spider webs

April 29th, 2010 | Uncategorized

Does anyone know the origin of spider web imagery in seventies lesbian-feminism? When I came out, everyone was always going on about “we are the weavers, we are the web.” Was it about reclaiming something people are afraid of? Was it some Wiccan thing? Was it because female spiders are bigger than males? Was it an association to spinning, and spinsters? Was it based on a misperception that male spiders don’t spin webs? DO male spiders spin webs? I’m able to find surprisingly little about this with my impatient slapdash google technique.

I always thought it was very cool how women would bring rope and yarn to political demonstrations, and “weave webs” by tangling everyone up together…but what’s the symbolism about? Where did it start? I have a letter from a friend written in 1981, which says, “Remember—wimmin’s webs are always connected but when they become electricity is where it all happens, when the threads of the webs become the wavelengths is when the magic begins!” Except she didn’t use any capitals and all the “o”s are turned into little women’s symbols.

119 Responses to “spider webs”

  1. Linda Daly says:

    I thought it came from the Spider Woman mythos.

    There’s a good intro here.

  2. That’s a great question, AB, and I don’t have an immediate “here’s the source” answer. I think your guesses are likely all right, except that oir identification with spiders seemed to come more from the biology which contradicted male-dominated sexuality — i.e., that female spiders are often much larger than males. control sexual reproduction, and often kill & eat the males after coupling. I vaguely remember some mention of that in The Ms. Reader. We were struggling to contradict the evolutionary biology of the era which (as now) insisted women were weaker, submissive, liked pink etc because that was the natural order and all animals obeyed the laws of nature, therefore feminists/lesbians were defying nature. Spiders were an instant symbol of “not all nature is boy dominant”.

    Weaving and webs seemed to reach an apex at Greenham Common, at the women’s Pentagon actions, and at anti-nuke protests where webs of yarn were a nonviolent way to stake out territory and upset the authorities. Because weaving is what women have done for time immemorial, one of the “female’ activities which are ignored as culture-builders by male anthropologists/archeologists who are all about hunting implements, weapons and metal, instead of pots, baskets, and all the implements EVERYBODY used EVERY DAY to gather and prepare 80-90% of what a tribe age or stored.

    Spider Woman mythology is also very prominent in non-European pagan beliefs, and your term Wiccan hints at it (such as Starhawk’s weaving rituals) but, again, Starhawk’s prominence is not until the late 70’s or early 80’s.

    By 1975 I had a large (3 foot square) pen and ink drawing of a spider in her web, drawn by an Austin dyke, which hung over my bed for years. It was beautifully done and I liked spiders in general, so it was more personal to me than a symbol of lesbian-feminism — than the double-headed ax, for instance, which also hung/hangs on my bedroom wall.

  3. Jen says:

    I don’t know about the webs, but your friend was clearly, happily, stoned.

  4. Bechadelic1 says:

    How interesting. I have no idea what it is all about, and I like Spiderman better than Spiderwoman. Anyway, I’m going to stop talking now because I know this has nothing to do with superheros 😀 Will continue reading further comments with interest.

  5. Andi says:

    When I was on the Navajo res in the early 80’s, I heard a lot about Spider Woman and the Sacred Web. In Canyon de Chelley I saw webs people had woven into bushes, and we were told not to photograph them, as they were sacred.

    I assume that the symbology was borrowed/ appropriated/however you want to put it, from Native American spirituality.

    Thanks for the flashback!

  6. I thought it was about the curving, spiralling feminine movement as opposed to the straight patriarchal thrusting towards a destination. (See Mary Daly, early 80s.)

    Also reference Ariadne and Theseus, where Theseus was helpless in the webby labyrinth and needed Ariadne’s thread to get out.

    And of course, the spider is a creative husbandless hunter with hairy legs. What more could you want?

  7. HGD says:

    I looked at a few online and print resources, and it looks to be a reclamation of the word “spinster,” supported by references to Athena and Arachne.

    In its definition of “Spider,” A Feminist Dictionary, 1985, says to see also “Spinning, Spinster,” and in its definition of “Spinster,” quotes Mary Daly’s Gyn/Ecology, 1978, “She who has chosen her Self, who defines her Self, by choice, neither in relation to children nor to men, who is Self-identified, as a Spinster, a whirling dervish, spinning in a new time/space.” Unfortunately, my library doesn’t have a copy of Gyn/Ecology.

    Hope that helps.

  8. Kate L says:

    Oh, dear, I can’t help but think of a friend with a terrible phobia of spiders. Her partner would have to cover images of spiders in her biology textbooks. I, on the other hand, am afraid of snakes. I think. After getting to know my friend, I always have to stop and think to myself, “Am I the one afraid of spiders or am I the one afraid of snakes?”. It’s as if we exchanged parts of each other’s soul.

    (Nel #40 – FROM AN EARLIER POST) Hybrids, Humans and Hominids are the three names of the Neanderthal Parallax books by Robert J. Sawyer. His other books are interesting to read because of his insistence on progressive themes. He is very critical of certain other science fiction genre for failing in this regard. For example, he is very critical of the Star Wars universe for, among many other problems, its casual acceptance of slavery. He praised Star Trek’s progressive view of the future, though. Janeway Rules ! Jar-Jar Drools !

  9. I need to correct my own reference above — I think the little section on female biology in nature that is not male-dominated was in Sisterhoos Is Powerful rather than The New Ms Reader. But I’m relying on memory.

    The spider/spinning connection predates Mary Daly in 1978, I’m pretty sure. Paula Gunn Allen used it in her work but was that from the early 70’s? Because yes it was solidified as a feminist symbol by 1980 but it was around by 1973, if not earlier.

  10. Shira says:

    There is also the connection to the old European Weaver-Godesses -the Norns, the Fates..

  11. Andrew B says:

    Alison, your friend anticipated the Internet. (I mean today’s Internet, used by non-techies for social networking. Of course ARPAnet had existed for several years by 1981.) She also illustrated an advantage of paper mail over email. It would be difficult at best to send an email with all the “o”s turned into women’s symbols. And what are the odds that you would still have her email after all these years?

    It’s interesting to hear people’s memories of how this metaphor got started.

