Medusa tattoo by Fernie Andrade.
Medusa has long been an image that has fascinated most of us since child birth. She was the one that would turn you into stone if you looked in her eyes, and the thought of her hair made of snakes was nothing short of trippy and mesmerizing.
Often referred to as “snake head”, she’s a part of Greek mythology, and generally described as having the face of a hideous human female with living venomous snakes in place of hair. Most sources describe her as the daughter of Phorcys and Ceto, though the author Hyginus interposes a generation and gives Medusa another chthonic pair as parents.
Medusa was beheaded by the hero Perseus, who thereafter used her head, which retained its ability to turn onlookers to stone, as a weapon until he gave it to the goddess Athena to place on her shield. In classical antiquity the image of the head of Medusa appeared in the evil-averting device known as the Gorgoneion.
In most versions of the story, she was beheaded by the hero Perseus, who was sent to fetch her head by King Polydectes of Seriphus because Polydectes wanted to marry his mother. The gods were well aware of this, and Perseus received help. He received a mirrored shield from Athena, gold, winged sandals from Hermes, a sword from Hephaestus and Hades’s helm of invisibility. Medusa was the only one of the three Gorgons who was mortal, so Perseus was able to slay her while looking at the reflection from the mirrored shield he received from Athena. During that time, Medusa was pregnant by Poseidon. When Perseus beheaded her, Pegasus, a winged horse, and Chrysaor, a golden sword-wielding giant, sprang from her body.
Jane Ellen Harrison argues that “her potency only begins when her head is severed, and that potency resides in the head; she is in a word a mask with a body later appended… the basis of the Gorgoneion is a cultus object, a ritual mask misunderstood.”