Knitting takes me out of time. Sitting outside yesterday, in the sunlight, listening to the wind in the trees, watching Corbie puppy-out after bees and flies, I could have been anyone, anywhere (read: at least since the advent of knitting). If I ignored the house with its humming electricity at my back, and the cars on the road, and the planes overhead, I could have been anyone, anywhere. It’s a small step to the side to then, through this craft, reach out and touch my ancestors. It ceases to be about knitting specifically and begins to be about textiles in general, and there is something we all have in common: making portable shelter. Taking some raw material (in this case, essentially thread) and creating something that wasn’t there before.
Jo has summarized very eloquently here part of the appeal spinning holds for me: its timelessness. Spinning takes me out of time, and often, out of myself as well. When I am preparing, dyeing, and spinning wool, I could be almost anyone, almost anywhere in the world, at almost any time. Sure, there are a few limitations on this depending on the equipment being used; spinning wheels first appeared in Asia in the 11th century, and in Europe a century later, but the flyer and treadle wheel we all know and love didn’t follow for a few hundred years after that. Spindles, however, have been around for as long as people have been covering their bodies with cloth rather than animal skins. I’m tempted to say this coincided with the switch from being hunter-gatherers to being farmers, but in reality no one knows; people were probably collecting plants such as nettles and retting and spinning those long before sheep entered the picture.
Want to feel closer to your ancestors at this time of turning towards the dark? Take up a traditional craft. Spinning qualifies, but so do sewing and needlework, weaving, carving with non-mechanized tools, candle-making, making herbal preparations using a mortar and pestle, and probably a hundred other things I’m not thinking of at the moment. These crafts take you out of time; they strip away the façade of the modern era and, by so doing, they help to thin the veil.
I will be posting photos of the flowers and offerings from today’s ritual sometime soon–probably by tomorrow if not later on today–but in the meantime I thought I’d share my own prayer that I offered up to Anne earlier today. If any of the other people who sent prayers would like to have me post theirs here as well, please let me know; a few of them were truly beautiful and I would be delighted to share them, though I will understand if you’d rather keep them private, too!
Anne, you stepped into my life at a time when I thought myself laid low, when I had given in to despair and self-pity;
Dark and elegant, with your razor-sharp wit and flashing black eyes, you showed me what a lady could be, what a Queen could be, what I could be;
Clever and deft, graceful and daring, swift of step and light of touch, you set my ancestral house in order,
And more than that, you set me straight, and taught me to recognize my own worth, my own ambition, to lay claim to my own strengths without shrinking and without apologies.
Wife to Henry, mother to Elizabeth, sister to George and Mary, you showed me how to exult in the relationships in my life while still always celebrating Myself.
For this, for your many gifts, I give you abundant thanks, praise, and love.
I stand at a critical threshold of my life, where I must pursue my dreams—as you once did—or relinquish them;
Lady who knows what she wants and knows how to get it, I ask for your attention, guidance and support in my quest to earn my livelihood through my art–
But more than all else, I send you support and prayers on this, the day of your ascension and martyrdom;
And as you would wish, I send support and prayers for your brother and the other innocents who died accused alongside you,
And for your husband Henry, your slayer and yet in some ways the greatest victim of all, seduced by his ego and the ill advice of others,
To sacrifice the very treasure he had yearned after for so long.
Queen Anne, be with us this day, partake of the offerings we bring, and triumph over all those who sought to cast you down;
Though they slew your body, they could never touch your spirit, your fire, your passion,
Which endures unchanged and eternal, captivating all and inspiring those most in need of your message.
Hail Anne the Queen!
(As a side note, today I discovered a new Anne-related website that promises to delve into some very provocative new research concerning her, especially related to her importance as a religious reformer; for example, there is the exciting suggestion that she may have actually been a Gnostic rather than a Lutheran, as is generally assumed. You can check that out here.)
On this date (May 19th) in 1536, Queen Anne Boleyn was executed, having been falsely convicted of committing adultery and treason again her husband, King Henry VIII. As Anne is among the spirits I work with and one of my adopted ancestors, beginning last year I have been observing the day with meditation and by preparing a Tudor feast in her honor. (Although granted, for me at this point one or two dishes is all I can handle.)
