[Massimo Mangialavori/Hans Zwemke]
from “Bitten in the Soul”
Few animals engender in humans the degree of disgust or irrational fear that spiders do. It seems astonishing and absurd that neither the size nor the danger of spiders, apart from some rare tropical species, justify the degree of anxiety and panic that the spider causes.
The old term “hysteria” is an appropriate term for this state. This human reaction suggests that it is the spiders' special psychological significance, which is her real danger! What is this significance, and what is this danger?
We do not have a valid answer to this question and will not attempt one. Rather we are interested in the unique dynamic that exists between men and spiders. We believe that mankind has formed an archetype of the spider with certain stable elements.
This symbolism recurs and projects itself into the unconscious structures of our thinking and feeling. C. G. Jung refers to “archetypes” as preexisting an individual's personal experience of phenomena.
We firmly believe that recognizing and working with symbols and analogies can benefit homoeopaths' study of clinical cases.
We approach that symbolism first from the psychological side, and then look closely at the biological and ethological aspects of the spider that play an important role in detecting a spider-case. We are aware that some people do not fear spiders and may appreciate spiders as useful creatures or pets to keep in terrariums. The symbolism spiders generate is what is important. We are interested in the characteristics that people project onto spiders, which make up the myths expressed in fairytales, sagas, and legends.
Fundamentally, man has the fantasy of being victim to the spider, an absurd distortion of the biological reality. Spider images include the feeling of threat, an insidiousness, and ambush-like action, being caught in the spider's web, “a captivity in fetters.”
A second fundamental point is the extraordinary importance of the female gender of the spider.
Since Freud, psychoanalysis has brought these two aspects together - interpreting the spider's infantile, dream-like existence in man's subconscious as the wicked mother of whom the child is afraid. For the psychoanalyst Karl Abraham the spider represented not only evil but also the “phallic” mother. The biological fact that the male spider' size is smaller than the female means that copulation presents a risk to his life. Abraham made the connection between a scientific fact and the existence of a dreamlike symbol; the spider phobia was an expression of the fear of incest on the one hand and the fright of the devouring vagina on the other hand.
Analyst Erich Naumann interpreted the spider as a symbol for “captivity,” the evil mother who threatened partial autonomy, and drew parallels to the witch-character of the negative mother. With the notion “captivity” he described the life situation in which the individual, who in the course of natural development outgrows the forced dependence of the baby on the providing mother, and fights for partial autonomy, which feels threatened by the restricting and therefore, experienced-as-hostile, “evil” mother. Female puberty is the life-stage in which these conflicts become most notable. The pubertal girl's emotional world is marked by a double antagonism; on the one hand the maternal parent is experienced as competing and hostile; on the other her own burgeoning femininity is perceived as a burden and carrier of forbidden Eros.
In the Greek mythology this ambivalence is wonderfully expressed in the tales of Arachne (species of spiders is named Arachnidae), of Erigone (the name of a dwarf spider, Erigone atra, which is carried away by the wind on a thread extruded from its abdomen), but above all, of Io who we briefly sketch here (for a detailed description see Ovid, Metamorphosis). The male variation of this theme appears in the well-known story of Oedipus.
Arachne, daughter of Idmon from Kolophone, is motherless. So skilled in the art of weaving, she arouses the vivid admiration of all those who see her works. Instead of a humble pride in her skills, she haughtily challenges the goddess Pallas Athena. Out of rage and revenge the defeated, jealous goddess tears Arachne´s work to pieces, and converts the haughty girl into a spider. Athena transforms Arachne in the moment, when, deeply offended and humiliated by the destruction of her works that depict the
erotic escapades of godfather Zeus (what an offence to his virgin daughter born from his head!), Arachne is committing suicide by hanging herself on a tree.
Erigone, daughter of Icarius, is so beautiful and proud that even Dionysus needs to transform himself into grapes to seduce her. He has the wine passed to her father, who in turn offers it to some shepherds. They get drunk and, suspecting a spell, kill Icarius.
When Erigone comes home she goes in search for her father whom she finds dead. In desperation she hangs herself on a tree. Shortly afterwards, the mania of suicide infects the virgins of Athens who all rush to hang themselves. On the advice of the oracle of Apollon, this mass suicide will not stop before the feast of AIORA, during which
“the swing of the virgins" has been instituted. Dolls, hung on trees, are made to swing while some sing rhythmically. The feast is reserved for sexually mature girls preparing
to meet the opposite sex. It symbolizes the desperate search for their fathers and the suicidal refusal to accept their fate as women.
