Medusa: The Snake & the Mask
This writing is from two blogs I originally wrote in 2013 whilst painting Medusa (pictured below) I wanted to update and reshare them here as I still find this Goddess fascinating and largely misunderstood. I hope you enjoy and discover something about the power and beauty of Medusa.
Where to start with a painting whose research has taken me into ever complex attitudes, global relevance, and a well weaved web of myth and lie? Medusa first came to me a few years ago, shortly after I'd had the pleasure of attending a Snake - Kundalini workshop with the lovely Kwali at 3 wishes Faery Festival in Cornwall in 2010. In this workshop we did some yoga and breath-work, and when we were all prepared, Kwali placed her beloved Snakes upon us. This was the first time I had touched, held or even been particularly close to a snake, but a love affair with them was born that day. Some people were scared and getting over deep phobias and so this experience with these gentle snakes was deeply healing for them. For me, I was amazed by their warmth and presence, such beautiful, strong and sensitive creatures. One of the first snakes I'd held, gently wrapped him/herself around my arm and didn't want to leave! I now have a tattoo of a snake curling around this arm. I remember I'd had an on going RSI neck complaint,and at the end of the session a small Boa Constrictor gently curled around my neck, OK, I can hear some of you squealing out there, but it was far from scary; I felt a deep sense of calm, of slowness and peace. These ancient beings slow your hectic human vibration down to a deeper level of calm. The lovely snake stayed there for about 20 minutes, and when I had to leave and give her back, I realised that the constant ache in my neck had gone, and it didn't come back for a good couple of weeks. Snakes can heal on many levels.
Medusa is at a first glance, one of the 'great Monsters' and Gorgon sisters of Greek mythology. Most of us have grown up with films showing us this hideous monstrous woman turning people and animals into stone. (Something to research is the relevance of stone, petrification, and the turning of the life force to stone). So if we are brought up to revile this aspect of Womanhood (as we have been brought up to fear 'Witch' and 'Hag') we are at it's base looking at a part of our rejected psyche when we look at the triple Medusa.
Most Goddesses have triple aspects, which relate to the moon phases, waxing, full and waning, which in hand relate to the 3 aspects of Womanhood, Maiden, Mother and Crone. Three sisters/aspects are a common theme with Goddesses, such as the Morrigan and Hecate to name but two of many. I always want to question those who history have defined as hideous, monstrous and feared, they were usually the most powerful creatures whom the newer 'patriarchal' society couldn't quite control or contain. The powerful Goddesses of an older age were pretty much buried, disfigured or forgotten by the time we turned BC into AD. We have the first challenge in the name itself. Medusa or the Greek Medousa, stems from 'Guardian', 'Protectress' or to 'Rule Over'. I have read other versions which mean 'to plan' or 'to contrive', which doesn't sound quite as awesome really. Also Medusa is from a pre Greek background, the classical myth does not own Her, although it's done it's best to destroy Her! There are statues of Her in Egypt and Libya, not as a hideous monster, but as a beautiful woman, with dreadlocks - not Snakes for hair. In Africa she is thought to have derived from a powerful and healing Snake Goddess, who appears to have similarities to the Creator/Destroyer Goddess, Kali. She is also linked to an Amazonian Snake Goddess. More on this another time.
As we've seen, Medusa seemed to be everywhere before her fall from pre-eminent earth/snake goddess to feared monster. Her beauty was great and world renowned, there are even depictions of Her in Europe too, as a gentler blond, fertility goddess! She was seen in calm pastures, surrounded by nature, with a belt of snakes, or snakes coiling on Her limbs. This, apparently, was the initial view the Classical world took of her until the world changed and there seemingly wasn't room for this kind of feminine power in the new world order... The Greco/Roman myth went on to state that Medusa was 'raped by Poseidon on the steps of the temple of Athena' (another long story is that in pre Greek myth it would seem that Athene-Medusa were one and the same... oh the mystery thickens!). So horrified was Athena at this sacrilege that she turned the ravishing beauty that was Medusa into the monster we now know.
This is Perseus's poem about the affair...'Medusa was once an exceedingly beautiful maiden, whose hand in marriage was jealously sought by an army of suitors. According to someone who told me he’d seen it, her marvellous hair was her crowning glory.
The story goes that Poseidon the sea god defiled this glorious creature inside the shrine of Athena.The daughter of Zeus screened her virginal eyes with her aegis in horror, and punished the sin, by transforming the Gorgon’s beautiful hair into horrible snakes.” So this has good morals doesn't it? (Groan) a) If you are raped then, well it's 'obviously' your fault and you deserved to be punished! Seriously disgusting. b) In a way She was raped, all her power taken from her by the new way of the world, demoted from Goddess to Monster... c) Medusa was born from a primordial Sea God and Goddess, so what's Poseidon got to prove here? d) Did I mention Athene and Medusa were meant to linked- so this is a messed up fracturing of the self and no mistake.
I believe all the Deities here are powerful and awesome in their own right. The way stories have been told, in my opinion has twisted some of their meanings and identities. So it's easy with Medusa for blood to run high at the pure injustice of it all, yet another story we've probably all been mistold. However what I have discovered is that She isn't easily beaten or broken, she was around way before the word 'monster' was uttered near Her, and She lives on in our passions, our blood and in our healing.
Invocation to Medusa - Laura Daligan
Hail Medusa ~ Serpent Queen Goddess of Life Goddess of Death And the Roads In-between Force of Nature Door Keeper Snake Healer Blood Bringer Mysteries Unfold For those who Dare to See Behind Your Mask of Old The Keys to Restore the World. *********************************************************************************** Whilst wandering through many religious and spiritual icons in the National Gallery, London, I came upon this painting by Luca Giordano, 'Perseus Turning Phineas and His Followers to Stone':
There's no denying it's a classic, masterfully created. But let's look a bit closer at Medusa's death mask - Her disembodied head being carried around as a defence weapon. Head: using intellect without bodily power. The oracular head, living on after death is quite a common theme in many myths. Bran the Blessed - which basically means Blessed Raven, but that's another story - kept on chatting way after his head was removed from his shoulders. Medusa's head was carried around by Perseus for a while - turning his enemies into stone, before She was returned as a gift to Athena, who placed it on a shield, to protect Greece from it's enemies.
In a recent discussion (2017) with Thomas Sheridan he mentioned the idea of Medusa's feminine power and sexuality turning men to stone, meaning literally to give them an erection, this feels like such a powerful idea! All tales of Medusa state that before the 'rape/monster' incident, She is claimed to be so beautiful that men fought over Her jealously.
The idea that Perseus beheads the powerful sexual feminine force, feels like an attempt to control and diminish female primal magic and sexual power.
As mentioned previously, Medusa's roots are African, most notably Libyan and Egyptian. She was thought to be one of a triad of Moon Goddesses, collectively called, Anatha. In this trinity Medusa represents the dark moon aspect, (this painting was done over the waning to dark moon). Anatha's maiden/new moon aspect is called Athene and the Full Moon/Mother aspect is Metis. An ancient African inscription from this Moon Goddess (I have only seen this online so it may require more research!) is meant to have read: “I have come from Myself. I am all that has been and that will be, and no mortal has yet been able to lift the veil that covers me.” Would lifting that veil be death/turned to stone for the uninitiated? Medusa's scary mask was thought (again in her pre classical self) to be there for those who were unready and uninitiated to see her true self. So perhaps the effect of viewing Her in Her full power was enough to destroy the unready or unworthy?
So many questions, so many mysteries and despite centuries of defacing Her grace, Medusa's current snakes through time and place and is as relevant to us today as it has always been.
Laura Daligan 2013 and 2017