Re-Visioning Medusa: Part I by Sara Wright

All through my childhood a self-portrait, painted by my mother hung above my parents’ bed. I was fascinated by this image of the stern face of my very beautiful mother with her long wavy chestnut hair. In the painting my mother’s body was buried in the sand up to her neck. Behind her, churning waves cascaded onto the shore. A blue sky was visible. A few seashells were scattered around and a large shiny green beetle was crawling over the sand. On the surface this image of my mother with her long curly hair seemed quite serene but as a child the painting disturbed me. It was as if this painting held a key – but to what? My father loved the painting and often commented on it…

I can remember playing at the seashore. My father would dig holes and bury both his children up to their necks in the warm sand that also held us fast…

I had one reoccurring childhood nightmare of waking up and not being able to breathe.

I first heard the word Medusa when my mother mentioned her in relationship to herself in jest? Did I ask about her? My memory is silent on these two points, but I knew Medusa’s hair was writhing with snakes and that she was screaming. I also knew my mother was terrified of snakes. Because my mother was an artist, it is possible that I saw an image of Medusa in one of her art books (when I looked for images for this essay one seemed too familiar).

I had another re-occurring childhood dream. My mother and I were locked in a bathroom. There were snakes crawling all over the floor. My mother jumped on the toilet seat and I was left alone on the floor with the snakes. I awakened screaming…

Once, walking in the woods a garter snake slithered across the path separating my mother and me. When I screeched in terror my mother turned on me viciously. Stunned and humiliated I endured her tirade, hopelessly confused…

When my little brother encouraged me to touch a snake in his terrarium one day, I agreed. I was amazed at how silky the snake’s skin felt. This animal was quite beautiful with his red tongue and golden eyes and the snake seemed unafraid and friendly. After this encounter my fear of snakes vanished…

As an adolescent I started to call myself Medusa.

Any time I acted out, losing my temper I berated myself. In time self-loathing became the mask I wore.

I hated my body.

I told anyone who would listen that I was “a lousy carbon copy of my mother” because that was how I saw myself. No one challenged me on this statement except my grandmother who told me once that she didn’t understand why my mother treated me the way she did… My grandmother intercepted my mother, but never confronted her openly.

In my early 20’s my brother’s suicide and my grandmother’s death severed me from any roots I might have had to the earth and any relationships including those with my children; I entered the dead years.

I couldn’t leave the house.

For my 39th birthday I bought myself a gold serpent ring. When I placed the ring on my left hand (on my ring finger) I intuited with amazement that on some level I was “marrying” myself. I also thought of my mother who was still afraid of snakes and experienced a peculiar sense of power and freedom. The hair on my arms prickled and I shivered involuntarily. I didn’t know what this insight meant but I believed I was prepared to journey into the unknown.

Steeped in mythology and the world of the Great Goddess, shaped by the scholarship of Marija Gimbutas and fascinated by her powerful images of snakes and women, the serpent came to life as an aspect of self and I had married him.

I went camping and re-discovered the forest, and moved to the mountains where I began to write…

I kept shallow clay bowls full of water for the snakes around my house. I kept their skins after they shed them in the woodpile.

When I dreamed about two iridescent blue snakes my dog died. I came to understand that snakes had both a powerful positive and negative charge, and that both involved the body. I recognized that it was important to be aware of this holy aspect of snakes because they embodied life and death of the body in the Great Round. My respect for all snakes deepened.

When I moved to northern New Mexico I became acquainted with Avanyu, the Indigenous Tewa name for the Horned Serpent that is pecked into many rocks as a petroglyph. Avanyu, the Spirit of Water and Life lives in Si-pa-pu (the underworld) and is a powerful supernatural being for the Tewa. He is unpredictable, presiding over endings and beginnings. He represents change, transition, and transformations. According to the Tewa, in the beginning Avanyu fought the spirit of drought (a fiery comet) and rain fell creating rivers that were shaped by his sinewy body. Every spring at the pueblos the bow and arrow dance is done in his honor.

Part II – coming tomorrow…


Sara is a naturalist, ethologist ( a person who studies animals in their natural habitats) (former) Jungian Pattern Analyst, and a writer. She publishes her work regularly in a number of different venues and is presently living in Maine.

Categories: Body, Earth-based spirituality, Embodiment, environment, Feminist Awakenings, General, Women's Spirituality, Women's Voices

Tags: , ,

8 replies

  1. I saw a snake just yesterday. On the lawn barefoot with my barefooted friend and three dogs. A tree snake shot across the grass and seemed to be very close to all of us. The dogs did not see her, though we humans did and moved aside. It was so quick, there and gone again. The tree snakes are not venomous and we have interacted with them previously when the come into the house. We just give them the space and eventually they depart in their own time.

    I love snakes and the symbolic power of snakes and the many stories there are. In my novel The Falling Woman they play a very important part.


  2. Snakes are powerful “Beings” and Teachers… sometimes i wonder if our collective fear of them isn’t based on what we know in our bodies unconsciously – that encounters with these animals are often very important.
    I continue to leave water for my snakes but see them less frequently… cool days leave them sluggish…
    What we have to remember about all snakes – including poisonous ones – is that they are desperately afraid of people ( with good reason) – especially those that fear or hate them. More amazing is that snakes have relationships with other snakes that include becoming protectors for mates, traveling to be with a snake that is ill… I could go on and on here.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fascinating! Why would they put that painting above their bed? Such a painting in my bedroom would make me very nervous. I’m not sure I’ve ever met a snake up close and personal, but then I grew up in a busy suburb and have always preferred to live in a city. I’m sure snakes also live in cities (I once saw a PBS documentary that said they do), but I haven’t seen them. I have, however, read Gimbutas and other books that discuss the magical wisdom of snakes. The rest of your story will be very interesting. Maybe inspirational, too. Bright blessings!


  4. What a powerful post, Sara. I am so glad you entered into your own healing relationship with the snakes. Your rite of sacred marriage with the serpent ring sounds like a deep and lasting healing bond.

    I can see how the self-portrait of your mother would be deeply disturbing to a child and your father’s penchant for burying people is sand is, too, especially in connection with that portrait.

    Where I used to live there was a spring where garter snakes emerged and congregated each spring. I used to sit with them. Sometimes they would come and touch my bare feet. Here there are black snakes who still shed their skins in the great oak even since it is fallen.

    I believe Nidaba is a Sumerian snake goddess credited with the creating writing. Interesting that you began to write after your rite of self-marriage with the serpent ring. I look forward to the next installment.


  5. I received Medusa as my love card in a tarot reading 4 years ago – my initial thoughts “I don’t want to petrify my lover” followed by “does this mean that my lover has to be worthy of me, to see me”? The reader was a woman with much compassion and suggested “The story you know of medusa is re-told in patriarchy, perhaps you can invite her into your dreams and find what this actually means for you”

    What is so interesting about this suggestion, is that you can easily become entangled (snakey, isn’t it) into the meaning or projection of what others want to see, the story they want/or know how to tell. They may not even know how the story has to do you with you. The story is often what they are willing to see or share.

    Yet you can invite a new telling that is actually the voice of the true gorgon. Sister of Athena, one of the most misunderstood stories of all time. the mystery intrigues even those who don’t understand myths, gods/goddesses, feminism -> and I suspect because there is a natural desire for humans to see truth, and they know it is not yet told.

    So maybe it is your relationship with the snakes. Head to foot, root and ground – a kundalini story that isn’t so uncommon. Perhaps the relationship is about what you see once you have comfort with snakes and not about our friendly serpents at all.

    Happy trails, Snake-Sister & goddesspeed!


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