by Heather Elvidge
Recent mornings have been damp with mist, revealing a multitude of spiders’ webs in shrubs and hedges. Some look like hammocks, others like little funnels, with a tiny den at the back where the unseen owner lurks.
The ones to watch out for are the archetypal spider’s webs, huge and circular. These are spun in the spaces between things. The long supporting lines, which can be several feet long, often stretch across pathways. How beautiful they look with dewdrops strung along the threads, glinting in the light; how invisible they are when unadorned.
That network of sticky silk wrapped around your head is the work of the orb-web spider, a creature that’s in a different league to the occupants of hammock and funnel. For a start, the stripy orb-webs don’t hide away. They crouch boldly at the web’s centre looking elegant, fierce and well fed.
This is a trying month for anyone with a dread of spiders. In the house the orb-webs’ lanky cousins suddenly scuttle across the floor, or materialise on the ceiling when we’re trying to get to sleep. These uninvited guests have probably been in our homes for a while. We notice them now because this is when male spiders rush about in search of a female.
Luckily, our spiders are harmless. And their silk is sterile — fresh webs used to be laid over wounds, to aid the clotting of blood.
Folklore says that finding a spider on our clothes means a windfall is on the way, especially if it drops on us from above. We still call these tiny creatures money spiders, or money-spinners. And killing a spider is said to bring poverty on the household.
Threads of fate
Although many of us dislike them, our forebears admired spiders for their patience, persistence and web-spinning skill, as shown in the legend of a determined arachnid and the future King of Scotland.
On the run and in disgrace after stabbing a rival for the throne, Robert de Bruce watched as a spider struggled to fix a thread to a roof beam. The thread would be a vital support for its web, but the spider couldn’t reach the right place. Yet it didn’t give up. After several failed attempts, the spider succeeded.
Inspired by its example de Bruce took up the sword again, became King Robert I and eventually defeated Edward II at Bannockburn in 1314. Not bad for an Essex lad (the de Bruces were Norman), and great PR for the spider. It’s a pity that its part in the tale dates from the sixteenth century.
But we’ve always liked a good story, true or not. Facts are necessary yet cold; stories carry deeper truths about what it is to be human. Give us the facts, logically presented, and we’ll shrug. Show us a dream and something stirs deep within us.
Something like this seems to be happening in Scotland as September 18 approaches. People have heard the facts from the No campaign but they’re more excited by the dream of independence, with all its unknowns.
Are we seeing the rays of a new dawn, or simply a web of illusions?
Time will tell.