The Wisdom of Spiders

Commenting on my blog post, Ghost Dogs, Trina said:

I am trying to find some kind of significance with a particular recurring dream/ hallucination..(it’s hard to distinguish). Usually when I am on the brink of sleep I will see the unmistakable figure of a dog in my room. It never makes any sound, only stands and watches me. Sometimes it will scare me awake, but other times it seems more dreamlike. The dog doesn’t have any distinguishable features like eyes or fur it is just a figure. I haven’t come across anything as close to what I’ve been experiencing as this.

It might help following my own crooked path to understanding a recent experience. I don’t mean to imply I have any special understanding of these things. I’m not a professional, not even trained in the interpretation of dreams. Whatever knowledge I’ve gleaned is simply that of a dreamer.

Spider_web I woke from sleep staring at an immense spider scurrying across our bedroom ceiling. It was a big as a tarantula. My wife is terrified of spiders, a fear bordering on technical phobia. My first thought was to ensure she didn’t see it.

I walked around the end of the bed. The spider dropped silently to the floor and disappeared. My wife asked me what I was doing. I answered that I must have been dreaming but I was awake when I answered. We both went back to sleep. (She’s less afraid of my dreams than unreasonably large arachnids.)

I doubt a broom and dust pan would have been adequate weapons against a spider the size of a Frisbee.

Again I woke to find I was staring at the enormous spider on the ceiling. It was more shadow than substance, more shape and movement than a specific species, but it was undoubtedly a spider and undoubtedly in my house. Again the spider fell silently to the floor. We don’t have spiders the size of tarantulas in Seattle. Rationally I knew it must be a waking dream or hallucination. I suppose they’re the same. But I couldn’t distinguish between the dream and reality. For me they were the same.

It happened three times. The third time I went downstairs to get a flashlight and a broom to hunt down the spider hiding beneath the dresser. I was acting as if it were real because it was real. Our reality is determined by our perceptions. It’s all in our heads. The terrifying hallucinations of a schizophrenics are real to them, as real as the bus stop or McDonalds. I’m not schizophrenic but the difference in experience is only one of degree.


Obviously I never found the spider. I doubt a broom and dust pan would have been adequate weapons against a spider the size of a Frisbee. But I’ve thought about its significance since. It’s disconcerting not knowing the difference between waking reality and a dream.

I believe the experience had meaning, that it wasn’t merely the random misfiring of synapses in my brain. It wasn’t Scrooge’s bit of undigested beef. Whatever meaning would be peculiar to me—the particular bias I’ve built from all the bits and pieces of my experience—but nested within the larger experience of all humanity, our common cultural heritage.

The repetition of three is itself significant. The cock crowed three times in the garden of Gethsemane. The number defines the trinity, a union of duality. It’s repeated in myths worldwide. The repetition of a dream three times adds weight to its meaning and takes it out of the ordinary. (Not that chasing dream spiders across my bedroom is ordinary.)

They are messages, mostly messages to our selves, but so dense that they require unraveling…

I don’t have any particular fear of spiders even if I didn’t collect them as a child. I admire the complexity and beauty of their webs. Years ago when I bought my first Nikon SLR I took dozens of macro photos of spider webs strung across the morning light capturing droplets of fog on Point Reyes. It’s that image I remember first when I think of spiders.

Size often represents importance. Something larger must represent more of a kind—more wisdom, more ferocity, more power, more authority. What are the characteristics of spiders that might be exaggerated by size?

I searched the web for references to dream imagery and spiders. There are a lot of references to spiders in myth, especially native American myths. Among the Southwest tribes Old Spiderwoman is the mother of wisdom. There are myths where the stars themselves are dew captured in a spider’s web woven across the sky. Some of the dream books associate spiders with creativity, especially writing. I’m not sure of the segue between webs and words but I am working well into a novel, not my first attempt but my most promising and most determined. Could the repeated waking dream represent an encouragement to continue the work, to complete it? Could it be reinforcing the importance of the work, at least for me? It seems a strange way to go about it.

And there lies the mystery of dreams. They are messages, mostly messages to our selves, but so dense that they require unraveling, sometimes over years, before they’re understood. They’re like a ball of thread compacted by the gravity of a black hole. The threads each have to be followed before the heart of the mystery is revealed but each thread carries its own meaning. Each thread leads us toward the heart.

Dreams are shaped to capture our attention like a spider’s web. They are webs shaped by a part of ourselves to snare the attention of another part, the waking part which arrogantly thinks itself the only part. The strands of the web are made of images, not words. They require thinking about in a way that precedes words.

So, what’s the meaning of my dream? What’s the meaning of Trina’s? It may take me some time to understand my own but I regard it as important, something worth remembering, something worth reconsidering. It is a message to myself and maybe a message with a larger context. It’s a little scary, surrendering control, acknowledging that my conscious self can be usurped, that dreams can cross over into reality, but also an affirmation that what lies beyond consciousness has tremendous power and potential.