Obviously this whole topic of mythologies in regards to Medusa is not new. The following is similar in part to the others I have posted, but again, there is some different pieces of information not found in the others so far.http://shedrums.com/Medusa.htm
The Serpent-Haired Queen Medusa (Sovereign Female Wisdom) by Demetra George
The Dark Goddess, in her guise as Medusa, was best known as the third Gorgon sister, whose beautiful abundant hair became a crown of hissing serpents and the gaze from her evil eye turned men into stone. Yet Medusa was once known for her beauty. She was depicted with graceful golden wings arched above her shoulders, and she took the Sea God as her lover.
The Orphics called the moon’s face the Gorgon’s Head. According to Robert Graves, during the earlier matriarchal times the Gorgon sisters were representatives of the Triple Moon Goddess. They were masked guardians, the protectors of her mysteries. The fact that Medusa was the only one of the three sisters who was mortal and could die suggests her association as a dark goddess connected to the dark closure aspect of the lunar cycle.
The patriarchy’s fear of the Dark Goddess led them to perceive Medusa as a demonic mythical monster, who was then fortunately decapitated by the hero Perseus. Mythographers have called her a nightmare vision – “a face so horrible that the dreamer is reduced to stony terror.” According to Freud, Medusa’s head represents the terrifying toothed genitals of the Great Mother. Erich Neumann writes that “the petrifying gaze of Medusa belongs to the province of the Terrible Great Groddess, for to be rigid is to be dead,” and that she is the devouring aspect of the mother.
THE TALE OF MEDUSA
How did the Sea Goddess with the most beautiful of tresses become transformed into a hideous, lethal demon? The story of Medusa is intertwined with that of the cold, detached virgin Athena, Olympian goddess of wisdom and war, who flaunts the Gorgon’s Head in the center of her breastplate. Medusa may in fact be Athena’s dark sister, who personifies the shadow side of her powerful instinctive femininity. The historical origins of these two goddesses take us back to North Africa and to the Egyptian goddess Neith, who was known as Anatha in Libya and as Athena to the Greeks.
Neith emerged from the primeval floodwaters, and her name means “I have come from myself.” The inscription on her temple at Sais reads, “I am all that has been, that will be, and no mortal has yet been able to lift the veil that covers me.” Neith represented Mother Death, and to see her face behind the veil was to have died.
In Libya, Neith, known as Anatha, was said to have arisen out of Lake Tritonis, the Lake of the Triple Queens. She displayed her triple nature as Athena, Metis and Medusa, who corresponded to the new, full, and dark phases of the moon. Athena was the new moon warrior maiden who inspired the Amazon tribes of women to courage, strength, and valor. The Sea Goddess Metis, whose name means “wise counsel,” was the full moon mother aspect of this trinity who, in later mythical tales, conceived Athena from Zeus. Medusa embodied the third, dark aspect as destroyer/crone, and she was revered as the Queen of the Libyan Amazons, the Serpent Goddess of female wisdom.
Originally Athena and Medusa were two aspects of the same goddess, Anatha; and as such they are part of the same archetype associated with a feminine-defined strength and wisdom. We will now see how, in the classical Greek tales, these two goddesses were split off from one another and set up as deadly rivals.
In Theogeny Hesiod gives the following account of Medusa’s origins. Medusa was one of the three Gorgon sisters, who were born from the ancient sea deities Phorcys and Keto. Two sisters were both immortal and ageless: Stheno, “Mighty One,” and Euryale, “Wandering One.” Medusa, “Cunning One” or “Queen,” was the only mortal. They lived on the road to the golden apple trees of the Hesperides at the far western edge of the world on the ocean’s edge near the borders of night and death.
According to the classical texts the three Gorgon sisters were originally beautiful golden sea goddesses. The lovely maiden Medusa was pursued by many suitors, but she would have none of them until she lay with the dark-haired Sea God Poseidon, earlier known asHippios the horse deity, in the soft grass under the spring blossoms. Poseidon, in the shape of a horse, seduced Medusa. After Medusa made love with Poseidon in one of Athena’s sanctuaries and became pregnant with twins, she incurred the wrath of Athena. Some say that Athena’s anger was due to Medusa daring to compare her beauty to that of Athena. Athena may have resented Medusa’s sexual encounter because she had renounced her own sexuality in order to maintain her exalted position on Olympus. Furthermore, Poseidon was Athena’s longtime bitter rival, who contested her rulership of Athens.
