Sunday, October 15, 2017

To Stand Witness by Teri Uktena

Medusa by Caroline Alkonost

THE MEDUSA MYTH has always been a favorite of mine. I mean, it’s cool right? As a kid it’s a great story like Godzilla vs. Mothra. There is a horrible monster doing horrible monstery things which needs to be vanquished. And there is a hero who looks just like every other guy and he gets help from the pretty gods and he gets all these cool gadgets and he goes out, screws up his courage and defeats the monster. Hurray! Even better, Clash of the Titans with Harry Hamlin is a cult classic and the owl Bubo is a delight.

However, I also was bothered by the myth from the very beginning because it made no sense. Rarely was a monster called out as either male or female—it was just monstrous and somewhat assumed to be male (ish?). So why all the angst around this one baddie? Why was she female? Why was that a bad thing? Other monsters were ugly, but their ugliness didn’t kill, their actions did. And it really confused me that a girl monster would be powerful and deadly and need to be killed while pretty women were helpless damsels that needed to be saved. And why do they always just weep and allow themselves to be tied to things?

Unfortunately for us, the Medusa myth is alive and well, though not because of any CGI filled remakes. Medusa was a physically beautiful woman. In Ovid’s telling this is presented as uncomfortable, not in and of itself, but because she knew she was beautiful and this made everyone around her uncomfortable. There is a subtext to this implying negativity if you fully embody who you are as woman. (You know, be too attractive and you attract things you don’t want.) Don’t be powerful, don’t be uppity, don’t be who you are, don’t be… Poseidon, god of the seas, second most powerful god next to Zeus (his brother) sees her and is attracted to her. He approaches her, comments on her looks, and suggests they make love. She says no. He then forces her into the temple of Athena (who among other things is a staunch virgin with no mother) and rapes her. There are no repercussions for Poseidon. He just leaves afterwards. Athena is enraged, not at him, but at Medusa. Athena turns Medusa’s beauty into such horrid ugliness it cannot be looked on because it will turn anyone who sees it into stone. To look at such defilement, such grossness is to become forever its mute stone witness.

I say this myth is alive and well because you can hear it in each woman who comes forward to speak about their experiences with Bill Cosby (who hasn’t been charged with any crime). It is retold in each victim that comes forward to speak about Jimmy Savile from the BBC. In each case, a person who was beautiful because they lived, because they existed, because they were a portion of divinity, was taken advantage of in a way which was so destructive they were forever changed. This in itself is a horrible facet of humanity. What is worse, when it became known they had been taken advantage of there was no outrage toward the perpetrator, but outrage at them, the victim. They are turned into a hideous monster who is so dangerous they must be shunned because just looking upon them will destroy mortal man. They are other, they are evil, they are a warning to all who hear the tale, don’t be too much, don’t be too good, too beautiful, too powerful, too anything. Keep your head down and hopefully you won’t be destroyed.

When Anita Sarkeesian says, “One of the most radical things you can do is to actually believe women,” she’s speaking directly to this. That Medusa isn’t a monster. She’s us. She’s someone who has been radically changed by the despicable actions of other beings. Our inability to look at her, to see her, the myth that we will be turned to stone if we see her, is all about fear. It’s about what will happen to us if we actually see her for who she has become. This is in part the power of the New York Magazine cover

It’s nothing more than a black and white picture of seated women and one empty chair. But when I look at it I see Medusa in all of her amazing and heart breaking varieties. In this picture I see all of the women I have worked with over the years who have struggled because no one would believe them and people actively worked against their being able to seek help or even validation. I see myself telling my family what happened to me and hearing them respond that I was lying. And I remember one of the most amazing days of my life, when I told my story in the presence of men I had never met and they believed me.

Medusa isn’t a story in some book: she’s all around us. She’s not a monster too ugly to look upon, she’s the ugly truth. If we have to look at her through the shield of a magazine photo or stand with our backs to her and look at her through a mirror, then so be it. The time when sending Perseus to kill her would work is ending. It’s time to give over this turning to stone business and instead become the heroes that stand witness to what has been done.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Calling Medusa In by Jane Meredith

Art by Diane Goldie

IF WE WERE TO LOOK at our childhoods, really look at the horror of them, we would turn to stone.

As we get to know our friends, the layers strip back between us and another version is revealed. The drunken parents who forgot their middle child’s birthday. The mother too depressed to get out of bed, or who laid on the couch crying for a year. The fathers who were absent, violent, or addicts—or the stepfathers who took their places and were violent, alcoholics, rapists. Having the wrong clothes at school, or no lunches, having to pretend everything was all right while at home terrible scenes were enacted weekly, monthly, daily. The danger, the fear, the wounds inflicted physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.

