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The Medusa Myth and Its Meaning: the Real Story of Medusa

Posted in anthropology, Culture, feminism, folklore, folkloric motifs, medusa, mythology, symbolism, and Truth

Understanding the Real Story of Medusa

Medusa, Monstrosity, and the Patriarchy

The real story of Medusa may not be what you think it is. I remember reading the story of Medusa, or at least one version of it, in my father’s edition of Bullfinch’s Mythology when I was a child. I glanced over the story again when studying Ovid’s Metamorphoses in Classics at school. But as will be the case with many of my generation, the most powerful and lasting image in my mind of the dread Gorgon is that impressed upon it in the cinema back in 1981, when I went to see Clash of the Titans and saw the Medusa portrayed by one of Ray Harryhausen’s famous stop-frame animations.

So my first meeting with the Medusa was as a monster mediated through the lens of the patriarchal hero myth.

The Origins of the Medusa Myth

The Serpent Goddess

In his seminal work The Masks of God, mythologist and psychoanalytic theorist Joseph Campbell postulates that Medusa partakes of the long and ancient tradition of serpent goddesses. But he fails to discuss one of the most fundamental aspects of her story. That is the story of her transformation. Because the Medusa wasn’t always a monster. It’s my proposition that the only monstrous aspect of her myth is how she’s formulated according to an oppressive system of patriarchal values.

The central motif in the real story of Medusa, the heart of the Medusa myth, is rape.

Before we unpack that statement, let’s just look at the history of the myth itself.

The Head of Medusa

The Gorgon Sisters

It’s in the Theogony of Hesiod that we first meet any mention of the Medusa. She’s one of the Gorgon sisters, along with Sthenno and Euryale. Hesiod relates that these three Gorgons lived…

…beyond famed Oceanus at the world’s edge hard by Night.

In this earliest tale, Medusa is very beautiful, the most alluring of the three. But there’s not much more to find in Hesiod, and he makes only passing mention of her later fate.

The main source of the myth as we have it today comes to us in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It’s in this account from Ovid that we find the first indications of what the real story of Medusa might be.

Medusa once had charms; to gain her love  
A rival crowd of envious lovers strove.  
They, who have seen her, own, they ne’er did trace  
More moving features in a sweeter face.  
Yet above all, her length of hair, they own,  
In golden ringlets wav’d, and graceful shone.  
Her Neptune saw, and with such beauties fir’d,  
Resolv’d to compass, what his soul desir’d.  
In chaste Minerva’s fane, he, lustful, stay’d,  
And seiz’d, and rifled the young, blushing maid.  
The bashful Goddess turn’d her eyes away,  
Nor durst such bold impurity survey;  
But on the ravish’d virgin vengeance takes,  
Her shining hair is chang’d to hissing snakes.  
These in her Aegis Pallas joys to bear,  
The hissing snakes her foes more sure ensnare,  
Than they did lovers once, when shining hair. 

~ Ovid. Metamorphoses. The Dryden Translation.

In summary, Medusa, a beautiful young maiden, is worshiping in the temple of Minerva (or Athena) when the god Neptune (or Poseidon) rapes her. She is punished for desecrating the temple. She is turned into a monster; her head a mess of phallic snakes, whose gaze turns men to stone.

Medusa's head of serpents

Medusa’s Head and the Exploits of Perseus

The following stories in which the Medusa appears center on the exploits of the hero, Perseus. He was sent to destroy Medusa and decapitated her. From her neck sprang the winged horse, Pegasus. From every drop of blood that fell from her open wound, a venomous snake sprang into life. Perseus kept her severed head and used its petrifying gaze to his advantage in many later adventures. The goddess Minerva then used the head as the central motif on the aegis of her shield to thwart her enemies in battle. One curious and somewhat telling modern manifestation of the Medusa’s head is in the logo of the fashion company, Versace, where she’s portrayed as a beautiful woman in the pre-curse period, with a head of ringlets rather than snakes.

So much for the history of the myth. There remains at the heart of the real story of Medusa, the pivotal act without which there would be no story of the Medusa at all: her rape by Neptune.

Medusa was raped by Neptune

Medusa and Sexual Stigma

The stigmatization of female sexuality and the blaming of women for the consequences of male lust is still widespread in our society today. Few rape cases come to trial and of those that do fewer still result in prosecution. The woman often takes the blame for “provoking” the man either by her dress, her words, or her attitude. Once “provoked”, the man is relieved of all ethical responsibility. It’s even harder to prove a case of rape within marriage  as the woman is still considered culturally – if no longer in law –  to be the husband’s property, and he has “his rights.”

