Medusa – The Libyan Dark Moon Serpent Goddess

Most people when they hear the name Medusa instantly visualise a scary snake monster with a face so terrifying that just one glance will turn a man to stone. What only few people realise is that, yet again, what we’re seeing here is a twisting of the truth by the Hellenic or Classical Greeks.

Medusa’s origins lie in North Africa where She represented one third of the Triple Moon Goddess. In pre-Dynastic Egypt She was known as Neith and in Libya, Medusa’s homeland, the Triple Moon Goddess was called Anatha.

Anatha, and Neith before Her, was said to have risen from the primeval floodwaters. More specifically in Libya the birth place of the Triple Moon Goddess was Lake Tritonis, the Lake of the Triple Queens.

Ancient inscriptions about the North African Moon Goddess describe Her as: “I have come from Myself. I am all that has been and that will be, and no mortal has yet been able to lift the veil that covers me.” She was synonymous with Mother Death for to see Her face meant to have died.

The Libyan Triple Goddess Anatha had three aspects: Athena, the Maiden, Metis, the Mother, and Medusa, the Crone.

Anatha’s Maiden aspect Athena was the Goddess of the waxing crescent moon. Like Her Amazon priestesses She wore a goatskin chastity tunic, which was the original aegis that would later be adopted by the Olympian Greeks for their version of Athena. The original African Athena represented independence, youthful exuberance and growth, Her particular attributes being strength, courage and valour.

Metis was the Mother aspect of the Triple Moon Goddess. She, too, would later be adopted into the Classical Greek pantheon as the mother of Athena who was swallowed whole by Zeus while She was pregnant with Her daughter. Like all Full Moon Goddesses Metis was originally associated with fertility and motherhood.

Medusa, the Crone or Dark Moon aspect of Anatha, was the most powerful of the three. She was

the Wise One,
the Keeper of the Dark Moon Mysteries,
the Goddess of Death and Rebirth.

Like Her Amazon priestesses Medusa wore a leather pouch around Her waist that contained live snakes representing wisdom and renewal. She carried with Her the original Gorgon mask or Gorgoneion whose purpose was to frighten off the uninitiated and thus help protect the secrecy surrounding the magic of the dark moon. The mask was painted red to symbolise the power of the menstrual blood. It had gruesome glaring eyes, bared fanged teeth and, like the Hindu Goddess Kali, a protruding tongue. [1]

Medusa’s face was once synomymous with divine female wisdom. In ancient Libya She was linked to divination, healing, magic and the sexual serpent mysteries associated with death and renewal. To invoke Her wisdom Her priestesses would wear Medusa’s mask and celebrate the sexual rites with the representatives of the sea gods.

Anatha and Her three faces / aspects was the Moon Goddess of the matrilineal Goddess-worshiping Libyans. To the patriarchal Greek invaders She became the representative of Her Amazon daughters. As always much historical truth has been hidden in the Classical Greek myths surrounding Athena, Metis and Medusa. While Metis was swallowed whole by Zeus, the father of the Hellenes, thus passing on Her daughter and Her wisdom, Athena and Medusa were irreversably split and made into enemies. Athena would become another token female of the Greek pantheon and would eventually be forced to betray Her own crone self and become a traitor to Her sisters. Medusa, on the other hand, would be turned into a nasty fearsome monster that would eventually be slayed and have Her power stolen off Her to be used by Her murderers.

This is their sad story:

According to Classical Greek myth Medusa was the only mortal sister of the three beautiful golden Gorgon Sea Goddesses – Stheno, Euryale and Medusa. Medusa was said to have many suitors who She all rejected until Poseidon, the Hellenic God of the Sea, seduced Her in one of Athena’s sanctuaries. In earlier versions of the myth Medusa willingly took the sea god as Her lover in celebration of the sexual mysteries between the Goddess and Her Consort, but after about 2000 BCE the legend starts to speak of marriage if not rape. Poseidon who used to be a horse god had taken on the shape of a stallion, while Medusa was said to have been in the shape of a mare.

This reference to horses takes us back to Medusa’s African lunar origins, as Her Amazon tribes considered the horse with its crescent-shaped hooves sacred to the Moon Goddess. According to Robert Graves the fact that in this myth Poseidon had taken on the form of a stallion likely indicates a forced marriage between his male followers and Medusa’s priestesses in order to take their lands and powers.

