A twisting (and sometimes twisted) exploration of devotion, seership, hearth witchery, and the mysteries of traditional femininity.
Confessions of a Pagan Handspinner
Picture this, if you will: At the edge of a salt marsh--a place of migrating sea birds, violent weather, and windswept tall grasses--stands a castle. It is not a very grand place, not the shining palace in the clouds you might expect, but a rambling old dwelling with some of its rooms half-submerged in the sea. It is known in the old languages as Fensalir ("Marsh Halls"), or "Sokkvabek" ("Sunken Halls"). The one thing these names have in common is water, and they do not conjure up the abode of a celestial goddess in the mind's eye. The only clouds to be found in these rooms filled with brackish green light and bracing salt air are clouds of fluffy white roving. A great blue heron nests in the rafters, and it would be no surprise to find a random sheep wandering through a hallway. In one of the larger rooms, near the embers of a fireplace and a window overlooking the sea, a solitary woman sits spinning, a long, thick braid of auburn laced with grey trailing down her back. She plies a spindle, which whirls faster than the eye can follow in response to the barely perceptible motions of her fingers. Fluffy clouds of fiber are guided from the distaff standing at her elbow, caught up in the twist generated by the whorl, and wound swiftly by deft fingers onto the fat cop, or ball, of yarn forming on the spindle's midsection. Sparks fly from the woman's fingertips as she works, and there is an electric charge in the air, like the pressure that builds up before a storm.
This is probably not the image of Frigga most Heathens hold dear, or even that most pagans in general would be familiar with. The wife of Odin and Queen of the Sky Gods (the Aesir) of the Northern Traditions, Frigga is best known for Her spinning (many Heathens believe She spins the threads that are then woven by the Norns--the Northern Fates--into our destinies), Her housewifely perfectionism, and Her failure to save Her beloved son Balder from His fated death. She is usually depicted surrounded by Her handmaidens--anywhere between nine and twelve companion goddesses who keep Her company and do Her bidding-- and Her hall is a celestial one, Her spinning wheel limned against the star-filled night sky.
Yet while Frigga certainly does have some celestial correspondences (She is Queen of the Sky-deities of the Northern gods, after all), I think there is an argument to be made for Her having very earthy--possibly even cthonic--origins. Shocking, I know, but consider the fact that She is said to make Her home in a fenland. This is a type of landscape many Americans are not familiar with, but that I became better acquainted with when my partner and I moved to Eugene, Oregon from the east coast, about three years ago now. The West Eugene wetlands are not precisely a fen; although we are only a couple of hours from the Pacific Ocean by car, we are still a little too far away for them to qualify as a salt marsh. Still, they are similar in many ways: a wetland, like a fen, is a volatile place, prone to violent storms one moment, sunshine and rainbows the next, with driving winds and all manner of birds and other creatures passing to and from the waterways. It is a landscape where land, sky and water meet, and thus a liminal place where spirits also can pass back and forth with ease. This wild and untamed, even somewhat frightening, imagery may challenge the picture many people seem to have of Frigga as a dull housewife who spends most of Her time and attention on keeping an immaculate home, but when you think about it, does this not better fit the wife of Odin, the shaman-king of the northern gods who had His own origins as a storm giant?
At this point, I'll bet you're wondering who the hell I am and why I'm babbling on and on about Frigga. Since I am not one of the better-known bloggers here, I should take a step back and explain. Going on ten years ago now, Odin claimed me as His wife. For those of you not familiar with the concept of god-marriage, it is somewhat akin to the idea of marriage-lwa in Vodou, with the difference of not being widely practiced or accepted in the Heathen "mainstream" (to the extent that one exists). Rather than go through the entire story again here, I will just link you to a post about my marriage on my personal blog here which I think explains my experiences and reasoning pretty well. Obligatory disclaimer: I am not by any means claiming the distinction of being Odin's only mortal wife, but for the purposes of my writing here I will likely fall into the practice of referring to myself as His wife, or to Him as my Husband, without remembering to make that distinction every time. (That would quickly make for rather tedious reading, anyway.)
Many of us who are called to these types of relationships with our gods consider ourselves to be spirit workers; whether we came upon this path by deliberate choice or by some other means (in shamanic traditions, people are often claimed by the spirits unwillingly), we are involved with spirits on a daily basis, interacting with them much as we do with mortal friends, family and co-workers, and often performing tasks or jobs on their behalf. In my own case, Odin expressed His wish for me to begin the practice of seidhr (an ancient Scandinavian tradition of prophecy and magic that I'll go into more deeply in future posts) and to perform one other function at the onset of the dark half of the year, in connection with the Wild Hunt, which I will probably not talk about much here at all. Beyond those two things (which are both, admittedly, pretty big deals), He did not seem very forthcoming with Work for me to do, either for Him directly or for any of His other followers (mortal or otherwise). Thinking that I should want to become a community priestess, serving Odin and other Heathens by leading and hosting rituals, I made a half-hearted attempt to become ordained through a big Heathen organization--only to step down just prior to taking my clergy oaths, having realized belatedly that He wasn't really pushing for me to do it and that, to be honest, I really didn't want to, anyway. I considered trying to mingle with the more edgy, shamanic Heathen practitioners on the east coast, but that idea didn't appeal much to me either; I am by nature neither a joiner nor a seeker of activities and events. I am happiest, in fact, at home with my little dog at my feet and some type of crafty activity in my hands.
