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The Jeweled Beads of Our Story

It was emotional being on the land again where my shroud began its life. I traveled down the mountain to the fiber arts studio at Warren Wilson College last week after a three year hiatus to pick up thread Melanie had dyed. It is soon to be mailed to the friends who have agreed to embroider a square of cotton with a rendition of their hand, an animal or plant guide, and/or a blessing to support my transition back to the Source. They will join me for a weekend in early August to apply their square to my shroud and satisfy a dream a friend was given in which the how’s and why’s of its finishing were revealed.

I parked under the ancient beech tree where Melanie and I sat four years ago to get acquainted, and remembered the story I offered for why I wanted to grow my own shroud. I had recently gathered a group of women who shared a desire to decide what they wanted to happen to their remains through a process of aligning their values to the options. We called ourselves the Winding Women -- a reference to winding sheets, which is another term for shrouds. I saw, as I named the beliefs that held up those moments when the ways I was being myself felt attuned with Something Else, how deeply I treasured the miracle of ingesting the nourishing consequence of seeds I placed in the ground. From this I realized that I wanted to be packaged for my return to the earth as a fertile seed, with a shroud grown and nurtured by my earth-loving hands.

My eyes took in the field where the flax seed we tossed became a waving rectangle of green and blue. In that meeting with Melanie, I also explained how growing food helped heal my disconnection from the natural cycles of the planet, as each stage of a plant’s growth and death inspired an alignment with my own. I recounted a passage from Martin Prechtel’s stories of the Tzutijil culture that had nested in me, in which he recommends maintaining an Origins House as a practice for re-growing our Indigenous Souls. This is a room in your home, “built specifically for the purpose in which nothing is placed for which the deeper story of its origins remains unknown. Everything inside this space must be known, and their origins continued to be looked into and added onto as more is known—and then never forgotten.”[1] 

In a magical collision of thoughts that had been growing from my beginnings, I saw in the Winding Women discussions that the shroud would tell my journey from seed to seed, as I would tell its at my death, and that my responsibility was to share our story for the purposes of helping re-grow our indigeneity. Melanie responded affirmatively, noting how how she saw her work as reconnecting students to the process of making cloth because of its sacred purpose in holding our bodies as we enter at birth and depart at death.

Thus began our collaboration, which we called the Field to Shroud project.  

I stood inside the studio where Melanie and I laid out armfuls of flax bundles to be processed, and regarded the loom where the fabric had multiplied under the distant frame of big mountains. The shroud that came from this time and place has made clear that what we started was not yet finished. The dream my friend received signaled its readiness for the next stage. But the shroud began its ultimate function of transforming me the moment I envisioned it. And it will continue as my most powerful Death Teacher, cutting through my bullshit habits of thinking I can ignore my time stamp with its daily visibility on the banister in my bedroom. Holding the question these three years of what it wants next has also directed my attention to creature and plant teachers such as the Mourning Cloak Butterfly, Lady’s Slippers, and hawthorn. They are expanding my understanding of how to be more fully myself, weaving a story whose warp and weft are being slowly revealed, so that I can share out its jewels of stories in beads.

For, as Martin says: “Our soul can only understand the world as a story, a mythology in which the things of the past and the random happenings of our present are strung together like beads on a string of continual story in which reality is remembered as a sequence of jeweled events. Like a bead on a rosary of nature’s moods, each thing that happens is relevant to the beauty of the entire necklace. This necklace begins way before us and we are strung onto it, and in this way the Holy is adorned by our participation in this necklace of mythic sequence from the past to our present and beyond. Hence our everyday lives become relevant to the maintenance of that ongoing storied beauty as the Holy keeps on stringing life together beyond us.”[2]

Prechtel, Martin. 2012. The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic - The Parallel Lives of People as Plants: Keeping the Seeds Alive. North Atlantic Books. 401-2.[1] 


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