Artemis (my namesake) is the Greek Goddess of Nature and the Moon. She was the protector of women and small animals. So knowing that, it seems quite a contradiction that I came into this world with an unfathomable terror of spiders. Unless they were one of those teensy, weensy, almost invisible “money spiders”, they were the “terriblest monster” to me.
I ran screaming (yes literally, screaming) into another room whenever I spotted one. And this has been happening for as long as I can remember. In fact, as a child I used a torch each evening to check in my bedsheets and under my bed for spiders. They were worse than any boogey man.
Now, knowing what I know, I realise that sometimes….just sometimes…..entities will choose the form of things we are scared of, and that’s how they will appear to us. I was very sensitive to energies as a child, so perhaps my fear of the physical creature came from the metaphysical creature.
It wasn’t only spiders I was scared of as a child. I also feared the long walk down the hallway at night, to go to the toilet. Every evening when my bladder couldn’t take it any longer, I’d call out to my parents and wake them up before I’d brave the walk of death.
So yes, my childhood was very fear-ridden – sometimes from the things I could see, sometimes from the unseen world, and the images and feelings that conjured up for me.
Then, in my early teens, my parents commissioned a series of beautiful paintings from an artist on the Gold Coast. These paintings of blue and fawn eucalypt forests still hang in my Mum’s home today.
My brother and I still recall a particular trip we did to this artist’s home. When we were in his garden, playing with a toy train, a large spider crawled out. “Watch out!” the artist called out to us, and pushed us away. That’s a funnelweb!
And then he killed the spider, and cut its abdomen open, and showed us the “coils” of poison inside.
Now, was this possibly a dream that I'm recalling?
I’m 3 years older than my brother, and he doesn’t remember anything about the coils in the abdomen…but he does remember us being at the artist’s home, and he remembers the spider, and the artist showing us something about its abdomen (after it had been opened).
Spiders don’t have coils in their abdomen. That’s not where their venom is located. But they do have a digestive tract there, and their silk glands and spinnerets, and heart and reproductive system. So was he “pulling our leg”, or trying to scare us…or is this something he believed to be true?
I can’t tell you. I can only say that this encounter did nothing to settle my fear of spiders. Instead, it became far worse.
So let’s fast forward 20 years. I’m in my 30’s and 40’s, happily married….and any time I saw a spider, I’d evacuate the room and call my husband to catch it and put it outside. I didn’t like killing any creature, no matter how much it scared me….but there was no way that I could get myself near a spider. It was like a giant shudder starting in the core of me and radiating out, until it overtook me in a wave of panic. So I’d run. And scream.
If you’ve ever experienced a phobia, you will know exactly what I’m describing. There is no rationality involved. There is no self-control. There’s just pure fight/flight, and a primal call to “kill or be killed”.
But then, my marriage ended. I was no longer cocooned in the safety of a relationship, with another person to rescue me from all things scary in the world. Now, it was only me.
When it was just me, I quavered inside and used the long pole of the vacuum cleaner to vacuum any spider I saw (silently begging the God of Spiders for forgiveness). Phobias are like that. They override every ounce of belief (in my case, in the sanctity of life), and take us into a world of pure survival – us or them.
This was my dirty little secret. It was something that distressed me so much, yet I felt powerless to change it.
But then, Spirit intervened.
I want to Segway here and say, “Isn’t our journey in life so utterly, breathtakingly profound?” Just when we think we can’t be saved from ourself, life delivers the perfect lesson. Wherever the hard edges lie in our outer shield, Spirit will somehow find a way of presenting that perfect lesson (or series of lessons) to lead us through it, to the other side.
And boy, have I had some “doozies” of lessons in my lifetime! And I’ve worked through each of them with as much tenacity, acceptance and Grace as I have been able to muster at the time.
So now, let’s return to the 8 legged monster.
It was 2017, and I’d just been to my favourite massage therapist. He said to me, “Artemis, what do you do for fun?” and I looked at him like he’d grown two heads.
Fun? I’ve always been a serious, deep thinking, spiritually perceptive book worm. Fun is so far from being my middle name, it’s like a city I’ve never visited before. I feel light. I feel joy. I feel expansive. I feel elevated. I feel filled with Spirit. But fun???? That’s for ordinary folks. And I told him so.
