“What might we see, how might we act, if we saw with a webbed vision?
The world seen through a web of relationships…as delicate as spider’s silk,
yet strong enough to hang a bridge on.”
Catherine Keller, Theologian
From a Broken Web
It's almost my birthday, and I find that my thoughts keep going backwards, following the threads of this journal to where it began in 2007. And it began with my long time "calling" from "Spider Woman", the Native American Goddess who weaves the great web, who instructs the young and the uninitiated when they are ready to hear and see, whose hand weaves patterns along with the great rug weavers, who as "Thought Woman" creates the world with the stories She tells about the world. It's time to revisit this work, because for me Spider Woman continually speaks of what we need to re-member. **
So for any who may so generously find my journal of interest, bear with me as I trace back some of Spider Woman's threads, seeking pattern. The ubiquitous Spider Woman archetype touched me in many ways for years before I was given an Aldon B. Dow Fellowship at Northwood University in the summer of 2007, rendering an opportunity to more fully pursue my fascination. Ultimately that fascination became three community arts projects, the first at the Midland Arts Center in Michigan.
In the ancient stories of the Spider Woman I see a very contemporary vision of ultimate unity, on our planet, in our human experience, and in the unfathomable vastness of the universe.** And just as "Spider Woman" sits in her room "thinking up good stories", so has she endowed us as well with the same imaginal creative gifts. We also create the world with the stories we tell, we are also the artists whose telling can become manifest. So what stories are we telling, and why is it crucial to understand those stories?
"Tse Che Nako, Thought Woman the Spider is sitting in her room thinking up a good story: I'm telling you the story She is thinking.".............Keresan Pueblo proverb
When I began to work with Spider Woman, I tend to think She also began to work with me! As I pursued my private investigation, trying not to disrespect or co-opt traditions of the Native Peoples of America where She is found in so many places,......I began to find that synchronicities continually followed my fascination. Synchronicities are perhaps the ultimate personal experience of the mysterious entanglement of consciousness.........and for me, they became touchstones along with way.
Spiders would do strange things, like when a tiny spider dropped a thread from the ceiling and hung over my computer as I was working on my book about the project. I would meet people who would tell me stories about magical spiders. People would send me emails out of the blue, or offer me materials unsolicited, that somehow were perfect for what I was envisioning.
For example, when I hit the road to travel to Michigan I camped at a hot spring in New Mexico, and visited a nearby petroglyph site with a man who told me about it there. He gave me photographs of spider petroglyphs he had taken there and elsewhere. I stopped in Winslow, Arizona and noticed a little jewelry shop - and there saw an amazing Navajo necklace depicting Spider Woman as a Dine` weaver with a web behind her. I stopped in Taos at the Laughing Horse Inn, and discovered a framed photograph of a Dine` weaver beside my door. I took a photo of it, and later was surprised by the thread-like reflections on the glass of the picture as well, something that inspired me to name this Blog "threads of Spider Woman".
One of the funniest (and I am certain Spider Woman has a great sense of humor) occurred when I stopped for coffee on my way to the second Community Arts Project at the Creative Spirit Center in Midland in 2008 (in collaboration with artist Kathy Space). She had created a wall of "Icons" with some 30 participants, each holding a "thread" representing inter-dependancy that went around the walls and finally out the door, representing the "threads" that connect us to everything. It was only when I was pulling away that I noticed where I had parked!
I love "on the road" synchronicities, those that occur in that most liminal space of "being neither here nor there" but in transit. I guess that is my own kind of "moving meditation". The story below is one of those synchronicities, and occurred a few weeks after I completed my "Spider Woman's Hands" Show and community project at the Midland Arts Center in Michigan. I went to Paducah, Kentucky on my way back home, because I was curious about the arts community developing there, and chanced to notice that there was a Native American historical site very close to Paducah, which inspired me to stop there on the way out of town. And this is what I was doing a decade ago
August 15, 2007
"Sun Circle" and "Spider Woman's Cross" on gourd
(and "the threads" reflections the glass case seems to have also created in the picture)
I have always felt that my imagination is most open to the ubiquitous, syncronistic voice of the Divine when I'm on the road. In other words, like many Americans who grew up in cars (and were probably conceived in one as well), I do my best thinking when I'm behind the wheelrr. Travelling puts me into the creative liminal state of "between"- free from all the demands and paradigms that "destinations" impose ( the people, duties, reality tunnels, and potent unconscious imprints that "fix" the mind into "place"). Travelling is one of the ways I can hear the "conversation" ...... it turns down the noise for me.