This year I prepared Sergeant of the King’s Beef Stew from the book All the King’s Cooks: The Tudor Kitchens of King Henry VIII at Hampton Court Palace. Since Henry acquired Hampton Court palace during his courtship of Anne and the Queen’s kitchen therein was constructed especially for her, the dishes in this book are not only historically accurate but are the exact meals she would have actually been served! I served the stew over slices of locally made artisan bread with spring greens garnished with edible flowers and glasses of sweet white wine. Desert was homemade syllabub, an English dessert originating in the Tudor era and consisting of whipped cream sweetened with sugar and lightly curdled with wine, which I served with fresh strawberries.
Anne endured a great deal during her life, and is even now still having to deal with the misconceptions spread by books such as The Other Boleyn Girl and Bring Up the Bodies. (And don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of both Philippa Gregory and Hilary Mantel, but their conclusions about Anne leave much to be desired.) Hopefully it is a comfort for her to know that there were so many people all across the world thinking about her today.
Now that I’ve grabbed your attention with the alluring title, the abovementioned is an Etsy Treasury I just had to share with you guys. For those who may not know, Treaasuries are member-curated collections of favorite pieces on Etsy, generally organized around a theme. I’ve been fortunate enough to be included in some really gorgeous ones, but I have to admit this is my favorite to date. My Ice Princess Caribou Antler spirit ally necklace is featured alongside some truly stunning and spirited pieces; you can just feel the energy pouring forth from the computer screen. Go take a look! This is an extremely well-timed selection too, with the heavier-woo (for me, anyway) fall season just around the corner. (Please gods, because I don’t know how much more of this heat I can stand!)
In other news, I’m sure you’ve noticed it’s been about a week since my last post, mostly because the heat has been too dreadful for me to sit for very long in the living room, which is where our cable modem connection resides. (We’re back to not having wireless, until such time until we get a router–but that, I hasten to add, is NOT a priority.) The pup continues to recover nicely, though he’s still on crate rest, and I’m still spinning away, though now with an eye towards setting up a nice beginning inventory for my new Etsy shop for handspun yarn and knitted accessories, which I hope to debut at some point between my birthday (September 22nd) and Samhain.
Wheelie (that is, Wheelamina Ashford, my spinning wheel; ahem) and I had a minor tiff last weekend, in which she decided that she wanted to throw her drive band continually. (Yes, my spinning wheel has a name, as well as a very decided personality–not surprisingly, since she’s almost as old as me.) Needless to say, this made spinning difficult, and resulted in my being more than a little annoyed. However, as Jo reminded me, she is a vintage spinning wheel and cannot be expected to behave as if she were brand new. Having just installed a 3-speed flyer the week before that, I should have known to expect some possible alignment difficulties, since her wheel was set up to align itself with the huge single whorl on the original flyer, and not the medium whorl on the new one. Then I found this online:
Regarding a drive belt falling off an old Traditional: this can occur as a result of the spinning wheel getting knocked out of alignment or following the fitting of a new flyer. Please try the following:
1) Loosen the screws (or bolts on later models) holding the wheel support legs and single leg to the side rails. Then twist the complete frame of the wheel. As you do so you will observe that the wheel and flyer whorl can be brought closer into alignment. Then retighten the screws (or bolts). If the frame pulls back to its original position retry this operation a couple more times with the frame in slightly different positions. If this doesn’t help then try:
2) Measure how much the maiden bar needs to move horizontally. Remove the screws securing the hinges to the maiden bar. Mark where the maiden bar needs to be reattached and make new pilot holes with an awl or drill. Then reattach the maiden bar.
3) Another possibility is that your wheel may have warped and as it rotates it can flick the drive cord off. The only solution then is to obtain a replacement wheel from your local Ashford dealer.
I trust the above will help and wish you renewed enjoyment from your spinning wheel.
Yours faithfully Richard Ashford
I tried suggestion #1, and so far, so good. As a result of this, Richard Ashford is my current new spinning hero, even surpassing Judith MacKenzie McCuin in my affections.
I have also ordered her a polycord drive band, which I’ll be picking up at my LFS (local fiber store) this weekend. I’ve seen several owners of vintage Traditionals say that it completely changed the way their wheel spins (for the better), and I’m hoping it will help keep her in alignment better than my current old cotton cord that she came with. (She utterly rejected my attempt to replace this cord with a newer one; the new ones are too thin and flimsy, apparently.)
