Confronting Fear with Truth: The Meaning of Asteroid Medusa

by Boots Hart, CAP on November 1, 2009

Medusa embedded in Athena's shield

We all know about Medusa, a female gorgon with a salacious tongue and a head of twining snakes, who’s such a fright that mere humans turns to stone the moment they lay eyes on her gloriously gruesome, terrifying flesh.

But what is this myth really about? This tale has a lot to do with fear, an emotion we each feel at some point to some degree—if hopefully not to the point of personal petrifaction! And fear, though we’d like to think it’s about that “thing” actually isn’t about that “thing.” Not precisely, because if we’re feeling the fear, the fear is about us—it’s our fear.

And that means Medusa—snakes and all—says something about us. Internally. Intrinsically.

First, a bit of data from the astronomical and hard science side of life. Listed as a minor planet, Medusa is commonly classed as an asteroid—number 149 to be precise. But the position of said asteroid in the main asteroid belt means that Medusa is just one of thousands of factors and considerations (asteroids) we face in life. They’re all there—they’re in our lives and we’re forced to contend with them now and again whether we like it or not.

In Medusa’s case, the “cycling” period with which such issues revolve is metaphysically described by the full length of the asteroid’s orbit, 3.2 years. For some of us (probably those with Medusa focal in their charts), it may take this long to get through one “Medusa issue” and be thus cosmically in karmic condition to confront the next.

For others—theoretically those who don’t have Medusa strongly positioned (though more research is needed here)—this point would change its level of activity every 3.2 years as a new “Medusa return” is reached and thus a new “level” of Medusa experience is introduced into our life.

There is a further “microcosmic” suggestion that while Medusa is not quite in sync with either our solar or lunar calendar, it may well be associated with seasonal shifts. And this implies that the quadrant of one’s horoscope in which we find Medusa is in itself our yearly “season” in which to deal with Medusan issues and images, both along the path from infancy to old age and in terms of the way one’s natal chart describes the whole of one’s life passage.

What does Medusa mean? First of all, though the myth is pretty drastic, we ought take our cue from the astronomical position. The asteroid belt lies between the inner cosmic bodies (the “personal planets”—Sun, Moon, Venus, Mercury and Mars)—and the generational planets Jupiter (knowledge and application of what you know) and Saturn (building and accomplishment).

The personal planets are about who we think of ourselves as being (personally). The main belt asteroids thus tend to be about all those issues, qualities and nuances we experience or express—which either come to be, or which lie between us and what we want to become (or accomplish—the Saturn thing). You know, the rocky moments (asteroids) we encounter along the way.

Given that everything (including metaphysically, our thoughts and efforts) goes out, and then comes back to us (cause/effect, earn/reap reward, etc.) it’s all a cycle. One we are supposed to learn through and thus “own” to a better or greater degree as we go long. Or put more astronomically, we and our life works are like comets—we cycle out, we return to the Sun: what we put out comes back to us in who we are, what we get, and who we are known as.

With that said, let’s look at Medusa’s myth. Medusa is one of three sisters. Two are immortal. Medusa is not. Talk about your Cinderella syndrome—to say nothing of feeling picked on! Or was she? Maybe Medusa felt special and unique? Whatever else this says, it plainly puts Medusa on a tighter rein, requiring that she be more careful. More responsible. More aware. Her sisters could survive things which Medusa would surely die of.

At the very least, it likely that this difference created a little tension. Some sibling rivalries. And though apparently no one wrote any details about such, they did record all three maidens as having been very beautiful. Particularly Medusa, who loved to show off her long, glorious hair.

And another family note: the parents of these girls were Titans. The most well-known of the Titans is Atlas (the guy assigned to hold the whole world on his shoulder), but in general, they are a group of “titanic forces” which shape(d) our world and maintain(ed) its workings. Never represented as being particularly personable, wise or witty, the Titans were not treated all that elegantly by the higher ups in the Olympian pantheon.

There are several sets of Titans put forth by varying sources as parents of these three girls. But a couple of things do seem to be consistent. The first is that all the nominees for gorgon parenthood are sea Titans, with water always being an emotional element. The other is that said parents were all themselves siblings—inbreeding being another one of those truly iffy signs in ancient myth. But that one of the girls is mortal and the other two are not? What the heck does that say? It speaks of secrets at least and maybe out-and-out lies. But bottom line: to have parents who are themselves siblings is at the very least a high-level comment on bad family dynamics.

Yet given this bad grounding, part of Medusa’s lore in the astrological sense may speak to glitches in our own grounding. Or issues which stem from childhood…positive or negative! We may have been so protected we are easily shocked as adults. Or we may have grown up so secured that we end up insensitive to the problems of others or even unwilling to look at, or tolerate, anything which doesn’t fit our vision of how life “is” or in our head, how it “should be.” Medusa may well thus indicate vulnerability, but not lack. Far from it—as our story starts off in post-kiddyhood, Medusa is serving as a priestess, which whatever else it may be is a position of honor and societal stature.

