Awakening modern women have the opportunity and responsibility to reexamine the mythology, legends, and cached cultural information about womanhood and the gender of deity. Tackling some of our core ideas about women as spiritual beings starts with slippery snakes.
The ancient symbolism of serpents and snakes has been associated in various times and places with fertility, rebirth, wisdom, evil, sexual lust, kundalini, the underworld, the cosmos, and infinity. The Aztec Cihuacoatl and Egyptian Wadjet are among venerated serpent goddesses from around the globe. A woman with a more ominous mythology was Eve, born in the Garden of Eden.
An ancient alternate view of the Genesis story comes to us from the Gnostics. Rather than being an evil disruptor, the serpent was the wisest being in the Garden of Eden and represented a fount of sacred knowledge. It awoke Eve to the truth about her divine origin and mission as a daughter of Sophia, God’s Wisdom.
For the world had been created from Divine energy by a lesser deity, the Demiurge, who claimed false authority and usurped the True Source. Eating the fruit of knowledge, Eve could no longer be enslaved by the Demiurge and his Archons who created and ruled the physical world. Eve then awoke Adam from his sleep of ignorance, and together they became seekers after Gnosis and an ultimate return to the true fullness of God the Pleuroma.
Eve got a bad rap as a disobedient temptress, a willful woman who didn’t do as she was told and used her wiles to corrupt the male of the species.
The reign of the Demiurge of the Old Testament relied on humans’ ignorance of their True God. He gave Eve a bad rap as a disobedient temptress, a willful woman who didn’t do as she was told and used her wiles to corrupt the male of the species. The moral of the story: A woman having knowledge is bad. A woman teaching is worse.
These beliefs helped lay the foundation for a brutally oppressive patriarchal society that was all too eager to take up the Demiurge’s drumbeat: Keep women in their places (subordinate, powerless), unschooled, and quiet. Blame and shame for the erroneous “Fall of Man” helped cement the patriarchal agenda for thousands of years.
So what of Medusa, whose sinister mythos has always fascinated me? A beautiful woman whose hair is fashioned from writhing serpents and turns men to stone with a look – she could be Eve! Serpents – wisdom and cleverness – springing directly from a woman’s brain are a horrible, ugly, writhing mass. This is surely a perversion of the soft, silky tresses men find so pleasing. Looking at her – like listening to Eve – is the downfall of innocent men ensnared by her sexuality. The lesson again is: Women who think are ugly and perverse, and women’s sexuality is manipulative and destructive.
Who then was the feminine power behind the Medusa myth and what was her truth? Just as with Eve, history gives us a mixed bag. Medusa’s name means guardian, and Greek mythology describes her as a Gorgon, a winged monster with snakes for hair and the ability to turn enemies into stone by looking at them. Their effigies were sometimes used as protective talismans on buildings, similar to the gargoyles of the Middle Ages.
The mortal hero Perseus famously beheaded Medusa. Ovid states that Medusa wasn’t born a monster but was lovely. Her rape by the sea god Poseidon aroused the jealousy of Athena. In a rage, Athena is said to have turned Medusa into a hideous Gorgon whose ugliness turned to stone anyone who looked on her.
Apparently, even among the gods and goddesses, female beauty was threatening to other women.
The story reveals anger turned upon a rape victim, and women attacking each other out of sexual jealousy rather than uniting against the abuser. Apparently, even among the gods and goddesses, female beauty was threatening to other women who then plotted against each other to win the male prize.
Cutting off Medusa’s head was critical. She could have been killed in some less grisly fashion, but her head was useful. It was supposedly placed on Athena’s shield as a charm against her enemies.
A woman’s head – and therefore her mind – are to be seized by a man and then put to use by him and those women who plotted against her. Womanly intelligence is dangerous and can be weaponized. Indeed, her beheading was a contract killing instituted by King Polydectes who wanted unfettered access to Perseus’s mother Danaë. Polydectes sent Perseus on what he thought was a fool’s errand, and subsequently raped Danaë when she was left without protection.
