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Today is Sawhain, the center point between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice on the Great Round of nature’s cycle and the beginning of the spiritual new year. The harvests are in, and if we have done our part in honoring the gods, the larders are full and we are prepared for winter. Today, I marvel at the bounty of this last year for myself.
A year ago I cut a thread that had bound me to a certain path and set out upon another. This new path was not really new, but rather a reclaiming of a path I have trod for coming close to half a century. Once again, I committed myself to a path of weaving, which says more than it seems. Weaving is a path of gathering, making and sharing. It happens in the physical and spiritual planes and reveals itself through texere – a great Latin word meaning “to weave” that is the root word of both “textile” and “text.”
Textile and text – I can’t think of a better description of what I most love to do in this world. As I practice both textile and text, It continues to be my delight that weaving figures so prominently in mythology and metaphor, thus pointing the way to its divine nature. And there it is again, the circuitous way of weaving: nature, as in the Mother, and nature as in the concept, the masculine and the feminine, all bound up in words and the act of weaving.
Today, at this junction of time and place between Equinox and Solstice, I offer you a bit of texere: spellbinding. Certainly this time of year is spellbinding in the beauty of the colors of the trees, the other-worldly shapes and promises of seedpods and seeds, the vibrant sunsets and quality of light in late afternoon. And, yet, look at that word, spellbinding, closely; consider its history. Simply put, spellbinding is to bind someone or something with a spell, to mesmerize, to hypnotize, to hold in place. Think a bit more, and realize that to bind is also to tie a string around something, to use a string or cord to hold that something in place. And what was it that women were doing in those days when spellbinding was a recognized truth of the way of life? Why, of course, they were weaving, binding the weft between the rising and falling warps, wrapping others in the love (or other spells) of what they had woven, knowing that the magic of creating a cloth from the skill of their hands and gifts of nature (wool, flax, silk, cotton) also created life.
So, I leave you on this Samhain 2013 with a bit of spellbinding, uttered each time as I bind the warp to my loom to begin weaving:
May Forgiveness open the path to Gratitude so that Love is the thread that I weave!
The Kitty Alarm, otherwise known as The Little Orange Fur Ball or AnnieCat, woke me before dawn. Sometimes I can ignore her, but this morning she was insistent. It was as if she knew that I mustn’t miss this:
Outside the dining room window, lit by the street light that I curse for destroying the darkness of the night, Spider waited.
Her lacy web traced her space in the morning sky, an intricate union of body-substance and lunar dampness. Do you know Spider’s story? In all of them that I have ever heard, Spider is a weaver. The Hopi and Navajo are some of my favorites because they tell about how Grandmother Spider helped create the world.
Grandmother Spider was created by Sòtuknang according to the plan of Taiowa, the Creator. Spider’s first words were, “Why am I here?” Sòtuknang replied, “You have been given the power to help us create this life. . . . the power to bless all the beings you create.” So, Spider got busy and began to create. Using the earth and her own saliva, she created the First People of the First World. When the people were created, Sòtuknang told them that he asked only one thing: “To respect the Creator at all times.” ( 3-7)
Sheila Moon, in her book, Changing Woman and Her Sisters, continues the tale of the journey through the worlds by The People:
The First People soon forgot that their purpose was to follow the plan of Creator, So Spider Woman led them into the next world and, then the next. In this Third World, Grandmother Spider taught the people to live in villages, plant crops, weave and make pots. It went well for a time, but then the people started to quarrel again. Grandmother Spider told them that they had to make choices. Those who wanted to change, she told them, must go further up. She showed them the doorway in the sky that led to the next level, but no one could see how to get there.
The people thought and thought, but despaired of entering the next world. But then Grandmother Spider and her two warrior grandsons appeared and planted seeds. She told the people to sing without ceasing. Slowly the newly planted seeds began to grow, making a pathway into the next world.
In the Fourth World, Grandmother Spider helped the people to settle and then, one day, she covered the hole through which they had entered from the previous world with a lake. She told them that they had come to this Fourth World for a purpose: to remember where they had come from and what the Creator had told them. If they remembered that, she said, they would not lose their way (136-8).
Some days, it’s easy to forget where I come from and to remember to respect Creation. Luckily, I have Spider outside my window, and Weaver in my studio.
Weaving, watching each warp thread lift and lower in sequence, the weft thread passing smoothly between, the cloth emerging from the path created by the loom, it’s easier to remember. And, to be grateful not only for weaving, but also for seeming disturbances, like Kitty Alarms, who insistently awaken me to the newly woven webs of the day.
If you are old enough, as I am, to remember balancing your checkbook with paper and pencil, adding and subtracting beginning and ending balances, checks cleared and checks still out, and the sheer ecstasy when the figures in your checkbook matched the figures on the bank statement, then you will probably understand my excitement over this:
You see, the number of threads of each color that I wound for the warp matches the number of threads of each color that I need for this scarf. Perfectly. Not one thread too many nor one thread not enough. Ecstasy.
Some days in the studio are achingly beautiful. Today was one of those days.
