Weaving the World

Have you ever woven potholders on those little square metal looms with the stretchy colorful loops?  When I decided I needed potholders a few years ago I ordered a kit to make them with my granddaughter, which was fun, but I’m the one who became obsessed with it, ordering more loops and becoming enraptured by the patterns and colors. And an epiphany washed over me.  I HAD to learn how to really weave, and I had most certainly done a lot of weaving before, like a déjà vu or a prior lifetime.  With only a little reading and a couple of videos, I was off and running. My fingers knew what to do.  Lifetimes of weaving.  Millennia of women and ancestors who sat in weaving and spinning circles were cheering me on, and I could feel their ancient wisdom surrounding me.  

These ancient arts of weaving and spinning literally hold the very fabric of our dead, our ancestors, because our bodies, our DNA, hold cellular memories of the spindle and the loom.  There is evidence that at least 27,000 years ago people were spinning fibers.  The “Venus of Lespugue” is a voluptuous ivory figurine found in the foothills of the Pyrenees, in France.  She is shown wearing a loin cloth made of twisted strands, indicating that people were twisting or spinning fibers together at least as long ago as wooly mammoths were living.   And weaving is at least 10,000 years old.   So, for at least 100 centuries, and likely much longer, our ancestors have spun and woven their cloth by hand.  It is only the last 2 centuries or so that weaving has been industrialized.   

Before 1775 or thereabouts, weaving literally wove families and their communities together.  Every girl and many boys from the youngest of ages knew how to spin yarn on a spindle and most everyone participated in the process of weaving fabric in a family.  It is extremely hard for us today to imagine the immense amount of work that went in to spinning thread and yarn and weaving cloth for a family.  In England around 1700, It took three carders to provide the roving for one spinner, and up to three spinners to provide the yarn for one weaver. The process was continuous, and done by both sexes, from the youngest to the oldest.  It was what families did all through the long winter months when they couldn’t work the soil, and some did it as a full-time occupation.  This history gives us a sense of the enormous effort and focus that spinning and weaving used to have in our ancestor’s lives.   It is no wonder that weaving speaks so powerfully to us; that it permeates a myriad of stories, myths, and metaphors.    

The goddesses of weaving are numerous.  Some of the most well-known are Athena, Isis, Net, Spiderwoman, Brigid, Holda, the Three Fates, and Penelope.  And Mary Herself was said to be a weaver.  It is quite a party in the goddess world of weaving.  I like to think of them all sitting in a circle together weaving the Earth, fretting about the wisdom we have lost since the industrialization of spinning and weaving, and dancing and celebrating every time someone new takes up the craft.  

Some favorite gatherings I have coordinated are community weaving projects on an EarthLoom –  a large loom designed by my weaving teacher, Susan Barrett Merrill.  She says, “the EarthLoom is a living symbol of our intention to weave together the fabric of community.” An EarthLoom event brings the ancient craft of weaving into a group or community, having them weave together around a common intention or prayer. 

My husband made my seven-foot-tall EarthLoom for me a couple of years ago, and it easily breaks down to be transported to a community event site.  It is a simple loom, warped with garden twine, and magic happens as everyone in the group takes turns weaving a couple of rows with either strips of cloth, large yarn, vines, long stemmed flowers, colorful paper, and prayers.  Beautiful, unpredictable things are created.  When we weave in community, weave AS community, weaving our prayers together, we are literally weaving ourselves together.  Just like what is happening here, with this incredible Way of the Rose community, weaving ourselves together in our prayers. 

Perhaps you have heard the Sioux story of the Old Woman in the Cave who has been weaving a blanket for as long as the world has been in existence.   She weaves and weaves, but when she gets up to stir her pot of soup, her dog unravels what she has woven, and she must start over.    And so, the ongoing weaving of the world happens in a circular fashion over and over and never ends.

a short 45 second Video of Earth Loom group weaving with roses from Susan Barrett Merrill’s website Weaving a Life.
The 27,000 year old “Venus of Lespugue” ivory figurine found in the foothills of the Pyrenees, shown wearing a loin cloth made of twisted strands

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