Kiss of the Spider Woman


Picture by Susan Seddon Boulet
One of the mythical Navajo beings who plays a part in Rebecca Roanhorse’s Race to the Sun is Spider Woman, and there is a mention of Peter Parker in this context. Spider-Woman in Marvel Comics is Jessica Drew, but there isn’t any particular connection that I can see.
This Spider Woman is an important figure in Southwestern Native American mythology, and is often seen as a creator goddess and benefactor of humanity. It’s a little weird to think of a spider in this context, as a lot of people find them creepy, but they do make ornate webs and catch harmful insects.

Picture by Jo Jayson
The Hopi of Arizona have KokyAngwuti, or Spider Grandmother, ruler of the underworld, who teamed up with Tawa, the Sun, to create the world through thought and a thread of webbing.

Sculpture by Lauren Raine
They make humans out of clay and bring them to life by singing. Spider Grandmother then teaches them various skills and proper gender roles. She’s also said to have started the Snake Clan in particular. A boy named Tiyo from what is now southern Utah sought out the end of the Colorado River, meeting the woman in an island cave along the way. She gave him a rainbow bridge on which to travel and a serum to subdue monsters on his journey. Where the river reaches the sea is an island inhabited by the Snake People, who can take the form of snakes. He participates in a ritual where he shows himself to be unafraid of the snakes, and then marries into the clan.

The Hopi and Navajo, like the Aztec, both have myths that tell of a succession of worlds being destroyed or abandoned in turn. In the Hopi, Spider Woman helps people progress from one to the other. In the Navajo, her role isn’t as significant, but she and her counterpart Spider Man teach weaving to people while they’re in the third world. It was in the current world, the first one, that the first man and woman had a daughter, or rather turned a piece of turquoise into a daughter, Changing Woman. She in turn gave birth to twins, with the Sun as the father, and they grew up to be monster-slaying heroes. Spider Woman gave them advice on how to reach the Sun, and provided them with hoops made from eagle feathers that would enable them to progress along the rainbow trail and drive off dangers, in similar fashion to how she helped Tiyo. She does have a sinister side, however, as she’s said to capture, boil, and eat disobedient children. Their bones then melt, causing the white bands at the top of her home, Spider Rock in Canyon De Chelly.

It’s been proposed that these spider deities were derived from an earlier goddess worshipped in ancient Teotihuacan, Mexico, who is depicted on murals surrounded by or covered in spiders, often on vegetation growing out of her head.

As far as I can tell, though, there isn’t really any indication as to how this goddess was portrayed outside the murals, if she even is a goddess.

This entry was posted in Animals, Aztec, Comics, hopi, Magic, Monsters, Mythology, Native American, Navajo and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Kiss of the Spider Woman

  1. Though I doubt either Spider Man or Spider Women from the comics are intentionally based on the Navajo spiritual figures, it does make me wonder why the comic creators chose a spider to create a superhero. Was it just because of the scientific information about the strength of their threads relative to steel? Or was the spider a significant symbol for one of the creators? Probably no one wrote that down for posterity, but it’s interesting to ponder.

  2. In the iconography of the Divine Feminine, a spider’s web represents the interconnection of all life.

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