Weaving in myths and legends

Spinning and weaving were so important in the past that these activities are a regular feature of the myths and stories that have come down to us. Think Sleeping Beauty, put to sleep by pricking her finger on a spindle.

Usually the myths put the creation of weaving at the beginning of  history. As we might expect, many of the early myths attribute the beginnings to the spider, or, in China, the silk worm. The myth of the spider-weaver was still present in the Greek myths during the Classical period. (Remember, Hera turned Ariadne into a spider for comparing her weaving to the Hera’s.)  So the archeologists say that weaving probably began somewhere in the dawn of prehistory. There was weaving before there were looms. And spinning before that. Barber, in Women’s work, the first 20,000 years, talks about cords and string that were used as netting. Sometimes the fibers were twisted together to make a stronger cord. And then plaiting strands together was invented. Who would guess that braiding would have to be discovered?

Anyway, references to spinning and weaving are all through the folktales we still know now. Besides Sleeping Beauty, there are the three fates, who determine a man’s lifespan. How many fairy tales are there where the simple but beautiful and virtuous maiden must spin straw into gold. Rumplestiltskin is probably the most well known of this theme but there are others.

Remember the Grimm story of the princess supposed to spin straw into gold. She is helped to do so but the price is to invite three deformed women to her wedding.(Rather do this than give up my first born.)  One has a swollen lip, from moistening the fiber, one a large foot from pressing the treadle on a spinning wheel and the large thumb comes from twisting the fiber into yarn. Or the 12 swans where the sister had to weave nettles into shirts by a certain time or her brothers will stay swans forever. She is unable to finish the last shirt and one brother has a swan wing the rest of his life.

These are stories we still know, although I venture to say most children in the past were up close to both spinning and weaving in the home.


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