  12. lh says:

    I don’t have my copy of Sisterhood is Powerful handy, but I found it in Google Books. The full text is not available online but you can search it.

    There were no results when I searched for “spider,” “weaver,” “weave,” or “knit.” “Spinster” brings up a snippet of a definition that starts with “a species of sub-human.” “Web” brings up something about a woman caught in a “distorting web.”

  13. lh, excellent idea! I looked up Sisterhood Is Powerful online but entered “spiders” (plural) and got the following snippet: “…bring up the sex life of spiders. They have sex. She bites off his head.”

    That is indeed a quote I remember hearing when hanging out with mostly straight feminists in 1973-74 at college. Given the enormous influence of Sisterhood Is Powerful, I’d argue that spider image contributed to the creation of a cultural icon among our community.

  14. P.S. Publication date is 1970.

  15. Thomas Griffith says:

    Perhaps the inspiration is the story of Arachne. She was a mortal whose act of weaving was so beautiful that the Nymphs would stop to look with amazement at her work. She was turned into a spider by Athena after challenging the goddess to a weaving contest in which Arachne disparaged the gods. According to Greek myth that was the origin of the spider.

  16. lh says:

    So I got home and pulled out my very yellowed copy. The intro starts:

    This book is an action. It was conceived, written, edited, copy-edited, proofread, designed, and illustrated by women. (The process broke down for the first time at the printer’s, that industry being one of the many which are still all but completely closed to women.*)

    *I have just learned that the book is being set by a computer, keypunched by women. Breakthrough!–Ed.

    Now here we are 40 years later, women (and men) connected by a web of computers, (as Andrew B. #11 observed) searching its text which was scanned in by someone at Google because that original file is long gone.

    Here’s an expansion of what Maggie Jochild found on page 452:

    Arm yourself with some knowledge of the psychology of oppressed peoples everywhere, and a few facts about the animal kingdom. I admit playing top wolf or who runs the gorillas is silly but as a last resort men bring it up all the time. Talk about bees. If you feel really hostile bring up the sex life of spiders. They have sex. She bites off his head.

  17. Kate says:

    I think there’s a Mary Daly connection. Let me think and get back to you.

  18. lh says:

    ?h, @andrew b. (11) it’s n?t t?? difficult! 😉

  19. lh says:

    ?h, @andrew b. (11) it’s n?t t?? difficult! 😉

  20. lh says:

    or maybe it is..sorry, the woman symbols previewed ok.

  21. Thank you so much, lh, for the expansion AND the connection to now, a la Andrew. That passage illustrates why women’s presses were such a common feature of women’s communities in the early 70s. I remember taking a Gay Academic Union newsletter — which was innocuous to the point of somnolence, trust me — to the university press in Denton for copying. The man behind the counter took my order and I was paying when he read the headline of the newsletter. He looked at me with utter loathing, called me a deviant, and refused to print it. I was devastated, and afraid to go anywhere else. I would up driving an hour into Dallas to a print shop where a dyke worked to get it set and run off.

    On another note, funny how women’s symbols and Hebrew can’t be reproduced here. Could there be a connection? 😉

  22. Dr. Empirical says:

    I have no interest in this subject. It is therefore elitist.

    All of you horrible elitists ought to be ashamed of yourselves for deliberately excluding me.

  23. Dr. E, you get the Ginjoint award for the day.

  24. K.B. says:

    This probably doesn’t have anything to do with anything, but my own memory of “weaver” from the 70s is on an
    album by Sally Oldfield.

  25. Thank you, my spinning spiders! Blessed be the web that unites us all!

  26. Leah says:

    Gee this post brought me back to a magical Halloween I spent in 1977 in New York City. My girlfriend and I dressed all in black and painted spiderwebs on our faces. We had a lot of black lace and wore big black boots. I think Alex Dobkin performed. It was lesbian-central. Sadly my memory does not pull back the reason for the spider theme, but the spinster theories certainly ring a distant bell.

  27. lh says:

    Okay, I’m going to have to re-read Sisterhood is Powerful soon. (I’ll have to take some Loratadine first though, this copy’s so musty.) I’m flipping through it and there’s so much interesting stuff. I’m flashing back to the first time I read it, crouched in a corner of the library because I strongly suspected there’d be an unpleasant scene if Dad happened across it. (To be clear, Dad wasn’t a bad guy, but this would have been a bit much for him.)

  28. clams says:

    Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I remember spider webs and suffrage. Who knows why I made the link but my friend google found quite a few references. Here’s one digital history

  29. Jill says:

    The phrase evokes a Starhawk ritual for me. Even if my memory is correct, though, that doesn’t mean she invented it. But I remember chanting it.

  30. lh says:

    I’m still here. I felt I couldn’t leave without addressing the questions about male spiders. Random Googling seems to show that whether a spider spins a web to live in (or trap prey with) depends more on the type of spider than the sex of the spider. You can tell a male from a female because the males have “pedipalps” near their mouths which look like boxing gloves. Female pedipalps just look like short legs. When mating, males first deposit their sperm on a special mini sperm web they’ve spun, then use their boxing glove-pedipalps to transfer sperm to the female. (Things that make you go “hmmmm.”)

    In 2008 a (mostly) vegetarian spider was discovered. This species is called Bagheera Kiplingi.

    I have gleaned these tidbits of information from slightly less than an hour of web surfing, so any errors are mine. If anyone out there is a spider expert please feel free to correct me.

  31. Sherry says:

    Women are connected…be it lesbian or straight.
    I think it goes with the territory. It’s like a spider web.
    I also think that we as women can weave that web and make it stick when we want to. We’re cunning and we’re much smarter than we’ve been given credit for.
    I don’t have the time to Google anything, sorry! I’m just responding on a whim.

  32. Sherry, you are so right.

    lh, a veggie spider? Or mostly, you said — don’t tell me, it violates its veggie state for BACON, right? I hope we do attract a spider expert here (perhaps if we delicately jiggle a strand like a struggling insect) or at least keep sending you and others out google spelunking.

    And clams, that “spider chart” reference is fascinating. I mean, the symbolism goes both ways, eh?

    The memories and assorted information here is dazzling.

