Do you have any of Cascade’s Rustic yarn in your stash? Or a sweater made of Harrisville Flax & Wool blend, perhaps?
Wool (well known for it’s warmth and comfort) and linen (made from the fibres of the flax plant, and valued for its crispness and coolness) are a popular blend of fibres for suits and trousers, and are combined in a number of gorgeous hand knitting yarns, yet there are some people who believe these to be a forbidden mixture of fibres, warned against in religious scripture.
I found this out quite by chance, mentioned as an aside in Stephen Law’s The Philosophy Gym, but it’s something that stuck with me, and a subject that I have been quasi-researching in my spare moments for the past couple of weeks. I’ll be straight up and tell you I am not religious, but the teachings (and particularly the history) of various religions hold endless fascination for me. If you mix that together with a healthy dose of yarn-talk, then I am all ears.
So, what do these religious texts actually say?
…neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee. (Leviticus 19:19)
What most interests me is how this instruction came about. If I had to make my own judgement on what this instruction was for, I’d have guessed that it was a warning to keep the purity of different species and forms, because the entire verse reads:
Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee. (Leviticus 19:19)
So, don’t mix species of animals, fields of crops, or types of fibre – keep them all separate.
Deciding to hit up Google for a few answers, though, I soon discovered that this is not necessarily the assumed reason. The first search engine result I hit upon had the following dialogue: Q: ‘Why shouldn’t we wear wool and linen together’ A: ‘Electrocution’. Simply stated, but not particularly satisfying as an answer. No explanation was given as to why a garment of mixed wool and linen fibres might lead to electrocution, just that it would. Back to the google-a-tron! Soon, I came across this far more comprehensive explanation from Brian Sass:
If you were to wear a garment mixed with linen and wool in a hot climate, the first thing you would notice is an increasing tiredness as your energy gets zapped, then your internal organs would begin to fail as the electricity needed to run their various functions is depleted. As the energy passes from your body and meets with the hot air your skin will start to excoriate like a blister, causing rapid fluid loss and dehydration. The pain and discomfort would become unbearable and you would long for death to quickly come. Your wish is eventually granted.
Scary stuff, and Brain Sass uses the appliance of science to explain further:
You can measure the electricity in the human body in an electrical measurement called angstroms. The human body is quite healthy with 100 angstroms of electricity, if the electricity falls to 50 angstroms sickness begins to occur – if the decline continues to drop to 15 angstroms – more critical diseases such as cancer will occur. Wearing a linen garment will boost the electricity in the human body to 5000 angstroms! keeping you very healthy and full of energy- it’s no wonder that God had his priests wearing linen garments in His service. Wool on the other hand will also boost the body’s electricity to 5000 angstroms but with an opposite polarity. This is not harmful unless you mix the two, in which case, being of opposite polarity they cancel each other out and the bodies electricity drops to “0″ causing the symptoms outlined above.
Despite the scientific explanation that Brain Sass offers, I do not find it credible that these two fibres will cause you break out in blisters and develop cancer, otherwise clothes manufacturers around the world would have lawsuits coming out of their ears by now.
The real reason, to me, is still a mystery. This extremely interesting account and explanation of why wearing ‘shatnez'(mixed linen and wool fibres) is forbidden is Judaism, and the practicalities of shatnez in modern life offers some understanding of the history of the rule:
…the Law of shatnez is a chok, a decree that the King has passed for His subjects, for which we do not know the reason.
(italics mine). So, at the moment I am not much the wiser as the historical significance of these passages but I find it an interesting concept none the less. If anyone has any more information about the ruling against mixing wool and linen in a single garment, that exists in a number of religions, I’d be extremely interested in hearing from you. Similarly, if anyone has any wool/linen mix yarn that they are now too scared to use, I will gladly take donations and put the risk wholly onto myself. I especially like the colour green.