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A Little Spider Therapy

Hello everyone, and welcome to LukeLore. A quick deep dive into a folklore topic, where I share some of the stories from around the world that have piqued my interest.

2024 has been quite the A Year for me. At least, the start has been pretty rough. Regular listeners who have had a bit of a wait for me to get going, or future listeners spotting a gap in releases, will likely have guessed something was up. Some of it is good things that have left me exhausted, but are all heading in promising directions for my future. A lot of writing, film, and game stuff is coming together; which is nice. It's also not normally enough to stop me from making folklore podcasts. No, something rather exceptional happened at the start of this year which caused health complications, that then in turn threw everything else off kilter.

Content warning for arachnophobia on this episode, although I urge you to stick with it. I don't intend to go overboard, and the folklore side of things found on the topic is pretty cool stuff more than being arachnid based tales of terror.

This episode to pick everything back up again is directly related to the topic and what happened to my health across January. I was over in Texas for a wedding at the very start of the year, and I learned something very important: Sturdy boots with jeans tucked into them? Not a fashion statement. That's a survival technique. So, there I am, being a bit of a dedicated pedestrian in a foreign land built around cars, tromping through Texas grass. It turns out there are all sorts of critters that may be lurking in that low level foliage.

I got bitten on the leg by a spider.

What turned out to be a Brown Recluse.

This episode is my Spider Therapy episode, where I intend to work through a few things as I get back on the podcasting horse.

I'm going to share a bit about that now, but I'll try not to make it too gross. It definitely WAS gross, I have pictures to prove it and if I had to sum the experience up in a single word (apart from “painful”), it would be “gooey”. But as well the opportunity to share the Texan fashion epiphany, I have a good opportunity to educate while I horrify here, and that's an opportunity I pathologically cannot pass by.

This is more of a guide to reassure you it isn't as bad as some of the horror stories you may have heard about these spiders could have led you to believe, while also giving you advice on what to do if you happen to have my incredibly bad luck that seems to attract strange maladies to me like I'm a lightning rod for funky karma. To quote my partner: “I feel like things like this only happen to you.”

My second mistake, the first not being to respect the potential hazards of local wildlife just because the foreign country I was in happened to be English speaking, was to have no idea what it was and what needed to be done. The best thing you can do with a Brown Recluse spider bite is to aggressively clean it. You don't need to worry about venom, it's not quite that kind of problem, but certain key factors mean you should be heavy handed in the aftermath. I didn't know what had bitten me until later symptoms, so I thought it best to just leave it alone. I hadn't even felt it at the time, I just had a weird mark from it I found later, and in the short term nothing happened.

Which leads me to getting home, and these “key factors” about the bite kicking in. The venom itself isn't going to work its way through your system from a Brown Recluse, which is in a way a lucky thing for me as I'm not likely to have much access to antivenoms in the UK - where nothing much is going to make you that kind of ill on a regular basis. What instead happens is that some blood vessels in the top layers of your skin will die, which can then lead to necrosis and an infection from dead tissue. This is why the aggressive clean up is an important first response, it isn't pleasant but you can purge the area.

I didn't know this! I still didn't know it was a Brown Recluse yet. But I do get an infected leg, with the associated pain. So next comes antibiotics, and a whole week of bed rest with a fair bit of discomfort I can't use paracetamol based painkillers with due to the antibiotics I was on. It wasn't a great experience. My leg did NOT look good, which as the situation developed I was able to share with some friends from Texas who could confirm that yep, that sure was a Brown Recluse bite. Those pictures remain available if anyone really wants to reach out to see them, but I'll keep it very light on details here. The short version is once the gammy bit fell off, it was healthy underneath and healed fine from there, so I was ultimately fine if completely out of action for a while. If anything, looking back, I probably should have done a few more days of bed rest, but after the one week limit for self certification to be off work I would have needed a Doctor's Note and decided I would rather go back to work still ill rather than deal with that headache.

There's every chance people will have heard horror stories about Brown Recluse bites, and that's part of why I wanted to share this. These horror stories come from not getting treatment, and everything getting out of hand. So clean the area if you should be bitten, and get antibiotics if an infection takes root. Necrotic flesh taking a turn for the worse isn't something you can walk off, although it is relatively simple to treat: if still unpleasant.

