Fragments of Spider Lore

Spiders in history

Golden Orb Spider

Golden orb spider

©iStockphoto.com/Oscar Gutierrez

Arachnida, the scientific name of spiders and their relatives is derived from that of a character in Grecian mythology. According to Ovid, Arachne was a mortal who was so skilled in weaving that she ventured to challenge Athena. When Athena saw that Arachne’s work was without blemish she destroyed it. Arachne was driven by grief to hang herself, whereupon Athena changed her into a spider and the rope became a cobweb.

Origin of Spiders

It is said in the sacred writings of ancient India, that a large spider was the originator of the universe. From her glands she wove the web of which we inhabit a part and even now she sits in its center directing its motion. At her pleasure she will consume it, as many of the spiders about us do their webs, and may then spin a new universe. It is worth noting that the same idea occurred in the folk lore of certain American Indian tribes and is also found in that of Guinea.

Spiders did not hold so exalted a station with all people. The idea was current in many parts of the world that they have their origin in putrefaction. Moufet proved this as follows: “It is manifest that spiders are bred of some aëreal seeds putrefied, from filth and corruption, because that the newest houses the first day they are whited will have both spiders and cobwebs in them.” His daughter was doubtless the heroine of the nursery rhyme:

Little Miss Moufet sat on a tuffet
Eating her curds and whey
There came a great spider
And sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Moufet away.

Spiders in the Bible

There are three fairly well-known Biblical passages concerning spiders. Agur (Proverbs XXX, 28) includes the spider that “taketh hold with her hands and is in kings’ palaces” among the four things which are little but exceeding wise, and the frail spider’s web is a symbol of the hypocrite’s hope (Job VIII, 14) as well as of the disobedient Jews’ works (Isaiah LIX, 5).

Spiders in History

If we may believe legends, Mohammed, St. Felix of Nola and other victims of pursuit have been saved by spiders spinning webs over the entrances to their hiding places. The pursuers, seeing the webs, decided that no one had passed that way and neglected to look.

The fortunes of Robert Bruce were at low ebb and belay, discouraged, gazing at the cobwebs on the rafters. A spider, after vainly trying twelve times to swing itself by its thread from one beam to another, succeeded on the thirteenth attempt. “The thirteenth time,” shouted Bruce, “I accept it as a lesson not to despond under difficulties, and shall once more venture my life in the struggle for the independence of my country.” He won.

Perhaps not much more legendary than these is the story that the spiders in the temple of Ceres Thesmophoros wove white webs when the Theban army was to be victorious, but black ones, signifying defeat, when Alexander made his attack.

Spiders as Weather Prophets

During his imprisonment at Utrecht, Quatremer Disjonval observed the relation between changes in the weather and the habits of spiders. When the French invaded Holland in 1794 by crossing the water barriers on ice, Disjonval hoped to be released. An unexpected thaw came in December and the French were about to withdraw but, as Disjonval’s spiders predicted a return of cold weather he got word to the French general to wait. This was done; the cold came and the French were able to move even their heaviest artillery and to take Utrecht.

Some of the ideas on this subject are as follows: if the weather is to be rough the threads which support the web are unusually short. Before a rain spiders are

Spiders as Omens of Luck

In Maryland it is said that if you kill a spider which gets on your clothing you destroy the presents it is weaving for you. A seventeenth century writer puts it as follows: “When a spider is found upon your clothes, we used to say some money is coming toward us. The moral is this: such who imitate the industry of that contemptible creature may, by God’s blessing, weave themselves into wealth and procure a plentiful estate.”

Instead of killing them you may throw them over your left shoulder if you wish good luck. If you feel that you must kill a spider that has taken up its abode in your house, carry it outside for its execution; otherwise you will be “pulling down your house.” If you kill a spider crossing your path you will have bad luck. If a white spider drops in front of you, you will soon see a dear friend; if a black one does the same, you will meet an enemy. In the Netherlands a spider seen in the morning forebodes good luck; in the afternoon bad luck.
indolent. If they are active during a rain fair weather will quickly follow. If spiders make changes in their webs before 7 P.M. the night will be clear and pleasant.

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