What Spiders Symbolize in Dreams

Updated on October 4, 2018
EsmeSanBona profile image

Esme is a published writer who writes extensively on the subject of dream interpretation from the standpoint of Jungian psychology.

Spiders in dreams are often misunderstood and misinterpreted.
Spiders in dreams are often misunderstood and misinterpreted. | Source

Are Spiders in Dreams a Bad Sign?

In the waking life, spiders are arguably rivaled only by snakes in their ability to provoke irrational human fear. There is something profoundly "other" about spiders—with eight legs, four pairs of eyes, the lack of an actual jaw, and the fact that they liquefy their prey prior to ingestion, their anatomy is almost incomprehensible.

Anything that is misunderstood is apt to provoke fear. But when spiders spin dream webs, is their symbolic meaning found only in their fear factor?

The answer is no. Read on to discover the myriad of meanings of spider dreams.

Spiders Have Both Positive and Negative Symbolism

Not only are one's own experiences with spiders the foundational block upon which a dream's meaning is built, but there are also vast differences in how various cultures assign mythological meaning to spiders. Mythological spiders are portrayed both positively and negatively.

Spiders in their negative mythological form appear as symbols of:

  • Cruelty
  • Hubris
  • Evil
  • Captivity
  • Cunning
  • The Shadow

Conversely, many cultures view spiders from a positive point of view, praising the spider as a symbol of:

  • Patience
  • Craftiness
  • Creativity
  • The Self
  • Weavers of World Life

Some cultures even utilize the spider, or rather the spider's bite, as an excuse to behave sexually provocative. This is the origin of the Tarantella dance.

While a spider's mythological identity may be somewhat confused, it is still helpful to look at some of these mythologies to help get a handle on the meaning of spider dreams. Mythologies may not only help one interpret the appearance of a spider in a dream—if you have a phobia of spiders, insights from these mythologies may help you trace the origin of that fear.

Spiders look very unique, and this gives them a mysterious air.
Spiders look very unique, and this gives them a mysterious air. | Source

Spiders Are Often Misinterpreted Because of Their Perceived "Otherness"

The spider's archetypal significance is as varied as its mythological significance. On one hand, the spider, with its ability to provoke irrational fear completely disproportionate to its actual danger level, is an appropriate symbol of the Shadow archetype.

Spiders can symbolically represent traits and characteristics human being normally find unseemly at best. Spinning spiders sit motionless in corners, waiting for the opportunity to devour any unfortunate creature it traps in the web it spun prior to retreating to the shadows, while net-casting spiders do not rely on webs for their prey's entrapment. They simply lie there, waiting to cast a net over anything small enough for the spider to conquer and devour.

Still other types of spiders monitor their surroundings with their eight eyes and literally run down passing prey. Spiders, lacking the ability to digest solid food, inject their victims with an agent that paralyzes and then liquifies them, enabling the spider to consume its victim without the need to chew. Spiders lack an authentic jaw.

Check Your Shadow Self for Evidence of Spider-Like Activity

When human beings interpret the spider's abilities, behaviours, and characteristics, they translate symbolically into:

  • Diabolical deception
  • Sneakiness
  • Hidden danger
  • Backbiting
  • Venomous words
  • Personal attack
  • Abuse of power
  • Using the weak for personal profit
  • Careless disregard for the concerns of others
  • Manipulation
  • Using others, sucking them dry, then discarding them once no longer useful

Whenever you find yourself angered, revolted, obsessed with or hypercritical of another's actions, you should check yourself to see if you are truly outraged by them or if you are outwardly projecting your own shadow self onto another person.

If you are dreaming of spiders, it might be wise to check the Shadow for evidence of spider-like activity occurring there. Make a list of everything spiders symbolize, then carefully and honestly examine yourself to see if those traits are a part of you.

This may be a painful process, but if you find spiders and what they symbolize revolting, realizing that they are living inside your own psyche should be enough motivation to face their existence and clear out their psychic cobwebs. Denial does not negate existence—it simply blinds you to its activity as it grows more powerful in the dark.