Which takes us to where I am now. I'm mostly back on top of everything, but I lost a lot of time which had knock on effects to get everything in my life back in order. Plus, recovery was just plain exhausting. My leg still looks weird where I got the bite! Nature's latest attempt to strike me down has resulted in some scarring. Which in turn leads this to being a spider therapy episode for me, and the catharsis that comes from facing these things head on. Although spiders in myth and legend turned out to be much more complicated than mere monsters, as instinctively frightening as so many people find them to be. Let's go from the infected leg, to an interesting trip around the world looking at spider stories of myth and legend.

SECTION BREAK – Grecian Curses

It seems a solid place to start with spiders by going back to mythology which influenced how they are named, their taxonomical name of Arachnida coming from the Classical Greek, and within that Classical Greek being the tale of Arachne.

Arachne was a legendarily incredible weaver, in some stories a princess but in others being a talented daughter of a rich merchant. Her standing in birth wasn't what caught the attention of the gods though, it was her talent and the arrogance which went with it. Arachne was a weaver beyond compare, able to make creations that would strike observers dumb with awe. Bear in mind this was from a time where all crafting was done by hand, we're pretty spoiled now with a global army of robots at our command. What Arachne could weave was anything anyone could imagine and even more, the end product further being immaculate every time. Tales of her skill would spread far and wide, and as a part of the stories told about her people would add the compliment Arachne must surely have been trained by the goddess of weaving herself, Athena. Arachne did not take this as a compliment, however. She did instead take it as a slight, in her hubris taking offence at the idea anyone was better than her at weaving, not even Athena herself.

Now, you need to watch yourself around the Greek pantheon of gods. They're quite human in their aspects, and that means they're liable to react in human ways, such as with anger. An angry neighbour may get into a fistfight with you, an angry god is a whole other level of trouble. But this wasn't an instant wrath situation. Athena was one of the calmer Greek gods, being the goddess of wisdom on top of all crafts in addition to specifically weaving. Yet also not a pushover, not that any divinely powerful being was, but she was also a goddess of warfare. Ares may be the angry stabby one of the family, but Athena's role as the wise one extended into the tactical side of warfare and the defence of cities. Not someone to mess with, even on a relative scale of the gods.

Back then, not even the gods had television to keep them distracted and out of trouble, so it didn't take too long for Athena to notice the stories being passed around about Arachne. More importantly the follow up gossip about Arachne declaring herself better even than the goddess of all crafts and handiwork. Athena definitely had a temper, even if it wasn't quite as explosive as some of her family, so she resolved to go in person to face Arachne to deal with this affront, only in such a way it gave Arachne a fair chance to back down.

Initially, Athena come to Arachne disguised as an old woman, wanting to see this level of audacity for herself as well as give a chance for the insult to be withdrawn. Arachne was having none of it, though. Borderline raging at the idea anyone could be better than her at weaving, even a goddess! So Athena dramatically revealed her true self... Only for Arachne to take the chance to call out the goddess in person. The subtle approach backfired big time, and now Athena was being antagonised to her face. Something which risked the story ending abruptly, and quite possibly with a lot of collateral damage, but Athena got her rising temper under control and instead challenged Arachne to a weaving contest.

Someone with an ounce of common sense would realise this was a second chance to back down when faced with a personification of natural forces powerful beyond mortal comprehension. Unfortunately for Arachne, she was so enamoured with her pride in herself she didn't hesitate to see this as a chance to prove she was the best, and it was time for a high stakes tapestry showdown.

Arachne truly was good at her craft, able to keep up with the divine in a weave-off. Something which only aggravated Athena even further, which is a whole mood we can empathise with as a modern audience. Nothing is worse than someone annoying also being talented enough to back up their overinflated ego. Athena mastered her still growing temper once more, though, and tried to turn the contest towards a final hint for Arachne to humble herself. The goddess wove a visual history of the glory of the Olympians, Zeus centred in a collection of divine triumphs, including her own personal victory over Poseidon to secure the great city which would go on to be named after her. As an extra final warning, Athena spent time detailing the corners of her work with humans who were punished for their defiance of the gods, and the terrible fates that befall them.

