There are many stories in children’s books about spiders who weave amazing things. There is Charlotte in Charlotte’s Web, who keeps Wilbur the pig safe by weaving words above his head.
There is Miss Spider in Miss Spider’s Tea Party who tried to convince her bug friends that she doesn’t want to eat them.
And of course, one of the most popular spiders in America…Spiderman, who uses his web throwing ability to fight evil!
But did you also know that Spiders have a very long history in the mythology? Many cultures have myths about Spiders teaching humans how to weave.
There is the myth of Spider Woman who taught the Navajo how to weave.
It was Spider Woman who taught Dine (Navajo) ancestors of long ago the art of weaving upon a loom. She told them, “My husband, Spider Man, constructed the weaving loom making the cross poles of sky and earth cords to support the structure; the warp sticks of sun rays, lengthwise to cross the woof; the healds of rock crystal and sheet lightning, to maintain original condition of fibres. For the batten, he chose a sun halo to seal joints, and for the comb he chose a white shell to clean strands in a combing manner.”
There is the myth of Anansi from Ghana, the trickster who taught people to weave.
One day during the reign of Oti Akenten (about 1600 AD) two brothers–Nana Kragu and Nana Ameyaw–went hunting in the rain forest. After searching all day for food with no success they finally spotted a herd of impala. They were delighted with their find, but on closer inspection the brothers spied something else–something that hovered near this herd. What was this thing that glistened with the evening mist and reflected the colors of the rainbow? And who was this creature that was sitting in the very center of this delicate object? “I am a spider—I am Anansi, the spider and this “object” is a web,” was the reply. “And in return for several favors I will teach you how to weave lovely webs like this.”
And, finally of course is the myth of Arachne from Greek and Roman mythology.
Athena, goddess of wisdom, was a proud and talented, young goddess. In times of peace, Athena taught Grecians about the arts. She herself was a skillful weaver and potter and always took pride in her pupils’ work, as long as they respected her.
One of Athena’s pupils was a maiden whose name was Arachne. Arachne was a poor, simple girl who lived in the country. Her father was a quiet man of humble birth. He dyed sheep’s wool to earn money for a living. Arachne wove beautiful fabrics of delicate designs, and people began to comment to her that surely she had been taught by the goddess Athena. Arachne denied this and stated that she was certainly better than Athena and that she had learned little or nothing from Athena’s teachings. She even went as far as to say that she was a better weaver than Athena !
Arachne was known to have said,”I have achieved this marvelous skill due to my own talent, hard work, and efforts.”
Soon Athena heard of the boastings of Arachne and decided to speak to her. Athena disguised herself as an old woman and went before Arachne stating, “It is foolish to pretend that you are like one of the gods. You’re simply a mortal who talents are paled in comparison to those of the goddess Athena.”
Arachne charged back to the old lady, “If Athena doesn’t like my words, then let her show her skills in a weaving contest.”
Suddenly, the disguise of the old woman was removed and there stood the radiant goddess Athena standing in front of Arachne. Athena accepted the contest challenge.
As the contest began, it was clear that the beauty of both Athena’s and Arachne’s tapestries were lovely. However, the goddess worked more quickly and skillfully. Arachne’s attitude about her work showed that she felt her weaving was more lovely, but Athena felt it was an insult to the gods. This angered Arachne especially since Athena requested an apology. Arachne refused, and Athena slapped Arachne in the face. Almost instantly Arachne felt her head begin to shrink and her nimble fingers grow into long, thin legs.
“Vain girl, since you love to weave so very much, why don’t you go and spin forever.” Athena had turned Arachne into a spider.
So it is said that all spiders have been punished for Arachne’s boasting, since they are required to live within their own webs. Since then spiders have been called arachnids.
The week after thanksgiving, first graders will begin to study spiders and weaving together. We will look at real spiders in jars and watch them weave webs. Then we will create weavings ourselves.