Medusa as an image of sexual oppression

Institutionalized Misogyny in World Religions

Whatever their so-called “sophisticated theologians” and “liberal” followers may protest, in the dominant world religions such as Judaism, Islam and Christianity, the subjugation and rape of women is embedded in myth and law. Both the Bible and the Koran are a repulsive mess of patriarchal misogyny.

The “Good Book” is riddled with examples of God not only condoning rape, but ordering it. The following quotations are from the King James version.

Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished.

~ Isaiah 13:16

For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city.

~ Zechariah 14:2

These are not isolated and rare examples. The God of the Old Testament also condones taking young girls as sex slaves (Numbers 31: 7-18), the buying and selling of women and children (Exodus 21:7) and the forced marriage of the victim of rape to her rapist (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).

Women fare little better under Allah.

Your women are a tilth for you (to cultivate) so go to your tilth as ye will.

~ Koran. 2:223

The New Testament doesn’t serve woman well, either:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

~ 1 Timothy 2:11-14

No surprises there. We know the ancient cultures were founded on slavery and warfare under patriarchal leadership. This applies not only to the ancient Semitic and Arabic cultures, but every bit as much to the Roman and the Greek. The Roman Empire was ruled over globally by a necessarily male Caesar, and locally by an exclusively male system of governance down to the paterfamilias – the patriarchal head of the household. In the laws of ancient Greece and Rome, women could be bought and sold, as could children, and had no rights in law over their own sexuality or reproduction.

Historically these expansionist and imperialist patriarchal cultures have influenced the social structures and laws of the modern West.

So it’s in this context we must read the myth of the Medusa.

The tragic fate of the Gorgon sisters

A Feminist Perspective

Whilst the second wave feminist campaigns of the 60s and 70s resulted in changes in the law across Europe and America, in real terms cultural conditions have changed little. Public attitudes toward rape still center on the notion of female provocation, victimization of the perpetrator, and the tendency to disregard the woman’s evidence as hysterical manipulation.

The patriarchal tendency to punish the victim of rape rather than the perpetrator has, as we can see in the myth of Medusa, ancient origins. It’s interesting that the goddess Minerva curses the Medusa with her punishment. How can a goddess be enacting the will of the male dominated society? To understand that,  it’s worth bearing in mind that Minerva was a virgin Queen – very much in the style of the Blessed Virgin Mary in that her de-sexualized nature was the source of her power and virtue. She is one of the three ideal states of womanhood as seen through the lens of male domination, wherein she must be a nurturing mother, a spotless virgin, or an insatiable whore. Minerva’s response to the rape of Medusa might have been very different had the myth been invented by a woman.

Patriarchy is cunning in the way it encourages and educates women to denigrate one another in competition for the benefits of male approval.

perseus_turning_phineus_and_his_followers_to_stone

The Voice of Medusa

Women’s voices are unheard in the classical mythological traditions which have so influenced the literature, social structure, law and politics of the Western world. Our society has been formed by the convergence of several cultures which venerate mythology as a revelation of the divine will, and as the final recourse in the quest for authority. Combining the credence given to mythological messages by religious belief with the inherent psycho-emotive power of mythological imagery is a dangerous game.

One of the messages in the myth, the real story of Medusa, is her powerlessness as a woman. In neither her rape or its consequences does she have any agency. She has no choice but to submit to the hand of fate.

Medusa is silent in the myth.

Perseus beheaded Medusa

She’s blamed for the sexual violence dispensed to her. There is no mention of her suffering, no discourse on her trauma. This reflects the true experience of many women forced to submit to sexual violence. Many women report feelings of self-hatred and self-blame after the experience of rape, and that they cannot, dare not, speak out against their aggressors. Even in the more modern and supposedly feminist contexts within fiction, the notion that rape is the woman’s problem, something she must resolve alone, is still prevalent. In fact, that’s one reason, after starting out as a fan I came to dislike the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show.

The show is often touted as a feminist reworking of the old horror tropes, and Buffy as a role model for young women. But when the vampire Spike attempts to rape her in her bathroom, he gets away with it, she mentions it to no-one, and later becomes his lover (“Seeing Red” Episode 19, Series 6). While that may be an exact representation of the horrid facts of many young women’s experience, it receives no explanation in the show, and is a set-up I would not want my daughter to emulate.

It is time to reinterpret the myth of Medusa

The Real Story of Medusa

In our global culture, despite some forward progress, from the most ancient to the most recent expressions, women are still portrayed as mothers, maidens or monsters; and in each case they are idolized, damaged, or destroyed by the ruling patriarchal power.

