Weaving a Fabric of Inclusion

by Andrew Watt

One of the items on display here at A Parliament of the World’s Religions is Esther Bryan’s Quilt of Belonging. Consisting of 263 hexagonal frames for 263 embroidered and textile blocks, the quilt is a kind of self-portrait of Canada at the dawning of the Christian Era’s second millennium: there is one block for each of Canada’s First Nations, and one block for each nation of the wider world whose immigrants have come to Canada. It took six and a half years to create. Members of each immigrant group and First Nation worked on the block representing their community, some only agreeing after long periods of negotiation and gradual or grudging trust-building. One nation, San Marino, is represented by only one person in all of Canada, while other blocks represent thousands of people and their descendants. One two-year-old sewed a couple of stitches, while a 92-year-old had to be helped to hold the embroidery needle between trembling fingers. Just outside the display area, several massive crates with giant foam rollers inside hold the Quilt on its travels around Canada — which have already taken it enough miles to go from Earth to the Moon five times. Listening to Ms. Bryan talk about the creation of the quilt left me with the impression that the Quilt of Belonging is not simply a quilt: it is a treasure-house of stories.

The Quilt is currently on display on the first floor of the North Building. It’s nearly impossible to take in all at once — the ribbon of color that forms the upper edge creates a rainbow of extraordinary intensity. Yet as one approaches, the appearance of continuum dissolves into a formula of precise strips of color all down the length of the hall. Beneath

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Photo by Miriam Klamkin

these ribbons of hue in harmonious order are the Nations. The eye catches on San Marino, and then on the Tlinglit First Nation. One has to go and seek out countries of one’s own national origin: perhaps Great Britain, perhaps France. The Diné come into view, and then perhaps Thailand. Malayasia and Tonga and Cuba appear. The Labradorans and the Dakota and the Haida.

It’s the opposite of erasure.

And then something curious happens. You stop seeing the names of countries, and you start looking at the artistry, at the needlework, at the overarching structure of the quilt. You start to see the heavy tassels of yarn along the bottom. You start seeing how the fabric pulls against the stitch-work here and there. You begin to imagine women and men sitting with Esther Bryan in kitchens and living rooms, all across Canada, as she gently but deliberately earned their trust, came into their communities, and helped them stitch a quilt block. This pull here was a stab through the textile by an untrained hand; that one over there is a daughter guiding her mother’s hands that are starting to lose a battle with arthritis; these interwoven threads were stained by the tears of a refugee remembering their homeland. You start to see those big crates carrying the quilt on the back of a cargo skid pulled by a ski-doo across the ice for a display in the far north, or hauled onto a ferry for a showing on Prince Edward Island. You imagine careful hands unrolling it from its crate for the first time, and staring in wonder at a picture of their homeland for the first time.

And then you, the viewer, start to cry.

You become one with the stories that you see, hear, and imagine in the great quilt before you. You, in a sudden moment, find yourself drawn into the story of Canada, even as a visitor, you find yourself wrapped in all the tales of wonder and heartbreak and hope and tragedy and dignity that are caught up in this quilt, tangled together in its threads and in its fabric.

You are in the presence of a relic. A medicine, in a sense. An object that has been made holy by the hands that have made it, and the stories that have been woven into it, and

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Photo by Miriam Klamkin

the community that has chosen to honor it. An emblem of Canada — not its government, not its national presence on an international stage — but of its people and its common life.

So many rooms and spaces at the Parliament are barren and devoid of symbolism. It’s a conference center, of course — part of the very nature of the spaces within it is that they are non-descript and easily shifted from one purpose to another and another. At the same time, though, the Quilt of Belonging shows a portrait of grace: a nation of nations, a country of countries, at peace with itself and with its neighbors.

And simply by viewing the quilt with your other eyes, you feel the potential for welcome and trust, the gracious hospitality, and the growing strength, of this year’s host nation for the Parliament.

EarthSpirit is at A Parliament of the World’s Religions this week in Toronto!  You can find more updates here and on our Facebook page.  

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Weaving

This beautiful art was made by community member Kate Richardson, who blogs her daily practice of drawing at Eyespider.  She tells us it was inspired by the web at Rites of Spring and by the wintery season in which she created it.

Weavers, weavers, we are weaving the web of life!

by Kate Richardson

by Kate Richardson

Searching for Symbolic Identity


by Martin Bridge

3 views of goddess carving by Martin Bridge
The experience of Spirit, of Magic, of the transcendent far outweighs the importance of understanding it. Those who have attended one of the Art Salon events at either “Rites of Spring” or “A Feast of Lights” will no doubt have heard me speak to the importance of the yearlong study of “Anamanta” and the effect it had on my artwork. My work became much more abstract for numerous reasons, the first and foremost is the emphasis placed on experience.