Whether Athena’s rage came from the desecration of her temple, sexual jealousy, or competition for supremacy in Libya, she transformed Medusa and her sisters into ugly hags. They became winged monsters with glaring eyes, huge teeth, protruding tongues, brazen claws, and serpent locks. Medusa was singled out as the most terrifying of the three, and her face was made so hideous that a glimpse of it would turn men into stone. Tales, embellished with danger, spread far and wide, telling how the lands and cavern of these fearsome sea monsters abounded with the rigid shapes of petrified men and animals. The Gorgons were feared for their deadly power. Hence the death of Medusa became a worthy heroic quest for the patriarchal solar heroes.
The tale of Perseus’s slaying of Medusa is on of the most ancient of all the Greek myths. The classical version may actually be based on a far older myth, preserved by local folk tradition, which extend back to the Mycenaean Period of the second millennium BCE. It was later overlaid with heroic elements that were so popular among the Greeks of the historic age. Graves feels that this story portrayed actual events during the reign of the historical King Perseus (ca. 1290 BCE), founder of the new dynasty in Mycenae. During this period the powers of the early moon goddesseses in North Africa were usurped by patriarchal-dominated invaders of mainland Greece. The legend of Perseusbeheading Medusa means that the Hellenes overran the Goddess’s chief shrines, stripped her priestesses of their Gorgon masks, and took possession of the sacred horse. This historical rupture and sociological trauma registered itself in the following myth.
Polydectes’ plan was to raise a tax of horses from the islanders (according to another version these horses were intended as a bride gift he meant to offer for the hand of Hippodameia). Because Perseus was poor, there was no way for him to obtain a horse; and he was tricked into pledging that he would bring the king the head of the Gorgon with its deadly power. The oldest narratives of the myth of Medusa relate that she was a mare whom Poseidon had mated while in the form of a stallion. Thus Perseus was promising the king the head of a most terrifying horse.
Perseus was assisted in this task with the help of Hermes and Athena. Hermes, messenger of the gods, gave him a curved magic sword, the only weapon capable of slaying the Gorgon. Pallas Athena, protectress of heroes, lent Perseus her brightly polished great shield to use as a mirror against Medusa, thereby avoiding direct contact with her deadly face, which could turn him into stone. They then appeared in a vision and led Perseus to the cave of the Graiae, who were the only ones who knew the exact whereabouts of Medusa.
The Graiae were three old women, a fateful trio of swan maidens, living at the foot of Mt. Atlas in Africa. Between them they shared one eye, with which they could see everything, and one tooth. Perseus tricked them into revealing Medusa’s whereabouts by grabbing their one eye and refusing to return it until they divulged the information he sought. He also forced them to tell him where to find the Stygian Nymphs, from whom he received a magic pouch to contain the severed head of medusa; the dark helmet of Hades, which would render him invisible; and a pair of winged sandals, which would enable him to fly with the speed of a bird to the desolate island lair of the Gorgon sisters.
Perseus then flew over the stream of Ocean to the extremities of the western shores and found the three Gorgons asleep in their great cavern. They were creatures with grfeat golden wings, their bodies covered with golden scales and crowned with wreaths of serpents, evoking the regalia of the royal Egyptian sea priestesses. He kept clear of Stheno and Euryale, who were immortal and could not be killed, and advanced toward Medusa, watching her reflection in his mirrored shield. His arm guided by Athena, Perseus, with one stroke of Hermes’ blade, slashed off Medusa’s head and hid it in his pouch. He then donned Hades’ cap of invisibility, in order ot escape the wrathful pursuit of the remaining Gorgons, and flew off the island.
From Medusa’s severed neck sprang her twin sons by Poseidon – Pegasus, the winged moon horse, who became a symbol of poetry; and Cryasor, the hero of the golden sword and father of King Geryon of Spain. As Perseus flew away, drops of Medusa’s blood trickled onto the hot African sands, causing oases to grow in the desert. In an alternate version these droplets of blood gave birth to a race of poisonous serpents destined to infest the regions with plagues in future ages.
Athena later gave to phials of Medusa’s blood to Asklepius, the God of Healing. It was said that blood from her right vein could cure and restore life, and that the blood from her left vein could slay and kill instantly. Others say that Athena and Asklepius divided the blood between them; he sued it to save lives, but she to destroy and instigate wars. In some traditions it was Athena’s serpent son Erichthonius to whom she gave the blood to either kill or cure, and she fastened the phials to his body with golden bands. Athena’s dispensation of the Gorgon blood to Asklepius and Erichthonius suggests the curative rites used in this cult were a secret guarded by priestesses, which it was death to investigate. The Gorgon’s Head was a formal warning to priers to stay away.
