The Goddess Weaver and Grandmother Spider Woman


In Chinese traditions The Jade Emperor has a daughter called Zhi Nu (weaver girl). She is The Goddess Weaver who is responsible for weaving not only the colorful clouds of the heavens but also the silver river in the sky (The Milky Way).

Photo credit Bonza Sheila.

Photo credit Bonza Sheila.

As one version of the myth goes, The Weaver Goddess, on earth as Zhi Nu, fell in love with a cowherd Nihulang. Their love was forbidden and Zhi Nu's father, the Jade Emperor, banished them to opposite sides of the Silver River (the Milky Way). Once a year, on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, a flock of magpies would form a bridge to reunite the lovers for one day. (Brown and Brown, 2006, 72). This is a major celebration day in China known as the Qiqiao Festival. It is sometimes called Chinese Valentine's Day.


Photo credit: Amethystmoonsong

Photo credit: Amethystmoonsong

Grandmother Spider Woman is the creatrix in Native Southwest American cultures. She taught the people to spin thread and weave cloth. The Hopi believe she wove the earth and the heavens from one continuous thread. The Navajo have a creation story of the first people having to travel up through four lower worlds. Each world was full of chaos and destruction. In one world, Grandmother Spider Woman weaves a strong web to help them escape before a giant flood washes them away.

Shaman Spider Woman by Susan Seddon Boulet, 1986.

Shaman Spider Woman by Susan Seddon Boulet, 1986.

Because there's no way I can write it better I'm quoting an entire story here from Hastiin Tlo'tsi Hee, pp. 37-38 

Near Tó Ałnáosdlį́į́, Crossing of the Waters, lived Spider Man and Spider Woman. They knew how to weave the fibers of cotton and hemp and other plants. First Woman asked Spider Man and Spider Woman to teach people how to weave the fibers of plants so they would not have to depend on animal skins for clothing. Cotton seeds were planted, and the cotton was gathered. Spider Man taught the people to shape a little wheel, 3 or 4 inches in diameter, and put a slender stick through it to spin the cotton. First Woman said, "You must spin towards your person, not away, as you wish to have the beautiful goods come to you. If you spin away from you, the goods will depart from you." Spider Man named the spindle "yódí yił yaʼhote", meaning "turning around with the beautiful goods." Spider Woman said, "No, it shall be called nto is yił yaʼhote, turning with the mixed chips."

After they had spun the thread they rolled it into good-sized balls, and brought straight poles and tied them to make a rectangular frame. Spider Man wound the thread on two of the poles from east to west, over and under the poles. Then Spider Man said that the ball of thread should be called "yódí yił nasmas aghaaʼ," meaning "rolling with the beautiful goods." Spider Woman said, "No, it shall be called ntsilí yił nasmas aghaaʼ."

After the loom was finished the cross poles were erected and other poles placed on the ground to hold the loom frame solidly, and the loom was stretched into place. Spider Man said, "It shall be called yótí ilth na daiʼdi, raising with the beautiful goods." Spider Woman said, "No, it shall be called niltłʼiz na daiʼdi, raising with the mixed chips."

There was a notched stick running across, with a notch holding every other thread. Spider Man said, "It will be called yódí bił nesłon, looping with the beautiful goods." Spider Woman said, "No, it shall be called niltłʼliz bił nesłon." Then they used a narrow stick about two and a half feet long, and wound the yarn or thread over it, and where there is no design they ran it along. That was given the same name as the ball of thread. They used the wide flat stick for tapping down the thread. Spider Man said, "It shall be called yódí naʼygolte;" but Spider Woman said, "It shall be called niltłʼiz naʼygolte."

Spider Man then said, "Now you know all that I have named for you. It is yours to work with and to use following your own wishes. But from now on when a baby girl is born to your tribe you shall go and find a spider web woven at the mouth of some hole; you must take it and rub it on the baby's hand and arm. Thus, when she grows up she will weave, and her fingers and arms will not tire from the weaving."

Versions of Grandmother Spider Woman exist among the Aztec as well and other cultures in Mesoamerica. 

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In the Hopi Snake Myth, recorded around 1900 A.D. a young man journeys to the home of the Snake People. There, he meets the beautiful Snake Maiden. 


On the walls of the kiva were hanging many costumes made of snake skins. Soon the chief said to the people: "Let us dress up now," and turning to the young man bid him to turn away so that he would not see what was going on. He did so, and when he looked back again the men had all dressed up in the snake costumes and had turned into snakes, large and small, bull snakes, racers, and rattle-snakes, that were moving about on the floor hissing, rattling, etc.

While he had turned away and the Snake People had been dressing themselves, Spider Woman had whispered to him that they were now going to try him very hard, but that he should not be afraid to touch the snakes; and she gave him many instructions....

Spider Woman whispered to the young man, that the one that acted so very angrily was the pretty maiden and that he should try to take that one. He tried, but the snake was very wild and fierce. "Be not afraid," Spider Woman whispered.... He at once grabbed it, held and stroked it four times upward, each time spurting a little medicine on it, and thus freeing it from its anger.

The snake transforms back into a maiden. The pair later marry and their children become the ancestors of the snake clan. 

But Grandmother Spider Woman goes even further back in time than the Hopi, Navajo and other southwestern tribes. She goes back to the Aztec, and even to the Olmec. She is very ancient in the mythologies of these cultures as weaver of the universe.

What are your thoughts on these two goddesses?