Sea: Welcome to Saga Kraft. Myths, fairytales, legends. Stories comfort us, inspire us and heal us. Please join us as we share stories both old and new. More than anything, we are open to the story and it's unfolding. At times it may be one story told by one person. At times it's the same story told through three different voices. In the end we go where the story takes us, and we invite you to follow.
I'm Sea, a writer, artist, and storyteller.
Betsy: I'm Betsy, a medium and teacher of mystery traditions.
Gabriela: I'm Gabriela, an artist and practitioner of folk magic.
Saga Kraft: We are magical fairy godmothers in training.
Gabriela: Today, we will be sharing stories about spinning. The magic of spinning, the goddesses of spinning, and how threads come together. How connections come together. So, we invite the blessed spinners to be with us today. The blessing threads, the connections, the wisdom, of those threads and everything in between. And we invite saga.
My story is called The Dream Thread.
My younger sister Kasia was lagging behind as usual. Her short, chubby legs made very little effort to keep up, but stumbled clumsily down the hill towards the river where I was heading, carrying a basket of clothes for washing.
I didn't mind this chore at all. I enjoy the walk through the village and down the big white hill and the river was always pleasant, at least into spring and summer seasons. If it wasn't for Kasia slowing me down, I would be done with the washing in half the time and could spend the rest of the afternoon stretched out by the river, daydreaming while listening to the breeze and soothing flow of fast moving water.
I wish mother would let me come here by myself once in a while, without Kasia. I don't see why she couldn't stay home with mother and learn how to make herself useful. I couldn't help but resent her at times, and how much she got away with, or rather how little. By the time I was six, I knew how to sweep the kitchen and front porch, feed the chickens, prepare and trim fresh herbs for supper, and mix the flour for baking.
For Kasia, a very different set of rules was in place. But then again, there was a reason for that. The year Kasia was born was a really difficult one for our family, and nothing seemed the same since. Everything was threaded with a tinge of sadness.
It was the year that Granny died suddenly and without any warning. We had no time to prepare and barely got to say goodbye. My mother, eight months pregnant, fell into a deep sorrow and barely survived the labor, which came a moon too early and caused great stress to her body and soul. The midwife and a couple of other older women from our village came to our cottage and stayed for nights, tending to my mother. Heating water, preparing herbs, teas, and washes, and saying prayers, whispering under their breath and exchanging concerned glances.
My mother, delirious, cried out for Granny, whose hands delivered me into the world, but sadly not this new child that was arriving. The women had to remind her gently over and over that her mother was gone, but they would stay with her and would take care of her and the baby, and everything would be alright.
I was a little over three years old, but I remember those few days so vividly. I didn't understand fully what was happening, but I could feel the severity of each moment that stretched painfully, and it was filled with my mother's moans at a pitch I have never heard before. My father paced outside on the porch, distant and cold with worry, unable to provide me with any solace at all. At times like these, Granny would be the one who held her apron open to receive me with an embrace, or a corner of a soft handkerchief to wipe my tears with. Granny was the only person who could have made this moment bearable for me, and she was gone.
Craving her warmth and security, I crawled into bed with her favorite shawl wrapped around me. The gentle smell of lavender and honey clung to the cloth and soothed my spirit. My hand traced the raised patterns of flowers, so lovingly embroidered by Granny's hand. Almost as if she was holding my small hand in her own through the threads and textures, comforting me still, just like she always did, and as my tired eyes closed and the scent of lavender guided me into sleep, I remembered Granny's words, which she shared with me not long before she died:
"You are the strong thread in the family, my Anushka, you must help your mother, and your sister when she comes, so they stay alive. You must keep their spirits strong so they are not pulled to the other world that calls for me soon now. I wish I had more time to teach you all the things you almost already know."
I remember hearing her words, and other words and images throughout the night as I drifted in and out of sleep. I was awakened by a rising sound of women's voices, and through my grogginess, it seemed like more than three women were in the room. It sounded like a dozen chanting voices rose higher and higher to a crescendo of a single powerful plea, which was followed by a silence, an openness of space and time.
And then I heard the midwife say with great relief "It's a girl, thank you Goddess, she is alive."
And a raspy, tired, but defiant cry filled the cottage. That was the night. My sister Kasia was born. Small and fragile, but eager to fight and stay alive. Mother, also weak and fragile, with a little less eagerness for life, needed a lot more help and protection, as women often did after giving birth.
The first year of Kasia's life and that of my mother's was certainly a year of in between. With death and despair looming in the doorway of her cottage, Zotia, the village wise woman, came by a couple of times a week to check on us, to prepare milk producing herbs for my mother, to talk with her, and to sit with my baby sister.
I watched closely under the kitchen table, peering through the embroidered birds on the lace tablecloth.
"I see you, Anushka. I see you. Come help me grind these blessed thistle herbs. Say a prayer over them. It will make them work better. There you go." she coached me gently, guiding my small hand over the bowl, the herbs responding to our combined efforts, a strong smell of the plant rising into the air.
"See your sister grow plump and strong and your mother healed from sorrow." she said, while swirling the herbs around and around. I enjoyed this time with the old woman, for she reminded me of Granny and made my missing her a little lighter.
Kasia and my mother made it through the year. Once introduced to food and fresh pastry so lovingly baked by the village women and my mother, once she got stronger, little Kasia ate and ate and ate like she could never get enough. Her small body filling in fast, her hands and legs plump with rolls and her once pale cheeks became pink, like summer apples.
As I look at her now watching me ring out and fold the damp clothes, her big sweet eyes gazing into mine with such a calm content stillness, my heart melts, as all my previous resentments of her always wanting to be near me and slowing me down. I am so happy that she came into the world, my world and has fought so hard to stay in it, and now is so fully alive and present.
"You are doing it again, Anya, you are looking past me. It's like you are asleep, but awake at the same time." she exclaimed gladly.
And she was right. I was so easily lost in the moments of memory, fragments of time, that deepened fully into my recalling every detail, sound, and texture. So vibrantly alive again. I stopped the folding and used a corner of my apron to wipe the powdered sugar from her lips, leftover from the soft roll she'd enjoyed on the way to the river. She squirms a little, but doesn't resist, trusting me to make her face look a little more presentable.
With the folding done and the sun still high in the sky, we head back. Kasia runs ahead when I remind her about the fried potato cakes mother would make for us when we get home.
Our house is the farthest from the river at the edge of the village, and closest to the woods. Whitewashed walls, ornately painted window sills, like eyes looking out into the surroundings, and crisp embroidered curtains in the windows. As always, our mothers face peering through the curtains to watch for us coming down the path as we usually would midday. Inside smells like baked bread, spices, and freshly peeled potatoes.
"I'm hungry, Mama" Kasia announces loudly, breathlessly, as she runs into the kitchen and immediately wraps herself around her mother's waist, like sticky dough.
" Go and help her sister hang up the clothes outside while the sun is still up." mother says, and by helping, she means for Kasia to leave her alone and not cling to her so she can get the cooking done in peace.
Sighing heavily, Kasia follows me out into the yard where the drying ropes were strung. Carefully, I lift each shirt, apron, and tablecloth out of the basket and fold and pin it to the stretched line, smoothing out the wrinkles, straightening out the colors and trims so they would dry flat. The sun so graciously dancing on the red, black, yellow, and white linen threads illuminating the birds trees and women figures with hands up or down that were sewn into the borders and hems of the fabric, like stories of our lives and our family, threaded with the linen spun by our Granny and embroidered by her, and her mother before that. The love and care of their fine stitching, still crips after all these years.
"Anya, Mama is calling" I am reminded by Kasia as she tugs at my skirt. I must've drifted off again, gotten lost in the shapes and memories of birds and flowers that were being kissed by the late afternoon sun.
Later that evening, after supper, I watch my mother embroider a new handkerchief for Kasia. I notice how thin the embroidery motifs are, how much space was left open between the patterns my mother was creating. I couldn't help but compare how full and intricate the patterns were on some of our older tapestries and shirts.
"Why are the flowers so small, Mama?" I inquired.
"So I use less thread, Anya." she said, and added as she saw my confusion, "Your granny was the spinner of our family, she blessed the flax and spun it into thread so we could embroider with it. Since she died, no new thread has been spun."
" What happens when the thread ends?" I asked mother, pointing at Granny's spinning wheel and the staff that stood, sad and abandoned, in the corner by the window.
"I don't know. It's never happened before." she replied sadly, her eyes reddening with tears a little. "We have never been without the family thread. We must make the leftover batch last a very long time, until you are a little older and can learn to spin. It would have been your Granny who was supposed to teach you, but maybe when the wise woman Zotia has some time she can show you. In a year or two. She knows the way."
" Why can't you teach me Mama?"
" Because I am of childbearing age. Too much interference and daily concern would cloud my vision and disturb our fate if I tried to spin, as your Granny would say." She smiled softly and touched my cheek, seeing the sadness in my eyes. As I thought about her last words, she said, "This is nothing for you to worry about. You are too young to think about such things"
Only I wasn't too young. I was always thinking about such things. Ever since Granny told me I was the strong thread in the family and had to keep things together. I was always observing, paying attention, looking between moments that seem to open up for me more and more as I've gotten older. I didn't know what she really meant by that.,But today Granny's words seemed to come into sharper focus. For me, thread was very important, and our family was running out of it.
I laid awake late into the night. Long after mama and Papa went to bed. With little Kasia snoring peacefully next to me, I couldn't help but think how sparse the threads were on the hems of her clothing now. Before they were so rich and full, thick with story. Now, like sad shadows of our colorful past.
I had to do something. I didn't know what exactly, but the situation, it felt so heavy. I crept out of bed and went into the main room where the spinning wheel and distaff were. The Distaff, wrapped in a white cloth and red ribbon, stood tallest at the side of the wheel, almost like a person. A few loose strands of flax exposed on the bottom. Nobody has touched the distaff or the wheel since Granny's death. I remember the wise woman Zotia who attended her death, covering the distaff with great care after Granny's body our her home, her wrinkled hands making careful knots over the cloth containing our family treasure.