Among Perseus’s adventures on his way back to Seriphus were the turning of Atlas into stone and the rescue of Andromeda. In order to escape from Africa, Perseus had to defeat the huge King Atlas, father of the Hesperides, who were the guardians of the apples of immortality. Atlas, warned by an ancient prophecy that a son of Zeus would rob him of his golden fruits, refused Perseus’ hospitality and attempted to thrust him away. In anger, Perseus held up the Gorgon’s Head and turned the giant into stone, which then formed the Atlas Mountains, upon which rest the sky and all the stars.
Perseus’s story continues with the rescue of the Ethiopian princess Andromeda, who was bound to a rock on the seashore as a victim to a great sea monster, Cetus. He then takes her for his bride and they return to Seriphus to free his mother from the clutches of Polydectes. Perseus presents his promised gift and thereby turns the king and his court to stone. Perseus’s daughter with Andromeda is named Gorgophone.
Perseus gives the Gorgon’s Head ot Athena, who affixes it to her breastplate. Some say that her aegis was Medusa’s own skin, flayed from her by Athena. Other legends tell of the head being buried in the agora before the goddess Hera’s temple in Argos.
MEDUSA AND ATHENA
In order to penetrate the mystery that stands behind the Goprgon’s Head, we must first untangle the threads that weave and bind Medusa and Athena. Medusa and Athena are aspects of the same goddess who emerged from Lake Tritonis in Libya. They are both associated with female wisdom, which is depicted in the serpent symbolism that surrounds them – Medusa with her serpent locks and Athena with her serpent-fringed aegis. Medusa, as wise crone, holds the secrets of sex, divination, magic, death and renewal. Athena, the eternal maiden, is linked with the new moon and presides over the female qualities of courage, strength and valor. This African triple goddess, who was born out of the sea and reigned in the desert, displayed herself as both the armored chaste virgin warrior Athena and the serpent-crowned Queen Medusa, protector of the dark moon mysteries, who celebrated the sexual rites with the lineage of sea gods.
The warrior form of this Libyan triple goddess was clothed in the original legendary aegis – a goatskin chastity tunic. She also wore a Gorgon mask and carried around her waist a leather pouch containing sacred serpents. This outfit was duplicated in the dress of the Amazon women, and later worn by the classical Athena in her Olympioan reign. Any man who removed one of these tunics without the owner’s consent would be killed for violating the potent maidenhood of these young women.
The infamous Gorgon masks were called gorgoneions. They portrayed a face with glaring eyes, bared fanged teeth, and protruding tongue, similar to many images of Kali. They were worn by priestesses in moon-worshipping rituals, both to frighten away strangers and to evoke the Goddess herself. The purpose of the mask was to protect the secrecy required for the magickal work associated with the third or dark triad of the Triple Moon Goddess. It served to warn people against intruding upon the divine mysteries hidden behind it.
These ceremonies included divination, healing, magic, and the sexual serpent mysteries associated with death and rebirth. The female face, represented by Medusa, surrounded by serpent hair was a widely recognized symbol of divine female wisdom. The EphasusGorgons with four wings each almost duplicate the flying Gorgons at Delphi, the temple of the world’s greatest oracular priestesses. The venom from the bite of certain snakes induced the hallucinatory state in which the oracular vision was revealed.
The Gorgon face, often red in color, held the secrets of the menstrual wise blood that gave women their divine healing powers. Certain primitive tribes believed that the look of a menstruating woman could turn a man to stone, which links Medusa with the menstrual blood mysteries. The blood that Persues took from Medusa could both heal and kill; it may originally have been her menstrual blood rather than blood from the wound in her neck.
The mask was also worn by priestesses in the sacred sexual rites to symbolize that they were acting not as individuals, but as representatives of the Goddess, whom she empowered to transmit her blessings of healing and regeneration through ritual intercourse. The prophylactic mask was also donned by the funerary priestesses, who initiated people into the mysteries of death. In later times to possess a replica of a Gorgon’s Head was to be protected with a charm against ills that repelled the attack of harmful forces. It was believed to be a protection against the evil eye, and was often depicted in shields, ovens, town walls, and buildings to frighten enemies and ward off malicious spirits.
With the passage of time, Libyan refugees emigrated to Crete. They had brought with them their Serpent Goddess Anatha, and by 4000 BCE she had become known as Athena, the protectress of the palace. Her worship was adopted and then passed on to mainland Greece and Thrace in the Minoan/Mycenaen period. From this era there arose a new genealogy of the birth of Athena. She now was said to have sprung forth from the head of her father, Zeus. Earlier versions reveal that Athena was conceived in a union between Zeus and a mother goddess named Metis/Medusa, who came from the sea.
