Welcome to Part II of the Novus Bestiary trilogy examining the most notable specimens of spiders from mythology. If you have just recently signed up, I recommend you begin with Part I which, like the spider starting its day, spins the strands that frame these next stories.
Let us continue.
Table of Contents
- Arachne (Greek myth)
- Shelob, Ungoliant, and the spiders of Mirkwood (Tolkien myth)
- Djieien (Senecan myth)
Part 2 (this issue)
- Lolth (Demon queen of spiders from D&D) - Honorable mention: The Spider Queen of Metebelis Three
- Tsuchigumo (Japanese Yokai) - Honorable mention: Jorōgumo
- Aragog (Harry Potter bestiary)
- Anansi (African Myth)
- Honorable mention: Iktomi (Lakota myth)
Lolth (Demon queen of spiders from D&D)
Lolth has been a prominent villian of the Dungeons and Dragons universe since the beginning. Starting out as an intermediary goddess in an Abyssal plane called "The Demonweb Pits", Lolth rose to become a greater diety, and she is now considered part of the core pantheon of the Forgotten Realms. In the final print issue of Dragon magazine (issue #359, September 2007), Lolth is among the top 20 most memorable villians in the history of Dungeons and Dragons. That is a huge accomplishment when you acknowledge the richness of that game's lore.
Lolth became the supreme goddess of a race of dark elves known as the Drow. She often appears in drow form, as a beautiful woman with black skin and long white hair, ornate spider webs tracing her elven armor. When she reveals her true form, she may transform into a sort of "spider-centaur" with the top half of her elven form affixed to a massive spider's body. In other encounters, only her head remains while the rest of her becomes the spider. Lolth considers spiders her sacred animal, and kills those who dare mistreat them. When she goes to battle, she summons legions of spiders to her aid. Her holy symbols always display a spider motif.
Lolth is pure evil. In addition to her connection with spiders and her control over the drow, Lolth is associated with chaos, darkness, destruction, and trickery. Should you choose to investigate her elaborate history, you will find that she is always ambitious, and that she often leverages her ability to deceive to come out on top.
Honorable mention: The Spider Queen of Metebelis Three
The third Doctor Who was killed and regenerated after an encounter with a massive spider called "The Great One". This spider queen had been ruling over a planet called Metebelis Three and using her psychic power to control a race of giant spiders as well as some humans who lived there.
Tsuchigumo (Japanese Yokai)
A 14th century Japanese scroll tells the tale of Tsuchigumo, a giant spider yōkai who terrorizes the people of Kyoto. In the story, commander Minamoto no Yorimitsu goes to investigate a mountain north of Kyoto in response to the appearance of spiders in the capital city. When he arrives with his retinue, they encounter a flying skull and, because flying skulls are so suspicious, decide to follow it. It leads them through winding mountain paths that become harder and harder to navigate. Eventually they arrive at an old estate where they encounter many unusual yōkai. These demons torment the party throughout the night, but the party holds strong knowing that they are getting close to something important... something worse.
At the break of dawn a beautiful woman appears to tempt them. Yorimitsu sees through the deception and cuts her with her sword causing her to flee leaving a trail of white blood on the ground behind her. They follow the trail of blood to a cave in the mountain and there they encounter the true source of all the yōkai: a massive spider with the body of a tiger, the long hairy legs of a spider, and a face that was disturbingly human-like.
The battle was fierce. The Tsuchigumo can shoot webs from it's mouth to trap people, and it ensnared several of Yorimitsu's men in this fashion. In the end, the fearless commander delivered the killing blow, severing the head of the beast from its body with a decisive strike of his famous katana named Hizamaru. From the gaping hole poured out 1990 heads – the heads of all the victims the monster had claimed.
In this tale we learn the terrible aspect of a Tsuchigumo and we can identify several behaviours that appear common to other spider monsters such as its use of deception, large size, control over a brood of lesser spiders, and association with the feminine aspect. If this creature interests you, there is another version of story that pits commander Yorimitsu against the Tsuchigumo, along with a detailed scroll depicting the action, that is well worth your time.
In Japan, the word "Tsuchigumo" was also used as a derogatory term for native clans who opposed the emperor. In this way, the empire weaponized the name of the notable monster by creating an association between its enemies and those foul things that live in caves.
Honorable mention: Jorōgumo
There is a closely related yōkai called Jorōgumo, which takes the form of a shapeshifting woman-spider who manipulates smaller, fire-breathing spiders. This creature demonstrates that, in many cases, the modern, scientific names of spider species are direct descendants of the monstrous legends.
Aragog (Harry Potter bestiary)
“I come from a distant land. A traveller gave me to Hagrid when I was an egg.”
Aragog was the name of a massive spider (Acromantula species) who ruled a colony of spiders in a dark forest near an ancient school for witchcraft and wizardry. That school had a groundskeeper named Hagrid with a penchant for befriending beasts of all kinds. Despite the fact that Acromantulas have a taste for human flesh, and the fact that Aragog, in his adult form, was the size of a small elephant with an 18-foot legspan, Hagrid was his true friend. Here is an excerpt from one of the school's chronicles which covers on of its most famous students, in this case speaking about Hagrid and Aragog:
“He had known Hagrid to present a vicious baby dragon with a teddy bear, seen him croon over giant scorpions with suckers and stingers, attempt to reason with his brutal giant of a half-brother, but this was perhaps the most incomprehensible of all his monster fancies: the giant talking spider, Aragog, who dwelled deep within the Forbidden Forest and which he and Ron had only narrowly escaped four years previously.”
His relationship with Hagrid is what makes Aragog stand out among his species. Although Acromantulas can speak with humans, their main ambition is to devour them. They behave like most other spiders. Their focus is on growing their colony, and trapping any and all victims within their webs. To see an Acromantula protect the life of a human is rare, but to see the colony's alpha do this is almost unthinkable. So long as Aragog lived, Hagrid could walk free among the colony, the lesser spiders holding their basic appetites at Aragog's command.
Eventually Aragog contracted an illness. Hagrid visited him regularly and tried to revive him, but to no avail. In the end, the illness took Aragog and the colony thrown into upheaval in the absence of an alpha. Despite the danger, Hagrid bravely entered the forest and extracted Aragog's body so that he could receive a proper burial. At the funeral, one of Hagrid's colleagues said the following words as a eulogy:
“Farewell, Aragog, king of arachnids, whose long and faithful friendship those who knew you won't forget! Though your body will decay, your spirit lingers on in the quiet, web-spun places of your forest home.”