One of the most striking stories from ancient times is that of Medusa. Her name comes from the Egyptian, ‘Maat’, meaning ‘Truth’, and is the source of words like ‘medicine’ and ‘mathematics’. She is one of the most archaic mythical figures,
”perhaps, an echo of the demon Humbaba, decapitated by Gilgamesh.”Camille Dumoulie.
Like the story of Humbaba (http://andywhiteblog.com/2015/06/21/the-fate-of-gilgamesh/), Medusa is not really a monster at all, or if she is, she did not deserve her reputation. Medusa was a priestess of Athena who was raped in the temple by Poseidon.
Athena then turned her long locks into protective snakes and gave her a look which had the power to turn men, and their unwanted advances, into stone.
She is given the power to protect and destroy.
Her terrifying, petrifying glance, is some attempt to rectify the balance of unavenged desecration.
Poseidon’s rape of the sacred feminine is an allegory of what had actually just occured in the nascent moments of Western Civilisation. The Goddess was violated in her own temple and demonised. Perseus, in later stories, kills her. But her powers are not diminished even by death. She continues to petrify and is finally mounted on the shield of Athena herself where she serves the Goddess as her most deadly weapon.
How are we to understand the symbolism of all this? Is there some sense in which Medusa’s frightful glance is relevant to modernity?
The desecration of the sacred feminine was the precursor to a scurge of Single Systems that had a very limited and therefor inherantly intolerant perspective on life, meaning and purpose. This gives the adherants of Single System systems, a great sense of certainty, cast-iron beliefs and unassailable self-constructs.
These serve to create a tremendous sense of self-justification but there is a price to pay.
The overly determined self-construct turns us to stone.
Of course we need some kind of self construct, we couldn’t do without it, but sometimes our adaptability is sacrificed in favour of unreflected pride, the vulnerable tips of life’s budding supplanted by the concrete of absorbed conviction.
Ernesto Spinelli, called it ‘sedimentation‘, a term borrowed from geology which gives the idea that something fluid and alive has been packed down so hard it becomes like rock.
”Life becomes fixed and calcified, laid down in a rigid and inflexible way that obscures experience.” M Cooper.
In other words we lose the capacity for reflection. We switch to automatic pilot. I can no longer talk to me. Nothing can be learned. Growth stops. And for all the fun of being right as an a priori fact of existence…
”The sure path can only lead to death.”CG Jung
The reason for this is that sedimentation, for all its conviction, becomes an unyielding bedrock, immovable, unadaptable, beyond discussion or influence. This stunts the possibility that new things and fresh encounters might inform, re-animate or enrich life.
”What is hard is a companion of death, what is soft and weak is a companion of life.” Tao Te Ching.
In order to lead a creative life we have to be receptive to the Unknown. We have to be willing to be led by circumstances, sometimes even against our better judgement. There must be some chink in our armour that lets in the Other so that the imagination can flower.
Without some vulnerability to the Other there is no interaction with the world or with our own depths. Nothing comes in or goes out. Conversation grinds to a halt.
”The petrifying stare is synonymous with the inability to accomodate or change.” Camille Dumoulie.
Sedimentation happens when our beliefs and attitudes are packed down to stone, when nothing can be questioned, when everything is pre-judged, where there is no longer any seeking for the truth. Of course, there is anxiety in admitting you don’t know, can’t be sure, or have no absolute conviction, and yet to have one’s inner world carved in stone is quite terrifying by comparison.
”As soon as by one’s own propaganda even a glimpse of right on the other side is admitted, the cause for doubting one’s own right is laid.” Adolf Hitler
Compare that to the following statement from the most prolific writer in psychology of our time..
There is nothing I am quite sure about. I have no definite convictions - not about anything, really. I know only that I was born and exist, and it seems to me that I have been carried along. I exist on the foundation or something I do not know." — C.G. Jung
By contrast the rigid character structure of the Single System system already knows. His one perspective is certain but because his sole point of veiw cannot help him to find where he is on the map, any more than can a single compass bearing, his anxiety grows. He clings all the more to what he knows beyond doubt.
“If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” Descartes.
No Single System system can achieve this. Reinventing yourself, breaking the hard mould, means to doubt what you strove for, to be genuinely confused at your own internal contradictions, to admit you don’t know.
Without this softening, the rigid character is doubly endangered.
Firstly, his own potential must be sabotaged. Learning about something is experienced as a narcissistic admission of defeat. I have seen many addictions and ‘getting stoned’ rooted in the resulting disruption and frustration of potential. Unlived life doesn’t go away. It can haunt our dreams like an aggrieved wraith,
and despite the efforts of the various rattling skeletons above, we get to feel that we’ve arrived and know what’s what.
Instead of being petrified or awed by our own depths, its strange Otherness will be attributed to the world beyond Single System’s borders, that which terrifies, some other mono, and make war on it, condense it into terrorists.
Bodies stone cold.
The alternative is by way of the Inuit story of ‘The Stone Child’ marvellously told and interpreted by Clarrissa Pinkola Estes….
The stone child is mothereless and clings to a cold stone that gradually sucks out his life.
But the stone child recognises its unmotheredness and allows its anguish and grief expression . This cracks open the stone that sucks out warmth and life.
Its not that we suffered any one particular thing that wounds us eternally but that we have not felt it to the full.