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Published:November 11th, 2011 10:07 EST
Did Native Americans Give Us Spider-Man?

Did Native Americans Give Us Spider-Man?

By Will Nixon

Maybe monotheism is too much for us. It suggests a divine unity, a state of perfection, a clarity of purpose, a feeling of wholeness that evades us in our daily lives of conflicting emotions and intentions. Who can be One with God? Who can be One with him or herself? Only relatively recently in human history has anyone tried. For the longest time our ancestors, as hunters and gatherers, believed that the spirits inhabited the animals and places all around them. By the era of the ancient Greeks power had moved upstairs to Mount Olympus to be wielded by gods who were superhumans, similar to us in their family squabbles but immortal. Then came monotheism to consolidate.

Under the Greeks, the mere mortal who had a wife but a sudden attraction for a young miss knew that the gods were playing with him. Under God he had only himself to blame. I`ve long thought that we still yearn for a polytheistic world in which our conflicts are not our failings but simply the way the forces work through our lives. And I see this polytheistic world offered up for our pleasure every time I go to the comic book movies. What is X-Men if not the old gods reborn? I was heartened to learn from Evan Pritchard`s Native American Stories of the Sacred the following:

A young artist named Jack Kirby, born in 1917, grew up with an enduring fascination with world mythology and with comics. Kirby was especially interested in the Hopi, and imitated Hopi designs and patterns in his drawing style. Over time, he became known as "King of the Comics,` and his enduring interest in ancient Hopi myths influenced millions. Kirby`s most personal work of genius, the unfinished "Four Worlds` series, was based on the Hopi myth of Creation by the same name. One can also see his devotion to the Hopi in the creation of his Terrible Totem villain, a wooden character that is an amalgam of several Hopi katchinas and monsters.

At that time, comic book story writers saw themselves as part of a tradition of heroic fiction, and so did not usually extract wholesale from existing myths but used elements creatively according to their particular genius. This was the way in which Jack Kirby brought the spirit of the Hopi hero myths to millions of young Americans in the 1950s and 1960s during a time in which people were struggling to find more earth-friendly values.

Jack Kirby (with Stan Lee) invented Spider-Man, who embodies many of the qualities of Grandmother Spider, also known as Spider Woman. Kirby and Less also invented X-Men, whose original characters included The Beast (the forerunner of Beast Boy, a shape-shifter based on Hopi mythology), Ice Man (somewhat like the North Wind of Ojibway stories), Marvel Girl (who is telepathic, and can "talk in someone`s ear` without being seen, but in a different way than Spider Woman can), and the Cyclops (from Greek myth). Later X-Men included Mystique, who is a shape-shifter. Kirby then invented the Incredible Hulk, who is perhaps like Man-Eagle in many respects, only good.

Then he created the Fantastic Four, an arch-enemy of whom was called the Mole Man. Unlike the helpful Mole Man in "Son of Light Defeats the Monster,` this one is a subterranean menace who controls and unleashes huge monsters upon the Fantastic Four. The Four include the Thing, a rock creature not unlike the Dene (Navajo) Rock Monster Eagle, Tse ninahaleeh, who lives on Shiprock Mountain; Mr. Fantastic, who stretches; Invisible Girl, essentially like Grandmother Spider who makes herself so small she becomes invisible; and the Human Torch, similar to the Kokosori Zuni fire katchina who descends from the hills to start the Zuni ceremony of shalako on the first week of December. Perhaps contact with these characters has opened our subconscious minds to the teachings of the Hopi, the Peaceful People."

Until now, I`d been impressed by the s(e)xual theory of Spider-Man, namely, that he was a dutiful but hormonal young man whose awkwardness around women found relief in his secret life in which great amounts of bodily fluids shot out from his hands. Masturbation is no longer a sin, but a heroic act. Now I prefer to think that he truly has the spider in him.

The spider has shown up in myth and lore throughout the world. Usually its symbolism has been very similar wherever it is used. In India was associated with Maya, the weaver of illusion. It has had connections to the Fates in Greek mythology and Norns in Scandinavian lore "women who would weave, measure, and cut the threads of life. To the Native Americans, spider is grandmother, the link to the past and the future, " notes Ted Andrews in Animal-Speak: The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great & Small.

The spider awakens creative sensibilities. It weaves a web of intricate and subtle fabric, as if to remind us that the past always subtly influences the present and future. Often the webs will take a spiral shape, the traditional form of creativity and development. The spider found within the web reminds us that we are the center of our own world. The ancient mystery schools had one precept inscribed above their portals: "Know Thyself and Thou Shalt Know the Universe!` Spider reminds us that the world is woven around us. We are the keepers and the writers of our own destiny, weaving it like a web by our thoughts, feelings, and actions."

What could be more amazing than that?