(Old Spider Woman, Thinking Woman, S’ts’tsi’naku, Tse-che-nako, Sussistinako, Stich-tche-nako, Ts’its’nako)
This story is quoted from the book by Paula Gunn Allen called Grandmothers of the Light. Published in 1991 by Beacon Press.
Ooma-oo, long ago. The Spider was in the place where only she was. There was no light or dark, there was no warm wind, no rain or thunder. She was a great wise woman, whose powers are beyond imagining. No medicine person, no conjurer or shaman, no witch or sorcerer, no scientist or inventor can imagine how great her power is. Her power is complete and total. It is pure, and cleaner than the void. It is the power of thought, we say, but not the kind of thought people do all the time. It’s like the power of dream, but more pure. Like the spirit of vision, but more clear. It has not shape or movement, because it just is. It is the power that creates all that is, and it is the power of all that is.
In that place where she was alone and complete with her power, she thought about her power, how it sang to her, how she dreamed from it, how she wished to have someone to share the songdream with her. Not because she was lonely, but because the power’s song was so complete, she wished for there to be others who could also know it. She knew this was the power’s wish just as it was hers. For she and her power were together and of one mind. They were two, but they were the same thing.
So she thought to the power once and knew a rippling, a wrinkling within. Then she knew that she was old, and wrinkled, and that the power’s first song was a song of great age. The wrinkling became tighter, more spidery, stronger. It became in one place. She named that place Northwest. She knew the wrinkling had folded up on itself, enfolded on itself. She knew much of the universe, the great power, was contained within. Later the earth would be ripples and wrinkles, spidery lines of power folded and enfolded into a tight moving shape, and it would also hold the great power within, like a mother holds new life. Others would also imitate this time: walnuts and acorns, apples and pineapples, cactus and mountains, even the oceans would be like that. And humans, five-fingered beings, would grow wrinkled in their skins and brains, in honor of this time when she and the power made a song to form new life, new beings.
She was so happy with what she knew, so full of awe at the beauty of the song, that she thought again. And again she knew the rippling, the wrinkling, the running of spidery lines along the edges of the forming pouch of the power’s song, the folding and enfolding into a shape that held some of the power of all that is within. She knew that the place of that pouch, that bundle of her thought, her song, was in the Northeast. So humming and singing, she shaped them. That was how the directions came into being. How the seasons came to be.
She thought in her power to each of the bundles and continued singing. She sang and sang. She sang the power that was. The power that is everywhere and that has no name or body, but that is just the power, the mystery. She sang, and the bundles began to move. They began to sing, to echo her song, to join it. They sang their heart’s song, that was the same as Spider’s heart song, that was the heart song of great mystery, the power that moves. The song seemed to deepen as she heard other hearts singing. The song seemed more free, it seemed stronger. The two who rose up from the bundles with their singing each had a bundle of her own. And in each bundle the life of the universe rested, waiting until it was sung into life.
Spider named each of the beings; one she named Ic’sts’ity and the other she named Nau’ts’ity. They were not human beings, but supernatural beings. They did not have physical bodies because they were much vaster than even a planet, even a star. A star couldn’t contain all they were and knew, all they thought. Spider told each of them that they were to make more beings, so that the song could go on and on, so that she and the power could share the beauty with more and more beings. She told them that they would take from their pouches a part of the song and would sing it into fullness, into ripeness. They would need to sing the mystery in the way of thought to bring the lives in their bundles into being. They understood her directions because they were the song and the mystery. All of it and only a small piece of it. It was much vaster than they, and yet they could sing it into different shapes of being, different ways of singing, different parts of the great being song.
Ic’sts’ity began to sing a new chant: way-a-hiyo, way-a-hiyo, way-a-hiyo, way-a way-a-o. She sang and sang, thinking to her bundle, and around them as she sang swirling, whirling globes of light began to form. They began pushing outward in a great whirling spiral, a great wheeling multitude of stars, all singing as they circled and wheeled like great geese upon the void. As they spiraled outward, they grew larger and brighter. Around and around the still, invisible center where Spider, Ic’sts’ity and Nau’ts’ity sang. The whirled, the outer ones flinging themselves farther and farther from the center, great arms forming in the spiral dance, following the lines of the song, the lines of the power, reaching out farther and farther into the mystery, carrying the song in their light, in their fingers, making both the darkness and the light as they danced, finding the power coming to them from the darkness, flinging it out from them in the light. The power danced in the void, in the light, in the midnight reaches of the gleaming dark. It sang.
Then Nau’ts’ity began to sing her thought to her bundle. Aam-i-humm, humm, humm, aam-i-humm, humm,humm, aam-i-o, o, o, o, aam-i-o, o, o, o, aam-i-o. The song changed again as Spider and Ic’sts’ity joined her song, and from the brilliant globes of light new shapes spun out, dancing around and around the lights, giving shape and solidity to the darkness, carrying the spin of the song into new places, more solid, more full. The planets sang, new beings awakening, joining their heart song. The power shaped and dipped, wheeled and danced, and over vast reaches it took on forms it hadn’t known.
Satisfied with their work, Spider turned to her granddaughters and smiled as she chanted. In their begetting they would make many worlds, and upon some of them human beings would sing in the same way as she and her granddaughter-sisters sang. On those same worlds, feathered beings would swoop and wheel as the great fires around her did. And on them, life would press its way from the place of the Spider singing into the place of individual songs. And that would be far away from the place where the three stood. It would be right among them as they stood and sang in the void, surrounded by the wheeling lights and the great swooping dark.