Who has not heard that one is not supposed to walk under the ladder or that knocking on wood will ward off bad luck? Superstitions have always been an integral part of every culture, reaching back to the ancient times. It suggests that people around the world share a common belief in supernatural causality and try to have at least a whit of control over reality and fate.
Although there are no reasonable explanations for undertaking any of the actions dictated by superstition, some behaviors are so deeply rooted that we don’t even think while we find ourselves crossing fingers for our favorite team playing an important match. And some we just simply can’t resist, because what if it works…
Such an important aspect of traditional craft as carpet weaving could not do without its very own array of superstitions. In Europe, probably the longest and most profound history of rug making belongs to the Northerners – no wonder their ‘folktron’, which means ‘folklore’, is rich in different ways of making the process of weaving easier, faster and better (through, of course, rules subordinated to supernatural activity). Let’s then discover the magic behind Scandinavian rug weaving craft.
The Magic of Days
While Friday the 13th is considered to be a rather unlucky date worldwide, in Värmland you are not supposed to start a new weaving job on any Friday. It is not such an unusual practice – Friday being the last day of the working week is not conducive to start something completely new. There exists a risk of losing touch with the just conceived concept for the two following days. Besides, in Christianity, Friday is believed to be the day of Jesus’ death. Easter week, in turn, was the time to set up a loom in Skåne, although you could not begin the work on Monday. Also surprising is the informal prohibition of weaving on Thursdays from Västergötaland province. There most certainly is some back-story behind it, but I have not yet come to the right sources to discover the true reason.
The Magic of Touch
The ability to weave used to be an extremely precious one to possess and actually it grew into a form of art. The skill was passed on from mother to daughter for generations not only because it was beautiful and useful, but also because it brought profit. An experienced housewife who worked quickly enough could have been able to make rugs for both the domestic use and for sale. Not surprisingly, every good godmother tried to ensure that her goddaughter will be among the best of weavers. In order to achieve that, a baby girl, before being carried out from home to be baptized, was made to touch a thimble, a spinning wheel and a loom. However, if it somehow failed to work and an already a damsel was having trouble tying the knots, she could have another chance to boost her abilities on every New Year’s Eve (which brings us back to the magic of dates). On this special day, precisely at twelve o’clock, a girl was supposed to hold a tool or an instrument that she desired to master and the promotion of her abilities was supposedly granted by force majeure.
The Magic of Words
The amount of work put into weaving is immense what undeniably contributed to the value of newly made carpets. When linen cloths were laid out on the field to bleach in the sunlight, there was a serious risk that they would be stolen, especially if they were left out at night as well. In the 17th century, Småland people would even resort to a practice bordering on black magic to prevent that from happening. The ritual consisted of digging up a bone from a cemetery, dipping in in running water, such as a stream, and saying the following words:
”Den person som tillfogat sig min vara skall ej ha ro varken natt eller dag, varjan sittande eller liggande, varken gående eller stående, utan skälva som detta ben, till han återbär min vara”
which may be translated as:
”The person that has taken my goods shall not rest night or day, neither sitting or laying, neither walking or standing, but will shiver as this bone, till he brings back my goods”.
It is hard to say if the spell fulfilled its function reliably but the awareness of a potential burglar of the fact that the ritual has been performed might have brought the desired effect, providing the goods with protection. After all, that is the whole thing with superstitions – what if it works…
Nowadays, although many traditions have died out, rug making is still strong in Sweden. We may please the eye with some masterpieces of Scandinavian design, which are known as modern Swedish rugs and carpets. It is probable that contemporary weavers do not follow the historical rules, limitations and rituals, yet the outcome it nonetheless mesmerizing. However, to achieve such perfection there has to be at least a little magic behind it.