Spindle turning in my hand,
Yarn flows out in golden strands,
Twist and spin, twist and spin,
Prick my finger on the pin.
As I sit here in this quiet, reflective place, the only sound the singing of the birds outside the tower window, my golden spindle lying on the table beside me, I am amazed that I have mastered this strange instrument. But I did have help – after the three knights brought me back from Koshchey’s palace, I unpacked my cotton spindle bag, the threads I had already attempted to pull, and my golden spindle. It is a beautiful object –a simple, elegant tool but one I had yet to master.
As I was emptying the bag, a spider ran out and up my arm.
Spinning spiders, on their looms,
Spinning through the tower rooms,
Weaving webs like a gossamer shawl,
Draped in the corners, wall to wall.
I confess, I have never liked spiders – but trying to walk the Middle Way, I have rarely harmed one. My usual method of dealing with a spider is to put a glass jar over it, slide a piece of paper under the jar, and take the spider outside. I have never tried this with a spider I know to be deadly, like the funnel web, but for the most part I manage to relocate the things without harming them.
But I confess to having a soft spot for sun spiders, those brightly coloured creatures that build their webs across paths, where they can bathe in the sun – and this spider looked very much like a sun spider. She was bright gold, and she leapt from my arm onto the tapestry frame that had been set up for me.
Spinning, spinning, golden threads,
Brilliant blues and sunset reds.
Bright eyes watch the colours flow,
Watch my hands fumble to and fro.
The spider was looking at me with such intensity that I knew without being told that she was intelligent – I abandoned all thoughts of gently depositing her out of the window. After a while I heard a soft sigh, then a voice.
``What are you trying to do?”
I looked up. ``I’m trying to learn to spin thread, so I can make a tapestry of my journey,” I said. ``But all I do is prick my finger on the darned thing, get bloodstains on the thread and still no George Clooney.”
``He played Achilles, didn’t he?”
``No, that was Brad Pitt, but he’d be an acceptable substitute.”
Drop the spindle to the floor,
Clatter, threads spill, try no more,
Frustrated, angry, turn away,
I cannot spin a tale this way.
``Pick it up,” the soft voice said. ``I will show you how to spin.”
``I’m not making cobwebs, I’m spinning webs of words – and sometimes it is just too hard, too hard to find the right words and weave them in the right way.”
The spider crept down toward me. ``Let me tell you a story,” she said. ``Once, there was a girl, a very skillful weaver…”
The tale she told was wondrous, of a girl who defied a Goddess, and wove a tapestry so beautiful that the Goddess became jealous and changed her into a spider. When she had finished her tale, the room was darkening as the sun set, and I felt as if I had been released from a spell.
``So, you are Arachne?” I said.
``No, I am one of her daughters. We are all doomed to spin our thread and weave our lives away. Endlessly weaving, like a shuttle running across our own looms.”
Endlessly spinning, forever doomed
To be the shuttle on her loom,
All artists share Arachne’s jinx,
Spinning, weaving, words and inks.
In the days that followed, the spider’s patience won the day, and I slowly learned to spin the threads fine enough to begin my tapestry. All the while she beguiled me with tales, like the one about the Spider Woman who created the world. She spun men and women out of the red earth, and sang to them to give them life, proud men and women who called her Spider Grandmother. As long as they remain attached to her by the gossamer fine thread she spins, they walk the True Path and find their way home when life ends.
Spinning maiden, spinning crone,
Spinning the thread that leads us home,
Home to the mother who sang us awake,
Home to the shores of Avalon’s lake.
She told me the story of a girl who lived with her Godmother, and when the Godmother was dying, she said to the girl, ``I leave you a spindle, a shuttle, and a needle, with which you can earn your living." The girl did indeed make herself a good life with only her spindle, shuttle and needle, making fine clothes that sold easily and made her just enough money to stay in her Godmother’s house.
Then one day a Prince rode through the land, looking for a wife. He wanted to find a girl who was at the same time the richest and poorest in the land. He rode through the village and saw both the richest and the poorest girl there, and then rode on.
But the poorest girl was the spinner, and she called to her spindle to find her a suitor. It flew after the Prince, leaving a trail of golden thread for him to follow. Her shuttle leapt from her hand and wove a beautiful carpet outside her house. Her needle stitched up the house as neat as you please, with new curtains and chair covers. When the Prince followed the thread, crossed the carpet and came into the house, he saw a lovely girl, poor as a church mouse, but richly dressed and surrounded by finery.
Spindle, shuttle, needle, thread,
All that lies within my head.
Spin the words and weave the dream,
Nothing is ever what it seems.
And as she told me this tale I thought back over this strange journey I have taken. Where are the things I packed? I still have my grandchildren’s photo, but I left the book of poetry behind in the cave. I think of the things I have been given – the glasses that let me see the unicorn, the wings that taught me to fly – and I look down at the golden spindle lying in my lap.
The Enchantress – Baba Yaga – Grandmother Spider. Goddess Mother. She has left me in this tower room with a spindle, a shuttle and a needle, with which to make my way in the world. With no more than this, I am the poorest of women. With no more than this, I am the richest of women.
Spindle, shuttle, needle, weave,
Maybe now I can believe
That in my hands, my brain, my heart
Are all I need to create art.
``You had it all the time,” the spider said. I looked down at my poor, sore hands. The few threads I had painstakingly pulled were suddenly spilling in all directions, rainbow colours of blue and violet and yellow and red – gold and silver threads dancing across the floor, weaving a beautiful carpet under my feet. And the spindle – it was still a spindle, but a very different one. Now it was surrounded by a hard drive.
``Go, spin,” the spider said.