|The Voynich Manuscript depicts the stages of spinning from distaff to finished spindle.|
The women in the Voynich manuscript are depicted carrying implements that would not appear to belong in a watery cave. Two are from spinning: a drop spindle and a distaff. However, within the context of a ritual revolving around a deity associated with these arts, it makes perfect sense.
There are many old beliefs assigning powerful significance to the drop spindle. Svetlana Zhulnickova relates the following ritual:
There is also a custom in Karelia when a baby reaches the age of 6 months the mother makes a special ritual "banya" (sauna) for him. When people prepare the sauna for the baby they put a spindle into the stove together with firewood, that is because 6 month is the age when baby usually gets the first tooth, and that means [her/his] own soul. "Superstitions about the Spindle in Russian Karelia"
The word distæf in Old English meant literally "flax staff," from dis- "a bunch of flax" and stæf "staff." Because women usually did the spinning, the distaff came to be a symbol for women's work. The word distaff in time took on the meaning "women's work" and later "woman." The noun distaff is rarely used in this way today, but the female members of a family are still referred to as the distaff side.
|Berchta or Perchta, 19th c. engraving by Karl Jauslin|
Which deities were matrons of the art of spinning, weaving, and sewing?
Päivätär ('Maiden of the Sun'), is the goddess of the Sun in Finnish mythology. Described as a great beauty, she owns the silver of the Sun, spins silver yarns, and weaves clothes out of them. In Kalevala, young maidens ask Päivätär to give them some of her silver jewelry and clothes. Not only was Päivätär a goddess—she was the goddess of spinning, and her sister, Kuutar, goddess of the moon, was in charge of weaving.
Frau Bercht, Frau Percht, Striga Holda, Perchta, Frau Holda, and Frau Holle, among others, are names for an ancient deity once worshiped throughout Europe. She was the protectress of agriculture and women's handicrafts. Her name and the names Huld and Hulda may be cognate with that of the Scandinavian being known as the huldra or Huldra. The most steadfast connections are with Frau Holle and Hulda on one hand, and the Old Norse Hlóðyn, a byname for the Earth, Thor’s mother, on the other. This deity is also frequently equated with Nerthus, who also rides in a wagon, and Odin's wife, Frigg, from her alternate names Frau Guaden [Wodan], Frau Goden, and Frau Frekke as well as her position as mistress of the Wild Hunt.
She was often depicted holding a distaff and/or drop spindle or sitting at a spinning wheel.
The distaff frequently symbolized women's power, as in the medieval illustrations below.
|Engraving from Le immagini de i dei antichi (Images of the Ancient Gods) by Vincenzo Cartari, 16th c.|
People prayed to Frau Holle for protection, abundance, and healing.
To blow = to healThe woman inside the sun below right looks like she is blowing out air. To the left of her is a scene from the movie "The Cuckoo." In it, the Sami widow Anni blows on near-death Finnish Soldier Veiko to turn him back to the land of the living.
Below is Veiko's soul being beckoned toward the land of the dead.
Here is a scene from the movie Khadak, in which a Mongolian shaman takes a rather eye-opening approach to a similar situation.