In the aftermath of the bloody Balkan War in the 1990s, I asked many stari Babas (elder women) what was in their apron pockets. South Slavic storied aprons are the first-person stories of daughters, mothers, and grandmothers mirroring the biological miracle of female mitochondrial DNA. The mitochondrial DNA, the unbroken line of genes passed down from mother to daughter, allows geneticists to trace back to the first mother. The Slavs embroidered pockets to hold dolls, keys, and jewelry to be passed on to their daughters is an unbroken ritual despite wars and holocaustic events.
Startled by my inquiry, some stari Babas wept out of sadness or joy simple due to my curiosity to ask. Sincerely, I think it was mostly that someone bothered to notice their aprons or their perception of whom in the world would want to talk to them about anything.
As I repeated my inquiry to every Bosnian woman who wore an apron, scissors were numerous as if the weavers of fate and destiny knew their power to cut the threads that were no longer useful. According to Marija Gimbutas’ research, spinning and weaving were carried out by women in the sacred temples. Charred ceramic loom weights and spindle whorls used to spin thread from wool or other fibers and flint blades (scissors) were found in many of the archeological Old European temples.[i] Many midwives in former Yugoslavia refer to the scissors as destiny and fate due to their cutting of the umbilical cord.
As I amassed a random picture of what was in Bosnian women’s aprons, the women revealed a highly evolved sacred system for the preservation and guardianship of Old European practices. It provided a place and space for the remnants of their daily lives and a way to heal trauma laden with grief.
Bosnian aprons draped on clotheslines, balconies, and windows waved proudly as flags depicting the citizenship of art, craft, and female humanity.
In one apron, a granddaughter spoke of finding her grandmother’s wedding ring and necklace. The daughter stated how she laughs each time she thinks of the soldiers ransacking her grandmother’s house, neglecting the apron pockets. I asked her why that would happen. She retorted that it was because the men would never do women’s work or be associated with it.
After a decade of investigating what was in apron pockets, I realized that every element found in the pockets of aprons was an icon of the gestating womb: life/death/life spiral.
The aprons are symbolic of the ancient goddesses—archeological artifacts—that convey the lap of the Earth and ancient feminine principle. The Vinca culture dated from 5,300-4,000 BCE geographically near Belgrade in Republic of Srpska had more than 2,000 artifacts and figurines of the goddess in the archeological sites.[ii] This is the era where the first linear writing started to form on spindle-whorls.
South Slavic, Slavic, and Baltic aprons are vivid and alive remnants of the past still inspiring daily feminine life today. Those aprons are the pages of their books expressing intergenerational wisdom and archaeology of memory still practiced. Aprons do not lack textual context nor do they suffer a commemoration superficially analogous to many women wearing them. I learned from the Bosnian women that if one relied heavily upon the written word and documentation as being a cultural continuity and the only meaningful substance, it meant that their interleaved and constituted sacred ground—their wombs—are certainly in direct opposition because the aprons are their experienced embodied responses.
Danica Anderson, PhD
Pockets: Womb memory icons with analogic magic that help to record eternal memory into language, dance, and the moment. Points to the evolutionary biological female progression and mitochondrial DNA unbroken lineage passed down from mother to daughter. The pocket strongly indicates origins of marsupial and placental mammals giving birth to live young. The marsupial pouches have short gestation periods and complete their maturation in the marsupial pouch. Amateur fossil hunters found the oldest known ancestor to kangaroos, koalas, possums, and wombats in China’s northeastern Liaoning Province dated 125 million years old.[iii] To this day, old Slavic folktales state there was a large sea that kept the mammals enclosed with dinosaurs and huge birds that do not fly. Once the sea bled away, mammals became more prevalent and birds began to fly. Pockets, like pocket books, are symbolic for the womb. Selection of what is put into pockets is integral because it displays the need to complete maturation in a fertile womb surround.
[i] Ibid., p. 73
[ii] Monica Sjoo & Barbara Mor, The Great Cosmic Mother, Rediscovering the religion of the Earth, (HarperSanFrancisco, 1991) p. 91
[iii] Oldest Marsupial Fossil Found in China John Pickrell in England for National Geographic News December 15, 2003