A spider sitting at the center of its web can represent the Self.
A spider sitting at the center of its web can represent the Self. | Source

They and Their Webs Can Represent Self-Realization

While spiders seem perfect expressions of the Shadow archetype, they can also be representatives of a more surprising archetype—the archetypal self. With the attainment of self-realization being a lifelong goal of many spiritually minded people, with it being the crowning achievement in the quest for personal awareness, the suggestion that the spider can be a representative of such a lofty goal may seem positively preposterous.

But if one puts aside one's own arachnophobia and views the spider through an objective lens, one can see that the spider:

  • Creates a physical form in the outer world from a substance produced unseen from within its body
  • Sits at the center point with its web surrounding it, much like the sun's rays radiate outward from the sun
  • Creates a home that resembles the mandalas so symbolically synonymous with the Self.
  • Can resemble the symbol of Self with its web, a circle with a dot inside it

As a weaver, the spider's web can be viewed as a beautiful tapestry symbolizing the dichotomous dance between the active and the passive, the anima and animus, the hidden and the exposed, all brought to life by the spider who is so often reviled.

If you carefully examined the unconscious for possible spider shadow tendencies and find them missing, you might want to try viewing the dream spider as a herald, a sign that you are approaching or is gaining some level of self-realization. You are allowing light into the unconscious, shining it so brightly that no shadows or spiders have corners in which to crawl.

What Is the Archetype of Self?

The archetype of Self is quite different from the "me" one typically thinks of when defining themselves. The Self includes the conscious personality with which you identify—all those elements such as your hair color, gender, profession, etc. However, the Self also includes everything about which you are unconscious. It includes all of the Shadow elements, the Anima/Animus, the spirit, the soul, etc. The Self is the whole human being and the human being inside the whole.

When you achieve the realization of the Self, it means that there you have found unity between the conscious and the unconscious, that there is a balance between your physical form and your intangible, subjective reality.

When you realize the Self, it does not mean that your conscious personality is obliterated; it means that your conscious personality is augmented with those parts of the psyche which are fractured and contained in the personal unconscious. A symbolic expression of the Self is a circle with a dot inside. The Self is neither just the circle nor just the dot. The Self is both the circle and the dot.

Spiders Can Be Symbols of Captivity

Spiders can also symbolize captivity or paralysis. You might feel as though some malevolent outside force is holding you hostage or that such a force is heading your way, with no amount of struggle resulting in freedom.

Spider dreams can be expressions of generalized anxiety—that feeling that something unknown and faceless is lying in wait, ready to pounce upon you as soon as you misstep and falls into the unseen trap that was spun specifically for you. Alternatively, you might feel trapped by your own life. Having surveyed your life and finding it far off base from your goals and desires, you may feel as though you are so enmeshed in what you don't want that you will never attain what you do want.

In the waking life, the spider spins a web and then sits in its center, surrounded by her creation. If you have engaged in some sort of hidden, deceptive, or manipulative activities, spiders in your dreams may symbolize that you are trapped inside the sticky situations that you created. You may feel as though the web spun for personal profit has turned into a prison maze with no discernable path out.

Spiders have four pairs of eyes, which is why spider sight is visionary.
Spiders have four pairs of eyes, which is why spider sight is visionary. | Source

How Spiders Can Represent Visions

Since orb spinners are primarily alerted to the presence of prey via the vibrations the prey creates as it struggles, many people assume a spider's visual acuity is less than accurate. However, this is incorrect. The vision of prey-hunting spiders, net-casting spiders, and other varieties is only a bit less accurate than a human's.

What may lead to the belief that spiders have impaired sight is that spiders may process light into images quite foreign to those produced by the human eye. The way spider eyes function is another arachnid quality attributing to a spider's "otherness."

A four-layered retina processes the light collected via a spider's four pairs of swiveling, scanning eyes. Images produced from this process are probably completely foreign when viewed through a human lens. This difference is sight can make spiders a perfect symbol for the visionary.

What Is a Visionary?

A visionary is someone who attempts to bring life into their visions. Usually, the visions that they see will benefit the world and all who inhabit it. They not only see their visions, they feel them in their souls. Their experience is so profound and alters their lives in such a positive and dramatic manner that they seek to share the experience with those around them.

