A BIG black spider crosses the porch toward me. What if it climbs up my leg while I’m absorbed in my book? My territory. I consider stepping on it. This feels harsh. Maybe I’ll just relocate it. I slide a piece of paper under it but it leaps onto the nearby wall and scuttles beneath a plank of cedar siding. I turn my rocking chair to watch. Why did it come here? Is it looking for food? A place to weave a web?
“When you have the experience, don’t miss the meaning.” John O’Donohue
This area of the Smoky Mountains is home to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, a culture rich with legends about animal helpers and teachers. In “Living Stories of the Cherokee” by Barbara R. Duncan, storyteller Kathi Smith Littlejohn tells about a time long ago when there was no fire and everything was dark and cold. The animals knew there was fire on the other side of the world so they decided to get some. Buzzard went first, but when he tried to carry hot coals back on the top of his head, he burned all the feathers off. The little black snake, who wasn’t black then, tried next, but the only place he could carry coals was on the back of his neck and it burned his body black all the way down. To this day he’s still black.
Then Grandmother Spider said, “I’ll get the fire.” Of course, the other animals laughed at her, but she said, “I may be small, but I’ll get it. You watch me.” So she went to the river and made a little pot of clay. She carried it on her back to the other side of the world, put some hot coals into the pot, and carried them back. That’s how she brought fire to this side of the world and gave the Cherokee people the idea of making pottery.
The mythological motif of the smallest one succeeding when others fail is universal. It teaches that when your intention is sincere and benevolent, fierce determination, careful observation, and creative thinking count more than size, age, gender or physical strength. Can I learn something from careful observation and creative thinking about this spider?
I watch her explorations until I lose her. What did I learn? I think back. I’ve been worrying that my preoccupation with writing dulls my appreciation for the life and beauty that surround me so I came out to the porch to get out of my Mind. One point for Nature. But I brought a book with me! One point for Mind.
My first instinct was to kill the spider. Instincts are Nature. Point. But when I recognized my instinctive response I decided to spare her. Choosing to override an instinct comes from the Mind. Point.
I reflected on this experience. Reflection is both Nature (according to Jung it’s a natural human instinct) and Mind (it requires a deliberate choice to use cognitive skills). Point. Point.
Three points each so far. But here’s the tie-breaker: I took notes! Then I turned the experience into another blog post. Darn! My writer animus is relentless! As usual, Mind trumps Matter.
I worry. Is this imbalance in my personality a bad thing? Just as taking action satisfied Grandmother Spider’s need to bring life-giving fire to her community, writing satisfies my need to understand myself and help others acquire self-knowledge. So what’s the difference between us? I worry about which aspects of my personality are dark, which are bright, and which side’s winning. She’s too busy doing her thing to worry. Here’s Grandmother Spider’s message to me: “Keeping score is more appropriate to gaming than living. Your job is not to perfect every aspect of your personality; it’s to do the work you are uniquely suited to.”
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Thank you. I found this both timely and helpful today, Grandmother Spider spoke to me about my need to stay centered in my web and not to be running around in all directions. “…it’s to do the work you are uniquely suited to” cut directly to the heart of it for me.
Hi Jessica, you’re very welcome. I’m happy to know this wise crone had a message for you today, too. She certainly gets around!
…it’s to do the work you are uniquely suited to.”… Yes, Jean. Sometimes its a tad difficult discerning just what the “work” is. 🙂
Hi Catherine. Yes, it is very difficult indeed for many of us. It certainly was for me, which is why I found so much hope and meaning in Jungian psychology. It gave me the tools I needed to understand myself, discover my strengths, and acquire the courage and determination to honor them. Discovering what my job is has made all the difference in my life!
While enjoying your charming little spider story, Jean, the words “out of my mind” jumped from your text. I love the way you framed it to mean “less thinking”, which seems more appropriate than the way one normally sees it, e.g., “out of my mind with worry.” It’s true that DOING relieves thinking. Mundane tasks take me out of my mind. I’ve come to enjoy washing dishes, counting piles of paper for a printer friend, chopping vegetables for a meal. Being out of my mind (in this way) stops me from “going out of my mind.” Isn’t language delicious? Food for thought.
