Friday, July 27, 2007

THREADS OF THE SPIDERWOMAN - some random notes

Ts' its' tsi' nako, Thought-Woman
is sitting in her room,  and what ever she thinks about appears.
Thought-Woman, the spider
named things and as she named them
they appeared.
She is sitting in her room
thinking of a story now:
I'm telling you the story She is thinking. 3
Keresan Pueblo Proverb  (3)
Native stories don't end after two hours in a theatre, or when we turn off the electronic box. Like the Hands of Spider Woman, they keep spinning and evolving, generation into generation, from the waking world to the dreamtime. Storytelling, in native traditions, is more than a way to pass on history and religious beliefs to the next generation - it is also a ceremony that acts as a link between the mythical beings and the people themselves, whose ritual life is based on the mythic cycles. This is the same way sacred masks, throughout the world, are regarded and used - as doorways into the realms of the deities.

Spider Woman appears in stories throughout the Americas, indeed, throughout the world. My inspiration is derived from her potent presence in the Southwestern part of the United States, where I live, which includes the rich cultural traditions of the Pueblo Indians and
the Navajo. The Pueblo Indians refers to many native peoples living there, from northern New Mexico to the Hopi mesas of Arizona, with many unique cultural differences. These people are believed to be the descendants of the vanished Anasazi who built cities, cliff dwellings, and ceremonial centers throughout the area.

In Pueblo mythology Thought Woman, Sun Father, and Corn Mother are the most important deities. These primal deities are each powerful, but they are also interdependent. Thought Woman/Spider Woman is the creatrix of the universe, which she sometimes initiates alone, and sometimes in partnership with the Sun. The creative impulse is something Thought Woman passes on, originating from the Web's center a generative process continually expanding through her daughters, sons, and a non-human pantheon of relations as well.

There are also tales (among the Hopi) that say Spiderwoman, with Sun Father, fashioned the very first people (which also included two-legged people) from red clay. When ceramic artist Kathy Space and I began our community sculpture project in Midland, Michigan (2007), we conceived of “prayer ties” to unify a mosaic composed of casts of participants’ hands and faces. This variation on Spider Woman Web seemed like another “thread“ to envision the telling. A Web of minds and hands, made of red terra cotta clay. Terra. The good red earth, the color of life, of blood, of vitality.

A "Spider and Cross" symbol is found, ubiquituous, among the prehistoric Mississippian people thorughout the South and Midwest, and a Spider Woman, who is also a variation of Mother Earth, is found among the Maya.  The Navajo (who call themselves the “Dine” which means “the people”) revere Grandmother Spider Woman ('Na'ashje'ii sdfzq'q) because she taught them how to weave.

According to cultural anthropologist Carol Patterson-Rudolph,

"The Navajo have their own version of Spider Woman. As with all metaphors, Spider Woman is a bridge that allows a certain kind of knowledge to be transmitted from the mundane to the sacred dimension.........they believe that an individual must undergo an initiation before he or she can be fully receptive to this kind of knowledge. Thus, to the eyes of the uninitiated, Spider Woman appears merely as an insect, and her words go unheard. But to the initiated whose mind has been opened the voice of this tiny creature can be heard. This is the nature of wisdom, c0nveyed through the metaphor of Spider Woman. 1"

Spider Woman (who lives, the Navajo say, on Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly) is always available to help her descendants. She can best be heard in the wind (or on the transparent threads of synchronicities) - if one is quiet, and prepared to listen.

Navajo rugs often have Spiderwoman’s Cross woven into the pattern. The cross of Spider Woman, it seems to me, is another very important symbol for our time, because it represents balance - the union of the 4 directions or 4 elements. The fifth element is the unifying force, the mystery at the center. To “walk in beauty” is to be aware of a “moving point of balance” as we walk across the land, and walk through the circles of our lives and relationships.

Spider Woman has a way of getting around.

Although she can be found in the canyons and deserts and prairies and forests of the Americas (and stories about the Yellow Women, and “Born from the Water” and “Monster Slayer“, and Evil Katchina, and many others, are well worth the telling) - it seems her grandchildren traveled to many other places and times as well. Perhaps she was once Neith, the primal weaver of ancient Egypt. In Celtic lore she has her hand on the web of the Wyrd, and in India, there is the great Jewel Net of Indra, wherein each gem infinitely reflects every other gem. Among the Greeks she gave Theseus a thread to guide him through his labyrinth - a thread not unlike the same threads she casts to you, and to me, now and then, on our own heroes journeys.

And today? Well, there are many contemporary ways Spiderwoman makes herself known. Ecologists speak of the great Web of life, while physicists speak of entanglement theory. I like to think that the Internet is Spiderwoman's latest appearance. I have the feeling She’s working very hard now to make us pay attention.

Because the truth of Spiderwoman's Web is really very simple. All my efforts to make a more complex tale have failed, and I can summarize it like this:

We're woven into the world,
and the world is woven into us.

We’re weaving the world into being with the stories we tell, right now. 

A cultural paradigm is founded upon mythic roots - the "warp and woof"2 from which the ideas of a culture grow. So what are those threads? Do they show us how to “walk in beauty” as the Navajo teach? Because to "walk in beauty" is not just a personal practice. It's a blessing in motion for all our myriad relations. Each of us is holding a thread, a lineage, that goes back in time and extends far into the future, a weave we participate in with our thoughts, our dreams, and the manifest creative work of our hands. So perhaps the only real question is also an ethical question, as well as a creative one. “What are we weaving?”

I have found that Spiderwoman delights in all things connected, co-creative, collaborative, cooperative, communicative - all those “co” words. Warp and weft. May we all be conscious weavers, beautiful weavers. For our children, for all our relations, for the future.

My gratitude to:

The Aldon B. Dow Fellowship, The Puffin Foundation, Kathy and Steve Space and Space Studio, and you - for weaving this story with me.

Lauren Raine, 2007

Beauty is above me
Beauty is below me
Beauty is beside me
Beauty is before me
Beauty is behind me

 Dine Blessing Way Chant

1 Patterson-Rudolph, Carol, "On the Trail of Spiderwoman", 1997, Ancient City Press, p. 82

2 "warp and woof : the foundation or base of something." [ Old English owef "weave on" <>

3 Keresan Pueblo Creation Myth - Patterson-Rudolph, Carol, "On the Trail of Spiderwoman", Ibid.

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