In the Classical myth Athena is enraged once She discovers what Medusa had done. (This part is bad enough when Medusa willingly made love with Poseidon, but becomes quite atrocious when in later myth Poseidon takes Her against Her will.) In scorn Athena turned Medusa and Her sisters into ugly winged monsters with glaring eyes, huge teeth, protruding tongues, brazen claws and serpent locks. Medusa was said to be the most terrifying of them whose face was said to be so fearsome that just one glance would literally petrify a man and turn him to stone.

This is a very sad twist in the story, as obviously Athena and Medusa are one and the same. Athena’s wrath is therefore actually turned against Herself, the part of Her that is dark, wise, linked to death and renewal and, most importantly, that is carnal and sexual. The Classical Greek Athena is a chaste virgin in quite the modern sense of the word. She is daddy Zeus’s little girl only at the price of turning against Her own dark and sexual nature. In Jungian terms Medusa is Athena’s shadow who She despises and punishes. The fact that Medusa was seduced in Athena’s own sanctuary speaks volumes. The origin of this particular location dates back to the time when Athena was still the new born Maiden to Medusa’s Crone of Death and Regeneration, when She was still the next step on the everturning Wheel of Life after the Time of Rest and Renewal inside Medusa’s Dark Womb.

The next part of the story is the actual murder of Medusa by Perseus, a young solar hero. He is assisted in this task by Athena and Hermes, the Ferrier of Souls.

Robert Gray suggests that this part of the story is likely based on actual historical events. About 1290 BCE King Perseus, the founder of the new Hellenic dynasty in Mycenae, sent out his patriarchal solar warriors to invade North Africa, conquer the women-led tribes who lived there and overthrow their Moon Goddess in favour of their own male divinities. The mythical beheading of Medusa, the wise crone aspect of the Amazonian Triple Moon Goddess, represents the actual invasion of the Goddess’s chief shrines, the desecration of Her priestesses’ Gorgon masks with their contained wisdom and the kidnapping of Her sacred horse.

In Classical Greek mythology Perseus was the son of Zeus and Danae, the Princess of Argon. Following an oracular prediction that his death would be at the hand of his own grandson, the King of Argon banished his daughter and her baby son from his kingdom. Both were rescued by a fisherman named Dictys who took them home and raised Perseus like his own son.

Years later when Perseus had reached adulthood the new cruel and ruthless leader of the land, Polydectes, wanted Danae, Perseus’ mother, as his lover and so devised a plan to rid himself of her son. He demanded a horse of each citizen, but as Perseus was a poor fisherman by trade he couldn’t afford to buy one. He ended up promising the king to bring him Medusa’s head containing Her powers of Magic and Wisdom. As Medusa was often described as a mare, what Perseus was really promising was to bring him the head of the most powerful and terrifying horse known to man – the female menstrual and sexual mysteries of the Moon Goddess (presumably in order to make Her powers those of the newly rising patriarchs).

To help Perseus in his quest Athena gave him Her brightly polished shield to protect him from Medusa’s petrifying gaze. From Hermes he received the only weapon that would be able to slay Medusa, a curved magical sword. I wonder if the curve of the sword is an intentional reference to the moon’s sickle shape.

In a vision Athena and Hermes guided Perseus to the Graiae, three wise old women who were sisters to the Gorgons and who lived at the foot of Mount Atlas in North Africa. After he tricked them by ransoming their one shared eye they reluctantly revealed to him Medusa’s whereabouts and the three things he needed in order to kill Her: a magic pouch to put in Medusa’s head, Hades’ Helmet of Invisibility and a pair of winged sandals.

Perseus carried out the cruel murder and escaped with Medusa’s head in the magic pouch. Legend says that wherever Medusa’s blood fell on the desert floor an oasis would spring up.

Once returned to Greece Perseus gave Medusa’s severed head to Athena who affixed it onto her breast plate. He also gave Athena two phials of Medusa’s healing blood who passed them on to Asklepios, the Hellenic God of Healing. [2]

The ending of this story is very cruel indeed to both Medusa and Her maiden self, Athena.

Medusa, the Goddess of Wisdom, of Death and Renewal, the Dark Goddess of Healing and Divination, who represents the Goddess-worshiping Libyan Amazon priestesses is destroyed by the patriarchal invading Greeks. At first Medusa’s truth is twisted and She is turned from a gentle loving Dark Mother into a monster by Her own Maiden self. Later Her Graiae sisters are forced to betray Her and Her priestesses which ultimately causes Her death and thus the destruction of the North African matrifocal Amazon way of life. And if that’s not enough Her murderers take Her severed head, her Gorgon Mask of Magic and the Mysteries of the Dark Moon, with them to use as their own.

