Who is the spider god?

Spiders have fascinated and frightened humankind for millennia. With their intricate webs and quick movements, spiders seem to inhabit a magical realm just beyond our full understanding. Not surprisingly, these mysterious eight-legged creatures have worked their way into mythologies and folklore across human cultures. One prominent arachnid legend involves the notion of a spider god or goddess overseeing all things spidery. But who exactly is this god of spiders found in multiple mythological traditions? And what might its origins and meanings be?

The Spider God in African Folklore

Many cultures in Africa have myths related to a powerful spider god or goddess. These tales often portray the spider deity as a creator figure. For example, stories from Nigeria describe a god named Anansi who took on the form of a spider. According to legend, Anansi played a role in shaping the earth and establishing certain features of the natural world. Other creation myths present the spider god weaving the web of destiny for humankind. As a result, spiders became symbolic of wisdom and fate across many African folk traditions.

The notion of a spider creator god appears in the traditions of diverse African peoples. The Zande people of north central Africa believe that the spider Kambili created the sun, moon, stars and the first humans. Tribes in western Africa have described Anansi the spider god as the ultimate source of all stories and knowledge. And the Bushongo tribe in Congo traces cosmological creation to the god Bumba, who took the form of a spider after vomiting up the sun, moon, stars and the first living things.

These African spider gods reveal how cultures often associate the arachnids with primordial creativity and the origins of human knowledge. The act of spinning webs seems to connect spiders to the fundamental mysteries of the cosmos for many African communities. The spider becomes the eternal weaver of the threads that make up the fabric of reality in both natural and supernatural senses.

Anansi the Trickster

One of the most well-known versions of an African spider god is Anansi. He originated with the Ashanti people of present-day Ghana as a folk hero. In Ashanti legends, Anansi appears less as a creator and more as a trickster god. Stories portray him as clever, mischievous and amoral. He frequently gets the better of more powerful gods through his cunning intelligence and ability to manipulate situations to his advantage.

As belief in Anansi spread with the African diaspora, other cultures shaped the god into a wide range of variants reflecting local traditions. The Akan people of western Africa, for instance, depict Anansi as either a human or spider protagonist who displays human virtues and flaws in different tales. For the Caribbean nation of Jamaica, Anansi evolved from a god into a folk character often celebrated in song as a irrepressible prankster.

The trickster aspects of divinities like Anansi perhaps reveal the sense that spiders themselves are masters of intricate illusions and nimble performers. With their ability to suddenly appear and disappear thanks to nearly invisible webs, spiders do seem to embody a magical craftiness. So associating them with morally ambiguous trickster gods who thrive on their wits resonates with indigenous African worldviews. Their flexibility symbolizes an almost supernatural skill at tweaking reality to one’s advantage.

Native American Spider Woman

In Native American mythology of the Southwestern United States, Spider Woman represents a powerful primordial goddess related to weaving creation. She appears prominently in the traditions of the Navajo, Keresan and Tewa peoples. As a goddess connected to the spider, she maintains balance within the natural world. Her traditional name in the Keresan language means “Thought-Woman” in recognition of her creative wisdom.

The Navajo originally called her Na’ashjé’ii ‘Asdzáá, with the latter part of the name literally meaning “Spider.” Legends portray her as the maternal figure who provided protection, renewal and fertility. She brought rituals, medicine, agriculture and weaving knowledge to the early Navajo people. Images of her appear in ancient rock art across the Southwestern United States. More abstract geometric designs are thought to depict her spider web motif.

As a vital cultural symbol among Native American tribes, Spider Woman represents the power of nature and sacred feminine energy. She creates balance through the webs of life and thought she weaves. In the Pueblo ceremonial calendar, Spider Woman oversees the day that celebrates the primordial time before the physical world existed when only thoughts filled the void.