The tales that come from the transition period between the matriarchy and patriarchy tell how the wise Metis helped Zeus achieve victory over his father, Cronus, by giving him an emetic that forced him to cough up his swallowed children. In honor of her great service Zeus decided to make metis the first consort of the new supreme ruler of the heavens. Although Metis changed into many shapes to avoid Zeus’s lustful advances, she was finally ravished and got with child. Zeus was warned by an oracle that Metis would bear him a second child, who would become kind of gods and men. To maintain his sovereignty Zeus consumed Metis whole while she was pregnant with Athena. The blinding headache that resulted when Zeus walked the shores of Lake Tritonis in Libya could only be relieved through having his head cleft with a double-edged axe (a matriarchal symbol of the lunar crescent). Amidst the rumbling of the earth and raging of the sea, out sprang Athena in armor of gleaming gold. She immediately became her father’s favorite.
Later versions cut out the transitional story of Metis and claim that Athena was conceived and birthed solely from Zeus himself. From a sociological perspective, this myth marks the ingestion of the feminine warrior wisdom principle to the needs of the new patriarchal order. The patriarchy championed Athena as benevolent, suppressed Metis altopgether, and denounced Medusa as evil. Athena and Medusa were then cast as opponents.
As Athena was absorbed into the classical Greek pantheon, she was the only one of the old goddesses who was elevated and respected, and she became part of the new ruling trinity along with Zeus and Apollo. She had to pay a steep price for her supremacy in the new order. First she was forced to deny her femininity and to sacrifice her sexuality, becoming a perpetually chaste virgin. She was cut off from her cyclical nature, which included renewal through sexual rites. She then promised to become champion of the patriarchy by using her warrior potency to denounce, slaughter, and conquer her matriarchal ancestors from Africa.
Graves says that Athena was a traitor to the old religion by affiliating with the solar gods and assisting the solar heroes to slay all the resisting matriarchal fatctions, who were now feared as the Terrible Mother. As she joined Zeus and his son Perseus to kill her own mother Metis/Medusa and supplant her in the hierarchy, Athena was then most appropriately chosen to preside over and pardon Orestes in his trial for matricide.
Duing this time Athena’s prime rival for the rulership of Athens was Poseidon; and it was through the union of her two sworn enemies, Poseidon and Medusa, that she began to wage her war. Historical evidence points to the fact that Medusa was a high priestess of Africa who presided over Libyan tribes of Amazon warror women. Dating from at least 6000 BCE, these fierce and noble African Amazons populated not only North Africa, but also Spain and Italy. The Greek legends of Poseidon mating with Medusa, and Perseus slaying the Gorgon, derive from actual battles waged by the patriarchal Greek soldiers against these warrior women from North Africa. The tribe against whom Perseus fought was a race called the Gorgons.
Medusa, Athena, and Poseidon In the oldest tales there are references to the beautiful third Gorgon sister, Medusa, who willingly takes the Sea God as her lover in the celebration of the sexual mysteries of the Goddess and her Consort. At a certain point after 2000 BCE the legends tell of the “marriage” or alternately “rape” of Queen Medusa to the oceanic King Poseidon, one of the original Olympians, who had been known in his earlier form as Hippios the horse deity as well as lord of the sea. Poseidon in the form of a stallion mounted Medusa as a mare and fathered Pegasus, a winged moon horse.
An early representation of Medusa, dating from the seventh century BCE in Boeotia, shows her as a small, slender mare-woman who, although masked with a Gorgon’s Head, shows none of the frightful aspects of the classical Gorgon. By associating the Gorgon mask with the slender equine form, this artist permits us to catch a brief glimpse of a far more ancient tradition, in which the dark sister was not an isolated object of fear. The Gorgon mask, as the face of the moon, suggests that Medusa was one of the three aspects of the pre-Hellenic Moon Goddess, and the small native horses of these indigenous peoples were sacred to the early moon cults in rainmaking ceremonies. Poseidon’s rape of Medusa in the form of a stallion tells the story of hwo the first wave of invading Hellenes from Greece, who rode large vigorous horses, forcibly married the Amazon moon priestesses and took over the rainmaking rites of the sacred horse cult through the birth of Pegasus.
This is one variation of many similar stories that appear all over the Mediterranean Crescent around this time, describing the transition from the reign of the goddesses to that of the gods. The supremacy of the Great Goddess who took the young God as her Consort/lover was overturned and the God matures and then usurps her power by forcibly raping, marrying and subjugating her and by suppressing her worship. Poseidon’s soldiers likewise raped the Amazon priestesses, and they ignored the injunction of the aegis and Gorgon mask to stay away unless invited. The Gorgon mask then turned into the portrait of horror, fear, and rage frozen on the faces of these warrior women resulting from their forceful violation.