Athena, on the other hand, was punished in quite a covert way. At first sight Athena seems to have it all, She’s Zeus’ favourite girl, She is virginal and chaste and is the Hellenic Goddess of apparently justified War, Civilisation, Justice and the Arts and Sciences. However, on closer inspection things don’t look quite as bright. First Athena, the once greatly beloved Maiden aspect of the Libyan Moon Goddess, was ripped from Her Amazon sisters and turned into a traitor against Her own people. Originally free and independent She was forced to become chaste and subservient to a male father god. She was not even granted the one thing that we all share in common, a mother: unlike everybody else Athena spang straight from Her father’s forehead. She was turned from a Mood Maiden Goddess that represented birth and growth into a Warrior Goddess who fought against Her own Goddess-worshiping sisters all over the ancient world. She was made a traitor when in the classical drama Oresteia She sided with the upstarting patriarchs and cast the deciding vote that only fathers were related to their children. This momentous drama was a major contributing factor in the changeover from mother-right to father-right. It would play a major part in downgrading women to second-class citizens for thousands of years, something that even our 21st century society hasn’t fully recovered from. And to rub salt into the wound in order to become the perfect patriarchal daughter Athena was forced to give up Her past, Her woman-ness and Her sexuality. She wasn’t just made to kill Her own dark, wise and sexual self, but has to wear that slaughtered side of Herself on Her breast plate for all eternity as if as a reminder of what She and all women under patriarchy have lost.

I saw you once, Medusa; we were alone.
I looked you straight in the cold eye, cold.
I was not punished, was not turned to stone –
How to believe the legends I am told?…

I turn your face around! It is my face.
That frozen rage is what I must explore –
Oh secret, self-enclosed, and ravaged place!
This is the gift I thank Medusa for.

– copyright 1978 from Invocations and Mythologies
in Collected Poems of May Sarton “The Muse of Medusa”

NOTES

[1] According to Marija Gimbutas in “The Living Goddess” the origins of the Gorgon mask as well as Kali’s fearsome face with Her stuck out tongue can be traced back to the early Neolithic from when Gorgon-like masks were found at Varna in today’s Eastern Bulgaria. Even then they represented the Snake Goddess and symbolised regeneration and life.

[2] Incidently Asklepios would eventually become eternalised in the heavens as the constellation Orphiuchus, which is situated next to Scorpius and through which the planets also travel on their journey across the sky. Some astrologers have voiced the opinion that Orphiuchus, the serpent bearer, should be the 13th sign of the zodiac. According to myth Asklepios discovered the secret of life without death and was killed by Zeus in order to prevent the human race from becoming immortal. I wonder if the secret of immortality has anything to do with Medusa’s severed head and Her magical blood, which most likely was menstrual blood.

Advertisements

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. james
    Sep 12, 2013 @ 04:31:31

    Whom made this artwork? I would love to purchase a large poster version of this if possible? Any chance you can send me details for who to contact?

    Reply

  2. Trackback: NOW I Can Look Like I Could Win A Bar Fight (If I Were Holding An Uzi, Anyway…..)
  3. jinni winter
    Sep 12, 2014 @ 11:59:08

    Asklepios is the usurping masculine form of an older female serpent healer. One of her sites was at Delphi, where she set the serpent Pythos on guard. Apollo later came along riding on a Dolphin, slew the serpent and claimed the site as his own
    ( Delphi ).

    Reply

  4. Trackback: Creation Myths and Theaology | Lessons From the Goddess
  5. Trackback: Medusa – The Libyan Dark Moon Serpent Goddess | Blog di Officina Astrale
  6. Amy
    Dec 10, 2015 @ 22:21:53

    Is there any books to support this? I really want to study this for my dissertation but without books I won’t be able to it.

    Reply

  7. starcounsell
    Feb 10, 2016 @ 23:20:58

    Hi Silvestra,

    This is a wonderful and fascinating article. I knew of Neith, and have written and taught about her, but I did not know of Medusa’s origins this far back in time. Your article certainly addresses the dark side of people and families who have strongly affected by their unconscious, chthonic frustrations that they have not bought to the light and worked with.

    Thankyou. I am happy that I have found you. I’ll read your other articles now.

    Best Wishes,
    Hilary.

    Reply

  8. Steve Chernicoff
    Oct 12, 2016 @ 07:02:46

    Minor correction: The constellation representing Asclepius the Healer is Ophiuchus the Serpent-Bearer, not Orphiuchus. There is no letter “r” in the name; it comes from the Greek word “ophis,” meaning a snake or serpent.

    Other than that, an excellent and enlightening article.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: