By Glenys Livingstone Ph.D.
originally posted at The Girl God blog
In the writing of this essay I wish to acknowledge the wisdom of those women who were my earliest re-storative informants about Medusa. The first perhaps was Hélène Cixous with her essay The Laugh of the Medusa which I read in 1980 for my Master’s thesis; and my original copy is heavily marked. As she said: “We’ve come back from always.” Then there was the equally ovarian Facing Medusa: the Dark Goddess and Creativity by Patricia Reis, in the journal The Common Boundary 1987: again informing me of intimate connection – collective and personal – to Medusa. Patricia Reis said of Medusa and women of our time: “Her story is ours and, in the process of experiencing our own creativity, consciously or unconsciously, we re-enact her mysteries.” And more recently it was the scholarship and wisdom of Patricia Monaghan in her O Mother Sun! wherein I understood Medusa as Sun Goddess, and much more of Her story.
It has always been fearsome (fierce-some!) to look upon the face of Deity: that is, to glimpse even for a moment Her powers for sustenance and destruction. This vision has always been understood by mystics of old to be awesome, sublime, formidable, phenomenal: an instant direct comprehension in the deeps of the bodymind, that She is both the source of exquisite beauty and nourishment, and at the same time the source of dissolution and annihilation. Medusa is certainly a Great Goddess who has been demonized over millennia: “the terror of the demonic Goddess is so firmly established in our myths and psyches” that for some “it is hard to imagine a time when it was not there” … to imagine Her integrity and beauty. This face, a Face of Deity, like no other, tells the recipient, spells the recipient: and depending on their receptivity, the state of their being as they catch the visual transmission, one is either empowered or petrified. It takes courage and a depth of desire, to dare to look at Her, to receive Her and conceive Her gift.
The bodymind – the material that we are – comprehends instantly Her powers of both illumination and absorption: is there a difference? In that gaze, the dualism vanishes. To be received into Her, through the eye aperture – one’s own and Hers, is to fall into Source of Being, an all-nourishing abyss.
Medusa’s name means “the ruling (female) one”.** She was “once a solar divinity”: that is part of the significance of Her snake hair … they twist and turn like Sun’s rays: isn’t it obvious once you have seen it? As such, as Sun Goddess, She is also simultaneously a Dark Goddess, which is a further significance of the snake hair: that is, the snakes represent something vital coming from the depths, and Her very radiance embodies the mystery of at once ‘shining forth’ and ‘dissolving’. That is the nature of radiance, of the Sun, of Creativity itself: a continuous reciprocity of being and dying, expansion and diminishment. This place of being is an event, a give-away, deep communion. And one has to be hungry for Her radiance, know desire for Her truth, Her powers, to be able to see Her.
Patricia Reis notes that “images of a frightening and terrible Goddess were not present in the Goddess-worshipping Paleolithic or Neolithic cultures of old Europe”, so that for almost 30,000 years “there were no images of a horrific female Goddess.” This is so when you look at the evidence: the death aspect of Great Goddess was not disconnected from regeneration. Patricia Reis notes three major phases in the development of demonic Goddesses:
the pre-patriarchal Great Goddess, as she comes to us in images from the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras (our earliest image of female divinity, multi-aspected and powerful); the fragmentation and splitting of this early image of wholeness; and the subsequent development of demonic Goddesses (as a result of patriarchal repression of the fearful aspects of female divine energy) as figures to be reckoned with in contemporary women’s lives.
And scholar Patricia Monaghan confirms through her extensive research in mythology: “Medusa is one of those ancient goddesses who was converted into a monster by later cultures”, and advises that Medusa
is a fitting emblem of our search for whatever our culture wishes to keep hidden, whatever images of female power the culture finds too threatening to permit. Wherever her grimacing countenance appears, we should proceed most fearlessly, for Medusa hides the treasures.
Philosopher Hélène Cixous wrote about the hiding of one’s treasures, the repression of one’s luminosity/radiance
Time and again, I too, have felt so full of luminous torrents that I could burst – burst with forms more beautiful than those put up in frames … and I, too, said nothing, showed nothing … I was ashamed. I was afraid, ….Where is the ebullient, infinite woman who, immersed as she was in her naivete, kept in the dark about herself ….Who surprised and horrified by the fantastic tumult of her drives (for she was made to believe that a well-adjusted woman has a … divine composure), hasn’t accused herself of being a monster?
She exclaims: “Beauty will no longer be forbidden.”
For myself, I have wondered decades ago, would the comprehension of this visage as one of Divine Wisdom – from Monster to Divine Wisdom, change our minds sufficiently so as to affect the way we relate to Earth, to being? I wondered: “What might it mean for our minds to welcome Her back?”
And even earlier, I had felt myself to be identified as “monster” – somehow I knew Her, but I also believed the story that She was demon, and also that I was kin to Her. We were told “in words, and not in words …”. The journey home has been a long and very curvy one, the journey home to comprehension of Her/my beauty and integrity … like gazing into a mirror, which may represent Medusa’s solar tool of cultural transmittal: that is, wherein we may embrace lost and banished parts … not reconstructing the past, but connecting on a deeper level to the icons of old for healing and wholing.
© Glenys Livingstone 2016
 Hélène Cixous, p.878.
 Patricia Reis, 1987, p. 7.
 Patricia Reis, Through the Goddess, p.62.
 A term used by cosmologist Brian Swimme to describe “mystery at the base of being”, The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos, p. 100. He describes the necessity for such a term, and its qualities pp.97-104.
** Miriam Robbins Dexter, “The Ferocious and the Erotic”, p.25.
 Patricia Monaghan, The Goddess Companion, p.318.
 Patricia Monaghan, O Mother Sun!, p.232 and 237.
 Patricia Reis, Through the Goddess, p.62.
 See the work of Marija Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess, p. xxiii.
 Patricia Reis, Through the Goddess, p.62-63.
 Patricia Monaghan, The Goddess Companion, p.318.
 Patricia Monaghan, O Mother Sun!, p.232-233.
 Hélène Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa”, p.876.
 Glenys Livingstone, PaGaian Cosmology, p.66.
 Ursula Le Guin, Dancing at the Edge of the World , p.155.
 Patricia Monaghan, O Mother Sun!, p.240.
 See Patricia Reis, “A Woman Artist’s Journey”.
Cixous, Hélène. “The Laugh of the Medusa” (trans. Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen). Signs Vol. 1, no. 4, Summer 1976, p.875-893.
Dexter, Miriam Robbins. “The Ferocious and the Erotic: ‘Beautiful’ Medusa and the Neolithic Bird and Snake”, in Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, Issue 26.1 (2010), pp 25-41.
Gimbutas, Marija. The Language of the Goddess. NY: HarperCollins, 1991.
Le Guin, Ursula. Dancing at the Edge of the World. NY: Harper & Row, 1989.
Monaghan, Patricia. The Goddess Companion: Daily Meditations on the Feminine Spirit. MN: Llewellyn. 1999.
Monaghan, Patricia. O Mother Sun!: A New View of the Cosmic Feminine. CA: The Crossing Press, 1994.
Reis, Patricia. Through the Goddess: A Woman’s Way of Healing. NY: The Continuum Publishing Company, 1991.
Reis, Patricia. “Facing Medusa: The Dark Goddess and Creativity”, The Common Boundary, Vol 5, issue 4, July/August 1987, p. 5-6; and “A Woman Artist’s Journey”, p. 7.
Swimme, Brian. The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos, NY: Orbis, 1996.
The new book for children, My Name is Medusa, by Glenys Livingstone, illustrated by Arna Baartz can be ordered here
And also the anthology Re-visioning Medusa: from Monster to Divine Wisdom
Dear Glenys, Thank you for this inspiring essay. I also identify with Medusa and have often looked in the mirror and seen only Monster. Most days I feel “full of luminous torrents” but I don’t stop myself. I let the torrents flow. There has been shame in that too. And isolation. I am surrounded by the “divine composure” of well-adjusted women. They know I am not one of them by my Medusa laugh. Reading your essay made me feel less alone. That’s why we write and read, isn’t it? Many thanks. Pauline Le Bel http://www.paulinelebel.com
thank you Pauline … it’s good to hear from you. so glad you enjoyed this … may we all be encouraged and nourished.
Thank you for this wonderful text that gave rise to thoughts!
A world in peace, the feminina and the masculine in harmony, and the support and honoring of women´s transmitted knowledge as well as their institutionalized successfull skills of taking care of life-giving in all its different aspects apparently seems to have had no need of an icon roaring in wild anger (no such images from the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras). But considering deep in our hearts, what women and the feminine really did loose, when elitistic, dualistic and violence romantizising men built “civilization” may instantly turn all our faces into Medusas! She seems to represent the devastating sorrow turned into the wild anger that we all carry somewhere deep inside. Still, knowing that destructive solutions will help us as little as it helped those men repetedly cutting off her heads – just to see multiple new heads growing out. Demons will not vanish by conquering! They need care and attention. We may need just to find our old paths and keep on walking it – together and in peace! ❤ Blessed our path.
Thank you for this wonderful text that gave rise to many thoughts!
A world in peace, the feminina and the masculine in harmony, and the support and honoring of women´s transmitted knowledge as well as their institutionalized successfull skills of taking care of life-giving in all its different aspects apparently seems to have had no need of an icon roaring in wild anger (no such images from the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras). But considering deep in our hearts, what women and the feminine really did loose, when elitistic, dualistic and violence romantizising men built “civilization” may instantly turn all our faces into Medusas! She seems to represent the devastating sorrow turned into anger that we all carry inside. Still, knowing that destructive solutions will help us as little as it helped those men repetedly cutting off her heads – just to see multiple new heads growing out. Demons are not to vanish by conquering! They need care and attention. We may need just to find our old paths and keep on walking it – together and in peace! ❤ Blessed our path.
Dear Kirsten … sorry for my tardy reply. Thank you for your comments. Yes as you say (of Old) “no need of an icon roaring in wild anger (no such images from the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras)”. Miriam Robbins Dexter has written a marvellous and comprehensive article on Medusa, including Her pre-Greek qualities which you allude to: it will be in the anthology that Trista and I are editing: https://pagaian.org/news/call-for-submissions-re-visioning-medusa/
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