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The Spider By Yvonne Federer The spider is often wrongly referred to as an insect. In fact, it belongs to a subkingdom, the Arachnida, a class of wingless animals that is intermediate between insects and the Crustacea. Its body is annulose, that is, composed of rings. The class name derives from the Greek word for spider, arachne, and the myth about a weaving contest between Athena and Arachne (who was famous for her spinning). In one version of the myth, Athena becomes so angry when she loses a contest that she strikes Arachne on the forehead. Changing Arachne into a spider, Athena condemns her to an eternity of spinning a thread from her own body and weaving her web. There are many legends about spiders connected to important men in history. For example, when Mohammed fled from Mecca he hid in a cave in front of which a tree miraculously sprang up and a spider spun its web between it and the entrance to the cave. Mohammed's enemies assumed that no one could have entered the cave recently and travelled on. A story is told about Frederick the Great. When he was about to drink his cup of chocolate, a spider dropped into" from the ceiling. Calling for another one, Mohammed heard a shot from the kitchen. The cook had killed himself. Ordered to poison the chocolate, he thought that he had been found out. On the ceiling of the room in the castle, a spider has been painted in remembrance of the event. Many old wives' tales usually have to do with the spider being venomous or at least frightening, as in Little Miss Muffet. There used to be a belief that spiders spun only on dark days. And Shakespeare writes in Richard II: Let thy spiders, that suck up thy venom, And heavy-gaited toads lie in their way. Because of its practice of entrapment and devouring, the spider is frequently associated with the terrible Great Mother. This dark, annihilating aspect is as much a part of the archetype as the nurturing, life-giving side. Such negative attributes also associate the spider with the witch who traditionally symbolizes dark and destructive behaviour. Like the black widow spider the witch often uses poison to destroy her victim, e.g., the poisoned apple in Snow White. The poison in the case of the personal mother would be her attitude which can kill the True Self of the child and hinder an unfolding of the real personality, leaving the victim immobilized like the insect caught in the web, incapable of living freely. In a sandpicture done by a man just turning 50 and in a deep depression, one can see a giant black spider perched high on a mound. Like a spider web emanating in all directions are threads at the end of which are skeletons holding small babies. The discussion following creation of this picture provided evidence that these babies were the man's still-born creativity that was being killed off by the constellation of a negative Great Mother. Neumann speaks of the labyrinth as being the first part of the night sea voyage...the underworld...the deathly tomb of the Terrible Mother. Because of its dangerous character, the labyrinth is frequently symbolized by a net, its centre as a spider. Also contributing to the image of the spider as dark and threatening, is the belief that the female spider (being larger and more powerful) devours the male after mating. This practice is in part true, but not as frequent as is generally believed (Encyclopedia of Animals). An interesting Trickster behaviour has evolved from the potential danger posed by the female spider. In one species, the Pisaua listeri, the male hands the female a gift of a fly wrapped in silk as he approaches. Only when her mouth is full does he dart in to mate. In another species, the Salticidae, the male performs a dance in front of the female. This action reduces her to a passive state during which he can mate without fear. It would seem that the female spider has to be approached very carefully, even with trickery, the way one deals with the witch in fairy tales. For example, the sister in Hansel and Gretel is able to save herself from the witch by tricking her into getting into the oven. The wicked witch burns to death. Another characteristic of the spider is its multiple set of eyes. These eyes are always simple ocelli, never compound as in insects. For example, the South African wolf spider has a total (if eight eyes which allow it to see in all directions at once. This concept of omnipotent seeing or being seen was demonstrated in the Sandplay of a six-year-old boy with elective mutism. In the beginning of the play, the boy stuck a huge, furry, black spider (which he really feared) on the window where it presided over his play. This behaviour was repeated in several sessions until the boy arranged for the spider to be eaten by another animal. The child's mutism, his refusal to speak, was his attempt to deal with a world in which the archetype of the negative mother had been constellated even before birth. An unwanted child, he had never experienced nurturing, nor had he ever been seen in the Winnicott sense. That is, when all goes well, what the baby sees when he looks into the mother's eyes is himself; when he looks he is seen and therefore exists. This little boy had the sense of only ever having been seen as undesirable. Sometimes, a person finds it difficult to be watched or observed. Scrutiny would seem to be connected with being seen too often in the wrong way: too many eyes. It sometimes happens in my practice that, during Sandplay, I must not watch. I must look away since it is too distressing for the person to be under observation. This type of fear is often ambivalent because the person simultaneously may experience a great longing for attention and to be seen. The spider's web is reminiscent of Neumann's statement on the negative mother archetype (in The Great Mother): net and noose are typical weapons of the Feminine's terrible power to bind and fetter, and the knot is a dire instrument of the enchantress. In the case of the boy mentioned above, as the archetype of the positive Great Mother began to be constellated, he began to attempt language. He even started to play with the spider easily and, in fact, could say: I'm not afraid of THAT! A slightly different interpretation of the spider can be found in the dream of a 40- year-old woman who was exhausted from working 80 hour weeks as an executive in a highly competitive business. My 'pilot' (i.e., her electronic organizer) is melting and the plastic is getting soft.A spider starts crawling out of it towards me and as it gets closer it gets larger and larger until it is about three feet high. I am very frightened and call out for help. The only thing I have to use against it is a wash cloth. It seems clear that the woman's job is entangling her and threatening to destroy her. She has little defense against it. In reality, she had not much life outside her work because of the number of hours she put in, and she saw no way out of the web.. It is interesting to note that her work had much to do with a website. In spite of all these negative aspects of the spider and the revulsion many people feel towards it, the creation myths from many cultures indicate that a positive side also exists. In a Hindu myth, the spider is a creator weaving the thread of life from its own substance; in a Hopi legend, Spider Woman created the first human beings by mixing earth and her own saliva; and in ancient Egypt, the spider was the emblem of Neith who was the weaver of the world.
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