There are several versions of this story floating around, and details vary. But one which seems worth noting and fairly consistent is the idea that Medusa was not exactly shy about her beauty. And while this may well indicate vanity, if we don’t want to assume that, what we are left with is at least a sense of…boldness.

So is our own boldness part of the Medusa equation? Maybe yes, but it may not be “boldness” in the “confidence” sense. It may just be that certain areas of life we get involved in bring us to moments of “Medusa” confrontation. Perhaps your natal Medusa is connected with a career or goal indicator—the Sun or Midheaven. Or with the lunar nodes or Part of Fortune, indicating societal/social interactions. As you move in that direction…remember, Medusa is positioned to be something we encounter along the way to functional (Jupiterian) achievement (Saturn)…these would likely be where you meet up with…or come to embody…Medusa energy.

Not that it’s any more fun to have Medusa anywhere else. Let’s face it—when it comes to symbols of personal challenge, we all have them but there are no good places to put them! And yet…what is it that happened to Medusa to turn her into that ridiculously horrible gorgon?

For that, we first consider who she was serving: Athena, the goddess of wisdom. Medusa’s job was to service wisdom, which is in itself very Jupiterian. Does this mean Medusa is more powerful when in the Jupiterian signs of Pisces and Sagittarius? Or when positioned in the Jupiter-associated 9th or 12th house—and thus ill behaved when in the 6th or 3rd and particularly challenging when in Virgo or Gemini?

Ah, such utterly delicious questions yet to be contemplated! But first, let’s finish the myth.

So there’s the beautiful and bold Medusa serving the unemotional (intellectual) goddess of wisdom, Athena, who was conceived (thought of/born of) the brow of Zeus. So here is Medusa, going about serving Wisdom, when in comes Poseidon/Neptune, ruler of all oceans (water = emotion) physical and metaphysical (i.e., instinct, the unconscious).

Poseidon/Neptune, Lord of the Sea

Poseidon/Neptune, Lord of the Sea

Neptune is Zeus/Jupiter’s brother, which raises a whole other set of questions about sibling rivalry. But more to the point, many versions of this tale have Medusa willingly succumbing to the unfathomable passions of Neptune whilst in Wisdom’s temple. And that was a big, large, giant-sized no-no which Athena took grave exception to. Wisdom, betrayed? By what? By the primal power of the unconscious. Now doesn’t that ring a bell?

And not that it makes this any more pleasant, but the other basic version of the story has Neptune raping Medusa. Either way, Athena was sufficiently torked as to transform Medusa into the figure of the gorgon we know so well, telling us that the service of Wisdom, once defiled, is simply undone, turning the beauty into a nest of snakes which hiss, gaping eyes which unrelentingly star and a maw lined with fangs between which flickers a writhing, rapacious tongue.

Obviously to punish the victim of rape is a terrible thing indeed! But does it get done? Absolutely. And considering that this is most of all a metaphorical issue we all encounter and we all face and deal with, isn’t the real question how we grapple with what we know is right versus what we long for or wish? Whether we’re on the side of truth or clinging to some ideal, the question of what is true is more about us than any given fact—and it’s that which we cannot escape once we defile ourselves through violation of our own “sacred’ standards.

Seen in this light, Medusa becomes a figure of our own internal ethics—replete with regrets and repentance and the “boomerang” effect of cause/effect. What we put out does come back to us—or come back to haunt us. And once the gorgon is spawned, we flinch at that thought forevermore. Or at least we ought to. Of course, those who will not learn from history (Wisdom) are destined to return to the scene of the criminal mistake, so to speak.

However you look at it, it’s at this point in the story that we see knowledge betrayed, fused with emotion to terrifying effect. And we’re not done yet! The story goes on…

Athena, Greek Goddess of Wisdom

Athena, Greek Goddess of Wisdom

In some versions, Athena was having one of her exquisitely thorough days—meaning she carried her doctrine of condemnation to the nth degree, transforming Medusa’s sisters into gorgons too. Is this reflective of the shame (and unbridled, vitriolic anger) so often felt/lived out by families of those who have done an ill deed? Or guilt or shame we may feel—rightly or incorrectly—which leads us to hide who we are, or what we’ve done, from others? Maybe.

The three beauties become a truly ugly trio, though only Medusa apparently achieves the landmark ability to turn mortals into stone. And since this attribute makes it hard to make friends and influence people in any enjoyable (never mind survivable) way, Medusa did what such creature characters do. She went into isolation—from which we may get the sense that Medusa in the chart has something to do with where we hide. Or things hidden which we find, confront and deal with. That in a limited study Medusa seems to be focal in charts of doctors and others in similar career paths where one needs to possess wisdom enough (Athena) to sort the truth from overwhelming emotion (as in psychology), or despite instinctive emotions which both the doctor or patient/client may have (all very Neptune). The issue of compassion in the face of truth and the wisdom thereof is a potent image of the metaphysical temple—a place where we each confront our deepest, most overwhelming questions, our vulnerabilities and hurts in the name of seeking Wisdom.

