This month’s creature feature comes from the Land of the Rising Sun and is in honor of Valentine’s Day. For February, it’s none other than the Jorogumo – which roughly translates to Whore Spider.
What is it?
The Jorogumo/Whore Spider is an arachnid demon that feeds on humans and shape-shifts into a beautiful young woman to lure men into her trap.
According to the stories, the demon is born the shape and size of a regular spider and lives its first 400 years as a normal spider – eating insects and other creepy crawlers. However, once it hits that big 4-0-0, it develops magical powers that allow it to shape-shift.
From there, the stories vary but most follow this pattern: a young man is walking in the woods when he meets a beautiful lady near a waterfall. She either plays the biwa (a type of lute) or invites the man back to her house to listen to her play the biwa. Once he hears her play the instrument, he is so enthralled with her that he doesn’t notice webbing wrapping his legs. By the time the webbing is up to his waist it’s too late for him and the Jorogumo eats him alive.
Some tales say the Jorogumo can control other spiders to lead/frighten the man, making him more vulnerable to her charms, or the Jorogumo injects the man with venom and she drains his life force over a period of time, and others have the demon use the man to fertilize her egg sack before she consumes him. In the end, it’s death by demon-spider.
There is one very interesting exception, though. One story has a woodcutter slipping into a waterfall-fed pond and, instead of drowning, a beautiful woman transforms into a large spider and uses her silk-spinning ability to save him. The man falls in love with her and he decides to live in the forest with her. That story spun (pun intended!) a couple variations where they don’t live together but the woodcutter keeps her secret and one where travelers bring spiders to a waterfall to pray for safekeeping on long trips.
None of the tales I read mentioned how to kill the Jorogumom but I’d wager crushing it, shooting it in the head or burning it would work.
The stories go back to the Edo Period (1603-1868) in Japanese history. There’s not much on what inspired the tale, but the idea of the spider-demon woman has lasted over 400 years (coincidence?). Some of the earliest tales don’t include the biwa, which could indicate that the instrument was added in later when Japanese girls were expected to play the lute.
With more societal pressure on men to find a girl that was beautiful and could play the biwa skillfully, the Jorogumo could have gained more traction as a cautionary tale that no one is perfect. But, for the sake of fairness, nearly every culture has a creature that seduces young men, so this could very well be the Japanese version of a mermaid.
Unsurprisingly, the Jorogumo shows up in a lot of anime, Japanese short stories, manga, and Japanese-made video games. When Hellboy goes to Japan, he battles a spider-woman who breathes green fire, and in Diablo 3, one of the level bosses is a demon named Cydaea, the Maiden of Lust, who takes the shape of a humanoid spider.
Additionally, in the Dr. Who episode “The Runaway Bride,” the character Donna Noble discovers that her finance was only marrying her so that he could fed her to his true love: Empress of the arachnid-like racnoss species.
The Jorogumo is a bit of a catch 22 for writers. She’s a seductress demon, which is kind of played out. It’s hard to use that trope without seeming lazy, especially if it’s a Monster of the Week kind of story. The falling in love with a spider-demon tale is interesting, and a writer could play with that notion of loving a deadly monster.
Warm Bodies features a girl falling for a zombie, and while the movie may not have had great success, it was a really interesting book. There’s also some space in maybe having a main character be a Jorogumo who doesn’t want to hurt anyone – there’s been a trend in “vegetarian” monsters or creatures that don’t want to eat people (Twilight, Tokyo Ghoul and MTV’s Teen Wolf to name a few) – so there’s a market for that type of novel.