  33. Ginjoint says:

    Thanks, Maggie, but I wouldn’t have been that clever. I’m lucky if I remember to put pants on before I walk out the door in the morning – alluding to an older thread’s beyond my ken at the moment.

  34. P.S. Leah, nice blog. I bookmarked it. And Jill. what is it you chanted with Starhawk?

  35. Ginjoint says:

    However, we’d best be careful with this thread, because discussing the actions of second-wave feminists in anything but disparaging terms is not allowed on the internet. Hey! Maybe my memory’s better than I thought!

  36. hairball_of_hope says:

    Hey Ginjoint, I was wondering where you were hiding out… I thought perhaps you were having a tongue-in-cheek-ectomy, possibly sucked out via your umbilicus. ;).

  37. Ginjoint says:

    Nah. The memory and the ovaries may have been transient, but the smartassery’s forever.

  38. Kate L says:

    Hi, Ginjoint !

    I just returned from this year’s Take Back the Night rally on campus. Women will decide their fate ! (Kate waves fist in the air in the Revolutionary Sisters Salute). I don’t think any reporter from the Student Paper snapped my photo this year. A young man asked me if I was going to take part in the march from the Student Plaza where the rally took place to Triangle Park in the off-campus commercial area. Interesting story about that Triangle Park. It is actually named after a local businessman who was the only person I knew of who treated this little Midwestern town’s first openly lesbian couple with respect back in 1969. I don’t think the marchers may have known that, however.

  39. barbara (kitten) says:

    this probably has nothing to do with spider/weaving imagery in feminism, but this post produced a serious earworm version of “tapestry” by carole king, copyright 1971.

    That song is, for me, an anthem.

  40. --MC says:

    What do you call it when you get an earworm in your head but it’s a book? A bookworm?
    This post inspired me to dig out my own copy of Sisterhood is Powerful, now an aged paperback with a shredded cover. I was chuffed to see the manifestos in the back from the Seattle Lilith group (if I have that right .. I read it this afternoon with my sinuses closing up ..)

  41. lh says:

    One last post before bed.

    From ScienceNews.org:

    In videos of 140 spider meals, the researchers counted 136 acacia protein-fat snacks with a few nectar sips. On four occasions the spiders did turn to meat as they tugged away ant larvae from a passing nursemaid and ate the youngsters.

  42. Max Dashu says:

    OK, i can tell you that there is a strong witch (not necessarily Wicca) connection here. It’s multistranded, as befits Spider. The reclamation of female power symbols in the pagan feminist scene of the 70s, well before Starhawk or Daly’s books, explains why the spider had such appeal, as Maggie and others have alluded to. We looked to how spiders, toads, bats were demonized the way witches were demonized, and we drew connections between spinning Spider and the Fates, Norns, Moirae, and to women’s arts of spinning and weaving as creative acts that we saw, and older traditions saw, as having primal power. We compared these to Spider Grandmother in the Pueblo and Muskogean traditions, and other Spiders like Biliku in the Andaman islands. “We are the flow, we are the ebb. We are the weaver, we are the web” comes from a song by feminist witch Shekinah Mountainwater. Don’t know when she wrote it, but it summed up the desire to reaffirm nature. That spiders were such strong females, indominable, was definitely part of the appeal. They signified women not attached to men, and not subordinate to them. So was the unifying theme of women interweaving threads to create a whole, and throwing up webs to tangle the war machine in the women’s peace camps and demos. That arose directly out of the earlier ferment of feminist spider-reclamation. I think Martha Weigle’s book Spiders and Spinsters came out in 1982, but she would have been researching it much before that. The etymology of “witch” from old roots meaning to turn, twist as a spinner does was definitely in play, and Starhawk popularized this in her writings. But it was around well before that. I talked about it in my slideshow Witches and Pagans, and there were others…

  43. Max, I was hoping you’d show! And of course you’d know. Now it all makes sense.

    barbara (kitten), ditto for me re Tapestry.

    And lh, hope those mental images your research conjures don’t disturb your sleep. Another thing to be grateful for, that my development never included a larval stage.

  44. Ian says:

    I don’t know the answer, but I do know that at some point, a woman thought, “this’d be a really cool thing to do!”

  45. Ian says:

    PS Being an arachnophobe, just reading this discussion gives me the heebeegeebees. Maybe it’s a man thing, or an arachnophobic thing, but spiders also conjure up lots of negative images. What if you’re the one trapped in the web? Aaaaaaagggghhh!

  46. Bechadelic1 says:

    Bagheera Kiplingi? How very interesting. ‘Bagheera’ the black panther in Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’, was far from a vegetarian.

  47. lh says:

    I believe the Bagheera Kiplini were named for their panther-like leaps before the scientists learned about their dietary habits.

    I had a brief dream last night that I was reading a comic strip called Spidykes to Watch Out For. A pair of spiders were discussing which male they would ask for a little web full of sperm and debating whether to co-parent with him or just bite off his head for simplicity’s sake. A newspaper caught in the corner of their web had a Nixon headline, so I knew it was the early ’70s.

    Oh yeah, some spiders are loners, but others live in colonies (communes?) and not all females kill/eat males. In some species, the males are so small that that the huge females don’t even seem to notice them, let alone consider them large enough to snack on.

    I’m going to try to stop now, because I really do have other things to do, including at least a token amount of housework to ensure domestic harmony and then getting through a work day with half our normal staff.

  48. Bechadelic1 says:

    I love this article, especially the caption to the photograph and the last part about it being a caring father spider.

  49. Thank you all so much for getting out your old tattered Sisterhood is Powerfuls, for your web research in both senses of the word, and for otherwise sharing your collective intelligence.

    And to mix our metaphors, long live the hive mind!

  50. Kate L says:

    HERE is a photo of the women’s Take Back the Night march that happened last night in this smalll Midwestern university town. And HERE is the Student Paper newsstory that it came with in this morning’s edition!

  51. Kate L #51, that is one great article.

    Bechadelic and lh, I am sharing on the veggie spider story, via WebBook. Too wonderful.

    And Ian (also maybe Pam I?, little gator’s husband), I do feel for the arachnophobes on this thread. Think of England/bacon/comics and it will pass.

