“But hang on a sec, isn’t that the English name of a Native American deity?”
Yes, as far as we know, it is (actually, several deities). So those of you who come here for the European history stuff, you’ll probably be disappointed. The fantastic author of this blog is now going to delve into another personal subject similar to the wakčéxi post I made earlier.
But first, the back story! *whimsical music starts*
As mentioned in my author bio I study spiders, and if you’re taxonomically savvy you can tell that my username here is a taxonomic family name. It refers to a group of spiders that are completely without venom glands (it evolved secondarily, meaning these species’ ancestors DID have venom glands). They pulverize their prey via crushing them with extra lengths of webbing. How cool is that?
This scientific interest of mine came from a very unscientific experience. Long story short, I had some freaky spider encounters both in real life and in dreams occurring in the same short period of time that made me do some reading, and I happened upon folktales of Grandmother Spider. Since I do believe in deities as being independent, actual beings (rather than archetypes), I decided to explore that route with the spider situations and stories. Given that I was not actually given a name, the Grandmother Spider title I called the spirit was the best thing I could come up with. Over 2 years of using this title and I’ve yet to be involved in any punishing experiences so I’m going to assume they don’t mind.
“Spider Woman” by Susan Seddon Boulet
Now, the deities often translated into Grandmother Spider in English tend to come from the Southwestern tribes in the US: The Navajo, Pueblo, and Zuni, for starters. The spider lady(s) are powerful and ancient, often directly responsible for improving the humans’ quality of life through teaching them pottery, weaving, and other crafts. They are the reason humans have fire, in some tales, and may even be creatrixes, weaving the entire universe and bringing it all to life. Now I’m not sure if she is meant to be understood as the ground spiders or web spiders, but given the geographic location my guess leans more towards the ground spiders, especially in desert locations.
There is evidence for spider deities elsewhere in the US, although more male than female in their names and/or depictions. Relics from Mississipian cultures depict spiders and tales from the Great Lakes tribes also have spiders functioning many roles, as deities, holy animals, or cultural figures. I think the line between holy animal and deity may be blurred in some cases, because I am an outsider and do not fully understand the contexts in which the stories were created.
Mississippian culture artifact depicting the famous spider design. Commonly called “Spider Woman” but it’s unknown who exactly the design refers to, if anyone. If the back of it is a sac of eggs then I can agree with the above interpretation.
The Great Lakes tribes that do have a recorded spider deity seem to have a male trickster type in their stories, and there are other names that suggest a ghostly figure (“white” or “pale” man, which I believe was wrongly attributed to the invading Europeans for a while). These spider spirits do not seem to be quite as big of a deal as the Grandmothers of the SW tribes though. Spider as a spirit animal is regarded as holy by the Ho-chunk tribe, for its ability to create and the many eyes most spiders have. Again, unclear what the status of spiders are in those tribes.
“Grandmother Spider Steals the Light”, original artist unknown. If you do know who it is, dear reader, please tell me so that I can give proper credit.
For my own UPG (or MUS=made up shit) I tend to lean more towards the Grandmothers for various reasons. Much of my free time is spent doing crafts like yarn spinning, crocheting, and (when I have access to a studio) pottery, which are symbolically linked to spiders. She is a muse for me, and it’s hard to not think of her whenever I am crafting. I am also attracted to her in the creatrix context, where she weaves the universe and the connections between everyone. I study ecology along with spiders themselves for my degree, and commonly the connections between organisms are called the “web of life”. Hence the spider is highly symbolic for pretty much my entire life, so the universe symbolism works. She was the first deity I ever devoted myself to willingly, and I have been nothing but highly fortunate since doing so. I cannot tell which spider deity she is, or if she is a local one vs. a recorded one, but she’s there and a part of my life for probably a long time.
Ho-chunk Encyclopedia (sorry, I do not know how to make special characters on the keyboard). Retrieved from http://www.hotcakencyclopedia.com/
Native American Indian Spider Legends. Retrieved from http://www.native-languages.org/legends-spider.htm