Cult of the Spinning Goddess FAQs

Cult of the Spinning Goddess – FAQs

So what the fresh hell is this ‘cult of the spinning goddess’ thing?

The ‘Cult of the Spinning Goddess’ is not an established cult or set of practices, but rather an attempt to create such a cult for the modern day. I was originally going to embark on this endeavour alone, but figured that there might be other interested parties and so decided to open it up. This cult construction is going to have the following requirements:

1. The creation of a space where cultic matters might be discussed, research shared, liturgy, ritual year, and cultic practices fleshed out.

2. A commitment to researching the figure of the ‘spinning goddess’, spinning lore, and what remnants might remain to this day through a combination of reconstruction, retrospective methods, and comparison of related mythologies.

3. Given that the ‘spinning goddess’ was a figure from further back in history than Heathens typically look, it’s obvious that it will not be possible to be completely historical. We’re aiming for a percentage, a percentage of history supplemented by practices created now that fit within the Heathen worldview. All new creations will be labelled as such and the rationale behind them given.

Okay, but who was this ‘spinning goddess’ you’re wanting to set up a cult to?

I’ll admit, she’s an illusive creature, her traces found (I believe) mainly in a series of bracteates (a type of amulet that depicted various things such as gods, goddesses, zoomorphic designs etc.), grave goods that combine ritual items with spinning items (and bracteates), later accounts of Gullveig and Heið, tales of magic that was spun, völva staffs that resemble ornate distaffs of the same period, and the continued existence of a group of numena in Germany heavily connected to spinning and magic. It’s my belief, based on the research I have carried out, that all of these things pertain to that original spinning goddess of the bracteates. I would like to attempt to create a working cult in her honour.
bracteates2

But wouldn’t that just be Seiðr?

No, it is my opinion that what we see referred to as Seiðr in the sagas is actually the final remnants of practices that had their roots in some of the cultic practices of this goddess and I believe that there is some support for this in John McKinnell’s work, namely his paper titled ‘On Heið’. In ‘On Heið’, McKinnell makes the argument that the name ‘Gullveig’ is actually referring to an idol of wood that is covered in gold.

Völuspá tells us:

The war I remember, the first in the world,
When the gods with spears had smitten Gollveig,
And in the hall of Hor had burned her,
Three times burned, and three times born,
Oft and again, yet ever she lives.

Heið they named her who sought their home
The wide-seeing witch, in magic wise;
Minds she bewitched that were moved by her magic,
To evil women a joy she was.”

If McKinnell is right about Gullveig, then the above passage in Völuspá is potentially telling the tale of the stamping out of a cult by the followers of Hor (Oðinn), and the survival in the form of ‘Heið’, a title for Seiðr women.

It is my hope to focus on the ‘Gullveig’ rather than the ‘Heið’.

So, if Oðinn was a doo doo head to Gullveig, does that mean I can’t also worship him if I join this cult?

No, not at all. No migration period vandalism is going to be the boss of us!

It’s also not my intention that this cult becomes something separate or separating when it comes to other cultic activities or groups our cult members are involved in. I’m looking for the ‘as well as’, as opposed to ‘instead of’. I’m guessing it was a mentality of ‘instead of’ that led to any desecration (IF that’s what happened!).

Is that all the evidence you have for this whole spinning goddess thing though? I mean, this is pretty light on details.

You’re right, this is. But this is some initial FAQ that I hammered out in response to the many questions I received when I first mentioned the intention to create this cult. There’s a lot of research and a lot of sources, but that’s going to require an actual paper. It’s not something that would be particularly useful in some quick FAQ format.

So, are you all going to be doing witchy shit?

Some of the cultic practices are going to be magical in nature, but not all, and not all members have to participate in that. As a cultus, our primary function will be to create a reciprocal relationship with the spinning goddess, and some form of coherent cultic practice. So, we’re talking more worship, with some witchy shit for those that are interested.

Do you all want sausages with your clams?

All genders/sexualities are welcome here! I do draw the line at Vulcans and Klingons though.

Are there any requirements for members?

So far, it would seem that there are three categories of interested parties:

* Those that spin, are interested in the intersection between spinning and magic, and who are interested in getting involved in the cultus.

* Those that don’t spin, but are curious about the cultus (but not the spinning).

* Those that are curious about both spinning and cultus and would like to learn.

Considering that we’re going to be a cult dedicated to a SPINNING GODDESS I’m going to stipulate that members must be able to spin or in the process of learning.

