uncovered on the island of Thera (modern-day Santorini) in the ancient settlement of Akrotiri.
  • Dreadlocks have been mentioned in ancient manuscripts dating as far back as 1500 BC.
  • Matted hair (which is essentially what dreadlocks are) does not “belong to” any particular culture nor people group. If someone doesn’t brush their hair for a while, locs are going to form. This was no different for someone who didn’t use a comb four thousand years ago.

What do dreadlocks symbolize?

As before-mentioned, dreadlocks can signify a lot of different things. Throughout society, you can find various cultural, spiritual, and non-spiritual meanings but the true symbolism of loc’d hairstyles lie within the person wearing them. 

What is the cultural meaning of dreadlocks?

These are a few examples of the cultural significance behind dreadlocks— some are beliefs from previous time periods and others are current.

  • In Egypt, archeologists found mummified human remains as well as art depicting dreadlocks in ancient Egyptian tombs. Pharaohs, who were known to be buried at such sites, were believed to be gods incarnated in the flesh. Therefore, it is speculated that Pharaohs wore dreadlocks as a symbol of their supreme power, divine status, or delusions of deity.  
  • In Europe, the Celts, Vikings, and Germanic tribes are said to have worn dreadlocks for various reasons, including as a fashion statement, to signify their level within a class system, for practical and hygienic reasons, to intimidate their enemies, and to mark the beginning of a special celebration or festivity.
  • In China, dreadlocks were believed to bring good health. Loc’d hairstyles were more commonly worn by the people of higher classes or those who lived in religious seclusion. 
  • In Kenya and Tanzania, the Maasai warriors wear dreadlocks as a symbol of power, strength, and intimidation (possibly against the British). The Maasai tribe has fought hard to preserve their culture and traditions, as well as prevent Western countries from infiltrating them with their education and belief systems.
  • In Namibia, the women of the Himba tribe wear a hairstyle that resembles dreadlocks to symbolize fertility and their ability to bear children.
  • In Jamaica, locs appeared after the emancipation when the slaves received their freedom. It signified their resistance to those they were enslaved by.
Dreadlocks in Namibia

What is the spiritual meaning of dreadlocks?

Dreads are not religious per se but some people wear them as an expression of their religious beliefs or convictions. 

  • Biblical meaning: Dreadlocks are not a sin by Biblical standards. In fact, they are mentioned a few times in the Bible, most notably in Judges 16 where it is revealed that Samson had seven locs. As a man who had taken the Nazarite vow, his locs showed his commitment (or separation) unto the Lord.

    The Nazarite vow is a temporary consecration done by both men and women to show their complete dedication, or commitment, to God. The vow, found in Numbers 6, states that during all the days of a person’s oath of separation, no razor shall touch their head and the locks of their hair must grow long. It is believed that many of those who took the Nazarite vow abstained not just from cutting their hair, but also from brushing it, thereby forming dreads. To complete the vow, a sacrifice is brought to the temple and the person’s hair is cut.

    Believers in Jesus Christ the Messiah are no longer under the law but are now under a new covenant. The New Testament scriptures remind us that we should still consecrate ourselves to the Lord (Romans 12:1), and while there is no mention of hair, some people choose to grow their locs as a symbol of their commitment to God.
  • Jewish meaning: The Nazarite vow we just discussed was spoken to Moses and is found in Bamidbar (the Biblical book of Numbers) in the Jewish Torah.

    The Jewish people are allowed to take the Nazarite vow today, but doing so would likely be a permanent decision since there is no way to conclude the vow. Remember that at the end of the vow, an offering must be brought to the temple. Without a temple in Jerusalem, the Nazarite vow cannot be completed.
  • Buddhist meaning: The Tibetan Buddhist Yogis, otherwise known as the Ngakpas and Naljorpas of Tibet, typically have dreadlocks. They leave their hair unaltered, un-styled, and uncut as a way of keeping their appearance, mind, and body uncontrived. 
  • Rastafari meaning: Dreadlocks have become popular with the Rastafari religion. To Rastafarians, locs are a symbol of the Lion of Judah and the deep respect they have for their god. 
  • Hindu meaning: The Hindu god Shiva wore ‘matted’ dreadlocks as a symbol of keeping his desires knotted together, or controlled. Each strand of hair was believed to represent a desire, therefore by holding them together, he would be able to keep his desires restrained. Followers of the Hindu religion might dreadlock their hair for the same reason.

