Embroidery of the Russian Goddess Mokosh

Linen towel used in marriage and childbirth rituals

This linen towel is an interesting example of the traditional woven ritual cloth that was very common in Russian peasant life during the 19th Century. Such items were no ordinary domestic cloths, as they were used in a ceremonial way at critical moments, such as birth, marriage and death. They were usually made by the women of the household.
 
The embroidery features the goddess 'Mokosh'. She is shown by a female figure, often with upraised arms, flanked by two male riders on horseback. The three figures have sun-like heads and are holding branches, symbolising their status as life-giving gods. The two small birds under the horsemen are carrying twigs as a sign of spring and new life. Mokosh was linked with female fertility and peasant women would pray to her for strength and health, which suggests that this towel was made in connection with marriage or childbirth. It is likely that this ritual towel came from the Eastern Slav part of Russia and the people using it would belong the the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Interesting facts about linen
  • Linen is made from the fibres of the flax plant and can be made into a very strong yarn.
  • The flax plant needs a damp climate to grow well.
  • In Victorian Britain, Barnsley was the centre of a prosperous flax weaving industry, and the damp basements of Victorian houses were ideal for linen weaving, although not good for the health of the weavers!
  • In Russia one of the other qualities of linen was put to good use. Linen is a very powerful antiseptic and no cases of skin diseases were found amongst the tsarist army because the soldiers were all dressed in linen.
  • Linen fibres found in a prehistoric cave in Georgia suggest the use of woven linen fabrics from wild flax may date back 36,000 years ago! 
  • In ancient Egypt mummies were wrapped in linen because it was seen as a symbol of light and purity, and as a display of wealth.
This towel makes up part of Haslemere Museumís European Peasant Art collection. This collection is of national importance as it links the town of Haslemere with the wider Arts and Crafts movement at the beginning of the 20th Century. The founder of the museum, Sir John Hutchinson (pictured above), established a revolutionary new role for museums by emphasising the importance of education for everyone. Hutchinson encouraged the open display of artefacts. He believed that people could learn as much through their hands as their eyes. This was in great contrast to other museums with their sealed cases and 'do not touch' signs. Haslemere Educational Museum was one of the very first museums to allow children into museums.

Glossary:

Antiseptic - Usually a liquid used to make things really clean

Fertility - Being able to re-produce successfully

Prehistoric - Ancient, very old

Revolutionary - New, unconventional

Status - Importance or position

Tradition - Habit or belief

Tsarist - A Russian ruler in complete control

Weavin g - Organising threads in an over and under pattern to make cloth

Yarn - Threads used to weave or knit




 
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