Shadow work with Snake energy: The Gorgon’s mask
Scales in the void, the eternal ellipsis of rebirth; vilified, demonized and feared. Lidless eyes peer into the depths of our souls and we, as humans, flinch at the ‘otherness.’
In times long past the sand and earth parted as the side-winding symbol of deeply connective Goddess energy imparted wisdom to those willing to learn, and the snake symbolized fertility, healing, sexual liberation, and rebirth.
But as a culture of sexual repression and shame rose up in the dregs of history, the once revered snake became cursed;
“Cursed are you above all livestock and wild animals. You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life!” – Genesis 3.14
In modern times, the spiritual significance of the serpent and the wisdom to be found within its mask, is complicated. It’s importance, and the interpretation of its energies, is fundamentally individual, based on the perspective of ones spiritual leanings and the degree to which one has internalised biased teachings of dogmatic propaganda.
On the one hand, some of modern Witch culture embraces Snake energy, although unfortunately it often falls within a perception of the so-called ‘dark’ Witch iconography, still being associated with the ‘evil’ witch, such as in the Craft;
“The Serpent is a very powerful being. You should respect it.” – Nancy (The Craft)
Within popular consciousness it is almost impossible to disassociate the snake from its biblical damnation, even when, as pagans, we seek to reject dogmatic overtures, it sneaks up on us in popular culture that portrays the snake as ‘deceiver.’ The snake, once synonymous with healing, represented even now through the staff of Asclepius, is simultaneously used as a term for false medicine; “Snake-oil.” ‘A snake in the grass’ is a term for someone who means you harm and is lurking and waiting to strike and the entirety of the inner physiology of the snakes mouth has negative connotations.
A forked tongue which aids a snakes sense of smell has been vilified into a synonym for ‘liar’ and a mouth full of venom may be a snakes mechanism for defense (or hunting) but has been adopted by humans to indicate a hateful and less than truthful gossip.
So when we as spiritual practitioners approach the mask of the serpent, we ultimately find ourselves equally keen to place its cool scales against our skin in order to breathe in its lidless lessons as we are hesitant, taught by pre-conceived notions that we may be led astray down a path of deception and lies.
Some even approach the energy of the snake keen to become more poisonous and venomous in themselves, believing power lies in such involvement.
Instead, the mask of the snake has revealed itself to be just as complex as discerning the truth about snake energy is; the mask has as many mirrors within it as it has scales, revealing a multitude of lessons depending on where the witch wishes to delve.
Personally, the magick of the Serpent began with addressing the tangled shadow lesson of dealing with internalised shame.
Shame is the conflict within the snake medicine of personal transformation and personal (often sexual) liberation; for shame is akin to a nail that hammers down the process of shedding ones outmoded skin. Personal evolution begins with a sense of self-worth; that we can be deserving of the process.
Nowhere is this more painfully obvious than within the Greek mythology centred around Athena and her priestess, Medusa.
The very name Medusa hints at the nature of the truth behind this myth which has been perverted by that same repressive agenda that has dogged history:
Medusa is from the Greek ‘Medousa’ literally “Guardian.” Fem. Present participle of the verb ‘medein’ to “protect, rule over.” – Etymology dictionary online
Additionally Medusa was depicted as physically beautiful (which in the patriarchal Greek mythology traditionally ends badly for mortals encountering Gods,):
Medusa once had charms; to gain her Love A rival crowd of envious lovers strove. They, who have seen her, own, they ne’er did trace More moving features in a sweeter face. Yet above all, her length of hair, they own, In golden ringlets wav’d, and graceful shone.” – Ovid ‘Metamorphoses’
Ovid also describes how Medusa had dedicated herself as a Virgin Priestess to the Goddess Athena, and was subsequently raped by Poseidon, defiling her and the temple. This account then attributes Athena as wrathful, further ‘punishing’ Medusa for this ‘offence’, and transforming her once golden curls into venomous snakes, and Medusa became a scaled serpentine monster.
There are many interpretations of this mythology but the shadow energy of shame and the symbolism of snakes is unmistakable.
The presentation of the myth suggests that Athena felt shamed by the defilement of her priestess and temple, and further shamed the victim of the attack as a result. However, it is my personal feeling that this does not seem in keeping with a few key points of Athenas mythos; Athena is referred to as ‘La Serpentine’ in some of the Orphic poetry, one of her most dedicated followers was associated with snakes and she wore the Gorgon head on her shield – a key line of personal defense when in battle.
