Spider Woman (na'acdjeii 'esdzaa)
Spider Woman is part of the conundrum of Holy People who can be productive as well as destructive. She has dual functions. Her identity is found in the First World within the story of the Navajo's emergence where Spider creates a web that serves as a life saving raft when the waters rise. It is she who steals the child from the Water Monster and angers the Water Monster into flooding the First World- a world of darkness thus necssitating an escape into the Second World. However it is Spider Woman who aids the Holy People in this escape/ascension by casting her web and allowing emergence the Holy People to climb into the next world.
According to the Shooting Chant Myth, Spider Woman gives The Twins a gift of protection as they travel to their father's (The Sun) house for the first time. The life feathers (feathers of an Eagle) are part of the bundle which she gives and it remains a part of the Shooting Chant's bundle today. These special gifts allowed The Twins to overcome their enemies.
Spider Woman is best known as the symbol of the textile arts according to Navajo legend. In a place in the underworld, where two rivers crossed, a fine cotton fiber plant called hemp was known to grow. The two Spider People brought the seeds of that plant to the Navajo. This plant was to be used for clothing rather than using the skins of animals. When the plant grew, the Navajo fashioned a spindle and spun the cotton. Under the eyes of Spider Man, a loom was fashioned and the Navajo were taught to weave by Spider Woman. "Spider Woman instructed the Navajo woman how to weave on a loom which Spider Man told them how to make. The cross poles were made of sky and earth cords, the warp sticks of sun rays, the healds of rock crystal and sheet lightning. The batten was a sun halo, white shell made the comb. There were four spindles; one a stack of zigzag lightning with a whorl of cannel coal; one a stick of flash lightning with a whorl of turquoise; a third with a stick of flash lightning with a whorl of white abalone and a rain streamer formed the stick of the fourth with its whorl of white shell (Reichard, 1972).
Through the skills taught by Spider Woman, the Navajo have always been able to provide for themselves, trade and prosper. The story of Spider Woman instructed that to insure that a female child would grow up to be a good weaver, that a spider web should be rubbed onto the child's arms and hands at birth.
There are many practices related to weaving. The reasoning behind them is intricately involved with the Navajo concepts of maintaining order and natural harmony. Some are technically based or grounded in common weaving sense. To our Anglo ways, some may seem unnecessary. However, these small rules governing weaving actually reflect the Navajo experience and their quest to relate cause and effect in their lives. Weaving on the Navajo reservation has taught me many taboos. Some are listed below. For a broader understanding of the many facets of Navajo life, please refer to Ernie Bulow's Navajo Taboos.
Don't have a weaving comb with six points. Your baby will have six fingers.
Don't have the loom of the weaving stand too long. It will tire and hurt you.
Don't weave while it rains. It will attract lightning.
Don't leave your tools in the loom overnight. The spirit of Grandmother will come back and help you weave. Only she is weaving backwards since she is dead. So the weaving will have to be fixed when you return.
Don't leave a Yei figure in a blanket unfinished. The Yei will get angry and bring bad luck.
Don't let boys weave at all. It will affect the reproductive organs.
Don't weave if you don't know a weaving song. It won't be any good.
You must spin towards you. Or else all the beautiful goods will depart from you.
There is an actual location in the Navaho Reservation where Spider Man and Spider Woman reside called Spider Rock. It is located in the Canyon de Chelly, outside of Chinle, Arizona. This huge pinnacle rises above the canyon floor several hundred feet. It is indeed a moving place and is considered sacred grounds to the Navajo.
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