Aug 18, 2008

Totem Series: Spider

Antilles Pinktoe Tarantula

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I have this long list of power animals I've been intending to write about. I had no intention of starting with spider, but she has other ideas. Every time I've thought about starting this series, she has been dangling before my third eye. In this vision, she is large, about six inches across, brown, and slightly furry. She has made herself impossible to ignore.

Spider has not been a primary totem in my experience for some time, but for years she was ever-present. My journey with spider began innocently enough one morning as I was awakening. As the fog was clearing from my head and my eyes regained their waking focus, I saw something large, black and furry scurry across my pastel green duvet cover. I bolted from my bed and was on my feet in a fraction of a second. It normally takes me a good while to achieve perpendicularity. I am not a morning person.

The spider in question was really only about a half of inch across. It seemed much larger and more menacing when it was barreling across my blankets. But it was a muscular looking thing; black with orange striped legs.

I was working in a new age bookstore at the time. I'd been at work for several hours, that day, when a customer I knew well came in to browse. We chatted pleasantly, as I polished some of the silver jewelry, when I noticed an identical spider crawling across the top shelf of the jewelry display case. Black, furry, with orange stripes. I shrieked. My friend laughed and offered to remove the spider for me. He reached into the case and tried to grab it, making several vain attempts before finally cupping it in his hand and placing it outside in a potted plant. "Oh yeah. She's here for you," he said, with a knowing wink.

For years, she was everywhere -- In my home, in my path, in my dreams -- compelling me to ponder the meaning of her medicine. Now, I have long known that spider is the divine creatrix, in many world traditions. I consider spiders sacred and won't intentionally kill one unless I'm genuinely concerned that it's poisonous. Spiders are helpful. They kill other pests. I generally leave them be and sweep away the old cobwebs when they're done. But, for a particular part of my journey, she was so ubiquitous that I was forced to dig deeper.

One aspect of spider is creativity. She creates from her own body by spinning, sometimes, very elaborate structures from these secretions.

Spider Woman used the clay of the earth, red, yellow,
white, and black, to create people. To each she attached
a thread of her web which came from the doorway at
the top of her head. This thread was the gift of
creative wisdom. Three times she sent a great flood to
destroy those who had forgotten the gift of her thread.
Those who remembered floated to the new world and climbed
to safety through the Sipapu Pole the womb of Mother Earth."

~Navajo Creation Story~

. . .

For the two-legged beside whom Spider crawls, there will exist a depth of creativity that may manifest in any of a myriad of ways. Perhaps the talent is in writing prose that conveys depth of feeling and spirituality, or it may be the human counterpart is particularly skilled at creating beautiful and intricate jewelry that will often have an etheric quality to them, much like glimmering strands of a spider’s web.

Whatever channel this creativity flows through, it is a quality and gift that must be expressed and allowed the freedom to flow. If creativity is not acknowledged in the Spider individual, then a very necessary and integral part of their Life’s Purpose is being denied.

Such creativity is divinely inspired and a Gift that is given by the Great Mystery. The paradox in this for the Spider individual may be that they will deny an awareness of their own creativity for many years in deference to other areas of their lives which seem to call for attention. Often, the area that distracts the Spider soul most often is that of relationships as much like Grandmother Spider was forever aware of her Children, so the two-legged with this creature being as a Totem will tend to focus much of their attention on loved ones rather than nurturing and fulfilling their own needs. Yet if the Spider Soul does not give license to this creative spark, it will feel as though their life’s blood is slowly ebbing away or they are being "drained" of energy.

That last bit is interesting, isn't it. Being drained of energy seems to be my life condition, no matter how much creative work I undertake. But then, I've long suspected that I have not yet discovered my truest work, and in resisting it, on some unconscious level, I'm wearing myself out. Hmmm... something to ponder.

Close View of a Spider on Web

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According to the same entry, the Senneca spider myth speaks directly to communication.

