Tag Archives: Paula Gunn Allen

Spider’s Song

While reading Sandra Moran’s Nudge (Bedazzzled Ink, 2014), I was moved to look again at creation stories in general and one Native American in particular. Paula ¬†Gunn Allen tells a version the Pueblo as the prologue to the novel The Woman Who Owned the Shadows (Spinsters Ink, 1983). The beginning is as follows:

“In the beginning was the Spider. She divided the world. She made it. Thinking thus she made the world. She drew lines that crossed each other. Thus were the quadrants. Thus the solstices. Thus were the seasons. Thus was woman. Within these lines placed she two small medicine bundles. Singing, she placed them. In the sacred way she played them. There were no others then but the Spider who sang.

“In the center of the universe she sang. In the midst of the waters she sang. In the midst of heaven she sang. In the center she sang. Her singing made all the worlds. The worlds of the spirits. The worlds of the people. The worlds of the creatures. The worlds of the gods. In this way she separated the quarters. Singing, she separated. Upon the face of heaven she placed her song. Upon the face of water she placed her song. Thus she placed her song. Thus she placed her will. Thus wove she her design. Thus sang the Spider. Thus she thought.”

Imagine, the world created with a song. A song so ancient, so pervasive, it existed before Spider and with Spider and all around Spider so that she heard it. And she thought it and she sang it. And thus, everything we know came into being. i just heard a piece on NPR about relativity and string theory (no, I’m not going to try to explain). Though not an exact quote, the scientist said, “Imagine a giant harp, only without the harp, and each string is vibrating at a slightly different rate, but all are in harmony. They create the song of the universe which is ongoing.” He also used the word “multiverse,” which I first read in an essay by Paula Gunn Allen. So to her and the First People, ho! I think those folk who listen for the song (which requires silence) and for the harmony are the fortunate ones. The song is always there. Listen.

Another early creation story comes from Hesiod in the Theogony. “From Chaos, came Gaia, and when Gaia and Eros united, everything else followed.” (not a direct quote, just the best I can pull from memory) Today, we seem to be declaring war on chaos — this awful thing that disrupts the even flow of our lives. Get organized! Well, I for one, honor chaos as that from which everything comes. And in this context, Eros doesn’t carry the connotations we give it today — the sexual ones only. I think in the original sense, Eros represented the creative spark, that which pushes us to to seek new and unique solutions to whatever problems we face. Sometimes it’s a hot spark that pushes us into a new relationship — with a lover or the world. Other times, it’s a smoldering fire that won’t leave us alone for days or years. It too harkens change in relationship. I wish we wouldn’t fear Chaos or Eros so much, for they are the way of the world.

Perhaps some may find Genesis much more comforting because it’s so linear (this happened and then this happened, and God was in charge of it all). But the problem I have come to see with this story is that it has evolved to bestow not order, but value. What God created last must have taken the most thought and therefore, must be the most important. And if most important, then the rest of creation must be less. We developed a top-down view of our world where we as humans got the nod for domination.

And from this attitude of the pyramid of power also comes the Table of Opposites which Aristotle promoted. The Table originated with Pythagoras, who didn’t approach it as opposites, but complements. In other words, to Pythagoras, light couldn’t exist without darkness; to Aristotle, light was a valued entity and darkness devalued (read that as something awful to be feared). In other words, he changed the notion from complements to dichotomies, polar opposites, where one was good and the other bad. In the West, we’ve used this way of thinking without thought. One example is the fight between environmentalists and corporations who want to exploit natural resources. We always hear some version of tree-huggers versus jobs and the economy. Whether discussing pipelines or owls, it’s always couched in terms of one or the other. Never complementary, never how both could co-exist. Right?

So the point is: the creation story you invest in forms your worldview. Your weltanschauung, as German philosophers called it. Normally, it’s defined as the cognitive orientation of an individual and/or society. But i would argue there’s an emotional component, that which comes from belief and the investment in that belief. These creation stories become woven into the society, into the culture, and we forget that they provide the horizons of our world. Whatever exists outside those horizons can be darkness, can be scary because it’s so unknown.

So I’m asking you to think about your creation story, whichever you believe in, and examine how that story forms you place in the world you see. I think, in some ways, that was what Sandra is asking in Nudge.

And . . . can you give a thought to Grandmother Spider and the song she is singing?