Io, Hera´s priestess, is tortured at night by voices in her virginal bedroom. She is urged to yield to the burning desire of Zeus. Inaco, her father, seeks counsel from the oracle and is advised to banish his daughter from his house, condemning her to wander the world like a lost soul. Io leaves her parents' house, but jealous Hera (sister and wife of Zeus and protective goddess of matrimony) pursues her, converts her into a cow, and turns her over to one-hundred-eyed Argos to guard. Zeus sends Hermes to rescue Io;
he puts Argos to sleep and kills him. But Hera then sends Oistros, horseflies, to torture Io with their bites, driving her mad. From the underworld Argos pursues her with hypnotizing melodies. The tortured one roams all over the Bosporus (Cowford), finding peace only when she reaches the banks of the Nile in Egypt. There. through a touch
of Zeus' hand, she regains her former shape and becomes a mother. In ancient Egypt she is revered as the fertility goddess Isis.
Those stories illustrate of an ancient world's of ideas. These themes have survived in the contemporary ritual of Tarantism (see below), in which illustrate in a spectacular way the connection of spider mythology to the timeless problems of menarche.
The origin of the Tarantism is in “Graeca magna,” which is ancient Greece including South-Italy. Its symbolism comes to us from Greek mythology (the fates of Io, Arachne, and Erigone). It is a mixture of old, pagan rites of initiation and later elements of a Catholic-Christian exorcism. The cultural origin of Tarantism was very religious and rigid. Everything related to the sexual and instinctive sphere was suppressed as sinful and could only take place secretly. But if one was “crazy,” if she had been bitten by a spider and driven crazy, she was allowed to give way to her instincts and behave in an “exhibitionistic" and openly sexual way. If she were ready for a healing cure, for the exorcism provided by dancing the Tarantella for days until exhaustion, purification would come. This was why adolescent girls, but also widows, spinsters, and neglected brides and wives pretended to be bitten by a spider. In Tarantism no men were bitten. The young women usually came from a family with a very dominant “phallic” mother, who controlled their daughters' every move with Argos eyes.
Once in a year, at the time of the solstice, which is the signal for the Tarentula to leave its cave under the ground and come to the surface, the adolescents escaped their misery, devoting themselves to the rite, able to move freely, without any hindrance, living out in a symbolic way their rising sexuality, purifying their souls from sin at the same moment.
The cult met a social need; the family, the village (the “society”) had to witness and endure; the attention of all was directed towards the Tarantata. She was dressed all in white and danced with a sword, a double-symbol of the sting of the spider and the penis, with which she touched herself near her vagina until blood was flowing.
The dance took place in a church; the Tarantata was sprinkled with holy water to purify her, surrounded by colorful shining flowers, while she danced grasping a white sheet hung from the ceiling. The music played a special part in this healing, freeing the body from the poison of the spider. It was fast, dynamic and repetitive in character, following the same simple melody and rhythm repeated until ecstasy took place. The dance was considered curative only if it was in rhythm with the Tarantata; she really loved it, and
it was played for her alone. Hours were needed to find the right rhythm and melody, and days of a wild continuous orgy of dancing before the cure finally took place with the Tarantata falling exhausted to the ground. The purification from the poison was not possible unless the musicians found the curative rhythm and kept playing it constantly.
The musicians periodically took turns to avoid becoming exhausted. This rite was repeated annually until the Tarantata's marriage.
The basic themes of the Tarantism are found in the details of homoeopathic cases of Tarentula hispanica and other spider-remedies.
Most homeopathic observations of the spiders refer to one frequently used spider Tarentula hispanica, a species living mainly in Mediterranean climates all over the world.
It was proved and introduced into Homoeopathy by Nunez and others. His report in the homoeopathic literature brought about some serious misunderstandings, though we will prove that these errors were fruitful! They document that a clinically successful remedy-picture can contain elements and observations, which do not find their origin in
a proving conducted on healthy people alone, but also come from cultural history!
Historically homoeopaths have understood many of the symptoms of Tarentula that Nunez related were effects of the bite of that spider, so to speak as if they were proving symptoms. It is as if Tarantism, with its annual ritual of healing through ecstatic dancing of the Tarantella, was a toxicological effect of a bite. Allen’s Encyclopedia of Pure Materia Medica cites Nunez in this respect, as does Clarke in his Dictionary of Practical Materia Medica, who copies. But not Hering in his Guiding symptoms; his critical review of the material does not mention those observations. These errors are still spread through copying!
There are big differences between the homoeopathic remedy-picture of Tarentula hispanica and the toxicological effect of this spider’s bite. All that is common is the fact of local irritation and abscess, which are slow to heal. Everything else stems from the homoeopathic proving of the potentized spider but in most essential parts arises out of cultural history. For us this is really exciting! There is much evidence about a strong similarity between the anthropological and psychoanalytical investigation of the phenomenon of Tarantism and the homoeopathic remedy picture of Tarantula hispanica, and all spiders in general. The similarity exists between the cultural background and symbolic meaning of Tarantism, the behaviour of the “hysterical” women who took part in this ritual of exorcism, and the clinical observations from people who need a spider remedy in homoeopathic potency.