Greek Arachne and Athena

In the Western classical tradition, spiders make fewer appearances as gods yet maintain symbolic importance. One prominent myth from ancient Greece involves the mortal weaver named Arachne. In competing with the goddess Athena over who possessed greater skill at the loom, she offended the goddess by creating a tapestry mocking the gods. Athena destroyed Arachne’s work in anger, causing Arachne to hang herself from guilt. But then Athena chose to revive Arachne by transforming her into a spider, cursing her to forever spin thread from her abdomen as punishment.

The implications of this origin myth essentially turn Arachne into the first spider gifted in weaving by the goddess. Athena’s actions highlight how in Greek society the spider embodied both skilled craftsmanship and a warning against excessive pride or hubris. The goddess laid a sort of metaphysical web to entrap the mortal Arachne within the confines of the arachnid form. And Arachne’s own name means spider in ancient Greek, reflecting the intricate connections between her story, weaving and spiders.

Supernatural Spiders in Europe

Beyond specific spider gods and goddesses, folktales around Europe also highlight fears and fascination with spiders extending back centuries. Peasants circulated stories of supernatural beings using spider shapes to perform mischief or dark magic. For instance, legends warn of demon spiders that curse or control the dead. Vampires and evil sorcerers were also reputed to have the ability to shapeshift into giant spiders.

On the other hand, European fairy tales attribute magical gifts to ordinary spiders. One popular tradition claims that catching a spider and freeing it promises good luck. And spinsters relied on rituals such as burning spider webs to attract suitors and husbands. This reflects feminine associations with spiders via spinning and weaving.

These varied European superstitions connect spiders to the uncanny and unnatural. Their presence signifies a breakdown in normal reality and transition into the otherworldly. Whether as demons or as good luck charms, spiders marked the crossing into the supernatural realm in the European imagination. Their hidden webs and sudden movements signaled the unseen forces subtly impacting people’s fates.

The Balinese Master Weaver

An important spider god across Indonesian mythology goes by the name of Sang Hyang Widhi. He served as the divine architect of the universe in ancient Balinese Hindu tradition. Sang Hyang Widhi spun the cosmos into being just as a spider spins an intricate web. As the Great Weaver, he structured reality with layers of meaning expressed through rites and ceremonies. Religious rituals allowed pious Balinese people to maintain harmony with this divine order.

Much Balinese mythology centers around Sang Hyang Widhi’s grandson, the black monkey god Hanuman from the Hindu epic The Ramayana. But Sang Hyang Widhi crafted the sacred webs of meaning within reality that even the gods depended on. The island of Bali itself represents one of his divine works of architecture. As a spider god, Sang Hyang Widhi contains elements of a creator, a maintainer of cosmic order, and a master artist and magician.

Spiders in Shinto and Ancient China

In Japan’s native Shinto religion, spiders feature as symbols of good fortune and prosperity. Folk beliefs attribute this link to the diligent web construction skills displayed by spiders. Their intricate and orderly webs evoke clever orchestration of one’s resources to enable prosperity. A spider spotted weaving its web within one’s home supposedly marks the coming rewards of hard work.

Meanwhile in ancient China, the spider served as an embodiment of technical skill reflected in textile making. The weaver goddess descended from the stars according to Chinese legends. This granted divine status to the arachnid’s ability to spin thread and construct snare nets. Chinese folk tales also prominently featured a mythic half-human spider with magical powers over silk used for royal robes.

This focus on textiles reflects how fundamental spider webs were to early Chinese technology. Silk derived from silkworm cultivation formed a crucial article of trade along the Silk Road. And references to spider deities reinforce the sacred importance Chinese culture placed on silk production and cosmopolitan commerce.

Spiders in Hinduism and Buddhism

Hindu mythology grants spiders a place as an avatar of Brahman, the supreme universal spirit. Tradition describes how Brahman assumed the form of a spider to protect a devout king from the wrath of Shiva. The spider foiled the god’s destructive aims by weaving an enormous web over the king’s fortress and frustrating Shiva’s attack.

This legend emphasizes the defensive capabilities of the spider’s signature silk webs. And it reveals how Hinduism recognizes even modest creatures as manifestations of the divine. There exist further stories of helpful spider gods using their webs to aid righteous heroes in Hindu tales.

