Thursday, December 8, 2016

SPIDER WOMAN’S HANDS: A Metaphor for Our Time

I've been feeling unable to "center" ever since the election, confronting the division and hostility that seems to be overtaking our country so quickly.  I guess the image of "a webbed vision" seemed important, along with circles...............

Spider Woman's Hands

“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 (1989)

Years ago I climbed the Superstition Mountains in Arizona, just outside of Phoenix, where I used to live.   It was a long and hot climb, and I was exhausted when at last I sat beneath a mesquite tree to enjoy a panoramic view of the Sonoran desert below.   The silence was broken only by the sound of wind whistling through the needles of the great saguaro cactus, and an occasional cry of a red tailed hawk circling overhead.  

I happened to be sitting before a spider web, stretched between two dry branches.  By shifting my point of view  I could view the entire landscape through the web’s intricate, transparent pattern…..a  landscape  seen through the ineffable strands of an almost, but not quite,  invisible web that shimmered with the currents of the air. 

I think I’ve been seeking “a webbed vision” ever since, trying to reclaim that overlay and underlay of an invisible, yet tangible inclusiveness - to see the links, instead of the breaks and tears, beneath everything.  I’ve been on the trail of Spider Woman. 

Spider Woman is ubiquitous through the Americas.  Pueblo mythology tells that when each of the previous worlds ended, it was Spider Woman who led the new people through the sipapu, the kiva (or birth canal) into the next world, after a great catastrophe destroyed the previous era.   According to the Hopi Calendar, as well as that of the ancient Maya of Mexico, the Fourth Age has ended, and we have entered the Fifth Age.  Spider Woman, revealing the ultimate interdependency of all beings, is once again the Midwife to a sustainable paradigm.   

The Pueblo people, from northern New Mexico to the mesas of Arizona, still inhabit their ancestral lands.  They are descendants of the ancient Anasazi peoples, who built cliff dwellings and ceremonial centers throughout the area over millennia, including the famous Chaco Canyon.  Spider was the first weaver, bringing order and form, balance and symmetry to the primal, formless chaos.   Spider Woman is also called Tse Che Nako, Thought Woman, the “one who creates the world with the stories she tells”The world shaping power of story is also a gift she gives to her relations - an eternally generative thread.

Stories don't end after we close the book, or turn off the electronic box. When we talk about “spinning a tale“ we’re participating in something that has to potential to keep evolving, generation into generation, from the waking world to the dreamtime, back into the past, and forward into the stories of those who are yet to come.  So what kind of stories are we telling about being in the world, about being a part of the world?

The Navajo (who call themselves the Dinah) revere Spider Woman (Na'ashje'ii sdfzq'q) for teaching them how to weave, which may be seen as a spiritual practice more than simply a craft.  Wool rugs often have “Spiderwoman's Cross” woven into the pattern, representing the union of the four directions.  Some Navajo weavers, it's said, still leave a flaw in the work - because the only perfect web is that of Grandmother Spider Woman, the first weaver.  To the Navajo,
Spider Woman is a wise guide but one must be prepared to listen.2 Spider Woman is a bridge that allows a certain kind of knowledge to be transmitted from the sacred dimension to the mundane among those who have been initiated and can thus be receptive to her teachings.  To immature eyes she will appear only as an insignificant insect, a web invisible, unseen and unheard.

Weaving and spinning, the creation of baskets and rugs from cotton (and later wool) was important throughout native America, just as it has been in other parts of the world. It was both a practical and a holy activity, and is usually associated with women.  Among the Maya,   Ix Chel was an important earth goddess, matron of childbirth and weaving. She was reincarnated as the Aztec Goddess Tlazolteotl, “the great weaver”, illustrated in Aztec art holding spindles and with strands of cotton fibers in her earrings.

In shell ornaments belonging to the Mound Builders, the prehistoric Mississippian people, a ubiquitous spider with a cross within a circle on its back symbol occurs.   And among the Osage, until little more than a generation ago, important women had spiders tattooed on the backs of their hands.

