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Preventing Chronic Disease: Public Health Research, Practice and Policy

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Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal


Volume 4: No. 1, January 2007

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Cover of the January 2007 issue

When the universe was still so dark that not even shadows could be seen in the night, Grandmother Spider sat in her web in the Sky World, waiting and watching. No one knows how old Grandmother Spider is, or how long she sat waiting for the Universal Mind to awaken. But every Creature Being who has ever lived knows her song and dance as the weaver of the Web of Life. (1)

Although mythological traditions often focus on the threatening qualities of the spider, Native American society reveres the spider as a graceful weaver, creator, and teacher. Grandmother Spider of the Hopi tradition is the mother of all life. Together with the Sun she shapes thought into being, using her arts of molding clay and weaving to bring to life the forms of her imagination. She shares her artistry with her creation, teaching the Hopi how to spin and weave cotton. Cherokee stories credit her with bringing sunlight to her people, after larger creatures try and fail to steal it. Possum burns his tail and is left hairless and Buzzard burns the feathers of his head and is left bald, but Grandmother Spider is able to achieve what the others could not. She makes a pot of clay and spins a web that reaches to the other side of the world; because she is small, she goes unnoticed as she captures the sun in her pot and speeds back along the web to her side of the world. She brings to her people not only light but also fire and the craft of pottery making. Other stories speak of the Spider Woman as a spirit of great power who advises and teaches, a being of warmth and kindness who spins webs of creativity that connect and inspire all living beings.

These and other tales of Grandmother Spider are themselves the threads of an intricate and delicately woven tradition, adapted and reinvented over time by storytellers. In the same way, approaches to health throughout the lifespan are dynamic and changing, and this issue of Preventing Chronic Disease celebrates the richness and diversity of the weaving way,the knitting together of threads that make up every stage of life.


  1. The Healing Center Online. Grandmother spider and the web of life [Internet]. The Healing Center Online; 2000 [cited 2006 Dec 5]. Available from:*

Cover artist: Kristen Immoor
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The opinions expressed by authors contributing to this journal do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Public Health Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the authors’ affiliated institutions. Use of trade names is for identification only and does not imply endorsement by any of the groups named above.


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