Friday, June 6, 2014

Medusa, Ancient Snake Goddess

Medusa is said to be an ancient deity and was originally known as a snake goddess. She was worshiped as a dark goddess in ancient Libya and was seen as a three-fold snake deity. She is known to be a gorgon who were said to be scaled and winged female monsters. In Greek myth she was the only mortal of three sisters and daughter to Phorcys and Ceto, who were chthonic monsters from an archaic world. Medusa was mother to the winged-horse Pegasus and the giant Khrysaor.

In classical Greek myth Medusa was a mortal priestess of the goddess Athena. She was said to be beautiful with long blonde, luscious locks of hair. As a priestess of Athena, Medusa had to pledge her celibacy and herself solely to the honor of the goddess. Although the god of the sea, Poseidon, took a strong liking to Medusa and ravaged her in Athena's temple thereby taking her sacred vows away from her. The goddess Athena upon hearing this became enraged with Medusa so she turned her into a terrible monster with snakes to replace her beautiful tresses.

If Medusa was looked upon by anyone, her gaze would turn them into stone. Athena instructs the hero Perseus to kill Medusa so he finds Medusa and decapitates her. When she is beheaded, her children Pegasus and
Khrysaor spring forth from her blood. Although Medusa has been killed, her head still has the power to turn men into stone even in death. Perseus uses it as a weapon to turn some of his enemies into stone, then gives it to Athena who puts it onto her shield. It is said that blood dripped from Medusa's head in the Libyan desert in which created many venomous snakes. This is said to be the cause of the many venomous snakes in Africa.

It is said that the reason that Athena punished Medusa so severely is because she and Poseidon were long time rivals. Some think that Medusa represents the destructive aspect of Athena. Other sources say that Medusa won a beauty contest over Athena which made Athena jealous. It seems to me that these myths are highly in favor of the male forces at play. Women turning against one another and a woman being punished for being raped. Sounds a little too patriarchal for my taste.

There are many messages within this myth. Some say that Medusa became more powerful in death than in life as her head still held it's power to turn man into stone and the ability to create life with her blood.  Some feminist groups today say that Medusa's head is a symbol of feminine rage. And that her head turning man into stone represents her warning to stay away since she was raped.  In classical antiquity the image of Medusa's head was used as an evil-averting, protection symbol.

Picture courtesy of Gaks Designs

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