Back in the mists of time, I wrote a very silly story, called Arachne’s Daughters and the carbon copy of the typescript (yes, that long ago!) did the rounds of a local auhtority women’s group and the feedback was such that I thought maybe, just maybe it was worth publishing. Eventually it made it into print, and I might have forgotten all about it, if I hadn’t subsequently, a long time later, set up a publishing house, and had Arachne Press as one of my possible names. Someone made the mistake of telling me NOT to call my press that, as spider haters wouldn’t buy the books, and Arachne Press it became.
This year Arachne is eight, and I decided to put together an anthology in praise of the spider (you can read about this over on Arachne’s website), and I remembered this weird little story. I was convinced that spiderlit was a minority interest and it might be an opportunity (or even a necessity) to republish Arachnë’s Daughters to bulk out the material, but in fact it turn out the largest response to a call out ever!
So I don’t need her. But it is Save a Spider Day today, and as the narrator of the story is very keen on doing just that, I thought I’d share it here.
The following document, which was found in our archives recently, is a transcript of the talk given to the inaugural meeting of the Lesbo-Arachnid League of Friendship, on 29th of February 1992 (old calendar). It is published here, for the first time, to commemorate the thirteenth anniversary of the revolution.
Our recently retired Archivist, who attended that first meeting, remembers that the speaker made a dramatic entrance, abseiling onto the podium. Unfortunately, due to her size, much of the audience was unable to see her once she had landed, owing to the over-exuberance of the floral arrangements.
Good evening Ladies, Madam Chairwoman. Before I start my talk, I would just like to thank you for coming. My subject for this evening is Closer Co-operation Between Lesbians and Arachnids.
Primarily I would like to discuss with you the mutual benefits of closer co-operation. I shall start by putting forward my reasons for asking for your help; and then I’ll dispel some of the myths surrounding our culture, in order to help you to contemplate the closer links I advocate.
Now we all know we have a common enemy in men; I hope I don’t need to explain why? Good, I see a few nodding heads. Some of you may feel uncomfortable with some of the things I have to say, but please bear with me.
Many women have a deep and abiding loathing of ‘spiders’ as you call us. I accept that, but I want to explain why this paranoia exists. To do that, I will have to explain Arachnophobia, to show it to you as the persecution of spiderkind it is.
You think Witches were persecuted? Right, but that was centuries ago, yes? And Cats, certainly, but they are pampered pets now. How many people do you know who even pass the time of day with a spider? I shall embarrass you now, I am afraid.
Stand up anyone, I mean anyone, who can honestly say she has never killed a spider.
I thought so. Feeling uncomfortable yet? What is the problem, do we have too many legs, is that it?
All the more to run away with, I assure you.
So some of us are poisonous; I agree, but tell me, have you ever met anyone in these climes who has been made even mildly ill by a spider bite? We don’t pose much of a threat, do we? Now compare that to the number of spiders you have personally injured, deliberately or otherwise? We only bite people to protect ourselves; we are friendly, peace-loving creatures who wish to live in harmony with other species – with certain exceptions, like men -. We are on your side, sisters, and we have plenty to offer.
You will have been told that we are devious murderers, entrapping innocent prey. Well, yes, we are. So what? I can’t buy flies shrink-wrapped at the local supermarket; and I bet you’d rather I ate that bluebottle buzzing against the window than leaving it to tread puke into your next meal, yes?
I’m sorry if I’m carping on, but I really get annoyed by this sort of petty, dishonest, prejudice. No one is asking you to eat insects, after all.
All of these distortions of fact have been foisted on you by men, make no mistake about it. There has been a deliberate attempt to drive a wedge between us. Unfortunately, it has been a great success.
Our only good press where men are concerned is that old chestnut about Robert the Bruce, winning the battle after seeing the spider remaking her web each time it broke, thus explaining to him the usefulness of perseverance. Well you can forget about that persecutor of Spiders. He said the wind was responsible for breaking that web. Nonsense. He broke it. He was bored and he liked to torment things, especially small, helpless, earnest things. So one of our sisters joins the hall of fame because of her courage and tenacity in the face of the deliberate destruction of her home and livelihood.
Does this sound familiar? I’m sure you have one or two heroines who fit this mould? Someone who stuck to her principles and struggled on in the face of the persecution of the people who now praise her: Joan of Arc springs to mind. I’m sure there are others.