If we were to really look, to open our eyes and see what was there, as an observer or maybe to reclaim it through the eyes of the four-year-old girl hiding terrified in her room, hoping somehow the waves of shouting and crashing pass over her; the toddler who couldn’t be taken to hospital during her epileptic fit because all the adults were so high they couldn’t drive; the seven-year-old struggling to be self-sufficient; the ten-year-old looking after younger siblings; the teenager trying to stay in school while caring for a parent who was alcoholic, disabled, depressed; the daughter not fighting off her brother, or father, or cousin, or uncle—believing that it kept the family together, or because she wouldn’t be believed or would be blamed… the children put into foster care to be neglected, abused, traumatised by unrelated adults or shifted endlessly one home to the next. If we were to really see all of this we would surely turn to stone in horror, outrage, disbelief, of utter heart-breaking tragedy that cannot, cannot be borne.

Rape. How many, how endlessly many of us carry that story? Carry it in our flesh, our memory, our very cells recording the violation the near-obliteration of our selves, our fragile child-bodies, our resilient child-minds, the selves of us formed in torment and still this endless desire to survive. Rape by fathers, brothers, uncles, grandfathers—how many incest stories have I heard by now? Sexual abuse by older siblings, cousins, gangs, sometimes mothers even; violence and horror and deep levels of manipulation practiced casually at the tortured edge of life and death, those children learning deep within them how to live on the edge how to somehow grow up despite all that; this would turn us to stone if we really looked at it. The statistics—up to one in three girls, up to one in six boys (this was in Australia in 1999, somehow I don’t believe it’s any less in 2017)—experienced sexual abuse of some kind before their eighteenth birthday. Do you feel the chill in your flesh setting in; your thinking beginning to grind to a halt; your movements slowing, stuttering, the breath coming more shallowly? We’re starting to turn to stone, reading or writing this, thinking about it.

Then there was the ordinary, almost dull level of humiliation and defeat inseparable from childhood. That casual, merciless way we were subjected to the power of others in the everyday, dragged along the street crying with hiccups, face a mess and unable to coordinate my feet under the stress; being told-off publicly, humiliated in front of our friends or family; the way it was assumed we couldn’t hear or wouldn’t understand when they discussed our faults; the preferencing when they gazed with eyes and words of praise at our brothers or sisters and glazed past us – how do any of us come out of it as half-way presentable human beings? Remember that they lied, neglected and beat us; remember that they did not rise in our defense when we were attacked outside our homes but instead brushed it off or told us to grow up, which desperately we tried to do. Remember how dangerous life was. We were lucky to survive.

We may have turned to stone somewhere along the way, in some subtle shifting manner so we don’t fully realise it. We just block that part of our lives out, build a wall or two. Encase ourselves in a fort, a high tower, an underground bunker. Stone is good for all that, walls and towers and bunkers. When our friends start to reveal their childhood miseries and shames we retreat, back behind our own wall and shore up the chinks, so the horror doesn’t seep through. It’s contaminating. I can’t hear about your nightmare without remembering my own. So I don’t want to hear. Not that I can forget my own—it visits me in a hundred ways; at night in the landscape of dream, or during the day when I see a child encased in misery in the street or supermarket and sneaking into my relationships or even in the memory of how I sometimes was with my own child.

I’m looking at my childhood and I’m in the process of turning into stone. Or turning into something—maybe stone is just a transition point and then I’ll erupt, spewing lava, molten stone, magma and it will be so fierce I’ll cover everything with it and even the memories will melt.

I read Tarot cards for a young woman, seventeen maybe, and the cards were horrible. I noticed her nervousness, and in her hands, she was wearing a piece of cheap jewellery where a ring is attached to a chain that links to a bracelet around the wrist. A slave bracelet, it’s called. When I asked why the cards were so dreadful she told me her father came into her room at night and sexually abused her—raped her, a couple of times a week, had for years, maybe five or six years. I told her the name of her bracelet, she fumbled with it, trying to get it off. I asked why she didn’t leave and she said she had a younger sister, maybe even two of them, I forget the details by now. She said as long as she stayed, they were safe from him. I asked, “how do you know?”—and saw a new level of horror enter her life. I hope she did something. I gave her phone numbers to call. I hope I reflected her horror enough to get her attention, that snakes rose up out of my hair, in her eyes and she was spurred into action. This was not the only time I heard that story.

