We are unable to display your institutional affiliation without JavaScript turned on.
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Find using OpenURL

Rent from DeepDyve Rent from DeepDyve

Circular Temples and the Moon Goddess

From: Journal of the Southwest
Volume 54, Number 2, Summer 2012
pp. 349-372 | 10.1353/jsw.2012.0019

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

[Water Strider] stretched out his arms and legs and touched the horizon at the north, west, south, and east. He was in the middle of the world. He said, "My people shall live here always. They will never be overthrown for their hearts will not be to one side of the world."

—Ruth Benedict, Zuñi Mythology I: 5-6

When the universe was still so dark that not even shadows could be seen in the night, Grandmother Spider sat in her web in the Sky World, waiting and watching. No one knows how old Grandmother Spider is, or how long she sat waiting for the universal mind to awaken. But, every Creative Being who has ever lived knows her song and dance as the weaver of the Web of Life. From her web, Grandmother Spider observed the first thoughts as the Universal Mind awakened from the dream. Seven energy beings floated out from the shining light in the center of the Universal Mind and solidified into bright, shining stars who went out to take their places in the Sky World. Grandmother Spider took a very deep breath and softly began to sing her weaving song while she danced across the Sky. As she spun her thread, Grandmother Spider envisioned the Web of Life. Within moments, she had woven her web connecting the seven stars [Pleiades?] and creating the Spirit Doorway through which all of the rest of life would enter.

—Spider-Taino Ti, Grandmother Spider and the Web of Life

You shall build the lodge like the world, round, with walls, but first you must build a sweat house of a hundred sticks. It shall be like the sky . . . and half of it shall be painted red. That is me [the Sun]. The other half you will paint black. That is the night [the Moon].

—George Bird Grinnell, Blackfoot Lodge Tales, 101

The Spider Creatress and Her Sacred Architecture

The spider creator as an aspect of the moon, identified by some as male and by others as female, is one of the earliest avatars of the creating spirit introduced by New World colonizers. Archaeological evidence is found in pebbles painted with cobwebs and female genitalia left by Archaic period Pecos River Focus people of Southwest Texas dating from about 7500 BCE to 600-900 BCE . Spiderwebs and vulvae were also incised and painted by other hunters-gatherers of Baja California. The spider creator was once widespread, not only in South America, as traced in the foregoing sections, but also across Mesoamerica and the southeastern United States. While Mayan Ixchel (goddess of sexuality, procreation, childbirth, medicine, divination, and weaving) was considered an earth deity, she was also Mistress of the Sea—in other words, she was the Moon Goddess. As in the case of her Old World equivalents, monkeys, deer, king vultures, and spiders were associated with her. The use of real spiders for divination in South America was echoed among Ixchel's priestesses who used small divinatory stones called am. In the Motol dialect am are small black spiders with red dots on the back. Ixchel's square [anomalous?] oracular temple on Cozumel, second only to the cenote [Place of Emergence] at Chichén Itzá as a Mayan pilgrimage site, had a hollow clay model of her mortared to the wall. From a small hidden room behind it her priestesses communicated with petitioners.

Spider Woman is ubiquitous among Pueblo groups and Navajos and was of obvious importance in the Southern Cult of the Mississippi Valley. The gorget shown in figure 24 illustrates perfectly Spider's role in not only defining the world by stretching its legs from the Place of Emergence, but also partitioning the earth into quadrants (Cosmic Cross) with its thorax (heart) defining the center. With the introduction of other cults in the Southeast over time, Spider's role in creation was remembered only in her/his trickster aspect: Iroquoian speakers recalled Spider stealing the sun or fire (earthly sun) for the benefit of humankind. Northern Sioux, who migrated from the Southeast, tell many tales of Iktomi, the trickster-spider, but retain vestiges of its former glory. Yuwipi men use a spider song to call upon directional...

You must be logged in through an institution that subscribes to this journal or book to access the full text.


Shibboleth authentication is only available to registered institutions.

Project MUSE

For subscribing associations only.