It’s time to retell the myth of the Medusa, to tell her real story, to remove the conspiracy of silence – and to let Medusa speak.

What do you think? The comments section is for you.

800px-Kulikov_Writer_E.N.Chirikov_1904

If you’ve enjoyed this post, or hated it, or agree or disagree, or for whatever reason, I would love to hear your insights, experiences, thoughts, critiques, or reflections in the comments.

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25 Comments

  1. This is so interesting. I too thought of Medusa as the monster in the Clash of the Titans and then, as a teenager, discovered her true story. Ever since I have felt sorry for Medusa. Loved this blog post. I agree with everything! It pays to look at the details with myth, there is always much, much more at stake in them. All Hail Austin!

    October 28, 2016
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Hi Helen,

      Thank you for your generous comment.

      There are so many different layers of meaning in mythology. I agree with you, it’s worth spending the time unpacking at least some of those layers. Certainly on one level, there’s the natural tendency for any myth to reflect the beliefs and practices of the society in which it develops. And that’s very much the case here with the story of Medusa. But there’s also a two-way dynamic in the way that myths shape societies which subscribe to them.

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment – always wonderful to know someone’s reading!

      October 28, 2016
      |Reply
  2. Jones
    Jones

    I once read that how Medusa is portrayed is how men saw her. Not how women saw her.

    She was in fact changed to protect herself against men and she was a protector of woman. I found it interesting because it reminded me that the history of men is not the same as women.

    But I can’t remember the source where I read it. So I don’t know if it’s really true.

    You always post the most interesting things! Thank you for that.

    October 28, 2016
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Hi Jones,

      Thank you so much for your fascinating contribution.

      That is a really beautiful and powerful take on the story – and also very true to many women’s post-rape experience, wherein they attempt to disguise their natural sexuality as a form of protection against the male gaze, and worse. There may also be echoes of self-harming as a response to abuse.

      Interestingly, some of our most popular and “child-friendly” fairy tales have their origins in similar traditions of storytelling – for example Cinderella, which is a more sanitized version of the old forms we see in Ashputtle, or Donkeyskin; wherein the abused girl runs away and seeks to dirty and demean herself, partly in self-loathing but largely in order to disguise herself, make herself “ugly” in the eyes of men.

      At the end of this post I make a call for re-tellings of the Medusa myth. Perhaps in what you say, we might begin to see how that could be done.

      Thank you so much!

      October 28, 2016
      |Reply
  3. I love the Medusa myth, so I enjoyed reading your analysis of it.

    I do not see her as powerless, but as the vengeful aspect of Athena who of course is a virgin goddess. What looks like punishment is actually rage being unleashed. Symbolically, it is Athena who has been raped. By the time she is a severed head being used as a weapon she is completely sexless. Is her gaze ever harmful to women? Just males, those who represent her defilement. Her story cycle is completed when the head is given back to Athena. The Aegis as you’ve said.

    This symbol, Gorgonian– if I’m spelling correctly, was a symbol of protection with dark/vengeful connotations. It can be seen on shields, doorways, art, and beside depictions of Athena in art. Medussa is a part of Athena and always was. She is not a separate being. Athena likes to restore balance as in the Illiad/Odyssey, not punish victims. That is the biggest clue. I think this story is misunderstood because we forget how complex and intelligent the Ancient Greeks were and try to simplify their religion (as “myth”) even while we rely upon their understandings of philosophy, war, democracy, or the sciences. The symbol of medusa’s head was positive. It only seems negative when we try to view it through our own perspective instead of that of the people at the time. Biblical references are very out of place as the cultures were apples and oranges. The Hebrews were uncivilized simpletons when the bible was written in comparison, so using the bible quotes is a bit far off to me. The use of both Roman and Greek is understandable, though the story has changed by the time of the Romans.

    Medussa is harmful to those who have bad intentions, or hearts that are not pure if you will. That is the gift of Athena to mortals. The story you propose is symbolically sound, but it is not the story as it was told, which in my opinion is far more powerful and empowering to women. Athena is the most fascinating goddess in the pantheon. She is not a maiden, mother, monster, or crone. More of a divine older sister, cousin or other mentor. She was not sexualized but feared by men. She aids underdogs against overwhelming odds, she goes into battle opposing other gods, and she administers justice. I could talk about her for a long time because she is very complex and fascinating (I’ve been studying the story for years for an upcoming project). Medusa is a part of Athena. As is the owl.