My story isn’t that bad. But isn’t that the way we diminish the grief of it, measuring against others and saying, oh well it isn’t as bad as that. We survived after all and mostly we had homes and went to school and mostly our lives are better, now. Shored up with all that stone, perhaps, and the way we let our eyes glaze over and stopped thinking feeling being almost just barely breathing until it passed over us, like a storm or through us and then we came back into our bodies though our bodies weren’t the same any longer that cortisol still streaking through us changing the way we dealt with shock and pain, numbing us like stones to our own feelings, our own sense of danger til we couldn’t properly tell, any longer, which situations were good for us and which weren’t, we were drawn to danger maybe for the thrill, that’s what it took to spike our dulled emotions into feeling something or—even more sinister—for the familiarity of it.

This is all just in the ordinary suburbs of civilised Western life. This does not take into account actual war, genocide, child soldiers, slavery, child brides, genital mutilation, child prostitution, most of the world really. Medusa—where are you? When the patriarchy cut off your head was it to prevent your telling these stories, the stories of women and children and drawing all eyes to the horror of them? Was it to take your terrible powers and turn them onto those who are already the victims? To stop the power of serpents and stone that paralyse the perpetrators and let the innocent transform their suffering? When we reclaim Medusa’s heritage what shall we turn to stone? And then we shall slither free, out of those cracks in the walls or from under the foundations, shedding our skins as we go and becoming bright and beautiful. We will shed those childhood skins, the shapes of our suffering, and in with our knowledge, we will become healers and artists and activists.

Perhaps you were not one of those children. Maybe you had an ordinary safe loving nurturing amazing or just uneventful childhood. Can you listen to these stories, watch them playing out in the adult lives of your friends and lovers and not find yourself turning somehow toward stone, the contamination reaching out and into your ears and eyes as you are forced to consider how people treat the smallest amongst us, most helpless, dependent and fragile beings? Do you turn away, refuse to listen or do you try to hold these stories within your largess and if you don’t turn to stone, what happens then? Can you convince us we are safe, now, listen long enough to still the demons, step up to the challenges we throw at you, untrusting, unsure? Can you stay present to help weave a different story for us, for those who have been turned to stone, somewhere on the inside?

What would it be like to reclaim these histories and breathe through them, to let them out into the open and not have to carry them with us, like stones on our backs, in our hearts, blocking our eyes and ears and freezing our brains? What would it be like to wield the Medusa power of stones and snakes? Look into my eyes and know the truth of my childhood, of all our childhoods, the wounded ones and I think that’s most of us by now; I’m really not sure who there is left to turn into stone. So perhaps it’s the institutions, the nuclear family or just the family, the schools that don’t notice or can’t do anything for the blasted children who inhabit them, the systems of work and economy and poverty and pain that grind down the adults responsible for these small ones til they can’t think and can hardly love and have nowhere to turn and no answers and no resources and clearly it’s all utterly terrible; what if those institutions turned to stone and we were set free?

Because if we don’t turn into stone, or we turn into stone but then we keep turning, there’s a transformation, a transition, a snake-like twist and turning—and serpent-like we hiss and rise and maybe strike, paralysing our enemies or maybe we just slither off elsewhere, somewhere more interesting and rub up against a few difficult places and slip our skins and are reborn.

Medusa. Hiss her name out, like snakes. This is the worst, the most terrible thing—and if we can face that and still reach out to each other, if we can look it full in the face as it happens all around us in the houses and supermarkets and families we see on buses in the parks, in our own street and presumably in the houses of our friends and colleagues and our own families, happening still—if we can face it and not be turning into stone then we can strike. Let the serpents rise from my head, many bodied, writhing. Let them call out what they know and mark it as an act of horror, like thoughts that finally have to speak themselves. And shouting, singing into being, let us finally honour this ancient goddess: the mystery of facing terrible truth. Medusa’s head was cut off, but let us reclaim that—this ancient knowledge: the power to see and know the truth.

Oh Medusa, I’m calling you in. I invoke you. I invoke you into the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, I invoke you into my own life and the lives of my friends, I invoke you into the houses and families of childhoods everywhere. May there be a Royal Commission into the Family. Into childhood abuse in the home. Well might our faces be masks of horror, well might we feel parts of ourselves turning to stone as we confront what awaits us. Feel the shivers down your spine, the hairs rising on your arms and neck. Bring your qualities Medusa—it is time. It is time serpents were released and wildness broke the stone face of what is acceptable and we saw behind the masks and those who raise spear or shield against you were struck with the power of truth.