  Spider Woman has a way of getting around.   Some say that the World Wide Web is her latest appearance.  Although she can be found in the canyons and deserts of the Americas, her archetype is found in many other places and times.   In the Odyssey there is the faithful wife Penelope who wove and unwove a shroud each night as she waited for Odysseus.  Yet the name Penelope probably derives from a much earlier oracular or fate goddess, because it means "with a web on her face".  Another way of translating the origins of this name might be expressed as one who “sees with a webbed vision

Spider Woman wove the world with the stories she told, and she reveals the timeless web of interdependency that unites all beings.   Even today, among some Navajo when a  girl is born a spider web is rubbed into her hands so she will become a good weaver. 

May we all be good weavers, rubbing a bit of spider web into our palms.


Loftin, John D., Religion and Hopi Life, Second Edition, Indiana University Press, 1988

Keller, Catherine, From a Broken Web , Thames & Hudson, 1989

Patterson-Rudolph, Carol, On the Trail of Spiderwoman, Ancient City Press, 1997

Franke, Judith   A., The Gift of Spider Woman,  Dickson Mounds Museum, “The Living Museum”, volume 61, No. 2, 1999

Isaac Asimov.........


Saturday, December 3, 2016

Old Paintings, Dreams and Musings

It's 4:00 in the morning, which is always a spare, silent, beautiful and lonely hour to find oneself.  A dream woke me up.*   Long experience has taught me that trying to go back to sleep at such an hour is futile and frustrating, better to pad around the house, let the mind discover what it will.  4:00 is a potent hour.  One of the things I rambled into was the memory garden of  forgotten paintings.

The painting above I did as part of a series that just burned out of me one magical summer while I was at the (now extinct) Cummington Community in western Massachusetts.   I was reading "Shaman:  The Journey of the Wounded Healer" by Joan Halifax.  I never showed them.  They represented transformation of consciousness, with fire being the medium or symbol of transformation.   In some, the figure confronts the flame with terror, the burning away of the old self, in others there is the infant representing rebirth, new birth.  The "Fire Dancer" I love still, ecstasy, learning to dance with the fire, to "be" the fire.

And the one above, I think I called it "the Sacred Marriage" or "Anima and Animus" (but I don't actually remember what I called it) - there the woman is offered the creative fire by the man.   I don't know why I dream of weddings, or remember this painting, but both are about "joining with" and being "ignited by" something, a good sign.  Who, or what, am I about to "marry"?  

 *Strange dream.  I dreamed I was planning a second wedding to my ex-husband, Duncan.  The dream was full of the details and running around I remember from when we actually did get married in 1993, a full-blown Pagan wedding on our land in upstate New York.  Such a wonderful community of people, a beautiful gathering.   I remember also  that I was so stressed with organizing and controlling everything for the wedding that I had very  little ability to actually enjoy the wedding itself.  I was up late into that night cleaning up, and preparing a ritual for the Solstice the following morning.  I went to bed alone worrying about all that needed to be done, while Duncan hung out enjoying the company of his friends.  In retrospect, so many of the things I've done I've not been able to just enjoy, be present for, appreciate.   Duncan and I were divorced in 1997, and I haven't seen him since then.  I suppose I've always wished we could have resolved into friends, but that did not happen.

So in this dream of  a second wedding I said "This time we'll do it your way", which it seemed was a kind of apology, a recognition of having learned something in the years since.  I don't know what this dream means, except that preparing for a wedding, and giving up "the way I did things before" is a good sign.  I need to see what this dream reveals. 

I remember that I had a hard time letting go of the marriage, letting go of the dreams I had,  and the community we actually created together.  We were a good creative team in many ways.  When I left New York I went through a period of grieving, which was what I needed in order to release and to grow internally in order to go forward and create a new life.  That grieving was a kind of emptying out, and I understand the significance of allowing the grieving process.  But I remember a dream I had at that time - I was in a kind of empty apartment in some Eastern city, perhaps New York.  Just a few chairs, and a window with a night time view of the city.  Duncan turned up, and we had a warm, friendly talk in which he told me that he was with someone else now.  And after that, it was much easier to just move on. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Bee Messengers........a Synchronicity

I've been delighted by this synchronicity.

