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Of Medusa and Octopi*

April 19, 2016

(*yes I am aware that this is grammatically incorrect, but I like the sound of it better than octopuses…sometimes I even use octopods which isn’t correct either.)

I’d like to say that this will be an intelligently put together article on some of the interesting things I have found…but it won’t be.  I just don’t have the spoons or the coherence to write such an article.  My apologies.  This will be more like a list of the interesting things I have found and the theories that I have.

Octopus Medusa by sahdesign

Octopus Medusa by sahdesign

I have long had a fascination with Medusa.  Couldn’t give you a good reason why but she has always appealed to me.  I’ve always sympathized with her, probably for experiences as a kid of being bullied and blamed for things beyond my control.  In most versions of the myth, she is punished by Athene for having sex with Poseidon withing Athene’s temple.  Some say Medusa, a very beautiful mortal, willing did this act, others say she was raped.  Some myths say that she was the only mortal Gorgon whose parents were sea deities.  Since I tend to not see the vindictive sides of the gods but attribute such actions to the conceptions of mortals and their society, I wrote a story (Athene’s Grace).  For those that don’t want to read it, Medusa’s transformation was not a punishment but a way for a rape victim, spurned and blamed by family and society, to survive with strength; the taking of her head gave her life meaning beyond death.

Medusa’s head became a protective or apotropaic symbol.  It was put on shields and armor, over doorways, etc. as a means of protection.  It was meant to scare away those that meant harm.  Medusa in life and her head in death had a gaze that would freeze men to stone.  I believe this is the source of the Greek’s evil eye symbol.  I find it interesting that it is always blue, not a color I personally associate as a common eye color for those in the Mediterranean.

The older I get the more fascinated I am by octopi.  I couldn’t give you a reason either.  They are highly intelligent, masters of escape, females are much larger than the males, the tentacles each have a “brain” of their own (hence the ability to seemingly operate independently…they also function like a tongue), occasionally come onto dry land and some species are fantastic mimics.  The blue ring octopus is one of the most venomous creatures in the world.  Symbolically it means diversity, creativity, flexibility, adaptability, agility, regeneration, illusion, etc. One day I will have a tattoo of this magnificent creature.

Many find octopods creepy or terrifying.  I think this goes back to ancestral memory of being afraid of the ocean deep.  If you have ever looked an interested octopus in the eye, you just know there is intelligence there.  One’s hind animal brain typically tells you to flea because this creature is trying to figure out if you taste good, are worth the energy to capture and how best to eat you.  Modern times have ran with this interest in the octopus to regenerate interest in the Kraken which in turn, I think, generated Cthulhu.

So what’s the connection between the two?  I recently stumbled across an article that said the octopus is the spirit of Medusa that fell into the sea with her dripping blood (which formed coral).  The “Golden Sword” and “Pegasus” that was born from her severed body are the golden eel and seahorse.  (Quite powerful, that mortal Medusa.)  So in my fumbling search, it seems the connection between the two has long been held, just never one I’d seen or even connected.  Other’s state that it was an octopus with its waving tentacles, human like eyes and odd appearance/manner that was the fodder for the tale of the head of Medusa.  Being an “ocean front property”, the inhabitants of Greece were very familiar with octopods and was a common enough motif even with the Minoans.

So in modern times when desiring an apotropaic symbol, one could use the octopus.  Personally I’ve been trying to find Medusa for a charm bracelet but haven’t had any luck.  First of all she has been co-opted by a certain fashion house.  The ones I do find look more like a female with waving hair or are way too big.  The evil eye symbolism I have always found creepy…yeah the severed head bothers me less…figure that one out.  Finding an octopus charm should be a bit easier, less gruesome and along with my own personal symbolism, a great one to put on a charm bracelet.


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