Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lessons from the Spindle

I've been avoiding the spindle for a while. For such a simple instrument, it can be quite intimidating. As spinners, we all dream of creating beautiful even wool, free of scubs, strong and useful. But it doesn't work like that in real life; most of us didn't grow up in places where girls learn to spin from a young age and where using the spindle is second nature. Before I started to spin, I was warned by a spinner from Saugerties that when you're learning to spin, you get to know the 'drop' in the term 'drop spindle' very well. I was advised to sit on a bed while I learned, so that I wouldn't have to go too far to retrieve my spindle again. Forearmed with this knowledge, I prepared myself to learn a simple skill that's notoriously deceptively difficult. As it was, when I finally picked up a spindle, I managed to create my first length of yarn without even reading the instructions or watching a youtube video. I read the instructions because I couldn't believe that I was doing it right because this wasn't the skill I'd been warned so much about. I'd heard such horror stories about learning the drop spindle, warned to get a top whorl spindle and to stay the hell away from Merino (all good advice, and thankfully I started with Corriedale). As I continued to spin, I decided that my method wasn't very efficient, and that I would look for some videos on Youtube to try and become faster and better. My first skein was really quite even too for a first skein and I was pleased with myself. Unfortunately though, by the second skein, I was expecting *perfection* from myself. Quite simply, in my head, I'd skipped from beginner to spinner without the practice. Over the next couple of years, I made lots of mistakes, I still do. I found out the hell of handspinning merino, I learned about using different spindles for different weights of yarn (for example, my top whorl spindle is far too heavy for spinning lace or fingering yarn), I went through periods of nervousness of picking up the spindle and especially not spinning in public. I had good spinning days in which I'd never drop the spindle, and would be stood up in order to spin longer lengths and others when all I seemed to do was drop the spindle. I mostly spun skeins for offerings. My first skein was offered to the waters of the Frau Holle Teich with some homemade bread. One could say that learning the spindle teaches persistence and that the process of drafting teaches the virtue of only using as much force as is necessary and not grasping onto things too tightly, but there is also a sense of peace. It's meditative, and at certain points, it's almost as though you can feel some kind of approval from female ancestors long deceased. Perhaps the greatest lesson that the spindle has taught me to date is that of Frau Holle; I became interested in her through spinning, and that interest led to researching her origins - something I'm still working on today. Now, I don't just see her as Frau Holle the character from folklore, but for me she is Frija, the Germanic goddess, and to take it a little further, the spinning goddess depicted on the Oberwerschen bracteate.
Of course I don't have solid evidence for this, this is mostly UPG. We have some evidence, but nothing that allows us to say without a doubt that that is so. That spinning was important, intrinsically linked with women and magic though, is without doubt. In Anglo Saxon England and for a while after that, the woman's side of the family was known as the 'Spindle side'. There are a plethora of folk tales that tell of Frau Holle, Frau Percht or Frau Herke being particularly concerned with a woman's spinning and that a woman's industriousness at the spindle was in direct proportion to the luck her family enjoyed for the coming year (UPG, but things always seem to go better for me when I'm doing a lot of spinning, I seem to have much more luck). Spinning was ritualised, with days when it was acceptable to spin and days when it was not. Certain feasts were observed around the numens connected to spinning too, such as the prescribed porridge and herrings of Perchta's feast day. In Swedish folk tradition, pregnant women in their 7th month would spin three lengths of thread, dye one black, one red and leave the other white. After complex preparations to the threads they would be kept until the birth, when the white thread would be used to tie off the umbilical, the red around the baby's wrist for protection and the black burned, that death should stay away. Eldar Heide's work strongly suggests that spinning is linked to Seidr, that Seidr magic in the form of a kind of 'emissary' called a 'gandus' could be something that was 'spun'. Indeed fiber arts have long since been linked with magic; from the jet and amber spindle whorl finds from the viking period, to the card weaving card find bearing the inscription 'Sigvor's Ingvar may have my bad luck' and laws that detailed the penalties for weaving intent into cloth, such as the ones laid out in the Corrector of Burchard of Worms. Spinning is about *creation*. For a while I've considered forcing myself to spin each day, even if it's just a little. Just to see what other lessons the spindle can teach me and I started that this week with the new spindle I purchased from Phillipsburg Manor on Sunday. The trip to the manor was incredible, lots of fiber geeks there, good conversations with other spinners and helping to shear a sheep. It was all wonderfully familiar, if I could work anywhere, I think being a reenactor there would be pretty close to my dream job. The spindle I picked up is just fabulous. So unassuming and simple, but very, very well designed. Very evenly balanced, light but not too light, and with a handy groove in the shaft so that the half hitch knot doesn't slip and cause the spindle to fall while spinning. So this week I've spun each day. Not a lot, maybe a half hour a day so far. I want it to become a habit, like cleaning my teeth. I want it to become second nature. Not only that, but each week, I'm assigning myself an amount of roving to spin by each Saturday. I can go over, but this base amount has to be spun up by 9pm on Friday evening of each week. Why Friday evening? It's arbitrary. There are far too many variants of times when it's acceptable to spin and when it's not in the folklore, depending on region. So I've created my own. Why am I imposing this on myself? I want to know what it's like to ritualise spinning and have taboos around the craft. A while ago, on the Heathen group on Ravelry, my friend Ulrike asked why the spindle wasn't as much of a symbol of Heathenry as the hammer. With everything I've read about spinning, goddesses concerned with spinning and folklore, I'm asking myself the same thing with increasingly regularity. About a year ago, I commissioned my friend to make me a silver spindle pendant and I made several different beaded necklaces to home it. The last one was quite elaborate but really didn't work out; this is the new one:
Bearing in mind various folk traditions, I wanted to focus on white, red and black as the main colours, but also give a nod to the amber and jet whorls from the archaeological finds. For the white I chose moonstone because I really love its almost otherworldly look. It's the same reason why I'm a sucker for opal too. The red is represented by red garnet as a kind of nod to the prevalence of the garnet used in Anglo Saxon jewelry, the black is jet. Then there are amber beads and wooden beads. Everything is spaced in groups of three, not only because of the three stages of life represented by the white/red/black, but also simply because three is my favourite number. I think my spindle pendant has finally met its beady match. Oh well, time for bed...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Sickness and Health

