Friday, 17 August 2012

The wisdom of Grandmother Spider

I’ve been thinking about things that make me happy--things that make me…me. Spiders definitely fall into that category.  I have 2 tattoos of spiders--one small on my scapula and one large on my bicep. They remind me to be creative and persistent in all my endeavours. Here’s a piece I wrote for Quakerview when we first moved to Hitchin that tells about my lifelong love for eight legged creatures. 

People often ask me why I am so interested in spiders. The truth is, from my childhood spiders were always interested in me. Everywhere I would go they would drop down on their silken draglines in front of my face to say hello or alight gently on my shoulder. Many people recoil in horror when I say that, but I felt that it meant that I was receiving a special blessing from God.  I was a sickly child, allergic to all sorts of conventional pets, so I often sought out the unusual animals to be interested in. Or in the case of spiders, they sought me out. I became known as the spider girl at school because I would thrash anyone who dared squash a spider and was often called to remove one safely from a classroom.

When I was in year four, a kindly science professor  who taught at the university with my father gave me a dead tarantula in a jar of formaldehyde as a Christmas gift. It was truly the best childhood gift I ever received and I kept that spider on a lace doily in a place of honour for 16 years until finally it fell apart. When I met Spiderman he had a pet tarantula named Shirley MacLaine (from a cartoon where a spider said “I think I was Shirley MacLaine in a former life”) and I knew we were soul mates and  destined to be married! I had never met anyone who cared about these creatures the way that I did.

Together we have had a life filled with spiders. We have always considered it lucky to have spiders in our house so we never chase one away unless it is in danger of harming itself or us. However in all my years of spider watching, I have never encountered a poisonous one personally. There are 35, 000 known types of spiders in the world, but only 30 or so are dangerous. With these odds we have been blessed with spiders doing amazing things and have never been harmed. We once even parked our cars on the street for 6 months because a lovely orange and yellow garden spider had decided to build her web across our driveway and we couldnt bear to disturb her!

After Spiderman’s tarantula died we replaced her with a beautiful spider named Charlotte after the heroine in Charlottes Web. People often asked how did we handle her and not get bitten. Well, the answer to that is we never touched her. She brought us hours of pleasure just watching her sit still (which she could do for hours at a time) or spinning a web or eating a cricket. Many people were terrified because of her size, but it must be known that tarantulas are generally gentle giants. They only bite when provoked and their bite is akin to a bee sting. And left alone and respected, she never had a reason to defend herself.

After several years Charlotte went to that Big Web in the Sky. In the eight years we have been in England we have acquired a total of six tarantulas, all of different sizes, shapes and colours, but all with definite personalities.

Spiders play a role in many Native American mythologies. Both the Hopi and the Choctaw have a female spider figure in their creation stories. In one Hopi creation story, Grandmother Spider is the mother of all that shall come. She was given the task of moulding clay and later imbuing it with life. One of her many tasks is setting out the division of labour between males and females. For those on heroic quests, she provides food that is never used up, magic medicine to calm savage monsters, and magic feathers for protection. When necessary, Grandmother Spider becomes very small, riding on the ear of the seeker, ready to whisper important advice. A benevolent force, she reminds her people that "only those who forget why they came to this world will lose their way."

The Choctaw legend of Grandmother Spider is one of my favourites. The world began in darkness and all of the animals and humans gathered together to try to steal fire from the east to bring light into the world. Several animals boast that they are clever enough, but all fail at the task except for Grandmother Spider who has the foresight to make a clay pot in which  to carry the fire home. Upon her return she teaches the humans how to tend the fire and keep it going and about the art of pottery and clay. She also teaches them about weaving and spinning as she is an expert in these matters. Even today their weaving designs feature the pattern of  Grandmother Spider with two sets of legs up, two sets facing down and the fire on her back. It is from these legends that I draw my strength and claim the spider as a symbol of creativity and resourcefulness to aid me in my life journey. 

I find I am more in the presence of  the Light when I am with spiders. I believe in a Creator who has an imagination far beyond anything that I can understand. To create 35,000 different and unique species of a creature who is often ignored, feared and shunned is beyond my comprehension. If I were the Creator, I would have made five or six really good ones and then thought, Well, so few people will even care that I wont bother to make any more. Thank goodness I am not in charge!  My father in Heaven along with my mother the Earth have provided a world full of wonder and beauty. Even if others choose not to look for it.


  1. What a beautiful meditation for me this Sunday morning! I love that last paragraph and I share that same sense of awe at the wonders of creation.

    I have no idea why I didn't see this yesterday when I read about Polychrome's addition and the biographies of her sisters. (I note that it was written a day earlier) Maybe it was because I needed a meditation for my Sunday when I chose to stay at home and re-center myself. Richard Rohr and Heather Tisdale----sages that speak to my heart today.

  2. Are you a fan of Neil Gaiman? His works strikes me as being right up your alley. You should especially check out his novel Anansi Boys. It is about the 2 sons of the West African Spider god Anansi, one of them is a Londoner who is unaware of his heritage. A really great novel.