It was only after Medusa’s union with Poseidon that Athena transformed the beautiful Libyan Amazon Queen into the deadly monster whose horrible face would turn men into stone. In Athena’s rivalry with Poseidon she may have been enraged that Poseidon laid claim to the country of her birth. She saw Medusa’s submission to him in one of her own temples as an act of betrayal from the peoples of her native land. Thus Medusa represented a rival matriarchal religion that needed to be suppressed.
In retaliation against Medusa, Athena, who had already sacrificed her own sexuality, ensured that Medusa would never again participate in the Goddess’s sexual mysteries, because one look at her face would petrify any approaching man. And Freud concluded that the Gorgon’s head represented the terrifying genitalia of the Great Mother, which threatens to castrate men. An alternate interpretation suggests that in Athena’s compassion for her lost sisters, she imbued the Gorgon mask with a new, deadly power, one which could kill the attackers. This was to protect the Queen and her priestesses from continuing to be defiled, degraded, and destroyed through the sexual assault of the invaders.
Medusa, Athena, and Perseus According to the Olympian Greeks, Athena finally succeeded in destroying and conquering Queen Medusa during the reign of King Perseus, around 1200 BCE. Perseus, whose name also mean destroyer, acted on Athena’s behalf. At her request and with her help, Perseus overthrew the principle shrine of the Old African religion in Libya and slayed the high priestess, thus furthering the suppression of the matriarchal consciousness. Perseus then delivered the Gorgon’s Head to Athena, who wore it over her heart as a continuing token of her underlying connection to Medusa. She displayed the Gorgon’s Head both to strike terror in her enemies and to affirm her supremacy in having denounced and demolished her matriarchal ancestors.
While the earliest representations depicted the Gorgon as a protector of the dark moon mysteries, the patriarchy later conceived her as a demon. Then, in later artistic portrayals, the Gorgon became a beautiful angel. She passed through phases of becoming sinister, sad, and increasingly pathetic, and finally metamorphosed into a calm, dignified death mask.
I saw you once, Medusa; we were alone.
I looked you straight in the cold eye, cold.
I was not punished, was not turned to stone.
How to believe the legends I am told? . . .
I turned your face around! It is my face.
That frozen rage is what I must explore –
Oh secret, self-enclosed and ravaged place!
That is the gift I thank Medusa for.
- May Sarton, “The Muse as Medusa”
Serpent-haired Medusa was once a queen of the awesome powers of the dark moon. She ruled over the regenerative mysteries of sex and death, and protected these magical rites from being discovered and abused by the uninitiated. As the third, crone/destroyer aspect of the lunar triad, Medusa’s message was one of wisdom, and it concerned the inevitability of death. The west is the gateway to death, and Medusa’s oceanic cavern situated at the far western edge of the world lies at the entrance to the underworld. The patriarchy, in their fear of the wise woman, of death, and of the magical sexual power of the menstruating feminine, demonized Medusa (as they did the other dark goddesses) into a monstrous figure of the devouring, castrating mother.
Medusa continues to haunt generations of men with her deadly power to turn them into stone with a glance from her evil eye. The ancients projected this fear on the star of Agol in the constellation of Perseus. Perseus is holding up the head of Medusa as a trophy of his conqurest, and Agol, known as the demon star, represents the eye in the Gorgon’s Head. Agol is an eclipsing binary and is made up of two stars revolving around each other. Approximately every sixty hours, when the fainter star passes in front of the brighter and hides or eclipses it, Agol gives a long, gradual “wink.” The ancients explained this phenomenon as the winking of the demon’s eye still blinking after her body had been decapitated.
On an outer level the myths of the solar heroes slaying the monsters, like that of Perseus and Medusa, are the patriarchal stories telling the tale of their conquest of the old matriarchy. On an inner level these myths depict the maturation of the masculine principle. They relate the struggle of the young god who is the son and lover of the Goddess to transform himself into the mighty hero who conquers and then dominates the feminine. Interpreting the myth of Medusa has been a subject of fascination for both Freudian and Jungian psychoanalyst writers. Examining the ways in which men have tried to intellectualize and distance themselves from the instinctual powers of the dark feminine can give us clues as to how Medusa currently appears in the male psyche. Men then project this anima image upon actual women who evoke some of the qualities of the serpent-haired queen.
The Gorgon Medusa, like the other dark goddesses, became greatly feared by the patriarchy when humanity forgot the cyclical nature of death-becoming-life. Commentaries about Medusa as written by modern male psychoanalytic theorists emphasize her demonic and destructive qualities. Wolfgang Lederer, in The Fear of Women, states that “nothing but terror emanates from Medusa’s head.” The terror of Medusa that turns men into stone is their terror of death and castration.
