Canyon de Chelly National Monument is actually comprised of two large canyons. There is Canyon de Chelly, pronounced “shay” from the Navajo word tsegi, meaning “rock canyon,” and Canyon del Muerto Spanish for “Canyon of the Dead.” Spider Rock is at the center, the famous symbol and photograph associated with Canyon de Chelly. Take the canyon loop drive to the Spider Rock overlook to see the pillars that stands the middle of the canyons, considered a sacred place by the Native people.
Seeing it made me curious about the story behind the name, the legend of the Spider Woman, and the Native American beliefs. Here is what I found out about the Spider Woman who appears in the mythology of several Native American tribes including the Navajo, Keresan, and Hopi legends according to the Myth Encyclopedia.
The Spider Woman is associated with the emergence of life on earth and appears in tales where she helps humans by teaching them survival skills. Spider Woman also teaches the Navajos the art of weaving, so important to their economy. Even today, some weavers will rub their hands in spider webs to absorb the wisdom and skill of the Spider Woman before they sit down at the loom.
I thought I heard a tall tale mentioned about the Spider Woman from our guide in the canyon, that the children are sometimes scared into minding their parents with stories that “the Spider Woman will come down from the rock and get you.”
According to the Hopi legends, Spider Woman molded animals from clay, but they remained lifeless until she spread a soft white blanket over them, said some magic words, and brought her creations to life. Spider Woman then molded people from clay. To bring them to life, she hugged them and sang a song that made them into living beings. She then divided the animals and people into the groups that inhabit the earth today. She also gave men and women specific roles: Women were to watch over the home and men to pray and make offerings to the gods. It is interesting to note that the Navajo are a matriarchal society. Whoever and whatever this spider woman was, she did much to help the native people of this area.
They say when sorcerers brought evil to the Third World, Spider Woman told the people to leave for the Fourth World which is the one they lived in Canyon de Chelly. The circle symbol found painted on the canyon walls depicts these different worlds.
So the story goes on to say, that when they left the Third World, Spider Woman told them to sing to a bamboo plant so that it would grow very tall then she led the people up the bamboo stalk to the Fourth World, the one in which the Hopi people currently live.
I was very interested in the stories of multiple worlds that exist before and after this world or life. I like to believe in a pre-existence and an afterlife, and maybe even many more lives or world after this one. It helps me make sense of the many inequities of life.
There are stories that indicate that the ancient inhabitants may have received instruction to leave this Fourth World to go to another realm in the Fifth World and so the Anasasi inhabitants disappeared from the area. Some even talk of alien intervention, but it is all speculation since no one remains to tell the story.
From Canyon de Chelly we drove on to Monument Valley and discovered another rock formation at the entrance to the Tribal Park lands, also associated with spiders. This formation is called the “navel of the world” by the Native American inhabitants according to our guide. He told us a story that it is said, giant spiders pour out of the top in the dark of night.
As we left the lands of the Native American people through the entrance of Monument Valley at sunset, we contemplated the ancient mysteries that are exciting to explore, the many myths, stories, tall tales and legends we had heard and consider the possibilities, since all legend is based on a kernel of truth, it makes you think…
Source Reference: Spider Woman – Myth Encyclopedia – mythology, god, story, world, creation, Native American, life, people, creatures http://www.mythencyclopedia.com/Sp-Tl/Spider-Woman.html#ixzz1WAgCfvUs