Part of my and many other's late-spring ritual is cleaning the flowerbeds, the garage, and yard of the clutter, mess and spider webs. Many, many times, I have quickly pulled back my hand while suppressing a "girl-like" scream at the sight of a large wolf spider or other eight-legged little creature. Don't judge me: Spiders can be intimidating.
Though sometimes scary, spiders in the Midwest seldom have enough poison to harm people and our culture has a rich history of folklore and superstition regarding spiders and their roles in our lives.
Did you know spiders are used to promote personal hygiene/vanity? Ever hear the legend of the spider nest in the hair? The beehive was once a popular hairstyle. In the 1960s, young women would tease their hair to the extreme and would wear their hair, much like a beehive, on the top of the head. The legend is that one particular woman who was obsessed with her hair would keep the hair in perfect form by not washing it. She would simply add more and more hairspray to keep all the hairs in perfect place. Refusing to comb out her hair, she faints and is taken to the hospital. At the hospital, her hair is combed out and reveals an infestation of thousands of tiny spiders. As with any other youth-drive fad, adults frowned on the new "do" and created this urban legend to encourage youth to either abandon the "do" altogether or to promote cleanliness. (Brunvand, 1993).
Another hygiene folk tale is the belief that people swallow an average of eight spiders a year while they sleep. Completely false, this legend is a huge testament of the power of e-mail and its ability to spread falsehoods. (Snopes.com, 2011).
Spiders are considered the friends of man. Here are a few friendlier superstitions. Spiders are also called money makers/spinners.
A spider on the clothing means money is coming. If you see a spider web near a door and if it has your initials in it, you will have good luck forever.
If you kill a spider, it will rain -- which one of you readers caused the spider killing inducing rain this spring?
A spider dropping on you from above is a sign that a present is coming. In Native American culture, a web is placed in a hoop above a baby's crib to catch harm before it gets to a child. (Funk, 1984).
We also have folklore that uses spiders for remedies. In England, people would wear a spider in a silk sac or in an empty nutshell around the neck for good luck or to ward off ailments. Live spiders were sometimes rolled in butter and swallowed, or taken with molasses, or sometimes rolled in a cobweb and swallowed like a pill. Yuck!
One particular folk cure stated that swallowing handfuls of balled up spider webs cured asthma. (Funk).
The following are some truths about spiders: We primarily have only two poisonous spiders in Indiana, the Black Widow, and the Brown Recluse.
Ninety-nine percent of Indiana spiders are not harmful to humans. Spiders help to control the populations of other insects. I personally am not crazy about spiders or any other bug.
When I find spiders in my basement, I leave them alone -- I seldom go into the basement anyway. When I find them in my house, I kill them. I should probably contain them and release them outside, but I honestly know that I will not because it is just so much easier to suck them up in the Dust Buster.
I know they help control other bugs, but if I see other bugs, I'll kill them too!