Spider Lessons

by Elizabeth deGraw Renna

I can’t remember now when I first encountered the idea of Totem Animals. It’s been a few years and the first animal to present itself to me with symbolic meaning was the giraffe.

In Native American traditions (and others), animals can be considered to hold symbolic meaning. Specific animals may appear in your life with both messages and lessons for you and for your life’s path. If you’re curious to learn more you can search on the web with the key words “totem animals” or “(animal, insect, bird name) as totem animal”. My favorite book on the subject is by Ted Andrews, titled “Animal Speak”.

So the Spider as a Totem Animal has come to have quite a bit of symbolic meaning for me and she has taught me or reminded me of many important life lessons, after I did the work of making the connections. It does require pausing and reflecting to allow the significance of a totem animal to emerge. (I think of spiders as female, due partly to the fact that Spider is considered in some traditions as the Grandmother of words and the queen storyteller, and because of the children’s book “Charlotte’s Web”.)

So recently Spider came to mind, when I had a button hanging by a thread and when I was feeling out of balance, pushing myself at work to accomplish many things. The sensations of responsibility and obligation that I was experiencing were both internally and externally driven. I was pushing myself into a workaholic state of mind and the expectations of my job were contributing to the sense of urgency.

The spider’s “thread” is a magical thing, seemingly so thin and fragile but in actuality extremely strong and resilient. A spider can enjoy the sensation of a free fall and then catch herself so effortlessly when she has gotten to her destination. A lesson in letting go, as completely as possible. “Just release and relax…. breathe, release some more, it’s safe, your threads will hold you….”

I want to clarify: I’m not actually a big fan of creeping and crawling things. The idea of Spider as a totem animal, as being somehow significant in symbolic ways to me and in my life all started when I had a Daddy Long Legs on my shirt sleeve; it had moved from some dusty files I was carrying onto my shirt. When someone pointed it out, I was lickety-split quick to brush it off, with a startled exclamation of “Ew!” or “Ugh!” So I keep spiders at a distance, but oh how many inspired moments they have engendered in my mind.

I keep a quart size jar with a lid in my bathroom, a place where I seem to encounter a lot of spiders. It is labeled “Bug Jar” so no one else will use it or take it away. When a spider appears to remind me gently about my writing or my creativity in general, I will try to catch it carefully in my jar and then I “invite” it to go outside. One morning when that happened I didn’t take the spider out right away, but finished with my morning routine.

When I turned my attention back to the spider in the jar, I had to pause and consider the symbolic nature of the situation. This spider had lost control of her independence and free will (temporarily, and thanks to me). When I first caught her in the jar, she froze in a self-defense reflex. But while my attention had been diverted away from the spider, she had reverted to what she knows best. She had created just a few strands of web, invisible to me, from one side of the jar to the other and was hanging, suspended, in the middle, just waiting patiently for whatever might happen next.

Suspend, verb

– To hang so as to allow free movement

– To support or keep from falling without apparent attachment

– To cause to stop for a period; interrupt (a kind of pausing)

This was one of Spider’s lessons for me, a simple reminder to pause when faced with a dilemma or a situation that seems to be out of my control. I can do what I know to do to keep myself safe and then I can just pause patiently, suspending myself in the here and now of the current moment, waiting to see what will happen next.