Friday, January 15, 2010

Spider Woman Tales

"Dad, can you check my boots for me?" asked McKale. "Check them for what?" I inquired of my youngest daughter as she sat at the kitchen table looking fearfully at her "stylin'" black suede boots. "Spiders!" she said with a look of disgust. "Seriously?" I asked, mimicking the slang I had previously heard Alyssa and McKale use with each other while they fought over clothes. "You want ME to aggravate Spider Woman?" I asked sarcastically. "What am I, the royal taste tester, poison control officer, deific agitator?" My baby girl rolled her eyes and said, "Da'aad, I can't go to school until someone checks my boots for spiders." "Ask your sister," I said, "she's rather fond of arachnids." "Yah, right!" came Alyssa's caustic reply.

Elsie Holiday Spider Woman Cross Set

Just then my wife walked into the kitchen from the nearby bathroom. She had a hairbrush in one hand and the other resting on her hip. On her face was a look that said "Oh for heaven's sake, can you just check her boots?!" I checked the boots, handed them back to my daughter and said, "Spiders are friends, not foes." I smiled sweetly at my wife, who shook her head sadly and walked back into the bathroom. As I drove McKale to school, I reiterated the Navajo view that spiders are considered benevolent beings, that Spider Woman taught the Dine' to weave and that Spider Man built the first loom. I also explained how Navajo people have a phrase similar to, "cobwebs in the brain" and believe that Spider Woman spins webs in the head of those who treat her badly. "She will mess you up!" I warned. Just before McKale exited the vehicle she turned and said: "Yah, well, the only thing a spider has ever done for me is freak me out. As far as I am concerned, they are cooties and vermin!"

When I arrived at the trading post that day, I found Elsie Holiday visiting with Steve. She had just completed a beautiful and striking Spider Woman cross series and was negotiating her price. The Spider Woman cross is often believed to represent the united and complimentary couple of Spider Woman and Spider Man, and their contribution to the weaving arts. This basket set was impressively woven in the colors of white, black and orange. Elsie has often told us how her mentors, Mary and Sally Black, took her to the desert, found a spider web and applied the web to her hands. The custom was intended to transfer the weaving talents of the spider to Elsie. I would not hesitate to say that the ritual accomplished its goal. Elsie Holiday is one of the best Navajo basket weavers of all time, and Spider Woman would be proud.

That afternoon we heard from Luana Tso. Luana was on her way to the trading post with one of her classic single figure Yei rugs. Because they are always beautifully woven, straight and even, Steve and I have a real weakness for Luana's weavings. They are also always endowed with hugely impressive figures. As we anticipated the arrival of this magnificent weaver, we talked of how Spider Woman and Spider Man brought rug weaving to the Navajo People. According to legend, Spider Woman taught Navajo women to weave on a loom Spider Man designed and constructed. In the traditional stories, the cross poles were made from sky and earth cords, the warp sticks of sun rays, headles were of rock crystal and sheet lightning. The batten was a sun halo, white shell made the comb. There were four spindles: one a stick of zigzag lightning with a whorl of cannel coal; one a stick of flash lightning with a whorl of turquoise; a third had a stick of sheet lightning with a whorl of abalone; a rain streamer formed the stick of the fourth, and its whorl was white shell.

When Luana arrived with her weaving, as expected, Steve and I were impressed. Years ago we encouraged local Navajo rug weavers to recreate the Simpson Yei weaving of the early 1900s. The movement took hold in the person of Luana Tso, and she has likely become the premier contemporary weaver of this particular style. Luana has made a name for herself creating these stunning Yeis, and there has never been a collector who regretted acquiring one. We are extremely blessed to interact with the top-quality artists who inhabit the northern edge of Navajoland. They not only educate us to what qualifies as masterwork, they also introduce us to their culture and tradition. Can we be blamed if these cultural tales become part of our consciousness and we incorporate them into our personal lives? It is a certainty that we carry home some of what we gain at work and attempt to share it with our loved ones.

Luana Tso Simpson Yei Weaving

At our house, the job of relocating spiders to the natural world is mine. If not for me, the poor, misunderstood creatures might find themselves goo on the sole of a shoe. For some unexplained reason, the women in my household are scared to death of arthropods. Whenever there is a scream or shriek, or when the depths of someone's shoes must be plumbed, the job of managing these eight legged friends falls to me. If this were not the case, there would be far fewer arachnids in our little corner of the world, and nature would likely be thrown out of balance. Until awareness and enlightenment have dawned upon the gentlewoman of my abode, I am afraid the fate of those little buggers is in my hands. Until such open-mindedness occurs, let us hope Spider Woman does not turn vengeful and begin a "smack-down" of her own.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

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