The Hanged Man: Part 7: Beltane
Post #60: In which teachers and guides appear ...
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The following morning Minerva took Jenny to a room with an eastern exposure. Sunlight fell through the windows onto a wood floor the color of glossy honey. Jenny saw a spinning wheel, a loom, a wooden stool the same color as the floor, and a long worktable against a wall. The windows opened onto the courtyard garden.
“This will be your classroom. We can be alone here. You may join in the weaving room anytime you want, but your work won’t be quite like the work of the others and I want you to be private when you want.”
“It’s beautiful. Thank you so much!”
“You’re welcome. Are you ready to work today?”
“I’m a business woman, Jenny. That means I know what things are worth. By things I mean what we buy and sell but also people and experience. Learning is worth little if the student has no power to shape it to her own needs and desires. We haven’t talked much, you and I, but you already seem to know what you want and need. I think you hope I can teach you certain things?” She raised her eyebrow and Jenny nodded.
“I propose this morning you tell me about yourself. Tell me about this spinning of yours. Help me understand what you’ve learned so far. After you’ve done that, I want you to write down, in fifty words or less, what you bring to the world.”
Jenny was astonished. “What I bring to the world,” she repeated. “Not much.”
“Is that so?” Minerva gave her a sharp look. “It seems to me you possess certain unique talents.”
Jenny shook her head, wordless.
“Well, it should be an easy assignment, then. Perhaps you’ll need fewer than fifty words.”
“I’m a spinner — I think,” said Jenny. “That’s about it.”
“Very well. Write that, then.”
“Who are you?” Baba Yaga sneered in her memory. “What are you?”
“All right,” said Jenny.
“Good.” Now sit down here in the sun with me and tell me your story…”
And Jenny did.
Two mornings later they met again. Jenny was ready and read aloud her fifty words about what she brought to the world.
“My name is Jenny. I can spin straw into gold, but the gold disappears if it’s taken from me, so I can’t make anyone rich. I’m good at embroidery and using the gold thread I spin to decorate cloth. I can weave a little.”
“Good,” said Minerva. “What did you learn?”
“I learned I don’t think I’m worth much,” said Jenny, “and I feel irritated by it. I don’t really believe everyone has more value than I do. It feels more like a bad habit, or even a lazy habit, than a considered assessment. I didn’t expect to feel that.”
“Sometimes taking things out of our heads and putting them on paper helps us see more objectively,” said Minerva.
“Fifty words sounded like a lot, but they were used up fast. When I read what I first wrote, I found myself crossing things out and trying to choose better words.”
“More specific. Stronger. It was almost as though I was writing for someone else, a friend, who I supported and liked and believed in. I didn’t think I cared that much about showing myself in a good light.”
“A good light or a more realistic light?”
Jenny looked away. “Even now, I feel angry when I read it. It still sounds weak and tentative. Why don’t I believe in myself?”
“A good question. Have you felt that others believed in you?
“Perhaps that answers your question.”
Jenny began to recognize the shape of her life in Griffin Town. She spent mornings talking to Minerva, who encouraged Jenny to use her notebook for reflection, as well as making notes. It seemed to Jenny many of these hours of exploration and discussion had nothing to do with spinning, weaving or dyeing, but she began to understand Minerva was teaching her how to manage her life in new ways. Jenny was learning about herself.
In the afternoons, Jenny joined the other girls in the large weaving room. To her relief, Minerva demonstrated no interest in her ability to spin from anything nontraditional. Minerva paired her with girls skilled at spinning with various kinds of animal hair and fibers, and in this way she grew comfortable with hemp, linen, flax, cotton, silk and many kinds of fleece and wool. She also made friends, though most of the other students seemed young and inexperienced to her. She asked questions and listened but said little about herself and nothing about her short marriage, Rumpelstiltskin, or her initiation at Ostara. These girls were not like Rosie and Vasilisa. Still, she made friends to eat with, chat with, work with, and giggle with before the lights went out in the dormitory. She was relieved to find Minerva didn’t treat her differently from the others.
Jenny let it be known she was a beginner and her mornings with Minerva were private tutoring to help her catch up. The other students accepted this without comment or much interest.
During her time with the other girls, she was introduced to each fiber, learned where it grew and how, its method of harvest and what its properties were. Samples were heaped in a basket on her worktable, and one of Jenny’s favorite exercises was to close her eyes and identify each fiber by texture, smell and some indefinable sense of unique life clinging to it. This she couldn’t explain, even to herself. It was the deep knowing she had used to spin gold out of straw that first time as Rumpelstiltskin talked in his low voice about the grass from seed to harvest.
