Thursday, July 17, 2014

Goddess Women Cloth

What a fascinating program we had in June! Mary B. Kelly, artist, professor of art, and author, who now makes her home at Hilton Head SC, shared with us her study of textiles across time and geographic boundaries with a special focus on pattern and design found in various folk cultures' ceremonial cloth.

It was stunning to hear her deep expertise and see her examples of decorative patterns repeating almost exactly in different parts of the world and reoccurring from the earliest time documented to current days.

Ms. Kelly showed us samples of textiles made and used in Russia, Scandinavia, Asia, Europe, and North America that illustrated common folk culture belief systems in protective goddesses who shield women and their children in life and in death.
Mary Kelly
The first two symbols Ms. Kelly introduced us to were: "The Tree of Life" and "Horns". The tree of life image takes many forms -- sometimes it appears with sacred birds. Horns, representing fertility, also are represented in many different ways. Sometimes there are deer with antlers. Sometimes headdresses have horns or spikes at the top.

Trees take many forms but are found in textile designs of folk cultures from Russia, Scandinavia, through Asia, Europe and North America.
Another variation of The Tree of Life
Here there is a central Goddess figure with a horned headdress. Beside and above her are sacred birds with trees coming from their heads and tails. Smaller birds represent children resulting from the good fortune of fertility. Red is a protective color for the user of the cloth -- and the zig-zag design is also a protective feature.
These kinds of designs are found in cloth and clothing that accompany ritual and ceremony marking significant times throughout the lifespan -- births, coming of age, marriage, death. Sometimes a part of a bride's wedding garb becomes a swaddling cloth for her babies and sometimes that same cloth is used to dress her corpse so her ancestors will quickly recognize and welcome her in the after-life.

In some cultures, girls are initiated into womanhood in ceremonies that include robing, or "wounding". In other cultures, girls of a certain age receive and are allowed to wear flounced skirts, believed to make them strong and brave.

Weddings are perhaps where the symbolism of cloth expressing hopes and dreams for the future are most evident to us. Tall headdresses traditionally worn by many goddess deities have been adapted for the familiar bridal veil. In some cultures, including ours, the lifting of the veil is a very dramatic moment in the wedding ceremony. The Zuni (or Hopi indians of America's southwestern deserts) tradition is for the groom to make a wedding cloth for his bride. In the Ukraine, ritual cloth is used to bind the bride and groom's hands together during the wedding ceremony.
This beaded cap is typical of wedding garb in many folk traditions. It has a "horn", protective red is the dominant color, and zig-zag patterns occur in multiple variations. Surely the coins represent wishes for prosperity for the new couple.
Kayleigh could not resist.
This is a 20th century embroidered huipil (blouse) from Mexico. The diamond design at the top is a fertility message and the elongated design at the bottom represents the wearer's ancestors -- so the desire for safety for future generations and past generations is contained in one lovely garment. 

In some folk cultures, even for every-day clothing, red lines and zig-zag patterns are stitched or beaded around every opening of a garment -- around the sleeve cuffs, the neck, the hem. This is to protect the wearer from evil that might enter through these portals.

Red borders and zig-zag variations
Mary Kelly has traveled the world exploring textile traditions and folk lore. In the academic and artistic world, she is recognized for her authority on the goddess motif in textiles and all the rituals associated with it.

Mary Kelly's books include: Goddess Women Cloth A Worldwide Tradition of Making and Using Ritual Textiles, Goddess Embroideries of Eastern Europe, Goddess Embroideries of the Northland, and Embroidering the Goddesses of Old Norway.

Many thanks go to one of our newest members, Andrea Cochran-Pastel for sharing her notes and photos with me (Sandy) as I prepared this post. Andrea is an accomplished photographer and artist, including creative use of fiber. See more her work at .)