What makes a visionary's task so difficult is that what he or she sees with such vivid detail is indecipherable to others. How does one describe something that no one else has seen? How did the first person to see the color blue communicate that hue to those seeing only black?

The difficulty a visionary has getting his or her vision across to a world with no frame of reference might be symbolized in the spider whose vision processes are so different from that of the human. The misunderstanding that accompanies spiders might make it a perfect symbol for the visionary.

How Spiders Are Seen in Mythology and Cosmology

Mythology often highlights spiders' weaving ability. The web is an especially popular way of depicting destiny deities, symbolizing their ability to deftly weave individual fates into an interconnected tapestry of life.

In various cosmologies, the spider is either a creator deity or its web is used to symbolize creation. Occasionally, the web is not a symbol of life, but an intricately designed veil hiding the face of ultimate reality.

Native Americans have cosmological stories detailing the creation of the Ursa Major constellation via a spider's web and another that posits the creation of creation itself through the silken threads spun from Spider Grandmother's abdomen.

The Role of Spiders in Greek Mythology

The ancient Egyptian deity, Neith, was a destiny-weaving goddess who had a Babylonian equivalent. She was then passed on to the Greeks in the form of Athena. Athena's contest with the mortal Arachne not only makes mythological commentary regarding destiny and creation but also provides an explanation of the creation of the spider itself.

The mortal Arachne challenges the goddess Athena in a weaving contest. Athena, angered at Arachne's refusal to acknowledge that her gift of weaving was bestowed upon her by Athena herself, rips Arachne's tapestry to pieces, touches her head and curses her with feelings of guilt for her arrogance and hubris.

Arachne promptly flees from the goddess and hangs herself. When Athena sees Arachne's lifeless body hanging from a tree, her heart is softened and she transforms Arachne into a spider, taking away her human beauty, but allowing her deft weaving skills to persist throughout eternity. Arachne's name is the origin of "arachnid," the scientific term for the spider.

Scientists have discovered that there are actually spiders in space—nebulas that resemble a spider's shape, such as the Black Widow and Tarantula nebulas.

The illustration above depicts Arachne's transformation from girl to ghoul.
The illustration above depicts Arachne's transformation from girl to ghoul. | Source

How Jungian Philosophy Can Help You Interpret Dreams

Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, had an interesting take on the best way to interpret dreams: "Learn all you can about mythology, then forget it." The quote seems pointless. Why study something with the purpose of forgetting all knowledge gained?

Jung's reasoning was based on his theory of archetypes. Jung believed that mythology and folklore are how human beings express various archetypes and archetypal functions. He believed that archetypes are imprinted on the psyche via the collective unconscious and that some symbols had a near-universal interpretation. To find the universal interpretation, all we have to do is look toward mythology.

However, despite Jung's belief that there are certain prevailing patterns woven cohesively throughout humanity's psyche, he was also adherently believed that human life also expresses itself not only as a common experience but as an individual life.

Jung believed that while symbols carry common meanings that might inform one's predispositions, the actual experience of each individual—that person's own personal mythology or way of approaching and absorbing knowledge and experiences—always takes precedence over any cultural or common comprehension of a symbol.

What a Spider Symbolizes Depends on the Dreamer

When attempting to interpret a dream about spiders, Jung's advice on learning and then forgetting its place in mythology is profoundly appropriate. Spider symbolism is as myriad and complex as the webs spiders spin. What is tantamount to finding meaning in spider dreams is the dreamer's own association and personal mythology regarding spiders.

If spiders are a source of revulsion and fear for the dreamer, then the meaning of a spider dream is likely to be found in the spider's more negative symbolism. If, however, spiders are sources of wonder and marvel for the dreamer, then the dreamer should begin looking at positive spider symbolism to start unraveling the mystery of his or her spider dream.

It Is Difficult to Pin Down the Meanings of Symbols

When one has a confusing dream, a dream encyclopedia or article like this one is often the first place one starts looking for clues. While they are great places to start, they are not great places to end.

Ideally, encyclopedias should provide the background on a symbol and give the dreamer a look at the diverse ways in which that symbol can be interpreted. Symbols rarely, if ever, have a singular meaning. While that bit of information may be disheartening, you should be rest assured that just because a symbol has no definitive meaning, it doesn't mean that its meaning is lacking or that a symbol can mean just about anything.