  52. Bechadelic1 says:

    @ AB # 50
    In my web world, this blog is pretty much queen bee!!

  53. judybusy says:

    I still have a Take Back the Night March t-shirt from 1985 or so. I don’t hang onto a lot of stuff (Although I’m really glad AB kept that letter!) but this is one thing I’ll never get rid of.

    For a long time, I’ve believed that we will know our work is getting close to done when the rape/domestic abuse of women incidences approach zero. Until that time, we’re still seen as less than human. For some reason, I believe that when men believe it’s abhorrent to abuse, the rest will follow: wage equality, political power, etc. Violence against us is such a marker of how women are viewed.

    I have a similar belief about true racial equality: when the incarceration rate is equal for everybody, we’ve gotten somewhere. (And, of course, in my Utopia, very few would need incarceration because all the stuff that contributes to bad choices is eliminated.)

  54. Alex K says:

    @38 / Ginjoint: “The memory and the ovaries may have been transient, but the smartassery’s forever.”

    I may once or twice already have filled up your coffee cup with respect and admiration, but this calls for a fresh heater of AWRIGHT!!!

  55. judybusy says:

    I came across this in the latest issue of Smithsonian magazine: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Victorian-Womanhood-in-All-Its-Guises.html

    Makes me wonder how her biographer portrayed her. If our library’s online catalog weren’t crashed, I’d order it now! Happy weekend, all. I’ll be spending vast amounts of time in the garden, the Mayday Parade and the Art Institute, so not online so much.

  56. Ian says:

    @judybusy(56): Thanks for posting that article from the Smithsonian. It’s weird to think just how shocking that first photo would have been at the turn of the century; she’s doing all the things well-bred women didn’t do in polite society! Smoking, drinking, crossing her legs with her ankle on her knee and showing her petticoats. The shameless hussy!

  57. Pam I says:

    I can’t pass up this chance to re-post this pic, for new readers if no other excuse is available.

  58. falloch says:

    So many good replies! Max Dashu is right on the money as far as early ’80s women’s peace actions. I can remember sitting under a web of fabric scraps for a few days and nights outside the US District Court in downtown NYC in 1982 (d.?) while Greenham Common women tried to take the US to court for putting nuclear missiles in the UK (present in court was NY state attorney Rudi Guiliani, already a supercilious jerk). Fabric scraps obtained from dumpsters round the back of garment cutting rooms around Lafayette St., now all gentrified. To me the main meaning is that ‘EVERYTHING is connected’, as we’re seeing this week in all its terrible power, as the Gulf Coast and its beautiful creatures lie in the path of oil destruction.

  59. meg says:


    [Freed from spam-filter limbo. –Mentor]

  60. From a link provided by Max Dashu on Facebook, here’s an article about an ancient Elwha Klallam village, Tse-whit-zen, being unearthed in Seattle that includes a photo of a spindle whorl made from whale vertebra that was used to spin yarn.

  61. j.b.t. says:

    I’m off to the May Day parade/festival this weekend, too – my favorite day of the year, and my favorite thing about MPLS. My people!

  62. Kate L says:

    Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Channel, which ridiculed critics of the Bush Administration’s handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, has decided that the current Gulf of Mexico oil spill is America’s worst “natural” disaster, and that the fault all lies “with Obama”. While not downplaying the severity of this spill, and the fact that the north-central Gulf of Mexico was already dealing with annual “dead zones” of oxygen depletion caused by fertilizer run-off induced algal blooms, there has been an oil spill like this before in the Gulf – a rig in Mexican waters that in 1979 – 1980 spilled 3 million barrels of oil during the course of one year; and where is all that “drill baby, drill; drill here, drill now” talk from the Republicans? A Huffington Post debunking And what of those wicked BP capitalists, bent on exploiting the mineral resources of us poor Pandorans – uh – Americans? OK, maybe that last part over the top.

  63. Pam I says:

    Blog swerve (still on non-human animals) – an article in today’s Independent on more gay-animals discoveries. Though it’s essentially a reactionary discussion before it starts, this one gets interesting in its description of observations of how ‘lesbian’ albatross pairs work out how to do the housework, given that there is only room for one egg, not one each, and how they set about finding sperm donors.

  64. Pam I says:

    and here’s one for the geologists – stunning photos of Eyjafjallajökull at her finest, lightning bolts mixed with the fire, with techy geologist-friendly descriptions of what all the different bubbles are up to.

  65. Fester Bestertester says:

    In addition to Pam I’s “stunning photos of Eyjafjallajökull”, here’s Help in pronouncing the name.

    And it’s ukulele friendly!

  66. Festerbester, thanks for the video, I think I’ve got it now. I was impressed with Letterman back when Mahmoud Ahmadinejab first hit the news because he took the effort to learn how to say that name effortlessly — instead of going for the cheap, xenophobic laugh of “lookie here at this funny furrin name”, he accepted the laughs of appreciation which followed his flawless pronunciation. I thought it was a subtle example we could all follow (not that Letterman isn’t regularly xenophobic and a shithead at other times). So now I’ve set my sights on Eyjafjallajokull, island mountain glacier. And Pam I, those photos are spectacular, will be sharing it on. Now to go read about lesbian albatrosses (do they touch their boobies, I giess blue-footed ones in their case?)

  67. --MC says:

    I chuckled grimly when I read the sad little article in yesterday’s NYT about how this Louisiana oil spill is going to tarnish BP’s public image. Dang it, and the new CEO was just beginning to turn around the negative image the company got after the refinery explosion in Texas in 2005 and the pipeline leak in Alaska in 2006 …

  68. Kate L says:

    Thanks, Pam I ! I had been searching for months for volcanic lightning slides (few and far between before the recent Iceland volcano) to show this “unexpected hazard” of volcanic eruptions (pyroclastic particles in euption clouds create friciton and electrical potential just as dust in thunderstorms clouds do).

    OH, btw. Virignia’s conservative new state attorney general has ordered the symbol of Justice on the Virginia seal to have her left breast covered up! I think he’s pissed because this Amazon warrior is depicted as standing in triumph with one foot on the chest of her vanquished male foe! Talk about an eary depiction of wimmin’s empowerment!