Another obvious analogy, far from the proving symptoms in homoeopathy, is given between certain biological and ethological elements of spiders (their individual and characteristic expressive forces) and the characters, ways of living and pathology of patients (their individual and characteristic expressive forces) who respond to a spider remedy. This is a very interesting and striking relationship; it creates a completely new dimension of homoeopathic similarity and prescribing on an analogical level relating
to empirical data.
One is seduced to “explain” such relations between the expressive forces of spiders and human beings with “the doctrine of signature”, a theory of Paracelsus that has
become so popular in some homoeopathic circles nowadays. But we are far away from a satisfactory explanation of these phenomena, and actually don´t need them.
We shouldn´t forget that it is only our human perspective that creates such analogies and metaphors and not the spider itself that is “speaking” to us!
Characteristic Homoeopathic Themes of Six Spiders
As said above, the homoeopathic Materia Medica about spiders is comparatively small. Not only in relation to the huge amount of different species which constitute the zoological family of the Arachnida. Few provings have been carried out so far and the rubrics in our repertories mirror mainly clinical evidence from bites, some successfully treated cases and esp. for Tarentula hispanica cultural anthropological material!
The reader might ask why we didn´t include other spiders into this book like Tarentula cubensis, Lathyrus katipo and hasselti, Aranea ixobola or the scorpion Androctonus.
The answer is simply that we don´t have enough experience with these remedies. In case of the so-called Tarentula cubensis it is moreover very unclear which spider it was that reached North America, rotten in a broken glass!
The information that we are giving below has been derived from proven clinical experience made in the treatment of patients. The experience for each remedy comes from between10 and15 cases, which were cured with each remedy alone and observe a minimum of two years. From this material we “extracted” the essential themes, which are given below as an introduction to the cases which make up the second part of the book. These cases have been chosen because in our opinion they fulfill best the purpose of our book – to inspire our colleagues!
Activity: People who require a spider remedy (PSR) need to do, to work, to perform, but for them it's simply much more important to do anything than to reach a certain goal. Their work serves mainly as a way to be recognized or appreciated by the people in their environment (family or companions) as somebody who is very busy, industrious and an efficient worker. For this reason they need their activity seen; they must be done in front of others. Overdoing and overstressing demonstrates they are different, especially with the speed they perform. And they can do all this with a lot of energy but eating very little. (See Eating)
Complaining: PSR have a strong desire to be seen, to be watched, and in case of suffering, to be pitied. Showing others how much they are suffering makes others feel guilty. They have the idea that they suffer because of the family and the society that never allowed them to show and express their basic needs. By public suffering they take revenge. Their sadomasochistic drama is a way to handle the essential problem of their existence - to live together with, rather than leave, the people who they feel are responsible for their suffering. They may also lament they their own body is not working perfectly. So any health problem is perceived as gigantic, something that could lead to death. And the idea of death is very frightening, a place where you are alone with nothing to perform, no activity, and no public!
(See Hypochondriasis and Persecution)
Hypochondriasis: PSR are hypochondriacal and often exaggerate their complaints, giving the impression of severe organic pathology where there is none. They need to complain and dramatize their suffering. Often feigning sickness is an attempt to catch the attention of the doctor or another person. This puts them at risk of having their complaints dismissed as "psychological," further supporting their expectation that no one takes cares of their needs seriously. The real problem is often, not their chief complaint about which they are lamenting loudly, but an emotional wound about which they are silent!
Persecution: PSR are oversensitive to bullying and averse to being forced to do things they do not want to do. They present as tenaciously stubborn. It arises in the child’s from the feeling that their mother and family are trying hard to suppress their basic needs to eat, urinate, defecate whenever they want, and to have physical contact
(later sexual) whenever they need it. As adults they recognize society and its rules are responsible for this suppression, and may project the role of enemy on anyone.
They feel different and misunderstand, and resent those who want to put them into a cage like their family and mother did.
Nolimetangere: PSR are suspicious. Returning to the theme of PERSECUTION, they have difficulty trusting others. Because they felt misunderstood by their own family, later it becomes difficult to trust anyone else. They have a difficult relationship with their own instincts, which are not integrated. They perceive as a sin the pleasure coming from satisfying their physical needs. To touch, to arouse the senses by having physical contact becomes dangerous and can cause a violent reaction. They project this feeling
of danger on people, who are then experienced as enemies that they must to keep far away from their off-limits area, and consequently may get more attention than they do! This avoidance of close contact and territorial feeling, leads to isolation from others. Their isolation, on the other hand increases their general misanthropic attitude and the sense of being surrounded by enemies, and on the other serves as a justification for their strange behavior and ways of existing.
