'Since the Palaeolithic age, Berber carpets have been woven by women using a vocabulary of signs and techniques specific to each region. This symbolic, disease preventing, esoteric vocabulary, whose meaning has been lost over the centuries, has been passed from mother to . daughter for generations.' (from a publication of Musee Berber, Jardin Majorelle, Marrakech).
I think I fell in love with the Amazigh culture from my first visit to Morrocco. Perhaps it was a feeling of deep recognition, of connection, or where my imagination took me when I spent time getting to know places and people during these travels.
One interest that was sparked straight away was the rich textile craftwork, the rug making, with its intricate designs and vivid colours. My first visit to a small village's women's cooperative was in Tissardmine, near Erfoud, in the desert, which Karen Hadfield from Cafe Tissardmine helped set up. The rugs were woven on looms made of rough pieces of wood, set on the ground, the fibre spun and then woven from their own goats and camel hair. It's easy to feel a Western romanticism about their craft but there was more than that for me. There was a curiosity to know more about their unbroken textile tradition. As a craftmaker, I know that there are many wordless secrets that are spoken between material derived from the land and the hands that work with it, in the many hours of meditative engagement and perfected skill.
My curiosity was further lit up when I read in a book about local rug symbolism, that the Berber imagination related carpet making to the honeycomb weaving activities of bees. Azetta is the word used for both honeycombs and the loom. Now this was really interesting for me; the shamanic tradition into which I am initiated works with the glyph of the the honeybee, with the knowledge of women's regenerative magic, and with the weavers and the spinners as principle allies. The symbolic use of weavers and spinners as creators and healers can be found in many of the world's mythologies; Grandmother Spider from the Americas, the Norns from the Norse mythology and the Moirai, in the Greek mythology, the three weaving Goddesses who spun, wove and cut the threads of human destinies, to name just a few.
It was in the Culture Vultures studio, last year that we heard from Aesmee Raffick, a Moroccan woman who's PhD work studied ‘The Loom in Local Rituals’ and how Amazigh women used the loom as a sacred medium for protection and fertility magic. There are rituals for setting up the loom and strict etiquette surrounding who can be present at all the different stages of rug making. These rituals contain intricate knowledge passed down through generations of women, a knowledge meant to keep them free in a world of Patriarchy.
And so the research continues as we will return this coming February to Sefrou, to meet more weavers and to explore traditional stories from around the world that speak about the mystery of the craft.
'Fair warp and fitting weft,
spin a web that bring forth death.
Fair weft and fitting warp,
spin a web that spins life forth.'