The Golden Thread
We are all subjected to the cycles of life. We are born, we live, and we die. Perhaps we live again. Many religions believe that life continues in an endless cycle of birth, existence, death, and rebirth. Too often we fear or resent death when we shouldn’t. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke says:
“Death is our friend precisely because it brings us into absolute and passionate presence with all that is here, that is natural, that is love… Life always says Yes and No simultaneously. Death (I implore you to believe) is the true Yea-sayer. It stands before eternity and says only: Yes.”
Religion, stemmed from the Latin religare (to bind), binds us to the question of life and death. From karma and samsara to heaven, nirvana, and paradise, we strive to arrive at our ultimate destination. Mysticism is the underground stream that flows beneath us all. Mystics swim upstream.
The 18th century prophetic poet and artist William Blake introduces Plate 77 of Jerusalem with a challenge and a promise:
I give you the end of a golden string;
Only wind it into a ball,
It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate,
Built in Jerusalem’s wall.
The golden thread reminds us of Ariadne’s thread that she gave to Theseus to lead him out of the labyrinth. The golden thread also reminds us of the thread that measures the length of life, which is cut by the Fates. It is an image that guides us into thinking about the path we travel through life. But Blake’s image goes beyond that. The golden string is given to us, and we must do more than just follow it. We must wind it into a ball.
The idea of thread running through our lives comes from various mythological sources.
The goddess Neith of ancient Egypt was a weaver who wove all of the world and existence into being on her loom.
In Teutonic myth the Norns, shown in the image above, are three female divine beings who wove destiny and spun secret meanings into life.
In the American southwest, Grandmother Spider Woman spins all of life from the shimmering threads in her belly.
In Greek mythology from the earliest Goddess mythology, Ananke or Necessity controls the life of every human being through the Fates.
The goddess Ananke or Necessity is typically depicted holding a spindle and she marks out or represents the beginning of the cosmos along with the god of time Chronos.
The spindle can be seen as an axis mundi about which the world turns or revolves and which also gives access to the world above. Platoii had a vision of the goddess Ananke, Necessity, spinning the universe. The sun, moon, and planets were her spindle’s spiraled vortexes. Sirens sang through the nets of the time and fate that she wove and souls moved endlessly through the strands on their way to and from death and rebirth.
The poet William Stafford had developed an exercise that he called The Golden Thread. He believed that if you handled very carefully the detail of language and followed the detail through association, sound and tone it could lead you into a rich and meaningful world where you could begin to inhabit a more sacred universe.
One of [William Stafford’s] most amazing gifts to poetry is his theme of the golden thread. He believes that whenever you set a detail down in language, it becomes the end of a thread… and every detail –the sound of the lawn mower, the memory of your father’s hands, a crack you once heard in the lake ice, the jogger hurtling herself past your window– will lead you to amazing riches.
Robert Bly, The Darkness Around Us is Deep, p. vii.
The exercise of the Golden Thread can be an interesting pursuit if one also relates it to one’s purpose. We might think of it as following our purpose through language and writing.
Each and every one of us is following our own thread. Some may not know where you have been or where you are going, but you cannot let go of the thread you are following.
The Poet Denise Levertov has a very interesting poem called The Thread. In this poem she connects the idea of a thread more solidly with what we might call one’s purpose and makes it a little more dynamic.
Something is very gently,
pulling at me-a thread
or net of threads
finer than cobweb and as
elastic. I haven’t tried
the strength of it. No barbed hook
pierced and tore me. Was it
not long ago this thread
began to draw me? Or
way back? Was I
born with its knot about my
neck, a bridle? Not fear
but a stirring
of wonder makes me
catch my breath when I feel
the tug of it when I thought
it had loosened itself and gone.
Something is gently, invisibly, and silently pulling at you. This thread connects you with the purpose of your life. What are you called to do? The golden thread is a line of questions: Who am I? Where am I going? What is the meaning of life? What happens when I reach the end of the thread?The Golden Thread doesn’t lead you out. It’s not an escape. The Golden Thread is within you. The Golden Thread leads you inwards so that you may bring forth that which is within you:
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”