  69. Kat says:

    I’ll be sitting this one out, as, like Ian, even talk of spiders leaves me with my skin crawling.

    I will say, though, that a couple of years ago I went to a halloween party and saw a woman in the coolest spider costume evarrr!!

  70. CJ says:

    Hm, I think the weaver/web image was an inspired combination of spiritual thinking and grass-roots self-empowerment imagery.

    The chant is known in Germany but I somehow doubt that Germans thought about spiders as the weavers. I don’t remember spider images in the reclaim the night marches in the early to middle 80ties, though witches and broomsticks played an important role. (Those reclaim the night marches were done at Walpurgisnacht, the witches’ night.)

  71. Ready2Agitate says:

    She is the needle
    We are the thread
    She is the weaver
    We are the web

    We are the flow
    and we are the ebb
    We are the weavers
    We are the web

    These are chants sung in wimmin’s circles at Rainbow Gatherings, at the Seneca Women’s Peace Encampment, and in G-ddess-worshipping circles, including on today – BELTANE! Blessed Be!

    Anyway, I equate the web allusion with
    women’s space
    spiritual feminism
    women’s only space
    women-loving-women space

    I used to wear a sterling silver spider’s web on a beaded necklace around my neck. I think it made me feel empowered because I knew that… someone could get ensnared in my web and struggle to get out?

    It will be fun to see this old letter of AB’s “Love Life: A Case Study.”

    But I wouldn’t say everyone was always going on about… I’d say, women were connecting everywhere with our symbols of power and interconnecting with each other through them. Kinda like we do on this blog, eh?

  72. Ready2Agitate says:

    I just Googled those “lyrics” above and found a gorgeous piece of needlework by Cari Ferraro


    with this full poem by Shekinah Mountainwater:

    he is the weaver
    We are the web
    She is the needle
    We are the thread
    Strand by strand,
    hand over hand
    Thread by thread
    we weave the web
    We are the flow
    and we are the ebb
    We are the witches,
    back from the dead

    Shekina is again credited on this site of Pagan songs:


    and again here:



    There is a woman
    Who weaves the night sky
    See what she spins, how her fingers fly.
    She is within us, beginning to end
    Our grandmother, our sister, our friend.

    She is the needle, and we are the thread
    She is the weaver and we are the web.
    We are the flow, and we are the ebb
    We are the weavers, and we are the web.

    She changes everything she touches
    And everything She touches changes.

    Weave on, weave on,
    Weave on, Spiderwoman.

    [Freed from spam-filter limbo. –Mentor]

  73. Ready2Agitate says:

    omg #73, I cut and pasted lacking the inital letter “S” !!! (oop!) 😉

  74. Sherry says:

    How much can this be analyzed?
    Thank you Maggie Jochild for your response to my comment. You make me feel welcome here.
    I can weave webs…I can weave webs of deception. I did it for years until I came out. We’re spiders…but only the best of the best.
    Super hero’s…Spider women!

  75. Ian says:

    How much can this be analyzed? Sherry (74), they’re just getting started! LOL! I love it when the people on this blog discuss an issue, especially one they’re passionate about/nostalgic for. You should hear us going on about bacon …

  76. Sherry says:

    I love bacon! I love tomatoes! Is that good enough for you Ian?

  77. Ian says:

    Anyone who’s a friend of bacon is a friend of mine …

  78. bean says:

    yeah, why don’t tomatoes get the same respect around here as bacon?!? no offense to bacon, but honestly… bacon is available year round, but here in new england there are only real tomatoes for, like, three months, if you’re lucky! i spend the other nine months waiting for them to come back!

    so i say, up with tomatoes!

    i have nothing to add to the spider conversation (i would have guessed it started with mary daly) except that there seems to be a lot of stuff that started in the seventies that just caught on, like a meme. some of it was not particularly accurate. i’m thinking of emma goldman, who never said “if i can’t dance, i don’t want to be in your revolution” and sojurner truth who never said “and ain’t i a woman?” still, they caught and spread because they seemed to hold value for people. the whole spider and web thing has so much cool symbolism associated with it that it’s not a surprise it caught on, and even seems like it must have been a conscious effort. however, if that were true, i’d think we would have unearthed the source by now…unless it really is the poem cited above.

  79. Fester Bestertester says:

    les amis des bacon sont mes amis, eh Ian?

  80. Kat says:

    Despite my spider issues, I must say that I’m learning quite a lot on this thread.

    Thanks all!

  81. Sherry says:

    bean (79) A tomato fan, yes! You’re so right about being able to buy bacon all year round. I love it but a BLT is much better.
    I live in the south so I’m sure I have access to home grown tomatoes much longer than you. There is a local farm that grows them in the winter in a greenhouse. I have to say that these tomatoes are delicious and taste better than my home grown ones. I’m not sure what kind of soil they use or what’s in the soil. They have about 850 plants which are grown in soil in black bags. You’ll see these small discs in the greenhouse that are homes to the bees. Bees are constantly buzzing all over the place. It’s kind of neat and like I said, the tomatoes taste so good! It saddens me around the end of June when their supply runs out….although it’s probably a good thing because I eat so many that the acid becomes a problem. That’s when I move on to yellow squash and cucumbers!

  82. Marj says:

    Talking of ukuleles (#66), the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (UOGB) is playing Carnegie Hall on 2 November, also Erie and Toronto.

    I know, I know, it sounds execrable; but truly North America is in for a treat! Check them out on youtube for a preview…

  83. Marj says:

    From the Mosely Folk Festival webpage: “The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. What must have started as a mad idea over a fine pint of English ale has rapidly become one of the hottest tickets on the folk scene. Moving from renditions of Tchaikovsky to Otis Redding via Nirvana, Neil Diamond, the Sex Pistols, and Wagner, the Orchestra astonish audiences with the richness of the ukulele’s palette…”

  84. Marj, I LOVE ukulele. Will go check Youtube. I’ve probably plugged this here before because I never get enough of it, but — to turn the direction toward a different insect, one which gives ME the heebeejeebees, check out Doug Skinner on ukulele singing his wonderful ditty “Little Roaches.”

