Halloween is in just a few days, so it’s time to get scary! If you suffer from arachnophobia, then proceed with caution because today’s blog is all about our creepy eight-legged friends.
Spiders are a popular theme during Halloween because they lurk in dark corners, have a connection to witches, and sometimes are just plain creepy looking.
However, there’s a lot we can learn from the arachnid! Many cultures around the world have some form of myth or legend associated with spiders, so today, we’ll explore some of the most popular spider folktales. Travel down the spider’s web with me.
Native American Spider Legends
A Hopi legend tells the story of a “spider woman,” often portrayed as a teacher and a guide, who thought the universe into existence while sitting quietly, weaving her web.
The Cherokee are another Native American tribe with a folktale about a spider. She is known as Grandmother Spider, and the Cherokee believe that she brought light to the world. As the legend goes, humans were suffering from darkness and despair. Grandmother Spider agreed to go and bring the sun back to the people, using her magic web to cart it safely home.
Spiders in Religion
In two different religions, Judaism and Islam, spiders are depicted in a positive light. Patti Wigington writes,
In the Torah, there is a story of David, who would later become King of Israel, being pursued by soldiers sent by King Saul. David hid in a cave, and a spider crawled in and built a huge web across the entrance. When the soldiers saw the cave, they didn’t bother to search it – after all, no one could be hiding inside it if the spider web was undisturbed.
A parallel story appears in the life of the prophet Mohammed, who hid in a cave when fleeing his enemies. A giant tree sprouted in front of the cave, and a spider built a web between the cave and the tree, with similar results.
Germany – The Christmas Spider
Spider webs make an appearance in Germany and Ukraine not in October, but in December. According to German folktales, there was a young widowed mother who was too poor to decorate her tree. Friendly spiders spun elaborate webs on the tree which, when hit by sunlight the following morning, sparkled in silver and gold. These days, it’s considered good luck to have a gold or silver spider ornament on your Christmas tree.
Africa – Anansi Legend
In West African culture (particularly Ghana) there appears a trickster spider called Anansi, who is always stirring up mischief and trouble. He is most well known for his ability to outsmart more powerful opponents, using intelligence and cunning. (If you’re interested in reading Anansi stories in more detail, click here. They are surely entertaining!)
It’sIt’s no surprise then that he is often viewed as a symbol of slave resistance and survival, as his story was brought to the Caribbean through the oral tradition of the Ashanti people.
Japanese Spider Legend – Tsuchigumo
The Tsuchigumo (meaning “earth spider”) is a supernatural creature with the ability to transform into other animals and even people. They can grow to monstrous sizes and possess a strong magical talent for illusion.
The most famous myths surrounding the tsuchigumo tells the story of a 10th-century general named Minamoto no Yorimitsu.
“In one legend, a tsuchigumo changed itself into a servant boy to administer venom in the form of medicine to the famed warrior. When his wounds were not healing and the medicine didn’t seem to be working, Yorimitsu suspected foul play. He slashed his sword at the boy, who then fled into the forest.
The attack broke the powerful illusion which the spider had laid on Yorimitsu, and he found that he was covered in spider webs. Yorimitsu and his retainers followed the trail of spider’s blood into the mountains, where they discovered a gigantic, monstrous arachnid—dead from the wound Yorimitsu had inflicted.
In another legend, a tsuchigumo took the form of a beautiful warrior woman and led an army against Japan. Yorimitsu and his men met the army on the battlefield. Yorimitsu attacked the warrior woman first, and as the blow struck, her army vanished—it was merely an illusion.” (Source)
Spiders in Australian Culture
In Australian culture, spiders are an important totem for the Rembarrnga/Kyne people living in Arnhem Land. A totem is a natural object or animal that is inherited as a clan’s spiritual symbol.
Harry Tjutjana is a well-known artist, whose most famous piece, Wanka (Spider), depicts the powerful “spider man, a Ngankari or traditional healer.”
The Legend of Arachne
According to Greek mythology, Arachne was a weaver who decided to challenge the goddess Athena to a weaving competition. There are several different versions of the myth, but the most popular is slightly more disturbing than I like for this blog (though you can read it here). Two other versions are as follows:
In the first version, Arachne boasted about her skill as a weaver, which infuriated Athena. Athena believed her work would be better than Arachne’s, but to her dismay, the other girl’s work was of the highest quality. In a fit of rage, she threw a potion onto her competitor, which transformed her into a spider–condemning her to weave forever.
In the second, more compassionate version, Athena and Arachne decide to have a weaving competition. The loser would be forever forbidden to touch a loom or spindle. Athena wins, but out of pity, transforms Arachne into a spider so that she can continue to weave.
Fun fact: Arachne is where we get the English word “arachnid”!
From the whole Universal team, we wish you a festive Halloween, with or without spiders!
Todd Stebleton is the owner and operator of Universal Pest Control, a family-owned business for over 25 years in Ormond Beach, Florida. He and his wife Natalie are proud to have built a company focused on conducting business with honesty and integrity: keeping customers first, protecting the environment, and providing trustworthy, personal service.
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