The Woman who became a spider

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The complete tale



There was once a man and a woman who had a daughter, and they would have lived quite happily together if the daughter had not despised men. Her father wanted her to marry, but she always refused. Many young men came of their own volition, for she was a beautiful girl. It also happened that the father would bring home young men in the evening so that they might meet his daughter. But nothing helped; the mere mention of men made the girl bad-tempered, and if any came to the house, she went off on her own.One day her father told her that he did not bring men to the house in order to make her sad or to hurt her, but that she should remember that they had no son, and that she was their only daughter and their only child. Her mother and he would soon be old and for many years he would not be capable of providing them with food and clothing, and who would help them in their old age if they had no son-in-law?

Head without a body

These words made the girl very sad, and she wandered out into the great uneven, undulating plains, on which were many small hills. Suddenly a head jumped out of the earth among the hills, a head without a body, but the face was that of a very handsome man. And the young man smiled at the girl and said,”You don’t want to have a husband, but I come here to fetch you, and you must know that I come of a big and powerful race.”For the first time in her life the young girl was happy with a young man, and she lifted up the head and put it carefully in her fur coat and carried it home when it was dark. She slipped noiselessly into the house and put the head of the handsome young man beside her couch, and lay there and talked gaily and happily with the stranger, whom she loved because he was not like other men. Her father awoke and heard the whispering and giggling from his daughter’s couch and could not understand what was happening there. It was repeated during the coming nights, and the father was happy, for now he knew that at last he had a son-in-law and a hunter in the house.From now on the girl was always happy. Formerly she had stayed away from the village during the daytime so as to avoid the men, but now she often stayed at home and hardly ever moved from her couch. But the father and mother were very much surprised never to see their son-in-law.

Meat skewer

One day when the girl was out, it happened that the father pushed aside the fur rug on her couch to find out who kept his daughter company during the night. When he found the living head of a handsome young man, a head without a body, he was very angry. He took a meat skewer and thrust it through the young man’s eye and then threw the head out onto the rubbish heap, crying,”I have no use for a son without a body who could not hunt for us when we are old!”The head rolled away and went farther and farther over the plains in front of the house and at last disappeared into the sea, leaving a bloody track behind it.The following night the father and mother heard the girl crying and sobbing all through the night, and the next morning she asked where her husband was. The father answered that they had no use for such a son-in-law.”You are talking stupidly and you have behaved foolishly,” answered the girl, “for he was a capable man and not an ordinary human being, and now I will no longer remain at home with you.”

White lemming

The girl dressed and went out and followed the bloody track, which led directly to the sea. She wanted to dive into the waves, but they were as hard as wood and she could not. Then she went inland looking for a white lemming which was supposed to have fallen down from heaven, for she knew that lemmings had special magic powers hidden in them. At last she caught one and threw it into the sea, and at once the waves parted and a road opened, which she followed to the bottom of the sea.

Young man with one eye

In the distance she noticed a little house. She ran to it and looked through the window and saw an old couple with their son. The son lay on the sleeping bench and had recently lost an eye. The girl called,”Here I am! Come out!”The young man answered that he would not come out to her, and that he would no longer come after her, for her parents despised him. Even though the girl said she was never going back to her parents, the young man said he would never have anything more to do with her.The girl was very much depressed, and without knowing what she was doing, she ran three times around the house in the same direction as the sun circles around in the heavens. Then she saw two ways – one led straight ahead and to the earth, and the second went up to heaven. She chose the way which led to heaven, but when the man saw that he cried out to her that she was going the wrong way and should turn around, that she was going up to heaven and would never come back again. “It’s all the same where I go,” said the girl, “if you won’t live with me anymore!”Now the young man regretted his words but too late begged her to come back, for she only went higher and higher up to heaven, until she disappeared out of his sight.

Man with a copper kayak

The girl went on without knowing herself how she did it, and came at last to something that looked like a lid with a hole in it. But it was difficult to get to the hole, and she did not know how to get on. At last she took courage and jumped and got hold of the edge and swung herself through the opening and once more found air and heaven and land. A little to one side was a lake, to which she went and sat down so that she might die here and her body disintegrate. She didn’t want to think anymore. Life no longer meant anything to her. Suddenly she heard the splashing of oars on the lake and looked up and saw a man in a kayak. Everything he had-his kayak, his oars, and his har- poon-everything was of shining copper. The girl sat quite still and scarcely dared breathe. She did not think that anybody could see her in the deep grass in which she had hidden herself. The man sang:

A woman’s breast tempts a kayak,
Who crosses the shining lake
To caress soft cheeks.

