It may be hard for arachniphobes to believe that spiders ever bring good luck, but this early 20th century good luck postcard proves they do.
Further evidence comes from "The Mascot Book" by Elizabeth Villiers, published in England in 1923. According to Villiers, the spider "was popular with the Romans, who had a favourite mascot in the shape of a precious stone upon which a spider was engraved. Also they were fond of carrying little spiders of gold or silver, or any of the fortunate metals, to bring good luck in anything to do with trade."
Spiders have always meant good luck to professional weavers and spinners, for obvious reasons, but corroboration of the spider's financial symbolism is provided by a bas relief on outside of the The Bohemian Club building in San Francisco. The club was founded in the 19th century as a place for local businessmen to set aside "Dull Care" and engage in theatrical and sexual "Hi-Jinks," so the image -- of a spider and the words "weaving spiders come not here" -- warns members to leave their financial schemes outside the precincts.
Why is the spider supposed to bring good luck in money matters? I think it is because the spider in its web is believed to attract its prey; thus the spider amulet is believed to attract money to the bearer. In short, Europeans seem to have used spider amulets in the same way that African-Americans use a pair of magnetic lodestones to "draw" money or Mexicans use horseshoe amulets accompanied by pictures of San Martin Caballero as symbolic "horseshoe magnets" to attract money. (Notable styles of Mexican money-magnets include small horseshoe package amulets, El Secreto de la Virtuosa Herradura wall hangings, and the unusual Snow Globe Pyramid of Luck.)
Like many other beliefs centered in animal lore, the "luckiness" attached to the spider has diminished during this century, probably because urbanization has rendered our environs virtually free of species other than human beings. Still, some money-magic does yet adhere to the spider, even among the computer-using classes. For instance, from the United Kingdom, Shona McNeill writes:
"There is a relic of this belief in my family -- there is a species of tiny black spider, that we call the Money Spider. If one walks across your palm, it will bring good luck in money."
Villiers noted that in France during the 1920s, "the sight of a spider in the house is not fortunate in the forenoon, but if you see it in the afternoon, you may certainly expect a present, the value of the gift increasing according to the lateness of the hour.
In a similar vein, my mother, Liselotte Erlanger Glozer, recounts the following German verse about finding spiders in the house at different times of day, which she learned as a child in Bavaria, in the early 1920s:
Her non-rhyming translation of this verse is:
Spider in the morning
Elizabeth Villiers wrote, "The idea that to kill a spider will bring bad luck is common still, and most housewives, while destroying the web, will carefully lift the spider and put it out of doors. That killing a spider is followed by monetary loss is the belief in some parts of the country, thus particularizing the kind of ill luck to be expected. But to see a spider is fortunate so long as it is not hurt."
That was in England, in 1923, but early in 1996, as if echoing Villers' account, Tracey O'Neill posted the following to alt.lucky.w:
"The other day at work, a spider was spotted in the office. Being a bit sqeamish about insects, (or whatever multi-legged species they belong to), I promptly called for someone to kill it. Among those of us present, two quickly said not to because it was "bad luck." Upon further questioning, they both said that killing a spider makes you lose money. They are both originally from different areas of the US and neither one could say where they had heard it or explain why. Now, usually a belief like this is based around some sort of fact. I can't for the life of me figure out what, so I figured that I'd ask here. I've never heard of this belief, nor has anyone in my family. Can anyone shed any light on this subject?"
Vanessa Meachen replied a few days later:
"Some teacher of mine back in primary school used to have this little rhyme that went:If you wish to live and thrive"The number of the little buggers I've squished over the years since then may not bode well . . ."
Tracey posted from the United States and Vanessa posted from Australia; i assume that both are of Anglo-Eurpean heritage.
In search of further family traditions, i asked the folks in my office whether it was bad luck to kill spiders, and if so, why. Louis James, 21 years old, piped up, "Well, killing spiders in a NEW HOUSE is bad luck." He'd heard this from his father, who is a Euro-American from Pennsylvania.
I asked him if this had anything to do with losing money.
"Nah. I always heard that if you killed a spider in a new house, the house would never be clean."
Thus speaks Anglo-America.
I am no anthropologist, but i suspect that i am standing on well-trod ground when i theorize that the idea of a money-bringing or gift-giving spider who "refreshes and nourishes" must harken back to a very early time in human history and may well represent the folkloric vestige of an ancient European religious belief of some kind. Speaking of religion, those who attend upon Native American traditions are probably aware that Spider-Woman is a major goddess of the Pueblo Indians. As such, however, she is not a lucky figure, but a religious one.
Be that as it may, some people still have use for money-drawing spider amulets, and the spider can be seen in the hoodoo candle called "Alleged Controlling." The image depicts a spider in its web, but there is no manufacturer's name and no intructional text on the back of the candle, so one is left in the dark as to whether the "alleged control" is in financial matters or other human affairs.
But, speaking of hoodoo brings us to a different perspective on spiders -- a less friendly one. Among old-time African American rootowrkers, it was commonly believed that one of the worst and most evil ways to poison an enemy was to feed them spider eggs -- especially in the form of dumplings -- for the little baby spiders would hatch out in the person's blood stream, causing the dangerous jinxed condition known as "Live Things In You." Spider dumplings -- that is, dumplings with spider eggs inside, are especially feared. The connection between spider eggs and dumplings is visually obvious to anyone who has seen a "spider nest" or egg-ball; it looks quite a bit like a small white flour dumpling. My own research into the subject of "Live Things" indicates that, both historically and contemporaneously, in the African American community hoodoo practitioners who most stringly believe in "Live Things" are generally also part Native American.
Evidence of African American beliefs about the misfortunes attending upon eating spider dumplings, or spiders falling into one's food or drink can be found in several old blues songs -- for instance "Sold It To The Devil by Black Spider Dumpling (John D. Twitty) and "Spider's Nest Blues" by Hattie Hart with the Memphis Jug Band.
In keeping with the notion that spider eggs can cause "Live Things in You," spider webs, spider nest-balls, and dead spiders are commonly used as ingredients in goofer dust, a hoodoo powder that is used to harm people.