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The Foremothers Speak
by Sage Starwalker
Vol 1-1
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MatriFocus, a Cross-Quarterly eZine for Goddess Women Near & Far

"The Spinner," Holbein the Younger, woodcut, 16th century CE (source--CGFA)The Spinner

This issue's cover art is "The Spinner," a woodcut by Hans Holbein the Younger. Holbein, a German artist and book illustrator, was one of the most accomplished masters of Renaissance portraiture and a designer of woodcuts, stained glass, and jewelry. He was born about ten years after the publication of the Malleus Maleficarum (late 1400s CE), and spent five years working in England in mid-career. What might have been the sources for this woodcut (other than the Inquisition)?

Patricia Monaghan's story of the Cailleach, in her book The Goddess Path, provides cultural and mythic contexts for this image:

"The Cailleach was a spinner, sometimes known as the spinning hag. Like the Germanic winter goddesses Holda and Perchta, she tested women on their spinning abilities, punishing them if they were lazy or sloppy. Because of her, it was important never to take a spinning wheel out of the house after nightfall, or to spin at night. Cailleach as the spinning hag might appear at your doorstep, looking for all the world like a little granny, only to torment you and force you to do her bidding, which was usually to spin impossible amounts of some unlikely substance into fine thread."