The spider is one of the most iconic animals in mythology. It’s present all the way from Ancient Greek and Roman mythology to Native American mythology, to modern mythology.
Historically, spiders have been especially revered for their web-making capacity. It was connected to meanings of control, power, intrigue, and skill. In Native American culture, the spider was a symbol of light. On the other hand, it was portrayed as a tricky animal in some African cultures.
There are many different symbolic meanings attached to spiders, and in this article, we’re going to discover the world’s most famous mythical spiders of the past and present.
List of Famous Mythical Spiders
1. Arachne – Ancient Greece
One of the most interesting stories comes from Ancient Greece. The myth of a spider is strongly connected to Athena, the goddess of wisdom.
The mythological story was originally told by Ovidius, who was a Roman poet. The story talks about Arachne, who was a mortal and a very talented woman at weaving. Because of her skill, she challenged Athena to a weaving contest.
Arachne made a very elaborate product and Athena could find no faults in her weaving. Athena was furious and beat Arachne with a shuffle. This enraged Arachne and she hanged herself of shame. After that, Arachne was transformed into a spider, and that’s how spiders supposedly learned how to craft webs, according to this Greek mythological legend.
The story aimed to warn mortals that they should not aim to compete against gods. Doing so would result in their death and should not be attempted. It was a cautionary tale for the ordinary folk of Ancient Greece and Rome.
2. Spider Grandmother – Hopi (Native American)
In Hopi mythology, the Spider Grandmother, also called the Spider Woman, is the goddess of Earth and she was one of the first gods present on Earth. She was responsible for creating humans and other living creatures on Earth along with Tawa, who was the Sun god.
The two were considered to be the First Man and the First Woman on Earth, as they are portrayed in Hopi mythology as the two gods of creation. They’re commonly present in many different creation stories inside this mythology.
The Spider Grandmother is usually the one who represents all the good things in a human being. She is seen as the leader and the one who molded humans from clay.
The Spider Grandmother is also widely present in other mythologies of other Native American tribes, such as the Navajo, Zuni, Pueblo, and others. In those mythologies, the spider is also commonly present in creation stories.
3. Anansi – West African Tribes
Anansi is another spider-like figure that is present in various West African mythologies – most prominently, in Akan-Ashanti folktales.
In this mythology, the Anansi plays the role of a trickster. Her role is to gain an advantage over other creatures thanks to its trickery and creativity, which is one of the main features of a spider.
Anansi is seen as an intelligent figure in Akan mythology. It has the ability to outsmart and outwit almost any opponent and also has the ability to create an advantage from a seeming disadvantage that the spider possesses.
It’s a trickster figure, much like the coyote figure that is commonly seen in Native American mythology, and it’s also among many other trickster figures that we often see in West African Mythology, such as Leuk Rabbit.
4. Iktomi – Lakota Mythology
Iktomi is seen as one of the more powerful figures in Lakota Mythology. It is also portrayed as a trickster figure, but it’s also a shapeshifter, as it has the ability to control humans on puppets.
Iktomi also has the ability to transform itself into a human and appear as though it is a human. Usually, when that happens, it will appear with red, yellow, and white paint, and black rings around its eyes.
While Iktomi was often seen as a primarily negative figure in Lakota mythology, the truth is that it’s both good and bad. There are several different interpretations of Iktomi; some see him as a negative figure that only brings bad to the Native American peoples, while others see it as a protector of humans.
5. Jorogumo – Japanese Mythology
Jorogumo is a common figure in Japanese mythology. It can shapeshift into a beautiful woman, which is why the figure is often called the woman-spider. It’s often depicted as a woman spider that has control over smaller, fire-breathing spiders.
The word “Jorogumo” has, because of its ambiguity, taken up different meanings. In most cases, it replaces the names of spider species such as Nephila or Argiope spiders. In some forms of the katakana, the word Jorogumo actually replaces the word for the Trichonephila clavata spider, which is sometimes also called the Joro spider and is well-known for its bright colors.
6. Uttu – Sumerian Mythology
In ancient Sumerian mythology, Uttu was known as the goddess of weaving. In essence, Uttu was seen as a spider weaving a web, which later became symbolic of the goddess of weaving.
This figure appears in two different myths: Enki and Ninsikila. In these myths, Uttu is portrayed as a female figure that is protecting herself against the advances of other men by using its web.
That’s why in many cases, the main meaning of Uttu in Sumerian mythology was the role of protection. It’s seen as a beneficial figure that is not trying to hurt others but is also strong enough to defend itself against potential attacks of other figures.
7. Aragog – Harry Potter
Aragog is a mythical spider from the literary world of Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. He is a giant spider who was raised by Hagrid, the groundskeeper at Hogwarts.
He lives in the Forbidden Forrest on the grounds of Hogwarts. Harry and Ron go into the forest in The Chamber of Secrets to solve a mystery, where they are captured by Aragog’s children. They are escorted to Aragog who gives them information before leaving them to be eaten by Aragog’s children. The boys are rescued by the Weasleys’ flying car.
He is mentioned in subsequent books as well but doesn’t take another major part in the plotlines. He is known for having rare venom that is prized as an ingredient in rare potions.
Spiders are highly mystical figures, and they’ve been around for as long as humans can remember. That’s why they’re often seen in myths in mythologies all around the world, where the spider can play different roles.
In some cases, such as the Arachne, it plays the role of a commoner, while in other myths, it plays the role of a god or goddess. However, in the majority of situations, the spiders play an important role in different mythologies. In most cases, their status is closely connected to their ability to create webs.