Column: Wyrd-Spinner

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Sometime after Trothmoot 2019 I took up spinning. I don’t remember what started it. I know I received a gift – either the roving or the spindle itself. Both were plain, as these things go. The roving was undyed wool in a rough gray-brown, the spindle a pale dowel with a small whorl and a hook at the end. Talking about one gift to my friends got me the other, and as with all my crafts, I spent an evening squinting at YouTube videos and trying to translate movements from my eyes to my hands.

My hands and I often stumble in our translations. This did not come easily. I fumbled the spindle, tore the wool, moved too fast or too slow, and, to my own dread, started to spin in the wrong direction. If the spinning had not been intended as an offering, I would have given it up as a bad idea and found one of my many more talented friends to take the mess off of my hands. But I very seldom make things for myself, and this was already dedicated, a gift in the making. So I gathered up the fibers and started again, holding the spindle in my toes as I tried to judge the tension, the thickness, all of the details I had never noticed in fabric before.

When I had made a length of yarn, not yet sure how to set it, I pulled it off the spindle and coiled it in the little iron cauldron where I burn most offerings. “Hail Frigg,” I said, and set about learning that, among its many fine qualities, wool is very hard to burn.

John Charles Dollman, “Frigga Spinning the Clouds,” an illustration from H. A. Guerber’s “Myths of the Norsemen from the Eddas and Sagas.” [public domain]

That had been a summer of many firsts. It was the first time I attended a large Heathen event, or a Pagan event of any size larger than the local Pagan Prides. It was the first time I participated in rituals that were grounded in the communities of the west and northwest, where inclusive Heathenry sunk in its roots at least partially due to Diana Paxson’s Hrafnar. It was also the first time I raised a horn to Frigg, at a blót led by Maire Durkan, who would later go on to publish a devotional in her lady’s name.

As I remember it, the altar was spotless, all white with bright embroidery punctuating different items made as offerings. We gathered in the sunlight, in a central green space big enough to accommodate a crowd and passed the horn. “All-Mother, Queen Beloved, Key Keeper, Peace-weaver, Wyrd Spinner,” Maire called. “From the Marsh Hall, From the High Seat, From the hearth’s warmth, come to us.” At the end, she handed out small snips of blessed yarn. I carried mine back to my bunk, and from there across the country to my home.

I hadn’t thought much at all about the goddess before then. I knew her husband, on uneasy terms, but goddesses had always been harder for me to access. Besides, it seemed like we had little in common. It wasn’t until I met her followers, their hands seemingly always busy with some form of fiber, that I had any sense of Frigg herself. It wasn’t until I heard the toasts in her name that I thought about what it takes to manage a household, or to create all of the things a family needs to live happily. There was some strength I couldn’t quite grasp in a mother who, facing the death of her child, walks the earth to ensure that there is nothing left able to hurt him. I wanted to learn more, and I thought that maybe spinning would offer context I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Later, in meditation, I would meet a young woman with a warm smile and a hard eye. “You forget,” she’d say. “I’m the one who married him, on purpose, and who waits while he wanders. I’m not what you expect me to be.” She would start me thinking about the kinds of strength, and the kinds of relationships, I would want to build my home around. At the time, it was just gray wool, and thin wood, and my hands trying to learn a motion they’d never felt.

A drop spindle surrounded by turquoise wool [Angela Montillon, Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0]

There is a part of me that feels as though it is creating a life without a blueprint to build from. In the past I have dismissed this as imposter’s syndrome, my own millennial dissociation from “adulting,” but it’s more than that. In many ways, I am building a life different than what my parents knew to teach me. The values are the same – to live as a good partner, to provide stability and comfort to my community – but the particulars sometimes leave me reaching for tools I was never provided. I can plant beans, and butcher chickens, and drive for 14 hours, and patch drywall, but finding and maintaining a community seems like a cycle of frustration and disappointment. Every week I struggle to synchronize the emotional and logistical needs that are summarized in bright colors on three separate Outlook calendars, fighting myself as I learn to express my own needs. Two years before my wedding, my marriage would have been illegal, and even now it often feels as though my household and I are imagining futures for ourselves, stepping forward onto stairs as we build them.

The altar I have built for this work lives beside my bed – the first thing I see in the morning and the last one at night. It is built of many things, but on one side is my spindle, Frigg’s white thread tied tight to hold my current work in place. For years, it has been the same gray wool, the same offering half-given. “I can make this work,” I’ll think as I struggle through building a budget, or deciding whether to move again. “I am doing this on purpose. I am not who I was expected to be.”

It does not feel like praying. If it is, then I am praying for balance and patience and strength. There are many things I do not know to pray for.

Distaff and spindle [public domain]

My partner does not teach me how to spin. Ze does it for zirself, glowing with the pleasure of making something useful, in the simplest and oldest way. I just watch, as we are working around the house, taking in the shape of zir hands and the way ze holds it – easier than the painstaking way I’ve been holding mine. The yarn that comes out is often imperfect, and I have undone yards of work for less, gone backwards and tried again until I manage something like consistency. It is something strange to watch zir, unbothered, spin past fluff and lumps and weave a fabric that tells stories of its yarn. Ze is so proud and pleased, and I am reminded that there is magic in this work, and joy in the magic.

I take my spindle from its altar for the first time in months, and this time the spinning is much faster. I run through my roving in hardly any time, set the yarn as I’ve seen zir do it, hang it up to dry. My friends have gifted me with more roving, and I pull that out next, a dark red that’s finer and softer than what I’ve been working with.

While I’m spinning it, my mother calls. We haven’t spoken in a while. She tells me about a sickness in the family. She asks about my “significant other,” and for all that she was at the wedding she forgets my wife’s name. She uses words for me that I have not used for over a decade, asks nothing about my life.

When I hang up, I go back to spinning. The spindle, a gift I had not planned to use, snaps, leaving me with yarn half-spun. I stop everything, and rush to set it, and try to decide what to do next.

So often, when the gods speak, the signs are unclear. I appreciate a woman who’s direct.

That night, before I sleep, I put the pieces back together- the broken dowel, the loose hook, the whorl itself. I tie the small piece of white yarn around it, tight this time- a sacrifice, something dedicated to a goddess and no longer for my use. Then, I go and buy a spindle for myself- something strong, something I can learn with and not fear breaking. It’s something I enjoy, after all.

This time, I will do it on purpose.