In my current work in progress, I am featuring Arachne as my heroine. She’s not a complicated character in that her mythology is pretty straightforward; she makes the wrong people angry and they turn her into a spider. But what Arachne symbolizes to me is the perseverance of the creative. And what I mean by that, from a writer’s perspective, is even when I feel that another word cannot be created, when the writer’s block is so crippling that I just want to curl up in the corner, the knowledge that a talent continued her craft even after being turned into a spider gives me hope that I can create my art as well.
Arachne wasn’t a goddess although I am including her in my Goddesses In Love series. In writing that series, it’s my mission to correct the wrongs that mythology put on the shoulders of their characters, aka giving happily-ever-afters to those who didn’t get them. Arachne didn’t get a happily-ever-after in mythology, as a matter of fact, she lived her life as a hideous creature with eight legs and presumably met another hideous creature with whom she had children because we have spiders to this day in all shapes and sizes and colors… her descendants so to speak.
So, I will share with you the original mythology of Arachne, the various people that are said to have done her wrong, then I’ll go on to the symbolism of a spider and the number eight as it pertains to a creative. Lastly, I will share resources for those who aren’t deathly afraid of spiders (like I am) and would like to learn more about some of the varieties that are present on this planet. Ready? Not sure I am, but let’s dive in.
History of Arachne
Arachne is one of the characters from Greek myth that didn’t start out as a goddess, nymph, or demi-goddess. She was the human daughter of a merchant and was said to be beautiful, with an amazing talent to weave creations that rivaled Athena’s. Since Athena was known to be the best weaver known to gods and man, this was upsetting to her, and ultimately she took it out on poor Arachne. I would argue that Arachne would have been fine, however, her bragging about how good she was got her into trouble.
In one of the most common versions of the story, Athena heard about the young woman’s claims that her weaving was superior, and so she challenged her to a contest to see who was more skilled. Athena’s tapestry showed the benevolent gods and goddesses with humans paying them respects and bowing before them. Arachne’s tapestry was a little less flattering, showing the gods and goddesses as demanding, spoiled, and troublesome. This enraged Athena all the more, and in anger, she changed Arachne into the first spider.
In an alternate version, Athena challenges Arachne to the contest, and after losing, touches her head to plant a seed of humility. Shamed by her own behavior, Arachne takes her own life by hanging herself, and Athena brings her back to life as a spider so she is able to weave for eternity. In another version, Athena tosses a poison provided by Hecate, the Goddes of Witchcraft which turns her into the creature, but in either of these scenarios, poor Arachne didn’t have a chance.
There are mentions of Arachne as the inventor of linen cloths and nets, as well as her having a son, Closter, who is named as the inventor of the spindle which aided with the production of wool. No husband is mentioned, she is named as a maiden, and it isn’t clear if the son came before or after the battle with Athena. According to Theoi.com, the reference was made by Pliny the Elder, in a quote that reads…
“The use of the spindle in the manufacture of woollen [was invented] by Closter son of Arachne, linen and nets by Arachne.”Pliny the Elder, Natural History 7. 196 (trans. Rackham) (Roman encyclopedia C1st A.D.)
In my version of the story, Athena is much more gracious about Arachne’s ability and she supports her creativity by setting her up in a shop with one of her priestesses who we meet in Medusa’s Secret. I like to think that Athena was misunderstood as well and had a healthy disdain for the patriarchy. At least that is how I wrote her. It’s been a great deal of fun getting to know her in Athena’s Challenge which will be released on February 5, 2023!
The symbolism of Spiders and the Number 8
Research for my fiction takes me down any number of rabbit holes that are both interesting and time-consuming. The story of Arachne has been the most challenging as I had to get over my initial fear of spiders to even attempt the searches. I’m still struggling with bits of it but keeping the thought in my mind that spiders represent creativity has really helped me. Spiders are also representative of patience, feminine power, and balance.
Spiders in myth
For the Native Americans Grandmother Spider, or Spider Woman is a creation goddess and is thought of in some cases as an Earth goddess. She represents wisdom and protects and nurtures humankind. In African culture, the spider is Anansi and is known as a trickster and weaver of stories. And in Japanese culture, there is a spider woman, Jorōgumo, who is a trickster in a more ominous way. She can be seen as an enchanting woman, only to ensnare the men who fall for it and who are never seen again.
I didn’t have enough time to check out all the extra research I slipped into but am super interested in other cultures and their myths. Please make a comment and include links to any resources about spider myths in your particular to your part of the world, I would love to expand this portion of my post!
The number 8 is tied to balance, success, and in some cultures, is considered the luckiest of numbers. Turned on its side, it is the sign of infinity, a constant flow of incoming and outgoing energy. And in science, the very thing we need to stay alive, Oxygen, has an atomic number of 8.
And lastly, and perhaps most interesting, on 8/8/1960 (1960 which adds up to 16, so 2 more 8s) the song “Iitsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” hit #1. I told you I end up going down some strange rabbit holes! That the words Itsy Bitsy show up in a nursery rhyme about a spider going up a water spout isn’t lost on me either.
Varieties of spiders and resources
Did you know that not only do spiders have 8 legs, but many of them also have 8 eyes? I had no idea, so had to rethink how Arachne would see once she turned into one. They also don’t have eyelids, so don’t blink like you and I do, which also had an impact on how my story was told. Here are some interesting tidbits I came across if you want to learn more:
- Not all spiders are poisonous. The black widow and brown recluse, two that are, can be found in North America
- There are about 3,400 species in North America alone and over 45,000 worldwide
- They can range in size with a leg span of up to a foot (Goliath Bird Eater – and no I didn’t look at pictures, lol)
- Most spiders have 8 eyes, although some do have 6, and they tend to have terrible vision
- Females can lay thousands of eggs (didn’t need to know that)
- Spiders catch and eat a large number of insects (I’m okay with this)
While I did learn some things I didn’t know, I can’t say that this has been the most enjoyable research I have ever conducted. I could have lived without seeing some of the pictures as well, lol. But, keeping in mind some of the symbolism and other myths surrounding this fascinating creature, does tend to help. What do you think? Let me know in the comments. In the meantime, here are a few more resources you can check out if you dare.