Arachne, master weaver of fabrics and tapestries, was the daughter of a man involved in the rare purple dye industry. Only royalty and the spiritual elite were permitted to wear the colors produced by this prohibitively expensive dye. Various versions of her story exist, but somehow she ended up in a tapestry-making contest with Athena, credited by the Greeks as the inventor of weaving.

Some versions suggest that Arachne was boastful and arrogant, and Athena felt obliged to put her in her place. In other versions Athena’s motivation is jealousy. Arachne may be the original goddess of weaving. After both wove tapestries, the general populace was permitted to choose the winner. Arachne won with a cynical tapestry mocking the lifestyles of the Olympians, especially Zeus’ prodigious love life.

Whether Athena was enraged by the tapestry’s subject or whether she was enraged that Arachne won, she was not a gracious loser, nor did she ask for a rematch. Instead exactly what happened next also depends on the version of the story:

• Athena transformed Arachne into a spider.

• Athena hanged Arachne and then changed her into a spider.

• Athena slashed Arachne’s face with a shuttle; Arachne attempted to hang herself; Athena, allegedly motivated by pity, prevents her suicide by changing the rope into a web and Arachne into a spider, the ultimate weaver.

Arachne is a spider goddess of weaving. If she is anything like other weaving goddesses, she has a hand in weaving or transforming human destiny, too. Arachne may be among the spirits of Tarantism, the Italian dance cult, whose members are forced to dance until they drop, allegedly because of a spider bite. The entranced dancers also swing like spiders.

Spiders are classified as belonging to the Arachnid family.


Weavers, artisans, fabric artists, those who love spiders


A spider, woman, or hybrid of the two; even as a woman there will be some sort of arachnid reference.


Artist Gustave Doré (1832–1883) envisioned Arachne with a beautiful woman’s head and torso and spider’s legs.



Flower: Purple wolfsbane (beware: extremely poisonous!); spider lily


Images of spiders; silk and other luxury fabrics; your own handiwork


Athena; Fates (1); Weaving Maiden


Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.