Spider Woman is not a Navajo Deity. The Holy Ones created her and Spider Man to weave the fabric of the universe. Today, the Navajo live in the Fourth world, called the "Glittering World."
The First World was dark, filled with water, and a small island where ants and other insects lived. The next world was Blue, where the spirits of Spider Man and Spider Woman were created. Later, the Holy Ones gave them bodies to hold their spirits. Water animals and land mammals were made in this world.
As they moved into the Third World, Spider Woman discovered her ability to weave, which the Holy People had told her she would. She accidentally found the skill when she touched a tree, and the web came out of her hand. She wrapped it on different branches of the tree and eventually moved to another tree.
The Holy Ones came to her and instructed her to weave the fabric of the world and weave the Holy People's images in the sky. Spider Man helped to create a loom, with the rays of the sun and the moon as weft and warp.
As the people moved into the Fourth World, Spider Woman was able to warn First Man and First Woman of the monsters in the world and helped to create Monster Slayer to make the world safe for humans.
The web of the spider is considered a sign from Spider Woman, and young weavers draw inspiration from the intricacy of the webs. The Spider Woman Cross is a symbol that early weavers used to help them remember Spider Woman's teachings. The symbol was and is commonly found in Navajo weaving.
We have had some interesting weavings with the symbol. One weaving from the 1920s, now owned by Zion Bank in Utah, had the cross symbol with a hole deliberately woven in the center of the cross.
Contemporary weavers like Bertha and Charlene Harvey often use the symbol.
We recently received a very unusual weaving of the Spider Woman Cross. The entire weaving is shaped like a cross rather than a rectangle. Bessie Tsosie wove it in the early 2000s and decorated it with patterns found in weavings from the Ganado area. This is a rare weaving.
The loom had to be constructed with this weaving in mind. Traditionally, the Navajo men, emulating Spider Man, make the loom, and traditional Navajos sing and chant prayers to Spider Man during the construction.
My first introduction to Spider Woman was probably much like most Navajo children's first story about her. She lived on the top of Spider Rock in Canyon De Chelly. It is a tall red sandstone monolith, and the top is covered with a layer of white rock.
My sister and I were visiting the canyon with our parents. We were in grade school and probably under eight years old. When we stopped at the overlook at Spider Rock, my dad told us that the white color on the top of the rock was from the bones of children who misbehaved. The legend is that Spider Woman would take unruly children to the top of the rock and eat them.
We, of course, believed him, and for the rest of the trip, all it took was a mention of Spider Woman, and my sister and I would quit fighting in the back seat!
This is a unique and beautiful weaving that has, as its basis, part of the creation story of the Navajo.