I CAN STILL REMEMBER the first time I heard the story of Medusa. I knew instinctively, that to come with such warnings, Medusa must be incredibly powerful. Instantly intrigued, I started to dig deeper. Over time, as I have come to understand more of the symbolism that sits within this story, a very different understanding has emerged. My sense now is that this is not a story of a monster, it is instead a story of ancient and divine wisdom calling me to reclaim all of who I am as a woman.
The story of Medusa is fundamentally the story of the domination of the patriarchal invaders of mainland Greece over the early goddess culture of North Africa.99 It is the story of the victory of the masculine principle governed by power and control over the feminine principle, one that saw the sacredness in the everyday, and valued peace, fertility, justice with compassion, equality and transformation.100 Some scholars believe the story reflects actual events during the reign of King Perseus around 1290 BCE.101
When I hear this story, I hear Medusa’s invitation urging me to look deeper than the patriarchal version of who she was. At the heart of this invitation, I believe Medusa is calling me into a deeper relationship with myself and the divine. She is urging me to reclaim the intelligence, strength and creativity rooted in the feminine tradition. This essay is an exploration of this invitation and the key symbolism within Medusa’s story that points to this and the elements of the feminine lineage she is urging me to reclaim.
I begin with an examination of her most obvious symbol, the serpents, and then proceed to what I know of the roles she held and what they symbolised. As such, I explore the meaning of what it meant to hold the roles of High Priestess, Goddess, Queen, and Crone.102
I have chosen symbolism to guide me on this journey because I know from the earliest times, symbolism has been used to inform human understanding of the cosmos and our place in it. Along with telling us what something represents, symbols also hint at what is missing, what is invisible and what is needed to achieve completion or wholeness.103 As such, coming to understand the symbolic meaning behind these aspects of Medusa has provided me with vital insights into what has been lost, and what can be reclaimed.
Of all animal symbols, I have learned that the serpent or snake is probably the most significant and complex.104 Snakes represent the vitality of the energy and consciousness of life in the body and the vitality of spiritual consciousness in the life and in the world.105 They signify the need to shed our old skin in order to grow and are seen as a symbol of healing, wisdom and transformation.106 Hence, these themes of needing to shed old identities to grow and heal, to access wisdom and transform, seem core to understanding Medusa and her roles as high priestess, goddess, queen and crone, and her invitation.
The snake also symbolises sacred kundalini energy. Kundalini lies asleep at the base of the spine, until she is awakened, and rises through the chakras, activating each one in turn—eventually coming out at the crown of the head as enlightenment.107 I know from my own personal experience, and from my teaching work with the chakras, the incredible transformative power of the chakras. For when we work with the chakras, bringing them into balance, this vital energy can be transmuted into awareness, spirituality and a deeper understanding of life and our place in the universe.108
Hence for me, the snakes symbolise the creative and spiritual potential contained within our bodies that can be used and cultivated for healing, wisdom and transformation. It is the potential that Genevieve Paulson, in her book “Evolution in this Lifetime,” talks about pushing “each of us toward the goal of enlightenment—knowing the light,” the divine within. The symbolism behind Medusa’s serpents is essentially about the evolution of the human soul, and so I hear her enticing me to go beyond my current comprehensions of what it means to be human, to know the light, and to become Goddess-like.109
The fact that Medusa’s snakes cover her head is also significant from the perspective of the chakras. This directly links the snakes to the crown chakra, which is associated with: surrender, trust, universal connectedness, stillness, peace, divinity, wisdom, being part of something bigger, spiritual wisdom, unity, and pure consciousness.110 It is through the crown chakra that we reach the heights of spirituality and we connect with our indelible and permanent divinity.111 Thus, the crown of snakes symbolises Medusa’s capacity to connect me with my higher purpose, divine guidance and my spiritual path.
Evidence points to Medusa being a high priestess of Africa—a fact reinforced in her story when we are told she “was the only one of the three sisters who was mortal.”112 From this, I know she is more than just a mythological figure; she actually lived and breathed and walked the earth as I do. For me this reinforces that Medusa is not just a character in an ancient myth—that she has a real substance and an essential truth about her. This truth applies equally to the level of demonisation and devastation she experienced, and the healing, wisdom and transformation she represents—and that I feel her inviting me to reclaim.
