Spider Woman, by Gladys A. Reichard, , at sacred-texts.com
At the very beginning the Navajo lived in several worlds under this one. They were beings not like man, in some of the underworlds not even like animals. But they had consciousness, even moral ideals, and because of the adultery of one of the beings with the chief's wife, got into trouble and were forced by flood waters to the next world above. Even after they reached this one, they endured a long series of wanderings before they became humans.
Two women lived alone and except for them the earth was inhabited by monsters. They were Changing-Woman, who is the Earth Mother, and her companion, Salt-Woman. Life was very difficult for them. They had only wild seeds and fruits upon which to live. Not only were the foods scarce and far-scattered, but they grew in places infested by monsters. Monster-Evil lay in hot springs; Horned-Monster lived at a place called Blue Lake and faced in all directions, so that it was impossible to approach him without being seen. Kicking-Off-Rocks was an ogre who lived between two bluffs—his queue had grown into a crevice in the rocks. When people went through the narrow pass between the rocks he would kick them down to his children, who waited below to devour them.
Throwing-Against-Rocks was a monster who with his
wife lay in wait for the unwary to undo them by crushing them against the rocks on which they lived. There was a bear who tracked and killed all humans; Eye-Killers stared people to death, Walking-Stone followed a person slowly, but inevitably caught up with him and cut him up; the Night and Day were at odds with each other for it had not been decided how Light and Darkness should be divided. There was a creek as narrow as a man's finger which spread when anyone tried to jump across it, and drowned him. There was a patch of reeds like knives, and when a person tried to pass through it the blades all had at him and destroyed him. These were only a few of the major evils that prevented the world from being inhabited.
Changing-Woman lived in the midst of them all, safe but unhappy. As she gathered her scanty food, she thought and thought about what she could do to rid the world of the dread monsters. The thought became a passion with her, and she tried a great many things but in vain. Vaguely she thought if she could bear a child he might have power to overcome the difficulties so that humans could people the earth. There were no men, and she knew none of the facts of procreation. As she wandered in agony of spirit and in tautness of body, she offered herself to the dripping water in a vain attempt to conceive.
One day, as she continued her quest for knowledge and fulfilment, she heard a loud noise. She looked up and beheld a young man so bright her eyes could not endure the sight. He was the Sun. He took pity on Changing-Woman, taught her sex intercourse, impregnated her with his holiness. When they lay together two children were conceived in her womb, one of the dripping water and one of the Sun.
In four days the children moved within her, in four more she was in labor. Through all of the ninth night she suffered, hoping to be delivered. At dawn black clouds covered the sky. When it was light, lightning struck in four directions and the first child was born; somewhat carelessly he was dropped. Because of that he is very dangerous, for he was born to kill monsters and is therefore named Enemy-Slayer. The second child was born easily when it thundered gently. He is called Child-of-the-Water. The infants were hidden under six covers, darkness was below, above it was blue sky, then came blue horizon light, yellow evening light, mirage, and heat.
When Changing-Woman went out for food, Bear-Man and Rattler-Man, her guardians, fed the boys. Bear-Man fed them with mountain pollen and mountain dew, Rattler-Man with earth pollen and earth dew. These foods were so powerful that they made the boys weak at times. Nevertheless they walked in four days, in four days more they were grown and Talking-God came to instruct them. He gave them an arrow which was henceforth to be the symbol of the Shooting Chant.
Soon after Talking-God had given the arrow to the twins they began to wonder who their father was. Three times they asked their mother as they lay under their six covers at night, three times she scolded them and told them to sleep. The fourth time they asked her she said: "Far away your father lives. Every imaginable danger lies between here and his home. So don't talk about it. Go to sleep."
Then the boys realized that the first thing they needed to go to their father was a song. They soon heard a nice song and thought their mother was singing it, but found it was really the curtain of darkness. The next morning very early
[paragraph continues] Talking-God woke them and instructed them how to go to their father. He dressed Enemy-Slayer in white: white buckskin shoes he put on his feet, white leggings on his legs, and a white shirt on his body. He dressed Second-born with the same garments, but of variegated color. He strung out a rainbow and motioned them to step on it. He had put white, black, blue, sparkling, and yellow medicines on it, but he did not tell the boys of this. Sometime after sunrise the rainbow dropped to the ground and the young men started out afoot.
They came to the house of Spider Woman, who killed people with four strong webs. Second-born blew black, white, blue, and yellow flint from his mouth at the webs. Spider Woman then became frightened and begged them to desist. Wind sat on the shoulder of Child-of-the-Water and guided him. He allowed the woman to beg until he had secured a bow of mountain mahogany with a yellow tail-feathered arrow and his brother a bow with a black tail-feathered arrow. Thus they not only escaped the snare set by Spider Woman and her companion Mocking-Bird-Woman, but secured a life token for future use.
