My brother John inherited a house we previously called The Cottage. The process was complicated, and required a good deal of shamanic work on my part to help facilitate the transfer. Germane to this account is the history of spiders at The Cottage.
We used to visit The Cottage a lot when I was a kid. The owner, Uncle Paul, seemed to attract a variety of visitors. The place had a Bohemian character. I marveled at the constant variety of spiders both inside and out. If a particularly unusual spider was found anywhere on the grounds, including inside The Cottage, and someone suggested killing it – that was considered to be a sacrilege. “Leave my spiders alone!” Uncle Paul would bellow. And to my knowledge, nobody killed a spider while Uncle Paul was around to protect them. He was forceful and assertive, and that was that! Of particular interest to me as a child were the large wolf spiders we often discovered in the yard or on a tree. These hunting spiders were about 3 inches long from leg tip to leg tip. Their legs and body were thick, and you could see their mandibles. There was a prehistoric feel to the wolf spider that fascinated and frightened me at the same time.
One day, while playing, we heard the adults squawking over “a huge spider.” We ran inside. “Where, where?” We were told the spider was in a bucket at the bottom of the stairs on the small landing that led to the basement. The basement was old and unfinished. To a child, it was like visiting the underworld. But luckily we didn’t have to travel down the stairway. The bucket in question was strategically located under a light, in full view from the top of the stairs. Sure enough, there was a wolf spider in the bucket. Now this was a large galvanized pail, and the spider completely filled the bottom without a fraction of an inch to spare. That made this granddaddy over 5 inches long. Someone suggested taking the bucket outside. Again, the mantra: “Leave my spiders alone!” I don’t know what became of the spider. I only know that I didn’t go down into that basement for a long time.
After my brother closed on the Cottage and obtained ownership, he began to remodel. There seemed to be barriers to remodeling that John could only characterize as unlucky – near accidents, lost materials, and difficulties with the house generally. He asked that I bless the house, but I wasn’t sure how to proceed.
Without informing John, I decided to take a shamanic journey to the Cottage as a diagnostic. In my shamanic body, I went into the house. I was drawn to the stairs leading to the basement. There, at the bottom of the stairs, was the granddaddy wolf spider from our youth resting in the galvanized pail. My power animal told me that the spider was an intrusion that required removal – a shadow from the past. My power animal agreed to do the extraction. Cleverly, he covered the lid of the bucket, picked up the bucket and took it outside. The spider was then emptied out onto the snow-covered front lawn. I felt a barrier between the lawn and house. If Uncle Paul had a stubborn connection to the house – through the spider – that link was gone. But my intuition held that he could still visit the grounds, including the lake, while in transition. In any case, my power animal indicated that it had no plans to destroy the spider, and the journey was complete.
The shamanic journey had been dramatic for me. For example, when I first saw the spider in the basement, my actual body twitched involuntarily. That can be relatively common for me while I’m engaged in shamanic journey. Something about what I encounter seems to provide an unexpected jolt. I took about five minutes to come down from the journey, then phoned my brother to let him know what had happened. I relayed the journey to him.
“You’re shitting me!” He was surprised. I asked him why.
“I went outside a few minutes ago, and the front lawn was covered with baby spiders crawling on top of the snow. I’ve never seen anything like it, so I went back inside to show Luke.”
Luke was his four-year-old son. A sweet introspective child, I knew I could trust him to tell me the truth. After all, it wouldn’t matter to him if I journeyed or not, if there were spiders or not.
“Let me talk to Luke,” I said to John. He put Luke on the phone.
“Luke, did you see something outside a few minutes ago?”
“On top of the snow.”
“Just a few, right?”
“No, spiders all over the snow.”
“Big or little.”
“Little, like baby spiders.”
It’s not that I didn’t trust John to tell me the truth. It’s just that this was highly unusual and strongly synchronistic. I wanted to be certain there wasn’t some other explanation, like a trick of the light or something. I know that sounds a little ridiculous. John and I spoke some more, and he thanked me for the shamanic work. He felt his luck at remodeling would improve, and it in fact it did.
As I was writing this chapter (for Gathering My Life into Feathers), I decided to research the possibility of winter spiders. My impression was that spiders were not active during Minnesota winters. I was just curious. I knew that my research would not undo the facts. This is what I discovered (about 12 years ago): spiders do not walk on top of snow. They either die or hibernate through winter – hiding in trees, piles of leaves, or loose dirt. There is, however, a singular insect that does walk on snow called a snow fly that looks exactly like a small spider. You have to get up close and count their legs to tell the difference. I saw a picture. At a half-inch in size, you couldn’t tell it from a spider without some careful close-up observation. Experts state that they cannot tell the difference between snow flies and spiders without a close-up examination. The snow fly does inhabit Minnesota winters, but the fact is neither John nor I had ever seen one, let alone a lawn full of them. I declared they must have been snow flies. John balked at the explanation, adamant that he knew insects and spiders and that he was certain they were spiders.
On researching this essay, I have learned that naturalists now accept that some spiders are active in winter. “The smallest winter spiders in Minnesota are the dwarf spiders, about 1/4 inch long. What they lack in size, they make up for in numbers, as they are among the most common winter spiders.” (Internet source: Friends of the Mississippi).
Snow fly or spider? It just doesn’t matter – both are a rare sight. And having witnessed large numbers in ordinary reality at the exact time and place of my shamanic relocation of the wolf spider makes this a miraculous synchronicity.
By morning, the spiders were gone. John has not, since that day, seen them on his lawn on top of snow.