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American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages

Author(s): Eugenia Kapsomera Amditis
Source: The Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. 53, No. 2 (SUMMER 2009), pp. 219-239
Published by: American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages
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EugeniaKapsomera College

Thespiderimage,whichNinaBerberova calls"anobsessiveimageinmythic
thinking," symbolthatsuggests
is a multivalent manycomplexes ofmeaning
(116-17).In RussianSymbolist works,thespiderimagesuggestsnotonly
moresinister notionssuchas thevampiric, thedemonic, andthedestructive,
butalso reminds us ofpositiveideaslikethecreative, theresilient,andthe
beautifulforcesof theworld.1Thisdualismis in keepingwiththegeneral
contoursofSymbolist whichpairsmillennial
thought, despairwitha hopefor
transcendence, andmoraldecadencewitha hopeforspiritual regeneration.
DividedbetweenOrientand Occidentandpoisedon thecuspbetweenthe
dyingoldworldandthenewtwentieth century, theSymbolists usedtheimage
ofthespiderto conveysimultaneously theirambivalence abouttheirworld,
In thelastdecadesof thenineteenth century,severalesotericand occult
doctrinesrosetochallenge thedominance ofpositivist
eventuallybecame popular withintellectualsand in
artists America, Europe,
andRussia,andespecially withtheSymbolists. Theseincluded, amongother
movements, the "magick"of the Frenchoccultrevivaland the English
GoldenDawn,therevivalof Freemasonry, BritishSpiritualismand French
Spiritisme,and Mme Blavatsky'sTheosophy. All were counter-Enlighten-
mentreactions againstWestern critical
philosophy andScientific Positivism,
buttheesoteric doctrineofTheosophy stoodoutinthatitlookedtothemys-
I am indebtedto Maria Carlson,William Comer,Irina Six, and Jo Stokes fortheirinvaluable
helpwithearlierversionsofthisarticle.I would also liketo thanktheanonymousreviewersand
editorialstafffortheirhelpfulsuggestions.A significantpartof myresearchwas made possible
by fellowshipsfromthe Universityof Illinois SummerResearch Instituteand the Centerfor
Russian,East European,and EurasianStudiesat theUniversityof Kansas. All translations
Russian are myown.
1. Russian Symbolistartistsand authorsdrew on thissymbolin such genericallyand ideo-
logically diverse works as Andrei Bely's [1880-1934] Peterburg [St. Petersburg,1916],
AlexanderBlok's [1880-1921] poem, "Zolotistoiudolinoi" ["The Golden Valley" 1902], and
Leonid Andreev's[1871-1919] play, Tot,ktopoluchaetposhchechinu[He WhoGets Slapped,
1915]. Some of theseSilverAge artists,notablyAndreiBely,use the symbolin severaldiffer-
entways withinone work.

SEEJ,Vol.53,No. 2 (2009):p. 219-p.239 219

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220 Slavic and East EuropeanJournal

ticalreligions oftheEasttorestore wholeness andhealthto fragmented and
"degenerate" Western psyches. Theosophy grew to be not a
only popular ide-
ologicalcomplement tonewacademicresearch incomparative religions, but
alsoa facilitatorofnewinterest inIndianandOriental culture, and
art, design.
Through theiracquaintance withthisesoterictrendanditsinterests, Rus-
sianSymbolists encountered metaphysical meanings associated with the spi-
der-in particular theoriental conceptofMaya,oftenillustrated through the
metaphor (orsymbol)ofthespiderwhospinstheweb(net,veil)oftheworld
illusionoutofitself.The indophile Theosophy ofHelenaBlavatsky [1831-
1891],A. P. Sinnett [1840-1921],andMrs.AnnieBesant[1847-1933]intro-
ducedmanySanskrit wordsandoriental concepts (nirvana, karma, devachan,
atman, chela,samsara,kaliyuga,etc.)minedfrom Buddhism, Hinduism, and
otheroriental religions.Theosophy, a promiscuous "synthesis ofscience,re-
ligion,andphilosophy" (thesubtitle to MmeBlavatsky's programmatic vol-
ume,TheSecretDoctrine[1888]),incorporated theconceptofMayaas pre-
sentedintheUpanishads. Whilethesyncretistic MmeBlavatsky introduced
theidea,Mrs.Besant,hersuccessoras headoftheworldwide Theosophical
Societyanda committed student ofHinduism, developeditfurther.
TheUpanishads explainthedualistic andillusory nature ofperceived real-
itythrough theconceptofMaya,theWorldIllusion.All thattheindividual
selfcan"know"empirically is anillusion, sinceempirical observation reveals
onlywhatis perceived in timeandspacethrough thelimitations ofthefive
senses;thefivesenses,however, are notthepathwayto therevelation of
Atman(TheGreatSelf,Brahma).Mayais theillusionthatveilstheRealfrom
mortal eyes;Mayais duality (loss ofwholeness, loss ofunity), matter, dark-
ness,ignorance, anddeath.To understand theReal andtoescapetheillusion
ofthematerial world,theindividual mustbreakthetwochainsofbondage-
Maya and Karma- that trap the individual selfin illusory matter. Onlythen
is itpossibletofindUnity, Spirit,Light, and Immortality.
To illustratetheworkingof Maya as materialcreation, theUpanishads
offer themetaphor ofthespiderspinning a sticky weboutofitself.Thespi-
der'ssilkis defactothematerial ofcreation, thewebis thecreation, andthe
spider is the agency of creation. The web cannot exist ifthe spider does not
weaveitssilk.The silk,however, is nottheconsciouscauseoftheweb;the
spideris. ThusPureConsciousness createsBrahman (thespider),whouses
Maya(thespider's silk,the basic matter of the Universe, Prakriti) to create
thematerial Universe(theweb) that"traps"theindividual untilhe learns
thatthewebitselfis an illusionthatkeepshimin bondage,preventing him
fromescapingtheWheelof Life and returning to PureConsciousness.2
2. Nikhilananda[1895-1973] 40-44. This is an abridgementof the fourvolumes of Upan-
ishadspublishedin 1956. In thisversion,thespideris a parallelto thedemiurge,or creatorgod,
of Gnosticbelief(but not "The God"). Both Theosophyand otherformsoffin-de-sièclespiri-
tual searchingwere syncretic,and theGod-demiurgeand spirit-matter parallelswould be obvi-
ous to the Symbolists.

