Some of us are afraid of beetles, spiders, lizards and jackals but in ancient legends they are held in high esteem and linked to creation and higher powers. Read more to discover spider deities who weave tales, a Pygmy God who takes the form of a mantis plus jackal and scarab beetle-headed Ancient Egyptian Gods.
In West Africa and later in the Caribbean and southern United States, Anansi was a trickster God who was usually in the form of a spider (though he could also be in human form or a hybrid of the two). He embodied skill in language and storytelling, and according to the legends, all the stories in the world come from him. In fact, the Ashanti, from whom stories of Anansi are thought to have originated, called their fables Anansesem, which literally means ‘spider tales’.
How Anansi acquired the gift of storytelling is, as you might expect, quite a story. Originally, the sky God Nyame had all the stories, and Anansi asked how much it would cost to buy the stories. The cost of the stories differs depending on the version you read, but generally the stories will have Nyame ask for a hive of hornets, a python and a leopard. Likewise, how Anansi traps each of the creatures differs in various versions, but he always using trickery to trap them and deliver them to Nyame, in the end becoming the owner of all stories.
In New Zealand’s Maori traditions, Tū-te-wehiwehi is the father of all reptiles. When he and his brother fled from their angry uncle, Tū-te-wehiwehi went legendinland, whilst his brother, Ikatere, fled to the sea. Tū-te-wehiwehi said that his brother’s children would be food for men if he fled to the sea, and Ikatere responded that Tū-te-wehiwehi’s children would be the ugliest things on the earth.
Incidentally, Tū-te-wehiwehi isn’t so much a God as an atua, which is similar to an ancestor with ongoing influence in certain areas.
|Kaggen was the creator God of the Pygmies of South Africa, and he often took the form of a mantis. Pronouced (and sometimes written as) Cagn, with the characteristic clicking sound preceding Cagn, |Kaggen created almost everything in the universe by ordering it to exist, but he created the moon by throwing his shoe into the sky.
His favourite creatures were humans and elands, and he tried to live amongst humans for many years, until their stubborness drove him away. Now only the elands know where he is, but they’re not talking.
Interestingly, in his fables he is often a trickster and a troublemaker, much like Anansi the spider.
The Spider Grandmother was the creator of the universe in the myths of many Native American tribes, including the Navajo and the Pueblo in the southwestern part of the United States. As she was one with the supreme power, she thought the universe into being because she wanted to share the experience of the power with others.
She also gave the world the sun. Like many of the tales here, the exact details of the story differ with the teller, but in one story, the Bear tells all the animals that on the other side of the world, there is sun and light. They agree that they should steal some of it to share, and first the Fox sets off to steal some of the sun. He takes some in his mouth, but it burns his mouth and he drops it, which is why all foxes have black mouths. Then the Possum tried to carry it on her bushy tail. The sun burnt all the hair off her tail, and now all Possums have hairless tails. Finally Grandmother spider wove a bag out of webbing and put the sun in there. She returned with the sun, but the animals wanted to put it high in the sky so everyone could use the sun. So the Buzzard, who flies higher than any other bird, put the sun on his head. As he flew higher and higher, the sun burned through the web and eventually burned all the feathers off his head and even burnt the skin. This is why buzzards have red, featherless heads and why they still circle the sun today.
This jackal-headed ancient Egyptian God was, in the Old Kingdom, the most important God of the afterlife. Later, in the Middle Kingdom, he was replaced by Osiris, but he remained crucial to the mummification ceremony. Priests who were embalming the dead wore Anubis masks during the task, and statues or pictures of Anubis are found in ancient Egyptian tombs.
He also judged the dead. In the Book of the Dead, he weighed people’s hearts to determine if they were worthy of entering the underworld or if they would be devoured by Ammit, a female demon that was part lion, part hippo and part crocodile.
Also an ancient Egyptian God, Khepri was usually depicted just as a scarab beetle, though he is sometimes seen with a human body and a head in the form of a scarab beetle. He was associated with rebirth and resurrection – his name literally means “to come into being”. This is because ancient Egyptians believed scarab beetles spontaneously generated from dead matter.
As scarab beetles also roll dung around in large balls, Khepri eventually became associated with the movements of the sun, and in particular the dawn, as that is when the sun “comes into being”.
Descriptions of both Anubis and Khepri can be found in The Religion of Ancient Egypt.
So from America to Africa (via the Pacific Islands), there are loads of pest-related deities. Interestingly, the ancient Gods of Eurasia tended to be human-like, rather than anthropomorphic, gods. Still, pests like foxes abound in their fables, but that might just have to be another post.