Sunday, May 6, 2012

Thing Twenty-One: Once Upon a Time

I was a Folklore major in college. Technically, I was a "Folklore and Mythology" concentrator, because we are Harvard, and goddamnit, we will be different from everyone else if we damn well please. I, personally, chose Folklore because I wanted to study folk art and traditional textiles, but I did and do genuinely also love folktales, fairy tales, and yes, mythology.

When it came time to do my thesis, I decided I wanted the subject to be stories in which weaving, spinning, sewing, and other textile work was a feature. Coming up with examples was easy. Spinning has Rumpelstiltskin, who spins straw into gold, Sleeping Beauty, who pricks her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel, Frigga, who spins the clouds, and the Fates, who spin the thread of man's life. Weavers have Arachne's contest with Athena, Penelope, and the Lady of Shalott. There's also the princess from the Six Swans, the con-men from The Emperor's New Clothes, Ariadne and the thread through the labyrinth, and Circe and Calypso. I thought of those off the top of my head, without doing a lick of research.

What took me longer was finding examples from cultures other than those of Europe. Not because they don't exist. They do. There are stories of spiders who weave the world in Native American culture, of Crane Wives who weave their feathers into cloth and Cow-herds who fall in love with Weaver star girls in China. But I couldn't come up with those as readily, because I simply am not as versed in the folktales of those cultures.

I think I can do better.

There are fifty-two weeks in a year. There are hundreds upon hundreds of cultures on our globe. I think it's reasonable for me to commit to finding and learning one folktale from a culture I am unfamiliar with each week. They don't have to be about textiles, like the ones I found for my thesis. They can be anything. But each week needs to be from somewhere new. I can make that effort, to be better connected with the world around me.

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