  85. Kate L says:

    Ukuleles and the British. Blimey! 🙂

    I think that the most cogent observation about the offshore oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico came from Rachel Maddow of MSNBC. She said that many people outside the industry had been unaware that the current water depth frontier for offshore drilling was beyond the limits where people could actually go down to the seafloor to try to close a blow-out. That’s very true. The runaway oil platform that I was on in 1983 was drilling in 230 feet (about 70 m) of water, and the very deepest offshore well in the Gulf of Mexico at the time was Shell Oil’s whimsically-named Bullwinkle platform, which was in a then-astounding 1,000 feet (about 300 m) of water. By comparison, BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig that is currently creating an historically-large offshore oil spill is in 5,000 feet (about 1,500 m) of water!

    Also, Rachel Maddow said that the federal government had left all responsibility for preventing blow-outs in the hands of industry. That reminds me of the Exxon Valdez spill… one condition of Congress approving the Alaska Pipeline in 1973 was the guarantee by industry that they would maintain adequate personnel and equipment at the Port of Valdez to quickly limit any oil spill. By 1989, when the oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground, the consortiuum of oil companies running the pipeline had shut-down a large part of this operation, and layed-off many of the clean-up personnel. It now turns out that the offshore drilling industry in the United States had been succesful in lobbying against the kind of sea floor blow-out preventers that are required for offshore wells from the North Sea to the coast of Brazil. It occurs to me that this means BP uses these sea floor blow-out preventers in its North Sea wells, but not in its Gulf of Mexico wells. BLIMEY !

  86. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Kate L (#86)

    Interesting info about the types of blowout preventers in use worldwide. One of BP’s defenses/excuses is that they didn’t own the rig, they leased it from Transocean, and Transocean was/is responsible for the blowout preventer. The BP CEO made the PR rounds today saying the blowout preventer failed. He didn’t specify if the blowout preventer was at the sea floor or much higher up on the pipe.

    One of the current concerns is that the pipe may collapse, which would mean the oil flow would be gushing straight from the ocean floor. BP is supposedly drilling relief wells nearby to reduce the pressure in the failed well. That process is optimistically said to take about 90 days. I wonder if the relief wells will have sea floor blowout preventers.

    I defer to your expertise on oil rigs and petrogeology, but my general understanding of industrial process control systems tells me that the blowout preventer is the last resort for controlling oil flow. There should have been several other control systems which kicked in first when the pressure surged. An explosion would likely cause catastrophic failure of some of those systems, but it should not have disabled all of them.

    I’ve read about half a dozen accident investigations posted on the US Mineral Management Service’s website since this event occurred, and in nearly all of them, a combination of human factors (mistakes, poor reaction to situation, failure to follow SOP) plus either equipment failure or sudden wellhead pressure increases caused the blowout and/or fire. I’m sure this one will be no different, except that we may never know the answers because the rig sank, taking with it physical evidence (and perhaps the bodies of the 11 missing crewmembers). The people who were most closely involved in the incident may have been the ones who perished.

    On another note, is it just me who chuckled a bit when Obama met GOP Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal today to discuss the situation? The same Bobby Jindal who gave the GOP reply to Obama’s address to Congress last year deriding volcano monitoring, restrictions on oil drilling, and I forget what else. Uh huh, let’s see if Jindal calls for fewer regulations and less environmental monitoring now.

    And where’s Sarah Palin in all this? The spineless media should have put her on the Sunday talk show circuit to answer how she would balance drilling with safety. Drill baby, drill. I hope her dentist drills right down to her toenails.

  87. hairball_of_hope says:

    Hey R2A! Are you under the boil water order affecting much of the Boston area? Hope you’re ok.

  88. This question instantly evoked the Seneca Women’s Peace Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice for me (I still have a t-shirt that says all of that on it with a logo of sunrise (or set?) over the farmhouse on the land where the encampment was based. It says, “I made herstory” along the edge of the sun. That was the summer of ’83. We are the flow, we are the ebb, we are the weavers, we are the web — that chant was everywhere, as was weaving yarn into the fence at the army depot. The fence was hugely symbolic and a practical barrier, too, because folks who went over it got arrested. I’m just free associating with the spider and web imagery, I know folks have already talked about all this — I do think that part of the appeal of it was that it wasn’t hierarchical, wasn’t a coupling, but a sense of connection that extended in many directions. Remember that Holly Near song: “A woman’s love is like a golden thread, it can weave in and out in and out, so magically, I know this is true, my lover has woven such a life with me, and I do love her so. Do love her so. But, such a rush is going through my body, I see a woman across the room…” I just did that from memory — I heard that song the morning after the first time I had sex with a woman, and, yeah, that whole weaving in and out in and out (directly connected to nonmonogamy in this song) was hot to me, it was flirtateous, in a way I can’t completely get back to but know was there.

  89. little gator says:

    Mr gator has come along way. If he sees one of those things(he;ll even say the word spider now and then) in a magazine he’ll just turn the page shuddering and not throw it across the room. If he sees one he might ask me to take care of it and if he does see one on the floor he’ll simply kill it, not stomp it for a minute or more. And he doesnt scream as often. BUt thye are still in most of his nightmares.

    He says its the way the legs twitch that does it. Though insects dont bother him.

    I dont mind snakes or most insect-sized critters.
    exception: slugs gross me out but dont scre me, thouhg i happily eat snails.

    wasps scare me but only beacsue i nearly died form a wasp sting once. A yellow jacket, one of the meanest and most venemous wasps there is.

    eww. since moving to a more urban place i have seen little wildlife and all of it birds. I just opened the windows after a day trying to keep the cool air in and i smell skunk.

    birds I’ve seen in my new town: lots of sparrows, a flock of turkey vultures, some hawks, some white-breasted nuthatches, and a blue jay. I have heard but not see chickadees.

    Anyone know of Zorak, the human-sized elitist cartoon mantis? In one cartoon he was quite grumpy. the fact that he was alive and male proved to everyone that he was a virgin, and he was not happy about it.

  90. Marj says:

    Maggie, #85: “buenas noches, little roaches” – hee!

