Friday, February 11, 2011

Use of symbolism in Nickie's quilt

Below are some of the concepts that relate to the symbols incorporated into Nickie’s quilt. Each symbol tends to overlap and interweave with others – as all aspects of every story do.

The central focus of the quilt is the Celtic cross, sharing the two colours of the velvet capes, red and green. This is surrounded by four symbols that represent the foundational relationships in Nickie’s journey: the family relationships between father, mother, Nickie and her sister.

The Wheel symbol, at the top of the cross is also the Wheel of the Year and a Celtic symbol of the life cycle according to the eight seasons, as they were experienced. At the bottom of the cross there is the Cruciate form - a cross of equal lengths enclosed by a circle, a symbol of Creation, cosmic union, initially through the union of male and female; and of the four directions of the Earth meeting at the centre, being surrounded and embraced by the round of Earth’s horizon. I have also read that gypsies adopted the form as both a symbolic of sexual union. In practical ways, the two elements of the symbol were used to mark a horse’s right foreleg with a cross (male) and its left foreleg with a circle (female), on the understanding that the two symbols would attract each other, thereby keeping the horse ‘hobbled’ so as not to run away (Walker p.46).

Nickie’s sister has been involved in the Australian Scouts movement all her life – hence the Fleur-de-lys with the Southern Cross, made from the little stars sewn over the original capes. Another interesting aspect of the fleur-de-lys is that it has Goddess associations, and has been used in imagery of the Mary, Mother of Jesus, whose power as the Virgin aspect of the Triple Goddess (Virgin, Mother, and Crone) was to conceive and give life to the Godhead. By extension it also refers to the power to re-birth self –  both occurrences occurring parthenogenetically, that is, unassisted by male intervention (Walker p.426).

On the complementary right arm of the bigger Celtic cross is another creation symbol of regeneration and ‘the source of unborn souls’, as it gave shelter in the afterlife. It also contains the element of ‘sacrifice’, meaning being made sacred through undergoing/accepting ‘all that Life has to offer’ thereby maintaining the life-force embodied in the World Tree, which was always assigned female gender and regarded as the all-nourishing Mother. In India and Persia, the Tree was depicted with 5 branches, symbolising the 5 elements: earth, air, fire, water and ether (Walker p.472). It can be understood as representing the experiences we have had of healing and being healed: ass Nickie says, ‘learning to embrace all that Life has to offer’.

In each of the four corners there is a ‘sprite’, faerie or angel, providing protection and energy that flows to and from the four directions. These designs were formed by combining elements from the borders of Nickie’s mother’s cape, and celebrates Nickie’s healing powers. Below this there is a panel showing the phases of the moon, waxing from the left into fullness at the centre and waning to darkness on the right. The moon is sacred to Goddess symbolism and ritual. The three dancing Goddesses beneath celebrate their power as creativity and innocence (Virgin), the fertility to give and nurture (Mother), and to renew life (the Wise Old One).

Creating with the fabrics
The symbols on these nine blocks were appliqu├ęd using fine machine satin stitch, using the fabrics alternatively from the green and pink dresses. The surround of the quilt is made from the beautiful, heavily embroidered borders of the two little capes belonging to the two sisters, again combining the green and the red, and the tassles are from each of the 3 capes. I tied them with a loose knot, because the knot is also sacred to the Goddess as weaver-creator; and gypsy women untied knots/braids to assist childbirth (Walker pp. 130, 142). Those on the quilt can be undone, of course – and can be re-made ritually according to need.

Reference: Walker, B, 1988, The woman’s dictionary of symbols & sacred objects, Harper & Row, NY

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Nickie's quilt: more then 10 years later!