However, curious parties can be considered ‘friends of the cult’, and engage their curiosity by having access to a certain level of documents pertaining to the cult. As time goes on, if we are successful, I expect us to develop closer bonds and eventually practices that will be kept ‘in-cult’ only.

What’s your role going to be in this?

Well, I was considering becoming a Jim Jones, or David Koresh type dude…or maybe like that guy in Japan that collects pubic hair and puts people in giant microwaves! Just kidding. We may be starting a cult, but we’re not losing our fucking minds. You can all rest assured that I won’t be collecting anyone’s pubic hair, trying to score illicit sex with brainwashed minions, or creating some weird Heathen Waco. The only money I’d be taking from anyone would be if anyone wants to buy my book (when it’s finally out), but that’s called commerce, and as a capitalist society, that’s quite ok.

My role in this is going to be that of founder and leader. I encourage discussion and participation. Disagreement is cool, as long as you don’t be a dick about it. As things coalesce, if they coalesce, I’ll look into starting a council to work on different areas and so we have some kind of system and forum to discuss anything that crops up, but I’ll always retain my position.

Fiber Arts, Ancestor Reverence, Seiðr, and Prophecy

My Background in Fiber Arts

When I was a little girl, I was the kind of girl that learned more from her father than her mother. Although my mother did try to teach me to knit and sew, I had no interest whatsoever. I devalued fiber arts, I didn’t understand what they were, I looked down on them. In my nascent feminism, Germaine Greer’s words were ever in mind, “Women have frittered their lives away stitching things for which there is no demand.”  In those early years, my interest was always in being outside, in travelling, being out in the wilds, and well basically being some feral little savage that wandered the moors like Ibn Fadlan’s proverbial swamp donkey.

I would learn the value and sacredity of fiber arts later in life.

Fiber Arts and the Sacred

My first fiber art was embroidery, which I came to after finding my grandmother’s silks and hoop in the attic. For days, I’d heard the intermittent song of a music box. Trying to track it down, I turned my room upside down, but found nothing with the same tune. Eventually I decided to go into the attic and look there. Finally I found a box containing a music box, my grandmother’s silks, and her hoop. The song from the music box matched the song I’d been hearing. I never seemed to need teaching, my mother never embroidered or cross stitched, but it was easy to me. My first use of fiber arts for the sacred was embroidered pieces dedicated to deities, magical house protections incorporating the ALU charm, and shrines that could be folded away.

woden

The next fiber art was knitting, which I came to reticently – at least initially, but ended up teaching myself via YouTube videos and copying a woman on the train when I lived in Germany.

While in Germany, it was our habit that I would find local folktales, translate them, and then we’d visit the place. This hobby rendered some interesting finds, including a place that folklore held to have been a cultic place of Wodan’s, an amazing site called Druidenhain, and eventually, Frau Holle. Around the same time, I developed an interest in spinning, and this pull to Frau Holle and spinning developed hand in hand. Over time, and through research, I found that aside from my UPG, that bone-deep certainty that Frau Holle is far far older than her medieval tales, that there was also a lot of very solid and thorough scholarship that supports this in the form of Erika Timm’s ‘Frau Holle, Frau Percht, und verwandte Gestalten‘. Through her in-depth study, Timm presents her theory that names like ‘Frau Holle’, ‘Frau Gode/Wode’,  and ‘Frau Herke’ were regional ‘taboo names’ for the survival form of a far older goddess – the Germanic Frija – a spinning goddess, and whose functions,as Lotte Motz shows in her paper, ‘Nerthus: A New Approach‘, match those of the ‘Terra Mater’ of Tacitus’s description in his Germania.

Well, with the exception of the human sacrifice, but you know, times change…

bracteates2

Replica of a ‘spinning goddess’ bracteate found in Oberwerschen, Germany. This was found in the grave of an elderly woman, under her chin. The woman is believed to have been of some importance and was found buried with a whorl, a silver needle, and scissors. Three bracteates depicting the same figure were buried with another woman from Grossfahne, who also had a weaving sword among her grave goods.

Spinning to me, was now a sacred act. I learned about spinning taboos, and instituted some of my own to better understand what a taboo can be. I became a devotee of the ‘spinning goddess’, and over time, not only did I come to wear a symbol of her, and her image on my skin, but her connection (and by extension the connection of spinning) to Seiðr and prophecy.