When they came to the Spreading-Creek they pretended to jump three times and it spread but did not capture them. Measuring-Worm, who had a long rainbow—theirs was only a short one—helped them across, and they rewarded him with a song.
They came to mountains which clapped together, but passed through the opening between them by arranging the bows and arrows Spider Woman had given them so as to keep the mountains apart until they were safe and had picked up their weapons.
When they came to the Knife-Reeds they all ran up with a
sizzling sound, but Fire-God helped them when they insisted on going through. He burned the reeds with a spark from his fire drill. A few did not burn. They are used today as the paper upon which one writes. That means they are used for prayersticks, made holy by adding precious stones and laying aside as an offering; thus they are made to carry messages to the Holy Ones.
Wind carried them over Sliding-Sand-Dune, which entrapped mortals by sliding. They then crossed a red, a glittering, an abalone, a whiteshell, and a turquoise mountain; these were harmless. These were the Sun's mountains, and not far from the blue one stood their father's house. When they arrived about noon and tried to enter, they found four doorkeepers, Wind, Thunder, Rattler, and Bear; Wind blew them back. The Wind that sat on the shoulder whispered the names of the doorkeepers, and by mentioning them the twins quieted down their owners and were allowed to pass.
In the main room a very stout woman sat. She was the wife of the Sun. As the boys were examining the house the Sun suddenly appeared, and as his wife was uncertain of his temper, she hid them. Nevertheless he knew they were there and questioned her. Finally she answered angrily: "I thought you said you did not do anything as you go about! But here your children have come."
The boys, hearing the argument from their hiding place, took out the life feathers Spider Woman had given them. When the Sun found them he dragged them out and attacked them with four trumpets he had made of turquoise, white-shell, abalone, and redstone. Any one of these by folding on itself could have crushed them; but when it touched the life feather it drew back leaving them unharmed. Similarly the
life tokens saved them from the poison of the Sphinx-Worm which the Sun called forth.
He next gave them a freezing test, took away all their clothes, and left them to sleep on a small rocky island. Beaver-Man and Otter-Man lent them their skins, and the boys returned unharmed. When the Sun saw this he ordered a sweat-bath for them. Instead of tough stones to be put into the water to make steam he ordered agate which would fly to pieces and destroy those who were bathing. Talking-God came in, dug a little hole in the wall and covered it with four layers of whiteshell. When the boys went into the sweathouse they hid in the hole.
After the noise caused by the agate exploding when the Sun poured water on it had subsided, he looked in, asking, "Are you warmed up now?" There sat the boys. These tests convinced the Sun that they were really his children. Then he instructed them about the sweathouse: "When in future the people arrive, do not imitate it because you do not keep it sacred. If something evil should happen on account of it, who would remedy it?"
For that reason the Shooting Chant, although there is sweating, does not use the sweathouse.
After being convinced that the heroes were his children the Sun began to ask them what they came for.
"Well, my children, why did you come? For the red horse perhaps?"
"No, that is not what we came for."
"For the black horse did you come?"
"No, not for the black horse."
"For the blue horse then?"
[paragraph continues] "No, not for the blue one."
"Perhaps the white horse?"
"No, not for that."
"No, not the gray."
"The speckled horse then?"
"The red-maned horse?"
"The spotted horse?"
"The white-maned horse?"
"No, not that either."
"Well, what did you come for then?" And he asked them about the white, black, spotted, and red sheep, and the sheep with thin-bladed horns which was the one he most cherished. But it was none of these. He then offered the mule which changed to mirage, and then all his precious stones, turquoise, whiteshell, red beads, and abalone.
No, it was none of them.
"Well, children, what did you come for? Is it dark clouds with male rain counted in, dark mist, female rain, or the mirage which turns into a gray-bellied burro?"
"Well, I have enumerated all these things and it is none of them. What then did you really come for?"
"Yes, father, all those things are valuable and hard to come by where we live. We should much like to have them, but they are not what we came for. We came about these monsters, the Monster-Evil, Horned-Monster, Kicking-Off-Rocks, Throwing-Against-Rocks, Tracking-Bear, Eye-Killers, and
the others. They eat up all people and they cannot flourish on earth," said First-born.
"Obsidian armor, shoes, clothes, headdress—these are what we have come for, as well as the flash-lightning arrow," said Second-born.