The old saying that the wheels of progress move slowly has been has been verified in the case of this quilt, which was commissioned by Nickie over 10 years ago when we met at a presentation I gave about my quilts for the Wheel of the Year.
I am sure that during this long period what was need for the design was slowly gestating before coming into form. I had been keeping the fabrics she gave me on that occasion at the Women’s Centre on the Central Coast, NSW, safely in a plastic container awaiting the day that they would ‘call me forth’, which happened towards the end of 2010. The materials, which had been brought back from Damascus by the woman’s father when she was a girl fascinated me; and the fact that they had threads of gold running through them amd were embroidered with gold thread filled them with light, and me with awe. There was also a sense of almost fearful anticipation, since I had been entrusted not only with such beautiful fabrics but also to tell the stories of those who wore them over fifty years ago. I knew that different parts of their individual stories had been very sad, and yet, the 3 frocks and capes that had been made up from these beautiful pink and green damasks woven throughout with real gold for the mother and her 2 daughters also represented their beauty, pride and playfulness. I wanted the quilt to be a celebration of their lives - and, something tells me it has succeeded in doing that.
Working with the story as it was told to me by Nickie, of her Romany Gypsy father who had served with the British army in Palestine, her Welsh mother and her sister, to whom she remains very close, the design for the quilt started to take the shape of a simple four patch, with the symbols in each of the four central panels focusing on the family connections of Celtic and Rom ancestral backgrounds. The original design gradually expanded into a nine patch, to include Nickie’s sister’s longtime involvement with Scouts Australia, and her own inherited gifts of Spirit, for healing and psychic ‘sight’. Nickie explained that she is ‘constantly in awe of Creation, both seen and unseen. My life  has been quite a journey, full of love, angels, magick, music and fairies’.
It became evident that the quilt would be a banner, a herald, a family coat of arms to be hung with ceremony, transforming the little frocks and making use of the glorious ‘pomp’ that was evident in the splendid, almost royal style of the capes, with their elaborate gilt borders and adorned with epaulettes!
More of the quilt’s Creation Story in the next post. 

10 years later: PhD status accepted...yoohoo!

The news that came through just before the Summer Solstice 2009 is that the examiners, Australian and American, have recommended that the PhD degree be awarded. I still have a little way to go with some re-consideration to be given to the the word ‘indigenous’ which I initially used in the title and is quite central to my thesis: ‘The creative process as sacred expression: women exploring an indigenous spirituality’ (lower case ‘i’). I have been requested to remove it, and will do so, with the inclusion of an explication. The satisfaction has occurred from having finally given voice to my own perceptions of women’s creative spirituality, but also to those of all the women involved in this project over a long period.
It seems to have been confusing for the examiners - and therefore could be for others possibly because the term has become associated exclusively with the First Peoples of the world, and can read either as that the research involves Australian Aborigines, or presumably as a type of appropriation (though this was not mentioned directly in the reports). Also possibly because, to be academically rigorous, I needed to explain more fully my particular use of the word, which was certainly not intended in either of these ways. However, I want to create a context for exploring and re-cognising an ancient indigenous spiritual practice (from Europe) that has great relevance for the whole globe today, which acknowledges our interdependency with all of Earth’s creation.
The research involved local women using their experience of creativity as a means to explore a personal spirituality as it was experienced inherently and identified with their inhabited space/place - that is, a spirituality that could be understood to be ‘native’ to a woman’s body-mind as her ‘land’ of origin; and as a recovery of soul-sense derived from being situated physically in the Southern Hemisphere. From this position, using the term indigenous according to the dictionary definition of ‘indigenous to’, meaning relating to place - is appropriate, not appropriated. From the broader perspective of the definition, as ‘innate, inherent’, I believe that the term ‘indigenous’ is applicable to women re-creating a sense of self in relation to her experience as embodied.
Another reason for choosing to employ the word ‘indigenous’ is as it relates to the methods being used to explore this notion of a spirituality, experienced as inherent and personal to the women involved. This was done by ritualising the the seasonal cycles of the Wheel of the Year, an Earth-centred spiritual perspective practised by the prehisotric groups indigenous to the European continent in the context of their personal creative experience. It was this seasonal ritual observance transferred to and seen from the perspective of the Southern Hemisphere that I reflected on in the making of my own art quilts, an observance which I had felt to be inherited from my ancestors, indigenous to the Northern Hemisphere and covered over by millennia of patriarchal stories and practices that have resulted in the colonisation of my own spiritual sensibilities - and, dare I say, those of my gender.
While the Northern Hemispheric sensibilities to seasonal changes, their symbolic religious and cultural significances have been disrupted by spatial dislocation, I theorised that these earlier sensibilities could be re-covered, uncovered through our experiences of creativity - beginning in the body (through the power to give life to another human being), and experienced through our creativity - in this case, quilt making. The aim was to recover, recreate the expression of these earlier religious and cultural sensibilities in re-alignment to our personal place of habitation through the seasonal cycle, the observance of which gave rise to such practices as are observed by the Abrahamic religions in the first place.
More to come…