Fiber Arts and Ancestry

Before I continue, and talk more about each of the different skills I practice in depth, I would like to talk a little about ancestry and the role of fiber arts in ancestral practice. When I work these traditional skills, my knitting, spinning, or even crochet, these skills from the ‘spindle side’ (and old term for the woman’s side of a family, usually denoting the women of a family line), several things are going on, at least for me. People belittle these skills, and consider them the domain of someone like Martha Stewart. I find this kind of insulting because, in my opinion, Martha Stewart is an ex-con that’s making money off these traditional arts by repackaging them in nice plastic simplicity and lifting them from all tradition and heritage. And while the argument exists that she’s potentially bringing new blood into old crafts, the new blood she’s bringing in is being introduced by the corporate mass-packaged version of what should be individual, heartfelt, and bespoke. It’s things like Martha Stewart, with her cookie-cutter versions of ‘creativity’ that leads to people seeing these arts as being mundane and producing the kind of ‘things for which there is no demand’ that Germaine Greer spoke of.

I realise that these are very strong opinions, and it’s not my wish to offend. In some ways, I’m impressed that Martha Stewart has managed to turn such a profit on crafts that are usually not particularly lucrative – at least not for the average stitcher.

However, aside from Martha and her cookie cutters, I find this form of belittling – especially by people that are supposed to grok the sacred and magical to be very short sighted and mundane in of itself.

If you just take a moment to think about what these fiber arts represent, the histories of things like the various traditional patterns (that even made it possible to identify the village or even family of the wearer), the various techniques employed, and how they related to the lives of the people that employed them, there’s something very tribal there. For example, the Fair Isle technique, as well as being colourful and providing a way to show local identity through specific patterns, also allows the knitter to layer numerous strands of wool upon each other in one garment, thus providing a far warmer garment. If you take into account the further consideration that wool garments can still provide warmth while wet (to a point), then it makes absolute sense that Fair Isle would be a part of the culture of northern fishing villages.

In these arts, there’s tradition, ancestry, there are wishes and intent, there’s knowing where you’re from and who you are; there are stories, there are layers there. Every stitch you make, every length of yarn you spin, you are connecting with generations of women before you who, although you do this for pleasure, did this out of necessity. This is a way to connect with and honour ancestors.

Better still when you have something of theirs that remains unfinished or can be incorporated into something you’re making. That is when heirlooms are born, their stitches and intent nestling with your own, and joining those of your descendants.

This is a tablecloth that my grandmother began working on over thirty years ago.

This is a tablecloth that my grandmother began working on over thirty years ago.

Fiber, Magic, and Prophecy

Historically, and perhaps due to what I would call the ‘operative’ nature of Germanic magic (repeated actions carried out over time, integrated as part of daily function seem to have been preferred), the two main fiber arts connected with magic were, unsurprisingly, spinning and weaving.

The most famous examples of fiber magic are those of the raven banner, typically a banner woven by the mother or sister of the warrior in question, that was said to guarantee victory to the warband that carried it. The price of this victory being the death of the banner bearer (Orkneyinga saga, ch. 6, 11, 14, 17; Njáls saga, ch. 157).

Another famous example of weaving in magic is the killing shirt of the Orkney saga, which was a shirt woven with the intent of killing the wearer. This was a Seidr that was again, worked by women, and in the case of the killing shirt of the Orkney saga, was created by Helga and her sister Frakkok, who intended it for the Earl’s brother. However, the Earl himself found it and wanted it:

“..the sisters pulled off their bonnets, tore their hair and said that if he put on the garment his life would be at risk. Though they were both in tears he didn’t let that stop him, but no sooner was the garment upon his back than his flesh started to quiver and he began to suffer terrible agony. He had to go to bed and not long after that he died. “
Orkneyinga saga, ch. 55

I can think of no examples of woven magic which do not include some kind of blood shed, or blood price. Like other forms of magic, the practice continued after conversion:

“Have you been present at or consented to the vanities which women practice in their woollen work, in their weaving, who when they begin their weaving hope to be able to bring it about that with incantations and with their actions that the threads of the warp and the woof become so intertwined that unless someone makes use of these other diabolical counter-incantations, he will perish totally? If you have been present or consented, you must do penance for thirty days on bread and water.”