    June 15, 2017
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Hi Shanonsinn,

      Thank you so very much for your interesting and profound contribution. You offer many fascinating aspects and insights which bear deep consideration.

      The world’s mythologies, both individually and collectively, are many-chambered vessels capable of containing and serving multiple interpretations simultaneously. I’m cautious about defending any single interpretation as the “true meaning” of any myth, or expressing certainty about the original intent of its authors. Therein lie the dangers of dogmatism which lead to the limitations of merely religious interpretation.

      Ancient mythologies are multilayered, symbolic representations of vast, continually changing, cultural experience formulated over the course of millennia. There is no single “correct” interpretation.

      That’s the way I see it.

      Medusa is known as the Queen of the Gorgons and was originally one of the granddaughters of Gaia. With her tongue lolling, her fierce gaze, and the implicit venom of her serpentine hair, she reflects many aspects of a temple guardian, as you suggest, whose responsibility is to ward off the uninitiated. She is described in Greek legend as abiding in a cave beyond the borders of the day. She guards Hesperides, the tree of golden apples. In Occidental Mythology Joseph Campbell writes, “Medusa and the other Greek goddesses of the old Titan generation (before Zeus) were established in Greece and the Islands long before the Dorians came, and in fact exhibit every possible sign of an original relationship to an extremely early Neolithic – perhaps even Mesolithic – lunar-serpent-pig context that is represented in the myths of Melanesia and the Pacific and also Celtic Ireland.”

      Certainly, Athena doesn’t have sole claim to the Gorgon’s head.

      It is there on the Mistress of Wild Animals in the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. It is also seen in shrines dedicated to Demeter, a goddess of greater antiquity than Athena. Athena may claim one stratum of the Medusa’s meaning, not all; although that stratum is multifaceted. Medusa is also mythologically associated with horses. After all, it is Poseidon (or Neptune) who enjoys sexual union with Medusa in the form of a stallion, in one version of the myth, leading to the genesis of the winged horse, Pegasus. In later representation, Medusa herself is shown with wings.

      She is, in conclusion, a complex composite, harking back at least to the Minoan snake goddesses, and open to many nuances of interpretation.

      Myth is fluid, rather than fixed, rooted as it is in the oral tradition, and forged and reforged in the experiential fires of successive generations. The interpretation I give here seems equally valid, and serves a real cultural purpose in our time and place.

      I hold by the inclusion of Biblical references in that part of the discussion as the Semitic tradition has led, together with traditional interpretations of Classical myth, to the patriarchal culture which oppresses us all today. The myth of the Medusa is involved here as a starting point, and poetic frame of reference, for a wider discussion of female experience of violence and voicelessness. That’s the context of this post.

      Thank you once again for reading and for taking the time to leave such an interesting comment.

      June 16, 2017
      |Reply
  4. Thank you so much for this interesting and inspiring article! I think the Ovidian myth about Medusa is very current and has a large interpretative potential in our times.

    Recently, we have discussed this topic during the conference “Rape in Antiquity: 20 years on!” (University of Roehampton), where I presented my poster presentation about “The Consequences of Avoiding the Topic of Rape in Children’s Stories About Medusa”.

    I am curious about what you think about the Ovidian version of Medusa’s myth in the context of children’s culture. What message could it carry to the youngest ones?
    Do you think we should avoid the topic of Medusa’s rape in children’s works or try to talk about it but in a metaphorical way?

    Thank you so much! 🙂

    October 6, 2017
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Hi Dorota,

      Thank you so much for your comment. I very much appreciate your interesting and inspiring questions. I took the liberty of popping over to Academia.edu and looking at your poster. I thought it was well thought-out and presented. I’m also inclined to agree with your core thesis. To completely revise the Ovidian myth of Medusa so as to excise any reference, however oblique, to rape, is to lose much of the story’s true impact and importance.

      At the same time, I can understand why so many contemporary children’s writers would wish to avoid the issue. It is, after all, a tough one to tackle with an audience who may have only a nebulous awareness of human sexuality and relationships, or none at all. To many, the introduction of the topic of rape to children of a young age may seem inappropriate.

      On the other hand, at least one in nine children in the UK, according to statistics from the NSPCC, suffer some form of sexual abuse or physical violence. One of the problems is the confusion and lack of understanding such children experience, not to mention a sense of guilt and anxiety. A carefully written retelling of the myth of Medusa which treated the sexual violence in such a way that a child who had suffered it would recognize it, and a child who hadn’t wouldn’t grasp, may be a powerful lifeline for an abused child. But it would take a brave and talented writer to attempt it.