It is at this point in the story that spinning, and Frigga, both enter the picture. Prior to the move to Eugene--the move that brought about my familiarity with the wetlands--I hadn't had much to do with Her. In fact, it could even be said that I had avoided Her, partly because of the housewifely persona (having ended a bad marriage of 15 years in which I was often berated for my poor housekeeping skills, this brought up unpleasant associations for me) and partly because of my misguiding fears that I could not possibly be good enough to mingle with this paragon of wifely perfection. Spinning, though, was another matter; I had long wanted to spin, and shortly after attending my first sheep and fiber festival here in Eugene I also acquired my first wheel and began spending hours each day in front of it in my determination to master the art. Spinning enabled me to combine my love of crafting with my passion for working with animals (albeit indirectlly, in the form of their fiber), and the continuous rhythm of drafting fiber and treadling the wheel was addictive, trance inducing, and hypnotic. I was hooked! And like the wily lady She is depicted as being in a few of the Eddic tales, Frigga slipped in while I wasn't paying attention. Before long, She too had become one of my obsessions (of which I have a growing list!) and I had begun to actively question the things that have become "common knowledge" about Her personality and activities, and to form my own opinions both through research and through direct experience.
While my primary loyalties will always belong to Odin first and foremost, at this point my daily "Work" (so to speak) is more heavily bound up with that of His divine wife and queen. When I'm being honest I have to admit that although this is certainly not what I expected when I first started down this path nearly ten years ago, it does fit with my own personality and preoccupations very well. Rather than the temple priestess who ministers to the masses, or the shamanic practitioner who conducts the edgy rites mainstream Heathens don't want to hear about, I am, for a godspouse, surprisingly (although, considering Frigga and Her fenlands as an example, perhaps deceptively) tame. I am the witch in a hut at the edge of the woods (or more accurately, the fens) who tends to her Husband's business quietly and keeps His secrets. Like a few other notable women mentioned in the Icelandic sagas who likewise "knew a thing or two," I have realized that my craft, spinning, is in some subtle and almost indefinable way not only a metaphor for fate, or wyrd, but also a working model of it and means for accessing it. And so I sit with my dog at my feet and ply my craft, while at the same time plying my Craft.
And I am becoming more like Frigga than I would, at one time, ever have cared to admit. Among other things, Frigga is a goddess of fertility (which can be interpreted both in terms of actual childbearing and as creative power), and although I am past my childbearing years (thankfully!) like Her I am a maker, a crafter, an artisan. I am also a Heathen entrepreneur who offers my creations for sale to the public, spends a good deal of time learning how to market them, and on top of all of this holds down (for the time being, anyway) a regular day job. In my quest to understand Frigga the closest model I have found is that of the early medieval European queens. Rather than meek, retiring adornments for their husbands, these queens were working women, adept at running a royal household and usually a whole cottage industry (consisting of spinning, weaving and stitching) besides. Like Frigga, I am a busy woman, sometimes too busy. Yet I certainly can find time to write about Her here, and the ways in which She has helped to transform my life, both in terms of the textile arts that I love and in my understanding not only of myself but of fate (or, as we northern pagans call it, Wyrd).
In this blog, I will explore a variety of topics loosely spun (I didn't do that on purpose, I swear!) around the core of my growing understandings of Frigga, seidhr, and wyrd, and how all of these concepts relate to the ancient and graceful arts of spinning, weaving and stitchery. These crafts were not simply daily and necessary household activities throughout the middle ages, and are not merely metaphors by which we can approach an understanding of wyrd today, but are a magical and almost alchemical mingling of the two, in addition to being actual tools that can be used in a magical or oracular practice. And through all of this will be interwoven (okay, maybe it was on purpose, a little) my own experiences and observations as a seidhr practitioner, struggling Heathen artisan, godspouse, and--dare I say it?--Frigga's woman. Because Frigga may not be as flashy and flamboyant as Freyja (I am sure I will contrast the two in a future post), and She may stand--albeit willingly--in the shadow of Her husband, Odin, but it's high time She got her due.
So, how about it? Want to go for a spin?
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