I went to Paducah, Kentucky, on a lovely bright day full of vast green oaks, and later, heading south, decided to take a detour and visit Wicklife Mounds, an archaeological site that was once the home of a tribe of prehistoric Mississippian Native Americans. Going back as far as 1,000 years, these people built ceremonial areas, chief's houses, and burial houses on earth pyramids and stepped rectangular mounds. Over time, the mounds grew in elevation as houses were destroyed and rebuilt. Art, pottery, and religious and tribal iconography belonging to these diverse peoples are found throughout the Southeast, with iconic associations as far as Central Mexico, the Southwest and the Gulf of California, and as far north as Canada.
I didn't expect to find Spider Woman everywhere! But there She was! I guess I'm not really surprised though - the first thing I encountered as I walked into the little visitor's center was the "Spider Gorget" above. Later, I thought of my "Spider Woman's Hands" piece when I saw the ubiquitous "Hand with Eye", also found on ceremonial jewelry (gorgets made from shells), and pottery.
No one really knows the specific meanings of these symbols to the peoples who once lived, warred and traded throughout the Southeast. Yet within them, I personally find a continuing beauty, a familiarity, a continuing trail. The cross is ubiquitous, the symbol of the balance and ultimate unity of the the 4 directions. The Sun Circle is also completely ubiquitous. I find it interesting that the cross is found on the back of Spider in their (presumably) ceremonial gorgets - perhaps why, when it occurs in Navajo rugs (much later and among a very different people who migrated into the South West) it's still called "Spider Woman's Cross". Yet here as well as in the religious symbolism of the peoples of the South West, it seems that Spider is associated with the Earth Mother, and with creation.
To me, the "Spider Gorget" will always be profound. At the center is the weaver "Tse Che Nako", "Thought Woman" to the Keresan Pueblo peoples. Spider, spinning the world into being with her imagination, in partnership with the illumination of the Sun, spinning and weaving all things together with her "silky essence". From her very own body, from her own substance, she spins and creates.
The cross represents (to me) divine balance within an ever expanding and infinitely interconnected web of life. The Hand with Eye may represent the Divine manifestation, as well as consciousness itself.
I was amazed to see objects with this Hand in circles (and I think of my own obsession with "Spider Woman's Hands". Here is a quote from an anthropologist who studied Zuni petroglyphs in the South West, among them the occurrence of "hand" symbols. (I apologize for the use of "primitives" in the description. A more ethnocentric era.).
".......when hands were so at one with the mind that they really formed a part of it.......to reconstitute the primitives' mentality, he (Cushing, in the 1880's) had to rediscover the movements of their hands, movements in which their language and their thought were inseparably united.......the Zuni who did not speak without his hands did not think without them either." 1And so the Hand with Eye is a symbol of active consciousness (?) Perhaps, to create (weave) with active intention. Here's another little synchronicity I found in the course of following this thread, one that is a kind of personal poetic, as I am always fascinated with words and their origins. "Wickliffe" might become "Wick - life", which I have little doubt is it's origin. "Wick", from which we get "wicker ware", "wicca", "witch" and "wick" as in the wick of a candle (this association is with an English word that meant both "weave" and "alive").. ...... so, I'll take WICKLIFFE to mean "Weaving Life" with a double affirmative!
What really matters is the necessity, profoundly so now, to understand that we are all intimately interconnected, entrained, entangled, and woven together into World, interconnected within the processes of manifestation. We absolutely must develop a webbed vision now. And that's what artists can do, provide potent and lasting vision.
Thank you for this day, My life,
My strand on the Web,
The vibration it makes.
Keep me in tune, In harmony
With your purpose.
Let me serve.
*Here's a lovely article I found by an astrologer about Spider Woman -
1 Levy-Bruhl 1985: from ROCK ART SYMBOLS OF THE GREATER SOUTHWEST, Alex Patterson, Johnson Books, Boulder, Colorado.
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