An excerpt from Re-visioning Medusa: from Monster to Divine Wisdom

Monday, August 7, 2017

Naming and Claiming our Victimhood

Painting by Arna Baartz

“The victim who is able to articulate the situation of the victim
has ceased to be a victim: he or she has become a threat.”
 -James Baldwin

We live in a world that doesn’t like the word victim.

The meaning of victim, according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, is:

  • a person who has been attacked, injured, robbed, or killed by someone else.
  • a person who is cheated or fooled by someone else.
  • someone or something that is harmed by an unpleasant event (such as an illness or         accident).

There is no shame in any of that. Any shame lies with the perpetrator.

What comes up for you when you think of yourself as a victim?

How would it feel to name, claim and release your victimhood?

Articulate your victim-hood. You may want to create a separate Word document or journal.

Mary Daly wrote that “Women have had the power of naming stolen from us.” Take back your
power by naming and claiming it all.  Then, set it aside for now. You may want to share it
eventually. There is tremendous power in sharing our stories.

You may also want to burn it—or rip it to shreds.

Daily Thought: When I look at you I see myself.

Daily Suggestion: Clench your fists, open your hands; feel it.

An excerpt from New Love: a reprogramming toolbox for undoing the knots

“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.”
-Muriel Rukeyser

Friday, June 16, 2017

Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times by C. Loran Hills

Painting by Arna Baartz

Pegasus is a symbol of spiritual elevation, transformation, and transcendence. I always knew that Pegasus was born out of Medusa’s blood but I didn’t know the entire story. I followed that trail of blood toward a richer, deeper understanding of female power. When I read Barbara Walker’s Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, I discovered a complex and more meaningful narrative. Long ago, Medusa was the serpent-goddess of the Libyan Amazon. She represented female wisdom as the destroyer aspect of the Triple Goddess, Virgin-Mother-Crone. She was similar to Kali Ma, the Hindu Triple Goddess of creation, preservation and destruction.

A Gorgon was a monstrous female creature within the complicated pantheon of Greek gods and goddesses. Her face would turn anyone who laid eyes upon it to stone. Gorgons were hideous beings with impenetrable scales, hair of living snakes, hands made of brass and sharp fangs. They guarded the entrance to the underworld. A stone head or picture of a Gorgon was often placed or drawn on temples to avert the dark forces of evil. Medusa was one such Gorgon.

Medusa embodied the principle of medha, the Indo-European root word for female wisdom. Pegasus was named for the Pegae, water priestesses who tended the sacred spring of Pirene in Corinth, Greece. Pegasus represented divine inspiration. His crescent moon-shaped hoof stamped the ground and dug the Hippocrene (Horse-Well), a spring of poetic inspiration on Mount Helicon, the home of the Muses.

In a late version of the Medusa myth, related by the Roman poet Ovid (Metamorphoses 4.770), Medusa is a ravishingly beautiful maiden, “the jealous aspiration of many suitors.” Poseidon rapes Medusa in Athena’s temple. The enraged Athena transforms Medusa’s beautiful hair into serpents and makes her face so terrible to behold that the mere sight of it turns onlookers to stone.

King Polydectes, the ruler of Seriphos, enters the story. He wants to marry Danaë, the only child of the king of Argos; however, her son, Perseus, doesn’t approve. In an effort to get rid of Perseus, the king sends him to fetch Medusa’s head, expecting him to die. Athena assists Perseus by giving him a mirrored shield. He views Medusa’s reflection in the shield and cuts off her head. Immediately, Pegasus springs from Medusa’s blood.

This latter version of the story is disturbing in that Medusa is blamed and punished by Athena even though she is Poseidon’s victim. In another twist, Athena co-opts Medusa’s power by placing Medusa’s face upon her shield. Yet, after many millennia, Medusa remains a compelling symbol of wild female power. Paradoxically, she is a dangerous, unruly woman who invokes fear and she is also a potent image of inner strength for women.

Wild women are condemned as corrupt, depraved, immoral, sinful, wanton, and wicked. Women who live in a state of nature, not tamed or domesticated, are unruly, ungovernable, visionary, savage, and ferocious. These derogatory labels teach us to fear each other, our power, and to deny our inner wisdom. Strong-willed women are demonized in the patriarchal system and socialized to behave.

