Of the various connections that there are, deity-wise and otherwise, for Antinous, this is the one that most rapidly squicks people out and makes them go “Yeah, I’m going to leave while you talk about that.”
Several things have been named for Antinous in the ancient world: his constellation, and of course the red Nile lotus. However, a more modern thing named for Antinous is the tarantula species, Pamphobeteus antinous, named thus because it is “the most beautiful tarantula.” They’re also quite vicious and deadly, and notoriously difficult to keep in captivity because they hate being trapped. And yet, if we do take seriously the idea that the gods are still communicating with people even long after their active cultus on a cultural level has died out, and that their influences are still in the world at various points (often unexpectedly), then taking this incidence of naming is not only interesting, it’s important. Indeed, some Afro-Diasporic and Voudun practitioners suggest that anything which gains an association with one of the orishas becomes a messenger of them, and thus can be a prompt to think about them and to see how they are active in one’s life; and a similar concept can be integrated into this particular coincidence of naming. This has been an important symbol of Antinous that has been present in the Ekklesía Antínoou practice since its earliest days in 2002.
And yet, arachnophobia is a powerful and even primal fear. (We’ll be dealing with a further such animal that inspires those types of fear in another post later today/soon.) It is a sensible fear as well, since many spider bites are poisonous and can cause serious illness if not death, particularly with species like the Pamphobeteus antinous. And, that’s part of the importance of the figure, in my opinion: there are sides of Antinous, and indeed of all gods and in each of us, that may not be “pretty,” or that in fact may be quite pretty but potentially dangerous or deadly. For me, thus, the spider-side of Antinous has been something that cautions me about fear–fear of my own potentials and powers and depths, but equally fear of the outside world, and fear of what the gods might end up doing at any stage.
There are a variety of myths connected to spiders worldwide, but not very many that are Greek, Roman, or Egyptian. However, Sannion has explored these topics at great length and depth in his own spiritual work with Spider, so I highly recommend his work on this matter for those who are interested. He has taken what little there is in Greek myth about spiders–namely, the story of Arachne–and connected it not only with Athena (who is in the original story), but with Erigone and Dionysos, and also via the eight legs of the spider to Hermes. This certainly makes a lot of sense to me, and I think his work in this regard is insightful and truly visionary.
Another place I’ve encountered spider-work recently is David Beth’s Voudun Gnosis, which relies on spider symbolism a great deal for the various entities dealt with in the work, as well as transformation into a spider in order to do certain types of work. It’s a fascinating thing for those interested in the process as outlined by Beth.
Spiders sometimes feel like they are messengers of Antinous to me. On occasion, I’ve had spiders show up when I’m doing particular types of work connected to Antinous. On other occasions, I’ve had spiders appear to me in dreams, often in an adversarial manner, and sometimes connected with Antinous.
Personally, I’d be in favor of having a further hunting festival added to the mix of the festivals we currently observe in the Ekklesía Antínoou, the Spider Hunt. This is a hunt for the root causes of fear, and facing them in an attempt to overcome them. If one is an arachnophobe, this doesn’t mean one should go out and find a spider, or anything else of the sort. Like all of our “hunts” (and, according to Boatwright, even the original hunts of Hadrian and Antinous on the Arch of Constantine), the hunt is not a literal one. Though, I imagine if there were a hunting tondo produced to reflect the Spider Hunt, it would be Hadrian and Antinous crouched over scrutinizing the ground, one armed with a boot, the other with a broom, and Phlegon of Tralles standing up on a chair screaming and cowering because he saw a spider scurry across the floor. (Why Phlegon of Tralles? I don’t know…of the various imperial freedman who were writers and such, he seems like one who might have been arachnophobic to me…I have no idea why, but there we are!)
I am also attracted to net and web imagery, which is appropriate enough, given that a lot of activity, and no small debt to its very existence, is owed in terms of modern Antinoan devotion and the Ekklesía Antínoou in particular to the existence of the internet and the world wide web. Some modern pagan myths have suggested that the internet is the co-creation and in the sphere of Hermes and Athena, and given the latter’s connections to Arachne, and the former to the number eight and to communication and commerce, this totally makes sense. Whoever the spider is that spins the world wide web, it is no doubt a spider that is the child of Hermes and Athena–even though the latter is still a virgin.