Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Monsters and Messengers
The spider's legs spanned close to six inches end to end, and as she stepped onto my hand, they spilled over the edges, barely finding enough room to hang on.
Fear is a funny thing. It is also an amazing teacher, and a catalyst for growth.
Somewhere within my adolescent years I developed a fear of spiders that grew into a mania of sorts. It started while watching Arachnophobia with friends, and grew into something unmanageable. I can vividly recall a day at work (by then, several years into adulthood) when I found myself unable to return to my desk until someone closed my web browser; The menacing and frightful word "spider" was displayed on my monitor, twisting my insides and causing my skin to crawl.
Merriam-Webster defines phobia as "an exaggerated usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation." And it is that, indeed: illogical. I was not particularly fearful of venomous spiders, or even of being bitten. In actuality, I was certain I would die of an exploded heart should one touch me, long before it had a chance to bite.
Yet, consider the incident at work. The page about spiders was up on my computer intentionally, and it was not a cruel joke by an antagonistic colleague. I had sought out the information, fascinated and oddly attracted to that which I was apparently so terrified of. Was I merely going for the visceral experience of fear inspired, or was I drawn in as if by some powerful orb?
In retrospect, it seems that the spiders actually found me. For years upon years, they have been a constant presence in my daily life: swinging from webs, precariously close to my face while I drive; dropping from the ceiling into books I am reading; even dangling inches above my face while I sleep (my mom discovered that phenomenon). I have become known as the Spider Queen amongst my nearest and dearest.
Something shifted a couple of years ago. After stomping on an unfortunate arachnid that had found it's way into my home, I was hit with my first wave of guilt for taking its little life. "What if," I thought, "something much larger than me just stamped me out because it did not like me, or did not understand me?" That stuck with me for some time, and grew into a new habit of getting close enough to capture and release spiders and insects rather than smashing them. I guess you could say a relationship dawned first through finding a respect for life.
Shortly after, I happened upon the idea of animal totems. That is the concept that animals (and fish, insects, etc.) will show up again and again in one's life, their appearance holding significance. Most of us have totems that are relevant throughout our entire lives, with others that appear for a time and then move on once the time for their message has passed.
Fascinated with the concept, I learned that the spider has powerful "animal medicine," representing the meeting of the spiritual and physical worlds, and serving as a reminder that we weave our own world, a cue to be the author of our lives. A shadow totem is an animal with a powerful message, one not handed over too easily. One will likely be startled over and over again by said creature, until they can conquer that fear. Only then will the totem animal share its magic.
Indeed, I believe the spider found me.
What a beautiful and awesome thing to feel fear transform into wonder and affection. I am drawn to this weaver in a way that is difficult to explain; the connection is arcane, resonant and very personal.
So today I visited with a very large Chaco Golden Knee Tarantula and let her climb onto me. On purpose.