An excerpt from Loran's essay in Re-visioning Medusa: from Monster to Divine Wisdom
Order here.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Medusa’s Vindication (it will be the mirror) by Kerryn Coombs-Valeontis

Art by Nuit Moore

from the imprisonment of her violation
vipers crowning the exile hiss
a fury that can never
be captured

devouring her dementing well beyond
the sanity of rage, banished
of innocence, her revenge poised
to strike; hunted becomes the hunter

clever one's journey
seeking renown, eager to vanquish
the scorned woman that becomes the gorgon
withering the bravest

it will be the mirror, holding truth
to their lie; the sword its servant
releasing its prey from the sins
of the fathers

ransomed to their shame, she hears
the wing-beats of the white
horse, sprung from her spilt
vindication draining away…

bearing her far beyond vengeance
leaving those who do not mourn
burning to possess the purity
of the Pegasus ascending

©Kerryn Coombs-Valeontis, an excerpt from the upcoming girl god anthology, Re-visioning Medusa: from Monster to Divine Wisdom.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Pythic Portals by Nuit Moore

I painted this Medusa in 1997, with magickal intent behind Her. I had ended a 2-year relationship with someone after they physically assaulted me (by trying to strangle me, closing off my voice, at the neck, my hair streaming), and called me all of those words that weak men will call a strong woman. I wanted Medusa to have my back after he was taken to jail, after he was out of the house. So one night on the next Dark Moon I painted Medusa with all of the rage and fierceness I felt. I wanted whoever would cause me harm to stop in their tracks when they saw Her eyes (which contained my eyes), to freeze and not be able to take another step into my home. And so for many years, I kept this Medusa facing my front door. It is thought by some, including myself, that the serpent-tressed Gorgons found on the outside of some ancient temples indicated that this was a holy space of the mysteries of women and of the Goddess, and the Medusa served as Temple Guardian of these mysteries, and as a warning to those who would trespass. I actually did not even think of this when I painted Her to guard my own temple. It was instinctual, the call—and this is how She speaks, from the awakened kundalini... from the root of the yoni to the belly pit of survival and up through the opened third eye that sees. Medusa Herself is an ancient Libyan Goddess of the mysteries of Life and Death, regeneration, the menstrual mysteries, the shamanic powers of serpents and snakes. Fierce and deeply powerful, the Goddess MEDUSA.

An excerpt from Re-visiong Medusa: from Monster to Divine Wisdom.

Pre-order here.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Re-stor(y)ing Sanity by Trista Hendren

"See No Evil" by Caroline Alkonost

AS A CHILD I WAS TERRIFIED OF MEDUSA. Ironically, I was drawn to and all-but-obsessed with Pegasus, but I did not know the full story of either character or how they were connected. 
It makes sense to me now that I would be fascinated by the male offspring of the horrible monster I had been taught to believe myself to be (as female)—and the dream of flying away as a (male) creature who could finally satisfy the masculine god I seemed to be inherently incapable of pleasing.

Hélène Cixous reminds us that, “To fly/steal is woman’s gesture, to steal into language to make it fly.”1 Reading and writing have been my mode of flight since childhood. Sadly, we are living in a world that devalues both in favor of digital imagery, which I'd argue is a virile venue that will wipe us out eventually. One only has to look to the television adaptation of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale to illustrate what I mean.2 While I am aware that many enjoy the show, my belief is the original book has been horribly distorted to instead glorify and normalize violence against women. Our only hope as females is to re-story the world and take back our lives.

For those who grew up in fundamentalist churches like I did, this means finding new sexts for ourselves—as well as embracing new she-roes—or uncovering the real power behind those who were demonized.

We hear a great deal about toxic masculinity but rarely about toxic femininity, except from men's rights activists.The results of toxic masculinity are painfully obvious in our world. However, I'd like to briefly explore the effects of toxic femininity, which silently kills a lot of us.

I'd say I'm still working on expunging this poison from myself almost daily. It lingers primarily in the expectation (of myself) that I am always “nice” to people—which is something I struggle with. There is nothing wrong with being kind—in fact, I think the world needs more of that. However females are taught to put themselves so far down the ladder that “nice” is a luxury we can no longer afford ourselves.

If I had my way, every young girl would read Toni Morrison's second but lesser known book, Sula. Namely because it was life-changing for me in the way I saw myself as female and the possibilities it opened up for me. As Morrison reminds us, “Being good to somebody is just like being mean to somebody. Risky. You don’t get nothing for it.”3

The biggest lie they tell females is that if you are agreeable and play by all the rules, you will somehow be rewarded and protected by the patriarchal confinement you trade your soul for. Sula was my first wake-up call that this was just not so.

Sula was in fact, my Pegasus. Her character allowed me to fly away from the virulent male-perspective I had been groomed to believe in.