As soon as it’s no longer too disgustingly hot for me to spend more than half an hour at a time on the computer in the living room, I’ll be debuting my new fiber-centric blog, a companion to the forthcoming new Etsy store. The new blog will function as my online spinning and knitting diary, and will save those of you who are here for runic and other assorted witchy posts from being bored by my obsessive fiber and spinning rambles. At the same time, people interested in the fiber posts (and hopefully my handspun yarns and other fiber-related Etsy items) won’t need to be scared away by my more out-there posts on seidhr, runes and working with the dead, or my freaky God-spouse self. I’ve never been much of a fan of compartmentalization, but since the goal is to grow my fiber endeavors into a mainstream business that can help support me as I get older, more fibro-impaired, and possibly less able to work at a full-time office job, this is a needed step. I will post all relevant information and links here, of course, for those who may want to follow me over to my more mundane digs, and this blog will continue as my online spiritual diary.
Just wanted to say a few quick words on the fathers in my life, since today is the day for that (even though mostly a Hallmark holiday). There is, of course, my own father (the one who raised me), Reginald John Lynch–30 years dead now, an alcoholic and often sick from a prolonged battle with brain tumors and lung cancer during his last years, but still adored by me during the brief time I had with him. He was a painter, and is likely responsible for instilling in me my own artistic sensibilities (since my mother had no leanings that way); he has been in my thoughts a lot these past few weeks while I’ve been experimenting with a new jewelry medium that involves a lot of painting, with much of the beginning guidance he gave me in childhood in the back of my mind as I work. When I was a very little girl I decided he was really Yul Bryner from The King and I (one of my favorite movies in chidhood), and that this proved that I was indeed a princess. I hail him today, and of course also my birth father, who I have never met but who I understand is responsible for my fair coloring and whatever Scandinavian/Germanic blood I have.
And then, more immediately, there are the divine fathers in my life: Buri, father of all the Northern Gods, His son Borr, father of my Beloved, Odin, and Odin Himself–who, though He obviously does not have a paternal role in my life, does serve in that capacity for many of those devoted to Him, including my partner, and at any rate is, as King of Asgard, the Allfather, Father of His people, in addition to being Valfather, Father of the Slain.
And so, hail to the Fathers, both those in my own life and all of the others out there, both mortal and divine! May you all know the love of your children this day.
Today is Memorial Day, which I observe in my personal religious calendar as the Feast of the Mighty Dead. (I honor my personal beloved dead–deceased family members both human and otherwise–at Hallows.) Included among the ranks of the Mighty Dead for me, for the purposes of this holiday, are not only those spirits with whom I have a more personal, interactive connection (such as Anne Boleyn), but also all of those “larger than life” figures whose examples and wisdom have contributed to my life in some way. Some of these are people who I suspect I may have greater involvement with in the future (since apparently ancestor worship is becoming a more intrinsic part of my path lately), but all of them are those who I feel deserve some kind of recognition from me, but who I may not actually get around to honoring at any other time.
My list is rather eclectic, and–now that I’m typing it out to notice–is currently limited to women, possibly because I am one. (There are no deeper, feminist agenda-driven motives; being female, I don’t think it’s astonishing that I can relate more easily to historical women than to men, however much I may admire some of the latter.) Conspicuously absent are any of the “usual suspects” from the (mostly male) roll call of heroes generally touted in heathenry; I haven’t omitted them from my practice deliberately, simply because none of them have ever spoken to me, either literally or figuratively.
Right now the list incudes: Thorbjorg (the “little seidhrkona” of the Saga of Erik the Red), Mechtilde of Magdeburg and one or two of the other female medieval mystics (I’m sure they could never have imagined that their impassioned, almost erotic writings about marriage to Christ would offer support and solace to pagan god spouses), Queen Wealtheow from Beowulf (who may or may not have been an actual person–but then, the same can be said of Thorbjorg; both individuals stand for a historical type–the seidhrkona and the Migration-era folk-queen, respectively–whether or not they themselves existed), Elizabeth Southerns, aka Mother Demdike (the 17th century English cunning woman who was charged as one of the “Pendle Witches“), Queen Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV of England and mother of the princes in the Tower (herself an alleged witch, and almost certainly the daughter of a witch, with water-goddess ancestry), Eleanor of Aquitaine, Emma, the Norman queen of England who married first the Anglo-Saxon king Aethelred and then the Danish Cnut (are we seeing an Anglo-centric theme emerging here?), and…Cleopatra VII, the last Ptolemaic Queen of Egypt.
