March 8, 2014

I have a title in a tradition I don’t belong to

Klodos, meaning thread-spinner. I like it.

Because I work with much the same set of deities, and particularly Arachne and Ariadne, in my spinning and practice, Sannion has commissioned me to make bracelets for the Thiasos of the Starry Bull. You can read the story of how this developed at his blog.

There are two kinds he wants me to make, first green hemp bracelets for the Akousmatikoi — the listeners, the first level of celebrants who follow this tradition; neophytes, or lay people who may or may not wish to progress beyond that point — and then silk bracelets in the red, white and black colors of his tradition for orphininos — initiates, boukolos and above, who have undergone training, confirmation and initiation.

I’m not going to talk about what they might mean within the tradition much, because it’s not my tradition (although it’s related to some of my practices). Instead, I’ll be talking about the process and symbolism of the creation of them.

The green bracelets, as you might expect, represent young vine shoots, which twine and grow and grab. Hemp was my choice for this. They obviously needed to be made of plant fibers rather than animal-produced ones, to carry out this theme, and hemp seemed the most appropriate, given the psychoactive and intoxicant properties of the variant subspecies (both textile hemp and marijuana are Cannabis sativa, just bred for different qualities, much like varieties of roses and tomatoes; types grown for fiber are very low in THC). There are even myths that Hemp is a daughter of Dionysos. Hemp is sturdy and lasting, and while coarse at first, softens beautifully with time and wear. Cotton, flax, bamboo and raimie, the other readily available vegetable fibers, just didn’t seem nearly as appropriate, either symbolically or physically.

Textile hemp is the bast fibers of the plant, which are the phloem vessels, the tissue that carries sweet sap down the stalk of the plant, like pouring out wine from a vessel. These vessel sit close to the surface, just beneath the skin. When the plant is harvested, the other tissue must be removed, which is done by a process called retting, which is essentially rotting away the softer and less useful parts, and indeed one word derives from the other. Again, we come back to Dionysos, controlled spoilage to provide something new and beneficial, like wine. The remaining bast fibers are cleaned and cut and perhaps put through other treatments.*

A thread is a path, one that twists and turns, that runs over and under, like the Labyrinth itself. I spin my thread counterclockwise, the opposite of most righties, making what’s sometimes called witch’s thread. This is the downturning inward path, the path of descent and decay, the path into the underworld. Most thread and yarn is then plied, which is done in the opposite direction of the original spin. Clockwise is the ascending path, growth and life. Spinning counterclockwise and plying clockwise is a transformative process, the rotting organic material that feeds new growth, dying to rise again, walking through the labyrinth in and back out again, changed.

Each of these bracelets will be single lengths plied back on themselves several times in a technique called cording, repeating the cycle of death and rebirth over and over, like the cycle of years, the cycle of the grain and the vine, the cycle of initiation into mystery after mystery as one progresses. It produces a design that dances with itself, sinuously, not as two partners, but as a sacred dancer performing alone before her god, the pattern unique to each individual even as they reiterate the same movements. Each length will be cut from the same skein, as each individual is part of a whole, connected at a basic level, part of the same thread of tradition. The cording of each bracelet will finish on an upward twist, the shoot of the vine reaching for the sun and for life, springing forth from decay. If they wish, as a form of meditation, a celebrant with good vision may attempt to follow the twists of the thread as it twines around itself, following the labyrinth down and up, in and out.

Before plying and cording, the thread will be vat-dyed, ensuring consistency of color within the skein, although any later skeins will show some variation, much as a tradition changes and develops over time, with new people and new influences.

For now, as I spin, I’m using my usual spinning prayers, at least the verses that relate most directly. I’m working on writing an incantation for the cording process, based around the line that was part of the inspiration for these cords, “Look at the shoot of the vine that is sprouting.” I may or may not post that when it’s finished. We’ll see how close to mysteries it comes.

The orphininos cords, in contrast, feel most appropriate to do in protein fibers, being more animalistic in nature. Wool, of course, was the traditional fiber for Hellenic clothing, but there are several traditions related to Orphism in which wool was considered profane, probably at least partly because it was the everyday textile. In these traditions, linen was typically considered to be the purest fabric for religious use, but as I said, I wanted an animal fiber for this. Silk seemed the obvious choice, being the closest to spider silk (which isn’t commercially available, although some people have been doing <a href=>fascinating and beautiful textile work with it), with its obvious connection to this tradition through Arachne. Then, too, bombyx silk is the one common animal fiber that the animal which produces it must die to give us (even the spiders survive being milked, and are released back into the wild afterwards), bringing us the theme of death and sacrifice, like Dionysos, the silkworm dying at the heart of the cocoon like Asterios dying at the heart of the labyrinth, the single long thread that makes it up spun from the outside in.** There are mysteries bound up in silk, more so than in any other fiber I know, although each of them has their own secrets. I have touched on them only lightly, but I can feel them there.

Dyeing a single skein of thread in multiple colors means a process like painting or space dyeing — probably painting in this case — rather than vat dyeing. It’s a much more intimate process, at least for me. It also tends to produce more variation within the skein, which will make the resulting bracelets unique in a way the green ones will not be.

Since these will also be corded, I’m hoping that the technique combined with the variegation will produce a pattern reminiscent of snake scales, recalling another fine Orphic tradition image. I also plan to ply these against themselves more times than the green ones will be, because the silk thread will be finer than the hemp, to help produce a more snakelike pattern, and to represent the initiations already undergone as well as those ahead of the orphininos.

I have, as yet, no idea what the prayers and incantations for these bracelets will be like, but creating the first ones will tell me a lot about that, and spinning the thread for it will tell me even more.

Both kinds of bracelets will be made and shipped as 10”-12” cords that can be tied in a simple square knot around the wrist, either tightly enough to wear constantly or loosely enough to be slipped on and off. I want them to be long enough for any size wrist, and will be happy to make extra large ones if this length is insufficient. It would not damage the symbolism or integrity of the piece to trim it to size if it’s too long, but I advise knotting the ends short of where you mean to cut before cutting it. I’ll also make sure that all of the above information, both practical and symbolic, is sent out with the bracelets.

Although none of the physical techniques I’ll be using are new to me, this will be very much a process of discovery spiritually. I know many of the symbols and mystery icons of this project, as I’ve chosen them carefully, for practical as well as mystic reasons, but there will be more to find as I go. Every thread is a path, a road, and this will be an interesting one to follow.

*This is the same basic process by which all bast fibers are processed for textile use, although some require more complex versions of it than others. The only major vegetable fiber that is not a bast is cotton.

**Up to a mile long. And if you’re interested in how silk is produced and the lifecycles of silkworms and silkmoths, I cannot recommend highly enough Wormspit, the site of a man who hand raises silkworms and reels silk directly from their cocoons, something I wish I could do. I’ll try hand reeling some day, but my wife is strongly against raising insects in the house. Cocoons are significantly more expensive than prepared silk, and reeling requires a complicated process and some equipment I don’t have, though, so it’s still a ways off.