      With older children, say 13+, I think there’s no question that to avoid the issue of rape in the story is to do a disservice both to the mythological traditional and to the young readers. I don’t think it’s a question of whether or not to include it. It should be included. But there are interesting social and creative discussions to be had about how it should be treated in juvenile fiction.

      I don’t have an academic answer to that question. For me, as a writer, the answer would come through the process of writing such a story. I believe there may have been some YA books which have used the image of Medusa, or as a character, to explore the usual themes of identity, loyalty, individuality and power as part of the adolescent experience. But whether they tackle the issue of rape head-on, I don’t know. I shall certainly look into it and get back to you if I come up with anything interesting.

      Those are my initial thoughts. In truth, I probably need to give a lot more thought to your question, which is an important one. But I didn’t want you to have to wait weeks for a reply! Let’s keep the conversation open as I think the discourse could prove instructive and helpful to both of us, and many people who read these comments.

      What do you consider to be the best approach to dealing with rape in children’s literature? You mention the use of metaphor. I wonder what kind of metaphors you think would work in this context?

      October 6, 2017
      |Reply
      • Dawn Marie
        Dawn Marie

        Hello, Austin and Dorota.

        I believe it is very important not to gloss over the topic of rape in the story of Medusa. As a survivor of childhood rape, as well as surviving rape and sexual assault in my adolescene, and then being able to have the adult physical strength to flee another almost completed attempt in 2008, this is all very near and dear to my heart.

        In my own experience, I have met mostly women, and some men, who were raped or sexaully assaulted at very, very young ages. As well, in our family, we’ve had to educate the younger cousins, neices and nephews about both the beauty of sexuality, as well as the need to protect themselves from anyone trying to touch them innappropriately. In two such cases, I had to call out an uncle on my mother’s side, as well as an uncle-in-law on my father’s side. Both were indeed guilty of inappropriate sexual behavior as we later found out.

        I do believe there is a way of presenting the story of Medusa and her rape that can be both sensitive and powerful. In my own family, we are quite “in your face”, so-to-speak, about the subject because many of us have had the experience(s) from early ages and we want very much for the next generations not to have to suffer so. I would encourage one to find their own way in how to sensitively teach about rape in the story of Medusa, as I believe every family and/or culture has their need for certain ways of approaching such a very delicate, yet sadly all-to-very-real occurence in the lives of many young children – female and male.

        To change the subject slightly…

        Austin, I found your YouTube video on this very subject of Medusa when I was preparing to write my email blog subject on how I felt Medusa had been “wronged”. I was planning to address my opinion from a very different perspective when I came across your video. I had completely forgotten that Medusa had been raped. Of course, from reading what I wrote above, you may imagine my shock to hear your teaching. I think my soul/spirit/consciouness/whatever-it’s-really-called must have dropped out from the bottom of my heart listening to your words. I felt “seen”, “heard”, and even “healed” on some strange-unbeknownst-to-me level. I have absolutely no idea if I am making any sense right now as I’m still quite “raw” from the visceral experience. All I can say is, “THANK YOU!!!!”.

        Oh, from my own experience, your comment on October 28, 2016 is spot on, most especially regarding, “the attempt to disguise…”

        Again, THANK YOU!!!

        December 5, 2017
        |Reply
        • Austin Hackney
          Austin Hackney

          Hi Dawn Marie,

          Thank you so much for your honest, insightful, and courageous contribution to the discussion.

          It’s an appalling truth that many rapes are committed against minors and very often the rapist is either a family member, friend, or person in authority. I suffered sexual abuse and rape when I was 9 years old. The man who raped me was a schoolmaster. The brutality and shock of the experience undermined me deeply and led to all sorts of problems and repercussions throughout my life. It continues to do so today and I’m 50 years old now. The longest lasting effects have been acute anxiety, depression, and alcoholism. While I’ve learned to manage those conditions, I realize the wound will never fully heal. I have to carry that very frightened child with me forever and he’ll never, ever feel truly safe again. As you mention, it also had a profound influence on how I educated my own children to minimize the chances of anything like that happening to them and to make sure that if anything did they would feel able to tell me about it.

          Yes, I agree that the myth of Medusa does offer an opportunity to address this issue. I also agree that how that might be done in a work of juvenile fiction is a delicate and sensitive matter. For anyone with the skill and courage to take on such a project it would also be a heavy burden of responsibility. I would like to do it, but I don’t feel able. Perhaps someone will read this blog who does feel able to tackle such a project.