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TheMayaSpider Symbolism 221

Theosophy pickedup thisimageandrestyled it.In her"commentaries" to
themysterious Stanzasof Dzian in The Secret Doctrine, Mme Blavatsky
equatesthewebwiththeUniverse:"Father-Mother spina webwhoseupper
end is fastened to spirit(Purusha),thelightof theone darkness, and the
loweronetomatter its(theSpirits)shadowyend"(1: 83; herref-
erencehereis to theMandükyaUpanishad).The web MmeBlavatskyde-
scribesis radiantandpulsating.
ManyoftheSymbolists withor embraced
flirted Theosophy andEastern
religions.3Severalofthemintegrated thesenew"oriental" associations with
thespiderintotheirarsenalofsymbols. ThisarticlewilldiscussfourSymbol-
istworks.In each,theMaya function of thespiderdominates. Theseare:
Konstantin Balmont'spoem"Kak pauk" ["Likea Spider,"1900],Zinaida
Hippius'spoem"Pauki"["Spiders,"1903],MstislavDobuzhinsky's drawing
D'iavol ["Devil,"1907],andAndreiBely'snovelSerebrianyi golub'[Silver
Dove,1909].Forthesefourartists, thewebofthespiderservesas a portalbe-
tweenmatter illusionand reality,
and spirit, material creationand spiritual
transcendence. InthenotionofMayatheseauthors sawanexplanation forthe
psychicfragmentation, degeneration, andsocialunrest oftheirtimes.In their
works,theyusedtheMayaspiderto expresscomplexspiritual beliefsin an
aestheticandphilosophical rather thanmerelyallegorical manner. Not only
didthespidertellthemsomething aboutthedangersofwebs,butitalso told
themaboutartandthenature ofcreation.Eachoftheworkspresented inthis
articleusestheimageoftheMayaspiderin a different way,buildingon its
presentationprevious works.

Konstantin Balmont[1867-1942],"Kak pauk" ["Like a Spider9']
Balmont'sfourth collectionof verse,Goriashchie
zdaniia [Burning Build-
ings,1900], includespoems written his
during Europeantrip with his new
bride,Ekaterina Alekseevna Andreeva [1867-1950]. The couple toured
France,Spain,Italy,Holland,andEngland.Whilelecturing on Russianliter-
atureat Oxfordin spring1897,Balmontmetthepre-eminent Indologist and
philologist Max Müller who
[1823-1900], introduced him toHindu
According tobiographers,
theworksmadesucha strong
impressionon Balmont thatIndian took
thought primacy overthatofAncient
Greekinhiswork(Kuprianovskii andMolchanova77). It is also atthistime
thatBalmont first
developedhislifelong inTheosophy
interest (ibid.76).
3. Most notablyKonstantinBalmontand his wife,AndreiBely, MaksimilianVoloshinand
MargaritaSabashnikova,Anna Mintslova,AleksandrSkriabin,Nikolai Rerikhand his wife;
Nikolai Berdiaev was interestedin and then rejected Theosophy,while Viacheslav Ivanov
played with occultisms of various kinds, including Theosophy and Anthroposophy.The
Merezhkovskyswere interested initially,but lost interestlater.
For the largersocio-culturalcontextto this article,see Carlson 1993. Carlson, echoing
Ivanov-Razumnik, makes thecase that"It is no exaggerationto suggestthatcertainaspects of
theperiodcould notbe understoodwithoutthedimensionof Theosophyand its sistertheories,
arcanethoughtheymay seem to us today"(6).

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222 Slavic and East EuropeanJournal

The Oxfordexperience inspiredBalmont'scycle,"Indiiskietravy"["In-
dianGrasses"], whichappearedinGoriashchie zdaniia.Thepoemstreatsev-
eralimportant elementsfromHinduthought, includingMaya,thespider, the
WheelofRebirth, oflife,theUpanishads,
thetransitoriness andIndianmys-
tics.Theshortest poeminthecycle- "Kakpauk"- conveysenormous spiri-
tualcontent in itstwoquatrains,
imageanditssignificance bothfortheTheosophical ofmate-
rialreality creation
world,thespider'screationof thestickyweb of materialreality, and the
creationoftheillusionthatis theworkofart.
KaK nayKb ce6e poamaeTnayniHy, As a spiderbears withinitselfa web,
co3aaeT B03/ryniH0CTi>
H, TJDKejibiH, And,heavy,createstheairinessof
HHTeii,- threads-
KaK xyflOHCHHKco3flaeTcboio KapTHHy, As an artistcreateshis picture,
3aKpeiuMHMHMOJieTHoe coõmthh,- Fixingthetransitoriness of events,-
TaK H3BeHHorohcxo^ht MHpOBoe- Thus fromtheEternalproceedstheworld-
6wTHÄ. and unityof existence.
The multiplicity
MHp oflHH,ho b 3T0MMHpe The worldis one, but in thisworldis an
BeHHOßBoe:- eternalduality:-
Oh, HçzuttDKHbin,
Oh, HeHcaHcayiuHH- h *• He, Unmoving,He, Unthirsting-and I.
(Balmont 1994, 325)

In theseeightbrieflines,Balmontdepictstheoriginofourreality ina di-
Upanishadic metaphor. Above all,thepoem
servesas an invitation for,as AlexisRannitstates,
revelation, Bal-
mont's"famouslines,'Five sensesarethewayofthelie /butthereis an up-
swingofecstasy/whenthetruth becomesvisiblebyitself,'showthathebe-
lievedabove all in revelation,"
and presumably in thepowerof verseto
facilitate (37-38).4Theimageofthefivesensesleadingtolies,
nottoTruth, refers
totheUpanishadicrejectionofempirical cognitionbased
"Kakpauk"touchesuponseveralprogrammatic Theosophicalthemes, lit-
the and ofthe
erallyciting image interpretation Mayaspider found inthe Up-
anishads andinTheosophy. Balmontaddsthethird comparativeelement him-
self:as theEternalcreatestheworld,as thespidercreatestheweb,so the
artist verseis rifewithcontinualreferences

4. Fromthe sonnet,"Put' pravdy"["The Pathof Truth"]:
Ho ecTb Five senses are theway of thelie, but
BOCTopr3Kcra3a, thereis an upswingof ecstasy
Koma HaMHCTHHa caMa co6oñ BHjnia. whenthetruthbecomes visibleby itself.
Toraa TaHHCTBeHHOajm ApeMJiiomeroma3a Then,mysteriously forslumberingeyes,
TopHTy3OpaMH HOHHaarayOHHa. The night'sdepthburnswithdesigns.
(Balmont 1975, 131)

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Symbolism 223

oftheTheosophyhe embraced.5

Zinaida Hippius[1869-1945],"Pauki" ["Spiders"]
IfBalmont's poemis an invitationto divinerevelationinwhichthetruena-
tureof realityis explainedby theMaya spidermetaphor, thenHippius's
"Pauki"is an entreaty forit,expressedby a soul who fearsthatrevelation
The poem is in Hippius'sfirstcollectionof verse,Sobrantestikhov-
1889-1903[Collection of Verses1889-1903,1904],whichshecompleted in
thesameyearthatsheandherhusband, Dmitry Merezhkovsky [1865-1941],
startedpublicationof theirreligious-philosophical
journalNovyipuf [New
Path].Likeotherintellectualsofthetime,Hippiuswas interested inworldre-
ligions.SheandMerezhkovsky wereamongthefounders oftheSt.Petersburg
Religio-PhilosophicalSociety,whichhostedspeakersfroma variety ofreli-
giousgroups, includingtheTheosophical Liketherestoftheircircle,
theywereawareofTheosophy andlearneda greatdealaboutthemovement
from theirattendanceatthesalonofAnnaPavlovnaFilosofova [1837-1912],
one of Russia'sleadingTheosophists and themother of theirclose friend
DmitryVladimirovich Filosofov[1872-1940](Carlson1993,56). During
1906,theMerezhkovskys attendedtheworldTheosophicalconference in
Paris,wherethey, alongwithBalmont andseveralotherRussianintellectuals,
heardlecturesbytheheadoftheGerman TheosophicalSociety,RudolfSteiner
[1861-1925].6 As Carlsonnotes,theMerezhkovskys didnotcareforSteiner
or fororganized Theosophy, whichtheyfoundlackingin theanswersthey
craved(1993,63,96). Buttheymaintained theirinterestinworldreligions.

