|From left to right: Ulrica, Sophie, Thomas, Dennis, Eleanor (my grandmother), Margaret, Allan and Leona. Taken in Chicago 1917|
My great-grandmother, Sophie Ayres married my great-grandfather Dennis Kelly on December 27th, 1899 - the cusp of a new century - and they proceeded to have six children. The children's names, in the order of their birth, were as follows:
Now, what do you notice about the names, other than Ulrica is a rather unusual choice? Yes, that's right, the first letters spell the word "AMULET". If that was a coincidence, what would the odds be of the letters spelling out anything, let alone a word of some mystery and magic? On the other hand, if it was intended, how could anyone at that time be sure of having exactly six children who all survived past childhood? And given that my mother remembers her Granny as a rather sharp-tongued, stern woman, it is hard to imagine Sophie as young and in love and planning her future family so poetically. (Apparently Dennis left her with the six kids - if anything, he was the romantic ne'er-do-well type.)
In any case, this little story has always been a source of some wonder in our family. I think we felt in some way blessed, even a generation or so removed. And it points to the power of naming, which brings us to the source of real magic: intention. When we focus our attention and our heart and our energy on something, we are shaping the future with our intention. I believe this how we make art*.
So my upcoming workshop on making amulets is actually a slightly subversive way of introducing the idea of working with intention, and from the heart. It is unlikely that any of my students will be shaman or priests or wiccans, but I don't think we need to come out of any of those belief systems to be able to make amulets. Amulets are objects invested with protective powers, and what greater protective power can we give than our attention, and our love? The objects we make may reference traditional amulets, and symbols and materials that have been believed to carry special powers in various cultures, but it is the intangible energy that we transfer from ourselves to the object that makes it meaningful and potent.
As stitchers we know this. With each prick of the needle, with each measuring of the thread, we give life to our cloth, we give life to the world. We connect, we hold, we honour, we protect.
Love to you all in 2015.
*(Pretty flakey, I know, especially for someone who went to art school at the height of Marxist-Feminist Post-Structuralism. What can I say? I guess there's room for more.)