The Art of Spinning or the Spinning of Art:
Alchemism and Other Survival Strategies
To practice seidhr, you need to be able to follow a thread—the thread that is a path through the worlds, winding ever-upward and then back down again along the Tree, spiraling like the double helix of DNA. You have to be able to navigate the narrow, twisting, perilous pathways that run from Midgard to Asgard to Hel and through all the worlds, the thread that binds the worlds together like a string of beads. But more than this, you also have to be able to spin a thread, to hold the path firmly—yet not too firmly, still allowing it to run through your fingers, as it is always in motion. You have to be able to maintain control of it, allowing it neither to break, nor to diverge into snarled dead ends and knotted masses of meaninglessness. A spinner takes raw materials and converts them to a useable supply (yarn or thread) through her skill. A seidhrkona is both a spinner and a storyteller (who also “spins a yarn,”); like picking wool from a hedge, she gathers data from the other worlds—snatches of vision, and the fleeting words of the gods and spirits—and allows them to run through her fingertips as they twist in the currents of wyrd, coalescing them from formlessness into something that can be communicated and used: a beckoning and a message, a thread of meaning and connection from There to Here.1
Women were spinsters before the word became pejorative. In Greek mythology, each human life is a thread that the three Moirae, or Fates, spin, measure, and cut. Strands twine together into a thread of yarn that can go on forever, like words becoming stories. Fairytale heroines spin cobwebs, straw, nettles into whatever is necessary to survive. Scheherazade forestalls her death by telling a story that is like a thread that cannot be cut; she keeps spinning and spinning, incorporating new fragments, characters, incidents, into her unbroken, unbreakable narrative thread. Penelope at the other end of the treasury of stories prevents her wedding to any one of her suitors by unweaving at night what she weaves by day on her father-in-law’s funeral garment. By spinning, weaving, and unraveling, these women master time itself, and though master is a masculine word, this mastery is feminine.
The wonder is that every spinner takes the amorphous mass before her and makes thread appear, from which comes the stuff that contains the world, from a fishing net to a nightgown. She makes form out of formlessness, continuity out of fragments, narrative and meaning out of scattered incidents, for the storyteller is also a spinner or weaver and a story is a thread that meanders through our lives to connect us each to each and to the purpose and meaning that appear like roads that we must travel.2
Wildenboer spins a provocative tale out of unassuming materials. Thin, wavy strands of cut paper, silvery cord wound around pinheads and glowing microscopic shots of water crystals are spun into life, Rumpelstiltskin-style. The continuous thread running through her work, connecting its successive parts, also becomes a line of conversation. Its topic, a series of portholes into the wondrous and the true. The themes of the alchemical and mythological that inform the content of her work so dynamically, also define its process.
The obsessive cutting, folding, piercing, and binding that brought these works into being forms a wake that trails behind them, as tangible and intriguing as the pieces themselves. It is formed of nimble, ordered, repetitive actions performed over time, occupying the spaces between tasks, companioning daily activities and stretching out into the night hours. It is ritualistic and mundane, a chore and a meditation, deliberate and methodical yet transpiring below the level of conscious awareness.
Familiar, repetitive tasks that do not require full engagement allow the brain to slip into an alpha brainwave state, “a relaxed, open-minded experience where creativity is at its most potent. When we are stressed and over focused, we can’t see any new ways of thinking. Alpha state blurs our sense of boundaries and rationality, so that new ideas and connections can appear.”3
This nature of process can also be found in the work of Japanese textile artist Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam with her vast, elaborate crocheted and knotted playgrounds and churches; Ann Hamilton’s complex, immersive environments of cut paper and cloth and the strange and intricate fiber wrapped cocoons of Judith Scott.
These artists are consumed by their singular tasks like the labouring women of myth, who toil on devotedly, some as if their lives depended on it. Their work unfolds in a territory where subjugation is the root of creative potency, where artmaking is a strategy against being overcome. It is an intuitive as well as rational solution to an insoluble problem.
And, like the lotus flower that grows out of the fertile mud that feeds it, from this place of adversity, a thread emerges that transmutes the substance from which it is composed. It is two parts struggle, one part alchemy. This is Wildenboer’s stomping ground.
1 From On spinning and magic, Laure Beth Lynch.
2 From The Faraway Nearby, Rebecca Solnit.
3 From Accidental Meditation: You’re Already Doing It, JC Peters.