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Weaving magic into myths and fairytales

19th October 2016

At EJS there's nothing we love more than magical, intriguing myths and legends. In light of our recent Jacquard Woven scarves, we decided to delve a little deeper into folklore and fairytales, and see how the art of weaving has been portrayed throughout the ages. We love how the ancient act of spinning and textiles has often been a key part of these varied stories. Weaving appears again and again in different types of fairytales, dating back to hundreds, possibly thousands of years ago. Be prepared for some interesting tales you may already know, and some you might not...

Rumpelstiltskin

The famous fairytale by the Grimm Brothers; Rumpelstiltskin encompasses all elements of a fairytale you'd expect. The tale was one collected by the Brothers Grimm from Germany in the 1812 edition of Children's and Household Tales. A miller brags to the king that his daughter can spin straw into gold; of course, this is not possible so she hires an imp to do the work for her. On the third day of spinning, she has nothing to pay her worker with so she is tricked into promising the imp her first child.

In time, the daughter weds the king and their child is soon born. Her worker returns - the queen's sorrow at losing her baby makes him give her a chance to keep the child. So, he gives the queen three days to guess his name - an impossible task, right? Luckily, a messenger discovers the man's name, and when the queen correctly guesses the worker's name as Rumpelstiltskin he becomes so angry that he stomps his foot into the ground and splits himself in half. A slight exaggeration if you ask us...

Left: A still from the American film Rumpelstiltskin (1915) used on the cover of the May 1, 1915 Reel Life magazine. Right: "Gold from Straw," illustration by Anne Anderson (1878-1930).

"She ripped Arachne's work into shreds, and sprinkled her with Hecate's potion, turning her into a spider and cursing her and her descendants to weave for all time."

Athena and Arachne - the weaving contest

Fairytales aren't the only representation of weaving - Greek mythology also has depictions of spinning. In this example, the goddess Arachne was seen as a great weaver, and boasted that her skill was greater than that of Athena. She refused to acknowledge that her skill came, in part at least, from the goddess. Athena took offence and set up a contest between them.

The two began weaving straight away. Athena's weaving depicted different scenarios in which the gods punished mortals for presenting themselves as equals of the gods. Arachne's weaving displayed ways in which gods misled and abused mortals, particularly Zeus, tricking and seducing many women. When Athena saw that Arachne had not only insulted the gods, but done so with skill far superior to her own, she was enraged. She ripped Arachne's work into shreds, and sprinkled her with Hecate's potion, turning her into a spider and cursing her and her descendants to weave for all time.

Left: Arachne and Athene illustration by by Thomas Bulfinch, Giovanni Caselli. Right: Painting of Aracnhe by Paolo Veronese (1520).

The Three Spinners

Tale number 14 from the Grimm Brothers's book Children's and Household Tales. This tale begins with a mother, who is so fed up with her daughter’s laziness and refusal to spin that she begins to beat her. As fate (and storytelling) would have it, the queen was passing by at that moment and questioned the beating. The mother, ashamed of her daughter’s laziness, tells the queen that she had to beat her daughter to stop her from spinning so much. Impressed, the queen takes the girl to the castle to spin for her, completely unaware of the girls laziness.

The queen gives the girl three days to spin a roomful of yarn, with marriage to the prince as the prize and death as the penalty for incompletion. Unable to spin, the girl prepares for her untimely death, but on the third day a group of deformed women come to her window and make her an offer. They will spin for her if they are invited to her wedding to the prince. How could the girl refuse such an offer..?

After lying to the queen and claiming the work as her own, the girl is given to the prince in marriage. At the wedding the prince meets the girls “three aunts” and asks of their deformities. They explain that they got them by spinning, and the prince forbids his new bride from ever spinning again in her life. The moral to this tale? Yep, we're stumped too...

Left: John B Gruelles illustration of The Three Spinners. Right: A modern illustration of the tale by Nadir Quinto (2007).