Being a high priestess meant that Medusa was a keeper of knowledge, trained in the sacred arts of religious rites, adornment, massage, the practices of healing and divination, and the secret mysteries of sexual union. The role of priestess included initiating men into the deep and secret mysteries of the heart; “awakening them to their spiritual potential;” and channelling their spiritual fire inward and upward along the sacred path of enlightenment.113 A man who came to her temple would have approached her as the embodiment of the goddess hoping or knowing that through her he might experience the goddess. She “would be his priestess, not a prostitute—a holy woman, not a fallen woman.”114 Thus, I sense Medusa pointing me toward a vastly different understanding of sexuality, my body, and of the spiritual potential of sexual union as a source of spiritual awakening.115
I now know that the priestess of the ancient world cultivated kundalini energy to facilitate spiritual awakening. This sits in stark contrast to the conditioning I received that endeavoured to etch deep into my psyche a belief that the path to realisation, fulfilment, and enlightenment was all about denying the body and something a woman could never ever aspire to. Hence, I sense Medusa urging me to truly comprehend that my female body is a receptacle and transmitter of divine energy.116 I hear her urging me to question the messages I have been fed about my body, urging me to reclaim the mystical affiliation with the archetypal feminine and the sacredness of my body. This sacred invitation is to know myself fully as woman and therefore as goddess—the embodiment of the divine feminine principle.117
Joseph Campbell holds that the key to understanding the mythology of the goddess is about seeing her as the transformer.118 And as transformer, the goddess has three functions: “one, to give us life; two, to be the one who receives us in death; and three, to inspire our spiritual, poetic realization.”119 The goddess is the life-force of the universe. She is the innate power—in reality, the power to be conscious, to feel ecstasy; the power of will and desire; the power to know and to act; and the force that inescapably nudges the evolution of human consciousness.120 As such, the goddess represents the embodiment of the divine within me, and the source of transformation and creative inspiration in my life.121
I also know, from my work with the chakras, that the goddess is intrinsically linked to sacred kundalini energy that is nudging me toward the evolution of my consciousness. She is the feminine face of God, the Shakti (the divine feminine) who when awoken begins her journey, from the base of the spine to her beloved Shiva (the divine masculine) who waits for her at the crown chakra. This energy and drive represents the divine marriage, “the union of masculine and feminine principles in the universe and” in me. Medusa reminds me that “the attraction of polarities one for the other—is a fundamental cosmic principle” and it’s not just necessary to keep replicating the human species, it is also how I evolve.122 And so, I sense Medusa urging me to comprehend the importance of this attraction and to understand the significance of the feminine within it. She is urging me to shed the limitations that I have been conditioned with and to receive, grow and evolve into the sacredness of this new understanding.
I see the queenly aspect of Medusa in how she maintains her sovereignty, despite being cast as a hideous monster. It is here that I see the depth of her strength, integrity and inner authority. Here are a few examples from her story:
- When her neck was severed, her twin sons sprang forth— 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.
- In the drops of her blood that trickled onto the hot African sands, an oasis grew in the desert.
- Her blood, given to Asklepius, the God of Healing, bestowed the ability to cure, restore and save lives. His symbol, of a serpent entwined around a rod (associated with healing and medicine), is still used today.
- And in her ongoing connection with Athena, and with Athena’s willingness to be always identified with Medusa, having placed the Gorgon’s head over her heart and wearing it for protection.123
In all of this, I see Medusa’s actions holding true to what I believe she stood for–healing, wisdom and transformation. The outcomes, despite how she has been portrayed by the invading patriarchy, are defined by Medusa herself and her values, not by those describing her as a hideous monster. As such, I see Medusa urging me to access a new and deeper level of inner authority, to understand who I truly am at my core, urging me to live from this place despite the limitations of our patriarchal society. The more I can enact feminine consciousness in my everyday life–living the truth in my soul, the conviction in my heart, and the wisdom in my body – the more empowered I will become and the more capable I will be effecting the world around me.124
Medusa also embodies the crone aspect of the triple Goddess. The crone is associated with the themes of being timeless, detached, fearless, free, beauty, guide, wisdom, surrender, spontaneity, and paradox.125 The crone is the woman who has gone through the crossroads in her life and is in a place where she has surrendered her ego demands to a higher will; having accepted her own destiny, she is free and fearless; no longer needing to justify her existence; nor fearing the judgement of others; she has learnt to trust herself.126 The crone is a mature woman who has a sense of truly being herself.127 This aspect of Medusa paints a clear picture of the wisdom, power and beauty available to me as mature conscious woman and the prize for undertaking the inner work required to be a crone and step into my full sovereign power.
I also know that the qualities of the crone are not automatically bestowed “following menopause, any more than growing older and wiser go hand in hand.”128 The crone is a potential I can develop, and to do this I need to recognise, practice and listen to it. Accordingly, Medusa is inviting me to look below the surface to shed old ways of perceiving this stage of a woman’s life and to grow into my full creative and spiritual potential. To understand, that until this span of my life is over, I am still in process; in the midst of an unfinished story; and what I say and do makes a difference. This is an invitation to access the fullness of the power and wisdom that is my birthright. For when this potential is activated I know it will help me to act as a counterbalance to the frenzied ambition, competition and materialism that drives much of the patriarchal world I find myself living in.
At its core, Medusa’s invitation is about reclaiming the divine connection within and the healing, wisdom and transformation that is encoded deep within me. An essential part of reclaiming the divine within seems to be about my willingness to reclaim those parts of myself that I have labelled, or the culture I live in has labelled, as monstrous. These are all the discarded, devalued, unaccepted and disowned aspects of myself, that are often referred to as the shadow. Like everyone else, this part of me is the part I like to keep a lid on and hide if I can. I realise now, this process of hiding consumes huge amounts of my psychic energy.129
I have also come to learn that the shadow can also “contain the divine, the luscious, beautiful, and powerful aspects of personhood.” And for women, especially, the shadow almost always contains very fine aspects of being that are forbidden or given little support in patriarchal culture. To my delight, I now realise that at the bottom of the well in my psyche where I have relegated these disowned aspects of myself also lies “the visionary creator, the astute truth-teller, the far-seer, the one who can speak well of herself without denigration, who can face herself without cringing, and the one who works to perfect her craft.”130 Accordingly, Medusa’s invitation is urging me to reclaim the wisdom within because my feminine soul is demanding that I have access to it all.
And so, I have come to the end of exploring the invitation and insights that Medusa has offered me. This calling—to come into a deeper relationship with myself and the divine; to reclaim all these parts of myself, the intelligence, strength and creativity that is rooted in the feminine tradition; and to shed old understanding of who I thought I was to access the healing, wisdom and transformation that I now know is encoded into the very core of my being. Medusa has shown me the way home to who I truly am and urged me to awaken the goddess within.
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