Navajo Myths: Spider Rock
Traditional stories from Navajo elders are recited to children to teach and entertain them. The teaching is the most important part. Many legends bring animals, like the coyote, and Spirits, such as Spider Woman to life. Below are the stories of Spider Rock and Spider Woman as told by Adam Teller and Grandma Thompson.
Spider Woman lives on Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly, Arizona. She was the first Spirit to weave her web of the universe. She taught the Din’eh people (Navajo) to create beauty in their lives and to spread the “Beauty Way.” Her lessons teach all Navajo children about the need for balance within one’s mind, body and soul.
Creation Stories: Four Worlds
In the Dineh creation stories, there are four worlds:
The first world was black, where only land, air, water, and language existed. First, the spirit holy ones were created and than the holy people, this creation was the most important event, which took place in the first world.
The second world was known as the blue world of water, air, and land mammals were created. The holy ones gave life to Spider Woman & Spider Man. Only their inner spirits or souls were made. Their physical bodies were made later to contain their spirits, as all animate beings did, when they evolved into future worlds.
In the third world the holy ones advised Spider Woman that she had the capabilities of weaving a map of the universe and the geometrical patterns of the spirit beings in the night sky. At first she did not know what they meant, and was not instructed how it should be done, but curiosity became her energy and driving force to weave her creations.
On a beautiful day Spider Woman was out on the land, exploring and gathering food at the same time. She came upon a small young tree, which was just beginning to grow. She touched the tree with her right hand and wrapped her fingers around one of the branches. When she released her right hand, a string was attached to the branch and it was streaming out from the middle of her palm. She was not quiet sure what it was, at first. She shook her hand to release the string, but it stayed attached to her hand. She thought the strings might detach if she kept wrapping it on the branch of the tree. She kept wrapping the string around the small extended branch and she became worried when she realized that she would run out of space on the first small extended tree branch.
There were so many strings on the small branch that it seemed it would break off, and than Spider Woman ran the string to another branch on the same tree. After doing this for awhile, she realized she was creating a pattern. She started maneuvering and manipulating the strings into various shapes. At that particular moment, she knew this was the weaving the holy people instructed her to do. Immediately she broke the string with her left hand without hesitation. She sat and thought carefully about how to use her new gift. For the rest of the day she sat close to the tree and wrapped the strings into various patterns on other branches of the small tree.
When she felt comfortable with her gift, she returned home with her gathered food and showed her newly acquired skill to her husband, Spider Man. After a period of time, Spider Woman began weaving within her home.
The holy people heard about Spider Woman’s new talent and came to visit her. During the visit the holy ones instructed Spider Man to build a weaving loom and also to create the tools used in the various processes of weaving.
Dineh of today live in the fourth world, known as the “Glittering World.”
Today Dineh men are the key makers of weaving looms and tools. With each tool they create, the men sing a song, and offer a prayer to Spider Man. The songs and prayers protect the tools each time he uses them, and this gives the tools a sense of purpose and a unique life.
At this time Spider Woman began to sing the weaving song, given to her by the holy ones. The songs are empowering for the textiles, just as they are for the weaving tools.
The tools were made from various trees. The weaving fork from the juniper tree, used to push the weft down, placing layers upon layers of weft, and thus creating a life. The sound of the weaving fork hitting the weft is considered the heartbeat sound of the textile.
The weaving loom was made of the main trunk of a young juniper tree, with all the branches removed. It is made into two main supporting beam, which stand upright on the right and left sides of the loom frame, which represents the pillars holding up the sky and keeping the mother earth secure. The third beam is placed at the foot or base of the two pillars, which represent the earth on which we live. The fourth beam is placed at the top, and represents the sunbeams and rainbows, protecting mother earth. It also represents the sky (atmosphere) and the universe. Dineh men sang as they made the tools and weaving looms as instructed by Spider Man and Spider Woman, which were created in the fourth world, called the “Glittering World.”
The fourth world is where human beings were created, in the form of First man and First woman and inherited their physical bodies in a place called “Dineh tah.” This place is considered to be the center of the world and a sacred place to Dineh people.
Lessons for Bad Behaving Children
As children growing up at Spider Rock, Canyon De Chelly and Canyon Del Muerto, our grandmother would tell us of mischievous and disobedient children that were taken to Spider Woman and woven up in her tight weaving, after Talking God had spoken through the wind spirits to instruct Spider Woman on how to find and identify the bad little kids. Spider Woman would boil and eat the bad little kids, that is why there are white banded streaks at the top of Spider Rock, where the bones of the bad children still bleach the rocks to this day.
Today young weavers are instructed to find a spider web in the early morning dew glistening with sunlight and sparkles and place the palm of their right hand upon the spider’s webbing without destroying or damaging the web, and the gift of weaving will be transposed into the young weaver’s spirit forever.
Story by Adam Teller and Grandma Thompson.