Weaving (mythology)

Weaving (mythology)

The theme of weaving in mythology is ancient, and its lost mythic lore probably accompanied the early spread of this art. Westward of Central Asia and the Iranian plateau, weaving is a mystery within woman's sphere, and where men have become the primary weavers in this part of the world, it is possible that they have usurped the archaic role.Fact|date=August 2007

Weaving begins with spinning. Until the spinning wheel was invented in the 14th century, all spinning was done with distaff and spindle. In English the "distaff side" indicates relatives through one's mother, and thereby denotes a woman's role in the household economy. In Scandinavia, the stars of Orion's belt are "Friggjar rockr", "Frigga’s distaff".


In pre-Dynastic Egypt, "nt" (Neith) was already the goddess of weaving (and a mighty aid in war as well). She protected the Red Crown of Lower Egypt before the two kingdoms were merged, and in Dynastic times she was known as the most ancient one, to whom the other gods went for wisdom. Nit is identifiable by her emblems and most often it is the loom's shuttle, with its two recognizable hooks at each end, upon her head. According to E. A. Wallis Budge ("The Gods of the Egyptians") the root of the word for "weaving" and also for "being" are the same: "nnt".

Dine (Navajo)

Many of the world's people understand that the world is "woven" and that a weaving Creator wove its designs into being. Compare the Navajo|Dine legend of the Spider Woman, of Teotihuacan origin.


In Greece the Moirae (the "Fates") are the three crones who control destiny, and the matter of it is the art of spinning on the distaff the thread of life. Ariadne, the wife of the god Dionysus in Minoan Crete Fact|date=June 2008, possessed the spun thread that led Theseus to the center of the labyrinth and safely out again.

Among the Olympians, the weaver goddess is Athena, who punished the impious pretensions of her acolyte Arachne by turning her into a weaving spider. The daughters of Minyas, Alcithoe, Leuconoe and their sister, defied Dionysus and honored Athena in their weaving instead of joining his festival. A woven peplum, laid upon the knees of the goddess's iconic image, was central to festivals honoring both Athena at Athens, and Hera.

In Homer's legend of the Odyssey, Penelope the faithful wife of Odysseus was a weaver, weaving her design for a shroud by day, but unravelling it again at night, to keep her suitors from claiming her during the long years while Odysseus was away. Penelope has a high lineage that melds human and divine, and is she perhaps secretly Odysseus' own weaving goddess-nymphFact|date=February 2007, like the two weaving enchantresses in the "Odyssey", Circe and Calypso. Helen is at her loom in the "Iliad".

Homer dwells upon the supernatural quality of the weaving in the robes of goddesses, and every writer reaching for a heroic style after him imitated an analogous passage.

In the terrible tale of Philomela, who was raped and her tongue cut out so that she could not tell about her violation, her loom becomes her voice, and the story is told in the design, so that her sister Procne may understand and the women may take their revenge. Ovid retold the old tales in his "Metamorphoses" (VI, 575-587). The understanding in the Philomela myth that pattern and design convey myth and ritual has been of great use to modern mythographers: Jane Ellen Harrison led the way, interpreting the more permanent patterns of vase-painting, since the patterned textiles had not survived.


Ancient Romans regarded the processes of spinning and weaving with superstitious awe. In many parts of the Roman empire, laws banned women from holding a spindle in public: should anyone lay eyes on such a woman, it could mean exceptionally bad luck, perhaps even the failure of the harvest.

The concept of weaving actually relates to mythology much more than simply appearing in myths, the English word text is derived from the Latin word for weaving, , explaining the source of terms like "weaving a story".


For the Norse peoples, Frigg is a goddess associated with weaving. The Scandinavian "Song of the Spear", quoted in "Njals Saga", gives a detailed description of Valkyries as women weaving on a loom, with severed heads for weights, arrows for shuttles, and human gut for the warp, singing an exultant song of carnage. [ [http://www.pantheon.org/articles/m/morrigan.html Morrigan] ] Ritually deposited spindles and loom parts were deposited with the Pre-Roman Iron Age ritual wagon at Dejbjerg, Jutland, [Found in the 1880s; noted by John Grigsby, "Beowulf and Grendel", 2005:57, 113f; P.V. Glob, "The Bog People" 1988:166-71 discusses the ritual wagons in Danish bogs.] and are to be associated with the wagon-goddess.

In Germanic mythology, Holda (Frau Holle) and Perchta (Frau Perchta, Berchta, Bertha) were both known as goddesses who oversaw spinning and weaving. They had many names.

Holda, whose patronage extends outward to control of the weather, and source of women's fertility, and the protector of unborn children, is the patron of spinners, rewarding the industrious and punishing the idle. Holda taught the secret of making linen from flax. An account of Holda was collected by the Brothers Grimm, as the fairy tale "Frau Holda". Another of the Grimm tales, "Spindle, Shuttle, and Needle", which embeds social conditioning in fairy tale with mythic resonances, rewards the industrious spinner with the fulfillment of her mantra::"Spindle, my spindle, haste, haste thee away,":"and here to my house bring the wooer, I pray."