          I’m sorry the video left you “raw” – perhaps I should add a trigger warning? – but I’m glad it helped you in some small way. The unacknowledged wound never heals, does it? I didn’t tell anyone about my rape for decades, and I never told my parents. I still haven’t told my adult children. I will, in time, as it will help them understand a lot about their Dad. I was confused, ashamed, frightened, and no longer felt safe. I also remember that I wanted to protect my folks from feeling responsible for what had happened to me.

          So, like Medusa, I was silent.

          So many of us are. My experience is that no longer feeling safe is the worst thing. The physical pain passes. The invasion of the body in rape is bad, but it’s the invasion of the person which is worse and which lasts a lifetime. And while women will often “make themselves ugly in the eyes of men” to protect themselves, as we see expressed in the story of Ashputtle, Donkeyskin and others, for men that’s not a culturally obvious strategy. I’m convinced my historical problems with alcohol addiction stem from that. Drink was my donkey’s skin. Other people may have issues with weight, or self-harm, or just poor levels of self-care.

          But we can heal, even if there will always be scars. And the first step is to speak. To be heard. To be seen.

          And that is a lesson we can learn from the Myth of Medusa.

          Thank you so much for sharing your story. I wish you healing, happiness, and peace. x

          December 7, 2017
          |Reply
          • Dawn Marie
            Dawn Marie

            Dear Austin,

            Please pardon my delay in responding. I honestly did not know what to say initially after reading your reply and I actually still really don’t know what to say except that I am so very sorry that you had to experience rape and sexual assault. To experience these from someone who should have protected you is all the more heinous. It is absolutely heartbreaking and enraging.

            Thank you so much for your courage in sharing your own experiences. I don’t know if it was healing for you to share, but I certainly hope it was.

            It’s true that we never fully heal from such experiences. It took me over 40 years to learn that and to try to be “okay” with that truth. (I’m just 51 now.). I also know full well what you mean about never being able to feel completely safe in the world ever again. Perhaps that is why I too try to make the world as safe as I can for the people around me. I kind of took on the role of “protecter” growing up. It sometimes led me to times where I had to “throw down”, as we say in my neck of the woods. For a tiny girl at that time in my teens, it was an unusual spectacle. Now that I’m older I have had to find more “productive” ways of being a “protecter.”

            I think you are so brave to make the choice to become a parent. I was too terrified feeling that my own experiences would either make me an “overbearing” mother or one too depressed to give her child what they truly needed – affection and attention.

            It took me a few years to tell my parents the first time. While they were very supportive and helped me as best they could, they did indeed feel responsible. It changed them too. When it happened again, I didn’t tell them knowing it would break their hearts all over again. I did, however, make sure I received help in the form of therapy.

            I take it from what you’ve written that your children do not read your blog? I wonder though if on some level they may know something so traumatic happened to you. What I mean is that I had a sense something happened to my mother, as well as my husband and other family members. In all cases, I had been correct. Although, perhaps I sensed these things because I had experienced them. I don’t really know. If you ever do decide to share with your children, I hope it will be a very healing time for you all.

            I too have had the effects of long lasting acute anxiety and depression, along with panic attacks and sometimes even suicidal ideation (including recently, but for which I got help). People say you would never know it by looking at me as I try to portray a very happy-go-lucky, silly, cuteness. The therapy helps, though, along with times of silence and solitude in nature, my writings, photography and… really silly fun friendships.

            Yes, the Medusa Myth is so important and powerful. I think with all the sexual harassment upheaval we are seeing in the media that someone will take up the project of presenting it appropriately in the schools and elsewhere.

            I don’t really know if your video needs a trigger warning. Even though I was left feeling “raw”, I knew I would be fine from doing PTSD work. Also, the way you presented the story of Medusa was so compassionate and affirming that I actually strangely felt “seen” and understood. For me, the feeling of “rawness” was a light shining upon an area I needed to address so I could peel another layer of my own “myth” that was created as a result of my experiences.

            I really wish I could express the depth of gratitude I feel for your sharing about Medusa, and now your very own personal experiences. Thank you so much, Austin.

            Peace and gratitude,
            Dawn Marie

            December 11, 2017
          • Austin Hackney
            Austin Hackney

            Hi Dawn Marie,

            Thank you for your compassionate and intelligent response. I really appreciate your contribution – and your kind words. Yes, I’m confident my children don’t read this blog. And they certainly haven’t time to delve deep into the comments even if they did!