Another area in which Spider has been recognized as being a Creative Force, is in communication of all forms. The Senneca People believe that Spider created the first alphabet of the Two-Leggeds so that we could leave a written history of our travel, lessons learned and progress made on this walk around the Wheel of Life. Following is a recounting of the story behind the creation of that alphabet.

“Spider wove the web that brought humans
the first picture of the alphabet.
The letters were part of the angles of her web.

Deer asked Spider what she was weaving
and why all the lines looked like symbols.
Spider replied, "Why Deer, it is time for Earth’s children
to learn to make records of their progress in their Earthwalk."

Deer answered Spider, "But they already have pictures
that show through symbols the stories of their experiences."

"Yes" Spider said, "But Earth’s children are growing more complex,
and their future generations will need to know more.
The ones to come won’t remember how
to read the petroglyphs."

***When Spider is present as a Primary Totem, she will bring with her a gift of communication. Most often, this skill is conveyed via the written word, rather than orally delivered, as Spider Souls can be quite shy, though they are capable of weaving beautiful words in the form of poetry or fiction (think of a Spider spinning its web), that can leave the reader spellbound and enraptured.

If this talent is not obviously present, it has likely been repressed during early childhood. If this is the case, concentrated effort will need to be taken in resurrecting this suppressed talent, as part of what any Spider Soul is here to do, is to convey profound insight and wisdom via the written word. Again, this can be paradoxical, as often times the one beside whom Spider walks will be rather oblivious as to the true power of his/her words and ability to elicit strong emotions.

There is much that I relate to in these tellings of spider as creatrix. Writing and journaling have been a large part of my expression, lo these many years. But, as is my wont, I felt compelled to dig still deeper into the myth of spider. Spider is connected to very fabric of the world, and that is more fascinating to me than the various acts of creative expression within it.

Orb Spiders Cobweb, Showing Water Droplets September UK

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I had an experience some years ago that brought the deeper meaning of spider mythos home to me. I was vacationing at the Jersey shore. It was a strange trip for many reasons. There was a full moon that week; a blue moon. Laying on the beach one night, staring at the stars, images kept flickering in and out. The material world felt eminently permeable. Staring at the sky I kept seeing something that looked like lightening, but wasn't. And for moments at a time, fragments of the night sky disappeared, revealing a kind of grid pattern.

I mentioned this experience in a session with Virginia Sandlin, the Cherokee Mystic, with whom I studied for a number of years. When I described the grid pattern, she said, "Well, that's what it looks like." She explained that, as in the telling of so many native cultures, spider spun the great web, the matrix upon which all of material reality came into form. "Now picture," she said, "a giant spider web as if you were encircled by it. What would it look like? Wouldn't it look like a grid?"

I could not help but notice, in my first viewing of "The Matrix," the numerous spider images associated with the machine world. Most vividly, when Morpheus shows Neo what the matrix is and how human beings are being grown as crops, machines that look like white, translucent spiders can be seen crawling in amongst the pods.

Depending on how one feels about the physical world, spider can be a benevolent or a more ambivalent construct. When I was deep in my ponderings about why spider was such a constant reflection, one friend suggested that it might be a warning about not becoming entangled in human dramas. There could be some truth in that. But the drama in which we are all entangled is manifest creation itself; maya. Or, what Morpheus calls, "the world that has been pulled over your eyes."

When we know that maya is the power that blinds us, binds us and deludes us, we become aware of the extent of its influence and its role in our lives. Out of this awareness comes a senseof caution and discriminating, which ultimately leads to our salvation. But till we reach that stage, we remain in the grip of maya, like fish, caught helplessly in a net. Saivism recognizes maya as one of the pasas (bonds) or malas (impurities). It is responsible for our animal (pasu) existence or beingness and becomingness. It causes in us ignorance and egoism and binds us to the objects we desire and seek. It makes us believe that the objective world in which we live and experience alone is true. It draws us outwardly and binds us to the things, we love or hate or we want to possess or get rid of. It is responsible for our experience of time and space which otherwise do not exist. It conceals our true nature and makes us believe that we are mere physical and mental beings. Through its powerful pull, it draws us forcefully into the objective reality of the world in which we live and binds us to things and events through our thoughts and desires. Unlike the western religion, in Hinduism God is not separate from His creation. His creation is an extension of Him and an aspect of Him. This world comes into existence, when God expands Himself outwardly, like a web woven by a spider. In His subjective and absolute state, His creation is unreal and illusory, but in our objective and sensory experience and real and tangible. It is a projection or reflection of Him, like the objects in the mirror and the mirror itself, different from Him somewhat, but also not so different, dependent but virtually distinct. He uses the concealing power of His own maya to draw Himself into Prakriti and conceal Himself in it as a limited and diluted being.