Erich Neumann writes that the winged Gorogn’s “. . . are unroboric symbols of the primordial power of the Archetypal Feminine, images of the great pre-Hellenic mother goddess in her devouring aspect as earth, night, and underworld.” Signmud Freud’s interpretation, “Medusa’s Head” (1922), suggests that Medusa’s head, surmounted by snakes, is the symbol of the maternal gentialia – the hair maternal vulva as seen by the son. He says that to decaptitate is synonymous with to castrate. However frightening the snakes may be in themselves, they serve as a mititgation of the horror, for they replace the penis, the absence of which is the cause of horror. Freud felt that being turned to stone implied erection as a defense to the threat of castration.
Philip Slater agrees with Freud that Medusa’s head is a symbol of maternal genitalia, but he disagrees with Freud’s interpretation of turning to stone as a symbolic erection as a defense against the fear of castration. Slater argues that “while the idea of erection may be present in the stiff with terror response, the immobility is much more suggestive of impotence, and this interpretation fits better the many examples of paralysis and turning to stone . . . The purpose of Athena’s aegis was to render potential ravishers impotent rather than to provide reassuring erections.”
For the Greeks, the vulva had the magical power not merely to neutralize, but also as an apotropaic device to frighten away evil spirits such as the Devil. It was used by women against men and against bogies. From a masculine perspective, the alarming hypnotic, staring eyes of Medusa within the maternal genitalia, which turn men into stone, produces immobility, impotence, and anesthesia. Slater cites clinical studies that show how frequently these outcomes are associated with early incestuous arousal. Incest with the mother calls up a terrifying chain of psychological associations for the young man. These fears could be partly associated with certain traditions and rituals practiced in the matriarchy.
For example, in the rites of the year king, the young god, after participating in the sacred marriage, was ritually killed. His dismembered bodily parts were then plowed under the earth in order to assure fertility and abundance for the coming harvest. Held in the unconscious psyche of the masculine his the image that deep sex with the mother results in death. It brings one to a loss of manhood, sexual potency, and life itself. And when death is separated from the cycle of rebirth, this event signifies the final termination of the life force.
Perseus is ahero to the patriarchy because he attacked and killed a representative of the Terrible Mother, who was reputed to seduce and then devour men. In beheading the Gorgon he castrated her and thus deprived the maternal genitalia of its power to render men impotent. Once protected from the deadly power of the Medusa’s sexuality, the turning-into-stone motif becomes, as Freud surmised, the stiff erection. The male phallus is now bent on violent rape as an expression of destructive rage toward the threatening sexuality of the maternal principle. This trend to separate sexuality from motherhood culminated in the Christian tradition, with the idealized mother of the young god, the Virgin Mary, who immaculately conceived her child.
When the distorted shadow image of Medusa is active in the male psyche, the situation arises as a young boy desires to be held in the nurturing bosom of his mother. But at the same time, he resists the urge, fearing that he may become engulfed and smothered. He also struggles to be fred from feeling the intensity of his mother’s unconscious sexual needs and his subsequent sense of his inability to gratify them. Or, if he succeeds in doing so, the result would be, like the year king, the inevitability of his own death. The infant boy’s primal image of the feminine arises form his perception of his mother as possessive and sexually devouring. He fears being swallowed by the womb itself, the hairy vulva reminiscent of the Gorgon’s Head, which is imaged as vagina dentata, a vagina with teeth. A young boy, who is in rage and bitterness, which taints his own inner soul so that he carries her hatred for her.
When a man’s anima consists of such a Medusa-like figure shaped on his relationship to his mother, he later projects it onto his mates. His partners take on the form of the wrathful, deadly female who threatens his sexual potency. She dares him to approach her, only to then reveal a face the the terrifying Gorgon, which is frozen in rage. Medusa’s face reflects her anger over the ways in which the patriarchal mentality has violated, castrated, desexualized, and disempowered her as the queen of the serpent mysteries. When men cease to honor the sexuality of the dark feminine, the contortions of the Gorgon’s grimace show her bloodthirst for revenge. When men evoke this response from the women in their lives, they are overcome with the raw terror of the offender who fears that this vengeance will petrify and render them impotent.
When Medusa is a primary archetype in a man’s life, he will be attracted to women who will respond to his unconscious attempts to set her up to act out his worst fears of the terrible feminine. His partner will come to hate him, belittle him, reject him sexually and criticize his performance, call him repulsive, and repel his advances. His Medusa-like mates will fulfill his shadow projections of women as ball-busting castrators who reinforce his insecurities concerning his sexual potency and “maleness.” His pain, humiliation, sense of diminishment, and ineffectuality, whose source lies in the sexual arena, gradually overtakes his entire self-image and reduces his capacity to function strongly in the rest of his life affairs. He may overcompensate for his inner sense of impotence by becoming increasingly rigid in his negative attitudes and violent actions toward women.