Actually, Cleopatra is sort of in a category all by herself–in many ways, but specifically in the sense that she at one point played a huge part in my life. In fact, she was my first role model and the first historical person with whom I fell in love–at the age of seven, which was also when I began my first attempt at writing a book about her, an endeavor that continued off and on well into my twenties. (I even named my daughter Alexandria, in honor of her city.) The book was never completed, but for more than ten years of my life Hellenistic Egypt occupied the obsessive place in my thoughts and reading materials that England (from Anglo-Saxon times to the 1600s) does now, with Cleopatra herself being arguably my first dis (though I wasn’t aware of that word or concept at the time). It’s appropriate, then, that I recently got a copy of the stunning new biography Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff from our fabulous local library, and that I’m spending quite a bit of time over this long holiday weekend reading it (in between planning jewelry designs, experimenting with herbal formulations, tending my garden, and playing with polymer clay).
If you have even the slightest interest in Cleopatra, you NEED to get this book. I hadn’t intended to read it from cover to cover (its subject being not quite the obsession she was for me at one time), but after the first page or two I was hooked. It’s quite true, as one reviewer said, that the author is incapable of writing a boring sentence; she has skillfully reminded me of why Cleopatra fascinated me so in the first place, as well as all of the things she has still to teach me–at the same time as enrapturing me with her luscious descriptive prose and making me chuckle with regularity at her satirical wit.
Here’s a brief excerpt:
“A capable, clear-eyed sovereign, she knew how to build a fleet, suppress an insurrection, control a currency, alleviate a famine. An eminent Roman general vouched for her grasp of military affairs. Even at a time when women rulers were no rarity she stood out, the sole female of the ancient world to rule alone and to play a role in western affairs. She was incomparably richer than anyone else in the Mediterranean. And she enjoyed greater prestige than any other woman of her age, as an excitable rival king was reminded when he called, during her stay at his court, for her assassination. (In light of her stature, it could not be done.) Cleopatra descended from a long line of murderers and faithfully upheld the family tradition but was, for her time and place, remarkably well behaved. She nonetheless survives as a wanton temptress, not the last time a genuinely powerful woman has been transmuted into a shamelessly seductive one.”
So these are some of the people I am honoring today, with toasts and libations of my home-brewed lemon balm and red clover mead. What about you? Perhaps you don’t choose today as the time for honoring them, but I’d be interested to hear who some of my readers include among their own chosen ancestors, or Mighty Dead.
As mentioned before, last Thursday inaugurated a brand new festival for me: Queen Anne Boleyn‘s Day, to commemorate the anniversary of the death by beheading of Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII of England, on trumped-up charges of adultery and treason. (There were mutters about her having “bewitched the king” as well but she was never formally charged of witchcraft.) When I say the charges were “trumped up” I’m being generous; not even her enemies believed them, and ten years later even Henry himself admitted that there was no possibility of a successful defense for a prisoner in the Tower. Anne’s political enemies, and those who saw a way to profit by her removal, engineered her fall, with a little help from her own impetuousness and Henry’s boundless tendency for self-pity. Yet even centuries after her death, Anne still stands out as (in the words of her biographer Eric Ives) a “feminist icon,” a woman who “broke through the glass ceiling by sheer character and initiative”–and who was then brought down, tragically, by the very qualities–passion, assertiveness, magnetic attractiveness–that had brought about her rise in the first place. In the 16th century, Anne was without question a woman before her time.
I first became interested in Anne, her life and her world, several years ago at a very dark time in my own life, when her example of perseverance and bravery (as even her enemy the Imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys put it, “That lady has the courage of a lion”) helped to inspire me, and the dramatic story of her rise and fall helped distract me from my own (far lesser) problems. At first I thought my interest would be temporary, but instead it has increased, leading to an ever-deepening curiosity about the details of her life as well as a fascination with all the minutiae of the Tudor world, from fashion and jewelry to architecture to cooking. In the past year or so, I’ve had an increasing awareness that there might be even more to my admiration for her than I had thought, that there might be some interest in return on her part, and that she deserved a place among my “chosen ancestors,” my mighty dead. And hence, the birth of Thursday’s festival.