Outside in the bright sun, the Cape Honeysuckle and Bower Vine lifted their blossoms, inviting bees and hummingbirds.
The music inside the studio was a haunting tune with garden sounds that hinted at elves and fairies at play amongst the shrubbery. The weaving went well, and yet, there was an ache; I think that ache is autumn.
Joseph Campbell spoke of autumn as the moment in the yearly cycle when the veil between the worlds becomes the thinnest. As if to bring this point home, he crossed over on October 30, 1987, midway of the Fall Equinox and Winter Solstice. Even in the part of Southern California where I live, amidst still bright hibiscus and a Navel Orange tree growing fruit for Christmas, the slowing is evident. Seed pods replace some of the summer blooms.
In its own perverse Autumn ritual, the wind gathers strength in the Great Basin and blows through the passes of the California hills and mountains, pushing the ocean breeze out to sea. The heat of the new winds dries the dampness of morning fogs and brings with it the threat of wildfires. Fire is almost a given in this area at this time of the year – a battle between fiery heat of late summer and damp coolness of the coming winter. Autumn is the battleground between fire and water.
I feel that battle as the urge to be out in the bright light of the sun surrenders to the inevitable increasing damp darkness of the night. It’s in that battle, the connection of my natural body to the cycle, that the pushes and pulls resonate as achingly beautiful.
If I could have one wish, it might be that I could weave that Beauty, that aching Beauty of connection. Sometimes it feels close. But then, just like the fire of summer and the water of winter, it slides away into the ebb and flow of weaving one more row, lifting treadles, winding shuttles and gathering materials.
Daily life. The truth is that only by doing the daily work of being a weaver do I ever approach the balance and harmony of who I am in the midst of all of this Beauty. Daily life. Yearly cycles. The arc of a life. Harmony. Peace. Creation continues.
Much of my inspiration for weaving comes from growing up, and still living, near the ocean. I like the vastness of it, the way that the eye can see to the very edge, the ever-changing colors and that it is filled with memories. So, today being the absolutely beautiful day that it was, I could clearly hear a local beach known as The Wedge calling.
Like so much of Southern California’s coastline, The Wedge is man-made. It is the ocean side of a long jetty built from rock, many of which are rather inexplicably scattered across the beach. Because of the jetty’s interaction with the ocean’s current and the shore, a distinct wave pattern forms a V, or wedge. When the surf is large, it’s quite dangerous, yet thrilling. On a high surf day, the shore is packed with spectators. Today’s surf was very mild, so only a few stood at the edge of the beach to watch.
Surfers are an optimistic lot – always believing that the perfect wave is coming, like an artist knowing that the next piece will be The One. I’ve seen the surf completely engulf the jetty. In fact, when I was in high school, a young man was washed up and over the jetty and drowned.
A simple 90° turn to the left and all is calm in the Bay. I think that gnarly tree was there when I was a kid. The salty ocean air is tough on plants. Plus, its roots are in sand and the only water is rainwater, which in this area is sparse.
Another 90° turn and there is the house that I was convinced would be mine one day. (I actually still secretly believe that.) Until recently, it was rather rundown, a faded pink and the little park was not as formal. Because of that park, it’s a clear view out to the ocean. If I owned this house, my studio would be on the top floor. I would get up early each morning to watch the sun rise, have a cup of tea and try to memorize the colors of light shaping the landscape.
During the day, I’d try not to be distracted by the passing boats, the gulls and pelicans and houses squished into the hill, all just begging to be drawn. My dad took me out on all-day or two-day fishing boats like this one. When I think of it, it was probably an unusual thing back in the 1950s for a father to take his daughter out on a fishing boat. Thank goodness he didn’t worry about things like that.
After spending a while at the beach, it was a short walk back to the car. In the 50s and 60s, my parents and I spent summers just a few streets over from here, at a duplex owned by friends. It was far from our home neighborhood of stucco tract houses, not so much by miles, but definitely by wealth and ambiance. I have such good memories of making tissue paper collages with my mom on the outdoor deck, listening to the waves break and the foghorn moan.
It almost seems as if the plants and flowers grow effortlessly here, yet look at those stunted, gnarly trees at The Wedge. The gardens are obviously well-tended, with protection from the salt spray, plenty of mulch and ample water.
Turning the car away from The Wedge, the ferry beckoned to Balboa Island. When I was a teenager, freshly minted with a driver’s license, one of my scariest experiences was the first time I drove onto the ferry. Wouldn’t you know I was right up front? Luckily, I didn’t panic and stopped right where the attendant told me, avoiding driving into the bay.The houses on the island are crowded together, but look at these colors! It takes the clear light of the beach for these colors to glow, although I imagine they are also beautiful when the fog cradles them. The purple and turquoise, touched with terra cotta and the red Bougainvillea and yellow-green tropical foliage are such a contrast to the less intense sand, rocks and native hillsides just a few blocks away. This house makes me think of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. This is the dance of creativity held in the circle of nature.
For Wordless Wednesday: