Soul Weaving

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I am someone who has always been obsessed with yarn. From the moment my mother taught me to knit age 5 years old, fibre and the things that can be done with it have been how my soul expresses its passion and creativity. My husband will tell you stories about how my yarn stash is taking over the house and he regularly threatens to insulate the loft with my fleece. I think he is only half-joking.

But a story about a fibre obsession is not really the subject of this post, more a way to set the scene for a metaphor for the soul that I have been working with over the past year, with a fabulous group of women; that of the idea of the soul as a woven tapestry. A tapestry that is constantly being woven, shaped and created as we live, from the different colours, textures and fibres of our actions, interactions, inspirations and relationships, and that can be to varying degrees consciously patterned, rather than a process that happens purely within the unconscious. We call this conscious practice ‘Soul Weaving’. This is not a new idea, in fact it is very old, and it offers us a glimpse of how our  heathen ancestors may have conceived and worked with the concept of the human soul and with methods for healing, integration and understanding.

Within the modern Northern traditions, the spinning and weaving of fibre and fabric is a revered art which in itself carries undertones of the sacred. The very act of taking fleece through the process of being cleaned, sorted, washed, carded, spun, woven and finally stitched into a garment is quite an undertaking and anyone who has been a part of the process, particularly if you have done it from beginning to end, will appreciate the stupendous amount of time, dedication and energy required. Perhaps it is this understanding and reverence for the sheer effort involved that originally brought the imagery of weaving and spinning into the metaphysical, creating a body of knowledge, myth and story entwined through the rich body of lore of the Northern Traditions.

In both Anglo-Saxon and Norse mythology we are told of the Nornir, three women, possibly more, who are responsible for weaving the web of all existence on their loom, measuring, weaving and cutting the threads that make up each individual soul ~ human, god, plant and animal, nothing is outside of, or exempt from, the threads of Wyrd that weave us into the web. This great web is often termed the Web of Wyrd and an understanding of it is absolutely central to Heathen cosmology. The three Norns who appear most often are Urd, Verdandi and Skuld, whose names can in the simplest of terms be translated as past, present and future. They are the goddesses of fate and destiny who determine the lives of men and the other gods alike. We also have stories of Frigga, wife of Odin and one of the primary deities of this body of lore. Spinning is also seen to be sacred to her with the three stars which hang from Orion’s belt often being called ‘Frigga’s distaff’, a tool used to prepare flax for spinning. Although not attested to in the lore, many Heathen folk will honour Frigga as the preparer of the threads for the Norns to weave.

The modern practice of Soul Weaving is to work, through vision and journey ever more wakefully, with our own tiny piece of the vast tapestry, and to learn intimately the different strands and threads that are woven into it, the history and origin of how each stitch came to be. In this way the soul tapestry becomes a map of our own consciousness, which we can use to effectively manipulate the strands of wyrd and our own existence as far as that is possible. The Soul Weaver aims to take ultimate responsibility for everything they do and the soul tapestry becomes both the tool and the medium with which to become increasingly more awake to this process. For some this work begins by completing a journey or path-working and asking to be taken to see their soul tapestry. When I first started Soul Weaving, I was shown a vision of a tapestry that had largely been woven for me, the work having been completed by gods and guides or by my own subconscious, where I had been unable to do it myself. It was a bit patchy, the colours and patterns did not always match and there were areas that without doubt needed darning! At the time I was going through a process of dismantling and re-naming myself, unsure who I was or where I was headed and this was clearly apparent in my soul tapestry. Little by little I began to start mending, working out which threads could safely be removed and replaced, the places that discordant colours or patterns could be fixed or exchanged, taking responsibility for each stitch. I also learned much about what could not be changed, what was set and where the whole thing would just disintegrate if I messed around with it too much. As I worked I found that each thread corresponded to old patterns, buried emotions, lost and present people. At times the work was and still is painful, bringing up parts of myself that I thought were long dealt with ~ that argument I had forgotten about, the time I seriously messed up, old wounds and negative emotions were all to be found there alongside shining and beautiful achievements, relationships, loved ones, happy memories and soul connections. For a woman obsessed with fibre the visions made perfect sense and provided me with a language for some of the most profound healing I have ever experienced. Good Soul Weaving sisters helped with that too.

Of course the process of Soul Weaving is never-ending, a life’s work. The tapestry is constantly being woven through every moment of living another stitch is created, another thread woven in. But the vision of the soul tapestry can provide us with a magical method of envisioning the conscious process of unfolding Wyrd and of our own connection to the vast web. Those familiar with shamanic ways of practicing may well be familiar with something similar; this deep soul and self work is not unique to Northern Tradition practices.

Much of this modern Soul Weaving practice is intimately connected with a body of lore, drawn from various sources which describe the soul as being composed of constituent parts, woven together to create the seamless whole soul. Again work with the soul parts enables us to delve ever deeper into our own consciousness, discovering ever more deeply how we are woven together. Many will know or be familiar with the soul parts by other names yet the Old Norse or Old English names may stir other understandings and older truths within us if we are conversant with their stories. The physical body becomes the Lyke (our likeness), our astral body or nemeton becomes the Hyde (literally hide or skin), the vast bank of memories we hold becomes our Mynd (the mind) and our passions and inspiration becomes the Wode (possibly a kenning for Woden himself). There are many more, and too many for a single blog post, but an article on each will follow. I would love to hear from anyone else who works in this way and explores this body of knowledge. My experience of it to date has been of extraordinary healing, connection and understanding of my own soul consciousness and relationships within the web.

 

Liminal places and studentship

As someone who is involved in academia and passionately loves the university environment as a teacher, it is a while since I have been a student in this sort of environment myself. Despite embarking on a very steep learning curve over the past few months simply learning to teach well (both academically and in teaching my own students of the craft), I find it worryingly easy to forget what being a student is like sometimes. Not that I feel I have ever stopped learning, in fact, that almost inexpressible need to explore, discover, analyse and synthesise is a driving force in my life. That wonderful state of feeling like you know absolutely nothing about a new subject, drinking it, drowning in it, absorbing like your life depends on it is for me, one of the most inspiring places to be, yet, sadly it is not a state that lasts or comes around all that often. It ebbs and flows with our understanding and our perceptions of what we think we understand, abating a while as we fall under the misapprehension that we know something about anything and then waiting to pounce as our meanderings take us somewhere new. I spend a good deal of my life feeling like the competent amateur rather than the expert, good at lots of things by accident rather than design. But perhaps that says more about me and my ability to self deprecate than anything else.

Sitting in lectures today, not as a teacher but as a student of education itself, studying for a masters in teaching, I found myself unutterably and deliriously happy. It took me a while to work out what I was feeling let alone figure out why. Gradually I understood that I was in that space where I realised I knew less than nothing about what was being discussed but knowing that I really wanted to! The subject that got me so excited was the ‘Threshold Concept’, it’s something that I have experienced myself and often, firstly as a young student of the craft and then later as a student midwife and regularly, although tantalisingly, not regularly enough, since. However, I had never heard this educational phenomena described before. Like many things, it only takes the right person to say it in the right way for it all to fall into place.

A threshold concept is a thing or idea that, within a subject, is absolutely key for us to grasp before we can move onto deeper understandings of a subject or discipline. Sometimes these things will be individual, things that others find easy to grasp yet, take us years to get a handle on. Others are concepts that can be named within a discipline, things that you will either get, or you wont and will likely determine whether you study a subject long term or end up teaching it yourself. Thinking of my own studies within the craft, one of my threshold concepts was undoubtedly that of realising chronically and painfully how I had an impact on every particle around me; experiencing the ‘web’, to use the poetry of animism, not as a flat weaving of threads, a piece of fabric, but as a thick, viscous substance that had no spaces, not individual things joined together by bridges, but as a living, breathing whole. The air no longer empty, but so thick and full of life that I was frightened to breathe or move lest I drown or create a tsunami. Every movement and effect was magnified and blown huge. I can remember so acutely how the walls of my understanding just crumbled. I spent the next month or two putting it all back together again in a way I could make sense of, but I quickly found I had access to a whole new level of perception I could never have imagined if I’d tried.

This is another key aspect of the threshold concept, it has the ability, once grasped, to bring us to a place of liminality where all that we have understood about a certain thing is dissolved and we have to start to rebuild our understanding about how the world works, from the ground up. The threshold concept is often described as being like a portal, once you enter it, there is suddenly a whole host of ideas and things to explore that had been blocked by not understanding the first thing; that you could never even have known were there to be explored.

The interesting thing from the perspective of the teacher (or so the theory says and it does have its critics) is that it is quite possible for the student to make passably good attempts at pretending to understand the threshold concept (I know this, as a student I have done it!). It is only by deeper analysis that the student will be found out, they may not even realise their own lack of understanding, believing they have got it, when in fact they are far from it. Perhaps for many, this is in itself a part of the learning process. I can certainly identify times when it has been the case for me. Threshold concepts are difficult, thorny, hard; we don’t like them because they make life difficult. It is rather inconvenient to have to rebuild our understandings about something, particularly if we realise we may have been wrong about it for years and subsequently have to address that. As both a teacher and a student this was a really powerful understanding.

Yet there is is something utterly wonderful (for me) about that liminal space. I guess you are either partial to having your doors blown open and spending time being profoundly uncomfortable or you aren’t. I realised that it’s what I love about being a student of anything, I don’t feel quite complete unless there’s a door missing somewhere and space to grow and explore through the portal. I tend to stagnate without it. Being a student in a learning environment with other students, maximises the potential for this.

In a religious tradition where we are often our own teachers, either because we chose it or because there aren’t that many folks around willing to teach and teach well, I think the threshold concept is a valuable asset and tool that can teach us much. But it requires honesty and consciousness to use it well, the willingness to look at where we are not honest, not understanding, pretending, or not willing to explore and push a little into why. I can vividly look back at the times when I didn’t get it, often I had the inkling I was pretending a little, desperately hoping that my teachers would believe I had groked it. The bad ones bought it, the good ones rarely did.  Of course it takes a willingness to blow the bloody doors off, even if it means being uncomfortable for a while but in my experience, the portal or rather my preferred metaphor, the rabbit hole, is always worth it no matter how strange.