One of the other essential aspects of this shift is that I feel like the illustrative quality of much Pagan Artwork that depicts spiritual or deific forces often trivializes these entities. It also sets unrealistic expectations in seekers, leaving some people searching for grand visions of towering White Stags emerging from the perimeter of a Stone circle that has materialized around them or a Silver clad Goddess descending from the moon. While we wait for these experiences we may miss the more subtle (and more frequent) expressions of spirit.

As EarthSpirit has been evolving, how the community defines itself changes as well. Even the slight change in the language in describing “Rites of Spring’ from “A Pagan Celebration” to “A Celebration of the Sacred Earth”, is a strong indication of it’s individuality and uniqueness that has been shaped by it’s history. One of the main reasons for initiating the Art Salons was to give the visual artists within our community a chance to share and talk about their work while exploring how we can better integrate what we do into the rituals and evolving traditions of the community. This also created the opportunity to start to talk about how what we put forward visually describes and defines who we are. A related area that I am trying to explore, in my own work as well as in groups like the Spider Clan at “Twilight Covening” is to look at the symbols we use in our art and ritual working.

I feel a bit of an internal tug of war when I think about the use of symbols in relationship to my magical work. I at once feel a strong resonance with the power of ancient symbols from times long past and foreign cultures and also a strong desire to move away from the cultural appropriation, editorial revival and sometimes direct misuse of symbols that I see within the greater neo-pagan movement.

Of Depicting the Goddess

For years I have not chosen goddess forms or imagery for any of my work. It took a comment from a friend to draw my attention to this and I realized that there was a subconscious choice to stay away from them as I feel there is a wide array (bordering on a surplus) in contemporary neo-pagan artwork and I didn’t feel like I had any particular insight or anything remotely original to bring into the mix. I didn’t want to work on the subject(s) simply because of other people’s potential interest in it.

It was not until I spent a weekend in my great Uncle Clark Fitz-Gerald’s studio with his son Stephen that I chose to do a small venus form that was partially inspired by that friend’s comment and almost challenge to work in a more feminine quality (even in my abstract work). And largely inspired by my Great uncle’s own interest in the Iconic “Venus” forms and his collection of replicas of Neolithic and early European goddess forms and his own renditions including the comical “Venus of Bucksport.” His interest in these forms are similar to my own, finding the simple, more iconic and abstract forms some of the most compelling images of the divine feminine.

This particular rendition was carved primarily at Twilight Covening. One of the predominant themes that was held through the visioning ritual last year was abundance, in particular abundance of what we need. This tied in closely with the story of part of the carving’s creation.

“This tree was cut five months ago and this segment left behind. Rather than leaving it to rot I chose to make something of it. When I began my work I had a clear image of what I wanted it to shape but I was working with haste and accidentally fractured a part of the wood. Due to my carelessness I had lost an essential part of the wood and I would be unable to create the form I had originally envisioned.”

“At that point I was left with two options: abandon my work and leave what remains to rot. Or to continue, working with prudence, and though I recognize that no mater what I do I would not be able to shape the form I had originally envisioned that I could still shape a work of beauty with what I did have.”

Our expectations and dreams sometime cloud us from seeing the beauty of a more simple way of being.

Some of the other more significant aspects of this piece are that it was shaped from the base of the tree that provided the Maypole used at Rites of Spring 2008. Also the beadwork adorning her form was done with patterns, most of which arose from this past Spider Clan’s work in exploring symbols relating to abundance. This has an important connection to the second piece I will describe here.

Energies of Abundance

Abundance painting by Martin Bridge
This painting grew directly out of the clan work at Twilight Covening 2008. One of the predominant energies we were exploring was that of Abundance. Long before the event we were sensing the growing sentiment of Lack, as people were wrestling with the idea of travel primarily due to high gas costs. Little did we know as we chose this as one of the energies to explore that the event would be precipitated in less than a month with the banking collapse that lead to the current recession we are experiencing.

While human markets were crashing the climatic conditions yielded a bumper crop of apples in the Northeast. Apple trees were dropping branches under the weight of this years fruiting, one person I spoke with mentioned that it was the greatest crop he had seen on the trees in his memory of approximately 80 years.

Over the years of the Spider Clan’s work we have seen a remarkable co-incidence of multiple persons conjuring similar representations when asked to visually depict something symbolic of a particular energy or principle. This year one of the most predominant images that appeared in conjunction with the idea of abundance was that of a fruiting tree, providing enough to be taken and still to return to the earth continuing to provide for future generations. As we distilled and simplified the form the symbol utilized in this composition was what resulted.

The composition of this piece is one frequently repeated in my work, with a central symbol centered below two circular forms suggestive of eyes – a universal symbols for consciousness. In this case it was considering the extreme version of animistic philosophy that even ideas and concepts can have a spirit or consciousness guiding them.

My hope is that as we continue such exploration that our community can develop it’s own symbolic/visual identity and we can begin to rely less and less on external, adopted (or appropriated) symbols.

I invite you to play with and utilize this symbol in any way you can utilize it in line with its original intention.

(Go to http://martin.ritualarts.org to learn more about Martin and see his artwork.)