Painting by Arna Baartz

When I entered counseling (again) in my mid-twenties, my crone counselor asked me to scream out my rage—and beat it out, if possible with the pillows and other items she had assembled in her cozy office.

I couldn't do it.

This was not a new request of me. When I completed a Dale Carnegie course in high school, I received a similar task. But I couldn't do it at 17 either.

It was only after a stalker broke down my front door and violently attacked me—and I spent the next six months in court trying to obtain a permanent stalking order—that I was finally able to begin to release some of that rage.

One night, I threw a glass down in anger—hard—shattering it into a million little pieces. It felt so satisfying, that I quickly broke all my glasses, one after another—failing to notice until afterwards that I was barefoot.

Like many woman, I bore the brunt of my own anger with small cuts on my feet, the cost of replacing the glasses—and, later, fixing the damage to my floor. For years I told no one about this incident, deeply embarrassed about my loss of control—and more than anything, how good it felt.

Like bell hooks, “I was taught as a girl in a patriarchal household that rage was not an appropriate feminine feeling, that it should be not only not be expressed but be eradicated.”4

Because rage is not a viable option for most girls, many of us have to learn how to utilize it effectively so that we don't hurt ourselves in the process of releasing it. Those with the least amount of power are afforded the smallest amount of anger.

This is exactly why we see so little change.

For it is precisely this rage that will turn the world upside down and right-side up again.

The anger I was not allowed to feel as a child still sometimes sneaks up on me. But I don't try to hide it or conceal it any more. I've learned the damage that causes in all facets of our lives.

Jane Caputi wrote that:
“Psychic numbing means never having to feel anything. Refusing such anesthetization and unearthing our passions means facing our emotions, especially those that have been the most anathematized, such as rage, female pride, and self-love. In short, it entails embracing monsters. Lesbian novelist Bertha Harris tells it truly: Monsters express what ordinary people cannot: feel. Monsters are emblems of feeling in patriarchy. Monsters represent the quintessence of all that is female, and female enraged. The monster most emblematic of feeling, most communicative of female rage, is the Gorgon. Many people, consumed by fear, simply cannot meet her gaze. Others, steeped in greed, ignorance, fear, and self-loathing, quite frankly want to lose their senses. Rather than look into the Gorgon's all-seeing eye, they turn themselves to stone—that is, they become psychically numb. Yet those of us who are sick of pretending, denying, suppressing, and repressing our knowledge, our emotions, and our powers journey to her island of rock and stone and there face a laughing, welcoming, and gorgeous Gorgon. As we do, we turn not to stone, but to sentient flesh, sensual mind, and boiling blood.”5
I am sick of pretending, suppressing and, most of all—of repressing.

This is something I have thought about incessantly since giving birth to my daughter. Hélène Cixous wrote:
I want to become a woman I can love. I want to meet women who love themselves, who are alive, who are not debased, overshadowed, wiped out.6
This has been my #1 priority in raising my little girl—who is now 11.

I have tried to provide the sort of childhood for both my children that I did not have. I came at parenthood with the idea that both my children had far more wisdom than I—not because I am inherently stupid, but because I am still learning to come back to my center, which was deeply suppressed. I have not only 'allowed' my children to say what they think and feel no-matter-what—but have facilitated those conversations regularly.

When my daughter was about five, she boldly stated that she was a witch. At first this scared me because of my fundamentalist Christian background, but I soon realized that, of course she was a witch! I was a witch too. We had always been witches—the fear of burning had dried the truth out of us.
“Dee L R Graham, in her book Loving To Survive examines what she calls ‘Societal Stockholm Syndrome.’ She hypothesizes that what we refer to as ‘feminine’ traits submission, compliance, nurturing, etcare the result of women living in fear for our lives and trying to ingratiate ourselves with our captors—men—in order to improve our chances of survival. And she suggests that two centuries of witch trials throughout the world created an environment where women learned not only to comply in order to avoid torture and death, but to police themselves and other women in their behaviour.

But seen in this context, our behaviour is not weakness, it is adaptation. It is survival. When they say ‘we are the granddaughters of the witches you weren’t able to burn,’ they usually ignore the other edge of the sword. The edge that continues to cut into our collective psyche. But in order to resist we must understand what we are up against. We need to realise why it is so hard to demand the respect that we deserve as human beings. We are, after all, the grandaughters of the compliant women who survived.”7
Growing up in the church, I spent the first 20 years of my life in dreadful fear of hell fires for every minor infraction I committed. I wasted hours every week, on my knees, begging for forgiveness. As Monica Sjöö and Barbara Mor remind us, “In no Goddess religion known were people ever depicted on their knees.”8

We must learn how to clear— and heal—ourselves on our own terms.

If only someone would have told me when I was a child, as Glenys did in her children's book about Medusa, that I would be constantly shedding skins that didn't fit anymore—for the rest of my life—I think I would have had an easier time of it.

Instead I feared every mistake, certain that my current circumstances defined who I was as a person. It took me four decades to realize that I could simply shed off what didn't work for me any longer and re-create myself. As Nayyirah Waheed wrote, "where you are. is not who you are. – circumstances"10

When we began this anthology, I felt I really didn't have anything to say about Medusa personally. That was not true: I was avoiding my own painful truth (again).

After my abusive ex-husband died unexpectedly at 45 last November, I released (even more) suppressed anger. My snakes went wild, biting many of the not-so-innocent in their path.

I was raised to suppress—and even hate—the Medusa within me. Letting Her out was painful. My oft-straightened wavy hair was now in a messy, silver-streaked mass around me. I had little energy to control even that anymore. I became ill and eventually doctors found a large (benign) tumor blocking my intestines.

Suppressing my truth—and hence, my rage—was literally killing me.

Illustration by Elisabeth Slettnes from The Girl God

I began to think a great deal about Glenys' question at the beginning of this anthology:
"What might be the consequences of changing our minds sufficiently, so that Medusa can be comprehended as metaphor for Divine Wisdom? Many scholars contend She once was understood this way. What might it mean for our minds to welcome Her back? Would that alter the way we relate to Earth, to Being?"12
Do we dare consider—and then declare—ourselves Holy? Do we understand that our rage is not only justified—but also sanctified? How do we use that anger effectively—so instead of killing ourselves, we utilize it to change the dysfunctional world we live in?

It's easy to let the injustices eat at you and fume instead of letting anger burn as a fire, productively. As Maya Angelou wrote, “Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.”13

I remember writing at one point about wanting to use a toilet brush to scrub my insides clean of all that had been done to me. Had I allowed myself the fury I deserved to feel, the fire might have burned those injustices out of me sooner. Perhaps we are still scared to feel the fire after being burned for so many years.

How might we ordain ourselves as Worthy—let alone Goddesses, Priestesses and Leaders—rather than the submissive remnants of ourselves that are (somewhat) acceptable in our woman-hating world? Andrea Dworkin's experience of waking up speaks to me as I ponder this:
“I did not experience myself or my body as my own. I did not feel what was being done to me until, many years later, I read Kate Millet's Sexual Politics. Something in me moved then, shifted, changed forever. Suddenly I discovered something inside me, to feel what I had felt somewhere but had had no name for, no place for. I began to feel what was being done to me, to experience it, to recognize it, to find the right names for it. I began to know that there was nothing good or romantic or noble in the myths I was living out; that, in fact, the effect of these myths was to deprive me of my bodily integrity, to cripple me creatively, to take me from myself. I began to change in a way so fundamental that there was no longer any place for me in the world—I was no longer a woman as I had been a woman before. I experienced this change as an agony. There was no place for me anywhere in the world. I began to feel anger, rage, bitterness, despair, fury, absolute fury...”14
Our hatred of ourselves is not accidental. This is the insidious result of our specific upbringing as girls. We learn to despise and abuse ourselves in both blunt and indirect ways—primarily through the religious texts that seep through our societies and, in many cases, our family of origin. In today's capitalistic societies, media does a lot of the work as well.

It's easy to control females who deeply loathe and distrust themselves.

Our patriarchal brainwashing has thoroughly rinsed out the richness of our beings—even the biological realities of our bodies. Everything is supposed to be bleached. Our body hair removed. Our faces, masked. Our glorious, womanly smells, perfumed over. Our menses, hidden or erased completely. The fullness of our illustrious bellies, sucked in. Our fat, sucked out. The laugh lines on our faces, smoothed over. Our crowns of silver hair—signifying our crone wisdom—dyed back to more youthful (hence, unknowing) variations.

The crone is perhaps hated most of all; but I've noticed with a daughter who is wise beyond her years (or rather, whose wisdom has not been forced out of her) that there is no love lost for smart, sassy, bossy little girls. It is so much easier to raise our daughters under the patriarchal framework that instills quietness and submission—the same suppression and repression we are so sick of ourselves as grown women.

The world at large favors authoritarian control of females, instilling obedience from birth. I do not want this for my daughter. I don't want her to spend the first 40 years of her life un-taming herself.

