Grandmother Patches

We were going to do a “Grandmother Ceremony” at Neskaya in May.  One of our dancer/teachers was going to be 70 this May, so she spent a lot of time putting together the event.  Alas, two of the four of us had to drop out at the last minute, one because of a death and the other because of a car accident.  So we had to cancel, hoping to reschedule in the fall.

Part of the preparation for the ceremony was to create a number of cloth patches of significant times in our life.  I had almost finished sewing mine when I heard about the cancellation.  Because it was possible that some people hadn’t got the message, I said I would go over to Neskaya and wait.  I didn’t want to be alone, so I asked a friend, and three other women showed up.  We ate lunch, did some dancing, and then I told the story of my patches.  Actually telling the story to witnesses made it much more real.  I then told it to other friends, and my therapists, and somehow, working with the the patches made possible a revolutionary change in my life.  For the first time I saw my life as a whole.  Not a creative life hampered by PTSD, but the creativity and the trauma were interwoven somehow.  Not something I can explain intellectually.

Here are the patches and their story.


On the righthand side, the patches start with a galaxy, then Stonehenge, then Neskaya, and the Red Woman in the center.

On the lefthand side, they start with nature, then my journal (half on the back and half on the front) followed by Journey Into Courage, also ending next to the Red Woman.

Above the Neskaya patch is one which is a drawing that shows the geometry of the building on the ground, which also matches the Sacred Calendar to some extent.  Inside the figure are eight tiny dancers (worry dolls from Guatemala) representing Sacred Circle Dance, and the eight holidays of the Sacred Calendar.

Above the Journey patch is part of a painting I did to represent words written in blood. The story I told from the stage in Journey is about myself, during my time of greatest pain, cutting myself and writing with the blood.

Between these two patches is a picture of “Little Jenny with the Dar Gorani Look.”

At the top is a picture of a tree with seven roots forming the trunk.  The seven roots refer to the seven pictures on the bottom.

Finally, on the back, joining the two lines of patches, is a picture of Maypole dancers.

The story of each patch and how they relate:

Right Side: ASTRONOMY — at age 14 I was out in a frozen field with a flashlight and a star chart, trying to figure out which was the Big Dipper.  I went on to major in Astronomy, visit Stonehenge for the first time in 1964, became interested in archeoastronomy, ancient astronomers, and observing the sky with the naked eye.

STONEHENGE — understanding that the people who built it had excellent knowledge of the motions of the sun and moon.  The “Station Stone Rectangle,” earlier than the familiar circle, is aligned with the summer solstice rising of the sun (the short sides) which is also the northernmost rising of the sun, and with the major standstill of the moon (the long sides) which is the southernmost rising of the Moon.  That these two sight lines are 90° apart is a function of the latitude.  A few miles north or south, and these lines would no longer be at a right angle.  The location of the moon’s minor standstill, which the sun passes through on its way between the solstices and equinoxes, determines the dates of the cross-quarter days, the four intermediate holidays in the sacred calendar.

NESKAYA was built as sacred space for movement disciplines that are also spiritual practices.  One of the things we do here is celebrate the holidays of the Old Nature Religion of Western Europe, which are the solstices, equinoxes, and cross-quarter days.

The GEOMETRY patch is showing these relationships more clearly.

Left side:

NATURE was my refuge growing up in an alcoholic family.  There were acres of woods behind our house, and I spent a lot of time out there.

My JOURNAL was started when I was a teenager and lost the boy I had a crush on to my best friend.  I wrote to ease my pain.  At first I didn’t write a lot, didn’t write everyday, but gradually I put in more and more.  I would also go back and read them over, learning in the process.  At one point I read Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, and began to write 3 pages a day.  Later I started typing everything up, intending to use what I had written as raw material for a book.  In a talk with my ex, I saw that the real reason I was trying to produce a book was “to prove that I deserve to live, even though my parents were disappointed in me.”  I was horrified at seeing my motivation.  I immediately stopped typing up what I had written.  I thought I might stop writing, but the practice had become very important.  I started typing up the “Guidance” passages in 2000, and gradually typed up more.  Now I type up about half of what I wrote, and I use it as raw material for my blog.

In JOURNEY INTO COURAGE my opening monologue was about writing in my journal all the reasons I was deeply unhappy with myself.  Finally I became so desperate that I took a razor blade and cut myself and wrote with the blood.  During the five year period in my life when I was cutting myself I made several paintings and also wrote words.  One of the pieces I still have.  It says “Who if I cried out would hear me amid the hosts of angels.”  It is the first line of Rilke’s First Elegy.

The patch with WHO IF written in very wet red paint, is about that piece of writing.  It was only very recently that I realized that I cut myself because it was a real pain, I could see that I was in pain.  My emotional and spiritual pain was invisible, no one saw it or asked about it, so it seemed that it wasn’t real.  Cutting myself was real. “Who if I cried out would hear me amid the hosts of angels” expresses very well how I felt as a traumatized infant.   “I cry out but no one hears me.”