But that weekend, I did something extraordinary. As part of my volunteer wildlife work, I decided to attend a 2 day course learning how to catch, handle and release venomous snakes. I know, crazy, right? Well, it is for most people. But I’ve never been that normal.
I’ve had a long-standing fascination with snakes, and although I have a healthy respect for them, I’m not phobic about them. Instead, I’m curious. And that course stretched me waaaaayyyyyy out of my comfort zone. The very first time I caught a highly venomous Eastern Brown Snake, I had so much adrenaline flowing through me that I sat down and burst into tears.
That weekend I captured and released 7 Red-Bellied Black Snakes and 8 Eastern Brown snakes, plus a variety of other species.
And you know what? It was the most fun I’d had in years!!!
I went home feeling pretty darn chuffed with myself. I was the proverbial peacock with its chest puffed out in pride, and feathers doing a happy dance of vibrant colours.
And when I got home, I walked into the bathroom to take a shower….and there, on the shower screen, was a mid-sized huntsman spider, about 5 cm from leg tip to leg tip.
I looked at this spider (and I’m sure it was eyeballing me, too)…..and instead of racing for the vacuum cleaner, I turned and went into the kitchen. I grabbed a large plastic tub, carefully approached the spider, put the tub over it and then slipped the lid underneath.
My heart was absolutely thumping in my chest, far worse than when I’d had to catch the venomous snakes. But I did it! And (still shaking), I walked outside, opened the tub, and released the spider.
It was a small step for mankind, but a HUGE one for me.
So let’s fast forward again. It’s the following week, and there is another snake course on. I booked into it, thinking “the more practice, the better”. But this was a hot day, the snakes were warm and more feisty than the week before. I had a different trainer, and he was more gruff and critical than the trainer of the previous week. Although I still managed to catch a bunch of snakes, I went home feeling a bit less like a peacock. Humility stepped into the driver’s seat, and I realised I still had a lot to learn.
So here’s me arriving home, exhausted after a long drive and a big day in the sun. I walked through my front door straight into the kitchen….and there, on the wall above my fridge, was the biggest spider I’ve ever seen in my life.
It was as furry as Star Wars’ Chewbacca, and like no spider I’d ever seen before. “Wolf spider!” I thought. They’re furry. That must be what it is!!! And no kidding, this spider was 15 cm from foot tip to foot tip.
You might have thought that my spider-catching from the previous week had given me some confidence, but any shred of confidence completely flew out the window at the sight of this particular 8 legged monster.
Things only got worse when I reached out for help from my friend, Mr. Google.
I looked up Wolf Spiders, and read that the bite from one of these can kill a cat (and I have 3 feline fur babies).
I was shaking in fear, fully back in survival mode, and picked up the phone and rang one of my fellow wildlife volunteers. “Bobby,” I sobbed into the phone, “Do we rescue spiders? I have one here that’s so big….can you help me….pleeeaaaase?”
There was a pause at the end of the phone, as Bobby digested what I’d just said. His reply was perfectly tempered. He said, “So Artemis, let me get this right? You’ve just spent the day catching 2 metre long Eastern Brown snakes, where one bite could kill you….but you’re arachnophobic?”
“Yes!!!” I gasped. “Can you help me?”
And his reply was like the slamming of a door in my face. “Sorry Artemis, no we don’t rescue spiders. I would do it for you, believe me….but I’ve had a couple of red wines, so I can’t drive, sorry.”
There was no way I could sleep with a spider this big in my kitchen, and by this stage I was back in survival mode – kill or be killed. So I regretfully reached for the vacuum cleaner. I turned it on, and pointed the nozzle at the spider.
And do you know what? This spider was soooo large, it wouldn’t fit down my very powerful vacuum nozzle! Instead, it bunched itself up and stood really high on its legs, and I suddenly had this flash of feeling from it. I sensed its innocence – as if it was saying to me, “I’m just here. I’m not hurting anyone! What are you doing???”
A wave of compassion came over me. It was minding its own business, and the fear was entirely mine.
With my cats locked away in the bathroom, I locked myself in my bedroom and cried myself to sleep. I was torn between a phobia that I had no control over, and a compelling love of animals.
That conflict was now in plain view for me to see.
I couldn’t shove it under the carpet any more by disassociating myself from spiders and telling myself they don’t feel anything….. because they do.