-Corrector Burchard of Worms, ca. 1010

Spinning magic however, was more of a magic of creation and attraction, with archaeological evidence demonstrating a link between some of the various Seidr staffs found among grave goods, and medieval distaffs (Heide 2006, Enright 1996; 245). However, these distaff-like-staffs were usually made out of metal, which rendered them cumbersome and impractical for actual use. Many of these staffs have strong points of similarity with the staff described in Eirik the Red’s Saga (Price 2002). Metallurgical analysis has shown that many of these staffs were forged with the inclusion of organic matter, mostly bones of the dead, or of animals (Gardela 2009). Post mortem, these staffs were often symbolically killed, by means of being pressed by a rock – in this, they often shared the same fate as their owners (in a number of cases, the bodies of suspected Seidrworkers were crushed post-mortem by rocks). In numerous accounts in lore, the spindle, distaff, and act of spinning are linked to Seidr, such as the following:

* In Laxdoela saga, the Seidr which causes a storm that sinks a boat is called ‘harðsnúin frœði’, or ‘hardtwisted knowledge/sorcery’, suggesting a link between storms that are spun.
* In Fóstbrœðra saga, a man is made invulnerable by a type of Seidr that involved working a kind of magic while spinning hanks of yarn that were then placed under the man’s clothes.
* There are two accounts of spun magic used to create invisibility.

There are many more accounts that link spinning with Seidr, and I cannot recommend this paper highly enough for a far more in-depth examination of the link between Seidr, Gandr, and spinning.

It’s also worth mentioning that the spindle remained the symbol of witch or wise woman in German folklore, and witches continued to be depicted with distaffs (which conceivably had some crossover with brooms).

Woman seated spinning with distaff gripped between her legs.

Woman seated spinning with distaff gripped between her legs.

Witch riding a goat backwards while holding a distaff between her legs as though in use. Depiction by Albrecht Duerer ca. 1500.

Witch riding a goat backwards while holding a distaff between her legs as though in use. Depiction by Albrecht Duerer ca. 1500.

 

Witches riding towards peasant woman on broomsticks ca. 1400.

Witches riding towards peasant woman on broomsticks ca. 1400.

Artist and date unknown. Witch with distaff spinning up a storm.

Artist and date unknown. Witch with distaff spinning up a storm.

As the spindle and distaff was often the status symbol of the witch, or at least that which set her out in society as a witch in much the same way as the warrior his weapons, the same can be said for the tools of weaving too. Bracteates from the Fuerstenberg-B series that depict goddesses carrying spindles and weaving swords, are reminiscent of Fedhelm – the prophetess from the Táin Bó Cúailnge – whose symbol of status – whose *staff* was an ornate weaver’s beam. Fedhelm identified herself as banfhili (female poet), but is addressed as banfháith (prophetess) by queen Medb.

Welschingen-BIt’s interesting to note here that Fedelm regarded herself as a woman ‘fili’, or…roughly, a type of Irish poet that originally prophecised and spoke her prophecies in poetry. Purportedly the fili composed their poems in the dark, or in other words, while ‘under the cover’ of darkness. This goes back to a wider theme of going under the cloak in order to speak prophecies (often in poetry) as found in Icelandic literature (Aðalsteinsson 1999).

Conclusion

While this is by no means an exhaustive blog post, I hope that the connection between magic and fiber arts is at least made clear. So much magic can be worked into fiber. Each stitch can be worked with intent, protective symbols can be worked in Fair Isle or stranded knitted pieces – a pair of mittens can become a prayer that is worn. The numerical patterns of lace can be an invocation or protection, in a shawl that’s worn while practicing Seidr, or as a way to ‘go under the cloak’. A thought form can be spun and put to rest as easily as burning a skein of yarn, and the lowly distaff may function equally well in the creation of a Gandus or as a holder for unspun roving.

And I see little ‘mundane’ in that.

 

Axis Mundi

The pole rises up,
as far as the sky,
to where it looks like there is a hole.
Around us stars dance,
Constellations turn,
Hunters and prey locked in an eternal race.

The wood is thick,
dark,
and strong.
Immutable and unchanging.
I reach out my hand,
touch what might be sludge,
look at it,
play with it,
upon my fingers.
Until the reddish-brown becomes familiar,
and I realise the sludge is blood.

Here are layers of blood,
blood caked on wood,
stretching through time.
By these layers of blood,
this blood caked on wood,
this strangest of trees is watered.

I start with my face,
paint myself with that sludge,
my body now reddish-brown.
The sickness abates,
flees that holy paste,
by that visceral blessing I’m renewed.

And around us the stars dance,
constellations turn,
hunters and prey remain locked in their eternal race.