The Red Woman is a quite extraordinary painting I did — or maybe it’s truer to say that it painted itself through me — at Aviva Gold’s “Painting from the Source.”  The first version was a series of concentric circles, like the stumps of trees that had been cut down.  I had seen those stumps at a retreat center and been painfully moved.  But the painting of concentric rings didn’t go anywhere.  I had a body work session, and the masseuse told me that the energy was stuck in my elbows.  She said I should use my hands.  But I was using my hands.  Then I realized that actually I was asking myself “What would look good.”  So I blindfolded myself with a bandana, filled a paper plate with different colors of paint, and began to paint with my hands, not my eyes.  Of course very soon I wanted to see what was happening, but since I had learned not to ask “What looks good,” all went well.  I didn’t see the woman’s figure in the center, until I came back after a break.  I just made her hand and her feet and her face more clear.  The box on the right side happened because on the wall where my first piece of paper had been taped there was a square plate with light switches.  So I made a box.  The first thing I put in it was a small statue of Tara, next the seedpod of a sumac.  The painting hung on the east wall at Neskaya for a few months every year, so the contents of the box changed periodically.  The next item was a dried pomegranate skin, cut open, with red beads held together with black yarn to represent the seeds.  Recently, I put a big artificial Red Rose in the box.  When I started thinking about the patch, I realized that the box was an essential part of the painting, tho I couldn’t say why.  I thought about the different things I had put in it, and realized that the pomegranate is from the story of Demeter’s daughter Persephone.  There’s an earlier version from before the patriarchal version that is familiar to us.  In the early version, the maiden, Kore, goes down by her own choice, somewhat like Inanna “casting her ear to the great below.”  Like Inanna, she spends time in the dark underground world, and when she comes back up, she is now Persephone, Queen of the Underworld.  I too have spent a long time in the darkness.  I didn’t see myself as having come up, and certainly not as “Queen,” but this work with the patches has shown me that I have demonstrated some form of mastery of the underworld.  Somewhat like a PhD.  You won’t stop working on the subject, but you are now recognized as having reached an important stage.  This is what “Grandmother” means in the ceremony.  You are now an Elder.  I am now an Elder.

Above the RED WOMAN is LITTLE JENNY.  The “Dar Gorani look” is from a dance we do to Armenian music, which we think of as the prayer to the lost homeland. There is a gesture of looking off into the distance, followed by a gesture that says “but we are here.”  The copy of Little Jenny that I had been using is a copy of a copy, not a high quality image, but I had lost the original photograph.  Recently, going through all my pictures, I found an original photograph.  I have been looking at her a lot, and what I see is not just the look of seeing a better way to live but she’s not there now, I also see resolve.  She is determined to get there.

Above LITTLE JENNY is a patch of a tree.  This is the only patch whose image just came to me.  It has seven roots, one for each of the lower patches.  I actually made it in fabric, but the completed patch was much too big to fit the space, so I took a picture and made a patch from that.  I see now that this tree represents my creativity as not being cut off by trauma, like the first picture under the RED WOMAN, but instead making a strong massive trunk and branches which are putting out lush green leaves, even though they are very small.  It strikes me as I am writing, that the big trunk represents the depth and richness that the leaves can draw upon.

There were also pockets.  The one that is part of WHOIF happened because I ironed the patch too close to the selvage, and had to fold it to make it big enough.  The pocket holds the quote from Rilke, a poem I wrote called Blood and Stone, and a quote from Jacqueline Winspear about Soldiers with PTSD: “There were men who … would cause themselves injury, as if to feel, physically, the wounds that lay in their souls.”

The one that was made by the STONEHENGE patch was “accidental.”  I had somehow sewed the other patches in such a way that there wasn’t room for the whole STONEHENGE patch.  I was very upset about it, until I was showing the dress to my friend Lynelle, and she saw it as a pocket.  Of course!  That gave me a place to put the quote from my book about a solstice celebration at Stonehenge, and that quote goes with the MAYPOLE patch.  The picture is actually of dancers on the banks of the Charles River on May 1, the traditional cross-quarter day of Beltane.

The MAYPOLE patch happened because Erica, when shown the patches, wondered if I would join them where they come close together on the back of the skirt.  The quote and the picture immediately appeared together as they do in Sacred Sites.  The quote is because I had started to write a description of a celebration at Stonehenge early in its history.  As I wrote about the people my heart went out to them.  The rest of the passage wrote itself.

In the pale light before dawn, the people begin to gather.  Wearing animal skins and festive clothing, carrying drums, flutes, tambourines.  Dogs bark, children laugh.  There is a moment of solemn silence at the sun’s first flash.  Then they will sing the ancient songs, and take hands for the thousand year old dances — the people from the north and from the south, the people from the old world and from the new.   —O my people, what a sense of loss I feel that I am not there too.  Are you the past or the future?  —We are both the past and the future, we are where the circle meets itself, never fear, you too are enclosed by the circle.

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