The Goddesses Who Wove the World

Weaving was an important skill in many cultures around the world, allowing humans to create textiles from natural fibers found around them. For those readers that weave, they will know the magical feeling of creating that comes from weaving, knitting or the like. The creation of an object out of seemingly nothing; that two simple strands of thread can be woven into magical patterns. Weaving becomes a metaphor for creation: we weave our way through our own lives, tangling with the threads of others. Words woven together become stories and songs with which we can share our experiences of existence.

Now, there isn’t a single mythology that doesn’t love a metaphor, so here a few ways that weaving has been used to tell our stories.

We have previously written about the Fates of ancient Greek and Roman mythology. The three sisters that weave in the underworld, doling out the threads of life: Clotho spun the threads for all, Lachesis would measure out the length, and Atropos would make the final cut. These old women were powerful beings, and no one could escape the webs they spun (just ask poor Oedipus).

In Norse mythology the Norns played a similar role; women who would weave the wyrd (destiny) of all. The three norns associated with controlling wyrd were the sisters Urðr (fate), Verðandi (present) and Skuld (future). The Norns lived in the Well of Urd (destiny) which sat beneath Yggdrasil, the world tree that made up the center of the universe. Beneath the branches they would sit, creating the twine with which they would weave the lives of others.

‘Twas night in the dwelling, | and Norns there came, Who shaped the life | of the lofty one; They bade him most famed | of fighters all And best of princes | ever to be.
Mightily wove they | the web of fate, While Bralund’s towns | were trembling all; And there the golden | threads they wove, And in the moon’s hall | fast they made them.
                                                     –Helgakviða Hundingsbana I  (The Poetic Edda)

The Norms were said to visit the bedside of each newborn and decide their fate, but the destinies they doled out were more malleable than what the Greek Fates decreed. People could still influence their own destiny throughout their life by the personal choices that they made.

While the Fates and the Norns dealt with the creation of every individual life strand, some of the other weaving goddesses had a more homogeneous contribution and created life itself. The Spider Woman of the Hopi people of North America is a creator goddess that helped weave life for all people as she aided in the creation of humanity.

Spider Woman was the third being in existence; the first being was the creator Taiowa, and the second being was his nephew Sotuknang, who created all of the land that made up the nine universes. In Tokpela, the first world, Sotuknang created Spider Woman and asked her to create life:

“Here is this earth we have created. It has shape and substance, direction and time, a beginning and an end. But there is no life upon it. We see no joyful movement. We hear no joyful sound. What is life without sound and movement? So you have been given the power to help us create this life. You have been given the knowledge, wisdom, and love to bless all the beings you create”
– Primal Myths by Barbara Sproul

Spider Woman then began to mold shapes out of a mixture of saliva and clay, and she began to mold all the animals of existence. After she created each one she would cover it with a cape she had made, woven from creative wisdom itself, and she would sing the song of creation to bring it to life. Once the animals were made, she then turned her arts to the people, bringing them to life by weaving her cape of creation.

Spider Woman also had a practical nature. The Navajos believe that it is Spider woman that taught the people the art of weaving. Weavers will often perform a ritual where they rub their hands in spider webs before sitting down to work, thinking that it might bestow upon their hands the talent and skill of Spider Woman.

The Ancient Egyptian Goddess, Neith, was also associated with weaving, many believing she wove the world into existence. There is much debate as to whether this was her original purpose, or whether this was a form introduced with the Greek occupation of Egypt and conflation with Athena.  Some argue that the symbol found both above her head and contained in the Hieroglyphic characters that make up her name is a loom shuttle, a rounded shape with 4 prongs extending out of each corner (It is also believed that this shape was intended to be a shield and crossed bows and she is often portrayed as a goddess of war).

Neith

Regardless, by the time of Ptolemaic Egypt, Neith was a goddess of weaving. Her earlier incarnation as the embodiment of the primal waters of creation had been replaced by the image of Neith at her loom, weaving the world into being. Her temple in Sais contains the following inscription:

“I am the things that are, that will be, and that have been. No one has ever laid open the garment by which I am hidden. The fruit I brought forth was the sun.”

Creation and life; the many strands that we weave together to create our personal stories. Whether we see creators with bodies made of clay, dirt, and sticks, or even flesh and blood, it is the intangible threads woven together that create animation, life, movement, and destiny. We live in the realm of the weavers.

_Penelope_Unraveling_Her_Work_at_Night__MET_ADA6426
Penelope Unraveling Her Work at Night, 1886 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

One thought on “The Goddesses Who Wove the World

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s