The Order of the White Moon presents
Goddess of Weaving, Mistress of Labyrinths
By Moonwater Chalcedony Ashwood
She is a figure who most scholars deem to be minor at best in Greco-Roman mythology, and yet Her name is still known to many today. The details of Arachne's story, however, are not widely taught or discussed. According to Greek and Roman sources, Arachne's story is one of pride, defiance, punishment and resurrection. The most widely accepted version of Her story was written by Ovid in 8CE. In it, Arachne was a young girl whose weaving was not only famous, but a source of enchantment to the Nymphs that played nearby; their constant frolicking would stop completely whenever Arachne worked so that they could gaze on Her in wonder. People began to comment to Her how blessed She had been by Athena (also known as Pallas Athena, or Minerva) to have such skill. Arachne laughed, telling them Her skill was Her own and She would not pay homage to Athena for that which was Hers alone. Upon hearing such bold words, Athena challenged Arachne to a contest to settle whose work was the most skilled.
Athena's tapestry displayed the powers of the Olympian gods, with them displayed on heavenly thrones. The contest between Athena and Poseidon for the city of Athens was the central theme of Her tapestry. In the corners of the piece were images of mortals being punished for defying the gods, and the entire tapestry was surrounded by wreaths of olives, Athena's sacred tree and fruit.
Arachne's tapestry, on the other hand, depicted the assorted love affairs of the gods, especially those of Zeus and Poseidon. Not only did She choose images of the King of the Olympians being unfaithful to His wife, Hera, She chose incidents where Zeus had transformed himself into seemingly harmless objects and animals in order to rape mortal women and Nymphs. She had been accused of disrespecting the gods, so She deliberately showed times when Zeus and other gods had committed the ultimate disrespect against women.
Some versions of the tale say the contest was judged by Envy, and when Arachne was declared the winner Athena shredded Her tapestry and changed Her into a spider out of jealousy. Ovid's account, however, states Athena was infuriated by Arachne's subject matter, destroying the tapestry even though She was captivated by the skill and colours woven so expertly. She grabbed a shuttle from Arachne's loom and struck Her on the forehead. It was after receiving a series of blows that Arachne became deeply depressed and ashamed of Her behaviour, running away from the looms and hanging Herself from a tree. Other versions of the myth say Arachne transformed Herself into a spider, continuing to weave patterns into the destinies of mortals. Ovid's popular version gives credit to Athena, however, saying She hadn't meant for Arachne to die, so She resurrects Her yet transforms Her and all Her descendants into spiders, to serve as examples of what happens to those who mock the gods.
Ovid's account is, needless to say, highly pro-Athena, as are the vast majority of his works. Actually, it seems like a clear case of the incorporation of a conquered Goddess into a greatly subjugated role within the Greco-Roman pantheon while the Empire continued to expand. In Ovid's account he makes it clear that Arachne is from Asia Minor. He even cites Her as the daughter of Idmon of Colophon, a craftsman who specialized in producing wool dyed in Tyrian purple (also known as Imperial Purple, or The Purple). This serves two purposes: first, it further subjugates Arachne by association through Her father (an artisan/merchant, not a nobleman or even a soldier, and not a citizen Herself as a lower class woman), and second, it makes it clear that everything that belonged to Asia Minor was now controlled by the Romans. I strongly believe that prior to being conquered by the Roman Empire, Arachne was a Goddess of weaving in Asia Minor. The timeline I've formulated below seems to support this theory.
Over a century passed between Asia Minor becoming a Roman province and Virgil's reference to Arachne. This is more than enough time for the original myths of Arachne to become introduced to the Romans and begin to be integrated into the Olympian pantheon. Every new province of Rome was given a patron Roman deity upon inclusion in the Empire; many were given to Athena/Minerva (including England and Scotland), so that all local deities were abolished completely or integrated and subjugated into lesser roles.
There is, however, another interesting theory that is mentioned by Janet and Stewart Farrar in A Witches' Bible; Arachne as the Hanged One. They contend that the myth of Arachne is the only existing example of a Goddess that is sacrificed and resurrected, despite numerous such examples for various male deities. This notable exception comes from the pages of James George Frazer's The Golden Bough. Frazer says an effigy of Artemis is hung annually in her sacred grove at Condylea, in the region of Arcadia, Greece, and "there accordingly she went by the name of the Hanged One" (pg 355). Frazer, however, misinterpreted and misidentified dozens of deities in this classic text, and the Farrars state that "Frazer missed the point. 'Hanged Artemis' is no sacrifice - she is an aspect of the Spider Goddess Arachne/Ariadne/Arianrhod/(Aradia?), who descends to aid us on her magic thread, and whose spider web is the key to rebirth" (pg 23). In Arachne's role as the Hanged One, it is possible to see Her death and resurrection as Arachne surrendering to Her own initiation, officiated by Athena in Her aspect as the Goddess of Wisdom, allowing Arachne to become the Goddess of Weaving that we know today.
Magickal Associations for Arachne
Tarot Card: Hanged Man/Hanged One; represents resurrection, accepting initiation, death of old ways that no longer serve you to make way for new ones; deliberately turning inward to your Higher Self, pointing to a transitionary period of spiritual self-growth and exploration.