5. As, forexample,in his poem "Maiw" ["Maya"], also fromFopRupie3Òuhuh,which ex-
plains theillusorynatureof Maya, butwithoutreferencing
the spider:
BenieHOMnarcah jhoäh h 6oru... People and gods madlyrush.. .
Maiw! O, Maiw! JIvhhcthhoOMaHÎ Maya! O Maya! The radiantdeception!
">Kh3hi>-fljMHe3HaiomHX,npH3paic- "Life, forthe ignorant,is a specter-
AJWñora, fora yogi,
Maíw- 6e3AyuiHwíí hcmohOKeaHÎ" Maya is a soulless,muteocean!"
(Balmont 1994, 323)
The "ocean of matter"is a commonplacein Theosophicalwriting,encounteredin theworkof
Blavatsky,Besant,Judge,and others.
6. RudolfSteinerdirectedtheGermanTheosophicalsocietyfrom1902 to 1912, afterwhich
he leftto foundhis own religion,Anthroposophy, whichwas based on Theosophy,butwithout
the excessive Buddhismof Blavatskyor the Hinduismof Besant. Steiner's was a Christian
Theosophicalvision,albeitnot a traditionalone. Bely was a foundingmemberof theAnthro-
posophical Society and followedSteinerto Dornach in 1914. However,at the timeBely was
writingSerebrianyigolub' therewas no Anthroposophical Society,althoughBely participated
in Theosophicalcirclesthemembersof whichwere familiarwithSteiner's Theosophicalwrit-
ingsthroughAnna Mintslovaand Elena Pisareva.

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224 Slavic and East EuropeanJournal

Hippiusundoubtedly knewof Balmont'spoem and his interestin Theoso-
phy: he and the Merezhkovskys had been friendssince 1891. WhereasBal-
mont's"Kak pauk" presentsthe"facts"of worldillusionand theseparationit
createdbetweenhumanity and theDivine,Balmontonlyhintsat thepersona's
continuingalienation,the self's inabilityto transcendthe dualityof material
existenceand plug intotheGreatSelf in thelast line: "On, Nedvizhnyi,On,
Nezhazhdushchii-i ia." This separationis thepointof departure of Hippius's
poem. "Pauki,"Hippiusexpresses her fearsthatshe will nevertranscendthe
prisonof the that
flesh, she will remain trapped in mattereternally:

IlayKH Spiders
Ä B TecHOHKejibe- B stomMHpe I am in a narrowcell- in thisworld.
H Kejibfl
TecHaa HH3Ka. And theconfiningcell is low.
A b HeTbipexyniax- neTbipe And in its fourcomersare four
HeyroMHMbix nayica. Untiringspiders.
Ohh jiobkh,5KHPHM h rpJBHbi. They are cunning,fatand filthy,
H Bee ruieTyr, nneTyr...
ruieTyr, And theyspin and spin and spin...
H CTpaineHhx o;jHOo6pa3HbiH Terrifyingis theirmonotonous,
HenpepMBaiomHHCÄ Tpya. Interminable toil.
Ohh HeTwpenayraHW Theirfourwebs theywove
B oflHy, cruiejiH.
orpoMHVK), Intoone vast web.
DuDKy- nieBejwTcahx ciihhm I look. Theirbacks are stirring
B sjioBOHHO-cyMpaHHOHnwjiH. In themalodorous-dusky dust.
Moh rna3a- noAnayraHOH. My eyes are coveredby the spiderweb.
OHa cepa, Manca,Jinnica. It is greyand softand sticky.
H paflMpaaocTbio 3BepHHOH And raptwithferaljoy are
HeTbipeTOJicTbix Four stoutspiders.

"Pauki,"like muchof Hippius's œuvre,reflectsthepoet's interestin spiri-
tual mattersand her attemptsto understandthe Divine. The authorherself
statesin the introduction to her collectedpoems, "Poka my ne naidemob-
shchegoBoga, ili khot'ne poimem,chtostremimsia vse k Nemu,Edinstven-
nomu,- do tekhpornashimolitvy,- nashistikhi- zhivyedlia kazhdogoiz
nas [Untilwe finda commonGod, or at leastunderstand thatwe all are striv-
ing towardHim,The One God,- untilthattimeour prayers,- our verse-
are alive foreach ofus]" (vi). However,despiteherfaithand hercommitment
to religiouspilgrimage,theauthoradmits,"No mnestrashno.Moi slova o re-
al'nom eshchetakotvlecheny. Mnogo ne iasno,no ved' mnogoi nedoskazano
[But I am afraid.My wordsaboutthereal are stillso abstract.Much is un-
clear,butthenmuchis unstated]"(1908, 38).
Hippiuscapturesthisterror in "Pauki." The author'smomentsof doubtand
fearemergedin whatTerniraPachmusscalls a "Svidrigailovtheme"in which
"evil frequently gains the upperhand over good, and the devil overpowers
God himself"(xiv,27). These timesof despairhave led manycriticsto label