Above is a small swarm of bees that suddenly appeared on a sagebush literally by my front gate.  A swarm can be when a hive is disrupted, or when a new queen is born and part of the hive will leave with her to found a new hive, so the bee ball above has a queen inside, which all the workers are carefully keeping warm.  This is not a good time of year to swarm, and since the bees have been here for about 4 days, and it is winter without a lot of flowers to forage as well as going below freezing tonight, I am having a beekeeper come to relocate the swarm and queen, as there is a danger they will freeze.  

What a wonderful message they delivered me.  I'm going to thank the bees for many things, among them for raising my spirits.  Because just a few days ago I began work on a (not finished yet) mask for a woman who requested a BEE PRIESTESS mask, a mask for the MELISSAE, the ancient bee priestesses of Greece.    I've also been talking a lot about being  "pollinators" for just like bees, we are all needed for the flowering of a better, more just, more inspired culture.  Especially now, which seems to be a mantra I hear from virtually everyone I know.  But it's a mantra that has to be recited over and over - we need to rise to the best of our abilities to counter the regression, ignorance, and hatread that has arisen.

Without the bees, no nourishment, no flowering.  Without creative and generous souls, the same.  Like the bees, we have a job to do.  And there are the bees by golly............

Bees have always been magical creatures throughout many cultures. Think of how our ancestors must have perceived them, and their miraculous honey, which would have been a great luxury.  In old England honey wine, Mead, was reserved as a special celebatory drink for special occasions - that's where the term "honey moon" came from, a month's supply of magical mead was given to the new couple to encourage love and fertility.

In ancient Greece there were the Mellisae, who no doubt were also bee keepers,  and many myths of the Goddess include bees, the Queen Bee, and the creation of honey.  Also the Semitic name "Deborah" or "Devorah" means "Bee", and its origins may also go back to a time when there were women who were Bee priestesses.  
Bronze Age Bee Goddess
Reciprocity, the sense of intimacy with all the other lives and evolutions and intrinsic Spirits of Place  all around us..........I loved the movie "THE SECRET  LIFE OF BEES", where Queen Latifah explains to her young apprentice that it's important to just love the bees.  That "everyone needs love".  As the founders of  Findhorn demonstrated - there's a conversation  going on all the time, or there should be.

In New England there has long been a tradition called  "Telling the Bees", in which a death in a family farm, or among beekeepers,  is "told to the bees" so they will not be upset by the loss, or can participate, perhaps, in the remembrance, a folk custom that remembers as well that bees are "part of the family"

Well, I'm going back to work on that mask.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

2014: A Hymn by Ursula Leguin

Our prophets lead our people on
     Fast to the promised land,
And where we pass, the green of grass
     Turns to bare brown sand.

So high our cities' towers soar
     Above the deep-set fault,
Immense they rise into the skies,
     Pillars of cloud and salt.

Impatient with the patient day,
     We rush to gain tomorrow.
Our ships that plough the seas with nets
     Leave a long, empty furrow.

Our quick inventions spend our time
     Faster and ever faster,
While kind and unforgiving Earth
     Endures our brief disaster.

For all we do is nothing to
     Her bright eons of days.
So let my dark tune turn and end
     As all song should, in praise.

And in the hope of wisdom yet,
     I'll sing the hymn that praises
Earth's greater life that gives us life,
     the grace that still amazes.  

Ursula K. Leguin, from Late In The Day - Poems 2010 - 2014

Friday, November 25, 2016

"Not My America"....

I keep sitting down to write in my journal, but nothing seems to come.  It's just that I feel like the assumptions we felt relatively comfortable within have all fallen apart this month, and I don't know where I am any more.  

Donald Trump is in the White House, and he's loosed the darker shadows of fascism in a polarized America.   I don't know that America.  It's not the one I've been living in.  I don't want people from other countries to identify me with it.  The America I've lived in, along with millions of others,  is often idealistic, and full of generosity, diversity  and innovation we've taken for granted.  

