Thursday, August 26, 2010

Spider Moon

One day Anansi the spider picked some very fat and tasty yams from his garden. He baked them with much care and they came out smelling quite delicious. He could not wait to sit down and eat them. Just then there was a knock at his door. It was Turtle, who had been traveling all day and was very tired and hungry.

"Hello, Anansi," said Turtle. "I have been walking for so long, and I smelled the most delicious yams I've ever smelled. Would you be so kind as to share your meal with me?" Anansi could not refuse, as it was the custom in his country to share your meal with visitors at mealtime. But he was not very happy, for Anansi was a little too greedy and wanted the delicious yams all to himself. So Anansi thought to himself and came up with a scheme.

"Please do come in, Turtle. I would be honored to have you as my guest this evening. Sit down, have a chair and help yourself." Turtle came inside and sat down, but just as he reached for a yam, Anansi yelled, "Turtle, don't you know better than to come to the table with dirty hands?"

Turtle looked down at his hands and saw that they were filthy. He had been crawling all day and had not had a chance to clean up. Turtle got up and went to the river to clean his feet. He walked all the way back up to the house and Anansi had already begun to eat.

"I didn't want these tasty yams to get cold, so I had to begin," said Anansi. "But please do join me now, Turtle." Turtle sat down again and reached for a yam, but again Anansi yelled at him. "Turtle, did you not hear me before? It is not polite to come to the table with dirty hands!" He looked down and saw that his clean hands had turned dirty once more, since he had to crawl on them to get back to the house.

So he walked down to the river once more to wash himself off. And when he returned this time, he was careful to walk on the grass so his hands would stay clean. But by the time he sat down at the table, Anansi had finished up the last bit of the tasty yams and not so much as a morsel was left.

Turtle looked at Anansi for a moment and then said, "Thank you for sharing your meal with me. If you ever find yourself near my house, please let me return the favor." And then he slowly walked out the door and continued on his way.
The days went by and Anansi thought more and more of that meal that Turtle had offered. He got more and more interested in a free dinner and finally could not stand it anymore. He set off one day to find Turtle's house. He found Turtle sunning himself on a riverbank just around dinnertime.

Turtle looked up and saw him and said, "Hello, Anansi, have you come to share evening meal with me?" "Oh yes, yes!" said Anansi, who was growing hungrier and hungrier by the minute. Turtle went underwater to his house to set up the dinner table for the two of them. Soon he came back to the bank and said, "Your place is waiting and the food is ready. Please join me, Anansi." And then he dived underwater and began to slowly eat his meal.

Anansi jumped into the water, but could not get down to the bottom of the river. He tried to swim down, but he was so light that he kept popping back up to the surface. He tried diving. He tried belly flops. He tried a running jump, but nothing would help him get down to the river bottom. In the meantime, Turtle was slowly eating his meal.

Anansi was not about to give up a free meal, and was running around wondering what he would do. Finally he had an idea. He started grabbing stones and rocks and stuffed them into his jacket pockets. Now when he jumped into the water he sank right down to the bottom and was able to take his place at the table. The table was so beautiful and full of delicious foods. Anansi could hardly believe how many tasty foods were before him and could not wait to start his meal.

But just as he reached for the first morsel, Turtle stopped eating and spoke. "In my country, we do not wear our jackets to the table." Anansi noticed that Turtle had removed his own jacket before sitting down. Anansi started to remove his jacket, and as soon as it was off of his shoulders, he went zooming back up to the surface and popped out onto the riverbank.

He stuck his head down into the water and saw Turtle slowly enjoying that wonderful banquet.
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This month has been the Spider Moon around here. Has it been where you are? Early in the summer I accidentally knocked my watering bucket into a just about to hatch spider egg sack and found it completely covered in tiny baby spiders. It was like a cross between that scene in Charlotte’s Web when all the babies hatch and fly away and the scene in Harry Potter where the giant spider Aragog’s children chase Ron and Harry out of the Forbidden Forest. It was equal parts cool and creepy. This month, it seems, all those babies have grown up into adult spiders who are making webs and trying to store up enough energy for the winter ahead. One afternoon I walked into the garage and saw the sunlight glittering through all the spider webs strung up and down the room. It was beautiful, creepy, and sad – all that work and so very little gain. There aren’t many bugs in our garage, and their webs will be destroyed the next time someone uses that room. I’ve seen this month spider webs strung up between cars that have only been parked near each other for a couple hours, between trees and fences dozens of feet apart and across doorways that get used multiple times a day. They seem just so frantic to catch food that they will build a web anywhere.

Spiders are fascinating creatures both in science and mythology. They are generally carnivorous arthropods with 8 legs (as opposed to insects’ 6 legs) and they live in just about every terrestrial habitat imaginable. There are approximately 40,000 spider species (as opposed to about 5,400 mammal species) and spiders has the most centralized nervous system of any arthropod with ganglia fused into a mass, like a primitive brain. One of the more amazing things about spiders is that they produce and use spider silk, a protein fiber spun from a gel they secrete. Spiders use silk to form webs, nests, egg sacks and to wrap food. The sheer miraculousness of spider silk is overwhelming to me, despite how annoying it is to run into it seventeen times a day for three weeks.

Our Latin name for spiders, arachnids, is derived from the Greek story about Arachne, the weaver of Lydia. She was such a fine weaver that she attracted the jealousy of the goddess Athena. Athena challenged Arachne to a weaving contest and though Arachne’s weaving was flawless her choice of subjects, a series of 21 scenes of infidelity among the gods and goddesses of Olympia, enraged the goddess. She sentanced Arachne to live with extreme guilt and Arachne soon killed herself. Athena, remembering the woman’s skill at weaving, brought her back to life as a spider.

Anansi is the trickster spider in West African mythology and stories. As the story above shows, Anansi is a very clever character who often uses his skill and intelligence to try to outwit others. His stories originate with the Ashanti people of what is now Ghana but are popular all over West Africa, the Carribean, South America and the United States – everywhere West African culture has spread and survived. Anansi stories are such an important part of Ghanian culture that the word Anansesem, “spider stories”, has come to mean the entire body of folk stories that are told the way Fairy Tales are told in Western European culture.

Anansi and the Turtle is a perfect story for this month, the Nesting Moon in Annette Hinshaw’s calendar. The Nesting Moon energies are about understanding our resources and using them wisely for the good of our community. It is a time of checking the pantry before the big harvest, of putting up food for the long winter ahead and of checking all the details before setting out on a journey. Anansi follows his people’s custom of inviting Turtle to dinner, but his attempt to trick Turtle out of actually enjoying dinner causes Anansi himself to miss out on the larger community’s offerings. We natives of the Nesting Moon, Virgos most of us, can fall into that trap sometimes. Keeping up appearances is important, but fear of not having enough for ourselves.

How are you feeling the Nesting Moon energies this month? What webs are you making to catch which resources? What are you offering up to your community and what are you withholding? How are the spiders doing in your neighborhood? What is the most amazing spider fact you’ve ever learned?


Anonymous said...

I cleaned off the shelves in our kitchen - lookin much better.

We had an amazing spider who made a huge web that was catching lots of bugs, but s/he seems to be missing now :(

Waverly Fitzgerald said...

I love the concept of the nesting moon, especially since I'm a Virgo.