This went completely over the head of the obnoxiously oblivious Arachne, and even seemed to bait her further into disaster. Arachne's subject matter in response to this became the final straw that finally made Athena snap. Arachne made a beautiful masterwork using all her skill and finest materials that her success had made available to her, dedicated to the infidelities of the gods and all their misdeeds chasing mortals for pleasure. Twenty-one failings of the gods were glorified by the smug master weaver, Zeus getting the centre stage in a mocking mirror of Athena's design, with a grand focus upon his sexual misdeeds.

Now, to be fair, it was hardly slander on Arachne's part, it was all well known scandals of the gods. But it was definitely the wrong audience. Athena took the time to compliment how good the craft itself was. Arachne truly was as skilled as the tales told. On a technical level the art was brilliant, completely flawless even. Something which truly could be of compare to the works of the gods. Having gotten the compliments out of the way, Athena then finally succumbs to her anger, flipping out smashing up the tapestry itself as well as Arachne's loom, then turning onto the cowering woman. There had been a lot of what comes before the finding out from Arachne, including three chances to back down directly from Athena herself, and the goddess was too enraged to stop now she finally lost her cool. She transformed Arachne into a spider, cursing her and all her descendents to forever hang from their threads, skilful weavers for all time, yet no longer human. No longer capable of defying the gods any further. Eaters of insects. Small and squishable, should a person take a dislike to them.

This tale is a good chance to talk about the aspects of the Greek gods in general. I don't know exactly where the discourse came from beyond vaguely gesturing towards Tumblr, but there has recently been a great discussion surrounding the flaws of the Greek gods, and how it relates to their roles within mythology. Zeus is the King of the gods, and Kings can cruelly take things from regular people, up to and including the people themselves. Hades is the god of the dead, and death cruelly taking a young woman from her family fits the tale of Persephone. Poseidon is destructive as the oceans he holds domain over, with a shifting temper to match how dangerous they can become. Athena isn't quite as mercurial as these big examples, with “Wisdom” not easily fitting lashing out in anger, even if Arachne managed to push her over the edge in the end. For example, she was the one who cursed Medusa, which has interesting modern feminist readings about empowering Medusa to protect herself from being attacked by men, although the tale probably fits simpler crueller readings of a harsher time in history better. In this case, however, Athena is the executioner of a parable encouraging humility. Arachne was given multiple opportunities to step down from her hubris, and stubbornly refused to back down even when this level of arrogance was putting her in danger. There is, in a way, more to unpack about the legacy of being the mythological origin of all spiders. Yes, they're very alien to a lot of other creatures in ways that cause significant amounts of people to panic around them. Yes, they're dangerous sometimes, as I found out the hard way this year. But they're a vital link in the food chain if you don't fancy being overrun by statistically much more dangerous pests, and they're some of nature's most incredible crafters who have taught humans a few tricks in textiles and construction over the aeons. All of which is cool, but I think the key part of the story here is “Don't be so up your own arse you spit in the face of the gods, they're bigger than you are.”

SECTION BREAK – A Divine Trickster

While in Europe a mortal was cursed into spiderhood, over in Africa a god himself is the spider. Kwaku Anansi, or simply Anansi, is a god from Ghana who spread across Western Africa, over to the Caribbean, then further even to the Southern United States. He is a trickster of exceptional cunning and intelligence, another deity of wisdom - although quite the different counterpart to Athena. He can be either the protagonist or antagonist of mythological tales, his greed and need for mischief leaves him morally ambiguous, but while sometimes he needs humbling he is best known for using his wits to overcome much stronger opponents. Ghanaian children get brought up with a lot of moral direction from the anansesem, the spider tales of Anansi. From the African oral traditions across the years to fan favourite appearances in pop culture fiction Anansi is a globally recognised figure of mythology.

The history minded among you will have caught how the stories spread around the world based where it went, and it was quite the tragic vector. It was the slave trade that carried the anansesem Westward, and Anansi himself became a symbol of resistance for displaced Africans, a symbol of surviving terrible odds. The god of cunning, known for using his sharp mind to overcome much stronger opponents, had his tales adapted into ones that gave hope to the helpless. I don't want to delve too much into this, it's a huge weight of history that isn't mine to tell, but it's important to see how these stories helped people in such dire times. If you're interested in more on this specific side to Anansi, Jamaican traditions did a great job of preserving those stories due to the concentration of Ashanti people who settled there.

But I will share a big classic tale of Anansi, so we get a sense of who this divine trickster is.

To start this right, in the Akan way: We do not really mean, we do not really mean that what we are about to say is true. A story, a story; let it come, let it go.

This was from a time when there were no stories. At least, not for everyone, the sky god Nyame owned all the stories of the world, and would not share them with anyone else. Once Anansi decided he wanted Nyame's stories, he went straight to the sky god and boldly asked for them, insisting that he could pay for them whatever the price. Nyame tried to deter the spider by telling him about all the great kingdoms that tried to buy the stories already, but could not afford them no matter how wealthy they are. This did nothing to put Anansi off, he told the sky god to name his price. This got the sky god's attention, as there could be no way someone so insignificant compared to those who came before could achieve this, but Anansi remained confident.

Nyame came up with four impossible tasks. A labour no kingdom could achieve, let alone one lowly spider. The price for the stories would be for four of the most dangerous animals to be brought to him: The python Onini, the Mmoboro hornets, the leopard Osebo, and one of the Mmoatia forest spirits. To the surprise of the sky god, Anansi promised he could deliver all of these, and would even throw in his mother Ya Nsia on top of the impossible task – a powerful goddess in her own right. Bemused, Nyame accepted, and told the spider he should get started immediately if he wants to stand a chance of completing the tasks.

The first thing Anansi did was tell his family about his plan, including his mother who was now a key part of it. From there, he talked in earnest with is wife Aso about how to plan to capture these dangerous creatures. To capture Onini the Python first, Aso tells Anansi to cut a branch from a palm tree as well as plenty of string creeper vines. With these, they head to the river the python lives near. Once the couple set up their trap on the riverside, they loudly fake an argument about Onini that catches the snake's attention. The two pretend to be disagreeing about how big Onini is, using the branch from the palm tree as a prop. Anansi insists there's no way the snake could be longer even than such a great branch, and the snake assures the spider he's easily bigger. Anansi challenges him to prove it, so Onini stretches out to his full length alongside the branch, and on top of the creeper vines hidden there with it. Anansi ties the snake up with the creeper vines, and being something of a poor winner brags about how he outsmarted Onini the whole way to delivering the first impossible task to the sky god. Nyame is surprised, and hurries Anansi along to go attempt to catch the next dangerous animal, assuming while he may have the python Onini the spider must fail on the next attempt.

For the next task, Anansi asks his wife for advice on what to use for catching the hornets. Aso recommends a gourd full of water, and the two come up with a plan. Anansi then sneaks along the bushes the Mmoboro hornets are known to frequent until he finds a swarm. Catching them unaware, he throws most of his water at them, pours the rest from his gourd onto himself, then runs to a safe distance where Anansi puts a big leaf on his head. The angry hornets confront Anansi, but he convinces them it was a dangerous sudden rain that was going to come back in greater force any moment. He kindly offers his empty gourd for the hornets to hide in, which they gladly take only for him to seal the gourd and take the angry Mmoboro as the second completed task to Nyame. Once again, in poor sport he brags about how he outsmarted the trapped hornets to them along the way, explaining how they are a part of his scheme to get the sky god's stories for himself. That half the tasks are complete surprises Nyame, but he takes the gourd and tells Anansi he has more work to do, assuming still Anansi would fail.

