- Considering how general is the dislike of spiders, they feature often and have mainly a positive reputation in English lore. The belief that it is unlucky to kill a spider is generally reported: '. . . If you are sweeping, and come on a web, don't destroy it till the spider is safe, when you may sweep away the web; but if you kill the spider it will surely bring poverty to your house', (Isle of Wight: N&Q 12s:3 (1917), 396). It is still considered lucky if a small spider alights on you, and these are thus generally called 'money-spiders' or 'money-spinners'. To ensure good luck, some believe you must throw the spider over your left shoulder, or, more elaborately, hold the thread by which it is hanging, pass it (and spider) three times round your head, and place the spider back where you found it (N&Q 5s:12 (1879), 229, 254, 277, 295, 518).One legend which seeks to explain our regard for spiders tells that on the flight into Egypt, when the Holy Family took shelter in a cave, a spider quickly spun its web across the mouth, and a dove laid an egg in the web. The pursuing soldiers thus concluded that the cave had been unused for some time and neglected to search it. This tale has numerous international parallels and is also told of King David and of Mahomet. A different story relates how the spider spun a beautiful web over Christ's manger in the stable (N&Q 169 (1935), 460; 170 (1936) 50, 212, 266, 303; Radford, Radford, and Hole, 1961: 317-18; Henderson, 1879: 312).Spiders do not fare so well in the realm of folk medicine, as the cure usually results in their death one way or another. A longstanding cure for ague or fever was to imprison a spider, often in a nut-shell, which would be worn as an amulet - Pliny (Natural History (ad 77), xxx) includes this cure, and English writers since at least the 16th century have also recommended it. Similar methods were used for whooping cough. Other cures involve eating the spider, for example as a cure for ague, taken with a spoonful of jam (N&Q 151 (1926), 404). Cobwebs were believed to have medicinal value in themselves. Mixed with bread and made into pills, they were another recommended remedy for the ague at least since the 17th century (N&Q 10s:1 (1904), 205, 273-4, 317-18). There are many who still believe that cobwebs slapped on a wound stop the bleeding.■ Opie and Tatem, 1989: 368-72; Black, 1883: 58-61; Lean, 1902: ii) (numerous references, the index in vol. iv is incorrect, referring to vol. i instead of vol. ii).
A Dictionary of English folklore. Jacqueline Simpson & Steve Roud. 2014.
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