Could it then not be possible that instead, a subversion of myth has taken place, bent on shaming female figures of empowerment so that these once serpentine gifts of solidarity became indicative of resentful wrath? Through which the shadow of shame crept through a distortion within story-telling, shame that aimed to condition and polarize people by gender?
Particularly to vilify any independent or dominant woman, free of the constraint of expected patriarchal rule so that those Goddesses or ‘Guardians’ became monsters. (Which is true in many different myths in many cultures. More on that later.)
Athena, it has been noted was not interested in being sexually involved which could be viewed as deviant;
“Golden Aphrodite Kypria who stirs up sweet passion… Yet there are three hearts that she cannot bind nor yet ensnare… the bright-eyed Athene…(who) delights in wars and in the works of Ares…” – Homeric Hymn 5 to Aphrodite 7
Additionally Athena bested Poseidon in a competition for the city of Athens;
“The Land (Attika) which she (Athena) had newly obtained by vote of Zeus and the twelve other immortals and the witness of the snake.” (Kektrops.) – Callimachus Hecale fragment 1.2 (from Papyri) (trans. Trypanis) (Greek poet 3rd Century BC)
Kekrops (Cecrops) was a founder of Athens, depicted as a man with a snakes tail in place of legs, who was also said to be the “first man to offer sacrifices to the Goddess Athena after her birth…” – Theoi.com
Snake energy is therefore entwined at every stage within this story, to the point where certain theologians question as to whether they are in fact shadows of the same being; with the ‘monstrous’ and the ‘divine’ being divided into separate physical beings – very much akin to how we, as modern spiritual pathworkers seek to separate the shadow parts of ourselves from the supposed lighter parts.
The demonization of both Athena and her priestess Medusa seems indicative of the patriarchal influence within Hellenistic society.
Athena is described as non sexual and warlike, both attributes would go against the accepted Greek norms for female roles, and so is rendered into a spiteful heartless Goddess by the myth, rejecting another woman who is faced with the ultimate act of violent disempowerment.
Medusa, rejecting her beauty to become a virginal priestess of Athena (and thus denying those “envious lovers”) is raped by the God that Athena bested in fair contest; thus Poseidon seeks to shame Athena for her victory and shame her priestess.
The rejection of this shame game being played within the mythos is the medicine and the mask message of the magickal snake.
Athenas dominance at Athens is bore witness to by Kekrops, a snake-tailed man who reveres the Goddess and is therefore eternally the ‘lidless eyes’ of her victory; the consequent actions of Poseidon do not overturn her victory at Athens.
The physical transformation of Medusa by Athena can actually be seen as a gift; it frees Medusa from the cage of her physical appearance, bestowing her with supernatural abilities and equates with freedom; no longer can there be a supposed ‘obligation’ to her beauty and no longer can a male freely defile Medusa.
This is further supported by the work of R.Graves in his 1958 ‘Greek myths’ who asserts that a Gorgons mask was used at sacred ceremonies and mysteries for women, as well as being worn by young women to ward off male lust.
In a side note, and totally personal musing, I wonder whether or not both Athena and Medusa (as separate entities or indeed as shadows of one) were not sexually disinterested but rather homosexual. This I cannot support in mythological reference but it did pass into my thought process.
Unfortunately the mythology claims masculine victory over Medusa when Perseus uses a shield as a ‘mirror’ to murder Medusa; he forces the notion of a woman’s physical appearance being of tantamount importance in this telling of the myth, and confronted by her non-conformity to the traditional standards of beauty, Medusa turns herself to stone. Medusa continues to be honoured by Athena however who carries the Gorgon head shield into battle and gifts Asclepius with two drops of her blood; one can cure all sickness and even resurrect people, and the other is a deadly poison. Thus the legacy and magick of the snake (death and rebirth) was passed on through a modern magickal art, that of healing.
The shadow of shame which is perpetuated by societal control still rears its head to this day; the mythology of Medusa is not forgotten and is retold for every generation. Yet the energy of the snake is evolving, and Medusa has become an icon to many, representing female rejection of standardized beauty and uniformity.
The snake mask invites us to learn these lessons for ourselves; shame may be the weapon of choice for those seeking to control us, but it cannot break the spirit of self empowerment, which will always resurrect; the connection between all people is an energy akin to the scales on the back of the Ouroboros.
Many blessings, Starlets
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