There is a long history of fiber, spinning, and weaving in our short amount of humanity on this earth. Not only has it been used to create clothing, ropes, and nets, it has beautified our walls, become covers for our windows, upholstery for our furniture, keeps us cozy at night indoors and out, necessary for various means of transportation, even armor. I wanted to learn a bit more about the mythological history of fiber and discovered a TON.
I’m going to go over these mythological fiber crafters and provide links so you can read into further depth about this crazy cool world where our fictions/fantasies/fears/realities overlap. The best part is seeing how so many similarities appeared in vastly different cultures.
Heads up, this post has become crazy long, but it could have been so much longer… It is loaded with a bunch of links to source materials where you can read the full myth/stories of these goddesses. If there are multiple links in the same section, that is because there are multiple sources/storied to read. I have also included a short intro, in my own terms and comments, with the links to the full stories I am referring to. I could cut and paste them, but I have no interest in plagiarizing others and this allows you to really dig into them one by one. Anyway, it is always better that you read stories with references still available.
Lets step off this tour with the Greek mythology characters. These seem to have had the most radio play in my youth and were epic. I admit, I was drawn to learning about it in school. Probably due to exposure outside of school – I loved watching (and
re-watching) a few classic movies: Clash of the Titans (1981 version, thank you, very much), Ulysses, Helen of Troy, Jason and the Argonauts, and Hercules, just to name a few.
** For a bonus, if you dig crazy movies with pre-CGI graphics, this is not a Greek myth but a movie in the same vein (that I shamelessly LOVE) The seven faces of Dr Lao. **
OK – enough reminiscing – lets get to it.
- Athena – Goddess of art, architecture, crafts, spinning, horses, intellect, oxen, purity, reason, science, war, weaving and wisdom. Also associated with Minerva – Roman Goddess of spinning, weaving, cities, industry, war, wisdom and the arts. She competed in a weaving contest with the mortal Arachne. Athena was so pissed at the cocky and proud (yet technically sound) Arachne and her insulting subject matter portrayed in the tapestry that she turned her into a spider, forever to weave and forever to have her weavings destroyed by humans. Like other goddesses and deities I will be mentioning, the spider/spider-woman/weaver woman related to spiders appears across the globe in myths from Egypt, to Greece, to Japan, to Native American tribes.
- Anake – Goddess of fate, also known as Necessitae. While she’s not a spinning Goddess, Plato had a vision of her spinning the universe; Can you imagine it? The sun, moon and planets were her spindle whorls; the sirens sang throughout the webs of time and fate she wove; while all the souls moved through the strands to and from death/rebirth.
- Philomela -the daughter of Pandion, a legendary king of Athens. Her sisters husband, Tereus found Philomela so beautiful that he raped her, and after cut her tongue out so that she could not tell about her violation. Her loom becomes her voice, and the story is told in the design, so that her sister Procne may understand and so women may take their revenge. Read in more detail how the abuse and censorship of women has been occurring for so long and how clever skills can tell the tale…and gain revenge… the story of the censored voice
- Lina – Goddess of flax weaving – hard to find much on Lina as a Greek myth other than the statement that she is a goddess of weaving. There is a Lina tie in to germanic/saxon myth of Holda (below). Lina’s Ordeal references that she *is* flax in this myth and is see as the female equal to John Barleycorn – linked here for starters (Flax is what linen is made out of)
- Penelope – a human and faithful wife of Odysseus. Penelope has a high lineage that melds human and divine, and is she perhaps secretly Odysseus’ own weaving goddess-nymph, like the two weaving enchantresses in the Odyssey, Circe and Calypso. She was a weaver, always weaving her design for a shroud by day, but unraveling it again at night, to keep her suitors from claiming her during the long years while Odysseus was away.
- Three Fates – Also called the Moerae, Moirae or Parcae or Klothes – Spinners of the thread of life. Chthonic Goddesses who determined the beginning, your fated life and its ending were the personifications of destiny. Daughters of Zeus and Themis (or were created by goddess Nyx without the intervention of man.) but in most myths teh fates were eternal and considered together as more powerful than most Gods. No other god had the right or the means to alter their decisions. “No human could blame the fates (Moirae), since there were times he was the only one responsible for his failures.” There is a triad of three women as dieties/matrons/witches in myth across various regions and can be found in Greek, Roman, Slavic, Norse, Germanic tales, in ancient and modern paganism, and even in our movies.
- Isis – teacher of spinning, along with reading and agriculture. She is known for so much more, this little detail about spinning is swamped by the amount of her involvement/ability. Read more about her here.
- Neith – Goddess of crafts, spinning, hunting, war and wisdom. Also called Net or Neit. Also viewed at times as androgynous with no clear gender. Very involved in a number of major stories, Nit is identifiable by her emblems: most often it is the loom’s shuttle, with its two recognizable hooks at each end, upon her head and/or a sheild with crossed bows. Check it out here.
