Friday, November 18, 2016

The living Universe: Matrix of creation

One of the most compelling glyphs relating humankind’s understanding of our place in the Universe story is carved into a rock surface at the end of the long passage leading into the Neolithic mound of New Grange in County Meath, Ireland.  The glyph is symbolic of the Earth’s relationship to the movement round Sun as observed by early peoples living in that place.[1] The symbol, looking like the petals of a daisy was clearly based on astronomical observation, in particular the rising of the Sun on the day of the Solstice in mid-winter, hence representing the promise of life returning - a predictable reward for the belief in and expectation of new life based on such observations. Its eight ‘petals’ clearly identify the change in natural phenomena over eight annular seasons. Returning to the original symbol of the omphalos, the navel of the Earth (mentioned in a previous post), the representation of the glyph on the quilt with appliqué is partially covered in a mesh of fine net, perhaps represented also at new Grange in the grids of the rock carvings. Below the glyph, the Sun’s giant orb glows in the distance and our fecund blue planet puts forth a carpet of flowers in the shape of the ‘vesica piscis’, the sacred oval/almond (or mandorla) shape of the Yoni, the female vulva and uterus. Mother Earth is flourishing in response to this deep relationship with Sun. And the pull of Moon in her orbit, giving us the ebb and flow of the tides, is shown in the waves beneath the blue planet – and the Pleiades are also associated with water in the Australian Indigenous tradition. Other prehistoric traditions used the lines of the meander (or zigzag or ‘M’ sign) to represent water, which I considered, but preferred the ‘flow’ over the geometric for this composition.[2]
Final placement of the Pleiades cluster was never really in doubt; it had to be central, though the means for representing the Seven Sisters in fabric was very elusive. I discarded the grid-like construction on netting, inspiration for which came from the grids carved into stone at New Grange, and went back to images I had researched. In the end I decided to use gossamer-type fabric, with a sheen and rainbow threads running through it, which had a feeling of distant bodies glowing, as though covered in shimmering icicles. I used the image of Nut, Egyptian Goddess of the sky who swallows the Sun at night and re-births it everyday in the dedication on the back of the quilt. Nut reminds us to leave space for the Mystery of this unending cycle of dark and light in the weaving of our lives.[3] This is the quote I included:
By the reckoning of the Living Universe cosmology, all things – all beings – including stars, planets, humans, animals, plants, rocks, and rivers – are both expression and agent of the spirit, each with its place and purpose in an epic journey. Earth and the material universe of human experience are more than the spirit’s creation; they are its manifestation. The spirit is in the world, and the world is in the spirit. [4]

Below is the finished piece, measuring 940 x 705mms. I believe that calling it The living Universe: Matrix of creation, reiterates Jan’s spiritual connection to the universe. This is the final post for this quilt. Next quilt blog: Charge of the Goddess.

[1] Martin Brennan, 1994, The stones of time: Calendars, sundials and stone chambers of ancient Ireland, Inner Traditions International: Vermont
[2] Judy Foster and Marlene Derlet, 2013, Invisible women of prehistory: Three million years of peace, six thousand years of war, Spinifex: Melbourne
[3] Amy Sophia Marashinksy, 1994, The Goddess oracle, HarperCollins: London
[4] David Korten, 2015, Change the story change the future: a living economy for a living earth, Berrett-Koehler: SanFrancisco

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Other symbols requested by Jan

This is the almost 'final' post regarding the symbols used to express Jan’s understanding of her relationship with the bigger Universe story. There is another, which is my inclusion of understanding the Universe story. This discusses the inclusion of Jan’s birth sign and her love of fireworks – and more specifically, the way we see ourselves in relation to our own star, the Sun. These elements bring us closer to home, our planet which we call Earth. It was difficult to decide about both form and placement for the crab as the birth sign of Cancer. I researched many of the renditions online (as I’d done with the Pleiades), and the two strong life-grabbing pincers of the crab seemed the most important feature. But, the question remained about where to place them on the background. In terms of composition, it seemed appropriate to have them hold the orbs of the moon phases and planets – and that’s where they are positioned. The symbol for the fireworks came about in response to an image in a photo I’d taken, of the sunlight shining through the leaves of a succulent. The moment of explosion rendered through reverse appliqué, and reiterated in the beading through the centres of the night-sky blue floral print behind the Earth. Here, I am describing the process, but hopefully the features thus described will be recognised when the final version of the quilt is uploaded!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Pleiades star cluster

The stars in the cluster known as the Pleiades are considered to be sibling stars in both myth and science.[1] They were apparently ‘born’ from the same cloud of gas some 100 million years ago, though they have evolved at different rates due to their different mass. Comprised of seven main stars that are visible to the naked eye. In Greek mythology they represented the seven daughters of the mythological figures of Atlas and Pleione, and each were given names and complex stories associating them with the pantheon of seducing gods, especially Zeus. They tell tales that underpin this mainly anthropocentric worldview as a means for explaining (mansplaining?) human behaviour in its relationship to the world of natural phenomena.

