I’ve had a love-hate relationship with them. I’ve always been fascinated by them…from a distance. I love pictures of spiders. I think they’re awesome in books. My heart thrills when I see them behind glass where they can’t get to me. But up until recently, if you put me in the same room with one, I made Ron Weasley look brave.
When I first moved into my apartment, the porch looked like a freaking horror movie. The ceiling was a blanket of spider webs with dozens of spiders sitting up there. I had to cross under them in order to get in my door. Then inside, they were everywhere. I would have done anything to get rid of them. And oh, did they love to drop in on me! Literally! When I wasn’t hunting down and killing the spiders in my apartment, they were descending their silky threads from the ceiling trying to land on my head.
I’m not a bug-killing person. I have a strong empathy with the little critters. I used to catch bumble bees and let them loose in my room as a pet. I’m more likely to put a hornet outside than kill it. And the one time that I decided to experiment with salt on a slug, I ended up crying and begging the poor thing to forgive me for hurting it (I’m still bitter towards the cartoons that portrayed it as anything but a traumatic event for slugs and snails). So the fact that I hated spiders enough to drown one slowly in a steady stream of Lysol bothered me.
About a year ago, I started researching spiders, seeking for some way to change how I viewed them. It didn’t take long to identify the spider as my shadow totem. I’m far from an expert on totems, but that one was pretty obvious. I’m probably more comfortable in a pit of snakes than I am with a single spider, yet I find myself inconceivably drawn to them in every aspect except physical proximity.
The key to shadow totems, as with any shadow work, is that you have to face them. They have powerful things to teach you about yourself, but you can’t learn from them as long as you’re running from them. So I forced myself to stop killing the spiders when I saw them and started trying to understand what it is about their nature that speaks to me. So far, there are three major areas:
Spiders have long been symbols of creativity. They’re artists, creating intricate and beautiful displays every night. Fittingly, there’s little doubt in anyone’s mind after meeting me that I’m a creative soul. I love creating things. I love the creative process. Oh, but I also fear it. I fear not being good enough. I fear not being able to finish. I fear it being worthless. So while I value creation as much as I regard spiders, fear often prevents me from experiencing either. But what the spider teaches me is that it’s okay to create something that will not last, something that isn’t perfect. A web, as beautiful as it is, usually doesn’t survive longer than a day. It’s not designed to. I might ask myself why bother creating something beautiful that will only be destroyed, but then I might as well ask myself, “why not?” I don’t know why spiders create webs with such beauty. Surely other methods would be equally effective. But I like to think that maybe they just get some freaking joy out of making their daily tasks beautiful. It challenges me, can I do the same?
Spiders also symbolize the power of attraction. They are such crafty little hunters because they do not hunt. Their prey comes to them. They pick a spot that they like, set up their webs, and wait patiently for what they trust will come along. Now, as I get into this, I’m not saying that I can prevent people from harming me. Those that are intent on doing harm will find a way to do it. But I have learned that there is a lot of boundary-setting that can happen with my own intentions. I can attract quite a bit of emotional bullshit to myself by simply being too scared to say no. If I don’t see myself as worth sticking up for, I’m not going to attract too many friends or acquaintances who respect me. But as I stand up for myself and see myself as someone worth standing up for, the relationships I build are going to be with people who value me as I value myself. Again, not an easy lesson because I have a really hard time saying no and setting boundaries with those that I care about. My default is to assume that their happiness is more important than my own, thus allowing my own needs to be overlooked. The fear of conflict has a tendency to make me deny my own desires in favor of “keeping the peace,” but how can I expect others to care about or even know about my needs and desires if I myself am too afraid to express it? We’ll see how that continues to develop as I learn to set boundaries.
Lastly, and perhaps slightly more metaphorically, spiders teach me that I can be the weaver of my own destiny, the master of my fate. I do not have to be at the mercy of external circumstances. I’m not at the whim of some puppet master. My life is mine and no one else’s. I always have a choice. I actually do believe in fate, but like Rilke, I believe that fate comes from inside me. So long as I think it’s outside of me, I will react blindly to the cues of others. But when I recognize that it is not the external circumstances that determine my choices but my internal compass, I can break away from the Pavlovian response cycle and choose to forge a new path and, by doing so, choose a new destiny. This is probably the one aspect of spider that doesn’t scare me. It thrills me. I want to be my own fate, to write my own story. But that was not a power I could recognize immediately. It was one I could only come to by facing the shadows and befriending my shadow totem.
Lately, I find myself smiling when I see a spider and wondering how I’m going to put its lessons to use. I welcome them in my home, and have discovered the delight of them keeping me free of other pesky bugs. And while I haven’t gotten to the point of wanting to touch them, now if I see one dangling above my head, I don’t scream. I’m sure they have many more lessons to teach me, about things that I fear in myself and about powers I didn’t know I had.