The art and practice of divining future events by interpreting the symbolic patterns resulting from the behavior of spiders.
The ancient Incas were practitioners of Arachnomancy. Everything, from illness, to the investigation of crimes, or the definition of what sacrifices should be made to what gods, could be answered by the observation of these creatures. When the diviner or Arachnomancer was consulted, he/she uncovered a large hairy spider which had been kept shut up in a covered jar. If any of the arachnid's legs were bent, it was considered a bad augury, and the divinatory process was halted.
If the spider's legs were straight, it was considered a propitious sign, and the magician would then proceed with the fortunetelling. After prearranging some coca leaves inside a shallow dish, the diviner would release the arachnid inside it, and read the oracular messages from the leaves repositioning achieved by the divinatory spider. The spider diviners, or Arachnomancers, were especially respected in the Chinchasuyo quarter, which included Central and Northern Peru.
According to Dorothy Proctor's Legends of the Stars (1922), in China it was customary at one time for the ladies of the Court, on the seventh day of the seventh month, to catch spiders and put them in incense-boxes for purposes of divination. On the morning of the eighth day the box was opened, and if the spiders had spun a thick web during the night the omen was good, but if the spider had remained idle, the omen was bad.
There are many superstitions associated with spiders. The Mohammedans will never kill a spider, because they say that when Mohammed was fleeing from his enemies, he hid himself in a cave, and a spider spun its web over the entrance in order to give it an unsuspicious appearance. Christians also consider to kill a spider unlucky, because a spider spun a web over baby Jesus to hide him from King Herod. Similar stories are told about King David and Frederick the Great.
A spider enclosed in a quill and hung around the neck will cure the ague; in cases of sore-eye or fever, the spider may be enclosed in a nut-shell and treated likewise. Seeing a spider in the morning means grief is around the corner; seeing a spider at noon, means anxiety; seeing a spider in the evening, financial hardship is in the horizon. Seeing a spider spinning her web signifies that someone is plotting against you; when spiders are many and spinning their webs, the weather will soon be very dry. If you see a spider climbing the wall you will have your dearest wish come true; if you find a spider in your clothes, some money is coming your way. A spider descending upon you from the ceiling is a sign that you will soon inherit riches; if the spider hangs and then goes back up to the ceiling, you are due for a run of exceptional good luck. If a spider builds its web across your door, you can expect company; if you walk into a spider web, you will meet a friend that day. If a big black spider comes into the house it is a sure sign of death.
In the southern regions of the West African country of Cameroon, the Fang, the Bamileke, the Kaka Tikar, the Banen and the Mambila peoples also practice Arachnomancy. They do it by observing the way spiders move special cards made from dried, flat leaves that are inscribed with peculiar symbols that supposedly indicate 'good' and 'bad' events.
These divinatory cards are made either from the leaves of particular trees, such as the rigid leaves of the "African plum" tree, or may be cut from the skin of raffia palm ribs. They are individuated with a set of ideograms; often each ideogram is repeated, once on one card, twice on another. Such pairs of cards are seen as 'bad' and 'good' respectively.
Large numbers of these leaf-cards are used. Paul Gebauer, in his study "Spider Divination in the Cameroons" published in 1964, mentions four sets of cards used by Yamba diviners. The numbers in these sets varied from 206 to 290 cards.
Contemporary Mambila diviners use fewer cards, 38 being the largest number of ideograms being used in one set, giving 76 cards in all. Most adult men apparently know at least the basic principles of this type of divination, even if they have not formally been taught how to divine. Some of the natives possess set of leaf-cards that are over fifty years old, representing a wide range of aboriginal legends and myths. It should be noted that among the Mambila, 'spider' divination is usually performed by land crabs (Sudanonautes (convexonautes) aubryi) although spiders are also used.
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