Medusa. Her name begins with two distinctive syllables that feel like the turning of a key about to unlock (or unhinge) my jaw, preparing the way for a third syllable that slithers like a sun-bathed serpent across my tongue. This last syllable yawns my mouth open as if it were a cave echoing a primordial seed sound that conjures wonder and awe-fulness. I can feel the last syllable of her name deep in my pelvic floor, vibrating through my belly and heart. Repeating her name makes me want to weep in reverence. Makes me wonder if the devotees of Shakti, that great coiled serpent at the base of the spine, were/are also experiencing an aspect of this glorious gorgon.
Me - du - ssaaaaaaa
My lips part. My lower jaw drops like an inverted bone gate. My tongue, exposed, can feel the enveloping air. When I settle in, directing as much awareness as I can to my tongue, I can taste the air. Tongues are sensitive and sensual muscular organs enabling a particular kind of intimacy. They engage what is unfamiliar to us, and in doing so the (unknown) other becomes familiar.
Most of Medusa’s reliefs portray her not only with an uncompromising gaze, but also an agape mouth and an unapologetic tongue stretching out and down over her chin. Indeed a fearsome sight to behold, and many a feminist have found inspiration in her brazen monstrosity. I too find it a transgressive gesture that rebukes conformity, and stops the demand for submission by established orders stone cold in their tracks. And I can’t help but wonder what other transmissions are bequeathed us through her transgression?
Such a chthonic mother-tongue stirs my visceral imagination. As a multi-specied hybrid, snakes sinuously dancing atop her head and wings stretching outward from her back, I find myself thinking of the way snakes rely upon their own tongues. Flicking them outward over and over, they derive part of their sensory knowing through taste. You might even say snakes see with their tongues.
Does Medusa, alongside her ocular powers of petrification, also taste what seeks to be transformed within an other? I propose she does. A proposal invoked by my Greek ancestors whose ancient voices sing to me across webworks of time, asking me to carry the old stories through passages of transformation. In so doing, stories are more reflective of the times we are of and from, imparting evolutionary flavors of wisdom that enable adaptability and resilience.
By tasting one’s essence through the air, Medusa comes to know what potential shape longs for articulation. And from such intimate knowing she petrifies the former shape of what was. Displacement ensues, making way for what could be. I would go so far as to say intimacy is a necessary ingredient in collaborative moments of transformation (as compared to annihilative permanence). I would not think to insult Medusa and suggest malevolent intent. Nor do I experience her as apotropaic. A little too binary for my taste. No. Her uncompromising sight, ferocious as it is, and tongue-gressive gesture are gifts of immense love. At least, that’s my experience.
Very recently (just this past year) I sat with a serpent on a dirt path who froze the moment my gaze landed upon them. Stretching out my hand in solidarity with their own vulnerability, they began to taste me. Shortly after being tasted, during a guided imagery journey a great Vulture god with silvery, moonlit eyes and black feathers protruding from a fleshless skull, gazed upon my face. The same silvery, moonlit eyes of a sharp-toothed womxn from the dreamtime to whom my life belongs. The “I” of me in that moment was petrified. I couldn’t look away, and honestly, I didn’t want to. The shape of me, from that moment on, began to transform. And though my transformation has, at times, been heartbreaking and rigorous, it has also been ecstatic, sensual, lopsided, and pleasurable, and I would not wish it away.