Dance of the Seven Veils
Where does the story originate? And what is the significance of 'seven'?
When something is prohibited or difficult to have, it often seems more attractive and thrilling.
A short skirt can seduce men more than a swimsuit. Why? Because covering the tops of the legs (just) sets off the man's imagination. Intention and context make the eroticism, not the amount of exposed skin. This was the simple psychology that made the 'dance of the seven veils' so seductive.
But where does the story originate? And what is the significance of 'seven'?
Dance of the Seven Veils
Rita Hayworth and Stewart Granger in 'Salome', 1953
The Dance of the Seven Veils is often believed to be based on the biblical story of Herodias. She had and adulterous affair with her uncle Herod Antipas. They both divorced their respective spouses and married each other. John the Baptist scolded them because he felt the relationship was incestuous, and in retaliation, Herod imprisoned John. Perhaps this incarceration satisfied Herod, but not his wife.
At Herod's birthday party, his stepdaughter danced to entertain Herod and his guests. Herod was so enchanted by the dance that he promised her anything she desired. Her mother, Herodias, had the twisted and wicked idea of suggesting that John be killed and his head severed as a suitable prize for such a beautiful dance. And so it was. John the Baptist's head was cut off and delivered on a tray. Pretty gruesome stuff and you can read the details in Matt. 14:6-11 and Mark 6:21-28.
In 1891, Irish playwright Oscar Wilde wrote a play called 'Salome' which was based on Herodias's daughter. He named the girl Salome, and spiced up the story by saying the dance was seductive and included seven veils
We are not sure why seven was chosen, although the mystic's Seven Veils of Mystical Experience (Dream, Reason, Passion, Bliss, Courage, Compassion and Knowledge) have been around for a while. These 'veils' were based on the seven celestial bodies that were astrological symbols of the soul.
Or perhaps seven veils were used in the dance because seven is one of those 'lucky' or mysterious numbers that intrigues people. (Read a little more about the mysterious number seven here.) The veils were used to make the story more titillating. To be sure, the original dance must have been pretty bewitching to have resulted in the execution of an important figure, John the Baptist.
Whether the dance was sexy is debatable because the original Greek word used in the New Testament referred to his stepdaughter as a korasion, which means a pre-teen or prepubescent girl. However, Wilde's play was without doubt meant to have seductive overtones and the concept of using the veil prop has found its way into sleazy strip clubs around the world ever since.
See also Wedding Veils. Why?