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Symbolism 225

Hippiusas a Decadent,butheruse ofthespiderimagein "Pauki"suggests
thatherspiritual beliefsarefarless clear.Hippius 's spidersdo indeedecho
Dostoevsky's sinisteratheisticimage fromCrime and Punishment [1866,IV,
Ch. 1],inwhichSvidrigailov's viewofeternity, a spider-infested bathhouse,
becomesa metaphysical "deadend,"precluding anypossibleresurrection of
thespiritorreunion ofthesoulwithGod. In themostimmediate sense, the
poem capturesHippius'shopelessnessand alienationfromGod, as Olga
Matichsuggests (46).7Butifwe insteadinterpret thepoem'scentral imageas
a representation oftheMayaspider, Hippiusoffers thereader possiblees-
capefromSvidrigailov's fate.
The poem'sopeninglinesplace thecell precisely"v etommire[in this
world]."Thisis Hippius'sstatement notonlyofherpersona'slocation, but,
as we knowfromHinduism, Buddhism, andTheosophy, thistis thehuman
predicament ofbeingincarnate. In "Pauki,"Hippiusintentionally crafted her
lyricpersonawithout gender- onlytworeferences tothepersonaappearin
thepoem:"ia" and"moi"["I" and"my"]- suggesting thatthepersonais nei-
thermalenorfemale, butrepresents humanity in general.Beforethespiders
appearinthepoem,Hippiusemphasizes that"kel'iatesnaianizka[thecon-
fining cellis low],"likea coffin. Itssmothering qualityis emphasized bythe
repeated plosives"&,""¿A,"and"/?," whichechothesoundsofthepersona's
smothered breathing. Aftertakinginthenarrow confines ofthebox,theper-
spective shifts tothe"lovki,zhirny i griazny[cunning, fatandfilthy]" spiders
in itsfourcorners. Thepoet'srepetition ofthenumber fouremphasizes the
"earthliness" ofthepoem'ssetting. Hippiuswas familiar withotherreligious
andmetaphysical systems in whichthenumber fourrelatesto thephysical
worldwithitsfourcardinal points,fourelements (earth, air,fire,water),four
stagesoflife,fourmaincolors,andfourcastesofsociety, etc.,whichconsti-
tutetheimpermanent domainsofhumanlife,society, or thematerial world
(Goudriaan175).8However,as Blavatsky explains,thenumberfourrepre-
sentsnotonlythematerialworld,butalso its transcendence, becausethe
stagesof lifeinclude"birth, life,death,and immortality" (Carlson1993,
85). Lesttherebe anyambiguity abouttheauthor's association ofthenumber
fourwiththephysical world,Hippiusvisuallylinksthewordsinthefirst and
third rhymes ofthefirst quatrain: "mire"/"chetyre" [world/four].
UnlikethespiderinBalmont's poem,whocreates"vozdushnosf nitei[the
airinessof threads]," Hippius'sspidersspina "sera,miagka,i lipka[grey,
soft,andsticky]" web,likeMaya,thespinner ofworldillusion.Thepersona
doesnotfearthespiderswilldestroy her/him; rather, thepersonafearstheir
continual spinning:
7. For anotherinterpretation
of "Pauki," see Presto.AvrilPymandiscussesthegenreof "cell
literature"in herchapter"The Artof theCell," 17-90.
8. In Hindu iconography,thegoddess Kali is commonlydepictedwithfourarms,signifying
herassociationwiththeworldof matter.

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226 Slavic and East EuropeanJournal

H Bee njieTyr,njieryr,iuieryT... And theyspin and spin and spin...
H CTpaineHhx O£HOo6pa3HbiH is theirmonotonous,
HenpepMBaiomHHCfl Tpya. Unceasingtoil.
Themeaning oftheselinesis intentionally ambiguous, sinceonemaytrans-
late"i vsepletut" bothas "spinning or as
constantly" "spinning everything."
Whether readas "Everything [thatexists]theyspinandspinandspin..."or
idiomatically as "Theyconstantly spinandspinandspin,"thereference must
alludeto Maya,becauseonlythespiderof worldillusioncan spin"every-
thing"or "all" of creation, or spinso incessantly. Their"ogromnyi" [im-
mense] web consistsof fourwebs in the four corners (likethefourcardinal
pointsofthecompass)ofthisworld-cell-coffin, whichareliterally rooted"v
zlovonno-sumrachnoi the
pyli[in malodorous-dusky dust],"makingexplicit
thespiders'tiesto earthly decomposition andmortaldecay.Thisparticular
placement oftheweb is identical to thatdescribed in theMändükya Upan-
ishad,towhichBlavatsky refersin The Secret Doctrine (1: 83). Becauseof
thespeaker's vantagepoint,s/heis unabletorecognize thespiders'roleas in-
termediaries between heavenandearth, that the web stretches betweenliving
spiritanddeadmatter. Thepersona'sfailure to comprehend (andthereby es-
cape)thetruenature ofreality,leadingtoeternal in
entrapment stickythe web
ofmatter, is thetruespiritualcrisis.
The shifting perspective ofthepersonain "Pauki"illustrates another key
aspectofMaya:man'sability todiscern thetruenature ofreality throughthe
veilofthephysical world.Blavatsky explainsthat
the upwardprogressof the Ego is a series of progressiveawakenings,each advance bringing
withittheidea thatnow,at last,we have reached'reality';butonlywhenwe shallhave reached
the absoluteconsciousness,and blendedour own withit, shall we be freefromthe delusions
producedby Maya. (40)

Hippiuscaptures thisprogressiveawakening in "Pauki."Stepby step,the
readersharestheperspectiveofthepersonaas s/hebecomesawareofthespi-
ders'existence, anditsimplications. stanzasetsthe
actioninthecramped cell,andthequatrain endswiththepersona'srealiza-
tionthats/hesharesthespacewiththefourspiders.The secondstanzade-
Thepoem'sclimaxoccursinthethird lineofthethirdstanza,a propitious
placement forHippius,whoassociatedthenumber threewiththedivine.As
thismoment ofepiphany comes,thepersonasays,"Gliazhu- [I look-]," set
offbytheem-dashforemphasis, ands/herealizesthatthespidersandtheir
websarerootedinthedarkdirt(matter). Unfortunately, is fleet-
ing,andthepersona'svisionis gone:thefourth stanzabeginswiththestate-
ment"Moiglaza- podpautinoi [Myeyesarecoveredbytheweb]."However,
thepoemonlymentions thecovering ofthepersona'seyes,nottherestofthe
body,suggestingthatthelimitation thatofperception.
is exclusively Thepoet
a warning
crafts aboutthenature ofreality butwithout
forthereader, thekey
tounderstandingtheMayaspider,thewarning wouldgounnoticed. Bytheend

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TheMayaSpider Symbolism 227

ofthepoem,thepersonahasreturned tothesameprevious stateofblindigno-
ranceshared the
by spiritually uninitiated-
trapped bythe world illusion.The
spiders,who are "rady radost'iu
zverinoi with
[rapt feral
joy]," have managed
toentrap another soulforanother roundofincarnation.
Ifunderstood as a representation
ofMaya,Hippius'sspidersdo notdestroy
theSymbolist's dualisticworld-view, as Matichsuggests(83), butoffer the
of it.The
possibility transcending Mayaspiders do not representthe culmina-
tionof lifein physicaldecay(as is thecase in Svidrigailov's nightmarish
bathhouse),butthepotential revelationoftheillusory nature ofmaterial ex-
istence.The knowingreaderunderstands that in order to gain the divine
world,one mustbrushawaytheveil of cobwebsand look beyondit. In
Theosophy, as in Buddhism, Hinduism, andGnosticism, lifein thematerial
worldis spiritual death,andphysicaldeathfreesmankind fromthetrapof
physicalexistence, the"tombofthesoul"(Blavatsky 86). Thepersona'sde-
spairis notcausedby a senseof immanent demise,butby theinability to
shakeofftheillusionsofmatter, spunbytheMayaspider.

