by Richard L. Dieterle
Spiders have many unusual features, so it is not surprising that they could be considered holy. Earthmaker, for instance, wished to appoint someone to watch over his newly created world. He tried Turtle, but his legs were too stubby; he tried Crow, but he was too noisy; and he tried Bear, but he had a violent temper and frightened everyone. Finally, he settled upon Spider, who was nimble, had voice so quiet only Earthmaker could hear it, and was of a good temperament. Earthmaker gave her six new eyes, one for every direction, and it is for this reason that spiders today have eight eyes.1
Not everything about spiders is commendable. Hare investigated a band of eight men who strung ropes in the forest with which they entrapped people whom they later ate. These men were blind, so Hare, after causing them to fight among themselves, put poison in their food and killed them off. These men were in reality spiders.2 Today, spiders can no longer trick people into falling into their snares, but this does not stop them from entrapping other creatures. If a holy creature like a butterfly is caught in a spider's ambush, freeing it will result in a blessing.3
When a spider is working, it is a sign of a nice day.4 When in the Medicine Rite, by magical power, the day is cleared of all evil clouds, its purity is proven by the spider hanging suspended in the air.5 So when it was a nice day, the Twins thought that they might disguise themselves as a spider suspended in midair, but abandoned this idea as too obvious.6
Links: Turtle, Kaǧi, Bears, Hare, Butterflies, Twins.
Stories: mentioning spiders: The Spider's Eyes, Hare Visits the Blind Men, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, Tobacco Origin Myth (v. 5), Descent of the Drum (v. 1), Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men (v. 1), East Shakes the Messenger.
Themes: Earthmaker appoints one being after another to accomplish a mission, but must recall each in turn save the last: The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Spider's Eyes; Bear is rejected because of his temper: Bear Offers Himself as Food, The Spider's Eyes.
1 Joi StCyr, Why Spider has Eight Eyes, in David Lee Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997) 96.
2 Natalie Curtis Burlin, The Indians' Book: an Offering by the American Indians of Indian Lore, Musical and Narrative, to Form a Record of the Songs and Legends of Their Race (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1907) 247.
3 Nancy Oestrich [Lurie], "Butterflies and the American Indian," Wisconsin Archelogist, 24, #1 (1943): 1-6 (3).
4 Jasper Blowsnake, Untitled, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3885 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Library, n.d.) Winnebago II, #7: interstitial page 219/220.
5 Amelia Susman, Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, January, 1939) Book 8: 101-108. Paul Radin, The Road of Life and Death: A Ritual Drama of the American Indians. Bollingen Series V (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973 ) 293-294; the original text is in Jasper Blowsnake, Untitled, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3876 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Library, n.d.) Winnebago II, #7: 218-220. Sam Blowsnake, Unititled account of the Medicine Rite, in Amelia Susman, Notebooks (Philadelphia, American Philosophical Society, January 13-17, 1939) Notebook 8, 52-91. Paul Radin, The Road of Life and Death: A Ritual Drama of the American Indians. Bollingen Series V (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973 ) 275-277. The original text is found in Jasper Blowsnake, Untitled, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3885 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Library, n.d.) Winnebago II, #6: 190-193 and Winnebago II, #7: 194-195.
6 "The Epic of the Twins, Part One," in Paul Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic. A Study in Comparative Literature, Part I (Basil: Ethnographical Museum, Basil Switzerland, 1954) 24-41. The original text is in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago V, #2: 1-123 (syllabic text), 1-38 (English translation). See p. 90.