Remembering this moment so vividly makes me nervous now to stand so close to the spinning wheel, which seems to be taking on a new life in the moonlight. The strands of flax moving gently as I breathed in and out. Hypnotized, I reach out to touch the distaff, to feel the ribbon and the bulky flax bundle underneath.
As my fingers barely glide over the bundle.,the distaff jumps off its hinge and to my bewilderment ends up in my arms. Instantly I'm flooded with emotions, memories, and visions, so strong that my head spins and I'm forced to sit down. Birds flowers, trees, intricate patterns and reds and whites whirl before my eyes, coming together and growing apart into bigger swirls and movements. I see rolling hills, our forest and river coming out of the shapes and colors, all so alive. I had to keep my eyes closed to stay on the ground, and stay on the ground to let them all settle.
After some time I opened my eyes slowly. The visions fading a little, but still feeling dizzy. I dragged myself to bed and crawl under the covers, the distaff still in my arms. I fall asleep right away.
I thought I heard the sound of the wheel spinning in the next room, it's rhythm taking me deeper and deeper into the dreamland summoned earlier at the wheel. In the dream I was sitting at the wheel, distaff in hand with my own hands gently pulling the strands of the thick flax bundle into a single thread, strong, smooth, and just the right thickness. Glistening with the magic of hope and possibility. I couldn't believe that I was spinning and it was so easy. Then I remembered, I didn't know how to spin and that I was only dreaming.
And that's when I heard the voice of a woman and she said "Just keep going , Anya, just breathe and keep going. Nothing to think about here. Just open to the flow of the dream. This is what spinning is. Remembering and dreaming. I will guide your hand, just like I guided the hand of your grandmother and her grandmother before her."
I didn't know who this woman was, but surely she knew me, and her voice was the most beautiful, comforting sound I've ever heard, and I trusted her without abandon.
I didn't see her exactly, but for a glimpse here and there of a long braided hair like golden wheat, eyes as light as the summer sky. The hem of her dress red like blood and ripe berries, and she was everywhere. She was as big as our cottage, even bigger. Stretched up to the sky, with fine spider thin threads of light, moving all around her and connecting them all into a living tapestry.
In this tapestry I saw Granny, and I saw myself too, and the Kasia and mama. We were all together, woven into breathing lines and symbols. And she spoke to me through these symbols, moments and textures. She spoke to me in the first language, the language of the goddess.
This was the first time Mokosh came to me in a dream. The first, but certainly not the last, for the goddess holds her daughters, mothers, sisters, and grandmothers in a tapestry together. Always helping them find each other, always strengthening the bonds and threads between them and I, as my grandmother told me, was one of these threads, and I would pick up the distaff at waking time tomorrow and take up my place behind the spinning wheel.
The, end for now.
Sea: Very beautiful. Thank you so much. I loved it.
Betsy: What was it like for you to do this story, as it was unfolding?
Gabriela: It was really nice. It was really... it was really comforting. It was easy. And it certainly took me to a time that I long for it. Being in the present time and being so much in that present would capture the past and the future at the same time, through hope and memory, and just embroidery itself, and especially folk embroideries as families would do. Each their own motif, or one that was familiar to them, is such a sacred place for the divine. And especially for the goddess. And I do feel like there is this hidden language of the continuity of that love and that protection and embellishment of what we wear, whether it's something that's for a special occasion, or for daily wear like an apron. And within that, the secret is contained, and that language is contained and, it's a safe place for it because people will not really take it apart or look at it as an old way. Because it's just temporary, but there is so much there. And I know that there are lots of studies done about this by scholars. You know, that the goddess, there's really little written about the goddess, but she's everywhere. She's in the textiles. She never left. And women contained her and kept her spirit alive, and I feel like she guided them.
Betsy: I was going to say, and possibly the women were kept alive, not just alive alive, but alive in their souls. Work that could become drudgery becomes something that you've put something inspirational into that has that connection to her. That's what I've found really beautiful in your story.
Gabriela: It was a very, very fun story to be in.
Betsy: Feels like you were really in it as you wrote it too. That definitely comes across.
Gabriela: Thank you. I could feel a deep love for all of the characters and perhaps it's a call to you to embroider, too. That call has been coming. It certainly has. So I think now that I'm saying it out into the world, I'll have to do it, but I want to do it. I want to do it. Though I'm much more like Kasia, wanting the buns and the cakes.
Betsy: I think we do want those things until we feel the touch of the divine. And then we're gently nudged into another pathway, or an inclusive pathway, including the cakes and the buns...Were you going to say something, Sea?
Sea: Oh, that same thing. Why choose.... Why choose? Cakes, buns, and embroidery. It threw me back to my grandmother, so my grandmother did all that. And I remember being so humiliated actually, because we were to take home our PE uniform in the sixth grade and to have our name put on them, and everybody else wrote their name on their PE uniform in marker and my grandmother and embroidered mine. It just felt so strange.
Gabriela: I had the same grandmother. She taught herself to... so at nine her parents bought her a sewing machine. They couldn't figure out how to use it, and she, one day when they...