MstislavDobuzhinsky [1840-1957],D'iavol [Devil]
Dobuzhinsky's drawing, D'iavol, visuallyexpressesBalmont'sdualismof
spiritandmatter andliterallyrealizesHippius'sprisoncell oftheindividual
self.Like otherSilverAge artists, Dobuzhinsky tookinspirationnotonly
fromliterature andotherworksofart,butalso fromdifferent nationaltradi-
tions,EastandWest.In hisautobiography, he listsmanydifferentinfluences,
including theartof ancientGreece,ancientEgypt,and Japan.Like most
artistsofthetime,he was acquainted withcontemporary cultural
wasa visitoratViacheslav Ivanov's"Tower," wherehewouldhavehearddis-
cussionsaboutTheosophy and spiritualseeking.ArtcriticErikGollerbakh
considered Dobuzhinsky tobe "theartist whomostreflected thesoulofour
Inaddition totheselociofcultural convergence, contemporaryjournalslike
Vesy andZolotoeruno[TheScalesandTheGoldenFleece]published thework
ofwell-known EuropeanSymbolists likeOdilon Redon [1840-1916],whose
eeriecharcoalof thespider,L'araignée[1881],mayhave partlyinspired
D'iavol (fig.1). In issueNo. 5 for1906,Zolotoerunoannounced a competi-
tionforwriters andartists on thethemeof"TheDevil,"askingfor"artistic,
poetic,and religio-philosophical conceptualizations." The winningworks
weretobepublished intheJanuary 1907issueofthejournal.Dobuzhinsky en-
teredthedrawing D'iavol inthatcompetition.
Thecompetition inspiredsomearresting images,including Dobuzhinsky's
entry,whichJohnBowltcalls"themoststriking oftheSymbol-
ists'taedium vitae"andwhichAlia Gusarovaidentified as the"lordofthis
world," whowieldsthe"hostileforcesoflife"(Bowlt265; Gusarova31-32).
Dobuzhinsky's D'iavol depictsan immensespiderfillinga prisoncell and
towering overa circleofmenmarching monotonously amongthe"bars"of

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228 Slavic and East EuropeanJournal

Fig. 1. D'iavol, fromtheJanuary1907 issue of Zolotoe Runo

itslegs. Severalcriticshave noticedthattheroomwithitsringof humanfig-
uresmarchingin a circlemirrors theimagesin GustaveDoré's Newgate: The
Exercise Yard[1872] (fig.2) and Van Gogh's "colorized"reinterpretation of
it in oils, Prisoners at Exercise [1890] (Bowlt 265; Moeller-Sally 545;
Kennedy316). Accordingto BetsyMoeller-Sally,"thesechanges [...] trans-
formDoré's prisonintoan imageofthehumancondition:notso muchSvidri-
gailov's eternityas the 'worldprison'" (551) or,in Elena Borisova and Gre-
gory Sternin'swords, "the tentacularcity" where people toil namelessly
(260). Dobuzhinskyuses space differently thanDoré and Van Gogh; their
worksare tightly focused;his revealsto theviewerthathis prisonis farmore

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TheMayaSpiderinRussianSymbolism 229

Fig.2. GustaveDoré,Newgate:TheExerciseYard[1872]

sinister Farabovethesociallyempow-
eredpoliceandjudgesstands a more jailer:themetaphysical
sinister Maya
spiderthatimprisons in
humanity illusory matter- of
in theprison-house
flesh.9 of thetrue natureoftheir they
canneverescapethemonotonous cycleofdeathandrebirth, by
Likeotherartists occasionally
workso thatthecompositionappearscompletely whentheimageis
andthisis trueofD 'iavol.11
inverted, thatwhenturned

9. In 1903, the same year Hippius's "Pauki" was written,Dobuzhinskyhimselfwrote a
poem,"Utro" ["Morning"],containinghis own spiderimage. Like Hippius's spiders,a "skuch-
nyii zloi pauk [a monotonousand evil spider]"spinsitsweb. Justlike a spider,theapproaching
day "vpolzaet[creepsin]," and itsboringdailytroublescreatea "tsepkaiaset' melochei[linked
web of trifles]"in thedust,echoingthegiantweb rootedin thedirtfromHippius's poem.
10. Dobuzhinsky 's cell possesses severallayersof meaning;thedrawingworkson thesocial,
political,and metaphysical levels. For instance,Richardsoninterprets thedrawingin largelypo-
liticalterms,writingthat"Dobuzhinsky'snightmarish politicalconceptionof theDevil [... was]
a reflectionof his continuingrevolutionary sympathy"(133). Moeller-Sallypointsout thatthe
imageof theworldprisonDobuzhinskyfirstformulates in D 'iavol appearsin a less metaphysi-
cal, moreevolvedversionin his laterseriesof drawingsUrbanDreams [1905-1921] (556, 551).
11. For example,one of Dobuzhinsky'scontemporaries, Zinovy Grzhebin[1869-1929], de-
signedhis drawing,Werewolf Eagle, or Internaland ForeignPolicy, to depicteithertheroyal
double-headedeagle insignia,or a crownedmale figureexposinghis posterior,dependingon

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230 Slavic and East EuropeanJournal

Fig. 3. D'iavol (cropped,180° perspective)and an anonymousillustration
dess Durga fromtheimage "Mahadevi"

upsidedown,the"womanly resemblance ofthespider'sabdomen" becomes
visibleas theridgeson thespider'sheadresemble buthe does not
comment furtheronthefeminine form (265).Although Dobuzhinsky doesnot
explicitlymention Indian artas an influence his
upon work, when theimageis
inverted, an Indiangoddessappears,completewithnumerous topoifrom
Hinduiconography. As seeninfigure 1, unlike real-life,
Dobuzhinsky's spiderhastenlegs.Whenthedrawing is turnedupsidedown,
theyresemble thetenarmscommonin depictions ofthegoddessDurgaand
otherdeities.In Hindubelief,tenarmsdenotetheomnipresence ofthedeity,
as theirarms"fillthetendirections" (Kinsley107; Devaraja62), and this
seemsappropriate fora representation ofMaya,sincetheworldillusioncom-
pletelyencompasses us.Theshapeofthespider'sheadmirrors thatofthegod-
dessinfigure the
3,particularly shape of thegoddess'shead,crown, shoulders,
arms,face,garland, jewelry, andnimbus. Theseamwherethespider'sandthe
goddess'sarmsattach lookssimilar, andthespider'sbeardbecomesthecrown,
thekarandamakuta, wornbymostHindudeities.12 Thespider'seyesresemble
breastsfrom thisview,orthelinesthrough thespider'seyesbecomethegar-
landor hairaroundthegoddess'sneck,andtheridgeson hisbodyare her
shoulders andbreasts. Theringaroundthespider'sfaceandbeard,although
slightlylargerthan thatofthefiery nimbus intheiconofDurga,isproportional
tothelarger nimbicommonly foundinHinduiconography.
Dobuzhinsky's composition also elaborates uponthebasiccellmotiffrom
12. For more information about Hindu iconography,see Zimmer.The darkpartof the spi-
der's face, rightbelow the crown,resemblesa mask, and althoughthis featureis not partof
Hinduiconography, itdoes conformto theSymbolists'and Dobuzhinsky'sinterest
in masksand
masking.In thisinstancethemask conveysthe sense thatthedivinemustremainhiddenfrom
thehumanviewer.It is the"Veil of Maya."

