What Spiders Symbolize in Dreams
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:
- The Shadow
Conversely, many cultures view spiders from a positive point of view, praising the spider as a symbol of:
- 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 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
- Hidden danger
- Venomous words
- Personal attack
- Abuse of power
- Using the weak for personal profit
- Careless disregard for the concerns of others
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.