Posted in Knitting
May 29, 2004

Weaving in the Kalevala

In Rune VIII of the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic poem, hero Wainamoinen happens upon the Maiden of the Rainbow weaving and wants her to be his queen. When he arrives, she is…

Weaving webs of golden texture,
Interlacing threads of silver;
Weaving with a golden shuttle,
With a weaving-comb of silver;
Merrily flies the golden shuttle,
From the maiden’s nimble fingers,
Briskly swings the lathe in weaving,
Swiftly flies the comb of silver,
From the sky-born maiden’s fingers,
Weaving webs of wondrous beauty.

He tells her she should come with him and be his queen, but she’s not falling for it. She’d asked a thrush the day before whether she’d be better off as a single girl or as a wife…

“Thus the song-bird gave me answer,
Sang the thrush this information:
‘Bright and warm are days of summer,
Warmer still is maiden-freedom;
Cold as iron in the winter,
Thus the lives of married women;
Maidens living with their mothers
Are like ripe and ruddy berries;
Married women, far too many,
Are like dogs enchained in kennel,
Rarely do they ask for favors,
Not to wives are favors given.'”

The hero gets a little annoyed that she’s taking advice from birds, so she decides to give him a challenge instead…

But the Maid or Beauty answered,
Answered thus the great magician:
I will go with that one only
That will make me ship or shallop,
From the splinters of my spindle,
From the fragments of my distaff…

Spake the skilful Wainamoinen,
These the words the hero uttered:
“There is no one in the Northland,
No one under vault of heaven,
Who like me can build a vessel,
From the fragments of the distaff,
From the splinters of the spindle.”

Uh-huh, sure, Wainamoinen. And he tries and tries and tries…

There are plenty of fiber-related stories woven throughout epic poems and mythology. In the Odyssey, Penelope unravels her weaving each night, and weaves all day, telling her suitors she’ll select one of them when she’s done with the piece on her loom. Arachne was a vain spinner who took on Athena, the patron goddess of textile arts, in a contest – only to end up a shriveled spider. The list goes on and on…

There’s a book I’m looking for called At The Humming of the Wheel: A Collection of Textilely-Correct Fairy Tales – does anyone have a copy or know where I could get one?

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