|Painting by Laura Daliga|
THE FIRST TIME I knowingly met the presence of Medusa, I was being initiated as a priestess. My lover and I planned the ritual ourselves, or so we thought. It was in the middle of the night during winter solstice, the deepest darkest time of winter. We had rented a cabin in the woods, snowy, silent and still. The intention was deep. We went to sleep early and set a small sweet bell alarm in the other room that would awaken us as though we were being called by the [imagined] sisters of our temple. Our bedside altar held candles, ritual objects and a small feast for afterward. I had planned to call upon several goddesses to stand with me in various aspects of my power: Isis would be called to help me remember I am a sacred woman; Quan Yin for the strength of my joy and my ability to sing out in the sacred power of grief; and of course, Mary—my namesake—She who is present at the doorway of life and death in my world and holds me in Her sacred heart, always. And I had planned to call upon Aphrodite to come and stand with me in the name of Beauty, which I ultimately was free to do, but not before another goddess showed up.
A note here. My strategy, in addressing a goddess energy that I want to work with, is to ultimately promise Her that I will tell Her story. And I do, with my teaching and my chants. Especially my chants. To keep the goddesses alive and strong in our hearts, we tell Their stories, sing about Them—and Their powers. It works. They love it.
Anyway, we awoke to the temple bells and began. It was a simple yet deep ritual, and one of important surrender. We cast the circle and chanted. I called Isis and smiled, I invoked Quan Yin and felt at ease. Mary brought me home to my own sacred heart. At the moment though, the moment when I had planned to speak the name of the next goddess, my hands clenched and unclenched and I found myself fiercely whispering—over and over—the name of Medusa. It went on for several long moments. From my astonished depths I felt her name rise in me as I heard my own voice say “I will tell your story, Medusa, I will tell Your Story.” So here I am.
According to Edith Hamilton, Medusa is one of the Gorgons, a trio of evil sisters who share one eye. She is the only mortal one of the sisters, and is so ugly and fearsome that she has snakes for hair. So fearsome and ugly that She is deadly to behold; and one look into Her eyes turns men to stone. After Perseus slew Her, the blood dripping from Her severed head gave birth to the wingèd horse, Pegasus, and to legions of demons. That is some powerful blood.
For years, this story of Medusa was my only source of information. My oppression was still in place, and I could not yet imagine there might even be other versions of Medusaʼs story—perhaps a version where Medusa is a serpent-goddess of the Libyan Amazons, decended from Lamia, the Libyan serpent goddess of creation? Or one where Medusa is the Crone/Destroyer aspect of Neith, The Triple Goddess in Egypt? Or perhaps one where our re-claimed, re-found, re-sung goddess Medusa shows up when we pray or chant to Her (and where She has our back!) as we stand in our own authentic fierceness. Her name, Medusa, comes from linguistic roots meaning “female wisdom.” Gorgon masks were used by more than one culture; the women wore them in ritual. A womanʼs face surrounded by serpent hair is an ancient symbol worn by those whose work it is to protect blood mysteries and divine female wisdom.
No small wonder then, that in the twisted creation story of the next religion—Christianity—an evil snake gets a woman in trouble over knowledge SHE is not supposed to have.
In Edith’s Classical Greek story, Perseus beheads Medusa and brings her head to Athena, who wears it forevermore on Her breastplate. The real King Perseus (circa 1209 B.C.E.) and his armies fought against and slaughtered the Amazons and other peoples of the matrifocal cultures. The Greek story was rewritten to indicate that Medusa, the divine female wisdom, has been destroyed and is now relegated to mere ornamentation. The mythology of the people was changed, and over time their basic beliefs were affected, but not lost.
For me—in that deep ritual and visitation—for us as women of power, it was and is clearly time to fully reclaim Medusa as a Goddess of protection and fierceness! Fierce means “Wild and Proud.” Fierce as the Mother Bear; fierce as the old woman, the crone, the giver of death; fierce as the Amazons who stood in sacred circle to fall together.
In my own ritual work with the energies of the directions I feel a spectrum of emotional stories in each. Medusa appears in the South. For me the South holds the vibrations of Passion, of Anger, Outrage, Rage, and anything in between—including Enthusiasm, Fierceness, Eagerness and Zealotry. When I call Her, Medusa comes and She comes in fierceness instead of deadly danger. She brings wild pride instead of rage, untamed beauty instead of armor. We can heal from the frozen night desert of rage with Her at our back. Medusa holds the place of rage as a sacred power of the women together. Medusa offers us Her shield of fierceness whenever we need it. Medusa helps us come forward into the world in our own untamed beauty, in our own passionate fierceness. Medusa is shielded in the power of Her own fierce beauty. May every woman’s face be engraved upon the shield of Medusa. I know mine is.
I chant to open to Her fierceness,
I chant to remember my own truth about Medusa.
Let us chant to Her:
Fierce woman wild and proud, stand in the gaze of Medusa!
Fierce woman wild and proud, stand in the gaze of Medusa! Sacred daughter of Her, sacred daughter of Her
My face adorns the shield of Medusa.
Sacred daughter of Her, sacred daughter of Her
My face adorns the shield of Medusa.
Ave Medusa, Ave Medusa, Ave Medusa, Ave Medusa!
From the CD, “Step Into The River” © 2006 by Marie Summerwood firstname.lastname@example.org
An excerpt from the girl god anthology, Re-visioning Medusa: from Monster to Divine Wisdom.
Marie Summerwood (5/1/49-1/17/19) was an author, teacher and composer of women’s sacred music. Her chants helped women remember the sacredness of women and life. Many of the chants on her first CD, “She Walks With Snakes” are beloved at women’s gatherings and circles. Her second CD, “Step Into The River” offers several chants to specific goddesses, including Kwan Yin, Isis, Venus and Medusa. Marie Summerwood offered wisdom gleaned from the Spiral of Life. She teaches taught about women’s topics, including the sacredness of grief, and ritual emotional work with the four directions. A grateful apprentice to the force of Beauty, Marie welcomed its many faces. Ave Medusa. Marie left us too soon. We thank her for her work and bless her memory.