As the girls and Minerva shared the story of each fiber, Jenny later heard it told again in the dwarve’s voice as she spun, and often the old cradle song rose up in her mind and flowed through her fingers, though she never sang it aloud in the weaving room.
Once she knew the story of the plant or animal, its scent and texture, the thinking part of her stepped aside and she became the whirring wheel; the turning spindle; the flowing, twisting fiber moving through her fingers. In these hours, everything around her faded away, time disappeared and she roamed, free and confident, through a world of her own making.
Other times, though, her fingers were clumsy. The thread broke or formed in uneven lumps. The wheel didn’t sing sweetly. In these times, she doubted. She remembered Baba Yaga’s words, “You’re nothing! What can you do?” and feared it was so. She was nothing and she’d never be a true spinner. She felt certain the others watched her incompetence and wondered why Minerva allowed such a clumsy, unskilled student into the workshop. What had the Baba said? She’d called her a cuckoo, yes, a “cuckoo in the nest.” The good days, the powerful days, were a lie, a lucky chance, a pretense succeeding only temporarily. This is who she truly was, fumbling, uncertain, holding back tears, destroyer rather than creator.
After these times, she crept out to the courtyard garden and cried, solitary among the plants and flowers.
One morning Minerva asked her to define integrity.
Jenny thought. “Is it doing what you’ll say you’ll do?”
“Yes. That’s part of it. Can you think of more?”
She thought of Rumpelstiltskin with the usual pang. “It’s being trustworthy.”
“Good. Trustworthy in the sense that others can trust you, or that you can trust yourself?”
“Both. It must be both. Wait — trusting yourself is the most important, though. That happens first.” She thought of her father. “Others may not trust if we don’t do what they want us to do, but that’s not about our trust in ourselves.”
“That’s an important distinction. The simplest way to think about integrity is wholeness, completeness. A person with integrity is everything they are and nothing they aren’t.”
Jenny thought of the ‘Me! Not Me! game she’d played with Rosie, Vasilisa and the dwarves at the long wooden kitchen table.
“You must to know who you are, then,” she said.
“Exactly. You need good power management.”
“Pick up a hank of flax.”
Jenny stooped to the basket at her feet and did so.
“Close your eyes. Now, you know that’s flax because your eyes, fingers and nose tell you so, but you recognize it more deeply than your senses do. You feel the power of its life — and death. Another word for power might be…energy, perhaps.”
“Yes,” said Jenny. “I never know quite how to put that kind of knowing into words.”
“Are you doubtful about your power to recognize one hank from another in this basket?”
“Absolutely not,” said Jenny with great confidence. “Once I’ve learned them, I know them.”
“Your power is intact. You trust yourself. You know what you can do.”
“Sometimes when you spin it feels like that.”
“Yes. But sometimes I can’t get to that feeling. I can’t seem to do anything right.”
“What happens? Why do those times come when you know what you can do and have done it so many times?”
“I don’t know,” Jenny said, frustrated, “Sometimes I just can’t do it.”
“Is it that you can’t do it at times, or that you don’t do it at times?”
“I’m not sure. Doesn’t it amount to the same thing?”
“No. I’ve seen you spin as though it was the one task in the world you were born to do. It’s not only that you’re fast and skilled. You work with your material in a way that brings life to it and to you. So, I know you can do it. What I want to know is why sometimes you don’t do it. What needs to happen in order for you to spin with the same confidence you feel when you identify the hanks in the basket?”
“Am I in my own way somehow? Like being in that net? It doesn’t let me move freely?”
“Does that feel true?”
Jenny thought. She turned the hank of flax over and over in her hands, dropped it back in the basket, closed her eyes, stirred the bundles of yarn and chose another. She sat with her eyes closed, feeling the yarn between her fingers. It was alpaca.
“It feels true. If I wove the net, then…”
“Then you can unmake it,” said Minerva. “You will. It’s a simple problem of power management, Jenny.”
“Integrity,” Minerva agreed. “You’re a spinner. You’re not less than that. I suspect you’ll make the word “spinner” much bigger for me than it’s ever been before, but certainly not less. Right now, something is in the way of you living completely in the integrity of being a spinner.”
“I don’t think that net was real,” said Jenny. “I think Baba Yaga somehow pulled it out of my head and gave it a real form to show me how dangerous it is, but I think it’s a really just a net of thoughts, not something I did with my hands. She told me what the strands were made of, and they were all things in my head.”
“Can you remember them?”
“I think so. At least some of them. One was “being good.”
Minerva laughed. “The thing that irritates Baba Yaga the most! She would disinter that!
Jenny laughed too, a little unwillingly.
Minerva met her eyes with amused understanding. “She’s not gentle, is she?”
