Flax is one my favorite flowers for its slender delicacy and the periwinkle color of the blossoms. And flax has traditionally been identified with feminine activities.
The sowing of flax, then the spinning and weaving of it, have, across time, been the essence of feminine life with its fertility and sexual implications. In many countries flax is planted by women, who in some places exposed their genitals to the plant as it sprouted from the fields to encourage its growth.
(Female flashing wasn’t uncommon among humans or the gods and many myths worldwide attest to it: Baubo in the story of Demeter and Persephone; Sheela-na-gig, whose image was carved on churches in Ireland — until Medieval church “fathers” banished her; and the playful Japanese goddess, Amma No Uzume, who dances at the door of the cave of the sun goddess Amaterasu, and by exposing her breasts and genitals makes the other gods laugh, so that Amaterasu, curious, finally emerges, and the crops grow again.)
The spindle, too, is a symbol of femininity. In Medieval Germany, one spoke of “spindle kinship,” just as one spoke of the “distaff side of the family,” referring to relations on the mother’s side.
In the Middle Ages, the spindle was the sign of Saint Gertrude, who took many of the qualities of pre-Christian mother goddesses such as Freja, Hulda, Perchta, and others. The spindle is also the attribute of the wise old woman.
Anyone over 40 in the US remembers the flax clothing craze. The fabric is heavier than linen, which is far more delicate and elegant. Trouble with both flax and linen fabrics is they wrinkle so easily that by the end of the day, you look like you’re wearing a wad of Kleenex.
Thirty-plus years ago, I developed a painful sty in my eye while I was traveling through New Mexico. We stopped at a commune near Taos reputed to be the home of a few fine herbalists. One of them gave me a capful of pure, organic flaxseed or linseed oil (not furniture polish) and instructed me to pour it into my eye. It took less than hour to heal and I’ve kept the oil in my fridge ever since. It works every time.
Flaxseed oil for cooking is now all the rage (maybe taking the place of the flax clothing trend) and is thought to help with issues of cholesterol, diabetes and even Attention Deficit Disorder.