Originally posted at gargarean.wordpress.com(1 July 14)
Between the age thirteen and fifteen I went to Queensland every year with my grandmother to visit my aunt and uncle. They had a large property on top of a steep hill that over looked a valley, it’s a subtropical environment surrounded by golden grassy hills and weathered black rock pinnacles that sprouted out of the ground like giant monoliths. During summer I’d watch spectacular thunderstorms that’d roll over into the valley – pelting down rain, hail and lightning only for it to clear up and quickly create a steaming sauna. There are far more isolated places in Australia but this place was pretty out there, the nearest general store was an hour drive and the nearest town about two hours away.
My aunt and uncle were a bit eccentric, they had an insane passion for animals, I think one year I counted almost one hundred cats and close to thirty dogs, as well as birds, donkeys, goats and a horse! Once you got over the smell, it was pretty neat being surrounded by so many animals and it helped me develop a love for creatures. (Though I’ll just stick with keeping ONE cat!) My holidays there were also a good introduction to nature, I’d spend most my time outside – sometimes just sitting on the veranda watching the valley, other times I’d go exploring. I had many encounters with snakes, cane toads and… spiders.
I’m not sure when or where my fear of spiders started, I do remember when I was really young I was absolutely terrified of spiders crawling on me when I was asleep. Most kids have monsters under the bed – well mine were in my bed! Worst of all, it was not an unreasonable paranoia. Australians like to hype up the dangers of their country, it’s a matter of national pride, but it really is common to find large spiders in the house. Also it’s quite common to come across spiders under the bed sheets, White Tailed spiders are famous for it. So yeah, it wasn’t a silly childish fear.
Back to Queensland: as usual a storm had passed, the sun was out and steam was thick in the air so I thought I’d go for one of my walks around the hill. Not many trees grew on the hill but there were two that sat on a levelled area that I walked between. It was then that I felt something tug at my hair followed by a ripping sound. I looked up and saw a clump of my hair dangling midair and then in a split second – that felt a lot longer – I looked up further to see a massive golden construction of webs that hung between the trees and a black and grey pointy blob right in front of my eyes. I’m not exaggerating in saying that the spider was around the size of my face, just sitting their investigating what stupid monkey walked into her web. She seemed a lot more intelligent than me – as my heart popped in my mouth and my legs tripped over themselves and fear turned into falling while I tumbling down the hillside. Fortunately, I only suffered bruises and bloody grazes but that encounter was enough to reinforce my fear of spiders.
Last weekend my Thiasos celebrated the festival to the Spider (Arakhneia), a festival that I neglected. The Spider reminded me of that fact this morning at 4am after forcing me to relive the above encounter in my dreams. (Which is reason why I’m up at an insanely early time, trying to coherently ramble.) She got me thinking about spiders and the importance of terror, also the relationship of panic and terror with Dionysus.
I was once asked why I worship a god that can be terrifying. I don’t pick and choose the personalities of my gods, they are who they are and terror is one of those aspects, it is a dominating force that drives us to survive. Any logic and reason are lost to carnal animal instincts and uncontrollable reactions, in this sense it is a type of ecstasy. What’s more, after our fright we get put into perspective of who we are and our place in the universe. The Dionysian cults knew this and would invoke fear in their rituals, one being snake handling, a ritual similar to what is still performed by the Pentecostal snake handlers in the US. It’s also possible that during Dionysian mystery rites they enacted or caused terror to the to-be-initiates. The idea is after we have put our faith in the gods and faced our fears we become more enlightened people as we have experienced trauma and survived.
(It’s possible that Dionysian’s took this to the next step and the terror ((maybe even with a splash of physical trauma)) would make a person experience a near death and that through death in life they were aware of death in death, thus able to navigate the afterlife and come free of the recurrent cycle of reincarnation. )
Due to my arachnophobia I was not keen on Sannion’s inclusion of the Spider into the Starry Bull pantheon. He has also deliberately kept her nature a mystery so members discover her for themselves, after this morning’s awakening I have changed feelings about her and looking forward to some good frights…
(The spider in Queensland was a Golden Orb Weaver, featured in both of the above images. It is known to eat snakes, lizards and birds. Their name comes from their golden web and is as strong as steel. It can also be be used for making golden silk garments.)