            One of the core functions of myth, at least in the modern world, is to offer a map to guide us through the darkest territories of suffering. Myths offer us the opportunity to feel connected – as you say “seen” and “heard” – even during the most isolating ordeal. Myths arise through millennia-long processes of storytelling. The slow accretion of individual stories around a central motif continues until they fuse into a universal summary of the struggle to stand up and live. They give us guidance about how to overcome, survive, and even flourish in the face of adversity, injustice, and suffering.

            You mention therapy. Psychotherapy is at its best when it connects our individual stories to the ancient current of mythic experience, enabling us to contextualize our suffering and draw on the accumulated wisdom of the ages to understand it and get guidance and advice. The language of myth – its dreamlike and symbolic quality – enables it to contain every story ever told without dogmatism, allowing room to add another story, yours and mine.

            As we tell the stories of our pain and suffering, the mythic context enables us to edit those stories, to empower ourselves to take the journey of transformation from the victim to the heroine, from the wounded to the healer. The myth of Medusa may work on this level, too. Her rape, her punishment, her transformation (which protects her and turns the male gaze back on itself), and eventual redemption (in returning to Athena as the power in her shield) may serve as a ground-plan for survival.

            But there’s nothing prescriptive about a myth. It’s malleable and adaptable, so it always applies to each individual. Unlike religion, which demands obedience and conformity to a dogma for a promise of future redemption, a myth properly understood offers power to begin the process of healing and transformation right now without judgement or restriction.

            So, thank you for sharing your story through this myth, and for allowing me the space to share mine. I hope that in this small way the conversation (literally “mutual out-pouring”) will help us both on our heroic journeys to healing and transformation.

            December 13, 2017
          • Dawn Marie
            Dawn Marie

            Dear Austin,

            Thank you so much for having the space to have this very important conversation through the beauty of mythology.

            Once again, your words have touched me deeply. You have given me much to ponder.

            I understand exactly what you share about psychotherapy and the mythic experience. It took me a very long time to find such a psychotherapist who would work with me in such a way as you describe.

            As well, I love what you share about myth not being “prescriptive”, not ”demanding obedience and conformity”… I REALLY get what you are saying here.

            Thank you, again, for the amazing, healing conversation.

            All the best to you and yours…always.

            December 13, 2017
          • Austin Hackney
            Austin Hackney

            Hi Dawn Marie,

            Thank you for your kind and generous words. And for your valuable contribution to this discussion. I’m glad you found a good therapist – that’s a sea full of sharks sometimes! But thank you once again. All the best to you, too. 🙂

            December 14, 2017
  5. Emma McLaren
    Emma McLaren

    I have never really thought about the deep rooted misogyny within our legends, myths and ancient texts and instead focused more on the desperately unfair Muslim religion. This, however, was like a light bulb being switched on. I see it, I see all of it, it all makes sense now. And I especially like the part of women turning on each other for the benefit of male approval – mind blown. Thank you for this, I will definitely be looking into more of this type of writing.

    November 11, 2017
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Hi Emma,

      Thank you so much for your generous comment. I’m delighted to have provided you with this small moment of illumination! Because of current global politics there is much emphasis on Islamic misogyny, but it’s pandemic in middle eastern and modern western mythologies and religions. Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism are not exceptions.

      May I recommend anything by Marina Warner, particularly “From the Beast to the Blonde”, as further reading?

      And “Laughing with Medusa: Classical Myth and Feminist Thought”, by Vanda Zajko and Miriam Leonard will be of special interest to you in the current context.

      Thanks once again for reading this and taking the trouble to leave a comment. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate hearing from readers. And do please share the article on your social media to spread the word!

      November 12, 2017
      |Reply
  6. Amber-Rose
    Amber-Rose

    Wonderful, insightful post! do you mind if I quote you in my book?
    Regards, Amber.

    December 6, 2017
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Hi Amber-Rose,

      Thanks for your kind words about this post. To answer your question I would need to know more about your book: the subject, publisher, what you would like to quote and in what context. Let me know if you’re still interested. Thanks again for reading. 🙂

      December 6, 2017
      |Reply
  7. Sven
    Sven

    Hello,
    Wanted to leave you a short message because I believe your interpretation of the different faiths is, or at least may be coloured by, misunderstanding or prejudice.

    Please, I do not want to offend, but rather ask you to reconsider your stance on the Christian faith. I do not wish to discuss the meaning of the verses you mentioned, but they are not commands. Rather they are prophecy (at least a few of them).

    If a tree can be judged by its fruit and western civilization is, or at least at some point was, built on the Christian faith, then to compare even superficially Islam and Christianity should give you a clear indication of the freedom women have, or not.

