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The Threads of Tradition by Anne Kelly-Edmunds

We are the weavers. Since the beginning of civilization, women have spun flax into thread, and then woven thread into cloth. Just so, we weave the strands of our lives into a tapestry to tell our stories.

As we work the loom, we reach back for our roots, digging in our ancestors' gardens, often ripping out wildflowers and weeds to keep things tidy. Seeking orderliness and propriety, we risk losing the richness of our inheritance. Our tales become flat, colorless, one-dimensional.

While our hands wander over warp and woof, we simultaneously stretch toward the future with hope for our children and their children. Wishing them lives of ease and happiness, we may choose only bright, cheerful colors, denying them access to the deeper, even darker, tones — challenges that serve as rites of passage to a strong, mature life. Truly, the strongest tapestry, the one that won't unravel at the slightest tug, is the one made of fibers soaked in sweat and pain and dried in the radiance of joy and love (not unlike childbirth).

Patchwork Quilt by Carolyn Watson
"Patchwork Quilt"
by Carolyn Watson

For a full life, we must use a range of colors. Metaphorically, we heat pots of herbs and flowers to release their luxurious tints and delicious aromas. In these multicolored "soups," we steep the yarns then lay them out to absorb the fiery energy of father sun and the serene luminescence of mother moon.

Sometimes our heritage is freighted with skeins of particular hues, for example: the coal black of depression, the blazing red of anger or the pale pink of femininity. The threads of our lives frequently are intertwined with those of our forbearers. Perhaps certain shades belonged more to our parents or caregivers than they do to us. Maybe we were told that certain colors, representing wavelengths of energy, exemplify our personality or codify the way we are expected to be, even though those tones did not — and do not — embody who we are.

If this is our history (or, rather, "herstory"), then it may be time to break the thread, start anew or add to it by actively selecting a rainbow of colors for our own lives. We need to choose with care and courage, asking ourselves: How do we desire to live?


Does this mean that we need to abandon our heritage and the traditions of our families? "Not at all," says Interfaith Minister Rev. Janet Hand, R.N., M.A., founder of and practitioner at Pathways to Wellness Healing Center in Glen Head, N.Y. "We do not need to turn our backs on the past, but rather, examine the treasures and work to heal any wounds so that we can be richly and fully alive in the present."

As women, we are assigned the role expectation to continue our families' traditions. "Woman's role has been a social one, involving relationships and the flow of continuity for the family from generation to generation," explains Rev. Hand. "The themes of the Great Mother — compassion and nurturing — serve as a template for weaving those patterns in our own lives."

She adds, "Sacred lore — the wisdom and strength of our ancestors — flows from one generation to the other through stories weaving in and out of individual lives. I was inspired to call upon Ixchel, the Mayan Goddess of Becoming to be the Spirit Guide for the Long Island-based Pathways to Wellness Healing Center. Ixchel embodies the four aspects of the feminine: 1) healing, 2) weaving and crafting, 3) childbirth and sexuality, and 4) prophesy and intuition.

"Traditions have powerful meaning. They are purposefully passed down because they have value and sustain continuity for the family and for the culture. Customs travel through the generations transmitting the essence of the family. If we can ask questions around our traditions, be flexible and allow spontaneity, we can call up the life inherent in them and allow that vitality to nourish our souls."

This time of year, autumn, is resplendent with traditions of the approaching holidays. Some can be comforting, like putting on a warm quilt, and some can grace our shoulders like a beautifully crocheted shawl. Yet others may be tattered and torn, leaving us feeling chilled and neglected. Sometimes the expectations around holidays (holy days) are just too heavy a burden, loaded with excessive family "baggage."

We need to choose consciously: Do we genuinely want to carry on a tradition, or is it just that we are expected to do so? Which aspects of family rituals do we want to let go? Which do we want to carry on? Which do we want to reframe or create anew?


In the course of counseling her clients, Rev. Hand notes that issues often come up around holidays and their related rituals. "When someone shares with me that she dreads going to a certain family holiday gathering, we explore what that tradition really means to her. Is there a way that she can make some changes so that she captures its essence, while moving beyond the script, which was 'written' by others?" she observes. "I guide her with questions such as: What do you enjoy about the tradition? What do you dislike? What is the most meaningful to you? What is stale and boring? How could you participate in the ritual differently and still honor the essential quality of the tradition? What are your dreams telling you to do?""

According to Rev. Hand, one way the "Weaver" communicates is through our dreams. "I do a great deal of work around dream exploration with my clients. Dreams are the part of the fabric of our lives that meshes the physical with the spiritual, the temporal with the timeless," she notes.

If the therapy revolves around a difficulty in the past, Rev. Hand asks the client to use ritual to recreate the situation as she would have liked it to be. For example, if a woman is feeling engulfed by grief because as a child she was not allowed to attend a funeral service for a loved one, Rev. Hand works with her to fashion a representational ritual in present time as a way to work through the pain and honor the love and gifts of that person in her life. There is often a shift, a movement out of and away from the suffering into more peace and understanding.

These shifts are like the motion of the loom as we work pulling threads in place to create a pattern or picture. At this time of the harvest moon, let us look with care at our family traditions and their related rituals. Which do we choose to consciously participate in and carry forward? Which do we want to recreate? Which is it time to relinquish? Only when we live the answers to these questions will we be empowered to weave our unique design into the tapestry of our family, our country, and our world.

© 2002 by Anne Kelly-Edmunds

Anne Kelly-Edmunds is a freelance writer who enjoyed her long-time stint as magazine editor and feature writer. A poet and fledgling artist, Anne facilitates creative writing and healing workshops.
You can email the author at:

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