The Romantics of the nineteenth century found in Medusa a vision that Lederer writes encompassed the full circle from her beauty, to the love of woman as pain, as corruption, as the undoing of men, as death. Shelley, upon seeing a painting of Medusa in the Uffizi Gallery wrote,
It lieth, gazing on the midnight sky,
Upon the cloudy mountain peak supine;
Below far lands are see tremblingly;
Its horror and its beauty are divine.
Upon its lips and eyelids seem to lie
Lovliness like a shadow, from which shine,
Fiery and lurid, struggling underneath,
The agonies of anguish and of death . . .
“Tis the tempestuous loveliness of terror . . .”
This glassy-eyed severed female head, this horrible, fascinating Medusa, was to be the object of the dark loves of the Romantics and the Decadents throughout the whole of the century. Lederer continues that the evil and sin that obsessed the imagination of the Romantic poets and artists was always incest with the mother; not the Oedipal incest that would make them into men who replaced their fathers, but the uroboric incest that dissolves them back into the amniotic fluid.
From a Jungian perspective the myth of the hero symbolizes the archetypal stages in the development of consciousness. Initially the ego, which is defined in the West as the organized faculty of the masculine psyche, is born out of the soul, which is the feminine uroboricunity of the Great Goddess, that is, the young god as the son/lover of the Great Mother. The development of consciousness involves the ego’s growth in learning the qualities of reason, intellect, and logic with which to first recognize and discriminate itself as a distinct individual entity, and then to separate itself from the mother. “The stronger the masculine ego consciousness become, the more it is aware of the emasculating, bewitching, deadly and stupefying nature of the Great Goddess.”
According to this point of view, Medusa, as a devouring female monster, represents the dread of the irrational and fear of annihilation by unconscious forces. While the masculine may desire to sink back and dissolve into the pleasure of the womb, this is seen as a regressive trend to the development of the male ego. The hero needs to slay the monster in order to prevent his return to the feminine uroboric unity to free himself from the power of the mother in the unconscious. The violence to the feminine is a reaction to the pull of the mother. The hero’s path of individuation necessitates a movement away from the soul, represented by the dark instinctual feminine. He is aided in this quest by the impetus of the spirit embodied by the light, rational masculine, or the Great Father archetype.
Men who have not made peace with Medusa in themselves will see feminine sexuality as something that fascinates them, but also the source of their self-undoing. As they try to protect themselves against its frightening power by destroying the monster, they will unconsciously incite the Medusa woman in their lives to retaliate by castrating them physically and psychologically. For many of us, direct confrontation with this aspect of our being, often unknown and unnamed as it hides in the dark caverns of our psyche, can overwhelm and immobilize us with its raw intensity.
And yet a man who desire a positive relationship to women’s dark moon sexuality must make the descent into his unconscious, listen to the wailing agony of his decapitated Medusa, reach out in sympathy to her pain, heal the wounds of her rejection, and return whole-within-himself to the upper world. After the hero has proved his separation from his mother, he must reestablish a loving relationship to his inner dark feminine. Until he can do that he will remain trapped in the web of destructive sexual relationships.
Let us now look at the psychology of the feminine who wears the Gorgon’s Head over the center of her breastplate. In what ways have women been conditioned through patriarchal culture to deny and reject the power of the serpent-haired queen within them, and how has this affected their relationship to themselves and others?
Medusa, in her association with the serpent and with the menstrual blood that could heal and destroy, embodies the dark moon mysteries of the Goddess. In her red-faced Gorgon mask surmounted by a crown of snakes, Medusa in women signifies a source of feminine wisdom that is connected to their sexuality. She points to the source of women’s powers of divination, creation, destruction and regeneration.
Buffie Johnson explains that hair stands for energy and fertility. On the head hair signifies higher spiritual forces, and below the waist it indicates the fertilizing forces. When snakes replace the hair as they replace the Gorgon’s tresses, they represent the higher forces of creation.
The serpent symbolizes the kundalini force coiled like a snake at the base of the spine that stand behind our sexual procreative energy. When kundalini is activated, it rises up through the central spinal column, activating each charka in turn, and eventually comes out of the top of the head as cosmic enlightenment. When Medusa’s hair is transformed into snakes, this symbolizes the rising of the kundalini and our ability to utilize this force for regenerative healing, mental creativity, oracular wisdom, and spiritual power.
