‘Women are spinners and weavers; we are the ones who spin the threads and weave them into meaning and pattern. Like silkworms, we create those threads out of our own substance, pulling the strong, fine fibres out of our own hearts and wombs. It’s time to make some new threads; time to strengthen the frayed wild edges of our own being and then weave ourselves back into the fabric of our culture. Once we knew the patterns for weaving the world; we can piece them together again. Women can heal the Wasteland. We can remake the world. This is what women do. This is our work.’
From If Women Rose Rooted, by Sharon Blackie
In Old English, the word ‘wyrd’ is usually used to refer to fate, or destiny; it’s actually a verbal noun formed from the verb weorþan, meaning ‘to come to pass, to become’. But originally, it was the name for a goddess: one who was fate personified. She was the eldest of the Norns, who in Norse and other Germanic mythology were the weavers of destiny. Urðr (the Old Norse equivalent of the Old English ‘Wyrd’) and her sisters Verðandi and Skuld are said to live in a hall at the Well of Urðr which lies beneath the world tree, Yggdrasil. The Norns design the destinies of all of those who live in the Nine Worlds of Yggdrasil, from humans to animals to giants and gods – but in contrast to the more deterministic Greek concept of fate, those beings still have some degree of agency in shaping their own destiny and the destinies of others. But the power of the Norns is great: no person, it is said – and not even a god – can overturn their judgement.
Wyrd/ Urðr and the other Norns are just one example of the Three Maidens – spinning and weaving women throughout European mythology – who were said to hold the fate of all the beings of the world(s) in their hands. In ancient Greece, they were called the Moirae; in Rome, the Parcae. In Germania, Eastern Gaul, and Northern Italy they were called the Matres, or the Matronae. There are many stories about them in Slavic mythology, where their various names are Sudičky, Sudice, Suđaje, Rodzanice, Narecznice, Sudiczki, Sojenice or Rojenice. In contrast to Greek and Norse mythology, they are young, beautiful, and usually dressed in white.
The importance of the spinning and weaving motifs can be seen passed down through European fairy tales: take the Sleeping Beauty, who pricks her finger on a spindle and falls asleep for a hundred years. Think of the princess in ‘Rumpelstiltskin’, who is required to spin straw into gold. Or Habetrot, a character from British folklore who was a spinner, a weaver, and also a healer: if you could persuade her to weave you a garment, you’d never again suffer from illness.
The Wise Women of Europe, spinning and weaving the world into being. In the old stories, it is women who make the world; why then shouldn’t we remake it? It’s time now, more than ever, to remember those old stories. Time to reclaim the Wise Woman. Time to walk the old path – the path through the hedge.
from Creation of the Himalayas
after the painting ‘Embroidering Earth’s Mantle’ by Remedios Varo
They say we are just embroiderers
but when we are working well, our tower turns
into burnished fire and the mantle flows
from our fingers, tumbling through the air
in loops of delight. There are always men
trapped in our weave. The sky calls their names
and they climb, trying to reach back
through the clouds to our blue fingers.
They glimpse us over the Tibetan Plateau,
our needles flashing like nimbus.
Each dancing thread and singing stitch
must be precisely placed in its matrix.