“When people told themselves their past with stories, explained their present with stories, foretold the future with stories, the best place by the fire was kept for the storyteller.”
Jim Henson’s The Storyteller.
I have recently joined a medieval re-enactment group. I am still on probation, so need to be on my best behaviour, but I had a magical first day last week. I wore my Medieval handmade dress (more on that later) and had my first fighting lesson with a wooden pole in place of a sword. I got to walk around in costume with my drop spindle – a dream come true!
The spinning wheel came up in conversation with another group member. Obviously, my Ashford would not have been invented in the 14th century, but the great wheel was. We spoke about how those who would spin on a wheel were often looked upon with mistrust.
The drop spindle was a sociable tool that was easily portable. It could be taken in a pocket and used in a village gathering spot, or when women would get together for a good Old-e Chin Wag-e*. But picture a spinner on a great Wheel. The sheer size prevented it ever moving – one would have to go to the wheel and would more often than not be secluded with it.
Imagine how a group of people would view the person who chose to be alone this way. Imagine the stories that would be told of that strange woman who locks herself away. Imagine the stories that would befall the wheel itself…
Pretty soon the wheel caught on and spinning at one became standard practice, but just for a little window of time the magic seeped in and stories about the wheel are known by nearly every little girl and boy out there.
What are the first stories you think about with a Wheel? Sleeping Beauty? Where the beautiful Briar Rose pricks her finger on the wheel and falls into a century long sleep. Or does she?
There are several theories about what she did actually prick herself on as there is nothing that sharp for simply spinning wool. Some say she in fact pricked her finger on the distaff used to hold the linen fibres ready for spinning. Others say it was not the wheel at all, but in fact a piece of poisoned flax that found its way under her nail. The Brothers Grimm, the 18th century story collectors, said:
“But scarcely had she touched the spindle when the magic decree was fulfilled, and she pricked her finger with it”
I am currently awaiting the arrival of a book, About the Sleeping Beauty, by P.L. Travers (author of Mary Poppins) in the hopes of learning her theories on the matter!
But what of the lesser known, or less Disney-fied stories?
We have read 5 from the Brothers Grimm so far. There is Rumpelstiltskin, the Three Spinners, Sleeping Beauty, The Lazy Spinner and The Spindle, the Shuttle and the Needle. There is also a collection entitled “Spinning Wheel Stories” by Louisa May Alcott which you can download here and another I would love to read “the Cat Woman and the Spinning Wheel”.
I know I am biased when it comes to Spinning. For me the wheel is magical without it being any more than it is. But think of its transformation from being an object of fear and suspicion to what it is today. I love the quote “you have to spin a good yarn before you can weave a great dream”.
Spin a good yarn. Tell a good story. They do go hand in glove, do they not?
Have you ever heard the soft clickety clack that comes from a spinning wheel? The gentle hum as the wheel spins and the treadle rocks? Combine this with a crackling fire, an evening of darkness and a soft voice whispering tales of enchantment to sleepy little children.
I have yet to meet a child that does not relish a bedtime, or an anytime story. Stories hold dreams and inspirations. They contain morals, and laughter and tears. Even in a world filled with computer games and the internet and audio books, for me nothing can compare to a single voice sharing a magical tale where words are spun into an adventure (especially when a Wheel is involved).
I must go now.
I have some rainbows to finish spinning and I need to herd together the small people in my life as I suddenly feel the urge to share a story…
“Once upon a time, in a land far, far away an old woman settled down to cook herself a soup of beans. She lit her fire with a handful of straw, but one straw escaped and landed on the floor. She placed the beans into her pot, but one fell and landed beside the straw on the ground. After a short while a hot coal hissed and spluttered and also fell from the fire, landing beside the straw and bean.
Together the three decided to run away from their deaths before they were discovered and fled for their lives.
After a short while they came upon a stream. Hatching a plan to cross, the straw laid itself down, bridging the stream and the hot coal proceeded to cross. However, half way over the stream the hot coal found itself in a bit of a panic and froze at the sight of the swirling water which would drown it. No matter how the straw urged, the coal would not move and before long the straw found itself burned in two and both he and the coal fell into the water, thus meeting their deaths.
The bean, which had been waiting patiently on the bank, began to giggle at what had happened. The giggle turned into a laugh and the laugh shook his body so hard that his sides split and he burst.
Fortunately for the bean, a tailor passed, and, upon spying the bean, felt a moment of pity. Taking out thread and a needle, the tailor proceeded to sew the little bean back together again. But, as punishment for his unkind laughter, the bean, and all of his future generations were left with a big black scar, right down the side as a reminder of where cruelty will get you…”
*did you know, when you see an ‘E’ at the end of old English it is actually silent? It was just the spelling of the day. Similarly, ‘Ye’ was pronounced ‘the’. The letter that was used in place of ‘th’ happened to look very much like ‘y’ so was confused over time. It originated from the rune ‘Thorn’ and evolved to – (ye) an Early Modern English abbreviation for the word the. Therefore ‘Ye Olde Sweet Shoppe’ would be pronounced exactly as it is today!