The Weft of Old Europe
We must refocus our collective memory. The necessity of this has never been greater as we discover that the path of ‘progress’ is extinguishing the very conditions for life on earth.
- Marija Gimbutas, The Civilization of the Goddess
Here is a wild idea, a needle to mend a hole inside, a thread to reweave our collective memory. I believe that Baba Yaga—the old woman who lives in a bone house with chicken feet, who travels through the night in a mortar and pestle—is at least as old as the Neolithic. She is a thread stretching back through time, from here to the spindles and temple fires of Old Europe (the civilization so-named by Lithuanian archaeologist Marija Gimbutas*). I believe there are threads hidden in plain sight in fairy-tale and myth that unwind back through time, that reveal the dark, beautiful streams of a European heritage older than patriarchy, older than thunder-gods and warlords, as old as the red ochre lionesses and holy vulvas of the Ice Age caves.
In this second Witchlines unit, we will attempt to unravel the weave of patriarchy from three old stories, and examine what we are left with—a luminous spool of gold extending back through the ages..
Together we will explore the Hellenic Greek myth of Ariadne and the Minotaur, a Russian Baba Yaga tale known as The Frog Princess, and the Scandinavian fairy tale The White Bear King Valemon. We will be, in a sense, excavating these fairy tales, becoming archaeologists of symbol, theme and memory.
This is possibly a foolhardy undertaking. Surely nothing like this can ever be proved. But it can be felt, observed, explored, intuited. I believe that these threads are still stitched deep through our dreams as well as the stories that we’ve inherited as Western fairytale and myth. They reach back through time, beyond the colonization of the "New World," beyond the burning of witches across the European continent, beyond the Roman legions who spread their law through the wild tribes of mountain, valley and island, deeper than classical Greece and the so-called intellectual foundations of the Western world, beyond the millennium of migration, violence and language change brought by Indo-European speakers from the steppes—beyond the creation stories that say two brothers who stole a sacred cow created the universe, or that the bodies of women were made from the bones or thighs or skulls of men. Still deeper the threads twine, right back to the vessels of Old Europe, right back to the hearthstones of women and men who, for all their human flaws, knew to worship first above all things the regenerative forces of the earth, and who had done so since the first lions were painted on the walls of caves.
These are the witchlines. We are weavers, following the threads back through time so that they can be respun in our psyches, our bodies and our world. So that we can reweave our collective memory, and spin a wiser future.
* see main website page for more information about Gimbutas and her work
REGISTRATION DETAILS BELOW
The Magic Circle, by John Waterhouse
The course will consist of 3 two week units on each of the stories, followed by an optional final project during the final two weeks in which you pick your own fairytale to excavate and share.
There will be an online forum, as in UNIT 1 (you will be able to view the discussions from UNIT 1), in which I will post guided reading questions and share my own reflections and a summary of the readings at the end of each two-week unit. Any and all levels of participation encouraged!
June 7th—June 20th:
Ariadne & the Minotaur: unspooling the threads through the labyrinths of time; Minoan Crete and the Hellenic inheritance of Old Europe; the sacred bull, the horns of plenty, daughters of the moon, the Sacred Marriage and the fecund earth
June 21st—July 4th:
The Frog Princess (A Baba Yaga Tale): the dancing Bird-Snake Goddess of life, death and rebirth; eggs, bones, and shedding skins; women's rites, witch's potions, shapeshifting and the power of night
White Bear King Valemon: the golden wreath of longing; the bear-husband and the wild man of the woods; Freyja, troll-women, the völva and the runic scripts; mountaintop sanctuaries, tending the sacred fire
July 9th—August 2nd: Independent fairy-tale excavation project, with results posted by August 2nd to share with all!
NOTE: For those who did not participate in Witchlines, UNIT 1, I will strongly suggest reading The Living Goddess in addition to the course work. All other readings will be sent out to you as pdfs.
Books I may draw from include:
The Dancing Goddesses, by Elizabeth Wayland Barber
Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter, by Carl Kerényi
The White Goddess, by Robert Graves
Baba Yaga: The Ambiguous Mother and Witch of Russian Folktale, by Andreas Johns
Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath, by Carl Ginzburg
Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits, by Emma Wilby
The Well of Remembrance: Rediscovering the Earth Wisdom Myths of Northern Europe, by Ralph Metzner
Sliding scale or payment plans are available upon request! Just email me at sylvia.linsteadt <at> gmail.com and we can work something out.
IN PERSON COURSE
<< postponed >>
Our in-person course will meet in a very special new workshop space, my beloved handmade Spanish yurt, here in the bishop pinewood of Inverness, California. We will meet from 10:00 am to 3:30 pm on four Saturdays (dates below), with a half-hour lunch break. In the morning we will dive into a deep and lively discussion of the material together. In the afternoon, we will try our hands at making thread, bringing our studies into our fingers and getting the spin of the ages, the dye of history, and the warp and weft of Old Europe, into our bodies. We will follow the same rough guideline for readings as the online course, and share the discussion forum, but our anchor will be our in-person sessions.
June 10th—Ariadne and the Minotaur; learning to spin with the drop spindle
July 1st— The Frog Princess (Baba Yaga); an outdoor dye vat demonstration with local plants
July 22nd— White Bear King Valemon; basic weaving on small tapestry looms
August 5th— Final Fairytale Excavation projects, and time to finish weaving, spin, or gather dye plants