Delicious food for thought, indeed! When I wrote that phrase I didn’t see it in that context. Thanks for your association. I’ve struggled most of my adult life to appreciate DOING in the outer world. Yet, despite experiencing for myself how DOING both relieves and frees my thinking, despite knowing how much of an emotional boost physical activity gives me, despite the enormous enjoyment I get from being out in the world with Nature, travel or friends…. I cannot stay away from BEING for extended periods of time. My natural inclination is always to go within and stay there as long as possible!!! I experience this as both a blessing and a curse. My Muse (or daimon) demands solitary reflection and simply will not be denied. When I fight her too hard and for too long I find myself at that threshold where I see the possibility of going “out of my mind” in the sense you suggest! If I want to continue to do the work I am uniquely suited to do, I have no choice but to accept this about myself.
It seems every day the universe nudges me to say “it’s all about finding the right balance.” Thanks, Jean, for your thoughtful response.
Dear Jeanie, So often do your words (literally!) jump out of their pages and off my computer screen to wrap themselves around me. Often I am stopped in my tracks by your unique ability to convey universal truths. Writing, it seems to me, is in your blood. I love your focus on words and sentences and their perfection, such an inspiration and aspiration! I love that mesmerisation of words, and find myself rereading your sentences again and again. I guess the other side of the story is the love affair between reading and writing, each essential to the other. Thank you for sending out your healing words. Blessings, Deborah.
Oh my dear! Your words bring such pleasure! Having stumbled upon this in-between world here at Matrignosis, a soul-fulfilling all-embracing place where words are my work and my play and my visitors are such warm and like-minded souls, how could I ever stay away for long? Thank you for relishing my words and holding them in your heart. I see the sweetness of your soul and I thank you for blessing this place with its presence. Jeanie
Having had a bout with a brown recluse bite several years ago, my first reaction to the post was fear – a photograph of a spider! But I read anyway. I am reminded that in the Navajo narrative, Spider Woman is the Goddess of Creation. Clarissa Pinkola Estes tells the story of Spider woman giving the gift of weaving to Navajo women, which includes the gift of knowing, “what must die and what shall live, to what shall be carded out, to what shall be woven in (p.95, ‘Women Who Run with the Wolves’).”
Blessings as you continue to weave your threads and create patterns.
Kathleen, you must be an intrepid soul to keep reading this after your horrifying encounter with a brown recluse! I’m glad you persevered. I love your reference to Estes, an extraordinary storyteller and healer, and am grateful for your/her associations to Spider Woman. Whether in her guise of maiden, mother, or crone, Lady Spider is always giving gifts isn’t she? (This makes me wonder if any gifts might possibly have come out of your experience with her shadow in the physical world….)
Thank you for passing this particularly apt gift on to me. I suppose I am, indeed, involved in the work of knowing what must die and what shall live, what shall be carded out and what shall be woven in. I love this! Blessings back to you.
This is a long story that is better told over a glass of tea on the porch during a summer afternoon … . The gift of the spider included six months with time to read and reflect. A profound shift came in the following year as I began an adventure – one that is business and calling, woven into one. And, on reflection, this is one of the reasons your blog and books resonate deeply with me.
For me, I love that the gift of weaving is an ongoing act of discovery, creation, and reflection. It is a call to active engagement with the light and shadow, where gifts appear in unexpected places, where knowledge and experience that appear distant in time and space are woven together to create new cloth.
“This is a long story that is better told over a glass of tea on the porch during a summer afternoon …” 🙂 Wouldn’t that be lovely? Wish we could do that!
Thank you for at least the brief version of your story. So your spider’s gift to you was one of self-discovery and integration too. I wonder how many others have received similar blessings from her. Your weaving metaphor is so perfect for this inner work. I’ve often toyed with the idea of getting a loom. I used to love creating and working on quilts for my children, but that was before I discovered my calling to self-knowledge and writing. Now I’m afraid weaving fibers would take too much time away from my passion for weaving words and ideas! I guess I’ll have to be content with the symbolic aspect of this work. 🙂
What a delightful surprise to see your post when I opened email this morning! And if it took that little spider to do it, so be it! Have a restful summer, and stop by anytime! Bett
Thanks, Bett. The same to you! Jeanie