The next day, I walked out to the kitchen, uncertain what I would find. Would the spider have found its way back into the roof cavity (where I assumed it had come from)? With a huge wave of relief, I saw no sign of it. There were a few dangly strings from the eave above me. This home had high ceilings with exposed beams. But no spider….at least, that’s what I thought.
But the next day when I walked into the kitchen, those dangly strings had manifested into spider’s legs, and it was back again, huger than ever. I just simply couldn’t fathom the size of it! I’d never, ever seen a spider like this one. It was the Grandaddy of all Grandaddy’s.
In utter inner conflict, I went for a walk on the beach. And as I walked, Spirit came to me. “You know what you need to do, right?” Spirit said. And I did. This was MY lesson. It couldn’t have been presented to me in any clearer way. It was my time to face my fears.
I’d been stretched out of my comfort zone with the snake course the previous weekend, and given a level of confidence in my ability to tackle scary things. Then I’d been given a medium-sized spider to practice on. Then another snake course to build my confidence even more. And now I was being given the real lesson. And the lesson was for me to remove this spider from my home. It wasn’t for me to kill it. It wasn’t for me to beg someone else to rescue me from it. It was a lesson purely for me.
As I walked on the beach, I formulated a plan. I had a horseshoe shaped massage table head cushion with a moulded cover over it. I would take that cover, pop it over a broom, somehow entice the spider to hop onto the broom for me (maybe sing it a lullaby at the same time), and I’d carry it outside.
That was the plan. And it almost went to plan.
The cover perfectly fitted the broom. I held the broom up to the spider, and in my mind I was saying, “Come on, jump! I’ve got this beautiful broom here and I can carry you outside!”
But instead of jumping, it stood up on all of its legs. Like a cat that’s seen another cat, it bushed its fur so much that it became the furriest, ugliest monster I’ve ever seen….and of course, that made it look ten times more terrifying than it had previously looked.
Yet the one thing I have learnt about spiritual lessons is this. When we know we’re facing a lesson, somehow that gives us a well of courage far beyond our normal resources.
So I was utterly patient with Mr or Mrs Spider. For 10 minutes, I gently presented the landing post to it….
And you know what?
It finally hopped on. I could hardly believe it! And I ever so carefully carried it outside, and placed it into the bushes.
It was only later that I discovered it was in fact a “brown huntsman”. Growing up in QLD, we’ve only had the regular huntsman spiders – long legged beasts that are super-fast and scurry across walls like they’re on NingXia Nitro.
But the brown huntsman (pictured below) is something entirely different. It’s a larger hairy spider, growing to 15cm in leg span (leg tip to leg tip). Its front legs are larger than its rear legs so it tends to crouch, rather like a crab, whereas a regular huntsman is almost flat on the wall.
Since that day, my phobia has slowly dissipated.
I started being presented with spider after spider after spider inside my home. And I’d catch each and every one of them, and put them outside. My vacuum cleaner became obsolete in the human-spider survival game.
That was just over 5 years ago, and now I absolutely love and respect spiders. There is no fear, and in fact I have a tender spot for them. If I meet a particularly big one, I might get a ripple of energy across my skin as I catch it….but catch it I will.
And I’d swear that they understand me!
When I approach them with a plastic tub and let them know I’m not going to hurt them, they stand ever so still. I put the plastic over the top of them, they crawl onto the side of the plastic, and I slide the lid underneath.
I’ve even handled a few of them bare-handed, when needed. There was one a few weeks ago that had got its legs caught up in another spider’s web. It was quite a small one, only about 2.5cm across. It had wrapped its legs so effectively in spider’s web that it looked like it was wearing a straight jacket, and was lying on the bathroom floor, exhausted.
I could feel as I approached it that it had given up. I knew it had been struggling there for many hours, unable to free itself. So I used my fingers to gently pull the cobwebs off its legs, and when I got to some very tightly attached webs, I used a pair of tweezers to gently pry the cobwebs off. Then ever so gently I put the spider outside, to go and live its best life.
There are no words that can describe the joy I now feel, having overcome my phobia. I’m no longer in conflict. There is no more dirty little secret that I’ve got to sweep under the rug. I’m healed, and free.
If you are fighting a phobia yourself, know that I understand. And may my story bring hope to you. We can indeed heal from our phobias, and the courage it takes to do this is absolutely worth it.
May you also transform your fears into compassion and care, when Spirit comes knocking at your door, telling you that the time is right for you to face them.