The Story of the Spider and Lady Mary.
ONE day a spider, meeting the Holy Mother, challenged her as to which of the two could spin the finer thread. The Holy Mother accepted the challenge, and started to spin a very fine thread indeed. But, however fine her thread was, the yarn spun by the spider was much finer, and then, to add to the discomfiture of the Holy Mother, the spider let himself down on one of its threads and remained dangling, and, turning to the Holy Mother, he said to her: "Can you do anything like it?" And the Holy Mother replied, "No"; and being angry she cursed the spider, and said, "Thy web shall be of no use to anyone, and because of thy spite, whoever kills thee shall be forgiven three of his sins."
We meet the spider again in controversy
with the Holy Mother on a more dramatic occasion.
She was searching for her son, and going to St. John, she asked him what had happened to him, as she had not seen him for some time. "The cruel people have taken him and are torturing him." Going on her way she met the carpenters, who said to her that instead of making a light cross they had made a heavy cross. She cursed them, saying, "May you work all the year and see no profit."
Then she met the smiths, who, instead of making short nails, had made long nails, and she cursed them likewise. She came to the gate of the palace of Pilate, and on her touching the gate, it opened, and going in, she saw all that happened. On her way, weeping and crying, she met a flight of swallows, who asked her why she was crying and weeping, and she replied, "My only son has been taken away from me." And they replied, "Do not weep and do not cry, for three days hence thou shalt see him alive, thou and thy friends."
And the Holy Mother blessed them, that they should always be welcome in the house of the people, that they should nest on the roofs, and that no one should disturb them, and that whosoever should kill a swallow should be guilty of three sins.
Going further, she met the spider, and the spider asked her why she was weeping and crying, and she replied, "My only son has been taken away." And the spider replied, "You may cry till the day of doom; what is gone is gone, and can never come back again." Next to the spider was standing the mouse, and the mouse chimed in: so the Holy Mother cursed him and went on her way, but finding that her way led her nowhere, she came back the same road.
When she had gone, the mouse said to the spider: "The Holy Mother has not blessed us, so I think you had better make a rope and stretch it from tree to tree, and I will dig a pit underneath, and when she comes back we will hang her by the rope and throw her into the pit."
But the Holy Mother knew what they were plotting, and when she came back, she said:
"Thou ugly and spiteful spider, worms shall settle on thee, and by thy own rope shalt thou hang. All the days of thy life an unclean animal shalt thou be. And thou, O mouse, who hast plotted against me, thy habitation shall be henceforth in the pits and hollows of the earth, and thou shalt be an unclean beast. Whatever thou touchest shall be defiled, and whoever kills thee or the spider shall be forgiven three sins." And so it has remained to this very day, the spider hanging on its own rope, and the mouse lying hidden under the earth, and both are killed by men and beasts.
This same legend has become a carol which is also used as a charm.
Why are the spider and the mouse accursed?
The Story of Lady Mary, the Mouse and the Spider (a Charm).
AFTER the crucifixion, the Lady Mary went along crying and weeping in pain and grief for that they had crucified her son. Wherever she went all the creatures wept with her, and the flowers in the grass of the field bent low in sign of mourning. A flight of swallows met her in the beautiful meadow, and seeing her crying, comforted her, and said: "Do not weep, for thy son will come to life again three days hence, and will show himself to thee and to the Apostles." Then the Lady Mary became more comforted, and said to the swallows: "Ye swallows from this day on shall be the cleanest birds on the face of the earth, and the house at which you build your nests will be a happy one, and whoever destroys your nest shall be cursed." The Lady Mary went on her way, and passing on her way she met a spider weaving his web, and a mouse burrowing in the ground. When they saw her weeping they mocked at her, and said: "In vain dost thou weep and cry. Know that thy son is dead; he will never come to life again, although thou mayest believe it." But the Lady Mary replied: "My child is the son of God. He will do what he wills." And she went on her way. She went on until she came to another forest. Fearing that she might lose her way she returned the same way as she had gone. The spider and the mouse, seeing that she had not blessed them, took counsel together to hang her on a rope and to kill her the next time they met her again. And the mouse said to the spider: "Now thou weave a rope and get it ready, and upon that rope we will hang her as soon as we set our eyes on her." A short time afterwards the Lady Mary returned, and came back to the same spot. Meanwhile the spider had woven a strong rope, and had tied one end to a branch of the tree, and the mouse had digged a deep pit under that tree. But the Lady knew what they had intended, and she said: "Thou, O spider, hast woven a rope for hanging me, thou shalt always dangle on a rope. Thou shalt be unclean and full of vermin, and whoever catches thee shall kill thee. And thou, O mouse, thou shalt be so dirty from this day onwards, that wherever thou diest that place shall become unclean, and whoever sees thee shall kill thee, and whoever will kill a mouse or a spider God shall forgive him three sins." And as she had said, so it has remained to this very day. From that time on the mouse and the spider have remained accursed.