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The Maya Spiderin Russian Symbolism 23 1

Fig. 4. D'iavol and an anonymousillustration
of thegoddess Kamakshi

Hippius,drawing thedetailsofitsshapefromtheiconoftheHindugoddess
Kamakshi.Shownin figure 4, Kamakshiappearsin a cell-likeroom,witha
ringonthefloorandan archedceilingoverherhead,inthesamepositions as
theringofmenandthevaultedceilingandwindowsinDobuzhinsky's work.
WhereasDurgaandKali areforms ofthegoddessas sheis actively moving
onthephysical plane,Kamakshiis a liminalfigurebetween thephysicaland
planes,a "gatekeeper"
spiritual ofsorts.
Mayaactsas an intermediary between thedivine(GreatSelf) andhuman-
ity(individual ofKamakshiinhercellis a depic-
tionofthisabstractconcept.Thereligious seekermustintellectuallytraverse
thegoddess'scell to theblackskyspace beyondhercolumns, just as the
viewerandthemeninDobuzhinsky's drawingmustlookpasttheir"jailer"in
orderto glimpsethefreedom of thestarryskyand the"path"(theMilky
Way),whichlie beyondtheircell.The cloudsbeneaththespider'sbeardre-
semblethecrescent moonon thegoddess'scrown,andwheninverted, they
fallin approximatelythesamespaceas in theicon,to thegoddess'supper
thespider'slegsechothecolumnsinKamakshi's temple, andthe
archeddoorway atthebottom ofDobuzhinsky's prisoncellmirrors theshape
Judging bythecommonalities amongthethreeworksabove,itseemsclear
thatDobuzhinsky drewfrom suchiconicimagesincrafting thespecificshape
and settingofD'iavol. When"read"upsidedown,Dobuzhinsky's drawing

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232 Slavic and East EuropeanJournal

depictstheMayaspider,in itsformas thegoddess,whonotonlytrapspeo-
ple in a monotonous
prison,butwho,whendeciphered andunderstood,
also be themeansofescapingtheself'srepeated

AndreiBely[1880-1834],Serebrianyi golub9[TheSilverDove]
Bely'sdepiction of the in
Mayaspider Serebrianyi golub'continues theimage
ofthespideras a liminalfigure betweenthehumanandthedivine,theindi-
vidualselfandtheGreatSelf.The appearance ofthespiderweb in Serebri-
f ofthetruenature
anyigolub signalscomprehension oftheReal,terror atsep-
arationfromtheDivine,anda glimpseoftheTruth whichliesbeyond.The
novel'sconclusionimpliesthehero'stranscendent escape intotheinfinite
Bely'snoveltakeson theburning issuesof theperiod:Russia'sdestiny,
conflictbetween EastandWest,theroleoftheartist, theuneasyrelationship
between theRussianintelligentsia andthenarod[common people],andspir-
itualhunger. Thenovel,intended as thefirst volumeofa trilogy aboutRus-
sia'sdestiny, describesthemisadventures andeventual murder oftheintellec-
tualPetrDarialsky bythesectarian Dovesatthetimeofthe1905revolution.
TheDoves' leader,Kudeiarov, drawstheintellectual intohis"web"in order
toproducethemessiah-like "Dove Child"through Darialsky'sunionwitha
peasantwoman,Matrena, thegroup'swould-be bogoroditsa [motherofGod].
Whenhisattempts Kudeiarov
provefruitless, ordersthesectarians tomurder
Darialsky inordertopreserve theirsecret.
Theextended novelgenreandBely'sownunderstanding ofMayapermitted
himtointegrate theMayaspiderintothetextoí Serebrianyi golub'ina highly
innovative manner. Bely'sknowledge ofBuddhist andHinduconcepts stems
from hisinterest inTheosophy, whichbeganin 1903.He participated inTheo-
sophicalcirclesin Moscowand Petersburg, whereprominent Theosophical
works(including Blavatsky's"primer" of Theosophy, TheSecretDoctrine)
werestudied. He activelydebatedspiritual, andartistic
philosophical, matters
withhiscontemporaries andwas as familiar withBalmont's, Hippius's,and
Dobuzhinsky's workas theywerewithhis.Bely'scontemporaries, suchas
Berdiaev, Ivanov-Razumnik, andothers, viewedSerebrianyi golub'as "a mys-
tical,specifically theosophicalwork,"rather thanjustanother populistnovel
ofthetime(Carlson1987,6 1).13If interpreted through theprismofTheoso-
phyanditsbeliefintheconceptofMaya,Bely'smessageofhumanity's po-
tentialfortranscendence becomesclear.Withinthepages of Serebrianyi
golub',Belycastsprovincial Russiaof 1905as thelocusofentrapping matter
(Mochulsky 215),itsinhabitantsas unwittingservants ofthatphysical reality,
andDarialsky as thespiritual
seekerwhofinally uniteswiththedivinerealm
thatBelyalwaysbelievedwasnear(Alexandrov 2).
13. For a detaileddiscussionof Serebrianyigolub' as a specifically"Theosophical" novel,
see Carlson 1980.

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Symbolism 233

Numerous criticshaveseeninBely'ssearchforTruth theimplicitcontrast
between thephysicalanddivineworlds;however, theauthor's conceptofre-
alityunites the various of
aspects physical lifeinto the largerconceptof
Maya.Keys writes of Bely's formulation of realitythat "Not perspectivai
truth,onetruth amongmany, was hisultimate goal,buttheTruth, a dualistic
andapocalyptic vision of which
reality Bely wished the readerto see embod-
ied in theexperience of characters andpersonas alike" his
(218, emphasis).
SamuelCioranseesDarialsky as a victimofhisowneroticurgestowardMa-
trenaandawayfromhispureloveforKatiaas theprotagonist's impediment
to attaining DivineTruth(68). For PeterChristensen, the socio-political
eventsof 1905constitute thehero'smainobstacle(5), whereasDavid Elliot
seesthecentral conflictofthenovelas a cultural struggle betweenwestern-
izedRussiansocietyandthepre-Christian folkculture ofAsiaticRussia(28).
GivenBely'swriting styleandhis intellectualinterests,eachoftheseinter-
pretationshasmerit. However, thebroadcontours oftheMayathemepermit
Belytorefer notonlytoworldly eventslikerevolutions, andcultural
crises,butalso to largermetaphysical issues,suchas thenatureofgoodand
evilandtherelationship between physicalandspiritual without
reality, com-
promising hisartistic
In Serebrianyi golub' Bely firsttransforms theidealizedsymbolof this
idea- theMayaspider-intoan actualspiderspinning itswebintheautumn
sunlight.Theradiant web,whichrepresents thebeautyoftheworldillusion,
liesbetween theviewerandtheblueabyssoftheheavens:

Koraa HeT tvh, CBe»co h tohho Bbinie noflTAHVTO BbicoKoe He6o, Taieoe BbicoKoe h rayõoKoe [...]
BHCHT, npocTHpaa jioxMarue pyKH, ¿ryiuiHCTaji 6epe3OHbica mhofo aecjmcoB Jier, a hto
3axoTejiocb 6pocHTbca noa Hee h nw^en», numen, b
BHflbiBajia,- He cicaHceT.flapbfljibCKOMy
DiyÕHHy,CKBO3bbctbh, CKBO3bciwiomyio Kyaejib nayica, bwcoko HaTHHyryioTaM- TaM, Koraa
»eaflHbiHnayK, HacocaBiiiHHca Myx, HenoßBHHCHO pacruiacTaH b BO3,zryxe-h Ka»ceTCH,ôyzrrooh
b He6e. A He6o? A 6jieaHbiH BO3,zryxero, cnepBa ôneaHbiií, a kojih npHnumeTbCH, BOBce
HepHbiH BO3^yx?... B3flporHyn flapwuibCKHH, oyzrro Taima* norpO3HJiaeMy TaM onacHOCTb,
KaK rpo3HJiaOHa eMy He pa3, oyzrroTaìraa ero npH3biBajia CTpaniHaa, ot BeKa 3aKJiiOHeHHaab
He6e Taima.(162)

Whenthereare no clouds,theloftyskyfreshlyand preciselystretchesup even higher,so high
and so deep [...] the hollow littlebirchtree,stretchingout its shaggyarms,droops formany
decades, and what it has seen- it won't tell. Darialskywantedto throwhimselfunderit and
stare,stareintothedepths,throughthebranches,throughtheglittering spiderweb stretchedout
highabove- there,when the greedyspider,havingsucked its fillof flies,was spreadout,un-
movingin the air- and it seems as if it were in the sky.And the sky?And its pale air,at first
pale, butwhenre-examined,quite dark?...Darialskyshuddered,as thoughsome secretdanger
threatened himthere,as it had threatened him morethanonce, as thoughsome frightful secret
trappedin theskysince timebegan was secretlysummoninghim.

anysymboloccupiesa liminalspacevisà visthesetwo
layers reality, inthiscase,theliminality
of but is reinforced
of from
separation Darialsky the the
skyby glittering web.In thisparticular

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234 SlavicandEastEuropeanJournal

scene,Belyfocuseson thebeautyofthephysicalworld,rather thanthehor-
WhileBalmont, Hippius,andDobuzhinsky depicttheMayaspidereither
abstractly acting withintheconfines ofits"cell"initsspiderform, Bely
endowsthesectarian leaderKudeiarovwithspiderly attributes.Kudeiarov
spinsfrom hisownabdomen theradiantthreads thatentrapthosearoundhim.
Belyemphasizes spider-like the
qualitythrough carpenter's name,which
includesthewordskudel'kudesnik, andiarkii["spiderweb,""sorcerer," and
referringto thethreadsof lightthe sectarianweaves forhis magic
(Carlson1987,73-74).Kudeiarov is precisely
described as a spider,
weboutofhischest:he is "budtopauk,svetluiu
a radiant vypriadaiushchiiiz
sebia pautinu[like spider,spinning a radiant web out of himself]";
"blagoukhannye,bogodannye volosavyryvaet oniz grudi[hetearsthesweet-
smelling,god-giventhreadsfrom hisbreast]"(329). His strands oflighthyp-
Bee to KaK bo CHe Tenepb npoHOCHTC«b MarpeHe; Bea OHa b cbctoboh, xcapKOHcera; [...] bot
onjieTaeT oh npçzjMeTbi Jibiomeñca h3 ce6a cbctohochoh TKaHbio, 6opMoneT: pyicy iiojiohcht
h K OKHy,h K jiaMnafle, h k KpacHOMy CBoeMy ymy; nayK 3aiuieTaeT bck) KOMHaTynayTHHon;
Bcio^y Tenepb CBepicaHbe thchhh hhtch, noÕJiecKHBaHbe, MHraHbe- HHTeñ TOHnaHiiiHX,

Everything happenedto Matrenaas if she were in a dream;she was entirelyin a radiant,hot
web; [...] and now he weaves theradiantfabricpouringout of himselfaroundobjects,and mur-
murs:he lays his hand on the table and stepsaway again; fromthe table behindhim a thread
would stretch;he stretchesthatthreadbothto thewindowand to theicon lamp,and to his own
Red Corner;thespiderencases theentireroomin his web; everywherenow mereis thegleam
of thousandsof threads,shimmering, blinking- thefinest,mostradiantof threads[.]

Kudeiarov'sthreadseventuallyextendfrom hiscottage ontothesurroundings,
and"vsekrugom v pautine;v golubom dnesladkom pautinasaditsiana travy
na vozdukhe;i vykurivaetsia
peretiagivaetsia iz khatydymok;i saditsiana
travu;budtoi to- pautina[everythingin thevicinityis coveredby a spider
web;inthesweetbluedaya spiderwebcoversthegrassandis stretched inthe
air;andsmokedrifts outofthehut;anditcoversthegrass; as ifit,too,were
a spiderweb]"(338-39).Thisweb entraps anyone who entersKudeiarov's
hut,leadingthemto bringtheirfamilies to himmoreand moreoften,and
"pokavovsesem'iune zaputaet vsiuv setiakh[untiltheentire familywould
be completelyentangledinthenet]"(330).
Despitetheomnipresence oftheglittering
Darialsky hasmoments
whenhe intuitsthatthecarpenter'swebis illusory:
hto oh Tenepb noroui Bee, h Bee Tenepb
BejiHKoe b aynie ero Tenepb pa3flBoeHHe: eMy KaaceTCJi,
oh yMeeT CKa3an>,paccKa3an>, yicasan»; a rojioc ^pyroH Bce-TO eMy inenneT: 'Hiwero TaKoro h
HeT, h He 6buio',- h JIOBHTce6)i Ha tom, hto stot flpyroHrojioc h ecTb oh- ncwiHHHbiñ; ho
e^Ba oh noHMaeT ceôfl Ha tom, hto 6e3VMCTByeT,KaK eMy HanHHaeT Ka3an»ca, hto tot,

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TheMayaSpiderinRussianSymbolism 235

noHMaBiiiHHero rojioc, ecn> rojioc HCKyniaiomero ero 6eca...TaK ¿ryMaeToh h HfleTnepe3 nyr;
BflpyrC3a^H, H3-3a ero criHHbinpoTarHBaeTca k HeMy CBemaÄ nayrHHKa. (340)
and a greatdualitywas now in his soul: it seems to himthathe now understoodeverything, and
thathe could now say everything, explain it,pointit out; but anothervoice stillwhisperedto
him:<rrhere is nothing,and thereneverwas,' -and he catcheson to thefactthatthisothervoice
is himself- authentic;but as soon as he catcheshimselfraving,it seems to him thatthevoice
thathad caughthimwas thevoice of a devil temptinghim...He thinksthis,and he crosses the
meadow; suddenlybehindhim,fromhis back stretchesa radiantspiderweb.

