Mythical spiders have woven webs into the imaginations of people from cultures around the world. It’s clear that these enigmatic eight-legged creatures aren’t just skilled weavers; they’re also potent symbols in mythology and folklore. Their representations range from creators and protectors to omens of fate. In this post, we’ll explore some of the most captivating mythological spiders from diverse cultures around the globe.
In Greek mythology, Arachne was a talented weaver who dared to challenge the goddess Athena. After losing a weaving contest, she was transformed by Athena into a spider. This myth explains the origins of spiders, and it’s often seen as a tale of humility and the dangers of hubris.1
In Japanese folklore, Tsuchigumo are mythical spider-like creatures who can change their appearance to deceive humans. A type of yōkai, or supernatural creature, they are often depicted in Kabuki and Noh theater as villains or tricksters. Tsuchigumo legends often center around overcoming deceit and evil.
Another mythical Japanese spider, Jorōgumo can transform from a spider into a beautiful woman. In Japanese tales, she lures men into her grasp before revealing her true form. The Jorōgumo symbolizes the allure and danger of seduction.
In Sumerian mythology, Uttu was a deity who was associated with the weaving of life and destiny. Thus, she was sometimes depicted as a spider. According to Sumerian myths, Uttu was the daughter of the goddess Ninhursag, the goddess of storytelling, mountains, and hills.2 Uttu’s narrative often intertwines with themes of creation, fertility, and the interplay of fate.
5. Kwaku Anansi
Culture: Akan (West African)
Originating from the Akan people of Ghana, Anansi is a trickster deity who often takes the shape of a spider. He is known for his intelligence, cunning, and ability to outwit his opponents. Anansi stories are widespread in the Caribbean and the Americas as well because Africans who were inexcusably forced into the slave trade managed to hold onto their cultural stories.
Neith, an ancient Egyptian goddess, was sometimes depicted as a spider spinning her web. Like Uttu, she was associated with the weaving of destinies and the cosmos. Neith also embodied creation and the interconnectedness of all things. In her spider form, she was a guardian of the Universe.
Culture: Lakota (Native American)
Iktomi is a spider trickster in Lakota mythology. Known for his shapeshifting abilities and mischievous nature, he is a teacher of lessons, often through riddles and pranks. Iktomi stories are deeply embedded in Lakota culture, imparting wisdom and moral lessons.
8. Spider Grandmother
Culture: Hopi, Navajo (Native American)
The Spider Grandmother is a revered figure in Hopi and Navajo mythology. She is considered a creator spirit and is often depicted as an old, wise spider who weaves the world into existence. Her stories teach about the interconnectedness of life and the importance of harmony and balance in the world.
9. Teotihuacan Spiders
In the ancient Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan, spiders held significant cultural and religious importance. Archeological findings suggest that spiders were revered and even seen as creatures connecting the earthly realm with the divine. The spider’s role in Teotihuacan’s culture is a testament to their enduring spiritual significance in Mesoamerica.
10. Nazca Spider Deities
The ancient cultures of the Moche, Cupisnique, Chavin, and Nazca in Peru revered spiders and often depicted them in their art and mythology. These spider deities represented fertility, rain, and hunting, reflecting the deep respect and understanding that these cultures had for the natural world and its cycles. In the famous Nazca Lines, the gigantic sand drawings in the desert, created sometime between 500 BCE – 500 AD, one is of a giant spider.3
11. Pan Twardowski’s Spider Companion
In Polish folklore, Pan Twardowski was a sorcerer who made a deal with the devil. He was going to be taken to Hell for doing so, however he began to pray. The Virgin Mary took pity on him and stopped his fall into Hello. Instead, he landed on the moon, where he lives today. His only companion is an old friend whom he had put a spell on, turning him into a spider. Every now and then, the spider descends to Earth only to return to the moon to bring Pan Twardowski news.4
12. Robert the Bruce’s Spider
According to Scottish legend, the famous 14ht-century king Robert the Bruce found inspiration in a spider while hiding from his enemies in a cave. He observed the spider’s perseverance in weaving their web, which motivated him to continue his fight for Scotland’s independence. Thus, the spider symbolizes hope, perseverance, and the triumph of persistence over adversity.
13. The Spider Who Protected Muhammad
In one Islamic story, a spider protects the Prophet Muhammad. Muhammad and his companion, Abu Bakr, are trying to escape persecutors, so they hide in a cave. A spider protects them by weaving a web at the entrance of a cave. The men’s enemies assume Muhammad and Abu Bakr could not have gone into the cave without breaking the spider’s web, so they continue their pursuit.5 The story is one of divine intervention and protection.
14. The Spider Who Scared Miss Muffet
There aren’t many of us who can forget the spider in the nursery rhyme about Little Miss Muffet. In the story, a spider interrupts Miss Muffet’s meal of curds and whey (yum!) and scares her away. This rhyme, dating back to the 19th century, is a cultural snapshot of the general perception of spiders as creatures that evoke fear and intrigue. But seriously, all the spider did was sit down beside her!
15. Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web
Charlotte, the lovely spider in E.B. White’s famous novel Charlotte’s Web, embodies the qualities of wisdom, kindness, and creativity. Her role in saving Wilbur, the pig, through her web-weaving, showcases the spider’s symbolic power as a life-saver and a wise guide. Charlotte’s Web was a pivotal story that went a long way in combating arachnophobia, not to mention depicting animals and insects as sentient beings.
Culture: Kiribati (Micronesian)
In the creation myths of the Micronesian island of Kiribati, Nauru is a spider creator deity. According to the tales, Nareau used his wisdom and skills to shape the world from primordial chaos by weaving the fabric of life and the Universe.6
While ancient legends often associate her with sea lions, seals, and whales, the Inuit goddess Sedna is also sometimes described as having spider-like qualities. While her story starts out with tragedy, it is also one of transformation and resilience. Sedna is very much a character that embodies the harsh environment of the Arctic and the respect for nature inherent in Inuit culture.
In pop culture, Kumonga is a giant spider kaiju, or monster, from Godzilla movies. Representing the power and terror of nature, Kumonga embodies the themes of destruction and the unpredictable force of the natural world.
Of course, no mythical spider article would be complete without the mention of Spider-Man. Evolving from a comic book hero to a superhero on the big screen, Spider Man is the epitome of a “turning lemons into lemonade story.” When a radioactive spider bites him, the humble Peter Parker gains the kind of superpowers that only a spider can provide: the ability to climb walls, throw webs, and swing on silken strings. But perhaps best of all, he is endowed with “spidey sense”: the supernatural ability to sense danger and bad energy.
In their various mythological forms, spiders embody a wide range of themes, from creation and wisdom to deception and transformation. Spiders give many people the creeps, even inspiring a name for the fear of them: arachnophobia. However, their enduring presence in stories and legends from diverse cultures highlights a shared human fascination with them, which also includes a great deal of reverence.