Talismans have been used through the ages for taking journeys – from waymarks to lucky charms, to protect travelers against risks known and unknown. I drew heavily from Etruscan, Sumerian and Buddhist traditions to create this piece.
The central spiral design is an unalome; a physical representation of the soul’s journey to enlightenment. Spiraling out from the self, lessons are revisited with new insight each time. The path wavers, but as it progresses the meandering lessons, and the way becomes more apparent. However, the path alone stops just short of the dot at the end. This final distance cannot be traversed through individual effort but must come as a gift. The spiral here is the golden spiral, whose proportions influenced this design in many subtle ways.
In this case the dot at the upper end of the unalome is not just a dot, but a star. Hanging over the silhouette of Katahdin, this could be translated as the North star, unerring and true, or the Eastern star – Venus hanging in the air after all other stars have disappeared. The first sunlight to come over the Atlantic hits the summit of Katahdin for part of the year, making it the very beginning of the dawn.
The crescent over the mountain is the moon, and the vault of the sky. With the crystals set into the sides, it also recalls the shape of a horseshoe. The duality of the silver crescent and golden bough is echoed in the lion and unicorn. Sun and moon, alchemical gold and silver, concrete and fantasy. They are a duality with the potential for great good or great harm on either side, and wisdom lies not in prioritizing one over the other but recognizing the values - and dangers - of each.
Wound around the golden bough is a sprig of rue – the herb of grace and heavily relied on for warding and enchantment. Charms bound to a sprig of rue form the Italian cimaruta amulet – somewhat disguised here since they are spread along the bough. The hanging threads are the same iridescent white as the star, since each element was forged in the heart of one. Vervain blossoms for magic, a dagger for protection, a key to open doors (with a heart hidden in the head of the key) and a quartered circle divided into four aspects but not separated. These four symbols also recall the four elements, and the implied fifth one; the spirit, the change, the life that animates and binds them all into a whole. Though the spider hangs from a thread, it is one of her own making instead of the iridescent white of the others. All have a white crystal but the spider has a dark one as well; her ability to choose is what gives her actions weight and meaning, and tie the disparate elements into a cohesive whole.
The central motif of the lotus anchors and binds the whole design. Rising up through the muck and mud to blossom in the air, it is a symbol of enlightenment, purity, and self-regeneration. The blue lotus, especially, has strong ties to magic and knowledge, representing the victory of the spirit over the senses and the perfection of wisdom. It is often pictured from the side with its center unseen. The crystals at the base of the petals hint at what might be apparent could we look into the flower fully.
The design as a whole recalls an ankh, a dreamcatcher, a crystal ball. Like the images in a crystal ball or a dream, the symbols within it are apparent but shrouded in layers of meaning. Conscious thought allows these stitches to be more than what they are, and can invest meaning into the smallest of acts.
This piece took much longer to design and stitch than I anticipated, and the limited palette of metallic threads were a far cry from the more realistic needlepainting that I usually do with tons of colors in soft cotton floss. It was certainly a challenge! The metallic thread doesn't lend itself to the same kind of stitches and effects as floss, but there really is nothing like it when it comes to sparkle. I hope the folks down at the San Francisco School of Needlework like it. After it's on display there, it will be coming back to hang in the studio - unless it exhibits somewhere else first. But we'll worry about that when it gets there!