Having reserved the day off from work months ago, I began it by heading for the place in Eugene that most reminds me of Anne and most seems like an environment she would enjoy and feel at home in: the Owen Rose Garden. (Roses are included in one of Anne’s personal badges, and her ancestral home of Hever Castle in Kent boasted a gorgeous rose garden–as did all the palaces she would later share with Henry VIII.) Setting out in the early morning, I walked slowly, allowing my thoughts to dwell on Anne, and stopping along the way at a local bakery (Sweet Life Patisserie) to buy a slice of lemon curd cheesecake to share with her. Unfortunately, there were only one or two actual roses in evidence at the rose garden; it’s been too cold and wet this spring. But I found a bench engraved with a rose which Jo and I usually end up resting at when we’re there, and settled down to focus on Anne.
Opening my mind to her and to whatever she wished to show me or share with me, I entered a trance state not unlike the one I utilize during seidhr, and across the span of years I joined her as she mounted the scaffold, addressing her people as queen for the last time before stripping herself of her jewelry, headdress, and cloak–which was red, the color of martyrdom, as her way of protesting her innocence. In one of the rooms of the notorious Tower of London, where she and those accused with her were held prisoner before their executions, someone had carved a version of the queen’s shield into the wall: a white falcon perched on a tree stump, from which burst forth red and white roses. This badge (which, years later, her daughter Queen Elizabeth I would continue to use) had been meant to symbolize the fertility and new life her marriage to Henry would infuse into the Tudor line. The version carved into the wall of that Tower cell, however, differed from the original in that the bird was not crowned and held no scepter; it stood bareheaded and stripped of its royal finery, like Anne herself in her last moments.
Within moments of her death, word would spread throughout London that she had died “boldly,” that there was never a lady who had such joy and pleasure in death. In fact, Anne loved life passionately, but after the long days of waiting in the Tower, of wondering, each time the execution was put off yet again, whether her husband would have a change of heart and she would be reprieved, death must have come as a welcome release. Melding my mind with hers, I felt sorrow and an immense sense of loss and regret, but also a keen sense of curiosity as she stood on the shadowy threshold between this world and the next, the life she had known and the great unknowable. The Showtime series The Tudorsdepicts Anne as being distracted, in the moment before the fatal sword stroke, by the Tower’s famous ravens taking to the air. There’s no way to know whether anything like that actually occurred at the time, but I found it intriguing that at the moment the sword swung in my trance, crows called out loudly from a tree across the path from where I sat. The notion of Odin’s carrion birds, guardians of the liminal space between life and death, calling to her in her final moments is a fitting one, to my mind. (Especially considering that Woden is the legendary progenitor of English royalty.) Anne was a woman of faith (though not my own, it’s true), a believer in personal connection with divinity and a leading light in the Reformation. Witnesses claimed that her lips were still moving in prayer for several seconds after her head had been struck from her lifeless body.
The trance abated and my surroundings–the bench, the pathways of the rose garden–swam back into view. I asked Anne for her friendship, for whatever guidance she might choose to offer me, and in return promised her veneration as one of my chosen ancestors. And at that moment a group of people passed by speaking to each other in French. Since Anne had been partly reared at the French court, and was known for exemplifying the style and elegance of the French as no other Englishwoman of her time, I took this as a definite sign that I was not deluding myself, and that the answer was “yes.”
Before leaving the rose garden I arranged the offerings I had brought (the cheesecake, a piece of almond bear claw, flowers I had picked on my walk, and a memorial plaque I had made at home) underneath the tree from which the crows had called. Then I left for home, to prepare the medieval-style feast I had planned, which sadly consisted of only three dishes and not thirty–such as she was accustomed to being served at court feasts during life–but one of them was a real mincemeat pie, with meat, and I’m rather proud of how well it turned out, since this was my first time experimenting with this kind of cooking. (It won’t be my last, by any means.)
On the way home, there were a couple of other incidents (which I won’t share, since they were private) that reinforced my conviction that I had indeed made contact with her, that there was a real connection. It may sound silly, given my involvement with gods and with other spirits, that I questioned myself so much about this, but this is the first time I’ve had an interactive ancestral relationship to this degree, and besides, I don’t think it’s ever a bad things to be skeptical. I strive to remain open to spirits who may initiate contact with me, but when the interest begins with me I always try to be careful to discern actual experience from wish fulfillment. I am satisfied that this is the former and not the latter, yet my interest in Anne would have continued even if she had not reciprocated it. She is–in spirit just as during her life–a woman entirely worthy of honor and admiration, whose life and experiences have much to teach me.
I’ve set up a Flickr set with a few photos from the day; you can view the annotated photos here, or see the slideshow here.