Anansi returns to Aso again for advice on catching Osebo the leopard. Aso tells Anasi the best place to dig and conceal a hole to catch Osebo, at which point he tells her to say no more. That's all he needs, and he knows exactly what to do next. Anansi sets the trap, then goes home for the night. Come the next morning, the leopard is trapped at the bottom of the pit, and the spider talks to him from above. Anansi says he wishes he could help, but he's afraid the leopard will eat him if he does. He let's Osebo think he's the one convincing Anansi to help, and takes his knife to cut two poles he lowers down the pit to look like he's been fooled into letting the angry leopard up. Only he sets down the poles far enough apart Osebo has to stretch his arms to climb them, leaving him vulnerable, creating an opportunity for Anansi to throw his knife down the hole handle first to stun the leopard. This lets Anasi climb down and tie Osebo up before the leopard can recover, and in typical poor form he brags about outsmarting his latest catch as well as the wider plan to win all the stories of the world the whole way to the sky god, where he delivers the third impossible task to Nyame. Despite only one request left the sky god was sure Anansi couldn't possibly finish the labours, sending the spider back on his way once more.

This final task was extra tricky, and took extra help from his wife Aso. The Mmoatia are elusive forest spirits who can turn invisible, and are fair tricksters themselves that Anansi is setting out to trick. As a side note, some translations of the tale go with “fairy” to describe the Mmoatia, which can convey some interesting nuances but I'm going to stick with “forest spirit” given my odd relationship with Aos Sidhe folklore. The two came up with a plan involving an Akua doll Anansi could puppet with some of his string that he covers in the sap out of a gum tree, and Aso mashes up some eto yams to use as bait. The spider takes the trap to the forest of the Mmoatia and picks out an odum tree the spirits are known to frequent, then waits patiently. Eventually one of the Mmoatia is lured away from the rest of her sisters by the eto, and talks to the Akua doll Anansi manipulates to look like it is offering some of its food. The Mmoatia gladly takes some, and offers thanks, but Anasi doesn't move the doll in response. This makes it seem like the Mmoatia's gratitude is being spurned, so she slaps the doll in anger. Slapping the doll results in the spirit's hand becoming stuck, so she slaps it with her other hand. Being even angrier both hands are trapped by the gum, she barges her whole body into the doll becoming completely stuck, at which point Anansi reveals himself to get his bragging in as he completely ties the spirit to the doll, before making a diversion to pick up his mother Ya Nsia and deliver his final impossible task to Nyame as promised.

Managing to complete the final task, mother included in the delivery, surprised the sky god who assembled a host of other gods, advisors, mortal kings, and their armies to show off what Anansi has achieved. Nyame took the time to recount every achievement, to show what the spider god had done no one else could. He gives Anansi his recognition, his blessing, and the collection of stories. Stories which would no longer be the sky god's, they would instead forever more be Spider stories. Anansi then goes on to return to his village, and his wife Aso, where he begins to share the stories with everyone.

This is one of the bigger Anansi tales, in fact explaining all the Anansi tales. Some variations don't include his wife Aso, but I thought it was interesting how they work together for the spider to succeed. He's very much not humble when he's winning, something that can lead to his downfall in tales where he's being more selfish and less than heroic. The spider tales will always teach a lesson though, whether it's at the expense of people who underestimate Anansi or as he himself is humbled while misbehaving. He's a very interesting figure of legend either way, relying on his wits to succeed instead of overpowering others. There are plenty of mythic figures who do impossible tasks, but they usually manage them with brute force or martial prowess instead of using their heads. It's a potent and useful lesson to teach children early.

SECTION BREAK – The Spider Women

It's been a while since we've had a Yokai, and I always love the tales of the otherworldly monster women of Japan. This particular Yokai-Onna is a perfect fit for the spider theme, the Jorōgumo. The name of this Yokai is pretty loaded, which isn't uncommon in Japanese but this one can get pretty blunt as you go further back in its usage. The basic meaning is simply “Spider Woman”, and does pretty much what is says on the tin as I will go into detail with in a moment. There's a polite, somewhat more whimsical, version that reads more like “entangling bride”. Then, there's the rather blunt older way to write and interpret this name in kanji, which the nicer “entangling bride” may be an update to cover up: “whore spider”.

There's an interesting origin to the Jorōgumo, in that “Jorōgumo” can also refer to the golden orb-weaver spider that can be found across Japan and the Yokai tales can be tied directly to this species of arachnid. The average size of these spiders is usually only a few centimetres. But they can get big enough to hunt small birds in some cases. This leads to stories of them only getting bigger over time, and should one of the golden orb-weaver Jorōgumo spiders live to 400 years old they will magically transform into the Yokai Jorōgumo, at which point their food will get much bigger than even birds. As with a lot of Japanese monster women, they take on a temptress role in cautionary tales about young men who should be thinking with their head and not something else. The human form they can take on as a disguise will be of a young beautiful woman, and they will put on a sexy act to lure their food in.

