Medusa – Serpent Goddess of female wisdom whose name means “I come from myself”, may have a lot to teach us in reclaiming our wise woman- but we have to reach behind the mask… a very scary thing for us modern women to do, as the mask has kept us, if not entirely connected to our feminine wisdom and power, then at least alive in a culture that has largely rejected these aspects of the feminine.
In the beginning the mask of Medusa was a protection to guard the feminine mysteries from those who had no ‘rite’ to know them, or those who could misuse, damage or destroy this sacred knowledge. Unfortunately, as women became less sourced in their feminine power, the mask of stone that could be turned turned either outward or inward, replaced the true face of feminine power.
Medusa- serpent headed monster, once priestess, primordial sea nymph, stony-eyed death giver, cave dweller on the edge of the world…
What can the myth of Medusa mean for modern women?
Like all myths the Myth of Medusa is a living entity, morphing into new shapes and interpretations with the continual unfolding of human consciousness.
The most commonly known version of the myth is that Medusa was a priestess in the temple of Athena, goddess of wisdom before her terrible transformation. In this myth we witness Medusa very much as the victim, rather like Persephone whose journey of initiation is also corrupted to portray the feminine in a passive state. In both cases, the myth of Medusa and the myth of Persephone may instead be read as journeys of initiation in claiming our Queendom by accepting our true essence.
Originally a sea nymph, her beauty was beyond compare and men travelled far and wide just to catch a glimpse of her- though in her vows of chastity appropriate for Athena’s temple she would give herself to no man. But the mighty sea god Poseidon had other ideas… so enraptured was he by Medusa’s beauty that he vowed to have her by hook or by crook. Poseidon raped Medusa in the temple precincts thus enraging the chaste and virtuous Athena who, rather than avenge Poseidon, instead punishes Medusa by changing her beautiful tresses into hissing serpents.
Medusa at once is banished from the temple taking up residence with her two gorgon sisters, Sthenno and Euryale, in a cave on the edge of the world, on the ocean’s edge near to the border of night and death. So horrifying was Medusa’s monstrous appearance that any mortal who dared to look upon her was immediately turned to stone- stories spead far and wide about the lands and caverns in the area being strewn with pertified men.
Of the three hideous gorgons, Medusa was the only one who could die and the solar hero Perseus on a mission contrived by King Polydectes set out on a mission to slay the head of Medusa. The gods were on his side… donning a mirrored shield given by Athena, golden winged sandals from Hermes, a sword form Hephaestus, and a helmet of invisibility from Pluto, the young demi-god son of Zeus and the mortal Danaë, was invincible.
Taking care not to look at Medusa directly, Perseus captures her reflection in his mirror as he slowly steps backwards, then with one fell swoop cuts of her head. From her severed body spring the winged horse Pegasus and the golden sword wielding giant Chrysaor. The other two gorgon sisters arrive on the scene, but Perseus escapes wearing the helmet of invisibility given to him by Pluto. Some people say that he flew away on the back of Pegasus holding in his hand the grotesque head of Medusa and that wherever the drops of blood fell to the earth, flowers, plants and other verdant life sprung forth.
Thereafter the goddess of wisdom Athena wore a breast plate of the Medusa’s head on her person as a symbol of protection. She gifted the blood of Medusa to the great healer Asclepius who separated it into two vials- the right vial it was said had great healing properties- even the power to bring back the dead- while the blood of the left vial was said to destroy and kill.
The Myth of Medusa is immensely rich with its origins rooted in north Africa and the Egyptian goddess Neith, who was known as Anatha in Libya, and Athena in Greece. In her book, ‘Mysteries of the Dark Moon’, Demetra George tells us that Neith emerged from the primeval floodwaters, and her name means, “I have come from myself”. As part of a triple goddess figure with Neith/Anatha, and Metis, Medusa embodies the third dark aspect of the destroyer/crone, and was revered as the Queen of the Libyan Amazons, the Serpent Goddess of female wisdom.
Feminist and Jungian scholars have made much of the layers of symbolism embedded within the story. For George, “Medusa in her association wit the serpent and the menstrual blood that could both heal and destroy, embodies the dark moon mysteries of the goddess. In her red-faced gorgon mask mounted by a crown of snakes, Medusa in women signifies a source of feminine wisdom that is connected to their sexuality.”
Kundalini serpent power is the life-force, prana or chi that lays dormant at the base of the spine until such time that it is activated and begins its journey up the spinal, passing through and activating the chakras (power centres) before arriving at the crown chakra. At which point cosmic consciousness is awakened. This force can then be used for regenerative healing and renewal, open doors of creativity, oracular wisdom and spiritual power.
Like Demetra, I see the hissing crown of the Medusa as feminine serpent power that once activated moves one beyond the constrictions of duality into a cosmic consciousness where there is a union between human and divine. Another way to say this is that the human body becomes the earthen vessel able to be penetrated by and hold divine energy.
This power has been repressed and punished by centuries of culture that have feared it, and women themselves have become cut off from the root of their feminine grounding. The monstrous aspect of Medusa is the mask we wear to protect ourselves from the vulnerability that we feel in being cut off at the root. Either we turn the mask out toward those we feel we must protect ourselves from- and in the case of modern women this often translates as many aspects of culture. If we turn the mask inward on ourselves, we despise all that makes us powerful and feminine- our menstruation- shamanic birthing- sexuality- magic, and Dark Goddess wisdom. This power has been so feared and so rejected in our culture that we have learned to disown it in ourselves and punish it in others.
Rather than see the myth of Medusa as another story of female disempowerment and victimisation, I see Medusa as a shamanic guide who can lead us to the places where we have blocked Dark Goddess power in ourselves. One way to do this is to acknowledge the mask of bitterness we wear, and the situations where we can petrify others and ourselves in our stony rigidity and insecurity.
However, this tale comes with a huge caution- these mysteries must be approached carefully and with great respect, and at the right time. Like a kundalini awakening the serpent power must not be unleashed prematurely or in ways that are dangerous, for then it can kill.
The clue to approaching the feminine mysteries lies in the fact that Perseus, or anyone else for that matter, cannot look directly at Medusa. With a lot of help from the gods in the form of magical tools, and by only looking upon the reflection of medusa rather than her actual person, is Perseus able to slay her.
This tells us that the feminine mysteries cannot be approached in a rational way, and that we must seek the help of the gods to contact the divine. That is why we need ritual, ceremony, initiation, rites of passage and prayer, and return to our bio-mystical rites.
It is said that at one time Athena and Medusa, along with the sea goddess Metis were all part of the tripe goddess archetype- from Athena we receive wisdom, intellect, valour and courage, from Metis intuition and creative expression, and from Medusa sexual power, magic and psychic abilities. Before patriarchal consciousness separated these aspects of femininity, this trilogy of power and attributes was the bedrock of the feminine wisdom and essence.
If you would like to work with Medusa and begin to see behind the mask in your own life, looking at the placement of asteroid Medusa in your chart can point to the area of your life and rulership under whose power Medusa operates.
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