The Emperor's New Clothes

This classic tale by Hans Christian Anderson is a firm favourite of ours. Published in 1837 and originating from Denmark, this tale follows a vain Emperor, who cares about nothing except wearing and displaying the finest clothes in the kingdom. He searches for a brand new outfit and hires two weavers who promise him the most beautiful suit from a fabric invisible to anyone who is unfit for their profession/position in society. The Emperor's ministers cannot see the clothes themselves, but pretend that they can for fear of appearing unfit, and, of course, the Emperor does the same.

Finally, when the weavers report that the suit is finished, they mime dressing him and send the Emperor on a marching procession before his subjects. The townsfolk play along with the act; not wanting to appear inadequate in front of the Emperor. Unfortunately, a child in the crowd too young to understand the desirability of keeping up the facade, blurts out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all and the cry is taken up by others. The Emperor suspects the assertion is true, but continues the procession nonetheless. Essentially, this tale demonstrates that pride and vanity can have embarrassing consequences...

Left: An illustration of the tale by Vilhelm Pedersen, Andersen's first illustrator. Right: The Emperor’s New Clothes, illustrated by Renáta Fučíková.

"She asked for a mantle made from the fur of every species of bird and animal in the kingdom."

Thousandfurs

Alternatively known as Allerleirauh, this is a lesser known German tale by the Grimm Brothers. A king promised his dying wife that he wouldn't re-marry unless it was to a woman as beautiful as she was. When he searched for a new wife, he realised that only his daughter could match her beauty. The daughter tried to make the wedding impossible; she asked for a mantle made from the fur of every species of bird and animal in the kingdom. To her disappointment, her father provided the coat. So, the night before the wedding, she fled the castle in the mantle, taking with her a gold ring, a gold spindle, and a gold reel.

She ran far away to a different kingdom and slept in a forest there, but the king of that kingdom found her. She asked this king to have pity on her and received a place in his kitchen, and because she gave no name she was called "All-Kinds-of-Fur" (can you guess why?) When the king held a ball, she attended in beautiful disguise, to which the king liked. The following morning, the cook set her to make soup for the king - and she placed her golden ring in the king's soup; the king found it and questioned both the cook and All-Kinds-of-Fur, but nothing was revealed. The next ball, she attended in a different disguise and placed the golden spindle in the king's soup the following day. Again, All-Kinds-of-Fur revealed nothing, but the king grew suspicious of her...

She attended the third ball in a new disguise, during which the king slipped the golden ring on her finger without her noticing. This time, she was not able to get away in time to change prior to soup-making; she was able only to throw her fur mantle over her disguise. Upon delivering the soup, the king caught sight of the ring, and when she tried flee the room her mantle slipped, revealing her disguise. The king understood now that it was All-Kinds-of-Fur, and the two were married.

Left: A stunning illustration of "All-Kinds-of-Fur" from Thousandfurs. Right: Mercer Mayer's portrayal of the daughter hiding in the great forest.

So, how is weaving portrayed in fairytales and myths? Well, it seems weaving and spinning is associated with liars, cheaters and laziness! But don't worry - we can assure you that at EJS, there is none of that involved in making our beautiful Jacquard Woven scarves! Time and patience is what it takes - maybe our fairytale heroes and heroines didn't know that... 

 

Image references

Rumpelstiltskin

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rumpelstiltskin#/media/File:Rumpelstiltskin_(1915)_-_May_1_1915_RL.jpg
https://uk.pinterest.com/pin/414823815652778855/

Arachne and Athena
https://mysticmedusa.com/2015/02/spider-goddess-asteroid-arachne/
http://www.goddess-athena.org/Museum/Temples/Notium/Athena_Arachne_Caselli.html

The Three spinners
https://outsideofparnassus.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/john-b-gruelles-illustration-for-the-three-spinners1.jpg
https://111booksfor2011.wordpress.com/tag/grimms-fairy-tales-thre-three-spinners/

The Emperors new clothes
https://uk.pinterest.com/pin/49680402115088305/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Emperor%27s_New_Clothes#/media/File:Emperor_Clothes_01.jpg

Thousandfurs
https://uk.pinterest.com/pin/231865080786057541/
https://paulinebattell.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/steve-rother-channels-the-group-steve-barbara-rother-lightworker/

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