As the man finished his song, he raised one arm high up toward heaven and dropped the other down toward the lake. The girl saw that the upper part of her body was naked and that her fur coat lay across the strange man’s arm.Again the man sang the song, and as he finished it and raised one arm and dropped the other, the rest of the woman’s clothing flew over onto his raised arm. The girl sat there naked and ashamed, and couldn’t understand what was happening to her. For the third time the man sang his song, but this time the girl lost consciousness, and when she came to herself, she was sitting beside the man in his kayak. The man rowed far away with her, far over the lake with his bright copper oars, which glistened wetly in the air. They did not speak to each other until they came to a place where they saw two houses. At the entrance to the village was a big house and in the background a small one. Then the man said in a stern voice,”You must go into the big house, not into the little one.”

Woman in seal gut

The girl did what the man told her and went into the big house, and the man rowed away. It was dreary in the big house, not a soul was in it, but she had hardly entered before a small woman ran in. She wore extraordinary clothes made out of the gut of a bearded seal. She cried out to the girl to come into the other house, for the man with whom she had come was danger- ous and would kill her. The girl came out at once and went into the other house. Here a little girl, with whom the extraordinary woman dressed in gut skins lived, sat on the sleeping bench.The young girl who had run away from the man she loved no longer thought about anything much. Sometimes she thought that she was already dead, but she heard what the others said and saw them go around the house, and the woman came and whispered to her that this time she was saved, but that the man with whom she had come was not an ordinary man, that nobody could resist him, and that soon he would come home and would be very angry that she had left his house. But the woman would help her, and she gave her a small cask filled with water in which were four small pieces of whaleskin. She told her that when the strange man came, she should hide at the entrance to the house and throw the pieces of whales kin in his face, for the woman had sung a magic song over her present, so as to make it strong.

Moon spirit

Soon the man came back in his kayak. He sat down beside the sea and called out that she should stay quiet in his house, that he would not do her harm, and that she could never be hidden from him. Then he came flying through the air like a bird, and circled his house four times and then came to the small house. There he picked up his bird arrow but cried out that he would not kill her.The girl stood hidden in the bend of the entry to the house and threw the pieces of whaleskin in his face. In the same moment he fell down out of the air and lost his strength. Then the three women went into his house, which was the house of the moon spirit, and it was the Man in the Moon himself which the little woman in the skins had made harmless for a time through her magic. The moon spirit is incalculable and can become dangerous; he takes, but he also gives, and man must sacrifice to him in order to share in the things over which he rules.The three women went into his house, and up in the rafters crowds of reindeer ran about. In the corner was a big water barrel, big as an inland lake. The women went to it and looked in and saw whales and walruses and seals swimming about.

People praying

In the middle of the floor lay the shoulder blade of a whale. The women pushed it to one side and saw an opening leading down to the earth from which one could see into the dwelling places of humans. One could see the people quite clearly and hear them calling out for all the things they wanted. There were some who cried out to be given whale meat. Others said they wanted a long life. The moon spirit is so powerful that he can give humans all these things.The young girl looked at the countries of the earth and discovered far, far below, Tikeraq, the largest place she knew. Here there were many women’s boats and many busy people. They were collecting water in small casks and throwing it up to the new moon so that they might have a good catch. It was all like a dream. She could not understand how she herself had got into all that, which she knew well from the stories that old people told. It was perhaps just a new moon, for the little woman in the skins had made the moon spirit unconscious. For as long as the moon spirit is weak, men sacrifice to him. They bring all their wishes before he becomes the big full moon, which can shine like copper.Now the girl saw how the people prayed to the moon for a good catch. Some of the men had such strong magic formulas that their water ladles came quite near to the moon spirit’s house. On the earth these water ladles were quite small, but here, through the magic words, they became enormous and were filled with cool, fresh water. These sacrifices are brought to sea animals, who often suffer from thirst. Sometimes a whale and sometimes a walrus and sometimes a seal was put into the ladles, which reached the house of the moon spirit. That meant that the man’s prayer was heard and his sacrifice accepted and that he would have a good catch. But those ladles which re- mained near the earth, down by the people’s dwellings, be- longed to the bad hunters who had no luck.

Rope of plaited sinews

The young girl saw all that and remembered the pleasure that followed a catch, and she became homesick, she who a little while ago had only thought of dying.The old woman in the skins and her little companion were sorry for her and wanted to help her get back to the earth. The three women plaited a rope out of the sinews of many animals, a very long rope which they rolled up into a ball as they plaited it. Soon it was finished, and the old woman said:”You must shut your eyes and let yourself down. But in that minute when you touch the earth, you must open your eyes quickly. If you don’t, you will never become a human again.”The young girl fastened the end of the rope tight in the heavens and took the great ball of plaited sinews and began to let herself down. She thought it would be a very long way, but she felt the ground beneath her feet soo’;er than she had expected. It happened so quickly that she didn’t open her eyes quickly enough, and she was changed into a spider. From her come all the spiders of the world-all come from the girl who let herself down from heaven to the earth by a rope of plaited sinews.