The daughter of a sea god and goddess, Medusa was not (at first) frightening at all. In fact, she was divinely beautiful. With long, golden hair, and a face so fair, many a goddess found herself more than a bit jealous of Medusa’s beauty.
Medusa served as a priestess in the temple of the goddess Athena. There Poseidon became fascinated with her. Medusa, however, did not return his affection. He was so driven by his desire for her that he raped her on the altar of Athena. Medusa’s cries for help to the goddess went unheard.
When Athena found out, she was enraged, not at the deflowering of her priestess, but because Poseidon had the nerve to defile her temple! As Poseidon was far more powerful, she took her anger out on Medusa by turning her into a frightening monster.
Where once she enchanted any man who would look upon her, her gaze would now turn men to stone. She had snakes upon her head where there had once been long spirals of gold, and the lower half of her body was that of a serpent.
Medusa became a cold, enraged, man-hating creature. She dwelt on the lonely island of Cisthene until Perseus came, and using a reflective shield given to him by Athena, was able to cut off Medusa’s head. From her sprang her two offspring by Poseidon; Pegasus, the beautiful white winged horse, and Chrysaor, the hero with the golden sword.
Perseus presented Medusa’s head to Athena, and Athena placed it in her shield so that no man could stand against her in battle. She also took the blood that flowed from the left side of her head, which was considered poisonous. Aesclepius, the father of medicine (raised by Chiron the centaur) was given the blood which flowed from the right side of her head which was known to have healing powers.
Medusa’s tale is of sorrow and betrayal, as are many tales of the goddess. She was seen as an object of lust by Poseidon, and betrayed by Athena; neither of them aware that their carelessness would turn a bright young maiden into a seething, bitter monster.
Within Medusa ran the blood of life and death. And only in her death (a metaphorical release) did something good come from her suffering and pain; Pegasus, a symbol of power and magic, and Chrysaor, the hero.
Medusa reminds us that who we truly are is something pure and powerful that remains untouched, even if life has treated us cruelly. When pain is honored and released, beauty and power can spring forth, moving us into realms of healing and growth.