To the Sia Pueblo people, the first being was Sussistinnako or Spider, who emerged out of the invisible and drew from the unseen corners of the lower world long silken threads that formed a cross upon which were created man and woman. When the offspring of these ancient ones strove to find the Middle Place of the world, they turned to the archetypal matriarch who guided them upon the pathway. The Sia say that when people are driven out from one world into another, Spider Woman leads them forth, showing the thread that connects the worlds and binds together the different planes of being. In many traditions vast cycles of evolution and involution are portrayed in terms of the throwing out and retracting of the spider's threaded web. Those who ascend and descend between heaven and earth are often shown as doing this by means of finely spun filaments. The Ostiaks went so far as to place three threads of differing colours the length of the deceased in the coffin, "along which the dead can climb up to heaven". They surmised that the length of the threads signified the length of life, and so would put an adult length of thread in the grave of a child in order that it may grow in the other world.
According to the Zohar, the thread is one of the most archaic symbols. Besides denoting the essential connection between different planes, it also, like hair, indicates the lines of force in the universe. Energy passes along the thread-nerves of the solar system - and wherever there is a knotting of the thread there is a consolidation of its force. Knitting together planes, the thread when cut heralds the advent of death, like cropped hair. The cutting of hair when entering upon the path of asceticism parallels the casting off of the sacred thread and signifies a great sacrifice marking the death of the persona. The thread binds together all things on the spiritual, social and biological planes. The sutratman or thread-soul links together lives through time and space, while the threads braided into cords and worn as decoration by officials are symbols of cohesion within a social network and show a binding commitment. The Hindu thread ceremony is the preliminary initiation of every boy before puberty into the art of sacramental action in daily life. On the biological level nature is endlessly connected by protean threads of life. The cord that connects the newly born to its mother is but one example of the thread that continues between generations, and many creatures in their lifetimes build anchors, food nets, cocoons and nests with the thread emitted from their bodies.
The silken thread produced by spiders is extremely fine and, having enormous tensile strength, it can attain a length of up to six thousand metres. The spider is adept at letting the wind blow his emanating thread in the direction he wishes to go, and as soon as its still slightly sticky arc has fastened onto a twig or blade of grass, he quickly proceeds along its path. In former centuries this marvellous silk was woven into beautiful designs but the work was extremely difficult and, like the byssus silk of the shellfish, it became relatively neglected in favour of the filaments produced by a rather inelegant worm. In observing the threading activity of nature, man has benefited greatly from its emulation, and in his use of bobbin and spindle he is merely enacting in reverse the motion of the silkworm which waves its head as it spins. When he forces his synthetic fluids through a spinneret to produce yarns with which he can weave, he precisely imitates the spider or the worm who each emanate a clear, viscous liquid through their own physiological spinnerets. The artificial production of nylon or dacron is but a poor reflection of the marvellous creation of fluidic silk in nature. Within the silkworm two pipe-like glands wind along its underside and produce the protein fibroin. These empty into two S-shaped tanks where the fluid ripens before entering the thin foreglands which open up into a common spinning orifice. As the fibroin is ejected through this spinneret it is joined by a second protein secretion called serecin, which comes from another set of glands located at the opening and which solidifies immediately upon contact with air, causing the double fibroin fibre to emerge as a single filament. It is this single filament of perhaps five hundred metres in length that is woven into the oviform cocoon of the future white-winged moth.
Given the richness of symbolical interpretation that may be lent to the mode of production and the uses of the thread, it is not surprising that those who have imitated these modes and uses have often been equally fascinating. One writer dealing with the history of weavers speaks of them as being unusually strong in their devotion to causes opposed to tyranny and active in the promulgation of new doctrines. In Saxony the ideas of Luther first took root among the weavers, who were also the earliest supporters of the Reformation. The heretical Huguenots of France were mostly weavers. One readily recalls the shrewd perseverance of Penelope, who frustrated her smug suitors by nightly unravelling her work of the day. Gandhi, too, was a daily practitioner of the spinning wheel. In reeling out the thread from a cocoon or wad of cotton fibres, the spinner is reenacting the production of the first thread which can form the warp and weft of multitudinous designs. As yarn or cord it can be knitted, looped, knotted, coiled, plaited, twilled, twisted, twined, interlaced, interlinked and separated out again into single threads. The village crone who sits at the roadside, spindle in hand, drawing and twisting into fine thread that which was a shapeless mass of wool, is participating in an archetypal cosmic process even while she gazes absent-mindedly at passers-by.
The vertical and horizontal arrangement of threads upon the loom lay the foundation for all the complexities of design that may follow, and the weaver, like Sussistinnako, bears in her mind the pattern to emerge. To weave is to succumb to worldly life with its static patterns and bonds, and it was this perhaps that Penelope strove to avoid in order to leave open every avenue for the returning Odysseus. Rather than entwine herself in the web of worldly circumstances, she desired to remain faithful to the pilgrim soul, her true husband, who was experiencing the enigmatic trials of the awakening mind. The thread woven and unwoven upon the loom of time represents maya, the illusion of complexity which seems to envelop the world. Thus the Virgin Mary, who is Queen Maya herself, is often depicted with a spindle, busily spinning out the mayavic expressions of God. Nowhere is this more dramatically depicted than in Plato's description of the Spindle of Necessity. At its centre is a pillar of light extending through heaven and earth. From its extremities stretches the spindle itself, through which eight orbits turn, whorl within whorl. This great spindle turns on the knees of Necessity, whose daughters are the Fates: Lachesis (things that were), Clotho (things that are) and Atropos (things that will be). As each thread-soul descends along the spindle, leaving behind its fleecy, unformed condition in preparation for rebirth, it is led to draw lots from a vast assortment of life-patterns thrown down by Lachesis. Clotho ratifies this fate as 'things that are' and when the ingredients of the pattern are chosen, the results of past lives are now spun out by Atropos into an irreversible web. The thread-soul, which continues from life to life, is once again enmeshed in a complex karmic design of its own making.
The sutratman (thread-soul) is the immortal and eternal principle in man, an indivisible part of the integral Universal Spirit from which it emanates. The Secret Doctrine teaches that in each of us "that golden thread of continuous life - periodically broken into active and passive cycles of sensuous existence on Earth and supersensuous in Devachan - is from the beginning of our appearance upon this earth. It is the Sutratma, the luminous thread of immortal impersonal monadship, on which our earthly lives or evanescent Egos are strung as so many beads." This golden thread is the basis of continuity from which our intimations of immortality arise. The ancients taught that the Agnishwatha, the Fallen Angels, lit up manas, the emanation of the fiery essence of divine Mahat. Without this principle radiating from the Universal Mind, man would be no more than an animal and would enter the world with no conscious awareness of the past. The human ego is neither Atman nor Buddhi. It is the higher manas, the fruit of the tree of spiritual self-consciousness. It is the subtle causal body or karana sarira on the plane of sutratman, along whose golden thread the various personalities of the higher ego are strung. Thinking of the causal body on the plane of the sutratman one should ponder upon the term karanopadhi, which points to the soul as the sole basis of causality. This is the portion of manas which follows the two higher principles as the ancestral soul, the bright immortal thread of the higher Ego, to which clings the spiritual aroma of all former lives.
The golden thread of continuous life, the reincarnating ego, is a fragment of light from the divine ray (the Atman) which proceeds alone, directly from the One.
THE ONE RAY MULTIPLIES THE SMALLER RAYS . . . THROUGH THE COUNTLESS RAYS PROCEEDS THE LIFE-RAY, THE ONE, LIKE A THREAD THROUGH MANY JEWELS.
The thread of spirit has been called "the Universal life-supporting air", a phrase which points to the most primordial phase of cosmic evolution. It compels the mind to contemplate the One Infinite Essence which exists from all eternity. The active condition (Day of Brahmā) of this Essence was called Svabhavat by the Northern Buddhists. It is the essence of the world substance from which all proceeds and returns. It is called the Father-Mother which emanates the noumenon of matter, the sutratman, which is finally woven into the complex patterns of manifested life. Svabhavat passes at every new rebirth of cosmos into a state of intense activity where it differentiates and then begins its work through that differentiation. The early Stanzas of The Secret Doctrine speak of the inactive state and ask,
WHERE WERE THE BUILDERS, THE LUMINOUS SONS OF MANVANTARIC DAWN? ... IN THE UNKNOWN DARKNESS IN THEIR AH-HI PARANISHPANNA. THE PRODUCERS OF FORM FROM NO-FORM - THE ROOT OF THE WORLD - THE DEVAMATRI AND SVABHAVAT, RESTED IN THE BLISS OF NON-BEING. . . . THE SEVEN SONS WERE NOT YET BORN FROM THE WEB OF LIGHT. DARKNESS ALONE WAS FATHER-MOTHER, SVABHAVAT; AND SVABHAVAT WAS IN DARKNESS.
Later the emergence of the active state is depicted:
FATHER-MOTHER SPIN A WEB WHOSE UPPER END IS FASTENED TO SPIRIT - THE LIGHT OF THE ONE DARKNESS - AND THE LOWER ONE TO ITS SHADOWY END, MATTER; AND THIS WEB IS THE UNIVERSE SPUN OUT OF THE TWO SUBSTANCES MADE IN ONE, WHICH IS SVABHAVAT.
A striking analogy can be made between this state of beginning activity and the process whereby the silkworm produces the thread it weaves into its cocoon. To recapitulate, the caterpillar produces the silk protein in two glands that conduct it through a sinuous course ending in thin tubes which open through a common orifice where this fluid is joined by another protein secretion as it is ejected through the spinneret. This second fluid causes coagulation and the double fibre emerges as a single filament. The first protein - fibroin - is made up of fourteen amino acids comprising a long chain structure running parallel to the fibre axis. It may be seen as analogous to the staff of the spindle which penetrates heaven and earth, the fourteen elements corresponding with the seven planes in the upper and lower worlds. The "two substances made in one" (the two lines of fibroin) are bonded into one thread by the action of the solidifying agent serecin, which may be seen as a reflection of the sacred work of Fohat sent by Svabhavat to harden the atoms which form the web that stretches from "the Light of the One Darkness" to the shadowy end of matter. There is no difference in the nature of the fibroin fluid in the silkworm's two serpentine glands, but its separation seems to contribute to a greater pressure when the two tubes meet at the ejection orifice. This triggers the ejection which in turn induces the flow of serecin that coats the fluid and causes it to bind and harden. Thus it is that one hardened filament is emitted rather than an amorphous discharge of liquid. From the immensely long filament the egg-shaped cocoon is built, just as the great Hiranyagarbha is woven of the ethereal stuff of which the universe is formed.
The spindle in ancient times was composed of two intersecting circles which symbolized heaven and earth, and the twisting of unformed primal substance into hardened thread symbolizes the sacrifice of assuming the limitation of form as well as the potential of regeneration and also inversion. The thread once formed becomes involved in the world, and though it has its source in the divine ray of Atman, it proliferates into the network of life with its many knots and endless woven designs. While the mysterious Fohat hardens the atoms and ties the knots, the descending thread may be seen as a hierarchy of being, a great chain which unfolds as an expression of the 'Concealed Lord', the Anupadaka merged with the Absolute. Such can have no parents but are self-existent and one with the universal spirit (the Svabhavat). This glorious hierarchy extends from its concealed source to the Manushi Buddhas or human Buddhas (full Mahatmas), whose personalities are totally merged through the higher manas into Buddhi, the light of Atman. The thread of this divine hierarchy informs the flesh-born human race, for every soul-endowed man is an Anupadaka in a latent state. Lord Krishna assures Arjuna: "There is nothing beyond myself, O Dhananjaya. In me all this (all separate lives and karmic patterns) is strung as clusters of gems upon a thread." The Lord further states that the maya of His Divine Radiance, acting through the illusion of the gunas, is difficult to transcend. Indeed, in peering about, it is truly difficult to perceive the thread of spirit which we sense behind the complex web of circumstances. The Divine Radiance, the manifested sutratman, is designated as mayavic and also modified by its action through the illusion of the three qualities operating in nature. In reflecting upon the difficulties inherent in sorting out these multi-dimensional patterns, the thoughtful man comes to see that the most sophisticated patterns of reasoning are themselves mayavic, insufficient to reveal the real nature of the ancestral soul.
The analytical mind, which is divisive by nature, is well adapted to the work of itemizing and categorizing the binding threads that are hidden in the endless intricacies of life on earth. But if one would look for the inner links instead of the external bonds, then one must rely upon the synthesizing power of the higher mind which is informed by and which in turn awakens to consciousness the immortal soul, the sutratman. In the Celtic epic describing the voyage of Bran, the hero sails to the Divine Land of the Gods where he is pulled to shore by a thread thrown out to his boat. Just so did Theseus follow the thread out of the labyrinth where he had encountered and destroyed the Minotaur. The ball of thread was given to him by Ariadne who, as granddaughter of Zeus, represents Buddhi. As Theseus, signifying the mind, enters into the labyrinth of conditioned existence to meet the misbegotten monster, he unwinds the ball of thread, which then turns and knots and crosses itself as it accompanies him into the maze. The ancient Greeks called this ball of thread by the name 'clew', and indeed its filament provided the only clue (the derivative term) he could rely upon in order to find his way back.
It is said that Death winds up the thread of the former life in order to spin out a new one. And while the thread is spun out, we do indeed find ourselves in a maze. Like the ignorant shadow-watchers in Plato's Allegory of the Cave, we are bound by myriad threads running through our minds and encircling our bodies. We speak of untangling the ball of yarn, enlisting this ancient symbol to express the feeling of being hopelessly enmeshed in a tangle of threads, the pattern of which we cannot identify. We do not recognize that we ourselves have compounded the knots and interlacings, the loops and coils and twills. We struggle against the knots and twists even though the adage of Scott points to the cause when it laments: "Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive!" To cut the Gordian knot involves more than ceasing to practise deception in its everyday sense. The deeper problem of the labyrinth has to do with the unnecessary knots and tangles that arise from a fundamental deception or lie that violates the soul. The thread-soul issues forth in the world and becomes the string upon which the beads of our succeeding lives are strung, but the mind which identifies with the bead and heeds not the thread is capable of gross inversion. It can use the very language of soul-wisdom to rationalize its failure to merge itself with its parent. Thus the poor soul is dragged down and made to participate in a life of lies.
We find ourselves in the midst of entangled threads and hope to make some sense of them before we die. In all the tangle, we know not where to begin, and in untying one knot, we only expose several others and often manage to compound the tangle by tying when we think we are untying. The answer does not lie in throwing the tangled thread away, for karma has a way of ensuring that our new section of thread (sutra) will become entangled in very much the same way. So we attempt to sort out the snarl from where we find ourselves. To do so requires the use of that within us which stretches beyond the limits of the present entanglement. To cut the Gordian knot does not imply a mechanical severance but a seeing through to the silver cord that runs through the centre of the knot. To dissolve the knot requires an intense focus upon the Ariadne's thread of continuity. One must think back to the beginnings one can recollect. One must strengthen continuity of consciousness by returning to causes and never resting content with the passive acceptance of effects. It is necessary to follow the thread of causation if one seeks to penetrate to that level of mind where the imperishable memory of the soul can begin to inform its conscious vesture and impart to it an awareness of ancient lines of causation set up in many former lives. Thus we can properly use the gift of reason to unravel the thread of causality and move beyond the knotted realm of praise and blame in which the ephemeral bead-like personality is trapped.
Great aid and inspiration in our efforts can come from the sacred teachings of the Mahatmas who have sacrificed their self-won bliss in order to shed light upon our pathway. In their timeless teachings lies the 'Thread Doctrine', which passes through and links together all the ancient religious and philosophical systems. It reconciles and explains them and provides the yardstick whereby the validity of the assumptions and discoveries of modern science can be checked. It provides a practical psychology of living which allows each aspirant to spin the straw of personal experience into a shining thread of continuous self-awareness, transcending the discontinuities of interrupted and illusory consciousness. Gradually, with patience and persistence, the mind may wed itself to that thread of light, blending its own skills and powers with the illumination of the immortal soul. All of the 'lost threads' of memory and meaning can be braided smoothly into the silken cord of true Selfhood. Thereby each person can look at the world detachedly and grasp the cyclic significance of the emanating web of life. Just as the Enlightened Ones of all ages returned to dwell within the labyrinth, so too the seeker may choose to transmit to others the secret doctrine of the luminous thread-soul, the invisible sutratman.
Upon the loom of life
Hermes, June 1978