Then there are many cross-cultural stories, originating in prehistoric, pre-Neolithic cultures passed on down the millennia and created around loss and return, through which the strength, power and primal source of women is expressed and revered.[2] Developed in association with observation of seasonal changes in the natural world many have been forgotten, but some are still maintained within contemporary Indigenous cultures. In the Northern Hemisphere the first sighting of the Pleiades above the horizon in May signalled the season of spring and the beginning of the sailing season for maritime fishing and trade and the seasonal planting of crops.  In Celtic folklore the first showing of the cluster above the horizon in late May gave cause for the festival of life returning; and their disappearance in November the festival of death (Hallowe'en, or Samhain, which later became All Souls Day). Their movement across the night sky was symbol of the life cycle of life-in-death-in life, celebrated at the two Solstices. From the Crone aspect of Goddess cultures, the Pleiades are the seven judges of one’s life activities at the end of life, known as Kritikas (meaning razor in Greek and from which we get the word ‘critical’). It is the job of these sisters to assess one’s place in the after-life. Such concepts relating to end of life judgment were held in pre-Vedic India, in the archaic traditions of Egypt and no doubt other areas of the Middle East. The seven branches of the menorah (which translates as ‘moon priestesses’, and which were traditionally decorated with typical female genital symbols, lilies and almonds) may have represented the seven sisters.[3]

For those of us who live in the South the seasons are reversed, since May takes us into the winter season of dormancy and underground activities. In a imaginary, or a ‘mode of perception, in which all of the world is alive with spirit’, creating a lore  that situates Australian Indigenous peoples in deep spiritual relationship to all creatures and landscapes and celebrates the harmonious relationship between humans and their natural environment, the behaviour of the protagonists nevertheless has extraordinary similarities to the stories of the Pleiades evolved in other cultures.[4] In Australia the sighting of the Seven Sisters from dusk until dawn signals the time of growing coldness, associated with frosts on the ground, and the ending of the warmer months, so the narrative has the young women as very beautiful, their bodies sparkling with icicles. They refuse the courtship of amorous young men of another tribe, who tempt them with fresh honey, but when they are refused, pine away and die. Two of the sisters are abducted by a fiery Ancestor spirit, who tries to melt their icicles, which only results in putting out his fire but explains why there are two less bright stars in the cluster. In this season the Meamei, as they are called, break off some ice and throw it to Earth, which is used to numb the nose before it is pierced in the memory of the seven sisters who once dwelt on country before becoming glittering celestial bodies. There are other associations deriving from this story held in lore.[5] Here is another source used.[6]

Contemplating, cogitating, ruminating over how to represent this significant cluster in human cultural traditions I decided to listen to Jimmy Little’s song ‘Seven sisters’ from his album Resonate: “…we cannot do great things, but only small things with great love.” After toying with different fabrics and positions, feeling a little reassured by the lyrics and more akin to the story of the sisters, I am encouraged to keep holding the space in which the cluster form will take shape. This image shows one possible rendition, one that was discarded for reasons I’ll explain later.

[1] In the process of this research I began to understand where the names for the models of many cars have originated. And when I look into the star cluster of the Pleiades I realise that the design for the logo of the popular Suburu range of cars is based on these wonderful seven sisters (though there only six in the logo), whose story goes way back prior to vehicle automation. 
 [2] Munya Andrews, 2005, The seven sisters of the Pleiades: Stories from around the world, Spinifex Press: Melbourne
[3] Barbara Walker, 1988, The woman’s dictionary of symbols and sacred objects, Harper & Row: San Francisco
 [4] Joanna Lambert, 1993, Wise women of the dreamtime: Aboriginal tales of ancestral powers, Inner Traditions International: Vermont (pp. 44-50)
[5] ibid
[6] Antonella Riem Natale, 2012, The Pleiades and the dreamtime: an Aboriginal Women’s story and other ancient world traditions, Coolabah, no. 9, Centre for Australian Studies: University of Barcelona.