The Psychic Life of Clothes

*Originally published in The Babe Collective Magazine.

The cycle of life, from birth to death to the ritualistic period of fertility in between, is told in the threads we weave and wear. Women are the creators of life and weaving is women’s work. Therefore behind the veil of human history is a story about the feminine, creative magic of dress and the occult power of our everyday pieces.        

When Hera needed to seduce Zeus away from the battlefield, she borrowed Aphrodite’s belt of one hundred tassels, and successfully lured the lovestruck god from Troy. Consequently, the power of the Goddess’s girdle played out among mortals, as Latvian women later adopted it as a signal of their fertility. Motifs like the sun or a cross-hatch star symbolized sexual readiness while fringe evoked what lay beneath, as told in a folk song.

Turn your back young maiden. 

So that I can see if the ends of your belt are bushy;

If they are,

You will be my bride.

A woman’s shawl in early Slovak and Bohemian societies shared the same suggestive “bushy” fringe. Visually complex patterning contained motifs that promoted fertility and also protected it by befuddling the gaze of the evil eye. Later, during her disgraced, three- to six-week fluid emission period upon childbirth, she faced social segregation, and the bridal shawl became a protective screen that hung from her bed of confinement.

The Romanian blouse is woven by the wearer. She embroiders motifs of fertility and abundance, or may “write” her own love spell at the neckline, arm holes and any other entry point for evil spirits. She is a woman weaving and willing her own fate.

Shoes represent the power of the female sex organ and the story of Cinderella alludes to this. A shoe-fetishist’s account of Chinese footbinding in Records of Gathering Fragrance tells several stories of men stealing lotus shoes for masturbation. Shoes may signify sexual union when tied to the departing car of the betrothed after a wedding. The stiletto asserts domination.

Cirlot’s Dictionary of Symbols defines ornamentation as “a way out of chaos.” Jewelry ritualizes the human experience and provides extra weight to ground us. Earrings show a rite of passage into sexual maturation as the piercing of the lobe is analogous with the breaking of the hymen. A ring may mean fidelity, it’s cyclical shape ensuring eternity. Norwegians, believing silver reflected evil spirits back onto themselves, once wore brooches to protect their newborn babies from the huldrefolk, or forest-dwelling shape-shifters.

The color indigo expresses all stages of a woman’s life. In the Middle East, it is the color of mourning when used in funerary dress and textiles, or stained on the cheeks. Or it may signify new life when smeared on the face to announce a birth in the family. The Bedouins mark it on their bodies to display virility. In the dye hut in Asia, it shares traditions in obstetrics as the vat functions symbolically as the womb and the indigo blood, the fetus. This belief in this is so powerful that pregnant or menstruating women, considered a threat to the dying process, are banned from the hut.

Contrary to modern-day associations, the apron was once the seat and sign of supernatural and sexual powers. A bone figurine of venus wearing a string apron dates back to 20,000 B.C.E., noting its original relation to the feminine form, although Tantric sorcerers of Tibet and Siberian shamans usurped and masculinized it for more worldly power purposes. Folk beliefs well into the last century held that strategically placed motifs on the everyday apron, notably near the reproductive organs, both safeguarded from evil and called attention to the area.

Ever since Homer wrote of the love goddess’s girdle, we have used clothes to connect with our supernatural selves. We dress our bodies as we dress our altar. To “dress a candle” is to imbue it with oils and herbs, giving it the power to do what you ask. To dress yourself is to call upon a part of yourself you want to show up or protect. With this in mind, we walk in the footsteps of goddess sisters Isis and Nephthys, history’s first weavers, and create with our will our own tapestry of life.

 

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