Along those lines, I happened upon this story of an ancient Hindu temple that became the battleground for a spider and an elephant.

There was once a vast forest that surrounded the interior lands around the Kaveri river in Trichy district. It was a forest rich with Jambu trees under one of which was installed a Shiva Linga. Back in the serene world that surrounded this Linga lived an elephant that used to come and worship the Lord every day. The elephant was an ardent devotee of the Lord.

At the same time there was yet another unassuming devotee who used to worship the Lord with as much devotion. A spider used to live around the shrine and tie a web above it so that the leaves from the Jambu tree would not fall on the Lord himself. But there was a problem for every time the spider made his web to protect the Lord, the elephant would destroy it thinking it was absolute sacrilege. This resulted in a mounting fight between the spider and the elephant, a massive clash of egos.

Finally the spider decided one day that it would not take this any more. The next day when the elephant came to worship the Lord he as usual decided to destroy the web the spider had spun over the Linga. This time the spider got smarter and entered into the elephant’s trunk and bit him. The following duel killed both the elephant and the spider. This is when Lord Shiva appeared before both of them, and said that they both had pleased him well with their devotion.

The spider in his next birth was born as King Kochchengan who built the current temple at Thiruvanaikkaval, in the island city of Srirangam to worship Lord Shiva. Interestingly, he built the sanctum sanctorum in such a way that no elephant would be able to enter the Gharbha Griha. Hence this is the only temple where the Garbha Griha is built low, has a very small vestibule (Antarala) and an even smaller chamber within which the Lingam resides. The entrance is extremely small such that no elephant can even find its way in. The only way to view the Lord is through a Jali window placed in front of Nandi, through which the Lord can be seen. It is considered very auspicious to be able to view the Lord through the horns of Nandi Bull through the Jali window.

So, it would seem, that spider both expresses and conceals "god." He, or she, depending on the myth, is associated with the creation of the world, and with maintaining the illusion that keeps us feeling separate.

Indeed, in some tellings, spider is something of a trickster. Anansi, a key figure in West African folklore, is such a character.

Anansi stories are known as Anansesem to the Ashanti, Anansi-Tori in Suriname and Kuent'i Nanzi in Curacao.

In some beliefs, Anansi is responsible for creating the sun, the stars and the moon, as well as teaching mankind the techniques of agriculture. Another story tells of how Anansi tried to hoard all of the world's wisdom in a calabash. In the end he realizes the futility of trying to keep all the wisdom to himself, and releases it.

Most cultures which feature Anansi in folktales also tell the story concerning Anansi becoming the King of All Stories, not just his own. In the original Ashanti version of this story, Anansi approaches Nyame, the Sky God, with the request that he be named King of All Stories. Nyame then tells Anansi that if he can catch The Jaguar With Teeth Like Daggers, The Hornets Who Sting Like Fire, and The Fairy Whom Men Never See, he will be King of Stories. Anansi agrees, despite Nyame's doubt that he can do it. Anansi then tricks the jaguar, who intends to eat him, into playing a game that allows Anansi to tie him up. He tricks the hornets by pretending that it is raining, and telling them to hide in a calabash. He tricks the fairy with the gum/tar baby trick addressed below. He then takes them to Nyame and becomes King of All Stories. Other versions, notably Caribbean variations, of this story involve Anansi getting Snake for Lion/Tiger.

So, I am left with deep ambivalence about spider. She brings both wisdom and trickery, creation and illusion. And sometimes, she bites.

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