- cool factoid: According to E. A. Wallis Budge (The Gods of the Egyptians) the root of the word for weaving and also for being are the same: nnt.
- Tayet – Goddess of spinning and weaving, and the patron of weavers involved in mummification. There are ramblings that her name derives from the word “shroud”. Peep this.
NATIVE AMERICAN –
- Spider Woman – Also known as Spider Old-woman or Grandmother Spider woman is represented as a powerful teacher or helper in some tribal stories and as a trickster with intelligence and skill. She sang the world into existence. To many Native Americans it is considered bad luck to kill a spider.
- Spider Grandmother (Hopi) – Spider Grandmother is the special benefactor of the Hopi tribe. In the Hopi creation myths, Spider Grandmother created humans from clay (with the assistance of Sotuknang and/or Tawa), and was also responsible for leading them to the Fourth World (the present Earth.) Also according to mythology she was responsible for the stars in the sky; she took a web she had spun, laced it with dew, threw it into the sky and the dew became the stars. Her web represents the matrix of our reality and how we are all connected. This also ties into dreamcatchers.
- Spider Woman (Navajo) – Spider Woman is one of the most important deities of traditional Navajo religion. Unlike the Hopi Spider Grandmother, the Navajo Spider Woman is not considered the creator of humans, but she is their constant helper and benefactor. Spider Woman was the advisor of the heroic twins Monster-Slayer and Born-for-Water, taught the people the arts of weaving and agriculture, and appears in many legends and folktales to “save the day,” protect the innocent, and restore harmony to the world.
- Osage Spider Story:
Osage Indian legend about the importance of the spider.
- The Spider Woman and the Twins:
Hopi legend about the birth of Spider Grandmother and her first creations.
- The Story of Spider Rock:
Legends about the Navajo Indian goddess Spider Woman teaching the people to weave and rescuing a lost Navajo boy.
- Osage Spider Story:
- Saule – solstice Goddess of the sun, spinning sunlight and weaving – The Baltic (Latvia and Lithuania) connection between the sun and spinning is as old as spindles of the sun-stone, amber, which is considered a magical substance, that have been uncovered in burial mounds. Some of these spindles have signs of use, not merely symbolic. The family of Saule, Beiwe, and Sol are all intertwined in sun lore in spinning, harvest times, the motions of the sun and moon.. Here is a daily blessing:
- Saule, my amber weeping Goddess
creating light like thread.
As “Saules Mat” my mother sun, daily blessing
your thankful world with light.
- Saule, my amber weeping Goddess
- Holda – Teutonic Goddess (Frau Holda) of spinners and weavers who teaches, encourages, inspires and rewards the hard workers. Bringer of winter and referenced as the White Lady of Winter and protector of women. She also gathers the trapped souls of children that died before they were named so could not leave this plane. Also mentioned in the tale “Fru Holda” by the Brothers Grimm and accredited with inspiring (albeit maligned and evil versions) the hag in snow white (favorite plants being apple and flax), making a spindle and wheel tools of evil, and even mother goose. Geese are sacred to Holda, and some say she is the source of that storybook character. Her story trails into the Norse stories of Frigg, Bertha and paganic references to Christmas traditions. Other names she is known by in Germanic and Scandinavian folklore, Holde or Holle or Hulda or Huldra
- Amaterasu – Goddess who spins and weaves sunbeam is the supreme deity and divine ancestor of the Japanese Imperial Family and as the sun goddess, was responsible for illuminating the world and for insuring the fertility of the rice fields. Amaterasu was also an accomplished weaver, with many attendants who joined her in weaving the stunning satins, silks, and brocades for which Japan is rightfully famous. The legend of Amaterasu lead us to the sacred mirror, jewel, and sword which collectively became the three Imperial Regalia of Japan.
- Wakahiru – a weaving goddess that is Amaterasu’s younger sister and in some tales Wakahiru is another name used to represent Amaterasu. She is a specialist in needle craft and weaving, known as the dawn goddess and cherishes the handmade craft and the tools of craft.
- Kamuhata Hime – This goddess represents love, arts and relationships, and weaves the stars together. The weavings of tales have magical powers that are utsuhata (woven perfectly) and never need to be cut or sewn. Good thing because the stories of soldiers is you CANNOT cut the tate weavings
- Mokosh – Goddess of spinning, protector of women, their health and their children. She was a protector of sheep and fleece and was tied to water and rain. The close reference of her name to water (mokar = wet) lead to rain being called mokars milk. Her role was also similar to the Sudjaje (the Fates) who give and takes life, spinner of the thread of life, giver of the water of life. There was in 16th century a connection to the Russian fairy tale witch Baba-Jaga. Also known as Mokysha, Mokush. She later evolved into: St Petka, Paraskeva-Piatnitsa – a Goddess of spinning, water, fertility, and health with marriage.