    Christ Jesus revealed Himself first to a woman after the resurrection! It is Christ that set (wo)men free 😉

    A big God bless! Jesus loves you!

    Sven

    December 13, 2017
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Hi Sven,

      Thank you for your contribution. However, it’s heading off-topic and includes statements which would be hard to defend. But I have no interest in debating your beliefs, so we’ll leave it there!

      All the best and thanks again for reading. I hope you found the post interesting.

      December 13, 2017
      |Reply
  8. razor edge
    razor edge

    Dear Austin

    Perhaps on your YouTube video I’ve already shared my opinion with you.

    About Medusa, so far as I know there’re two versions of the myth:

    1. Medusa seduced Poseidon so she could become a goddess.

    2. Poseidon raped Medusa because he was sour about losing to Athena in their contest for the best gift for Athens. Poseidon gave the city a spring of salt while Athena gave the olive tree.

    And the myths also gave two different results:

    1. Athena changed Medusa into a hideous monster because she felt betrayed by her own handmaiden.

    2. She did it to protect her from another rape.

    (Not to mention in Greek myth most of the deities can’t keep themselves in their togas)And as to my understanding of myth (the Greek, Norse and other pantheons) it’s about a royal family with (or given) unlimited power which comes with acts of hypocrisy.

    For example, in the Greek myths was the hypocrisy of Hera as a family goddess with throwing Hephaestus from Mount Olympus because he’s born ugly and disfigured (in another version, Zeus’ fault) and also the way she got revenge for her “dearest” husband’s act of infidelity to her (her rampage to Herakles, forbidding Leto to give birth to Apollo and Artemis on Terra Firma (the main island under the sun).

    But then again, who’ll dare to judge you or frown on you for your acts of hypocrisy if you’re a god? You can smite the said person in a heartbeat if you want.

    But this is just my point of view.
    Best regards for your blog and YouTube channel.

    razor edge.

    January 1, 2018
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Hi Razor Edge,

      Thanks for putting this comment here as well as on the YouTube channel. The most interesting idea you raise here, from my perspective, is the notion that Athena turned Medusa into a monster not as a means of punishment, but as a way to protect her from future rape. That’s an interesting interpretation and one which resonates with the folkloric image of the abused girl who “makes herself ugly” in order to avoid further unwanted advances. I’m thinking of tales in the European tradition such as “Donkeyskin” and “Ashputtle”.

      There are certainly many opportunities to reinterpret the myth to give Medusa a voice and deploy her image to empower women (and anyone else able to identify with her). All possibilities are worth exploring.

      Thanks again. I appreciate your contribution to the discussion.

      January 2, 2018
      |Reply
      • razor edge
        razor edge

        Hi Austin,

        I have read and tried to understand the tales you mentioned about “Donkeyskin” and “Ashputtle”.
        You raise a good point there.

        I guess Athena can mean well and do her duty as a goddess of Wisdom and Just War.
        Then again, she’s a more decent deity than Ares, god of War and Bloodshed.

        But, she also comes with a flaw. Her ego and temper are completely like Zeus. For an example of her flaw, if you’ve ever heard or read about Marsyas, you’ll understand what I mean.

        Then again, thank you for the pointer. Medusa’s story really is both tragic and beautiful if we catch the “silver lining” of the story.

        Best regards,

        Razor Edge.

        January 3, 2018
        |Reply
  9. Ann-Marie McLeod
    Ann-Marie McLeod

    I very much appreciate this work!

    I recently was on a training in process psychology where we go deep in a number of ways to gain insight in whatever it is we are working on. One of the processes we did was to connect with an inner ally.. maybe a mythical ally.. or someone we admire in consensus reality. Medusa came to me as one of my allies. I was a little baffled to begin as all I’d known was the monster Medusa from the myth but I also recognized my message was about female power.

    I knew there must be more to Medusa than was being told so I started to search the internet. Your work and one other that goes deeper into the symbolism of the snake have really helped to make things clear. Thanks loads 🙂

    January 15, 2018
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Hi Ann-Marie.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment. I really appreciate it and love feedback and conversations. Your training events sounds very interesting. I’m fascinated by the interplay between mythic images and stories as cultural artifacts and their function as internalized, personal symbols. I can’t say I understand it, but it is a deeply enriching area of enquiry. There is some evidence that mythic images, stories, you might use the term “archetypes”, can act as “triggers” to transformational processes in the brain.

      Thanks again so much for your contribution.

      January 15, 2018
      |Reply

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