Trump to me is the very figurehead of reactionary patriarchy in the face of a changing world. A world that includes the unprecedented global arising and empowerment of women.  He has all the earmarks of tyranny, just in a new suit.   Hello to a leader yelling bombastic threats to minorities, saying that he will "hang up" his opponent, threatening to silence journalists, with numerous lawsuits against him including tax evasion, fraud, and even rape, and disturbing ties to Russia........and an America where somehow that is suddenly ok, overlooked.    Bill Moyers was right - it will never be the same, because all the rules and values that kept some kind of  order in our system have been overthrown.   

We have a governing body that includes and now empowers greatly not only corporate interests, but also religious extremists whose agenda is to impose a dark ages theocracy on a 21st Century world.   In the face of Global Warming, which is beginning to include the displacement of refugee populations because of environmental degredation and the resource wars that accompany that displacement, we have an administration that wants to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.   And as Antarctica melts, there is  a president that not only "grabs women by the pussy", but also "doesn't believe in Climate Change", while his cronie want to teach "creationism" in the schools.  So much for science.

From the dignity and intelligence of Michelle Obama, we have a new  First Family.  You can get nude photos of the First Lady and the First Daughter simply by googling, and the darling sons can be seen in a famous photo of them holding the corpse of an endangered species they just shot "for fun" at a canned game reserve. 

 And like many  before him,  a  red-faced Trump has whipped his population up into a frenzy of scapegoating, with an impressive list of disadvantaged people to blame - Muslims, immigrants, women, gays,  blacks, even apparently Jews, since swasticas have begun to appear on walls and spray painted on cars.  Potent stuff, all that blaming emotionalism.  As Trump himself said, at a campaign rally in Iowa, he could "shoot somebody and not lose any voters."  The words of a fascist indeed.  And sadly, that force of hate and blame will do very well to divert that same population from the gutting of America by the very 1% Trump is so firmly a part of.  

And while pipelines that have burst into rivers in Pennsylvania and Alabama have caused the states to declare emergency status, and there are earthquakes in Oklahoma because of fracking, and native American protesters are being tear gassed at Standing Rock, Trump and his allies are bringing out the champagne for Exxon and colleagues, rubbing their hands at getting "a piece of the action".  

"Apres moi la Deluge" said Louis the 14th.  Did I miss anything?

I just took my bumper stickers off my car.  Yes, I can't afford to have my tires slashed, now that this is becoming a suddenly more fearful and repressive world.  Things are going to become very, very difficult.   And beyond my own small life, the great privilege I've had to live it, my real grief is for those who are yet to come.  

One of the best articles, with many links to support his statements, is by Samuel Spitale*, from the Huffington Post, "Post-Truth Nation"  by Samuel C. Spitale.  

So there it is.   I'm seeing all kinds of posts as people talk about marching and lawsuits  and then appeals to the new President (which seems naive, since the new President wouldn't be where he is if he was open to reasonable appeals)  And once in, power does not relinquish itself.  Pandora's box has been opened.  I'm also hearing many talk about how this needs to happen before things can change, people's consciousness can change.  I hope they are right, but I fear. 

So I ask myself, as so many are, what do I do?  I'm thinking of going to the March in Washington on January 21, but I don't know that I can afford it, nor will January weather there be very easy on my asthma.  There is a march in Oakland that same day, and I may go there, the weather, and cost, being easier for me to manage.  And for me, although I will resist and protest, perhaps to the relief of those who know me, I'm going to stop talking about Trump and politics for a while, and try to find my center, and what gifts I may have to offer.  Finding my center means re-evaluating so many things.

Beyond that, I think we need to make and join Circles.  And as so many are saying, in a time of hate, we have to rise to become better.  More thoughts on that later.

*Los Angeles-based journalist, storyteller, and humorist  Samuel C. Spitale is a Los Angeles-based writer. His social and political commentary on inequality, income disparity, and the struggles of the Middle Class can be found on his personal website: