This blog was originally posted on June 24, 2017
Rather than being a bleeding image of female disempowerment, Medusa may be read as…one of the most ancient European symbols of women’s spiritual abilities… [and] an empowering image of feminine potential.’
–Patricia Monaghan, O Mother Sun! (1994:244)
The name Medusa means ‘sovereign female wisdom,’ ‘guardian / protrectress,’ ‘the one who knows’ or ‘the one who rules.’ It derives from the same Indo-European root as the Sanskrit Medha and the Greek Metis, meaning ‘wisdom’ and ‘intelligence.’ (1) Metis, ‘the clever one’, is Athena’s mother. Corretti identifies Athena, Metis, and Medusa as aspects of an ancient triple Goddess corresponding respectively to the new, full, and dark phases of the moon. (2) All three are Goddesses of wisdom, protection, and healing.
Athena and Medusa are particularly linked: indeed, one may have been an aspect of the other, ‘two indissociable aspects of the same sacred power.’ (3) Their many common elements include snakes, wings, a formidable appearance, fierce eyes and powerful gaze. The serpent, like the Goddess, has been cast as an embodiment of evil in patriarchal retellings; yet as Merlin Stone points out, serpents were ‘generally linked to wisdom and prophetic counsel’, associated with ‘the female deity’ and ‘entwined about accounts of oracular revelation…throughout the Near and Middle East.’ (4) According to Ovid, the poisonous vipers of the Sahara ‘arose from spilt drops of Medusa’s blood.’ (5) Although this is presented as a further sign of Medusa’s horrifying character, the original Berber inhabitants of North Africa – where Herodotus reports that the Medusa myth began – viewed snakes as bringers of luck and portents of joy. (6)Continue reading “From the Archives: Medusa and Athena: Ancient Allies in Healing Women’s Trauma by Laura Shannon”