I like spiders.
Mind you, I would not necessarily want them crawling all over me, but I’m not one of those people who freaks out at the sight of one. Nor do I believe in killing them…after all, spiders are good lil’ critters who eat the bad bugs. There’s really no reason to kill them. Shoo them out of the house, maybe…but let’s not get into the habit of arachnid execution.
photograph of spider in middle of its web
photograph by Robin Simmons of MaidinSun Photography
I like spiders because I love the stories that they have to share – stories they tell with the weaving of their intricate webs. Stories that go back in time, stories that cross over various cultures. It seems no matter where in the world you go, there is a story that tells of the spider. From the pyramids of Egypt to the jungles of the Congo; in the legends of such Native American tribes as the Lakota, Navajo, and Osage; and even in the traditions of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity we can find the existence of the spider.
photograph of a spider carving, found on the wall of an ancient temple
carving depicts a deity from the Moche civilization of Peru,
and is believed to be about two thousand years old
Perhaps the best-known story associated with spiders is that of Arachne, a mortal who boasted that her weaving was even better than that of the goddess Athena. Offended by Arachne’s arrogance, Athena challenged her to a contest to determine who could create the best tapestry.
ancient Greek vase illustrated with a scene of two female weavers working at a loom
Athena wove a beautiful scene depicting her relationship with the city of Athens – of which she is the patron goddess. Arachne on the other hand chose to exhibit the failings and errors of the Gods, in particular the infidelities of Zeus – who happens to be Athena’s father. Although Arachne’s weaving was quite intricate and lovely to behold, Athena was rather insulted by the subject matter and the impudence of this mere mortal who dared to spite the residents of Mount Olympus. In anger, Athena broke Arachne’s loom and tore up her tapestry.
drawing showing an angry Athena destroying Arachne’s tapestry
Now here is where the story deviates a bit, depending on which version you’ve read. Some accounts say that in the midst of her anger, Athena changed Arachne into a spider as punishment for her behavior and attitude. Other accounts say that Athena smote Arachne on the forehead to teach her a lesson, from which Arachne became depressed and felt so guilty for her actions that she committed suicide by hanging herself. Athena took pity upon the lass and transformed her into a spider, that she and her descendants might thus weave for all eternity.
drawing of Arachne changing into a spider
illustration by Gustave Dore created in 1861
for an edition of Dante’s Inferno
Over the years I have had a couple of Arachne’s children take up residence in the houses that I rented; hiding out in the eaves during the day and coming out at night to spin their webs. I was always thrilled to see these little creatures, and I would sit watching as they weaved…imagining that they were spinning my own fate, weaving the web of my life with their silken threads. I would meditate upon the intricate orbs, trying to read the messages that these arachnids have left for me…to learn the lessons which they are attempting to teach. Spiders are great teachers, and they have many lessons to share with us – lessons about patience, lessons about balance. Spider teaches us that everything that we do now is weaving the fabric of our future.
A year ago this month I purchased my very first house, a cozy little two-bedroom cottage. I settled in and looked forward to my own future in my new home. And I looked forward to waking up one morning and finding my own little companion up in the corner rafters of my porch. As Winter came to an end, Spring emerged and soon passed into Summer, I would seek my own eight-legged teacher to no avail. At the same time, I struggled with the every-day challenges of survival in this tough economy – trying to find a job, pay the bills, keep a roof over my head and food on the table. At times I wondered about my own future, and if in fact I had made a mistake in buying this house…if in fact this was not where I am meant to be.
Last week was a particularly challenging week and I was feeling especially depressed. One morning I decided that the best thing I could do was go out to my local coffee shop for a cappuccino. So I stepped out the back door to head to the driveway where my car was parked…
and then I saw it.
Up in the corner, hanging down from the porch beam, there it was. A large beautiful web.
close-up photograph of a spider web, dew drops clinging to the silk strands
My prayers had been answered. The Goddess had recognized that I needed a little comfort and a little guidance…so she had sent me a friend. I didn’t see the spider anywhere, so I assumed that it was probably hiding away for the day. I carefully navigated my way around the web, and continued on my trip to get my dose of caffeine. Upon returning, the web was gone…it had obviously been destroyed by the wind and the brief rain we had gotten. I anxiously waited for nightfall, to see if the little weaver would be back.
That evening, Arachne returned, and began to spin a new web to replace the one that had disappeared. I came out and stood quietly on the porch watching as she moved around in a spiral, her silken threads falling delicately into place as she wove a new tapestry. Once she was finished, Arachne took her place in the hub of her web, perched silently as she awaited her prey.
Unlike my friend Robin, I am not a skilled photographer nor do I own a good camera. The best I could do was this blurry picture taken with my iPod…
photograph of spider in middle of a web
For the past several nights Arachne has returned to the same spot…repairing her web as necessary, or simply standing guard. I am not sure what type of spider she is. The best I can determine is that she is some kind of orb weaver, although what type I do not know – possibly a garden spider variety. She’s a bit on the shy side and tends to scurry off when I open the back door, although she did pose nicely for me while I attempted to photograph her.
How long Arachne will stay around, I cannot say. I imagine she will remain for as long as the Goddess feels I need her…and then she will move on, or possibly pass through the veil. But her message will remain, and hopefully I can learn from the lessons she is teaching me. I’m still meditating on those messages now.
Perhaps those lessons will be the subject of a future post.