Well, so much for our Robbie, who learnt to persist, and to lie about how he came by the idea. Had he bothered to ask, I’m sure that nameless heroine would have given him the same advice, and not spent all morning remaking her web.
You may wonder how a culture that does not have anything that you would recognise as a literature remembers these events. Spiders have a racial memory, a bit like instinct, but more refined. We remember everything. Not that you generally let us close enough to benefit from our advice, our accumulated wisdom.
Have you ever noticed the way your resident spider hunches up in fear when you come into the room, plays dead until she has the chance to use her legs to run for cover?
Why? Because she is afraid. She is hoping you won’t put her out in the rain, or let the cat play with her, or just step on her. She isn’t going to hang around and give you good advice under those circumstances, is she? Which is a pity, she could become your best friend if you only let her. Try saying hello next time you see Suzannah in the garden, or Babette scaling your cooker, you might be pleasantly surprised, we can be quite cuddly.
Which, I suppose, brings us on to sex; and Black Widows. Now this is one of the areas that members of your specie seem to find particularly difficult, although I can’t for the life of me understand why.
I would like to clear up one misunderstanding: All spiders eat other spiders. Don’t look so shocked madam, your specie has been known to do it too. I mean, if you don’t have the sense to steer clear of your neighbours when they are hungry, you take a chance, its quite simple.
It doesn’t happen so very often. There are codes we use, a bit like musical doorbells. One taps out a message on the threads, I am not dinner, and if you are in luck, the lady of the house will tell you which threads to avoid standing on. Of course, copulation makes the female spider very hungry; so any male runs the risk of being eaten after the act. Or, if he’s very juicy, before.
To be honest, I don’t know why your heterosexual sisters don’t do the same, no male of either species are of the slightest use except for procreation. Our aeons of experience have taught us the most effective way to deal with all that childcare nonsense. I hatch thousands of the little monsters at a time. They get a parachute each, and off they go, pioneers in the exploration of the world.
Did you know that spiders are always the first colonists on newly formed volcanic islands? It’s true, and a great many die in the attempt. I expect there to be spiders on the moon shortly. However, I digress. I was explaining how men have conned you into being frightened of us.
Let me tell you about Arachne. She is supposed to have been a human, a very skilled spinner and weaver. So far so good. She is also supposed to have been proud and boastful. I think ‘uppity’ would be a good word to describe Arachne. So this clever weaver challenges Athene (you remember Athene?) to a contest to see who is the best weaver, loses, and hangs herself. Then Athene is supposed to have turned her into a spider.
Now, can you believe anyone would be so stupid? I don’t believe it, personally. No one could expect to surpass a Goddess at anything and I would have thought Athene would have been pleased a woman was so good. So why would Athene have accepted the challenge, if indeed that challenge were ever made?
This myth was invented by – you guessed it – men. They wanted you to think that being a spider was a step down from being a woman, and a punishment for being too clever. This served a two-fold purpose, preventing you from taking pride in anything you do, even the things they expect you to be good at; and discouraging you from associating with spiders.
In fact, Arachne was always a spider, and a symbol of womanly virtues and strengths; strengths such as tenacity and courage and pride. Arachne was so popular with human females that men wanted to find a way of destroying her cult. They even went to the trouble of changing the calendar to lose the month named for her; I bet they wish they could have changed the moon’s turning too, to make it fit their twelve months. Nice try fellas.
Forgot something though didn’t they? How many Cancers and Scorpios are there in this audience? Greetings, cousins.
So now you know at least some of the truth about spiders, and why and how you have been lied to. I hope you appreciate that this disinformation has resulted in centuries of misunderstanding, and that we, the Arachnids have a lot to offer you, the Lesbians.
Listen to the Spider, when she tells you the watchwords of all Arachnids; the wisdom that is the basis of our civilisation. Remember, as you listen, that our civilisation exists, nay thrives, despite horrendous losses from centuries of persecution.
The watchwords of the Arachnids are these: Be self sufficient; Never despair at failure. Work toward perfection; be proud.
And most important of all: Where males are concerned, avoid them, but if that proves impossible, remember they can be a useful source of protein.
Hear, sisters, and learn.
Thank you for inviting me to talk to you. Good night.
And the rest, as they say, is History.
first published in Mosaic of Air, Onlywomen Press 1992, reprinted Arachne Press 2013