Grandmother Spider: A Cherokee Tale

From a tale reported by James Mooney in the 1890's. "American Indian Myths & Legends"
Selected and edited by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz.

In the beginning there was only blackness, and nobody could see anything. People kept bumping
into each other and groping blindly.

They said: "What this world needs is light."

Fox said he knew some people on the other side of the world who had plenty of light, but they were
too greedy to share it with others.

Possum said he would be glad to steal a little of it. "I have a bushy tail," he said. "I can hide the light
inside all that fur." Then he set out for the other side of the world.
There he found the sun hanging in a tree and lighting everything up.

Possum sneaked over to the sun, picked out a tiny piece of light, and stuffed it into his tail. But the
light was hot and burned all the fur off.

The people discovered his theft and took back the light, and ever since, Possum's tail has been
bald.

"Let me try," said Buzzard. "I know better than to hide a piece of stolen light in my tail. I'll put it on
my head." He flew to the other side of the world and, diving straight into the sun, seized it with his
claws.

Buzzard put it on his head, but it burned his head feathers off. The people grabbed the sun away
from him, and ever since that time Buzzard's head has remained bald.

Grandmother Spider said, "Let me try!"

First she made a thick-walled pot out of clay. Next she spun a web reaching all the way to the other
side of the world. She was so small that none of the people there noticed her coming.

Quickly Grandmother Spider snatched up the sun, put it in the bowl of clay, and scrambled back
home along one of the strands of her web. Now her side of the world had light, and everyone
rejoiced.

Grandmother Spider brought not only the sun to the Cherokee, but fire with it. And besides that,
she taught the Cherokee people the art of pottery making.
Copyright 2007 by Michael Auld

Updated 2010
A Long Time Ago before
the computer was invented,
there were four spiders hard
at work, each weaving webs.
Tree of these major four
spiders hail from the United
States while the fourth is
from Africa. One spider
tradition comes from
northeastern Arizona, the
other from North and South
Dakota, another from parts
of what are now the eight
states of Kentucky,
Tennessee, Alabama,
Georgia, South Carolina,
North Carolina, Virginia and
West Virginia. The fourth,
detailed in this website
originated in southern and
central Ghana, West Africa.

Among the Hopi of Arizona,
Spider Woman's web
connects all things in the
universe. It is believed that
we are linked by spider-like
strands to each animate and
inanimate object in the
universe. We are also
similar to the spider that
senses vibrations when one
strand of its web is disturbed.

Iktomi, once associated with
wisdom, is  the trickster
spider of the Lakota.  He is
responsible for the
expanding web across the
continents, first via the
telegraph system and now
through the Internet's World
Wide Web.

Grandmother Spider is from
the Cherokee tradition. One
story tells of how she steals
the sun and brought light to
her side of the Earth. How
Buzzard got a bald head
and why Possum has a
hairless tail are also two
outcomes of this episode.
The Cherokee seem to have
also been the source of the
Br'er Rabbit stories often
ascribed to a mythical Uncle
Remus. The story, pub-
lished on July 20, 1879 in
the Atlanta Constitution,
brought fame to its young
journalist Joe Harris. One of
these Cherokee stories is
also strikingly similar to
"Anansi and the Tar Baby".

In the land of the Asanti
(Ashanti) of Ghana,
Anansi's web demonstrated
to humans how we should
be linked together in order
to form a unit called a
"society".

Thousands of years before
the
www, or the World Wide
Web, storytellers in two
distant continents said that it
was the spider's woven
filaments that represented
the connection between
human beings and their
universe.
The web is a symbol among the Hopi of North America. It is Spider Woman's
symbol. She was present at the creation of the universe. She fashioned the
first human beings out of clay into whom life was created at sunrise. Of all
the clans to which the Hopi belong, hers is the first and the most important.
The web reflects the colors that were present at the time of the creation of
the Universe. She is also the mother of the twin war-gods.
Anansi's Web of Life  (above) inspired humans by showing them how to
weave and how to construct houses. The web also showed human beings
how to link themselves together in order to form a strong group. As
individuals the Asanti are joined to each other by family, clan, village and a
Confederacy whose foundation dates back to the Kwaaman state in 1570.
The web is also a symbol of the life-giving sun. As the son of Nyame the
Creator, he is also a god capable of performing fantastic feats in spite of his
size.
Legend: According to a legend, Iktomi gave the web of life
to a Lakota elder who had gone to a mountain
with an offering of a willow hoop adorned with  
horse hair, beads and feathers. Iktomi the great
trickster and wisdom-keeper appeared to the
elder in a vision. Iktomi began to weave a web
inside of the hoop. Iktomi had made a
dream catcher that he told the elder
to give to the people. The web of life
was intended to capture all the good
dreams and ideas. The bad dreams would pass
through the hole in the center of the web.  
A dream catcher
Some Native American nations have  another interpretation for the dream catcher. A dream
catcher is placed above the sleeping child where the bad dreams are caught in the web. The
good dreams come to us through the hole in the center. At daybreak the sun's rays destroy
the bad dreams. In one version the web of life protects us while in the second all our hopes
and dreams remain safe.
Name: Iktomi (ik-toe-me) or Unktomi.
Nationality: Lakota/Dakota/Nakota [Also known as the
Sioux].
Son of : The Thunderbird
Brother of: Iya the Storm, the evil monster who also
spreads disease.
Profile: Iktomi the spider is a shapeshifter and trickster
whose actions provide moral lessons, especially
for young people.

He is also responsible for giving culture to the
Lakota. He is like a puppet master who controls
humans on a string. He especially has power
over women. He has been described as shallow
fellow with an empty smile and who dresses
sharper than any Lakota warrior. He is a potion-  
maker who is not always bad and will help people
by showing them how to protect themselves from
evil.
The Web of Life:
Spider Woman, Anansi,
Iktomi
Spider Woman
Anansi
Four spider characters that weave themselves into the
moral  fabric of our lives.
CLICK MY PIX
TO GO
Refreshed January, 2011
Grandmother Spider and
iktomi
Left: Spiders and their webs have intrigued
humans for many thousands of years. Here are
four shell
gorget pendants from ancient earthen
mounds in Missouri, Illinois and Tennessee. The
pyramid-like mounds are part of indigenous
American mound-building societies whose
structures seemed to have spread north from the
civilizations of Central America.

The sun-like circle and the cross-like Four
(cardinal) Directions are typical sacred Native
American design elements.
Left: A Hopi interior food bowl design
of  the sun and the spider. From  
Homolobi in the American Southwest.