In thispassage,Darialsky brieflyintuits thattheworldaroundhimis illusion
("Thereis nothing, andthereneverwas"),buthedoesnottrust thatvoiceand
is soonagainenveloped intheradiant threads ofMaya.Throughout thelatter
part of the novel, Darialsky is on the verge of enlightenment, of deciphering
thesymboloftheMayaspider, butKudeiarov's radiant webrepeatedly pulls
Inthecarpenter's hut,thebathhouse, andthehollowtreeKudeiarov controls
divinerevelation, entrapping the lovers and the other members of the sectin
hiswebofmaterial illusion.Thecarpenter completely coatsthe interior ofthe
hutinhisweb,butinpreparation forthesect'srituals, he transforms thedark
bathhouse intoa spacefullofdivinelight:"V banebylatishina; v banebyla
prokhlada; baniu ne topili;no vsia ona, s naglukho zakrytymi stavniami iznu-
tri,siiala,svetila,plavala v svete [In the bathhouse there was silence; in the
bathhouse itwas cool;theydidn'theatthebathhouse; butall ofit,withshut-
terstightly closedfromwithin, was radiant, shining, bathedin light]"(205).
However, like the the
Mayaspider, carpenter inhibits thesectarians from gaz-
ing around them to discover thatthe ceiling and walls of thebathhouse have
disappeared completely, torevealtheinfinity oftheskyabove(206). Laterin
thenovel,thecarpenter keeps the lovers from seeingbeyondtheconfines of
thehollowoak in whichtheymeet.Like Hippius'sspidersthatobscurethe
persona'sviewofreality andDobuzhinsky's immense spiderthatstandsover
theprisoners, Bely'sspider- Kudeiarov- blocks the lovers' viewofthedi-
vinestars:he placeshis handovertheknothole, withholding fromthema
glimpse of thedivine truthrepresented by the stars (335).
LikeanysymbolinRussianSymbolism, theMayaspidercontains theob-
ject and its the
opposite: spidermayspinillusion, but divine truth is available
canoccuratanypointintheceaselessprocessofcreation anddestruction. As
agents of the Mayaspider, Kudeiarov and his followers a
play key role in that
eternal processas theymurder Darialsky (Carlson1987,88). As Carlsonob-
serves,fourofthesectarians cometogether intoa largeoctopodal, arachnid-
likecreature to becomea "spider"thatdestroys theintellectual as theyper-
form thesacrifice inunison:
Tor#a mejiKHyji 3aMOK, h ohu noHBHJiHCb;no tofo MrHOBeHbJiohu Bce eme pa3MbiiiiJDUiH,
nepecTynan, jih hm pokoboh nopor: bçzu»h ohu 6buiH mom; ho Tenepb ohu noÄBHJiHCb.

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236 Slavic and East EuropeanJournal

BHAeji, Kaie mcojichho oncpbraajiacb ¿pepb h icaK 6ojibiuoe TeMHoe iwtho, TonoraBiuee
BoceMbK) HoraMH, BABHHynocbB KOMHaiy.(Bely's emphasis, 393)

Then the lock shook,and theyappeared;untilthatmomenttheywere stillconsideringwhether
or notto crossthefatefulthreshold:afterall theywerepeople,too; butnow theyappeared.Peter
watchedas the door slowly opened and a large darkspot,patteringon eightlegs, moved into

For thosemoments,theDoves metaphorically become theMaya spider,and
theyfulfillits will: "they"fall on Darialsky,like a spideron its prey.More-
over,afterthemurder, theDoves wrapDarialskyin bast matting, like tidbits
a spiderhas set aside forlaterconsumption (394).
Accordingto earthlyethics,murderis a crime,buta case can also be made
thattheDoves performan act of ultimatekindnessforDarialsky.The chap-
terprecedingthemurderis called "Osvobozhdenie,"translatedas "Release"
or "Liberation,"and the last chapterbears the even more telling title,
"Domoi!" ["Homeward!"](385, 389). Afterthe strikeby the"spider,"Dari-
alskyglimpseshis truehome,thedivinerealitywhichlies beyondthisworld:
"V efirakhPetr prozhil milliardylet; on videi vse velikolepie,zakrytoe
glazam smertnogo[In the etherPeterlived billionsof years;he saw all the
splendorunrevealedto mortaleyes]" (393). The Doves removefromDarial-
skythe shacklesof thematerialworldand liberatehim intoEternity, to his
Like real-lifeintellectuals oftheday,Darialskysetoutto discovertheTruth
of the"God-bearingnarod" onlyto discoverthattheyhave no truth, onlyil-
lusion. In thisreading,Kudeiarov,as the Maya spider,destroyedDarialsky
notto accomplishhis own evil plans,butto freeDarialskyfromtheprisonof
matter, thegeneralSymbolistidea thateventson thegross,mate-
rial plane have spiritualmeaningsand purposesthatare unknownto us, but
thatwe mightlearnto "interpret." Afterhis death,Darialskyfinallysees into
theinfinite abyss of the divine,which is "zakrytoeglazam smertnogo[unre-
vealed to mortaleyes]" (393). The "abyss" [bezdna,glubina] of theskyinto
whichDarialskyconstantly looks is thehighertruththatlies beyondthespi-
der's web of illusion.

Not everyappearanceof a spiderin literature (even Symbolistliterature)
signalsa referenceto Maya. This powerfularachnidianimagemayreference
otherarchetypalcomplexesof creationand destruction expressedin myths,
paintings,and texts(vide themyth ofArachne, WilliamHolman Hunt'spaint-
ing of the Lady of Shalott in her web, JeremiasGotthelf's Die schwarze
Spinne).And sometimes a spideris- a
just spider.14But the particularcase

14. Such as thesimplesimilespiderin Chapter24 of Sologub's Kapli krovi[Drops ofBlood,
1908] (Sologub 2007): Elisaveta,speakingof Klavdiia: "Ona stoialapod derevom,slozhivruki
na gnidi,i serymiglazami,- ne zavisf li mertsalav nikh?- smotrelana obnazhennoeElisavetino

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TheMayaSpiderinRussianSymbolism 237

presentedhere,the complex symbolof the Maya spider,allows Balmont,
Hippius,Dobuzhinsky,and Bely to expresstheirterrorat the worldaround
them,theirenduringfaithin a higherreality,and theirconvictionthatcontem-
poraryculturecould also transcendthe horrorsof degeneration, decadence,
All fourartistsdepicttheMaya spideras theagentof
and loss ofthespiritual.
dualism,darkness,and death,as the illusion of matterperpetratedin this
world.More thantheothers,arguably,Bely's novel pointstowardtranscen-
dence intothe splendorof the divineAll. This gnosis,however,was not in-
tendedforjust anyone- the reader/viewer mustsearchforthe key thatun-
locks themystery.
The spider,withitsinherent liminalassociations,servesas thesymbolpar
excellencein thatit touchesupon the key topics over whichthe Symbolists
mused: spiritand matter,East and West,the beautifuland the terrible,cre-
ation and destruction.Few symbolsof the SilverAge are as powerfuland
provocativeas Maya, theSpiderof WorldIllusion.


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The Maya Spiderin Russian Symbolism 239

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