To the extent that we have culturally repressed and feared the powers of this Dark Goddess and have accepted the patriarchal view of her as a monster to be destroyed, we have cut ourselves off from our ability to access our sexual power to create, regenerate, and know the truth from within ourselves. In face we have been taught to shirk from and reject the kind of menstrual, ecstatic, and nonreproductivesexuality that activates these powers. Medusa in us carries the patriarchy’s projection of women’s dark sexuality as evil.
The pure form of Medusa symbolizes the source of our instinctual bodily wisdom and power. However, in our fear and denial of her, she has come to represent the ways in which we feel the most ignorant and incapable. She signifies a place of deep insecurity in us; and when we are challenged in her domain we become stiff with terror and immobilized from taking action. We are rendered powerless, and our inner Medusa remains vulnerable and unprotected.
In our fear we erect a defense to hold back the forces of those who might take advantage of our weakness and violate us. By donning the Gorgon’s maske we create a hideous face that we hope will frighten and repel others. It is a portrait of feminine anger and hatred, and her effect upon anyone who looks at her is paralysis. Medusa’s mask is ugly, yet underneath her hard and unattractive exterior is soft, beautiful, and sensitive. And she usually has been deeply wounded by a man at some point in her life.
Jean Bolen comments on the woman who is wearing Athena’s armor with Medusa’s aegis on her breastplate. If the Athena side of the archetype is more active, her well-armored (usually intellectual) defenses are up and her authority and critical gaze keep others at an emotional distance. Lederer, commenting on Athena’s stance, says, “As she displays the genitalia of the Mother (i.e., the Gorgon’s Head), she proclaims herself as a castrated woman, and her terrible sight cannot fail to repel all enemies. She becomes the Unapproachble, who fends off all sexual lust, numbs her enemies with terror, and repels desire.”
But for those of us who are severed form Medusa’s serpent power and cannot access our wisdom and strength, we continue to experience failure and humiliation in her sphere. As our fear of inadequacy increases, so do the protective barriers of our defenses. Our frustration and rage serve to crystallize the grimacing mask of frozen rage upon our face. While we are powerless behind the mask, others feel intimidated. We give looks that will turn a person to stone. The mask, now inseparable from our true face, acts to keep others away. Often we do not fully realize the effect of our glare, and so we experience and increasing sense of being ostracized, rejected, and hated by others. These negative and destructive attitudes reflect back upon ourselves, and we become bitter, blaming, and judgmental. If the mask turns inward, we are repulsed by our impotence, which grows into a pervasive self-hatred; and this self-rejection is added to our other problems.
In order to transform the mask, we must first recognize and acknowledge the wrathful face that we present to others. Our next task is to recall Medusa from her banishment and once again reclaim the serpent-haired queen by honoring the dark moon wisdom that arises from our sexuality. Medusa is the source of our deep, regenerative healing power. The menstrual blood of the Serpent Goddess that could heal, kill, and even raise the dead is reflected in the twin serpents of Life and Death twining about the winged staff that is today the emblem of the medical profession. Her blood was given by Athena to the God of Healing, Asklepius, whose daughter Hygeia, Goddess of Health was in classical times the guardian of the sacred serpents in the healing temples.
In order to claim the spiritual power of the ancient Libyan Serpent Goddess of Wisdom, we must develop our talents and inner resources that will give us a new sense of our value and self-worth. We will then see her blessings in our lives as our increasing confidence in our ability to be creative and assertive in all our life endeavors. We will remember how to use her ancient wisdom in recognizing truth, healing and regenerating ourselves and others. And we will recover the magic of our dark sexuality.
Remembering that intelligence, strength, and creativity were once rooted in the feminine tradition, we can call upon the lineage of the Triple Goddess Neith/Anatha. From Athena we can receive valor, strength and courage; from Metis the intuitive wisdom of wise counsel and creative self-expression; and from Medusa our psychic sexual abilities to heal and regenerate. The power that comes from the core of our being, which is grounded in the stability of our inner wisdom and strength, is what can truly ward off the threat of violation. We no longer need the frightening mask as a weapon of defense to conceal our insecurity.
She also has some questions for readers to consider that I think would be useful in planning out the ritual:
1. How do I feel about snakes?
2. How do I respond to the sight of hair on a woman’s vulva? Do I find it beautiful? Am I somewhat fascinated but repulsed at the same time? Can I remember my childhood reactions when I first saw pubic hairs on my mother or some other woman?
3. If I am a man . . . [I won’t put it here]
4. If I am a woman, do I feel insecure and inadequate in my ability to express my sexuality, wisdom, and power in my life? Have I ever put on a wrathful face or given a “look that could kill” in order to protect myself from being exposed? Have I ever felt shunned and rejected by others because of my appearance or personality? Can I acknowledge and honor my female serpent power as my inner source of creativity, actualization and strength in my life?