Colours: silver (thread or web), purple (Tyrian or Imperial purple, weaving)
Symbols: cobwebs, loom, spindle, thread, needle, spinning wheel
Animals: spider, murex (the shellfish in the Mediterranian Sea that produces Tyrian purple dye)
Plants: spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum), aconite (one of Hecate's herbs; Ovid claims it was used by Athena to transform Arachne into a spider), boxwood (shrub often used to make spindles)
Asteroid: 407 Arachne, discovered in 1895, located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter
Called Upon For Matters Of: death, rebirth, destiny, weaving/knitting/crochetting/embroidery, initiation, spiritual growth
List of Sources:
Information on Asteroid 407 Arachne http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/407_Arachne
Greco-Roman myth of Arachne summarized http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arachne
The Georgics. Virgil. Book IV. www.sacred-texts.com
Classical Myth. 3rd ed. Powell, Barry B. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc., 2001.
Encyclopedia Mythica. www.pantheon.org/articles/a/arachne.html
Metamorphoses. Ovid. Book VI. www.sacred-texts.com
365 Goddess. Telesco, Patricia. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998.
A Witches' Bible. Farrar, Janet & Stewart. London: Phoenix Publishing, Inc, 1981, 1984.
The Golden Bough. Frazer, James George. Abridged edition, Volume 1. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1922.
Throughout the day
Throughout the night.
Spinning so free
What do you wish
Now to show me?
Balancing fate with
My diligent guide,
Show me the world
Far and wide!
Guiding me through life,
No matter the weather.
I'm in your debt,
Your wisdom I shall
© Jennifer Runham-Stark, March 21 2009
“Soul Spider Revisited”
You’ve crept so stealthily
Into my mind,
Taking care not to trip any
I can feel you weaving
Away, oh so skillfully,
Crafting your new home
From silken threads
So fine they can’t
Even be seen.
What is it that you
Want with me, my
Little arachnid friend?
Have you come bearing a
Message from the Goddess?
Sacred words revealed by
The patterns of your web,
Leading me down a new path
To learn from Arachne,
Teotihuacan, Maya, Kali,
Or the Spider Woman of the Hopi?
I only hope you’ll sit
Beside me for a while,
Till I unravel this mystery.
Perhaps the moonlight will
Reveal the patterns in your
Web that you craft so happily.
I wish you’d whisper more
To me than just your name,
Little soul spider.
© Jennifer Runham-Stark,
March 9 2008
"Truth Be Told"
They say Arachne was
A gifted weaver, a mortal
Artisan beyond compare.
Truth be told She was
A Goddess of the crafts,
Absorbed like Her native
Home of Asia Minor.
They say Arachne was
A petulant woman who
Disrespected the Greco-
Roman Gods and Goddesses.
Truth be told She was an
Empowered Goddess who dared
To speak the truth, when
No one would speak of the
Deceptions of the Olympians.
They say Arachne was
Punished for Her actions,
Becoming a spider, immortal.
Truth be told She has always
Been the Weaver, the Creator,
Mistress of the Labyrinth,
Guardian of the Dreamlands;
We simply forgot how to
Recognize Her as a Goddess.
© Jennifer Runham-Stark, May 23 2009
Arachne Needlework Blessing Ritual
Place the candles in a crescent shape at the top edge of the altar, with the needlework supplies in the centre of the altar; if your standard altar isn't large enough to do this, a dining room table or the floor would work (don't forget to smudge them thoroughly first). Place the image of Arachne near the purple candle in Her honour. Have a cleansing bath or shower, meditating on the ritual ahead and on the project you're seeking blessings for. When you're ready, return to your sacred space.
Cast the circle. Call the elements. Light the candles and incense. Invoke Arachne, repeating the following invocation three times:
"Glistening thread and needle fine,
I call you now from my heart to thine,
Weaver of magick, Mother of creativity,
Blessed Arachne, come to me!"
Sit within your space, feeling the Goddess' energy around you, and meditate on your project. What will it be? What purpose will it serve? What will it be used for? Who is it being created for? Why is it being made for them? Ask Arachne to show you anything you should know for this project or anything you should add to it. When you're ready, ask Arachne for Her blessings:
"Weaver of mystery,
Weaver of Fate,
Bless each stitch
I carefully create,
Help me to be
Neat and precise.
With heart and mind
Pure and free,
This is my will,
So mote it be!"
Thank Arachne for Her presence. Thank the elements. Open the circle. Snuff out the candles, if necessary. If you need added support during this project, relight these candles and commune with Arachne some more.
© Jennifer Runham-Stark, May 24, 2009
Note on images for this project:
All three are public domain images. In terms of where I'd like them in the text, I'm really not sure, so feel free to be creative. I would like them in this order though:
Diego Velazquez's "Arachne", 1644 - Shows Arachne at her loom. From www.everystockphoto.com
Peter Paul Rubens' "Pallas and Arachne", 1637 - Shows Athena striking Arachne with Arachne's tapestry in the background. From www.softassteel.com/myth