The myth of Medusa is well-known throughout the world. But have you ever considered why the Greek writers ever even wrote about her in the first place? Why do we have all of these elaborate stories of gods, goddesses and monsters that are beyond terrifying and beautiful at the same time? Did the Greek writers use these stories to conceal various psychological aspects of the human mind, or are they just fantastical stories of overly vivid imaginations?
We have to remember that, in ancient times, all of the Greek gods and goddesses were considered to be very real, including but not limited to Zeus, Apollo, Athena and of course, Medusa, who is but one in a long line of serpent goddesses in antiquity. But as time passed, we now know that they never physically existed at all. I think in time we will look back fondly at our current religions the same way. With that being said, what do these mythological tales represent?
Gaskells defines Medusa as: “A symbol of the emotion-nature, first directing its activities to the higher, and afterwards to the lower. Or it may be taken as the general direction of the soul’s activities, at first good and then evil.”
Let’s take a look at Medusa’s story from Greek Mythology.
One version of the myth says that she was a beautiful maiden with long, flowing, golden hair, whose beauty could rival even the goddesses. One day, while she was worshiping in the Temple of Athena, the God Poseidon saw her and became so lustful that he raped her right there in the temple. Unbeknownst to Medusa, this act impregnated her with Pegasus and Chrysaor; more on these two later. Athena became so insulted and enraged at this blasphemous act that she cursed Medusa for defiling her temple, transforming her into a being part human and part serpent, with a gaze so hideous that it would turn any living being to stone.
Hold on, why was Athena mad at Medusa? She was the one that was raped after all. Why didn’t she go after Poseidon? That little tidbit should speak volumes to you on who the writers were and why they wrote this story the way they did.
They were men, of course. Women then and now have been the target of a male-dominated society that looks down on and degrades them mostly because of ignorant religious beliefs for centuries upon centuries. This world is believed to be a man’s world, but it’s time to even the playing field in my opinion. I have an article on the degradation of women here that breaks down the symbolism behind the words and shows that all of the oppression and degradation of women is a result of the misinterpretation of religious texts. The stigma of feminine sexuality and the blaming of them for male lust was well-known then just like it is now, especially within fundamentalist religions.
In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a Latin narrative poem consisting of over 250 myths and 15 books, we can get a glimpse of the true story of Medusa.
“Medusa once had charms; to gain her love
A rival crowd of envious lovers strove.
They, who have seen her, own, they ne’er did trace
More moving features in a sweeter face.
Yet above all, her length of hair, they own,
In golden ringlets wav’d, and graceful shone.
Her Neptune saw, and with such beauties fir’d,
Resolv’d to compass, what his soul desir’d.
In chaste Minerva’s fane, he, lustful, stay’d,
And seiz’d, and rifled the young, blushing maid.
The bashful Goddess turn’d her eyes away,
Nor durst such bold impurity survey;
But on the ravish’d virgin vengeance takes,
Her shining hair is chang’d to hissing snakes.
These in her Aegis Pallas joys to bear,
The hissing snakes her foes more sure ensnare,
Than they did lovers once, when shining hair.”
~ Ovid. Metamorphoses. The Dryden Translation.
Let’s look at the symbology behind the serpent from an eastern perspective.
In its positive aspect, it is “kundalini,” or the rising of energy up from the base of the spine to the top of the head, and is often associated with higher consciousness and enlightenment through righteous living and proper meditational practice. This version of the serpent is a symbol of wisdom.
In its negative aspect, it is called “kundabuffer,” where the energy descends below the base of the spine and symbolically becomes “Satan’s Tail.” You are dwelling in your lower nature, ie: greed, lust, hate, envy, etc. This is also symbolic of the “evil serpent” as portrayed by certain Hebraic texts as well as many other world mythologies. Clearly, this serpent is what Medusa is associated with.
The writhing snakes on top of her head are symbolic of the chaos of dwelling in the lower mind. The image at the beginning of this article is an accurate representation of what that looks like. We’ve all been there at one point or another. And in all honesty, she has a right to be angry.
To gain further insight, we need to look at the hero responsible for her demise, Perseus, which means “to destroy.” It seems like a fitting name for what he needs to accomplish.
Gaskell’s defines Perseus as: “A symbol of the indwelling self, begotten of the spirit and born of the purified emotion-nature.”
Perseus’ mother is Danae, and he is “begotten of the spirit” because spirit is symbolic of the higher aspect of the feminine nature. Danae is symbolic of the higher feminine nature because Zeus, in the form of a golden rain shower, visited her in the tower she was being held in and blessed her with the child, Perseus. She was a virgin prior to this encounter with Zeus. She was placed in the tower because her terrified father, King Acrisius of Argos, was given a prophecy by an Oracle that Danae would bear a child that would kill him. Danae managed to hide him from her father for some time. When Acrisius did find out about the birth of this child, he ordered that Danae and Perseus be enclosed in a shrine and thrown into the sea (sounds like the story of Moses, right?). Waves led the shrine to the coast of Serifos, which is where Perseus grew and became a strong man. Perseus was “born of the purified emotion-nature” because his mother, Danae is symbolic of the higher feminine aspect. The lower aspect being the lower emotional nature, which is Medusa.
Does any of that sound familiar, ie: a virgin having a divine “encounter” with God (Zeus) or the similarity to the life of Moses? This motif or dominant idea is repeated time and time again in antiquity. It is not exclusive to Christianity.
Perseus received gifts from the gods to aid him in his quest: a pair of winged sandals from Hermes, an adamantine sword from Zeus, a helmet that granted invisibility from Hades, and a bronze shield with a mirror finish from Athena. After this, he visited the Graeae, three hags or witches that were sisters of the gorgons and shared a single eye.
The Graeae were the only ones that knew how to find Medusa, and upon Perseus’ arrival, he took advantage of them and took the eye. Under threat of the destruction of the eye, the sisters revealed to him how to find Medusa.
We can also find evidence of the single eye in Christianity.
Matthew 6:22-23 (KJV)
22 The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light
Perseus, armed with the weapons of the Gods, headed to the Isle of Sarpedon. By viewing Medusa’s reflection in his polished shield, he safely approached and cut off her head.
Once her head was severed, Pegasus, the white, winged horse; and the giant Chrysaor, armed with a golden sword, sprang from her blood.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Perseus’ journey continues but that is not the topic of this article.
Let’s break down the characters of this myth and what they symbolize in us.
Perseus: You, as your Higher Nature or the Higher Self
Danae (mother of Perseus): Divine feminine, Spirit
Medusa: The lower mind, the ego
Pegasus: The Higher Mind, pure “white” virgin consciousness
Chrysaor: The strength of the divine giant within; carrying a golden sword, gold is symbolic of the sun (as silver is symbolic of the moon), the sun being symbolic of God (Ra).
You (Perseus/Higher Self) being born from Danae (Spirit) are equipped (godly weapons) to go forth, after consulting the divine guidance within (single eye/meditation) and rise above you lower nature (behead Medusa). Upon doing so, you ascend to a higher realm of consciousness (Pegasus) and realize the divine strength and power within yourself (Chrysaor).
Doesn’t it make the myth all the more amazing and satisfying now that you know the truth about what it truly means on a spiritual level?
So, yes indeed, we all need to slay Medusa.