“It’s not her job to be gentle. Some lessons can’t be gently learned.”
“I suppose not.” Jenny sighed.
“What else can you remember? Let’s look at this net of yours more closely—see what it’s made of.”
Jenny shut her eyes and remembered the firelit scene, the heavy smell of the burning herb Artemis had put on the fire and the despair that had filled her because the beautiful, magical Firebird was dead and it was her fault.
“Being good,” she said, “no need, trying to please, but that’s like being good, isn’t it?”
“Usually being good is about what other people think is good,” said Minerva dryly.
“Yes, she talked about other people. ‘They.’ What they say, what they expect, what they teach and their rules.”
“Notice who holds the power in that language. They, not you.”
“What else?” said Jenny. “There was more. Oh, I know! Hunger. Soul hunger and heart hunger. And then injured instinct. I remember that, because Baba Yaga talked about Vasilisa’s doll.”
“Excellent!” Minerva looked at Jenny over the glasses on the end of her nose, her grey eyes sharp and clear. “Baba Yaga practically gave us a map!”
Outside the windows fog and misting rain softened the view. Their chairs faced the window, side by side.
“Let’s talk about needs,” said Minerva. “What can we say we need?”
“Well, things like food, water…”
“Of course. Let’s assume those are present. What else do we need?”
“Interesting. What does safety mean to you?”
Jenny looked out the window at the grey morning. “Well… there’s someone to take care of you, someone you can trust.”
“What does taking care of you look like?”
“Someone who won’t hurt you or abandon you, someone who loves you.”
“Like family or a friend?”
Jenny looked down into her lap, feeling painful tears in her throat. “It’s nice to have…a friend. Not a need, like food and water, but nice.”
“Why do you say it’s not a need?”
“Well, one can be alone. A strong, good person can be alone and doesn’t need to depend…”
Jenny fell silent and watched her falling tears spot her tunic. She rubbed at the spots.
“My dear,” Minerva said. “Don’t you know everyone needs others? Have you ever heard of failure to thrive?”
“No.” Jenny looked up, wiping at her cheeks.
“Babies who receive no human connection don’t grow and develop normally, even with plenty of food and water and a roof over their heads. Sometimes they die. It’s not a question of being dependent on one another. It’s interdependence with one another. We need and are needed in equal measure.”
“It’s not weak to…to want to be loved?”
“It’s essential to love and be loved.”
Jenny looked out at the clinging, cool morning. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes.
“No one ever told me,” she said at last.
“Now you know,” said Minerva. “Does it feel true?”
“It seems obvious, now you’ve said it.”
“Now let’s take it a step further. We all need others, some kind of connection. Think about the connection you felt with your father and your husband -- remind me of his name?”
“Yes. Think about your relationship with those two and compare them to your relationship with Rumpelstiltskin.”
“They weren’t the same at all.”
“Which satisfied your need for love and connection?”
“Rumpelstiltskin. I always knew he loved me. I felt safe with him.”
“Do you think, then, we can say we need healthy connection?”
“Doesn’t ‘we’ include you?”
“Yes. I suppose it does. You mean, it’s okay to want that? Truly?”
“Absolutely. It’s your responsibility to yourself and everyone in your life to create and nurture healthy connection. “Do you regret leaving your father or Hans?”
“No. I feel I should regret it, but I don’t.”
“Going back to the net you wove and what Baba Yaga said, now can you understand the destruction of having no need?”
“I think so. It still seems bad… No, bad isn’t the right word. Dangerous? Yes, it seems dangerous to need, especially other people. When you say we do, though, it feels true.”
“The need for healthy connection starts with yourself,” said Minerva. “You used the word safety. You said safety meant someone who took care of you, someone you could trust.”
“I was thinking of Rumpelstiltskin.”
“I know. But aren’t you the person who can best care for yourself? If you don’t trust yourself, how can you ever feel safe? Can you love yourself for who you truly are, or do you work hard to please yourself?”
“I never thought of it like that,” said Jenny.
“Think of it now. Are you unworthy of love because you can’t feel a pea through a feather bed?”
Jenny laughed. “A feather bed and a mattress,” she reminded.
“Oh dear,” said Minerva. She took off her glasses and polished them. “Where do people get these idiotic ideas?”
“I don’t know.”
“Of course you don’t. Well, never mind. Where were we? Oh yes, connection and being safe. I suggest you consider your relationship with yourself. Is it more like your connection to Rumpelstiltskin or your connection to your father, or to Hans? Think about it for a couple of days. We’ll talk again later in the week.”
(This post was published with Edition #60 of Weaving Webs and Turning Over Stones.)