Women without male protectors are raped and abused by men and turned on by their sisters. The one powerful woman who can protect herself – Medusa – is seen as ugly, evil, and to be slain. Athena, a warrior goddess, is nonetheless portrayed as sexually insecure and a persecutor of her fellow women. What a great mess for the females!
As seekers of enlightenment, modern women can achieve fulfillment and live lives of action and divine purpose so long as we recognize our sacred natures.
A misogynistic cultural overlay influenced tales told about the gods and goddesses. Indeed, the world patriarchy comes from the ancient Greek word patriarches. Greek women of the time were educated to be wives, expected to marry at thirteen, and lived under the authoritarian regime of their husbands for life. Women further didn’t vote, own property, or participate in politics or public life. They were banned from assemblies and their names were not spoken in public. Monogamy was only required of wives. Women couldn’t make wills, and any inheritance they might receive was seized by their husbands. So is it surprising that male writers and mystics of the time attempted to enshrine female oppression in religion?
I wanted the viewpoint of the Sacred Feminine energies themselves, those who have been so maligned by the historical and mythological tradition. The following channeled commentary is from Athena:
“It was good and natural for people to be aware of sacred intelligences and divine energies. However, many stories have been spun about us for purely political purposes or to tip the scales in power struggles. While some kernels of truth may exist, it is safe to say many of us barely recognize ourselves in the mythic accounts.
“Also, please remember that many of the stories told about deities are allegories, more parable than historical record. You have to read into the tales, interpret them in their global and chronological contexts, and actively search for personal truth and meaning.
“So, I will address the way I’ve been personified. As a Wisewoman, seer, and strategist, I was acceptable because I was divine. On no account did the culture want human women to believe they could possess these same qualities.
The goddesses want women to metamorphose from secular beings of biology to the spiritual, emotional, and intellectual giants they may become.
“In contrast, the goddesses ourselves want women to metamorphose from mere secular beings of biology to the spiritual, emotional, and intellectual giants they may become. The divine beings come to teach humans and set examples – so our likenesses and stories are subject to much calculated manipulation by those seeking to control the narrative.
“Medusa and her sisters [there are said to be three Gorgon sisters] are a composite of ideas about women grafted onto the higher intelligences. Women are largely portrayed either as prizes or troublemakers, and the female deities as jealous, vengeful, lusty, and hysterical. Who does this serve? Not women or the Sacred Feminine!
“The Medusa tales are not true in a literal way as they are told. They are, however, a true mirror of the time and place in which they were written. These are common themes and were the reality for many women.
“All human understanding of Spirit passes through the opaque lens of embodiment and must be seen as an interpretation only. The myths and legends were written as ways to contextualize us in human society as it existed then. These are extremely narrow foci that cannot begin to represent us accurately.
“As society grows and evolves, people ask better questions and are capable of holding bigger ideas and broader realities. So, the stories you use to explain and understand the cosmos and its spiritual components can enlarge.
There is a challenge in making ancient spirituality and philosophy relevant and usable for modern people who no longer see their reflections in old precepts.
“There is a challenge in making ancient spirituality and philosophy relevant and usable for modern people who no longer see their reflections in old precepts. So, find the core truths that descend from the beginning. Those will carry forward as spiritual ideas and thought processes move into a new age.
“You have to see yourself in sacred portrayals, or they have no meaning. This is why the stories change. It’s not icons losing their luster; it’s human evolution. “
As seekers of enlightenment, modern women can achieve fulfillment and live lives of action and divine purpose so long as we recognize our sacred natures. This means seeing a feminine imprint on divinity. More than that, we are called to see our divine inheritance in the mirror and on the faces of our sisters. A universe of potential awaits within.
Elizabeth S. Eiler, Ph.D. is the author of the groundbreaking new book Singing Woman: Voices of the Sacred Feminine. Be empowered with bold spiritual messages for contemporary women while exploring Sacred Feminine energies and wisdom teachings. With sections on career and business, relationships, health and wellness, aging, combatting social violence, and meditation, Singing Woman touches all aspects of modern women’s lives with spiritual relevance and beauty. Get your copy today: https://www.amazon.com/author/elizabetheiler