The Spider's Eyes

by Joi StCyr

retold by Richard L. Dieterle


When Earthmaker had completed his creation of the world, he looked for a creature that could watch over his creation. First Earthmaker appointed Turtle to oversee things, but his legs were so stubby that he could not see very far at all. So he was recalled. Then Earthmaker appointed Kaǧiga (Crow/Raven) to oversee the world. Kaǧiga could see far and wide, but he did more than just watch: he gave orders to everyone, and never was he silent for even a moment. Thus Earthmaker recalled Kaǧiga. Then Earthmaker appointed Bear. Bear could stand on his hind legs and see well and could even climb trees so that he could see in every direction. However, Bear had a terrible temper, and soon frightened the whole of creation. So Earthmaker recalled him as well.

Then Earthmaker appointed Spider to watch over the world. Spider was without any passion, so no one feared her. Her voice was so small that only Earthmaker himself could hear her. Because she could climb, Spider was able to see far and wide. In the beginning, Spider had only two eyes like everyone else, but just to make sure that she could see everywhere, Earthmaker gave her six new eyes, one eye for each direction. Ever since, spiders have had eight eyes.1


Commentary. "Turtle" — the character called "Turtle" is not the demigod of that name, but a representative of terrestrial turtles.

"so Earthmaker recalled him" — the creatures that Earthmaker chose originally all have a relation to one another. The members of the Bear Clan are manąpe or soldiers (policemen), so it is logical that Bear should act as a kind of guard. Turtle is the founder of war itself, and therefore is the first true soldier. However, his nature is short sighted. The kaǧi are the bears of the air, and therefore make a reasonable upper world counterpart to the soldier. However, both the bear and the kaǧi are too brash and controlling.

Turtle represents the world below the earth; Bear represents the earth; and Kaǧiga represents the upper world. Spiders are found in all three realms. A spider exhibits patience and self control, precisely what was lacking in her predecessors.

"Spider" — the Hočąk word for spiders is wikirihókeré. This comes from wikiri (variant, wakiri), which has no exact equivalent in English. It primarily denotes insects, but in addition may be used to refer to worms and to reptiles. For instance, lizards are called wikiri-hú-jop, "four-legged wakiri." However, "vermin" will not do, since we have wikiriháčep, "crocodile"; but, since wakiri is used to translate the "creeping things" of Genesis, it may reflect a grouping according to leg structure and locomotion. The second element in the name for spiders is hókeré, which means "queue, scalp lock." Since most spiders trail a web behind them, they are know as "the wikiri with queues." This has a tie in with the theme of warriors, since braves throughout the upper midwest wore either single hókeré, or a double one. This was a show of bravura to their enemies, since it reflected a committment to be killed in action, inasmuch as the braiding of hair in this fashion was designed for ease of scalping or of carrying away the whole head as a trophy of war.

"direction" — the directions are the four cardinal points with the addition of up and down.


Comparative Material. The notion that a proper guard should have numerous eyes is seen as well in the Greek myth of Argos Panoptes ("All Eyes"), who guarded the cow Io with his thousand eyes.2


Links: Earthmaker, Kaǧi, Turtle Spirits, Bear Spirits, Bear, Spiders.


Stories: mentioning spiders: 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; mentioning Earthmaker: The Creation of the World, The Creation of Man, The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Lost Blanket, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, The First Snakes, Tobacco Origin Myth, The Creation Council, The Gray Wolf Origin Myth, The Journey to Spiritland, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Seven Maidens, The Descent of the Drum, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Fourth Universe, Šųgepaga, The Fatal House, The Twin Sisters, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Elk Clan Origin Myth, Deer Clan Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, The Masaxe War, The Two Children, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Petition to Earthmaker, The Gift of Shooting, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Stone Heart, The Wild Rose, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Lame Friend, How the Hills and Valleys were Formed, The Hočąk Migration Myth, The Necessity for Death, Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, The War among the Animals, Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, Blue Mounds, Lost Lake, The Hočągara Migrate South, The Spirit of Gambling, Turtle and the Giant, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara, The Hočągara Contest the Giants, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Bird Origin Myth, Black and White Moons, Redhorn's Sons, Holy Song, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Death Enters the World, Man and His Three Dogs, Trickster Concludes His Mission, Story of the Thunder Names, The Origins of the Milky Way, Trickster and the Dancers, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, East Enters the Medicine Lodge, The Creation of Evil, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, Song to Earthmaker, The Blessing of the Bow; mentioning turtles (other than Turtle): Turtle's Warparty, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, Redhorn Contests the Giants, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Porcupine and His Brothers, Redhorn's Sons, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, The Healing Blessing, The Mesquaki Magician; mentioning kaǧi (crows & ravens): Kaǧiga and Lone Man, Bear Clan Origin Myth (vv. 2, 3), The Hočąk Arrival Myth, The Old Man and the Giants, Turtle's Warparty, The Shaggy Man, Trickster's Tail, The Healing Blessing, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Ocean Duck; mentioning (spirit) bears (other than were-bears): White Bear, Blue Bear, Black Bear, Red Bear, Bear Clan Origin Myth, The Shaggy Man, Bear Offers Himself as Food, Hare Visits His Grandfather Bear, Grandmother Packs the Bear Meat, The Spotted Grizzly Man, Hare Establishes Bear Hunting, The Woman Who Fought the Bear, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Redhorn's Sons, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, The Messengers of Hare, Bird Clan Origin Myth, The Hočąk Migration Myth, Red Man, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, Lifting Up the Bear Heads, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, The Two Boys, Creation of the World (v. 5), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, The Brown Squirrel, Snowshoe Strings, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, East Enters the Medicine Lodge, Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, Little Priest's Game, Little Priest, How He went out as a Soldier, Morning Star and His Friend (v. 2), How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Trickster's Tail, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Warbundle Maker, cf. Fourth Universe.


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; Bear is rejected because of his temper: Bear Offers Himself as Food.


Notes

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 H. J. Rose, A Handbook of Greek Mythology (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1959) 271.