Today’s topic is the jorougumo (女郎蜘蛛) or lady spider, as I like to call it. A spider creature that can change into a woman.
Although the jorougumo is quite hideous – it’s a gigantic spider, of course it’s hideous – it isn’t technically considered a youkai, but a nushi (主), wherein a creature that has survived for a long time acquires reiki or a spiritual power, a much more positive thing, and gains a waterside territory that it is master of, or nushi. Territory can be rivers, lakes, ponds, or creeks, even waterfalls. Killing a nushi for no good reason will get you a load of bad karma.
The lady spider is considered a messenger of the water god, they spin webs and capture fisherman or anyone who comes near them. Caverns next to these water places are called spider caverns, believed to be where the jorougumo lives, and it is said you can actually hear the spider weaving (from a machine) from inside.
Naturally, the jorougumo‘s human shape has to be a beautiful, seductive woman. But the nushi must live separate from the human world – there’s a line between them – so if any humans see their ‘true self’, they threaten the human to keep their secret or they will kill them. I’ve never understood the ‘see beautiful person, cannot talk about it’ philosophy most of these stories have. Seems a tad contradictory.
In the Jouren falls in Izu, there’s a story of a jorougumo living there. A woodsman walks bay, trips and his axe falls into the water. Okay, up till now, this sounds very familiar to a Western fairytale I’ve heard, with three axes being offered etc. But the similarity ends there.
The woodsman wants the axe back, but when he dives in, a (beautiful, seductive) woman returns his axe, and makes him promise to never tell anyone about seeing her there. If he doesn’t keep his promise, he will die. The woodsman swears to keep his mouth shut, and when he returns to the village, he hears about the lady spider living in the waterfall and realises that’s who he saw.
Of course, after a while, he gets drunk with a friend and tells him about the woman he saw. The woodsman then goes to bed, but he never wakes up again. Seems like the lady was serious.
Something that occurred to me – if the lady spider really didn’t want the man to talk about her, she should’ve appeared as the spider, pretty sure the man wouldn’t dare talk about that even when he was drunk.
This whole promise not to tell always feels more like a test than anything else, and more often than not, someone fails the test. After all, it’s ‘dead men tell no tales’.
Source: 日本神妖博物誌 作者： 多田克己 譯者：歐凱寧