What makes interpreting a dream symbol so complex—what makes it impossible to encapsulate within a single paragraph or web page—is the dreamer's own individuality. Dreams are messages sent to the dreamer by the dreamer. They are reports of what is going on in the areas of the mind written in concepts and images, not words.

In order to accurately interpret a dream's meaning, one must learn to speak the dream language. Symbols are the foundation of that language. The importance of examining the mythology of a dream subject is to get an idea of what archetypal image a dream might be trying to communicate—that is, what basic meaning a symbol has across cultures and communities. The purpose of analyzing how a dream subject operates in the waking life is to gain insight from the obvious—because the obvious is what is often overlooked.

Sources

The Portable Jung by C. G. Jung.

Psychology and Alchemy (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol.12) by C. G. Jung.

Flight of the Wild Gander: Explorations in the Mythological Dimension: Select Essays, 1944-1968 by Joseph Campbell.

The Mythic Dimension: Selected Essays 1959-1987 by Joseph Campbell.

How do you feel about spiders?

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    • profile image

      andree 

      3 months ago

      great and thorough information, thank you!

    • EsmeSanBona profile imageAUTHOR

      EsmeSanBona 

      4 years ago from Macon

      Hi Jen--so sorry about the delay responding. I've been ill and haven't been online at all.

      Yes! Of course you may reference me on your blog. What's your blog called--I'd love to read it!

    • profile image

      Jen 

      4 years ago

      By the way, I wrote a blog post about my "sleep spiders". I would love to reference and link to your page, but only if that is OK with you!

    • profile image

      Jen 

      4 years ago

      Wow! Thank you! This is an amazing article, and you totally hit the nail on the head. Since my son was born, I have been visited by what I call "sleep spiders" on numerous occasions. They appear on the walls, ceiling, or hanging by a thread above my bed just as I wake up, but slowly fade and disappear the more alert I become. I have generalized anxiety and felt very anxious and trapped as a new mom caring for a very needy baby. I wondered about the symbolism of the spider. When I read the section "Spiders as Captivity Symbols", I thought, "That's it! That's why it's a spider!" How cool is that?!

    • EsmeSanBona profile imageAUTHOR

      EsmeSanBona 

      5 years ago from Macon

      Can you give me the title of the article you wrote about your dad? I went to your page but I must be blind--I didn't see one that looked like the hub you described. I'd really like to read it.

    • EsmeSanBona profile imageAUTHOR

      EsmeSanBona 

      5 years ago from Macon

      Rock and roll! I love it! I love it anytime someone gives themselves the answers to a dream. After all, dreams are messages sent to you by you so you are going to be the final authority on what that message means.

      I am so glad that you got out of that relationship--God knows I have been there. That naïve belief and faith in someone's love can be a really destructive force.

      Your spider fear is really interesting in that a hero saw them as so dangerous as to cut them into pieces. That may be why you feel so strongly about them--someone you trusted believed in their danger so it would only be natural you would feel the same way towards them.

      I think that spider dream is indeed a reminder for you and a solidification of your belief in yourself. It is weird but sometimes the creepiest things and our ability to overcome them are our best and longest reminders of just how powerful we can be.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      5 years ago from Central Florida

      You've given me some light. Here's what I have to offer: when I was a little girl (before my mom divorced my USAF fighter pilot father) we lived in California. I remember daddy (my hero) taking pruning shears and chopping black widows in half in our garage where I used to set up my pretend store. Mom divorced daddy when I was 6 and I didn't see him again until I was 40. (I've written a hub about it. It has a picture of Daddy's flight suit in the opening).

      At the time I had the wet suit spider dream, I was living in an apartment when I was in my early twenties. I shared it with a physically abusive boyfriend. He was in prison at the time I had the dream (he got popped for sale of drugs after I'd met him but the circumstance happened before I met him). I was relieved that he was no longer there, but naiive me thought I still loved him.