    You may have heard (or seen photos) of the Sadhus, the religious ascetic who follow a strict spiritual discipline to Hinduism and Jainism. They wear dreadlocks (jata) to symbolize spiritual enlightenment and supreme knowledge. The length of their locs represents the duration of the devotion they have had to their gods. 

Regardless of religious affiliation, many of those who loc their hair for spiritual purposes do so because of their covenant to Creator God and the spiritual power that is connected to their dreads— their hair is believed to be an extension of the nervous system.

Sadhus with dreadlocks

Other meanings for dreadlocks

Having dreads does not always stem from cultural or religious deference, but rather can be a matter of personal choice.

Some people get locs for the following reasons:

  • As an expression of individuality
  • As a form of ethnic pride and identity 
  • As a non-violent expression of non-conformity
  • To show solidarity with oppressed minorities
  • Because hair brushes are overrated 🙂
  • Because it’s a low-maintenance hairstyle (although low-maintenance does NOT mean or imply unhygienic)
  • Because it marks the beginning of a new chapter in that person’s life
  • Or, because it marks the end of a chapter in that person’s life 
  • And for many other reasons!

I’m part of a large dreadlock community and occasionally people will share what their locs and dreadlock journey has meant to them. I thought it would be cool to share a few entries with you here. I’ve kept them anonymous on purpose. 

  • “Four years ago I decided that I was going to unapologetically be myself. My hair is a symbol of my identity in the way that I want it to be. I’m not a whole person. I’m a messy disaster some days and that is okay! They will continue to form and grow just as I will. I love them dearly, with every wiggle and imperfection.”
  • “Slow and steady I get to where I’m going and I do it all over again. I’ve never enjoyed living so much and each day it gets even better. My locs are a symbol of all of this. They marked the beginning of my climb and it seems the more beautiful I begin to feel on the inside, the more beautifully they begin to take shape. As I become stronger, so do they. The more I accept my true self, the more wild they become. Patience, determination, self-care, discipline, joy, and grace. This is what the “Dreadlock Journey” means to me.”
  • “My dreads are a symbol of patience and understanding in my own heart.”
  • “Dreadlocks (natural and synthetic) represent a symbol of peace, acceptance, positivity, strength, and being true to yourself.”
  • “I’m so happy to be on this journey. It is definitely teaching me more patience.” 
  • “My loc journey can be summed up as four and a half years worth of ego loss, knotty lessons, messy head, and wild child hair transformations.” 
  • “My spiritual meaning is that I don’t have to do my hair anymore and that makes my spirit happy.”
  • “My reasons are my own and I’ll leave it at that.”
  • “I didn’t really understand the meaning of “dread journey” until I really invested time, and started seeing the difference in my hair!!! My hair still isn’t where I want it to be but I’ve accepted the journey for what it is and I’m grateful.”
  • “Dreadlocks are a symbol of love. One love. One heart. No racism. We are one people.”
  • “My dreads are a symbol of my inner “wild side.” I no longer have and want to hide, because I noticed it’s okay to be me.”
  • “I finally started my loc journey and I feel so good about it. I don’t care what anyone thinks! For the first time in my life, I love my hair. That’s huge. I also recently left a really unhealthy relationship that claimed many excruciating years of my life and look at this as a symbol of being reborn. What an amazing experience this has been so far!”

There you have it, friends. Every person’s journey is one hundred percent unique to them. The value and meaning you attach to your locs is YOURS and no one can take that away from you. 

I’ll leave you with one last entry that I could not have worded better myself:

“Every single dread head, be it matted, locked, knotted, palm rolled, crocheted, natural, extensions, black, white, Puerto Rican, Asian, Australian, Haitian….every single one of you is beautiful.” 

Rastafari dreadlocks

Bottom line

There is not one particular meaning that can be attributed to dreadlocks. Let’s remember that it’s an ancient hairstyle that has been worn for centuries by various people groups for various different reasons. Regardless of culture, religion, and personal reasoning, we must always respect a person’s choice of hairstyle, whether that is dreadlocks, braids, loose hair, or what have you. 

Wear your locs with pride!

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