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Snakes and Stones May Make My Bones

Author: Bran Cinnaedh
Posted: August 19th. 2012
Times Viewed: 1,905

Medusa is the patron goddess of my coven. Most people (and I’m not even just talking Witches here) would see this as a curious, if not dangerous choice. After all, isn’t she a monster? With, you know, snakes for hair and the ability to turn any who gaze directly upon her to stone? Unless you happen to be into some darker form of magick, it would seem like Medusa would be one of the last figures chosen for veneration. But have you considered the whole story? Or, at the very least, have you thought about looking at it from an angle other than what popular culture has given us? I can’t speak for the coven at large, but I can, at the very least, provide my own perspective on what it means to have Medusa as a patron goddess.

So, before we dive too far in, let’s actually start at the whole story. Not the part where Perseus comes upon her and beheads her; that’s actually more towards the end of the story. We’re actually going to be looking a bit farther back, toward the beginning. Like any mythic entity, there are multiple versions of who Medusa was. In our coven, we ascribe to the myth in which Medusa served as a priestess of the goddess Athena. In this particular version, Medusa was a strikingly beautiful young woman, with many offers of marriage, but she had chosen to remain faithful to her vows as a priestess. Unfortunately, as is often the case of any mortal woman of any beauty, she happened to catch the eye of a god, in this case Poseidon. Most of us know what happens then. Medusa was raped by Poseidon in the temple, and, when Athena found out, it was Medusa that was punished, her beauty transformed into hideousness.

Okay, and let’s pause for a moment, because I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels like that all gets turned a little backwards. After all, the victim gets punished? Okay, sure, there is the defilement of the temple to consider, but, last I checked, it’s not like a mortal woman (or a mortal, period) could actually stand up to such an attack. So, what do we make of this seemingly unwarranted punishment? My own feeling is that this punishment comes from a sense of jealousy on the part of Athena. Athena has always been understood as kind of ‘the’ virgin goddess; after all, she sprang from the head of her father, and was never known to actually take a lover or husband, so, for all intents and purposes, she knew nothing about sexual matters, and, therefore, was uninitiated into the sexual mysteries that may have existed. For one of her followers to be initiated into these mysteries (albeit forcibly) , would then inflame jealousy on some level, because now that mortal has what Athena does not. But, to keep her own reputation intact, Athena decided to make an ‘example’ of Medusa, and turned her into her monstrous form.

Up to this point, Medusa hasn’t really been possessed of any personal power. If anything, she’s been something of a sideline player, a pawn, if you will. Now, with this transformation, she seems to actually ascend into her power. Whether it is through the sexual awakening, or the retribution of Athena, Medusa becomes much more than the beautiful devotee she once was. Much like the ‘fall from grace’ of the Bible, the act of sex, it appears, has unclouded Medusa’s eyes, making her more perceptive, her vision powerful enough to stop others in their tracks. It’s standard belief to say that this is literal petrification; after all, it makes for not only good storytelling, but also good cinematic effect. But like any myth, what the actual meaning is can vary. If Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and thus had their vision unclouded, could not the same thing be said of Medusa? Where before, as a priestess of Athena, she lived in a world without sex, without, as it were, the shadow side, she now inhabits that shadow side, she now sees more fully. Thus, the petrifying gaze is not so much about literally turning someone to stone, but, rather, piercing through whatever walls or barriers they might have built up in order to lay bare the truth. A truth, which, for the uninitiated, can seem petrifying.

At this seeming height of her power, then, Medusa is laid low by the hero Perseus. To be certain, he was on a much larger quest, which Medusa was only a small part of, but, nonetheless, the final resting place of her head lends itself to interesting interpretation. After all the ordeals, after seemingly losing everything and yet gaining power, the head of Medusa is fixed upon the aegis, or shield of Athena. From being spurned and cast aside into ugliness, to ascending to the point of (at least a spiritual) reunion, the journey comes full circle. Athena retains her title as the Virgin Goddess, maintains the virginal qualities for which she is known, and yet, by possessing Medusa’s head, she does, in some manner, gain insight into the sexual mysteries. There are those experts who have theorized that the two figures are, in fact, ‘mirrors’ of one another: Athena is the ‘light’ aspect, while Medusa is the ‘dark’ aspect.

Now, to move out of the literary analysis and into the group dynamic aspect of all this. How does this understanding of Medusa play out within a coven? Well, we don’t see her as a monster. In fact, to some degree (it varies according to each person) , we don’t see Medusa as hideous after her transformation. What we do acknowledge is that she is an oft-misunderstood Goddess figure, with an important lesson to impart. As a part of our personal development, we strive to do away with any illusions or other misconceptions (positive and negative) that we might have about ourselves, so that when we do meet the Goddess, we can meet her gaze and not be turned to stone. And though we are Eclectic in tradition, and therefore each have our own deities that we prefer to call on, being mindful of this awareness, and the role of Medusa in our lives, helps to make the overall connection with the Divine that much stronger. On a more personal note, as coven kindred, I also believe that this connection to Medusa means that occasionally we will have to wield that soul-baring power on one another, or even on the people in our lives, provided that we are always working for the highest good, of course, and not just some selfish concern. But that’s more a personal perspective than anything else.

So-called ‘dark’ Goddesses can be a tricky lot. Especially when you examine their origins more closely and find that the things we consider ‘dark’ about them are often subjective, or the result of many years of popular opinion. It’s easy to make a monster, because every hero needs a villain. But to take a villain and reclaim her divinity, that can take much more work. I’m not saying we’ve reclaimed Medusa entirely, but, if nothing else, we’ve at least made a start.


Bran Cinnaedh

Location: Dallas, Texas

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