      He had a hearing coming up where I was actually allowed to testify to a weird encounter I'd witnessed as an innocent bystander that actually got the charges dropped. I now see the wet suit was protecting me from the disgusting hairs of the spider, aka the fear I had of my fiancé hurting me once again if he was released. The fact that I escaped the spider before he descended upon me was a sign that I was not destined for eternal abuse. And I wasn't. I eventually fought back and rid myself of this abusive man. But, to this day I remember that dream. Is it a reminder for me? Is it solidification of belief in myself? I think the answer to both questions is, YES!

      What do you think? How'd I do?

    • EsmeSanBona profile imageAUTHOR

      EsmeSanBona 

      5 years ago from Macon

      Here is where I would start interpreting your dream.

      First, is your spider phobia something you have had all your life? Or does it have its origin in an actual spider encounter that scared you?

      If the phobia has no origin in life, then the spider is going to be a stand in for a more universal kind of fear or issue. If it originates in an encounter, you'll want to look at the situation or situations that provoked the fear and see what was going on in your life at the time of the dream and compare the two.

      Either way, think about what it is about a spider that scares you. Phobias still have reasons. For example, I have a moth phobia--yes, I know, scared of those harmless little moths. It is kind of embarrassing to go running from the room when one gets in the house. :-) Obviously, no moth ever did me any harm--I think moths can actually only harm clothes--but here's why thy scare me. They are completely erratic--they fly around like maniacs and they are completely unpredictable. You can't tell where they're going and that means that they might go on me and once they're on me I'll never be able to get them off because I'll never know where they're going next.

      What this translates to on a larger scale is a general fear of the unpredictable, the random, being trapped, getting into something I can't get out of. And that is 100 percent true about me. My greatest fear in life is being trapped with no way out. I also detest random things, I don't mind change but I don't like things that appear out of the blue and destroy. I hate it when people prank scare me by jumping out at me. Just hate it!

      Just like moths symbolize my fears about things other than actual moths, I am willing to bet that your spider phobia actually symbolizes something else other than actual spiders.

      Try to find out what the spider symbolizes to you. Then look back to what was going on in your life when you had the dream and see if there was something either actually going on or something you were afraid might happen that the spider might symbolize. Also check to see if the spider might represent a person who might have been provoking fear.

      As weird as it sounds, the wetsuit also gives a lot of information. Wet suits are worn by divers or by people swimming in cold water to protect against the cold, to maintain body temperature or to put it symbolically to maintain status quo in a foreign environment. Was there anything going on at that time in your life wherein it might actually have felt advantageous to protect your fears? I know that sounds crazy, but sometimes we feel fear protects us and sometimes we are right. A person who suffered abuse as a child develops instincts about people who might harm them. When that person fears someone instinctively, there may be good reason for fear.

      Were you involved in doing any hard emotional work, looking at things that were painful? Were you involved in anything that made you feel "out of your depth" or that scared you because it was so far from the status quo or normalcy?

      Don't just think of things that were negative. Think even of things that were positive. I know firsthand that sometimes the things that provoke the most unconscious fear are the things that appear to be the best. As humans, we get used to situations not just because they are comfortable, but because we know we can survive in those situations because we already are! When something comes along, even something that will dramatically improve life, we often fear it because we don't know it--we don't know that we can survive in the new environment because we never have and that can actually provoke survival fears, fears even of death. I have passed up on enough things I should have grabbed with both hands out of fear of the unknown to know the truth of that fear.

      Please let me know what you come up with--I've never dealt with a wetsuit spider before, so I'm really curious!

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      5 years ago from Central Florida

      Esme, I am scared to death of spiders, although I've had to overcome my fear as a single mom; my son is even more afraid of them than I.

      I must tell you of a dream I had when I was about 21. I'm now 55 and have never forgotten this dream:

      I was lying in bed, alone and asleep when suddenly, a huge spider has big as the queen bed in which I slept, ascended from the ceiling. Get this: it was wearing a wet suit! I paniced in my dream because I was frozen and couldn't avoid the spider landing on me. Just before it ascended onto my body, I was awakened (this part is real life) by crawling out of bed with my head ducked so as to avoid the spider touching me. My movement is what awakened me. It is now thirty some odd years later and I still remember that dream.

      Any idea what it meant? Especially with the spider wearing a wet suit?

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