They aren't malicious. They're just giant spiders, and humans happen to be delicious, with young human men being easily lured to their doom with the right performance. Jorōgumo can make their nests in remote caves and forests, which should make it obvious something is wrong but probably still leads to plenty of oblivious would be suitors turning up for dinner that go on to be the main course. They get more immediately dangerous when a Jorōgumo takes up residence in a town though, taking over an abandoned house to be closer to their food supply. It's an interesting shift in parable, where they go from a “don't be so stupid in the wild places” cautionary tale to a warning about leaving houses empty to turn into death traps for the unwary... The horniness trap is still present across either version, as the Jorōgumo are notoriously skilled at tricking humans. Their true form is that of a giant spider who can set various traps with her webs, from giant spiderwebs to more humanlike snares made of her arachnid silks, and she has a few other tricks up her sleeve too.

The venom of a Jorōgumo is subtle, and can be passed on in a kiss if she is staying incognito among humans. It gradually weakens a victim, leading to a slow painful wasting away that will be followed by dragging the body away for feeding upon. When confronted, some Jorōgumo can summon smaller spiders with a magical twist, they breathe fire! The conjured swarm of fire breathing arachnids can be a spectacular defence unleashed on the overconfident and unwary, but can also be set upon the homes of people snooping around her lair. Gossips drawing too much attention, or would be Yokai hunters, can have their homes burned down around them by an urban Jorōgumo who wants to deflect attention away from themselves in spectacular fashion. They're a notoriously cunning Yokai, able to be a long term menace even in busy cities between how good they are at maintaining a disguise combined with the occasional tactical magic spider minions arson.

Should a Jorōgumo be discovered and either killed or driven off, this will almost certainly lead to the discovery of a lot of dessicated corpses of young men piled up in an attic. The Jorōgumo are not easily caught out, so will probably have quite the body count before they're dealt with. They seem quite vulnerable to conventional weapons in tales of them, but that doesn't mean they should be underestimated. Even putting aside the magic and how smart they are, a giant spider is a spider that is giant. Not likely to be fun to get into a fight with.

The simple answer here is not to willingly skip off to death-by-horny, although an urban community can also defend itself by not giving these Yokai derelict homes to infest in the first place. This style of temptress tale as ever has interesting extra layers to it. On one side of the coin there's some low level misogyny at play, blaming feminine attraction for the misadventure of men, warning boys to not let a woman lead them astray with their looks. But on the other side is a dynamic about treating women right, that to be obnoxious in the pursuit of sex can lead to your doom. The Jorōgumo gets to be bonus cool in this subsect of Yokai-Onna with the hoard of firebreathing spiders, though. Not that I want to be swarmed by such a thing, but that IS a pretty badass way to deal with some neighbour spreading rumours about you. In the wrong neighbourhood, snitches get spider incinerated.


So....I am back! I'm still busy, but I'm mostly back on top of it and not currently dealing with a spider bite. There is an exceptional amount going on this year, I will hopefully have exciting news to share at the end of episodes and on social media as 2024 goes on. As wobbly as it started, it should on balance be a positive year despite what a bizarre disaster magnet I continue to be. Thank you for indulging me any arachnophobes who made it all the way through this episode. While I may be busy, I really do enjoy making this show. I'll be back in regular flow soon, and if I end up anywhere with venomous critters again my lesson has been well and truly learned; I will be taking a lot more care in the wilder areas. This is why I keep warning everyone to stay out of nature! It's seriously out to get us sometimes.LukeLore is a Ghost Story Guys production.

If you do want to contact me there’s the show’s dedicated email, and the general show email Both myself and the main show are really easy to find on Facebook and Twitter if you want to make day to day contact, as well as a very active Instagram account a lot of the community gets involved with.

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Share this around if you think you may know someone who may be interested, leave a review if you get the chance to help signal boost me, and most of all I simply hope you enjoy what I’m doing here.

Goodbye for now.


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