There is certainly an association with spinning and weaving with the conception of fate and destiny. In fact, the concept of our fate, called Wyrd in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, is conceptualized as a great web made up of strands that are spun by the three spinners (the Fates, called the Norns in Germanic tradition). Wyrd can be seen as a cosmic tapestry of your life that exists in the spiritual plane.
We saw the fairy godmother shown spinning only in one scene in “The Three Golden Hairs.” And, in “Aschenputtel,” spinning was not mentioned at all.
However, the protagonist’s mother did give her garments which are obviously made with textiles, and it was down to these garments that Aschenputtel was able to secure her fate. If that sounds like a stretch, stay with me.
In “The Myth of the Goddess,” Baring and Cashford explain that there was an ancient association between these spinning goddesses and motherhood.
Motherhood was always seen as very sacred and magical. It gave women special status because they were the givers of new life. Baring and Cashford assert that the female goddesses who were weavers of fate are connected to motherhood and agricultural fertility.
The authors quote Eithne Wilkins from her own book “The Rose Garden Game,” which discusses how the Virgin Mary took on much of this symbolism. Wilkins describes the Fates as “spinners and weavers, an archaic female triad outside of time and space.” And goes on to say that they are connected to the “Great Mother” archetype:
“The Great Mother herself spins and weaves because she is the primal embodiment of the triad weavers of all things earthly, of growth, of time, of destiny. The primordial lady spins out of her own being the thread of time and weaves it to make the tissue of things, just as the woman spins in herself the tissue of another being’s flesh.
Indeed, in native European tradition, magic was seen as mainly within the sphere of women. Dr. Brian Bates discusses the important role of women in Northern European pagan society and their high status as seeresses in his book “The Real Middle Earth.”
It is recorded in Roman observations of the Germanic tribes that when the tribes were negotiating treaties with Roman generals, that the Romans generals were shocked when they were not sent to the male chieftains but instead to the high female priestess.
This woman would have been the seeress with the gift to look into the web of Wyrd, and so it was felt that she would be the most apt to make big decisions that affected the fate of the entire tribe.
The connection between spinning and motherhood, and therefore life giving, has also been observed by author and psychologist Marie Louise von Franz, who worked closely with Carl Jung for nearly three decades. In light of what we’ve already touched upon, her observations are fascinating.
In her book “The Feminine in Fairy Tales,” von Franz mentions that another psychologist conducted a study wherein she collected the dreams of pregnant women and of new mothers with infants. It was found that imagery of threads and weaving turned up very frequently.
The woman dreamt that she was led to a boat on the sea by several women. She was afraid and cried out for her husband, but a kind woman came and talked to her, showing her a piece of silk and explaining how the various threads were woven together to make the cloth. The dream was interpreted as spiritual interjection to guide this woman toward positively embracing motherhood and the creation of life.
That this particular dream occurred on a boat adds yet more layers. In Vol VI, “The Three Golden Hairs,” we discussed the imagery of the sea as the barrier to cross into the Otherworld. In particular, looking into it for that tale, I found that specifically it had been described as a very dark black sea in both that fairy tale and in the Slavic mythic tradition.
I personally had a similar dream, myself, although it was not related to motherhood but to fate. I had dreamt that I was on a boat in a very dark sea. The sea was scattered with many boats, but they had all been stuck on a predetermined course, like cable cars that could only travel their route but not move freely. Then there appeared a mysterious and powerful female figure who caused a great storm. The sea broke into waves that thrashed and rocked the boats. When the storm settled, suddenly all of the boats were free to chart their own course at will and go in a new direction.
Personal dreams fall into a category that modern Pagans refer to as UPG – unverified personal gnosis. As a side note, this is where personal experience must remain separate from historical research.
However, when taken in a Jungian context, and especially when psychologists have observed trends among a large number of subjects, or when symbols and motifs occur in a dream when the subject had no pre-knowledge of the meaning behind the imagery, it lends one to taking Jung’s theory on a collective cultural unconscious very seriously.
Yet, she represents an example of a new mother who experienced a vision of imagery that is seen over and over again in the European tradition, which is that of female supernatural figures visiting the cradles of newborn babies.
Again, this is a personal anecdote of manifest collective memory experienced by someone of European ancestry who had no conscious intention of practicing native European faith. And, as with Maria von Franz’ subjects, this
was experienced by a young woman who had just given birth. It seems to me very likely that these experiences abound, but without the cultural context to recognize the imagery, that most people dismiss these experiences.
Von Franz explores the notion of a woven cloth as a metaphor for a newly created human being by comparing the composition of one piece of cloth composed by many interlacing threads is an apropos analogy to describe that “every child is the coming together into definite patterns of the Mendelian inherited units.”
Just as individual strings form cloth, strands of DNA form each human. And these strands are woven in the Otherworld.
Our mothers’ bodies spin the material from her own body and from the seed of the father into the threads that will be used to weave the pattern of the new life in her womb.
And, in a way, this imagery becomes like a fractal. Because the strings are spun in the Otherworld, your mother is the doorway that brings you from the Otherworld into Midgard (Middle Earth, the realm of mortals).
While you are woven from strands of DNA that come from your parents, the three spinners continue spinning the web of your Wyrd on the spiritual plane.
Habitrot and The Wood Maiden: Spinning Goddesses and Imagery in European Tradition
Each volume explores some of the deeper cultural elements found within the tale followed by a re-telling of the story.
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My name is Carolyn Emerick, and I write on the history, myth, and folklore of Northwestern Europe.
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