As my daughter approaches the oft difficult time leading to menarche, it is often a painful process to allow her snakes to go wild—and, sometimes bite. Particularly when they bite me.

This takes an enormous amount of being present—in a world that favors numbing. I have realized my tendency to turn to stone when my daughter lashes out at me; which is the worst response possible for both of us. By not allowing myself to feel her anger (and mine), I stop the healing process for both of us.

I see in my daughter the quiet little girl I grew up as, who was too afraid to ask any questions—come back from the dead. I'll happily take those snake bites for that.

What might it mean to raise our daughters so they do not have to waste a lifetime undoing the toxic indoctrination that most of us endured? What if girls were taught from the get-go to trust their inner voice and feelings, rather than to worship at the feet of men's authority? I like Audre Lorde's answer:
“When we live from within outward, in touch with our inner power, we become responsible to ourselves in the deepest sense. As we recognize our deepest feelings, we give up, of necessity, being satisfied with suffering and self-negation, and the numbness which seems like the only alternative in our society.”15
So, how do we get there?

I think we must start with ourselves. After all, we can't teach our daughters what we don't know or remember. We must continue to uncover our own HERstory—or steal it back as the radical pirates Mary Daly suggested we become.16 We must be diligent about re-learning and deprogramming ourselves. As Janie Rezner wrote:
“Having suffered under patriarchy for the past 5,000 years, it is not easy, as a woman, to reclaim our rage, our 'maternal instinct,' or to even recognize that we have a universal imperative to be outraged, deep in our cells.”17
We must learn to not be afraid of this rage—in ourselves or our daughters—as it is She who will release us from our chains.

Starhawk reminds us that there is another way—if we can only remember it...
Memory sleeps coiled
like a snake...

Breathe deep
Let your breath take you down  
Find the way there
And you will find the way out18
May the coils become unraveled and our passions reign unruly. May we take back the lies we have been told about ourselves and re-story the world. May our collective rage restore our sanity, facilitate healing—and finally—bring peace. May we all learn not to fear our own power—or Medusa's—but to laugh from the bottom of our bellies with Her. May we teach our daughters to love themselves deeply—and may that love serve as a reminder that we are ALL so very worthy of Her divinity and embrace.

An excerpt from Trista's piece in Re-visioning Medusa: from Monster to Divine Wisdom.

Order here.


1 Cixous, Hélène The Book of Promethea Newly Born Woman (Theory and History of Literature). Betsy Wing (Translator). University Of Minnesota Press; 1986.

2 A full analysis is beyond the scope of this paper, however I recommend the following critique: Prose, Francine. “Selling Her Suffering,” New York Times Review of Books. May, 4 2017.

3 Morrison, Toni. Sula. Knopf, 1976.

4 hooks, bell. The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love. Washington Square Press, 2004.

5 Caputi, Jane. Gossips, Gorgons and Crones: The Fates of the Earth. Bear & Company, 1993.

6 Hélène Cixous, "The Laugh of the Medusa," translated by Paula and Keith Cohen. 1976.

7 Meta. “Burn the WitchWhere the Wild Words Are. May 8, 2017. 

8 Sjöö , Monica and Mor, Barbara. The Great Cosmic Mother.: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth. HarperOne; 2nd edition, 1987.

9 Livingstone, Glenys. My Name is Medusa. The Girl God, 2016.

10 Waheed, Nayyirah. Salt. Createspace, 2013.

11 Hélène Cixous, "The Laugh of the Medusa," translated by Paula and Keith Cohen. 1976.

12 Livingstone, Glenys. PaGaian Cosmology, p. 66.

13 Angelou, Maya. Interview with Dave Chappelle. Iconoclasts, the Sundance Channel, 2006.

14 Dworkin, Andrea. “First Love,” The Woman Who Lost Her Names: Selected Writings by American Jewish Women, compiled and edited by Julia Wolf Mazow. Harper & Row Publishers, 1980.

15 Lorde, Audre. “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Crossing Press, reprint edition, 2007.

16 Daly, Mary. Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism. Beacon Press, 1990.

“Women who are pirates in a phallocratic society are involved in a complex operation. First it is necessary to plunder–that is, righteously rip off gems of knowledge that the patriarchs have stolen from us. Second, we must smuggle back to other women our plundered treasures.”

17 Rezner, Janie. She Rises: Why Goddess Feminism, Activism, and Spirituality? Edited by Helen Hye-Sook Hwang and Kaalii Cargill. Mago Books, 2015.

18 Starhawk, “Unmasked.” Truth or Dare: Encounters with Power, Authority, and Mystery. Harpercollins, 1988.