Adventures in Animism; or: Adopted by a Spinning Wheel

I remember the first time I laid eyes upon her sitting in the shop. We’d just begun our hunting, and our budget was extremely limited. Beth wanted a spinning wheel to learn to spin on. She wanted something used, something simple, something that would be friendly to a first-time wheel spinner. We’re fortunate in that we live in a city with a textile center that often sells used wheels. Even the most basic of wheels can set you back a few hundred dollars new; we couldn’t even manage $200.

She was plain to look at. A single treadle, basic cotton drive band, a standard mother-of-all. Her spokes were plain, her wood slightly dull from disuse, but her wheel wasn’t warped, and she looked . . . approachable. The price tag and the reputable brand name didn’t hurt, either. We walked out of that shop with a vintage Ashford spinning wheel for under $150, and called it good.

I’m not a spinner. I knit, occassionally, and I’m enthusiastic about fiber crafts largely as an excuse to dork out over heritage breed sheep and their gorgeous wool. Knitting is an excuse to purchase minimally processed hanks of yarn, still smelling of the farm, and shoving my face into them.

Of the two of us, I am slightly more mechanically inclined, but then, I’ve had training. Not with spinning wheels, but I attended a vocational high school, and spent four years in our print shop. Spinning wheels and printing presses are not exactly the same, but they have enough in common on principle that my training served me well. Associating particular sounds with particular problems. Correct alignment of the moving parts. Together, we set the wheel up and began the process of learning how to listen to her. Beth had to work hard on the mechanics of working with the wheel to create the yarn; she had to train muscles to the dance of spinning. Me? I watched, and I listened.

It wasn’t long before her personality emerged, and she reminds me most of an elderly cat, set in her ways, generous with her affection, but on her terms, and you’d best pay attention to her boundaries. There are types of fiber she does not care for spinning. There are particular speeds she simply will not countenance. There is some adjusting that can be done, but the limits are there. She is herself.

Neither Beth nor I are gracious when it comes to steep learning curves, and of course Beth started out wanting to do art yarns. Not simple worsted spinning, not for Beth, no. She wanted to master the advance techniques first! (This is typical of her, really, and it’s admirable and hard to watch at times.) More than once, she’d begin a project, get frustrated that the drive band would slip off, or that the twist was off, or that she wouldn’t be able to get the pacing down. She’d shove away from the wheel and stomp off, swearing off spinning, and cursing the wheel. (Lest you think I’m pointing fingers, please know I’m not. I have years – years! – of getting frustrated with a story that will not do as I think it should, feeling utterly inadequate to the task, and shove away from the laptop, swearing I would never write again. “I’m not a writer! I’ll just read instead, it’ll be fine!”) I would sit with the wheel, and see what the issue was, and see about the troubleshooting solutions. The wheel would sit and wait for Beth to come back, and the process would begin again.

I felt, at times, like I was acting as a translator for the two of them. She didn’t speak in words, but that was okay, because my time with Poseidon has taught me the not-words language, and I trust these ways of communicating. She was calm, and she was patient, and she waited.

I still am not a spinner. We’ve gained three other wheels since this first wheel came into our lives, and they are all of them quirky. They all have the things they like, and they all have personality. They are tools Beth has worked with closely. They’ve changed our lives. We’ve said all along that we’re animists in our worldview, and I hold that that’s true. We’re not speciesests, that’s for sure, though I can’t say that we don’t, a little bit, anthropomorphize other beings to help us connect better – but then I also can’t say that they don’t also do this to help us connect better.

The wheels have a place in some of our religious observances. They are cleansed and polished and blessed and petitioned. This particular wheel, for all that Beth spins with her, is forever in my heart ‘my’ wheel. Or maybe I’m her human, in this household?

Is it the wheel? Is it some being attached to the wheel, like a dryad to her tree? Does the distinction matter? Is it all just me trying to understand and romanticize this dead tool made of wood, loved and neglected and passed from hands to hands?

Once, long ago, I asked Poseidon to define real. “Are You really here? Is this in my head? Are You a hallucination? Is this real? In what way is this real?”

His answer not only stayed with me, it shaped how I think about realness. “Does it matter? Do any of those answers change what you are experiencing? If I’m in your head, and not standing before you in the physical realm, is this solace lessened?” Something is real if it creates change in your life. I’ve heard this echoed, more recently, in a lecture I watched on Vedanta thought. The lecturer spoke of different realities – dreams, illusions, the waking world, etc. She spoke of dreams being real, not in the same way that the waking world is real, but also not not-real. It’s the first time I’d heard it spoken of that way, since meeting Poseidon two decades ago.

In the end, for my worldview, the trying to pin down exactly how things are and must be explaining can be a nice mental exercise, but ultimately does not matter. I’m not interested in arguing that I’m just anthropomorphizing an inanimate object, when I’m experiencing her mood brushing against my own, sharing with me her stories, her past, her preferences. She’s become a matriarch in our household, especially over the younger wheels, and she’s older than me. She’ll get my respect. I’ll leave the ‘how is this real?’ for someone else to worry about.


7 thoughts on “Adventures in Animism; or: Adopted by a Spinning Wheel

  1. “Something is real if it creates change in your life.” Wow! Talk about something I need to remember and repeat to myself like, daily!

    One thing I experienced as a young child who had converted away from the religion of her parents is that I was subjected to constant questioning and demands for explanations. I had to come up with a better explanation than my parents and other adults for everything in the universe, to prove what I was experiencing was real. I realized much later it was because the people questioning me were insecure in their own faiths and wanted to substitute that by taking from mine. To them, religion was a series of answers for unanswerable questions, and the explanation had to hold together in the face of every doubt they’d ever had. As a child, I couldn’t understand that, and instead, the messages I got were that I was wrong, that I was delusional, that my experiences couldn’t be trusted. It’s something I continue to heal from on my faith journey.

    • I had to come up with a better explanation than my parents and other adults for everything in the universe, to prove what I was experiencing was real.

      Ugh, that’s so annoying! Because, you know, you need to have your answers before you even have your questions, right? Feh. ❤

  2. “Something is real if it creates change in your life.” Very true!

    I can see how she’d take on her own personality, with you involved, I’d surprised if she didn’t. 🙂 You know, you’re giving me ideas for a story, right?

  3. I agree with Poseidon. 🙂 Whenever anyone brings up the topic of reality in regards to religion or spirituality I wind up with two quotes going round in my head, one from ‘House’ and one from ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, and a paraphrased mashup of Terry Pratchett lines.

    ‘Wilson: Do you think those experiences were real?
    House: Define real. They were real experiences’
    ‘Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?’ Dumbledore
    As for Pratchett, it’s the idea that humanity is practically made up of things that don’t exist – there are no atoms of Justice or Truth in the world, but we all act like they’re real.

    Reality doesn’t matter when it comes to religion and spirituality; as you said, ‘something is real if it creates change in your life’, whether that’s a real feeling, a real thought, a real experience. Just because someone can’t understand an explantion of something doesn’t mean that something doesn’t exist, whether it’s differential calculus or my relationship with Freyja.

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