This essay appears in Eternal Haunted Summer magazine, where it was originally published. It's part of my memoir about shamanic experience.
PaganSquare is a community blog space where Pagans can discuss topics relevant to the life and spiritual practice of all Pagans.
This blog post also appears in print with more photos in Sacred Hoop Issue #85.
Central Albuquerque, New Mexico USA. Seen from the sky. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
"Look wide, and look far. Look upon your city. This is your community. These are your people, all of them. The people you know and the people you will never meet. Even the ones you don't like. Good or bad, rich or poor, status and class and family don't matter. Politics don't matter. They're still all your people....
Why do I spin? The question comes often enough from non-crafty people—which probably includes most people out there--who don't really even understand that there's a difference between spinning and weaving, and who just can't see the point of knitting a sweater or scarf (much less spinning the yarn in order to knit one) when you can buy one a lot cheaper at Walmart or the local mall. But I'm sure there are also a lot of spiritual types out there who read my blog and wonder why I—a spirit worker, and married to Odin for crying out loud—spend so much of my time spinning and prepping wool for spinning.
Not that I am equating myself with Her, but the question sort of begs me to invoke Frigga's name. Because, after all, She is married to Odin, and She spins—and actually, it was partly Her influence that prompted my obsession with the fiber arts in the first place. So, why does She do it? The reason She is so closely associated with spinning (and the Norns and Valkyries with weaving) has to be partly a mundane and culturally influenced one: in the past, as the majority of Walmart shoppers probably don't realize, spinning was not just an odd pastime for middle aged women, it was a necessity of life. There were no stores in which to buy clothing, but there were sheep, and flax, and nettles, and other sources of fiber, and one day people discovered that this fiber could to be twisted to form a strong thread that could then be woven into cloth to make garments and other useful items. (Knitting came much, much later.) But you needed a lot of thread to weave enough cloth for even a single garment, so spinners spent virtually every spare moment of their lives spinning, and because spinning is something that can be easily set down in order to tend a baby, and is not a dangerous activity to practice around children, spinning (and to a lesser extent, weaving) naturally fell into the domain of women.
Hávamál offers us a glimpse of a past that had already become somewhat nostalgic when a single hand transcribed the poem around 1270 CE. As David A. H. Evans writes in the Viking Society for Northern Research’s edition of the verses, this second poem of the Elder Edda “is deservedly one of the most celebrated works to have survived from the early Norse world.” It’s full of gnomic advice that continues to be of interest—and application—to us in the modern world. Old Norse text via the Heimskringla Project.
áðr gangi fram,
um skoðask skyli,
um skyggnast skyli,
því at óvíst er at vita,
sitja á fleti fyrir.
Gestr er inn kominn,
hvar skal sitja sjá?
Mjök er bráðr,
sá er á bröndum skal
síns of freista frama.
Elds er þörf,
þeims inn er kominn
ok á kné kalinn;
matar ok váða
er manni þörf,
þeim er hefr um fjall farit.
Vatns er þörf,
þeim er til verðar kemr,
þerru ok þjóðlaðar,
góðs of æðis,
ef sér geta mætti,
orðs ok endrþögu.
I've written before here about how, in our household, Samhain starts early. For us it begins at the end of September, during the week when we've repeatedly lost beloved pets and on the day when, two years ago, I pledged my service to the Wild Hunt. This year, that day was marked with an inadvertent bloodletting when the Hunt, not satisfied with the efforts I had made thus far on their behalf, aided me in slicing open the knuckle of my right index finger almost to the bone with a pair of sewing shears. (Followed, of course, with a expensive trip to the emergency room and several weeks of limited ability to do anything--including typing and crafting--with that hand. The Hunt does not play.)
It continued the following week when I made a trip to one of the city's oldest cemeteries (and bear in mind that here on the west coast, "oldest" means the 1800s, and the most ancient looking monuments, crumbling with apparent age, are not truly ancient at all but merely rain-damaged). I brought with me home-brewed mead and bone meal, to feed the dead, and locally harvested apples for Sleipnir, Odin's giant eight-legged steed. (Eight legs, by the way; have you ever thought about that? Why does He--the horse, that is--have eight legs? Spiders have eight legs. So does a casket, when borne aloft by four mourners. Sleipnir is, indisputably, a horse of death, a steed to carry one to the land of the dead--which, throughout the Norse myths, is exactly what He does.) I discovered an area devoted to the Civil War dead, which startled me because it seemed the wrong coast for that, but the monument statue of a soldier in uniform and the plots of the military dead exuded an aura of welcome for me, a kinship with the "once human" contingent of the Hunt, with Odin's fallen heroes. Here was succor and support, and so it was here that I marked the stones with my blood, freshly drawn from my finger (not the one with stitches!) using a lancet. (The dead were especially interested in and enthusiastic about the mead, by the way!)
It has come as a surprise to me, considering my relationship with Odin (the Wanderer and hedge-crosser extraordinaire), but I have been discovering lately that I am far more of a hearth witch than a hedge witch. Don't get me wrong; I do love wandering through the dark woods at night, threading my way through cemeteries, or exploring the Eugene wetlands. I love to explore these liminal places in a light trance state, letting the already-fragile boundaries between the worlds blur so that I can commune with the spirits there. This is part of my practice, and it always will be. (And in the case of the wetlands, I do this every morning on my walk to work, in the early hours when the human world is still barely stirring but the land wights--or land spirits--are awake and going about their day.) But at the heart of my practice, I am a Doorway for my gods and spirits, and to fulfill that function I must be anchored in this world, even as I work at blurring its edges.
I just had an entire week off from my day job, for the first time in years, and found myself spending much of it at my spinning wheel, or gathering supplies to make prayer beads, or in my kitchen learning to make salted caramels, or planning what I will need to begin producing candles and other non-yarn goodies for my Etsy shop. When given a choice between wandering outdoors and busying myself with activities at home, I nearly always choose the latter. Perhaps my physical condition pays a part in this (I have moderate to severe fibromyalgia, and at this point I still work full time so that saps a lot of my energy), but most of the time I find that I would rather be at home, tending a hearth for my gods and for the spirits I honor, rather than out in the world. My trips out in the world fortify and help to shape my hearth; they feed it and strengthen my center. In this I am like Frigga, who puts Her apron aside and rides with Her Husband in the Hunt during the dark half of the year, but the rest of the time concentrates Her efforts on creating a welcoming home for Him to return to after His wanderings.
To get back to the topic of setting up a hearth in your own home if you do not already have one, despite my previous definition of the hearth as a place of fire, there is always the option of interpreting "fire" symbolically. Along these lines, your hearth can be that place that anchors and nourishes your home, that feeds what you love most about it, the "flame" that makes your home a welcoming place. For some people, it would clearly be the kitchen table where the family gathers for dinner to share stories of their day. For some, it might be a place of literal fire, such as the woodburning stove (and do I ever wish I had one!) where herbal oils and brews are prepared.