    Kate L, H-o-H, #86&7: I’m so sorry about British Petroleum. I wish we were only inflicting ukes on you…

  91. Andrew B says:

    Marj, 91, please don’t establish a precedent that we all have to apologize for the actions of transnationals based in our countries. We Americans would have to spend the rest of our lives. (That said, BP, aka Anglo-Persian, does have a lot to apologize for.)

    Women from the late 60s through the 80s would have been particularly aware of flying war machines: helicopters, fighter-bombers, and bombers attacking Viet Nam; ICBMs and strategic bombers carrying nuclear weapons. That could have added to the aptness of the spider metaphor. Spiders catch flies. At least so I imagine — would welcome comments from those who were there.

    Ginjoint, good to hear from you again. You reminded me of Faulkner: “I believe that smartassery will not merely endure: it will prevail. It is immortal…” At least, I think that’s Faulkner. Something like that.

    Kate L, thanks for geological context.

  92. Acilius says:

    The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain has been in the forefront of the uker world for some years now. The Believer and I are hardcore fans; their recording of Finlandia played while she came down the aisle at our wedding. I doubt we’ll be able to make it to Carnegie Hall, Erie PA, or Toronto for their North American tour, but if at all possible…

  93. Acilius says:

    Ahem . Sorry about the italics.

  94. Kate L says:

    (hairball #87, others) A disclaimer. I was a petroleum geologist for a (big name international oil company) some 30 years ago, and I was never an engineer; my big discovery in engineering upon entering the industry was to see that the “kelly bushing” that the depths on all oil well logs are referenced to was actually the piece of machinery on the drill floor that makes the drill pipe (and the bit at the end of it) turn!

    Question for the world wide web. At the annual meeting of the (local LGBT rights organization I serve as secretary) our host and president apologized for not inviting more “ladies”. I think he meant lesbians. Should I have said something?

  95. Kate L says:

    I should add that all local LGBT organizations seem heavily weighted to the local gay male population. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! But the wimmin folk are a part of the community, too!

  96. S. Irene says:

    Also from the 60’s-mid 70’s: Paula Gunn Allen.
    And from the mid-late 70’s, Judy Grahn.
    I can’t quite remember what I am almost remembering, but here is one thing, copied from Judy Grahn’s website:

    The most blonde woman in the world by Judy Grahn

    The most blonde woman in the world
    one day threw off her skin
    her hair, threw off her hair, declaring
    ‘Whosoever chooses to love me
    chooses to love a bald woman
    with bleeding pores.’
    Those who came then as her lovers
    were small hard-bodied spiders
    with dark eyes and an excellent
    knowledge of weaving.
    They spun her blood into long strands,
    and altogether wove millions of red
    webs, webs red in the afternoon sun.
    ‘Now,’ she said, ‘Now I am expertly loved,
    and now I am beautiful.’

    (from She Who, in love belongs to those who do the feeling
    Red Hen Press, 2008)

    And here is one piece by Paula Gunn Allen, from “Grandmother”:

    Out of her own body she pushed
    silver thread, light, air
    and carried it carefully on the dark, flying
    where nothing moved.
    Out of her body she extruded
    shining wire, life, and wove the light
    on the void.

    From beyond time,
    beyond oak trees and bright clear water flow,
    she was given the work of weaving the strands
    of her body, her pain, her vision
    into creation, and the gift of having created,
    to disappear.

    After her,
    the women and the men weave blankets into tales of life,
    memories of light and ladders,
    infinity-eyes, and rain.

    After her I sit on my laddered rain-bearing rug
    and mend the tear with string.

    Paula Gunn Allen, “Grandmother”

  97. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Kate L (#95,96)

    I hope he meant women. Presumably included in the B and T of LGBT are women who do not self-identify as lesbian.

    I generally approach such situations with humor, getting the point across without metaphorically stomping my feet.

    Perhaps one of these:

    “You want more ladies? There have to be some butches for the femmes, you know.”

    “Ladies? LADIES? Wassamatta, I’m too butch for you?”

    “Ladies. How quaint. Perhaps we should recruit some from the Ladies Garden Club.”

    Yeah, I know the last one drips more with sarcasm than humor. I think I just might have stopped him when he said “Ladies” and repeated the word, hoping he would *get* it. But maybe he needs something stronger as a wake-up call. Like a falling anvil from a third floor window. Where’s Bugs Bunny when you need him?

  98. They were lovers for a while, those two — Paula and Judy. Wonder what dinner conversations were like.

    Thanks for those poems, S. Irene. (Does the S. stand for Spiderloving? Sapphic? Slightlybookish?)

  99. Feminista says:

    #95 Kate L: Curious minds want to know the name of this company. Their mgmt.doesn’t read this blog.

  100. judybusy says:

    Catching up after a busy weekend–just wanted to say thanks to Pam I # 65 for posting the pics of the volcano, and to Kate L sharing Maddow’s comments! With this awful spill, I wonder if Obama will go forward with additional offshore drilling as proposed…..

  101. Pam I says:

    Those fab volcano photos came from the path
    my facebook>a FB friend>the FB group ‘Lets offer Willie Walsh* as a sacrifice to the volcano god’> one Jon Bee an Edinburgh antiracist who put up the volcano link> photos by Marco Fulle on a Swiss education site. *chair of Brtish Airways who brutally saw off the BA workers’ recent strike.
    And now they’re on a Vermont based dyke-ish cartoon-ish site with lots of geolists onboard…
    For really hardcore volcano porn, M. Fulle and others have a whole website of volcano photos. I’d love to see his Risk Assessment forms.

  102. Sylvie says:

    Thank you, S. Irene – I’ve been wracking my brain for the reference in She Who – currently packed up, so I couldn’t find it easily – but I knew there was a spider reference in there, just couldn’t pull it up!

  103. Kate L says:

    (Feminista #100) Chevron ! It was Chevron ! ! ! 🙁

  104. Ready2Agitate says:

    Oh She Who, Paula Gunn Allen, Seneca Women’s Peace Encampment, Judy Grahn – I am truly in good company on this blog (even if I never HAVE eaten bacon! 😉

    Hairball #88 – thx for asking. Yep, we’re boiling our water. No water for drinking, teeth-brushing, vegetable and fruit-washing, cooking. All must be boiled. Humbling. (Kinda bummed that it’s supporting the bottled water industry, though. But hey, sometimes bottled is best when the water is potentially contaminated!) (we’re boiling, not buying, though).