I hate being sick. To me, there's nothing worse than being laid up, watching the march of days and feeling like they're all being wasted.

Well, except for the feeling that in some way, your body has betrayed you by getting sick. Especially when you'd been taking extra care to be good to your body. It kind of feels like a contract broken, quid pro quo gone.

For the past week or so, I have been that person. It all started just over a week ago with a massive asthma attack that landed me in urgent care. I'd never really taken my asthma seriously before, after all, Army doctors prescribe inhalers at the drop of a hat. But this really messed me up. A nebulizer and steroids later, I thought I was back on my feet, only I wasn't. Every time I went outside I would cough, and fight for air, and in some cases, turn blue. During that week my movement has been limited. Going outside has been a no-no, moving too fast has been a no-no. For someone that was lifting weights and running at least 3 times a week less than two weeks ago, it's been hard. I've gotten into the habit of exercise. I enjoy it. I enjoy becoming stronger and more capable,*more hail*. My life and health have changed because of it. When I work out and am healthy, I have noticeably more clarity, translations and speaking other languages is easier, things don't annoy me as much as they would otherwise, hell, even my dreams are better. I'm happier all round and life doesn't seem like an insurmountable challenge with all the odds stacked against me.

This week of illness, of unhaelu, restriction and weakness has been awful. It's over-dramatic, but life has seemed like the hardest and worst disease when usually I love life. Perhaps it's not a surprise when you're struggling to breathe for large periods of time, it does kind of remind you of your own mortality.

Today I went to the doctor and he tested my lung function. Before using an inhaler, my lungs were at 30% the capacity they should have been at. That was when I wasn't having an attack. So now I have new asthma meds, a way to breathe again and life is suddenly looking much, much better. I also had some good news in that my blood pressure is, in the doctor's words 'perfect', when I was borderline hypertensive this time last year. It looks like I'm managing to change some of the risk factors in the genetic heritage inherited from my father of early heart disease. So it's an understatement to say that I'm looking forward to going back to the gym, and running and lifting things up and putting them down again. I'm looking forward to getting myself back on the path to haelu.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

And What Of The Goddesses?

When we moved to the North East, we were happy to have found a community made up of a great bunch of Heathens. Not only that, but we were lucky to have been welcomed and included by this bunch. It is hard to over-emphasise just how difficult and disorienting it can be to move to another continent, but the the way we were welcomed into the local community really helped to make us feel better about the whole thing.

For the most part, we both really love the way that local groups do things in this area, there's a rightness to it, a feeling of agreement with the sidu of the groups here. During our travels, my husband and I have come across many Heathens and either the world view of these individuals has been odd to us, or their groups haven't seemed to 'click' together, or they've just seemed plain crazy and we've had a good laugh about it on the way home. But the comfort we feel around these people and the way that the groups in this area do things, is pretty much how J and I would do everything if we were starting our own group.

Except for one thing, and this isn't just something that I've observed in the North East, but in a lot of American Heathen communities:

The lack of goddess worship.

Most groups have deities that they go to the most, but in the vast majority of cases that I can see, they're all male deities. Sure, there are women that offer to the goddesses, but for the most part, when you have a mixed group, it seems to be a godly sausagefest. Now I can understand that groups go with luck, and if a group's luck grows and the omens are good from offering to a deity, the group tends to stick to offering to that deity, but has this really only been the case with male deities? Or did no one ever think to try asking the female deities for help? Maybe people think female deities are the domain of Wicca? Maybe people think that for big favours, they're best going to a big, powerful god instead of a goddess that they don't perceive to be as powerful?

Even when it is done, it's in a limited way, and the goddess being offered to is far more pidgeonholed than her male counterparts.

This is the one aspect of Heathenism that I experienced in Germany, that I miss the most, that inclusion of female deity to the same degree as male. I can't change the sidu of the groups I live around, that's their sidu. Nor would I want to, because it works for them, but more and more, I want to find a place where we can place offerings to Frija into the waters and honour the Spinning Goddess.

Monday, April 2, 2012

New Issue of Odroerir Imminent!!!

So there's a journal, a Heathen journal, and it's full of well-written, well-researched, peer-reviewed articles by Heathens.

It's called Odroerir and issue 2 is coming out today!

The link is here:

Odroerir Journal

Go check it out people!