Spider, the eternal weaver of webs, has symbolized creation since people first began storytelling. Cultures worldwide have associated Spider with the Creator Goddess, weaving – and through association with women as they were the weavers who spent endless hours creating the fabric to clothe their communities, and feminine power.
Spiders are part of the phylum Arthropoda but they are not insects. They are members of the class of Arachnida, along with scorpions, mites and ticks.
Fossil remains reveal – spiders have existed for more than 400 million years. Today there are more than 43,000 different spider species living on every continent except Antarctica.
Creativity, Weaver of Fate, Feminine Power
Female spiders are larger and live longer than males. They are quite capable of defending themselves. Spider is a strong symbol of Female Power.
All spiders secrete silk from glands near their abdomens to create strands. Most create webs with these strands. Though the concept of a spider “spinning” a web is anthropomorphic their association with spinning and weaving rests firmly in the human psyche.
Since the 4th millennium BCE, Egyptian Goddess Neith, the oldest goddess of recorded history, was associated with Spider and weaving. Egyptian myth credits Neith with weaving the Universe into being. Often Depicted with a weaving shuttle, she was the weaver of human fate.
Another ancient example of Spider’s association with creation, fate and feminine power is the Sumerian Spider Goddess, Uttu. Associated mainly with weaving and clothing – both feminine enterprises – her story hints at a deeper and perhaps more ancient origin.
Spiders have eight legs. The number eight, symbol of infinity, figures strongly into Uttu’s asssociation as a spider goddess. Most likely Uttu was also a weaver of fates.
Uttu was the daughter of Enki, God of Water and Wisdom. Enki married and impregnated local Mother Goddess, Nintu (a version of Mother Goddess,Ninhursag.) Enki impregnated their daughter Ninsar who then gave birth to Ninkurra who, also impregnated by Enki, gave birth to Uttu. Uttu was warned by Enki’s wife about him but the young goddess was seduced by Enki’s promises of love and marriage. After mating Enki left her, leaving Uttu distraught. Enki’s wife came to console her. She helped Uttu remove Enki’s semen from her body, which then grew into eight plants – fertilizing Earth and birthing the first plants. Enki ate them and became pregnant which caused him great pain. Nintu came to his rescue by birthing eight healing goddesses.
Celtic Goddess Arianrhod, Goddess of the Silver Wheel is associated with spinning and weaving. With her wheel she weaves the tapestry of life. Some see her as a Spider Goddess.
By far the vast number of stories which associate Spider with a Creator Goddess and protector of humans come from the native American tribes of North America. This association extends, if only by iconography, to Central and South America.
The Cherokee, from the Southeastern part of the US, credited Grandmother Spider with bringing light, fire and pottery to the world. A legend recounts how in Earth’s early days all was dark. The people couldn’t see. They were confused and kept bumping into everything. They cried out for light.
Fox knew that the sun lit the other side of the world, but the people were too greedy to share it with the Cherokee people. All the animals agreed that someone must go steal the sun and bring it back so people could see.
Possum tried and failed – resulting in Possum having a bare tail as the sun had burned away his fur.
Next Buzzard tried and failed – resulting in Buzzard having a bald head as the sun had burned away his head feathers.
Finally Grandmother Spider agreed to try. First she made a clay pot, big enough to hold the sun. Then she traveled to the other side of the world, spinning her web all along the way. She used her eight legs to roll the pot as she went. When she reached the sun she placed it in her pot and quickly traveled back home along her web, from east to west, bringing the light with her. Now her side of the world had light and warmth. The people rejoiced and from then on held Grandmother Spider in great reverence.
Weaving is a strong tradition among the various indigenous people of the American Southwest who credited Spider Woman with their ability to weave.The Pueblo peoples of New Mexico and Arizona also saw her as an Earth Creator Goddess called “Thought Woman” who together with Sun brought forth the world. The Dine (Navajo), Lakota, Zuni and Hopi also saw her as a Creator Goddess.
Weaving is sacred to the Dine, who often weave in “Spider Woman’s Cross” to symbolize balance and the four directions. Weaving is still a strong tradition. Mothers rub a spider web into the palms of their infant daughters so they will become good weavers.
The Tlingit of the Northwest coast also honored Spider Woman as the weaver.
The Pawnee of Nebraska believed Spider Woman to be Mother Moon. She gifted her people with edible seeds and made the bison abundant. She could transform herself into a deer.
Numerous engraved neckpieces found from the Mississippian peoples portray a spider motif, usually with a cross on its back.
The Achumawi of Northern California tell of how Spider Woman and her sons stopped excessive rain and brought back the sun. The sun gifted them with the first rainbow which glistened like jewels in their web.
Spider, important symbol to peoples of the Andean culture in South America, is one of the symbols used in the Nazca Lines. Spiders with human faces were worn as ornaments on gold necklaces.
The pre-Columbian temple complex of Teotihuacan outside of Mexico city contains the mysterious figure of Spider Woman. Also considered to be the Great Goddess, she is associated with Spider due to her nose pendants that resemble the fangs of a spider. Scholars are divided as to her purpose and identity.
Read Part 2 of Spider Wisdom tomorrow and discover Spider’s other symbolic associations – Patience, Resourcefulness/Protection, Good Fortune, Wisdom, Interconnection, Illusion, Transformation, and Dark Dangers. Part 2 also includes the divinatory interpretations of Spider.
Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now. You can order your deck from Judith’s website – click here. Experience the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses!
Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her art. She continues to be inspired by the Goddess in all of Her manifestations. She is now working on her next deck of oracle cards – Animal Wisdom. Originally from New Orleans, Judith makes her home in New Mexico where she paints as much as time allows and sells real estate part-time. Give yourself the gift of one of Judith’s prints or paintings, priced from $25 – $3000.