Medusa on My Mind



Eugenia Loli collage "Migraine"

Eugenia Loli collage "Migraine"

What happened yesterday to render me speechless last night? I had been looking forward to our discussion group all week, but when the time came, my head was thick like mud. Could there have been some Medusa-synchronicity going on?

On the surface, yesterday felt very ordinary. A traffic jam, a conversation with my child, a mammogram, a disagreement with my child... all in the midst of spring heat and humidity. But it got to me. Throughout the day I alternated between overheating and feeling chilled, and I developed a whopper headache that would not quit. By the time I logged on for our Zoom meeting last night I was sweaty-cold and my thoughts were lost in a thicket beyond my reach.

I ignored my discomfort until Sandy commented on how much Medusa was with her, again, all week. And I realized that she had been with me too; I wasn’t done with her just because I had imagined her in my blog. No, I had barely cracked open the door to the House of Medusa, and had barely peeked in, let alone attempted to cross the threshold to her space.

Let me shed some light on how Medusa’s energy may have recaptured my attention yesterday:  

Early in the morning, there was an accident on the highway and it took longer than usual to drive my 14 year old son to school. A perfect opportunity for conversation! So I complimented him on a photo essay he had just completed, noting that the way he related his images to the themes of the novel he was interpreting were both creative and visionary. I told him that being able to envision things was a gift, but that learning how to connect the dots - from the starting point of a vision to the final creation - took a lot of discipline and practice. And if he could learn how to share that process and articulate it for others, that his visions could be valued and could bring him great success. He said, “My brain is a lot like yours, Mom.” And I realized this was true. But instead of feeling happy for him, I felt worried. Why? “Yes, that might be true, sweetheart, but things will be different for you. You’re a man, so you may be able to get others to listen without feeling entitled to take your ideas as their own.” And after I dropped him off at school I felt a profound sense of loss for my younger life, for all that might have been, but got sacrificed under the false aegis of professionalism.

And just like Medusa, I was unprepared for the sense of alienation that would follow.

As I drove away, I was absorbed in reflection. Why such sorrow? As an intuitive and enthusiastic thinker, creative envisioning has always been a high for me. Throughout my student and career years, my ideas had opened many doors, but once I crossed the thresholds, things always got occluded. There was always a man, a gatekeeper, blocking my passage for bringing my ideas to light. In order to gain access to a platform for creative expression a toll was required, and the price was most often sexual attention or favors. For years I paid the tolls, because my desire to create was so strong that I was willing to pay. But eventually I shut down inside, blocking myself from my own creativity and my creative path in the process.  And just like Medusa, I was unprepared for the sense of alienation that would follow.

I wonder if Medusa also felt like she was forgotten, and if her horrific gaze might also have been rooted in ghostly, sexualized pain?

When I arrived for my mammogram I was greeted by the same lab technician I had the previous year. I said hello to Trudi-with-the-same-pink-nail-polish. But she had no memory of me, and I twinged with a reminder that becoming unmemorable had been a goal of mine, and apparently I was doing it quite well. Once again Trudi asked for the details of my 10-year history with breast cancer, and as she recorded them, once again I was reminded of all those intimately invasive medical procedures. I have breast implants as part of my reconstructive surgery, and they need to be pushed out of place for several of the mammogram images, and that can be uncomfortable. I felt soreness and fleeting ghost pains in my right breast for the rest of the day. I wonder if Medusa also felt like she was forgotten, and if her horrific gaze might also have been rooted in ghostly, sexualized pain?

My headache began in the early afternoon. It got so bad at one point that I had to lie down and close my eyes. When I left home to pick Jasper up from school, I was having rapid hot and cold flashes. This could’ve simply been a reaction to the heat, yes, heat intolerance is common in menopause. But what if there was another level to my discomforts? Some parallels with archetypal energy at work? …. My splitting headache// Medusa’s severed head.  My intolerance of heat// Patriarchal intolerance of feminine vision. My flip-flopping between hot and cold// Loss of connection between the Medusa’s underworld and Athena’s upperworld.

Could this be a daily life version of Medusa’s rage?

Jasper got in the car and told me that he had been singled out in a school assembly for his contribution as photographer of their arts performances. He said the whole school clapped and cheered and he was so proud. I thought I acknowledged him with enthusiasm, but he didn’t hear it that way. Instead he thought I was disappointed in him because he hadn’t received some greater award from the school. Our disconnect spiralled and escalated and by the time we got home, he was no longer talking to me. I felt so misunderstood, and I felt angry, and unable to represent myself. Could this be a daily life version of Medusa’s rage? And would I deal with it with Athena’s detachment and efficiency?

The Athena-like solution of “Keep Calm and Carry On” had not served me very well when I was young. My calmness was just an illusion clouding over an inner storm, and internalized oppression was the result. So now I will find a way to reconnect with my child without disowning myself.  But if I consider my personal history through an Athena-Medusa lens, I can see that although my life experience more closely paralleled Medusa’s story, my justification for my actions more closely resembled Athena’s story, with a notable lack of nurturing from the matriarchy. I find I can identify with them both, although I have to dig deeper to find the compassion for Athena.

What if, intuitively sensing her deficit, Athena was especially attracted to her opposite, in Medusa?

As a motherless child, Athena too, lacked feminine nurturing. Perhaps this was her wound, the hole in her psyche. She sprung from the head of Zeus, a daughter of the upperworld and the patriarchy. What if, intuitively sensing her deficit, she was especially attracted to her opposite, in Medusa? And although she could not find a way to join with Medusa in life, what if it was her energy that facilitated the spontaneous births of Medusa’s two children, Pegasus and Chrysaor, at the time of her beheading? Why does Poseidon get the credit? (Couldn’t his part have been more symbolic, since in a literal sense, more than nine months must have passed between Medusa’s rape and her beheading?)

There’s a balance there, between life springing from the sky-light of Zeus’s patriarchy and the earth-dark of Medusa’s matriarchy.

I don’t have the scholarly knowledge to back myself up here, but I’m wondering if after experiencing the full power of Medusa’s beheading, Athena may have been ready to “give up trying to be agreeable to parental and animus imperatives and ideas.” Isn’t it notable that Medusa’s offspring were sprung from the head just as Athena herself was? There’s a balance there, between life springing from  the sky-light of Zeus’s patriarchy and the earth-dark of Medusa’s matriarchy. As a goddess, Athena would’ve had the strength to endure her wound-vision, and I’m wondering if her healing-vision could have been to restore a balance in power by transforming it to new life.

Medusa hit rock bottom through the fated events in her journey, but her offspring and her lifeblood survived. I’d like to suggest that the tragic relationship between Athena and Medusa was a primary paradox serving the restoration of the feminine divine. And maybe that’s why their story hits us on such a visceral level.  Because women are still living it. Transformation, it’s radical, and it’s part of the cycle of reality.

Psychologically, this mode of seeing, this knowledge, implies that destruction and transformation into something radically new are part of the cycle of reality. Such knowledge is hard to endure. We try to cover it up, pretty it up, or avoid it, but knowing this basic reality permits a woman to give up trying to be agreeable to parental and animus imperatives and ideas. It is like hitting rock bottom, from where they are irrelevant. It revitalizes all principles and opens a woman to the paradoxes involved with living with the self.” - Sylvia Brinton Perera,  from The Descent of Inanna: Myth and Therapy