Grandmother Spider Brings the Light
There are many versions of this story. I’ve based my story on a Cherokee tale and a version told by fellow storyteller, Dr. January Kiefer.
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Long ago, long, long ago…when the earth was very new, the animals had no fire. Why. without fire they kept bumping into one another, “Hey, watch it. You just stepped on my toe!” And, it was difficult to find food – no fire.
One day Raven came swooping down into the forest. He called for the animals to come together for he had big news. “I’ve seen it!” he cawed. “Fire! It is beautiful. Full of color!”
“Color?” cried the animals…”what is color?” For without light, there is no color.
“And heat!” cawed old man raven.
“Heat?" cried the animals…”What is heat?” For they had only known the cold of the dark.
“Someone must go and bring fire back, so we can all enjoy it,” said Raven.
The animals looked at one another. “And just where did you say that this fire is?”
“At the edge of the world. It is a long way away, but someone must go!”
So, Possum came forward. “I will go. I will bring the fire.”
Ah, Possum! Possum was small, but he was quite the little warrior. He was fearless. Now, Possum knew nothing about fire, so he did not prepare. The animals cheered as he ran…pucketa, pucketa, pucketa (encourage participation) and he ran pucketa, pucketa, pucketa…and he ran (slower) pucketa, pucketa, pucketa.
Poor Possum was out of breath by the time he reached the edge of the world. But, there it was… a lake of fire with orange and red and yellow flames, just like Raven told him. Because Possum did not know about fire, he stared at it, mesmerized by its beauty. Poor Possum’s eyes became dark and singed. Even to this day, Possum's eyes are sensitive to the light, so he goes out at night. He gathered up a hot, burning coal and placed it into his long, fluffy tail to keep it safe until he got back to the animals.
He turned and ran… pucketa, pucketa, pucketa, and he ran pucketa, pucketa, pucketa…and he ran (slowly) pucketa, pucketa, pucketa all the way back to the animals. He was so out of breath, he could not speak. The animals gathered around. “Where is the fire? Show us the fire!”
Possum got his second wind. “Here is your fire!” But, when he unfurled his tail, all the hair had burned away, the fire was gone, and possum was left with a bare tail to this very day. When possum saw that is tail was gone, he fell over in a dead faint! Poor Possum.
“Now who will go,” said the animals. “It must be someone fast.” So, buzzard swooped down.
“I will go,” said Buzzard. “I am swift. I will fly high over the mountains and lakes and rivers. I will bring back the fire.”
So, Buzzard stretched his wings and flew off into the dark sky. He flew on and on. Finally, he looked down and saw it – a lake of fire. But, Buzzard did not know about fire. He swooped down as fast as he could. Faster, faster…and then he felt it…the heat.
Never had he felt something so hot. Buzzard had nowhere to put the heat except into his beautiful headdress made of many-colored feathers.
There went Buzzard higher and higher. It was then that Buzzard noticed that his head was beginning to burn. Oh, poor Buzzard did not know that fire could burn, and fire burned every feather off his head. Buzzards to this very day have red, scorched and scarred heads from trying to bring back the fire.
Of course, when he got back, he had to tell the animals what happened to the fire. The animals felt sorry for Buzzard. Other animals tried – strong, fast, wise animals, but they all came back bearing a scar and…no fire.
Finally, one day, Grandmother Spider came forward. “I will go,” she said in her weak, humble voice.
“What?” cried the others “you will go! Hah! You are too little, too weak, too slow and…too old.”
“Yes, I am old, but I have listened to the stories you told about trying to get fire. I understand fire. I may be slow, but sometimes slow is better, and as far as being too little and too weak, I think not. Strength can be measured in many ways.
Unlike the other animals before her, Grandmother prepared for her journey. She found some wet clay and fashioned it into a small pot that she place on her back. Then, she set out for that lake of fire. Step by slow step, she marched on and on and on. It was a very long time by the time Grandmother Spider found the fire. She thanked the fire for its beauty and heat. She asked if she could have just a small coal to place in her clay pot. Fire gave Grandmother Spider a tiny coal. Now, the clay pot had had plenty of time to dry out and was ready for the fire. She put the pot on her back and started on her long, long journey back. As she walked the coal grew bright firing the inside of the pot to make it strong.
Finally, Grandmother Spider came home to her animal friends. They gathered around. “Grandmother, Grandmother!” they cried, “where is the fire.”
“Oh, now be patient. Gather some dry sticks and leaves and logs for me.” Quickly, the animals did as grandmother said. Then, she carefully poured out the red-hot coal onto the wood. Immediately, it burst into flames. The animals cheered. “Yes, Grandmother Spider. You have brought us the light.”
In Grandmother’s wisdom she took some of the sparks from the fire and placed them inside trees and rocks, so others could make fire without going to the Lake of Fire.
Grandmother Spider was very tired, but she knew she had to do one more thing. So, she took her pot and put in two coals and walked to the top of a tall mountain. There she threw the larger piece into the sky and that became the sun. Then she threw the smaller piece, and that became the moon. She then took the sparks at the bottom of the pot and threw them into the air and they became the stars in the sky. She then, spun a web around the universe. To this day, she pushes and pulls on that web so that the sun and moon and stars move to provide day and night and the seasons of the year.
It was Grandmother Spider who taught us many things. She taught us about pottery and weaving. She taught us about fire and light and dark. She taught us that we are all connected on the web - each one of us having our place in this world.
Other References for this story:
Grandmother Spider Steals the Fire Choctaw
Grandmother Spider Brings the Sun: A Cherokee Story
"The First Fire" - or - "How the Water Spider Captured Fire"
How Grandmother Spider Brought Fire to the People
Grandmother Spider Steals the Sun CHEROKEE
Grandmother Spider Steals the Fire Choctaw
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