Thursday, December 5, 2019

Medusa and Athena: Ancient Allies in Healing Women’s Trauma (pt 3) by Laura Shannon

The Circle Unbroken by Danny Broadway Studio​

Healing from trauma is also facilitated by rhythmic action shared with others, such as music, song and dance.1 In ancient Athens, Athena was celebrated with choral dance and song,2 and similar practices can still be witnessed today in traditional women’s circle dances of Greece and the Balkans. Through my lifetime of researching these dances in situ, I have come to believe these dances provide essential comfort and healing support for women who must live under patriarchal oppression.3

The dance circle itself is like Athena’s temple, the polis, the round enclosure within which the women are safe. To protect the city is to protect the city’s women, and this was Athena’s special domain: she was the guardian of the sacred space, the temple, the walled city or polis within which the women are kept secure.

I believe that traditional circle dances provide a context for women to affirm and transmit pre-patriarchal values, such as the importance of community, mutual support, and shared leadership, within a circular, not a hierarchical structure.4

The dances can help us both receive and give the gifts of protection and healing. Bessel van der Kolk affirms that ‘our capacity to destroy one another is matched by our capacity to heal one another,’5 and this experience of mutual healing is essential to healing from trauma.

The dances also show the importance of connecting with other women in shared rhythmic and joyful movement, and connecting with each other as allies instead of enemies. Ultimately we can learn to have compassion for ourselves, for each other, and for all those affected by the trauma of patriarchy, including the perpetrators.

Women of the world have been quietly screaming a shared scream for thousands of years. A new understanding of the ancient Goddesses, Athena, Metis, and Medusa, can help us realise that we are worthy of protection. Through distorted portrayals by patriarchal authors, all three of these Goddesses have suffered the trauma of ‘not being seen, not being recognized, and not being taken into account,’ but we can begin to change and heal this now, by seeing and understanding them more deeply in their original fullness and positivity.

Where Medusa’s head symbolises the fear, trauma, and uncontrolled rage experienced by those oppressed by patriarchal society, Athena’s original aspect of protection and healing can offer an antidote to the disempowerment, collapse and paralysis of the post-traumatic state. In this way Athena and Medusa can transcend the ancient enmity projected upon them by patriarchal authors and renew the alliance which protects and heals.

The Gorgoneion in the aegis gives protection by teaching us not to be afraid of our rage. By witnessing Medusa’s head with mindfulness, love and compassion, we can develop compassion for all victims of the trauma inflicted by patriarchy. Ultimately we hope to claim the power of our rage and outrage, and use it to protect and defend all that we hold dear.

An excerpt from a longer paper entitled, ''Medusa and Athena: Ancient Allies in Healing Women’s Trauma,'' featured in Re-visioning Medusa: from Monster to Divine Wisdom.

Laura Shannon has researched and taught traditional circle dances for more than thirty years, and is considered to be one of the ‘grandmothers’ of the worldwide Sacred / Circle Dance movement. Through extensive research in Balkan villages and wide teaching experience, Laura has pioneered a new understanding of traditional women's dances as active tools for spiritual development. Originally trained in Intercultural Studies and Dance Movement Therapy, Laura is currently pursuing an M.A. in Myth, Cosmology and the Sacred at Canterbury Christ Church University in England. She gives workshops, trainings and performances in more than twenty countries, and her numerous articles on dance have been published in many languages. She is founding director of the Athena Institute for Womens' Dance and Culture and a regular contributor to Feminism and Religion. In between her travels, Laura resides in Canterbury, Findhorn and Greece.

1 Van der Kolk 2014:333.
2 Connelly 2007:29-30, 294.
3 Shannon 2011:144.
4 Shannon 2016.

5 Van der Kolk 2014:38.

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