::"Spindel, Spindel, geh' du aus,"::"bring den Freier in mein Haus."

This tale recounts how the magic spindle, flying out of the girl's hand, flew away, unravelling behind it a thread, which the prince followed, as Theseus followed the thread of Ariadne, to find what he was seeking: a bride "who is the poorest, and at the same time the richest". He arrives to find her simple village cottage magnificently caparisoned by the magically-aided products of spindle, shuttle and needle.

Jacob Grimm reported the superstition "if, while riding a horse overland, a man should come upon a woman spinning, then that is a very bad sign; he should turn around and take another way." ("Deutsche Mythologie" 1835, v3.135)


The goddess Brigantia, due to her identification with the Roman Minerva, may have also been considered, along with her other traits, to be a weaving deity.


Weavers had a repertory of tales: in the 15th century Jean d'Arras, a Northern French tale-teller ("trouvere"), assembled a collection of stories entitled "Les Vangiles de Quenouille" ("Spinners' Tales"). Its frame story is that these are narrated among a group of ladies at their spinning.


In Baltic myth, Saule is the life-affirming sun goddess, whose numinous presence is signed by a wheel or a rosette. She spins the sunbeams. The Baltic connection between the sun and spinning is as old as spindles of the sun-stone, amber, that have been uncovered in burial mounds. Baltic legends as told have absorbed many images from Christianity and Greek myth that are not easy to disentangle.


The Finnish epic, the "Kalevala", has many references to spinning and weaving goddesses.

Later European folklore

"When Adam delved and Eve span..." runs the rhyme; though the tradition that Eve span is unattested in Genesis, it was deeply engrained in the medieval Christian vision of Eve. In an illumination from the 13th-century Hunterian Psalter ("illustration. left") Eve is shown with distaff and spindle.

In later European folklore, weaving retained its connection with magic. Mother Goose, traditional teller of fairy tales, is often associated with spinning. [Maria Tatar, The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales, p114, ISBN 0-691-06722-8] She was known as "Goose-Footed Bertha" in French legends as spinning incredible tales that enraptured children.

The daughter who, her father claimed, could spin straw into gold and was forced to demonstrate her talent, aided by the dangerous earth-daemon Rumpelstiltskin was an old tale when the Brothers Grimm collected it. Similarly, the unwilling spinner of the tale "The Three Spinners" is aided by three mysterious old women. In "The Six Swans", the heroine spins and weaves starwort in order to free her brothers from a shapeshifting curse. "Spindle, Shuttle, and Needle" are enchanted and bring the prince to marry the poor heroine. Sleeping Beauty, in all her forms, pricks her finger on a spindle, and the curse falls on her. [Maria Tatar, The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales, p115-8, ISBN 0-691-06722-8] In Alfred Tennyson's poem "The Lady of Shalott", her woven representations of the world have protected and entrapped Elaine of Astolat, whose first encounter with reality outside proves mortal. William Holman Hunt's painting from the poem ("illustration, left") contrasts the completely pattern-woven interior with the sunlit world reflected in the roundel mirror. On the wall, woven representations of Myth ("Hesperides") and Religion ("Prayer") echo the mirror's open roundel; the tense and conflicted Lady of Shallott stands imprisoned within the brass roundel of her loom, while outside the passing knight sings "'Tirra lirra' by the river" as in Tennyson's poem.

A high-born woman sent as a hostage-wife to a foreign king was repeatedly given the epithet "weaver of peace", linking the woman's art and the familiar role of a woman as a dynastic pawn. A familiar occurrence of the phrase is in the early English poem "Widsith", who "had in the first instance gone with Ealhild, the beloved weaver of peace, from the east out of Anglen to the home of the king of the glorious Goths, Eormanric, the cruel troth-breaker..."


In Inca mythology, Mama Ocllo first taught women the art of spinning thread.


In Tang Dynasty China, the weaving goddess floated down on a shaft of moonlight with her two attendants, showed to the upright court official Guo Han in his garden that a goddess's robe is seamless for it is woven without the use of needle and thread, entirely on the loom. The phrase "a goddess's robe is seamless" passed into an idiom to express perfect workmanship. This idiom is also used to mean a perfect, comprehensive plan.

ee also

*God's eye


External links

* [http://www.allfiberarts.com/cs/mythology.htm Weaving Mythology and Folklore website] , offering a [http://www.allfiberarts.com/library/aa01/aa021901.htm list of spinning and weaving goddesses]
* [http://www.pureinsight.org/pi/articles/2004/2/2/2019.html Chinese Idiom: A Goddess’ Robe Is Seamless]
* [http://www.capcollege.bc.ca/dept/textile/myth.html Greek weaving myths listed]
* [http://www.thorshof.org/spinmyth.htm Thorskegga Thorn, "Spinning in myths and folktales"]
* [http://www.northvegr.org/lore/grimmsf/188.php Brothers Grimm, "The spindle, the shuttle and the needle" e-text]

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