The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
Technically, spinning is the art of transforming loose fibers into thread but spinning is more than just the art of spinning thread. Spinning is the magical art of transformation. Spinning connects every woman to the sacred actions of the Goddess.
Spinning was associated with the entire cycle of life—with birth, nurturing, and death, symbolized by the weaving of one’s burial shroud. It is a metaphor for providing order and structure. It regulates fertility and controls cyclical occurrences like the moon, tide, and seasons, and thus the weather.
Many spinning goddesses are associated with water, especially wells. The Norse Norns live by the Well of Urd. In the fairy tale Mother Holle, a spindle enables the girls to reach Hulda’s realm at the bottom of a well.
Spinning and weaving metaphorically suggests creating something powerful and beautiful from one’s own essence and substance, like a spider.
Spinning is like cooking: it transforms the raw material into the useable. It provides the action of completion and fulfillment. There is a fertility aspect to spinning. One creates something from raw material in the way that raw material is transformed into a living, vital baby within the womb.
Spinning in many parts of Earth was a woman’s art; the spinning room was female territory. In colder climates during the winter, when agricultural work was not possible, women joined together at night to spin together. An older woman might be delegated to “entertain” the spinners with old stories. Mother Goose is frequently depicted in the company of a spindle. In some communities, professional story-tellers were hired to preside over the spinning room: they may be understood as priestesses or as repositories of ancient lore.
Children ran in and out of the spinning room; an exciting or entertaining story kept restless children well behaved.
Hungarian preachers complained that the common people found greater pleasure listening to the old wives’ tales told in the spinning room than in sermons told in Church.
Flax, hemp, and nettles, the plants that can be “spun” into fabric, were once sacred to goddesses (Freya, Frigga, Hulda, assorted fairies) but were later demonized as “witch plants.” Some believe the negative passions aroused by the hemp plant are derived from its associations with witchcraft, shamanism, and women’s magical traditions.
Spinster is now a negative word indicating an unmarried woman but it literally means “one who spins” or “woman who spins.” Spinsters were independent women able to support themselves via spinning thread or spinning tales.
Spinning was once associated with divination. A method of scrying involves gazing into a moving spinning wheel (literally a wheel of fortune). In ancient Greece, sphondulomantis involved “divination via spindle.” Bobbing spindle wheels and the monotony of spinning may induce prophetic trances.
Embroidery and Fine Needlework
Spinning and weaving aren’t the only sacred arts associated with fabric. Embroidery was often a safe repository for sacred but now forbidden symbols, akin to tarot or tattooing.
In much of Europe, embroidering for the Goddesses included ritual towels, aprons, and embroidered bread covers for the loaf placed on the domestic altar for ancestors.
These ornamented fabrics were incorporated into women’s spiritual and magical rituals.
Examples of these embroideries have been collected by Mary B. Kelly and published in Goddess Embroideries of Eastern Europe (Northland Press, 1996) and Goddess Embroideries of the Balkan Lands and the Greek Islands (Studiobooks, 1999).