- Habetrot – Goddess of healing and spinning – Spinning is both Pagan lingo for spell casting and for the turning of the Wheel of the Year. She may have been a Goddess of magic or a seasonal mother/creator. Habetrot is best known for healing powers of her skills with weaving fiber. All who wore the clothing she wove would never fall ill.
- Brigid – Celtic saint and goddess of poetry, healing and smithcraft. She is also a patron of other womanly arts – midwifery, dyeing, weaving and brewing, and guardian of children and farm animals and the patron of travelers, sailors, and fugitives. Also known to have 2 sisters and be a “triple goddess” and is a water deity…
- Chih Nu – Goddess of weaving -The daughter of the Jade Emperor, she spends all her time spinning beautiful silk robes and lacey garments for the Heavenly Host. She also makes the finest gossamer clouds and her tapestry of the constellations is a work of art. Her story is based on legend of the weaver girl and the cowherd. There are many variables of this tale (here is one and this clarification explains the variables across regions in and around china), but all seem to be the genesis story of a Chinese “valentines day” for lack of a better example. Also referenced by the names of Chih Nii, Chih Hii, Zhi Nu, Zhinü
- Frigg – spinning Goddess who knows the fate of all men. The Wife of Odin and Queen of Aesir. The only one permitted to sit on the high seat other than her husband Odin. As Goddess of weaving she was associated with weaving clouds and the threads of fate, known as Wyrd in the Nordic tradition. In Scandinavia, the constellation Orion’s Belt is known as Frigga’s Distaff. Her name means “beloved one.” Other spellings of this Goddesses name include Frea, Fija, Friia, Frig and Friggja.
- Bertha – Goddess of spinning – would wander the countryside over midwinter and yuletide – was able to tell if young children and servants were not behaving well, did not finish their chores of spinning wool. Common names also Perchta, Behtra
- Norns, Nornir– The Norse fates. Three spirits who spin the Thread of Life for all living beings, gods, men, giants and dwarves. They are three sisters who live near the Well of Urd at the foot of Yggdrasil. The names of the three sisters are Urd, Verdande, and Skuld. Urd is the oldest of the sisters, and is associated with the past. Verdande is associated with the present and Skuld is associated with possible futures. More often in Norse mythology they are associated with what was, what is and what could come to be. Currently, however, most mythologists believe that Urd means Fate, referring to those actions that have already taken place; Verdandi means Becoming, referring to those actions in the process of taking place; and Skuld means Necessity, referring to those necessary actions that drive the whole process
CHRISTIAN HAGIOGRAPHY – (Hagiography is a biography of a saint or an ecclesiastical leader.)
The christian church has overrun so many regions, I saved this for last. Because there are sooo many “patron saints” in this collective myth/religion, I feel I should include them, even though they are not usually looked at as myths by some standard social groups. They are not all females or directly weavers/spinners, but are all specialized in a makers craft in textiles. (please note – this *is all* pasted data from here)
- Patron saints of textiles in general
- Anthony Mary Claret is a Roman Catholic patron saint of textile merchants.
- Saint Homobonus is a Roman Catholic patron saint of tailors and clothworkers.
- Saint Maurice is considered a patron saint of weavers, dyers, and clothmaking in general in Coptic Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Eastern Orthodox Church.
- Parascheva of the Balkans is a patron of embroiderers, needle workers, spinners, and weavers among the Eastern Orthodox.
- Patron saint of drapers
- Patron saints of dyers
- Patron saint of fulling
- Patron saints of glove-making
- Mary Magdalene is a patron saint of glove-making in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church.
- Gummarus is a patron saint of glove-making in the Roman Catholic church.
- Saints Crispin and Crispinian are Eastern Orthodox patron saints of glove-making. Although their feast day was removed from the Roman Catholic Church’s universal liturgical calendar following the Second Vatican Council, the two saints are still commemorated on that day in the most recent edition of the Roman Catholic Church martyrology.
- Patron saint of hosiers
- Saint Fiacre is the patron saint of hosiers.
- Patron saints of lacework
- Saints Crispin and Crispinian (see above) are considered the patron saints of lacework.
- Patron saints of laundry and laundry workers
- Patron saint of millinery
- Patron saints of needlework
- In the Roman Catholic Church, Clare of Assisi is the patron saint of needlework
- Rose of Lima is the patron saint of embroidery, a specific type of needlework.
- Parascheva of the Balkans is the patron saint of needlework and other aspects of textiles (see section on patron saints of textiles in general) among the Eastern Orthodox.
- Patron saint of pursemakers
- Saint Brioc is the patron saint of pursemakers.
- Patron saint of seamstresses
- Patron saint of silk
- Patron saint of spinning
- Saint Catherine is the patron saint of spinners.
- Patron saint of tapestry workers
- Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of tapestry workers.
- Patron saints of weaving
- Patron saints of wool workers