  105. Ready2Agitate says:

    (but yeah, we’re fine. check back in 2 weeks to see if we’ve got any intestinal malaise — that’s how water-borne illness usually manifests…)

  106. hairball_of_hope says:

    @R2A (#105,106)

    Thanks for the update. Glad you’re ok.

    You really should have some bottled water stashed in the house (2 gal. per person per day, plan on at least three days worth). There are situations where you won’t be able to boil water when the drinking supply is unsafe, such as a widespread power outage.

    After the 2003 blackout, I revised my post-9/11 emergency food stash to include a case of gallon water jugs and another case of individual water bottles, plus some bleach and Potable Aqua tabs.

    Use 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon household bleach, e.g. Clorox, (5.25-6% sodium hypochlorite) per gallon. Use the higher amount if the water is turbid or cloudy (try filtering it with coffee filters if you can before bleach treatment). Let it stand about an hour before use. Use it up within two days. For Potable Aqua, follow the directions on the bottle.

    The bleach-treated water is ok to drink and cook with, but it’s better-used as sanitation water so you don’t waste the tastier bottled stuff on washing your hands, dishes, etc. (and if you’re using fuel to boil water, you’re not wasting fuel on boiling water you won’t be drinking).

  107. Anonymous says:

    bean–if you like tomatoes that much, try hydroponics. one can grow tomatoes at any time of the year as long as one does it indoors. personally, i hate tomatoes unless they are in a sauce, but to each her own.

  108. occasionally nostalgic says:

    Back to figuring out chronology — Spiderwoman theater was founded in 1975 in NY. It was a Native American women’s theater group. Mary Daly’s Gyn/Ecology, which has a lot of play with spider and web imagery seems to be 1978, though I also have the feeling it starts earlier. Did Daly publish articles that preceded the book? THere’s a spider poem in Judy Grahn’s Edward the Dyke, but it doesn’t seem connected to this thread (so to speak).
    Pam McAllister’s Reweaving the Web of Life is 1983, I think — but as a collection of anecdotes about women’s activism might have some of the references to use of webs at women’s encampments, etc. I seem to have lost my copy in one of my many moves. And I get lazy about keeping books, thinking they’re available on the WWWeb now.
    Spider web imagery shows up in a very different way in the suffrage movement — right wing forces (can’t recall if it was the govt) drew up a chart linking suffragists and women peace activists with more “subversive” groups, and called it the Spider Web Chart.

  109. Couldn’t resist adding this poem, which says, “a book is a web, I suppose,” by the amazing poet Eileen Myles.


  110. Andrew B says:

    Susan, 110, thanks for that. I did not know about Eileen Myles. I like the reference to “a big book about/this not better/than them but/their friend”. So often people talk about this kind of thing as if you have to choose between knowledge (the book) and direct experience, as if they were opposed rather than complementary. I also like the way she inverts the image of a park: “except that all its windows/face outside”. The windows of a park: I had to think about that.

  111. My pleasure. Good to know that someone else loved the poem, too.

  112. One more, this one personal, just because it’s so thematic. Here’s a link from the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale website with videos of me reading from my unpublished novel, Spider in a Tree. Check out what the JE Center folks wrote about webs below. You can talk the woman out of the spider web, but you can’t take the spider web out of the woman …


    Fiction-writer and poet Susan Stinson, a resident (fittingly enough) of Northampton, Massachusetts, is completing her next novel, entitled “Spider in a Tree,” which, on a basic level, is about Jonathan Edwards, his extended family (including slaves Leah and Saul), and the townspeople. But the work is more than that. It is an effort to enter and understand the minds and hearts of people from another time who are caught in webs of relation and belief.

  113. chriso says:

    Am I the only one who wants to see a scan of the letter so we can see all of the “o”s as women’s symbols?

  114. Metaphysical says:

    So basically I have been sitting here for forty minutes reading all these comments and articles on the Classical Feminist Writings Page, and realizing I have so much to learn. Does anyone want to instruct a ninth-grade feminist? What should I read? Who should I admire? Should I go and redo my English homework and put little women’s symbols as O’s? Help, please.

  115. Hi, Metaphysical. Good question. Truly, there are so many places to go with it, and finding great things to read for you at this moment, well, it’s pretty individual Have you read Fun Home and The Essential Dykes To Watch For? That’s a pretty great way to get a grounding, especially if you follow up on the references in Dykes (or in this thread), and read whatever most excites you. Me, I love poetry, so would also recommend Judy Grahn or Audre Lorde or (my fave) Adrienne Rich. If you’re interested in body issues, you could try the new Fat Studies Reader anthology. See what I mean? There are so many good places to go, and part of it really depends on where you are and what you need. PS I remember when I joined the Feminist Alliance in college and read the logs where they were writing wimmin and womyn instead of women. English teachers tend not to endorse that sort of thing in homework, and, me, I actually prefer concentrating on what you’re trying to say and leaving the letters and spelling be, but there’s a rush to that kind of experimentation, for sure. Good luck!

  116. bean says:


    strangely enough, my brother handed me a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves when I was 13 years old (I’m 42 now). i’ve been a feminist ever since. the older editions represented a different politics than the recent ones, (more focus on women’s empowerment and feminist self health movements) but the new editions are still worth reading.

    for theory and historical documents, you can’t beat Sisterhood is Powerful. just know that there was a kick ass movement of feminist women of color writers in the seventies and eighties too. you could follow SIP up with This Bridge Called My Back. That all ought to keep you busy for a while.

    If I could only bring three feminist texts to planet Zarcon where they didn’t have any, those might be the three I’d bring.

  117. Max Dashu says:

    Another thanks to S. Irene for pulling up the Spider refs in Judy Grahn. I knew she had some in there somewhere!


  118. Steve H says:

    Oh, it’s always something. The feminine form of “weaver” is “webster.” It’s like “baker” and “baxter.”

    (But not, I think, like “poet” and “poetess” which makes no sense at all.)