Lair of the Spider Woman

Leander, our Navajo (Diné) guide, took us through Canyon de Chelly (pronounced ‘shay’) in his 4×4 Montero (VERY necessary to make it through the muddy/sandy canyon lands).

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Canyon de Chelly is considered sacred land to the Diné people and thus it is impermissable to travel through the canyon without a native Diné guide.

Note: the Navajo people are in the midst of an effort to reclaim their own naming.  They were originally named, they believe, by the Spaniards who came to the land looking for the 3 G’s (Gold, God and Girls).  When they encounted the Navajo people they noticed that the arrowheads they attached to the tip of their arrows were sharper than their cutting knives – an object which, pronounced in Spanish, comes out very close to ‘navajo.’  They were, thus, branded as sharp and fearsome and aggressive by the Spaniards.  In looking back on their own history, they want to be named and referenced by a name that does not have the enmity or fear interjected by a conquering group.  They prefer the name Ni’hookaa Diyan Diné given to them by their creators. It means “Holy Earth People”. Navajos today simply call themselves “Diné”, meaning “The People”.  This is the reasoning why you will start seeing it more and more in future references to recorded history and current publications.

IMG_3672.JPG Traditional stories from Diné elders were told to teach and entertain the children and grandchildren. They contain legends of the holy people like Spider Woman. Spider Woman was the first to weave her web of the universe and taught Diné (Navajo) to create beauty in their own life and spread the “Beauty Way” teaching of balance within the mind, body, & soul.

In the creation stories of my Diné elders, there are four worlds (some say 5 or 6). Diné of today live in the fourth world, known as the “Glittering World”. The first world was black, where only land, air, water, and language existed. First the spirit holy ones were created and than the holy people, this creation was the most important event, which took place in the first world.

The second world was known as the blue world of water, air, and land mammals were created. The holy ones gave life to Spider Woman & Spider Man. Only their inner spirits or souls were made. Their physical bodies were made later to contain their spirits, as all animate beings did, when they evolved into future worlds.

In the third world the holy ones advised Spider Woman that she had the capabilities of weaving a map of the universe and the geometrical patterns of the spirit beings in the night sky. At first she did not know what they meant, and was not instructed how it should be done, but curiosity became her energy and driving force to weave her creations.

IMG_3683.JPGOn a beautiful day when she was out on the land, exploring and gathering food at the same time. She came upon a small young tree, which was just beginning to grow. She touched a branch of the tree with her right hand and wrapped her fingers around it. When she released her right hand, a string was attached to the branch and it was streaming out from the middle of her palm. She was not quiet sure what it was, at first. She shook her hand to release the string, but it stayed attached to her hand. She thought the strings might detach if she kept wrapping it on the branch of the tree. She kept wrapping the string around the small extended branch and she became worried when she realized that she would run out of space on the first small extended tree branch.

IMG_3691.JPG There were so many strings on the small branch that it seamed it would break off, and than Spider Woman ran the string to another branch on the same tree. After doing this for awhile, she realized she was creating a pattern. She started maneuvering and manipulating the strings into various shapes. It was then she realized that this was the weaving the holy people had instructed her to do. Immediately she broke the string with her left hand without hesitation. She sat and thought carefully about how to use her new gift. For the rest of the day she sat close to the tree and wrapped the strings into various patterns on other branches of the small tree.


When she felt comfortable with her gift, she returned home with her gathered food and showed her newly acquired skill to her husband, Spider Man. After a period of time, Spider Woman began weaving within her home. The holy people heard about Spider Woman’s new talent and came to visit her. During the visit the holy ones instructed Spider Man to construct a weaving loom and also create the tools used in the various processes of weaving. Today, Diné (Navajo) men are the key makers of weaving looms and tools. With each tool created, a song, and a prayer were made and offered to Spider Man to use each time he created the tools, and this gave the tools a sense of purpose and unique life.

At this time Spider Woman began to sing the weaving song, given to her by the holy ones. The songs are empowering for the textiles, just as they are for the weaving tools. The tools were made from various trees. The weaving fork from the juniper tree, used to push the weft down, placing layers upon layers of weft, and thus creating a life. The sound of the weaving fork hitting the weft is considered the heartbeat sound of the textile. The weaving loom was made of the main trunk of a young juniper tree, with all the branches removed. It is made into two main supporting beam, which stand upright on the right and left sides of the loom frame, which represents the pillars holding up the sky and keeping the mother earth secure. The third beam is placed at the foot or base of the two pillars, which represent the earth on which we live. The forth beam is placed at the top, and represents the sunbeams and rainbows, protecting mother earth. It also represents the sky (atmosphere) and the universe. Diné men sang as they made the tools and weaving looms as instructed by Spider Man and Spider Woman, which were created in the fourth world, called the “Glittering World”.

IMG_3716.JPG(While exploring the canyon with Leander, a herd of cattle ran through the narrow passage on which we were travelling)

The fourth world is where human beings were created, in the form of First man and First woman and inherited their physical bodies in a place called “Diné tah “. This place is considered to be the center of the world and a sacred place to Diné people. As children growing up at Spider Rock, Canyon De Chelly and Canyon Del Muerto, native grandmothers passed down stories about how Spider Woman was instructed by Talking God (through the wind spirits) on how to find and identify the bad little kids. Spider Woman would then boil and eat the bad little kids, which is why there are white banded streaks at the top of Spider Rock, where the bones of the bad children still bleach the rocks to this day.

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Leander told us the story of how, long ago, a young cave-dwelling Diné youth was hunting in Dead Man’s Canyon, a branch of Canyon de Chelly. Suddenly, he saw an enemy tribesman who chased him deeper into the canyon. As theDiné child ran, he looked quickly from side to side, searching for a place to hide or to escape.

Directly in front of him stood the giant obelisk-like Spider Rock. What could he do? He knew it was too difficult for him to climb. He was near exhaustion. Suddenly, before his eyes he saw a silken cord hanging down from the top of the rock tower.

The Diné boy grasped the magic cord. which seemed strong enough, and quickly tied it around his waist. With its help he climbed the tall tower, escaping from his enemy who then gave up the chase.

When the Diné boy reached the top, he stretched out to rest. There he discovered a most pleasant place with eagle’s eggs to eat and the night’s dew to drink.

He was very surprised to discover that his rescuer was Spider Woman! She told him how she had seen him and his predicament. She showed him how she made her strong web-cord and anchored one end of it to a point of rock. She showed him how she let down the rest of her web-cord to help him to climb the rugged Spider Rock.

Later, when the Diné youth felt assured his enemy was gone, he thanked Spider Woman warmly and he safely descended to the canyon floor by using her magic cord. He ran home as fast as he could run, reporting to his tribe how his life was saved by Spider Woman!

Today young Diné weavers are instructed to find a spider web in the early morning dew glistening with sunlight and sparkles and place the palm of their right hand upon the spider’s webbing without destroying or damaging the web, and the gift of weaving will be transposed into the young weaver’s spirit forever.

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