Monday, August 24, 2009

Spider Woman Revisited

“What might we see, how might we act, if we saw with a webbed vision? The world seen through a web of relationships…as delicate as spider’s silk, yet strong enough to hang a bridge on.”

Catherine Keller, Theologian, "From a Broken Web" (1987)

"It is through the poetry of myth, mask and metaphor Spiderwoman comes alive. The rock surface of an ancient petroglyph site is merely a veil between the observer and the other transcendental realms; it becomes a portal through which to enter the world of Spider Woman. As others have written before me: "
She is with me now as I tell you these stories."

Carol Patterson-Rudolph, "The Trail of Spider Woman" (1997)

I'm crossing this great country now enroute to Washington D.C. for my residency at the Henry Luce Center for the Arts at Wesley Seminary. I find myself reaching again for the almost transparent strand Spider Woman has cast my way, and felt like reviewing some of my writings from 2007 (my "Spider Woman's Hands" project at the Midland Center for the Arts) as I head east.
Mississippian "Spider" Gorget, ca. 1,000 a.d.

Grandmother Spiderwoman is also called "Thought Woman" by the Pueblo people of the Southwest. She is a Creatrix deity found among the Navajo, the Lakota, the Zuni, Hopi, and Pueblo peoples, and images of "Spider" are found among prehistoric peoples throughout the South and Midwest. Perhaps the earliest representations of a Spider Woman (who was also associated with the Earth Mother) are found among the Maya.

I have always felt inspired by this ancient myth, which for me is a metaphor on many levels. Spider Woman's threads weave from the center of life, a symmetry of interdependency. We are all Relations.

Anasazi petroglyph, Arizona desert

Here are a few notes I felt like sharing. I wrote these comments in my journal enroute to Michigan in 2007, and they became some of the "text" for the show we had at the Midland Arts Center that summer:

Years ago I was enjoying a panoramic view of the Sonoran desert. I happened to be sitting near a spider web stretched between two dry branches. I realized, by shifting my point of view, I could view the entire landscape through the web’s intricate pattern…..revealing a vast landscape, seen through the ineffable, shining strands of an almost invisible web.

Perhaps, that was the moment Spider Woman first captured my imagination. I knew that the Great Weaver of the Navajos, who they believed lived on top of Spider Rock near Canyon de Chelly in Navajo country, was revered because she taught them how to weave.

Spider Rock, Canyon de Chelly

Weaving is a sacred art. In Navajo rugs, “Spider Woman’s Cross” is sometimes seen, a symbol of balance or completion, the 4 directions. T0 this day, a bit of spider web is rubbed into the palms of infant girls, so they will become a good weavers.

Another story I've heard is that weavers often leave a flaw in the work - because the only perfect web is that of Grandmother Spider Woman.

As anthropologist Carol Patterson-Rudolph has commented, to the Navajo Spider Woman is an initiation into a more expanded and interconnected way of seeing. She is able to bridge the sacred and prosaic dimensions of life - but for those who are not ready, Grandmother Spider will be invisible, nothing more significant than an insect so small she can sit on a shoulder and never be seen or heard. And yet, for those with eyes to see, her Web is everywhere.

There is a legend that Spider Woman will return at the end of this era (which, according to the Hopi calendar, is now). In his book on Hopi religion, scholar John Loftin writes that:
“Spider Woman was the first to weave. Her techniques and patterns have stood the test of time, or more properly, the test of timelessness – because they have always been present. It makes sense that one would follow the instructions of a deity who helped form the underlying structure of the world in which one lives…..…..Weaving is not an act in which one creates something oneself – it is an act in which one uncovers a pattern that was already there.”
In Pueblo mythology Spider Woman is also called Thought Woman. With Tawa, the Sun God, She spins the world into being with what she imagines, with the stories she tells. I love this notion of creation - from her very being Spider spins silken, transparent threads that she organizes into patterns, ever expanding in complexity and scale. Tse Che Nako weaves her threads, sharing the creative power with all of her descendants. We participate in the weaving and the telling.

Tse Che Nako, Thought-Woman, the Spider,
is sitting in her room thinking of a story now -
I'm telling you the story
she is thinking.

Keresan Pueblo myth

Like the Spider Woman we conceive with our minds; but we “weave” the stories of our lives with the manifest works of our hands, bringing the imaginal into the physical.

In 2007 participants in the community art project Kathy Space and I created in Midland cast their hands to make “personal icons”, united by a thread connecting them to each other. Because Spider Woman’s many hands are our hands, weaving our stories and dreams into the world. Casting our hands honored the unique creative powers each possesses, honoring our abilities to become "conscious weavers“ with that which is ineffable.

A spiritual paradigm is founded upon mythic roots - the "warp and woof” from which ideas grow. Following the metaphor theologian Katherine Keller has provided in her book "From a Broken Web" - can we can find contemporary mythic models that allow us to envision our world as it really is – a shimmering web of interconnected relationships, and ecology of being. Can we find ways to "see the world with a webbed vision”?

Having found ways to claim that vision, by whatever name,
may we then rub a bit of spider web into the palms of our hands.


Loftin, John D. , Religion and Hopi Life, Second Edition, Indiana University Press, 2003
Keller, Catherine, From a Broken Web (1989), Thames & Hudson
Patterson-Rudolph, Carol, On the Trail of Spiderwoman, 1997, Ancient City Press

1 comment:

Claire Vimala Anderson said...

Spider Woman reminds me of the Hindu god Dattatreya, whose work it is to come in these last days and tie the threads back together. It seems all of the ancient traditions have some form of Spider Woman... Thanks so much for a lovely and informative article!
Jaya Guru Datta