Hypersensitivity: The excitement of PSR senses leads to an experience that borders on painfulness. They not only over-move and over-do, they also over-feel. A person with a sense of persecution is always in a state of alarm, and all his senses have a lowered threshold where stimulation is perceived as noxious. The hypersensitivity also relates to the theme of Complaining and Hypochondriasis, because the enhanced sensation of pain is perceived dangerous and life threatening.
Stinging Pains: Very often PSR perceive pain as a "sting". The idea of penetration, of being wounded and penetrated is strong and difficult to integrate because of their adolescent, immature state of sexuality, which limits their ability to handle instincts in a relaxed way. (See Persecution and Nolimetangere.)
Dyskinesia: PSR have an altered sense of rhythm in life, they are speedier than others. To adjust to the pace of others, PSRs have to move with the hand brake constantly pulled up. Their movements tend to be exaggerated, analogous to their over-activity in general. Their kinetic energy, difficult to regulated, leads to an impulsive pattern of movements. What we see is like a motion picture in which a surplus in kinetic energy is combined with an element of over-control. Moving excessively and then controlling the movement too much is an inefficient way of utilizing energy and results frequently in strange motion patterns, which can be quite comical. This involuntary motion fulfills their strategy for public attention and contributes to the general idea of "hysteria" in these remedies. The exaggerated motion is similar to patients with Parkinson’s Disease who lift their leg too high for a normal step, and who have difficulties initiating movement when excited, especially if somebody is watching them. In this state music is helpful, because when they tune into the rhythm they move more easily. (See Music)
Periodicity: PSR experience a rhythm in their life and feel everything should be connected to this rhythm or periodicity. Corresponding to the periodicity and rhythm in their chest, (the heartbeat, the breathing in and out) which is the centre of their perceptions, emotions, and somatic sensations, which they cannot escape from. They feel themselves subject to strange fate, which repeatedly punishes them for their sins. It's interesting that this theme was strong in the Tarantula, women who pretended to have been bitten by a Tarantula and repeated the ritual of exorcism each year.
Time: PSR have an altered sense of time. Many describe an inner restlessness and definite have the impression that they are running out of time. This leads to a strong inner driven feeling and a great urge to do things in a hurry. Because their movements are much faster than others, they tend to become impatient when others can’t match their speed, or if they find obstacles in their way. For PSR slowness means standing still; for them and standing still means death. They feel well only when moving.
Music: The pathology and vital energy of PSR are ameliorated by hearing music. But music alone is not enough. They are attracted to a specific kind of music. It has neither
to do with melody or harmony, nor the highly elaborated classical music or the inner dimension. For them music has to be a rhythmic, loud, and repetitive. Only this kind of music gives rises to the experience of being in tune with their surroundings. With this music they perform well on all levels. But here also their need to be seen articulates itself, especially when they dance. Here society allows them to be as wild as they want, where they can let go their instincts without a bad conscience.
Food: For PSR the relationship with food is a problem because eating interferes their need for independence. Eating creates emotions closely connected with the mother;
the refusal of nourishment symbolizes the rejection of the control of the mother. During childhood PSRs often must cope with very ambitious, masculine mothers, who restrict their childrens’ basic needs creating great strain, instead of protecting them with a loving attitude. As we said when discussing the strategy of Complaining, refusing any food shows demonstrates their suffering due to maternal control and presents a picture of “pseudo-anorexia.” We say "pseudo" because their goal is not really self-destructive. They do not risk death otherwise the game is over. Their aim is to make the mother suffer for her controlling behavior.
Later in life, not eating, or eating ever so little, demonstrates efficiency in maintaining their high energy, and their independence from the source of nourishment, symbolically the mother. The idea a very efficient body is like having a “light-weight, performance, racing-machine, ”a term from the world of the racing-bikers, one full of PSRs. They will not eat too much. Any food must be light, easy digestible, and give a lot of immediately available energy. They are averse to the perception of a heavy lump in the belly.
Thirst: PSR have a strong desire to drink, but more so to take in food in a liquid form. They want to fill their stomach by drinking instead of eating solid foods. (See Eating)
Tobacco: It is a common observation and also reported in our literature that smoking tobacco ameliorates PSR. What is most astonishing about this phenomenon is its appearance in a pathology for which the contrary would be expected, conditions like in angina pectoris or asthma. Smoking, they say allows them to feel better, and often its the truth. This indicates that not only do they feel different subjectively, but objectively they are different.