The story of grandmother spider come from Native American Indian mythology, specifically the Choctaw people of Tennessee and Mississippi. The legend describes how their people gained the knowledge of fire, thanks to grandmother spider.
It begins with a collection of animals, birds, insects and the timid humans. They had heard of a magical sustenance in the East called fire, which was warm and brought light, and they decided they wanted fire, too. They believed the people of the East would not share their fire, so they decided to steal some. They asked who would volunteer for such a daring task, grandmother spider put herself forward but was ignored in favour of the possum.
So the possum went to the East and stole a part of the fire, he put a bit of burning wood in his tail to take back to his people. However the people of the East spotted him and took it back, but not before it had burnt away all the fur from his tail, which is why possums to this day don’t have hair on their tails. After this failure the buzzard volunteered, and again the collection ignored grandmother spider’s offer. The buzzard aimed to fly the fire away from the people of the East and hide it in his head feathers, however he too caught the attention of the people of the East who took it back, and also burnt his head in the process, which is why buzzards today have red, blistered looking heads. The powwow finally sent the crow, who was very clever, but the pure white bird with a beautiful singing voice spent too long near the fire deciding which bit to take that he was smoked black and he breathed in too much smoke and his previously beautiful singing voice became a ‘caw caw’.
Finally they gave grandmother spider the chance to try and steal the fire, although they had little faith in her success. She made a little pot of clay, with a tiny hole in the corner and made her way to the East. As she was so tiny the people of the East didn‚Äôt notice her, and she was able to steal a bit of the fire and keep it in her clay container until she made her way back to the powwow. However the birds, insects and animals had decided they didn‚Äôt want the fire after seeing what it had done to possum, buzzard and crow. Then the timid humans offered to take the fire.
Grandmother spider taught them how to use the fire, but she also taught them to make pottery out of clay and fire and about weaving and spinning.
This is just one of many different stories surrounding the myth of the grandmother spider, others include her creation of¬†the stars in the sky, giving humans string games, and being the earth mother in some cultures. In all stories she brings something positive to humans.
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