For my entire life I've been terrified of spiders. Even the teeniest speck of a spider brought on panic attacks as a child (and who am I kidding...two years ago a black widow nearly scared me literally to death). I remember some story about a black widow being in my crib, but I don't know if it's true. I do remember the black widow that came crawling out of the faucet one day when I was about to take a bath. And all the black widows that made webs on the foundation of the house who terrorized me as I helped my mom plant marigolds. Me and spiders just didn't mix.
The last three months of college in Boulder I lived in the basement of a townhouse. Desperate to find a place, I'd taken the first one I saw. The day I moved in the former tenant casually said, "By the way, this place has a lot of spiders." Alarm bells sounded in my head. I went into full panic. How could I live there?! Just then, a big spider lumbered out of the closet. It was a long three months. Every morning, as I sat peeing in the tiny bathroom, one or two spiders would crawl out of the space occupied by the water heater (and a spider colony, apparently) and come to wish me a good morning. Or sometimes they sat in the bathtub, and spiders always look bigger contrasted against white bathtubs. These spiders met with a watery grave.
Other spiders in this house weren't so lucky. They were doused with Raid. And so was I. Perhaps all my health problems can be traced to living in a Raid bomb for three months.
Even though I thought the only alternative to going crazy from panic was killing these creatures, I didn't feel good about it. I just didn't want them near me...and especially not on me.
One spider almost caused me to wreck my car. It was a gorgeous fall afternoon in Denver. I pulled out from the light at 6th and Speer and as I did, I looked to my left. I detected movement on my arm. My heart raced and then I saw it: a small, white, creepy-as-hell spider. I shrieked and flung my hand to whisk it off of me. Then I remembered I was driving. I looked up just in time to avoid hitting the car in front of me. Shaking terribly, I pulled into a gas station. I searched the car...it couldn't have gotten far. The spider crawled out from under my seat and met its death: pounding by ice scraper.
So I guess I'm a recovering spider murderer. It doesn't feel good. But I am trying to make amends. Sometime in the last year my heart flipped over and I started to care for spiders. Not love, mind you, but I developed a respect and admiration for them. They're pretty amazing. They create incredible webs. And many cultures believe they are symbols of the goddess. So that changed my mind. I started to wonder if Spider was one of my totem animals. I had no trouble accepting Bear and Owl, but Spider? Hmmm.
Somehow, it sank in and I embraced spider as sacred. I placed the Spider card from the Medicine Cards on my altar. And I declared a moratorium on spider murder both at home and at work. Now they spiders are relocated. I have also spoken with the spiders and told them the house rules: they can live with me as long as they don't get on me. If they break that rule, I can't guarantee my reflexes won't kick in. No one's tried it yet.
But the biggest change came last week on a hike with a friend in Mount Diablo Regional Park. (You may remember that this is the place where I first encountered Owl. It's a magical place...I've seen a mole, quail, and a coyote there as well.) We were out at dusk, our favorite time to be in Nature. At one point I looked down and saw my friend about to step on a tarantula! I yelled out, but couldn't articulate what I wanted to say.
Luckily, she stepped right over it. That's when I realized I wasn't afraid. Instead, I wanted to see it. I wanted to watch it, take it in. I could appreciate its beauty, its fragility. It was big, at least the size of the palm of my hand. And yet, I had no desire to run away. I told my friend in amazement that this was the first time I'd seen a tarantula and not panicked. The last time I saw one, I was the one who almost stepped on it. As soon as I saw it I jumped several feet to the right and had a panic attack. This time, I didn't want to leave the tarantula.
Eventually we sauntered off on the trail. I couldn't stop thinking about the tarantula. And I knew then that I'd accepted Spider as a totem, because that tarantula is in my heart even now.