At these words the Sun was overcome. He could not speak, but bowed his head and remained thus for some time. When he finally looked up, there were tears in his eyes. Then he wiped away the tears, took a long breath, and blew whu! whu! four times. Then he spoke. "I suppose it can't be helped. But those are my children just as you are. Nevertheless let it be done."
Two suits of obsidian, moccasins, leggings, shirt, and hat, were laid down for them. Near them a dark zigzag lightning arrow for First-born, a blue flash-lightning arrow for his brother. Then the Sun made an agate into the shape of a man and placed it inside his son. "That song with which you were fed is the food of the agate man I have placed standing up inside you," he said. "The mush you ate from the east side of the basket stands inside you as the legs of the man, that from the west side is his head, that from the north his left hand, that from the south, his right. What you ate from the center is the heart. When I sang, "The pollen of Old-Age-Travelling he eats," I meant his thought would be standing in you. When I said, "The dark cloud its dew, Old-Age-Travelling, its dew," I was making his intestines. Not a thing is missing, complete he stands up in you. Thus I made it."
He stood a turquoise in the shape of a man inside his second son and fashioned it completely. Then he pressed parts of his own body to those of his sons to keep the protectors in place.
"You will conquer the enemies with those things I placed inside you. That is why I did it. Although the flint armor is good, that which stands inside you will conquer the fierce monsters which now exist and even those which may come into being in the future."
The twins were now invincible within and without, and the Sun, enveloping all three in a dark cloud, aided them in overcoming their first enemy. From that time on they went about the world, always into places forbidden by their mother, encountering monsters. With the aid of the powers the Sun gave them, and the advice Wind, Big-Fly, and Talking-God whispered in their ears, they overcame most of them. Whenever an evil was subdued, they cut off a portion of its body for a trophy to take to their mother. If an animal helped them, they allowed it to select a part of the evil for good luck. Never did they themselves do a harm without correcting it.
Two streams of the blood of Monster-Evil flowed thickly and swiftly over the land when he was cut. Black Wind told them, "If the bloody streams meet he will revive," whereupon they crossed their clubs between the streams and held them there until the blood hardened. The blood coagulated at that time turned dark and now forms the various lava dikes of the Navajo country.
Many monsters were rendered inert, others changed their character and became useful to man. The children of the Eye-Killers were transformed into two kinds of cactus, the tips of the ears, nose, fingers and toes of the elders became antelope. Tips of body parts of another pair of monsters became deer. Finally no large evils remained, and the earth was habitable.
However, Enemy-Slayer went about the earth to see what it was like, at the same time looking for something to do. At last he came to the house of Gray-Haired-Cactus. The dwelling was unattractive, and the people in it were disgusting. They looked like skeletons, they had sore eyes, matter stuck to their eyelashes, mucus ran from their noses. He determined to slay these too.
"I'll kill you," he vowed, as they, awe-stricken, stared at his armor. "What use are you to mankind? Many of the others I killed were not as bad as you, but they had to be destroyed."
These were Hunger, Craving-for-Meat, Poverty, Sleep, Desire, and Want. Sleep sat nearest to the visitor. Just as he was thinking of killing them, Sleep brought his finger gently down over the nose of Enemy-Slayer, mentioning his name. Whereupon he fell over and was sound asleep. He snored and slept on even though the people spat on him and smeared him with their filth, thus making sport of him. When he awoke and found he looked more wretched than they, his anger knew no bounds. He had grasped his powerful club and was just about to bring it down when Sleep again made him impotent.
After this had all happened four times, Sleep said to him, "This which you had intended to do, to kill us, you won't do." And this in spite of the fact that Enemy-Slayer had merely thought of killing the gray evils, had never said so. Sleep continued: "Your mother knows Sleep. Has she never told you about it? You have killed the strong harmful things, but you will not kill us. Ask your mother about it."
Enemy-Slayer was not much pacified, but went home to his mother, who said to him: "What are you looking for? Where have you been? You have now finished all your work."
He answered her indignantly: "Nothing to do? Why,
yonder I came upon some ugly things whose names I do not know. They insulted me terribly, but when I tried to kill them they said you knew all about it. Even now I could go back and do away with them."
"No, my baby, these you surely must not kill. Those others were great, you killed them because your father helped you. But these things you should not kill because they meet midway. They are not altogether good or entirely bad. Poverty and hunger meet somewhere between that which causes satisfaction and that which causes pain. That is why they should be left."
And the Holy Boys left them as their mother decreed.
Although the world had been remade and was useful to man, the Twins continued their adventures, getting acquainted with all parts of the universe and bringing back with them from each visit some essential gift for the Shooting Chant.