Spider Wisdom – Creation and Destruction, Part 1 by Judith Shaw

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.

Spider Wisdom by Judith Shaw

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. 

Neith with weaving shuttle above her head

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. 

Spider with women weaving. Uruk, circa 3000 BCE

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. 

Arianrhod painting
Arianrhod of the Silver Wheel by Judith Shaw

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. 

Nasca Lines Spider Geoglyp

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. 

Teotihuacan Great Spider Goddess

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.

Sources: Smithsonian, National Geographic, SpidersWorlds, LearnReligions, The Gift of Spider Woman, Iseum Sanctuary, Transcendence Works

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.



Categories: animals, Earth-based spirituality, General, Myth, Paganism

Tags: , , , ,

6 replies

  1. I was just thinking on spiders.  <3  Have entered as a resource to theDivineFeminineApp.com – hope you are doing well Judith.

    Caryn

    Like

    • Caryn, Spider does seem very apropos to these times with all the destruction and creation that is sure to follow. Thanks for entering it in the Divine Feminine App I can now see a light at the end of the tunnel of my extreme overload – Yay!

      Like

  2. As usual Judith, a fascinating essay. However, I would not call the spider the ‘ultimate symbol of female power’ – there is an overall darkness associated with spider – she is not only a weaver but a devourer and that aspect I am sure you will address… you know, the older I get the more i think that any creature can become an embodied symbol of female power Marija Gimbutas and Buffie Johnson surely show us that that female power can manifest in a multitude of ways and through virtually any person or creature…

    Like

    • Sara,
      Funny, because I paused as I wrote that “ultimate symbol…” but not for the reason you state. I was remembering Snake. I think Spider and Snake are both extremely ancient symbols of female power. Both are maligned by the patriarchal system. Spider’s dark side is explored in Part 2, publishing tomorrow.

      As to your reason about the darkness associated with Spider being a devourer, I would say that in my worldview this 3d physical world we have on Earth is made up of both dark and light. To deny either leads to imbalance. All nature consumes some other part of nature in order to survive – even the plant kingdom which makes its food by photosynthesis also needs to get nutrients from the soil. Coyotes eat cats, cats eat birds, birds eat insects, including bees who you know I especially love.

      Goddess in her entirety encompasses both the light and the dark. I love the rain but not so much when it becomes a flood or a hurricane and wrecks havoc on our human world. It is difficult to embrace the darkness, especially when it leads to death. But what choice do we have in this world of duality? Not that an acceptance of the darkness can ever relieve the grief and pain we feel at loss. Only time can do that. I hope that makes some kind of sense that clarifies my own thinking on these issues.

      Like

  3. Oh goodness I surely din’t intend to give you the idea that I was rejecting darkness! I surely am not – Every symbol carries both sides – There are so many animals that are so ancient – the only evidence we have of the earliest of them is their images – they were appearing long before words – looking forward to part two…

    Like

    • Sara,
      Sorry, guess I misunderstand because of your reference to spider as a devourer.

      But the use of the word “ultimate” is probably wrong as that then takes away from the power of all the other animals and symbols associated with feminine power as you point out. I just liked the flow of the words there but will have to give that up.

      I truly appreciate people’s comments as they really help me hone the writing for my decks. It’s all a work in progress.

      Like

Please familiarize yourself with our Comment Policy before posting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: