“Weave your webs of light well.
The fabric of those threads is the light of Consciousness itself.”
The oldest known spindles date from the Neolithic period (6500 – 5750 BC.).
Decorated whorls and accompanying spindles were mostly found in graves.
Spindles made of precious materials were not only status symbols, but were also used in ritual ceremonies.
In ancient times, ‘sphondylomancy’ was a divination in which spindle whorls were used. The will of the gods could be ascertained by observing their movements. They were also used as votive offerings (to placate the gods) or as ex-votos.
The association between the gods and working with thread, spinning and weaving, originated early in antiquity. Weaving was a magical act that underlined the creative power of the gods, materialising the invisible texture of the universe and connecting ‘all that is’.
The cycle of weaving also translates the perception of time, which is cyclical, activating and reactivating birth and rebirth.
The deeply allegorical aspect of weaving, and the yarn, the product of spinning, as the thread of life.
Examples of a whorl on a spindle.
Spinning with a whorl (spinning wheel) (c) on a spindle (b) and a distaff (a).
19th c. BC.
Part of Facsimile from the tomb of Khnumhotep, Beni Hasan, Egypt.
Repainted by Norman de Garis Davies
(Photo © MET, NY, USA)
8-5th c. BC.
Stone fragment of relief called ‘the spinner’
From Susa, Iran
(Photo © Louvre museum, France)
8-7th c. BC.
Tombstone with image of woman and a spindle
From Maras, Turkey
Adana Archaeology Museum
(Photo © K. bittel)
Spindle with ceramic whorl and stored bark thread.
Neolithic settlement at lake Arbon Bleiche, Switzerland
Archaeological office, Thurgau, Switzerland
(Photo © daniel steiner)
1600 – 1100 BC.
Ivory whorl (spinning wheel) from a spindle.
Object from the sanctuary of Aphrodite.
Museum of Palaipafos, Cyprus
(Photo © Marko Manninen)
1300 – 1050 BC.
Ivory whorl (spinning wheel) from a spindle.
From Enkomi, Cyprus
(Photo © British Museum)
1450 – 1150 BC.
Whorls (in the shape of spokes) carved in antler.
Museo civico archeologico ethnologico, Modena, Italy
1200 BC. – 600 AD.
900 – 550 BC.
Lead spindle whorl
1st c. AD. (Gallo-Roman)
Votive wheel with a central hole.
Was this used as a spindle whorl?
1st c. AD.
Bone spinning whorls and needles
From Gaul, France
Art & History Museum, Brussels, Belgium
(Photo © Stefaan Algoet)
5-8th c. AD.
Medallion (Spindle whorl?)
made from antlers.
From Nantes, France
Dobrée Museum, Nantes, France
(Photo © Dobrée Museum)
Date and origin unknown
National Museum of the American Indian
A distaff is a stick on which wool or flax is put and the thread is spun using a spindle or a spinning wheel.
The oldest preserved distaff only dates from the 18th, because wood is a perishable material.
A common decorative element on the distaff, in Eastern and Northern Europe, the Balkans and Russia, is the Germ of Life (Seed of Life and Flower of Life), which reflects the cosmos and the structure of world space and time. This symbol comes from observing the movement of the sun throughout the year in relation to the sacred centre. For this reason it is associated with the sun, light and the solar year.
We can think of spinning as an act of creation when a thread comes out of amorphous wool (chaos). The thread is seen as a symbol of human life, destiny and a symbol of the clothing of the human world. After the wool is spun, the surface of the distaff transforms into the harmonious, balanced cosmos that emerges from chaos.
Examples of a distaff
The ritual of spinning a wheel is associated with Mokosh, a Slavic goddess related to Perun. She is the goddess of our destiny: spinning the thread of creation, giving life and cutting the thread of life.
“There is an endless net of threads throughout the universe. The horizontal
threads are in space. The vertical threads are in time. At every crossing of the
threads, there is an individual, and every individual is a crystal bead. And every
crystal bead reflects not only the light from every other crystal in the net, but
also every other reflection throughout the entire universe.”
– Rig Veda
In the iconography of the Near East, tools such as the mirror, the distaff and the spindle are among the attributes of well-known goddesses.
In ancient Greek mythology, Ananke is the goddess of fate and necessity.
Ananke is a self-formed being who appeared at the beginning of creation with an incorporeal, snake-like form, her outstretched arms encompassing the cosmos. Ananke and her brother Chronos (the personification of Time) mingle in serpentine form as a band around the universe. Together they shattered the primal egg of creation, whose constituent parts became earth, sky and sea, to form the ordered universe.
They were the representation of abstract celestial love; the two were considered related, as relatively non-anthropomorphised forces that dictated the course of life.
Ananke is usually depicted with a spindle. In Plato’s vision the sun, the moon and the planets were her spinwheels (whorls), and through them she wove the destinies of people whose souls moved through the woven strands on their way to death and rebirth.
The Three Fates – Also called the Moerae, Moirae or Parcae or Klothes – Spinners of the thread of life. Chthonic’ Goddesses, who determined the beginning, your predestined life and its end, were the personifications of fate.
The role of the Moirai was to ensure that every being, mortal and divine, fulfilled their destiny as assigned by the laws of the universe. For mortals, this destiny spanned their entire lives and was represented as a thread spun from a spindle.
The concept of a universal principle of natural order and balance is similar to similar concepts in other cultures such as the Vedic Ŗta, the Zoroastrian Avestan Asha and the Egyptian Maat.
This triad of three women as diets/matrons/witches, which is found in myths in different cultures, can be found in Greek, Roman, Slavic, Norse, Germanic stories, in ancient and modern paganism, and originated in Proto-Indo-European culture.
In most myths, fate was eternal and considered more powerful than most gods. No other god had the right or power to change their decisions.
The priests and servants in the service of these divine sisters of destiny were in fact oracles, seers and prophets.
The three fates :
– Klotho (Birth), ‘the spinner’,
who spun the thread of life, for the things ‘that were’.
– Lachesis (Life), ‘the divider’,
who measured the thread and thus decided how long one had left to live,
for the things ‘which are’.
– Atropos (Death), ‘the inescapable one’,
who cut a man’s thread when his time came, for the things ‘which shall be’.
In the Edda (Nordic mythology) they were called as follows:
– Urd (‘primal’ in the sense of fate or earth)
– Verdandi or Werdandi (the essence or being)
– Skuld (need).
The Three Fates
by Alexander Rothaug, Austria
The Three Fates
by Aegidius Sadeler, Antwerp
Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, the Netherlands
16th c. AD.
The Triumph of Death, or the 3 Fates
The three Fates, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, who spin, pull and cut the thread of life, represent death in this tapestry as they triumph over the fallen body of chastity.
Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
‘Presumed Social Identity of the Occupants of Late Third Millennium BC Alacahöyük and Horoztepe “Royal Tombs”‘, by Jak Yakar in ‘The Journal of Archaeomythology’
‘Essai sur le tissage en Mésopotamie’, by Catherine Breniquet
‘Unraveling the Enigma of the Bi: The Spindle whorl as the model of the ritual disk’, by Jean M. Green
‘The Three Fates’, by Aegidius Sadeler
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