Buddhism also adopted minor Hindu and Indian folk gods into its expanding pantheon as it spread. Buddha himself is said to have been a benevolent god of the spiders in a former life. The Pancha Thanthaya Jataka describes how as a bodhisattva, Buddha was born as a spider and spun a huge web. A wasp caught in the web achieved enlightenment after the spider kindly freed it rather than ate it. So the tale highlights Buddhist ideals like compassion.

Teotihuacan Spider Woman

The pre-Columbian cultures of Central America possessed extensive mythologies related to a great mother goddess of weaving and fertility. Among the Aztecs, this goddess went by the name Teteoinnan meaning “mother of gods.” The Maya worshipped her as Ix Chel while Zapotec mythology named her Coquang. She embodied the sacred feminine, agriculture, medicine, childbirth and the creation of fabrics through spinning and weaving.

At the ancient central Mexican city of Teotihuacan, murals and figurines depict an important spider goddess strongly linked to this maternal creator deity. Images show a woman with eight spider legs and a headdress featuring a spider’s body. The Teotihuacan Spider Woman served as a kind of avatar for the great goddess overseeing all cycles of life and renewal. Her spider incarnation highlighted feminine powers of procreation and craftsmanship.

West African Anansi the Spider

Anansi the Spider maintains a prominent place in the folklore traditions of West Africa. Though known as a god by the Ashanti, the Akan people focused more on his spider characteristics. In countless tales, Anansi used his wits, charm and abilities as a spider to triumph over larger animals. His stories spread via the African diaspora to nations worldwide.

As a symbol, Anansi represented unity among West African communities. His prominence as a folk hero conveyed shared cultural values like intelligence and communication skill. Tales of Anansi brought people together through the entertainment, humor and moral lessons they imparted.

The spider embodied parallel values within West African spiritual traditions. Anansi served as a communicator with divine knowledge and an intermediary between gods and humans. He also signified wisdom passed across generations through storytelling. As in other cultures, his web became symbolic of the interconnected strands of community oral history.

Supernatural Spiders Across Traditions

While spider gods feature in the mythologies of certain regions, supernatural spider figures more broadly occur worldwide. Folklore in many cultures links spiders to the uncanny, with abilities to transcend or manipulate the normal laws of nature. Their magical powers connect to their capacity to spin intricate webs that appear and vanish like ephemeral traps.

Supernatural spiders appear in shamanic traditions from South America to North Asia. Shamans tell of encountering giant mystical spiders during ecstatic journeys to the spirit realm. The spiders in these visions serve as guardians or guides, utilizing their webs that traverse cosmic dimensions invisible to ordinary sight.

Various traditions around the globe also describe shape-shifting sorcerers or witches who take on the form of spiders. In this shape, they invoke unnatural spells and Restrict the free movement of victims caught in their mystic webs. Yet spiders also aid as familiars, giving spiritual guidance and discernment to those who communicate with the hidden realms.


Across religions and civilizations worldwide, spiders feature prominently as symbols of the mystical and supernatural. Their act of spinning orderly yet complex patterns seems to transcend the mundane world. And the ethereal construction and disappearance of their webs represents a bridge to divine realms of creativity and fate. Whether as creator gods or as magical tricksters, spiders signify the higher unifying forces underlying our reality.

Perhaps small and often overlooked, spiders yet manage to build the immense constructing cosmic webs. Their own tiny webs offer merely a glimpse of the true hidden depths of woven meaning within the universe. And humankind will likely continue finding divinity reflected in the endlessly reflected strands of the spider’s silken web.

Culture Spider God and Goddess Attributes
Various African Anansi God of creation, stories, wisdom
Navajo Spider Woman Goddess of nature, fertility
Ancient Greek Arachne Skilled weaver transformed into spider
Balinese Hindu Sang Hyang Widhi Divine cosmic architect and weaver
Ancient Chinese Weaver Goddess Divine representation of silk production

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