What did it take for Medusa to be defeated? It took a hero. Or more abstractly, a heroic effort. In this case, Perseus, a teen, was given the task of doing away with Medusa for not the most altruistic of reasons: the king, a rather unsubtle guy named Polydectes of Seriphus wanted to marry Perseus’ mom, Danae. But she was having none of him.

Yet Polydectes must have had some smarts, because he took one look at Danae’s god-like teen son (yes, mom had had a truly immortal affair with Jupiter/Zeus!) and decided that this kid had to be dealt with if Polydectes was going to stand a chance of bullying mom to the altar. So Polydectes cooked up a plan befitting a monarch: he would feign a somewhat offended shrug, then let it be known he was moving on, soon announcing that he, Polydectes, had chosen a different winsome woman to be his wife. And with that claim duly claimed, the king had good cause to stare young Perseus down. What, no wedding present?

Perseus pleaded fiscal ineptitude. And no, it didn’t get him very far. Polydectes accused Perseus of sitting around on his heroically lazy butt. Rather predictably, Perseus got pissed off, insisting he just hadn’t found the right job (sound familiar?). So Polydectes announced that he had something in mind for Perseus to fetch. Namely, Medusa’s head.

Hearing this, Danae realized that her headstrong son (yes, I said that) was in over his head (yes, I said that, too). So she appealed to Zeus in the key of plaintive, and Zeus responded by sending his chief organizer, head of procurement and go-to guy Hermes/Mercury along with the very knowing Athena (yes, that Athena) with orders that Perseus was to be equipped in the manner befitting a bastard son of Zeus (of which there were more than several).

This, they did. Mercury donated his famous winged sandals. He also gave Perseus an unbreakable, sickle-shaped sword, the source of which seems rather oblique. Perseus was also given a cap of invisibility on loan from Hades, god of the underworld. Not to be outdone, Athena gave Perseus her shield—a very important emblem. The shield is apparently brightly polished on both its outer and inner faces, giving us the idea that “knowing in reflection” is connected to the precept of actual wisdom. And that the (Athena-like) person or the hard truth is protective. Raising its shield in the face of ignorance, truth does in fact provide protection.

Remember, this can be about those we encounter but first and foremost is always about us. How we live our lives. The things we confront which challenge and educate us about who we are, giving us the wisdom to succeed in our goals…and then reflect on whether that was what we really thought would happen. Or what we even wanted to happen.

Anyway, most of us know the next act in this saga: Perseus goes to where Medusa has hidden and kills Medusa not by looking at her, but instead by judging where to aim his sword via the reflection of her deadly ugliness in what we would have to assume was the inside of Athena’s shield. Anyone who has tried to do something based on a reflections in a mirror knows the intense and peculiarly mental, internal concentration it takes to operate in virtual opposition to brain instinct and that’s just the point—knowing is not instinct! We can’t deal with the gorgons in our lives except by separating ourselves from instinct. We have to go in the opposite direction.

And this isn’t the end of the story either. As Medusa’s head is severed, she gives birth to two offspring. Sometimes said to be the product of her blood alone, they are also spoken of as the children of her “Neptunian affair,” which seems to fit when we remember that astrologically, Neptune is all about the dichotomy of instinct against spirit, polarizing in our life as fantasy versus illusion, faith against despair, fear and isolation against unity, cohesion and bliss—all of which is clarified by our ability to recognize and release our human death grip on ego.

Seen in this light, Medusa’s children seem almost logical, for they appear to represent the poles of her spirit. Two dissimilar factions, both stemming from that moment when, in the Temple of Wisdom Medusa either gave in to or was overcome by emotion (Neptune). And therein lies the question: did she give in or was she overpowered? And what does that say about us?

Representing perhaps Medusa’s fight or flight or drive for freedom (maybe redemption and thus rehabilitation?) is her first child, the winged horse called Pegasus. Horses always represent freedom and strength—and thus the strength we need to achieve freedom in our lives, Pegasus is a vital and viable image of childhood and the innocence we stand to lose if, or as we become, too ego-driven. Who we become as adults is nature, nurture and DNA—yes. But it’s also at least partly about who we want to be and what we decide is valuable, and where that decision comes from.

Medusa’s second child makes this point in a very different way. Known as “the giant Chrysaor,” this child grows up to become a hero armed with a golden sword. Some say the Chrysaor is a boar, but whatever this son is, Medusa’s big hairy problems pass down through this line. One Chrysaor child is Echidna, a deadly she-dragon with the torso and head of a maiden and tail of a serpent. The other child(ren) is/are known as the Geryon (sometimes Geryones) with the single/plural problem coming from the description of this entity as “a three-bodied giant.” Somewhat less threatening than Echidna, the Geryon guards sacred cattle at the western end of the world and through various means come to be associated with Orion, suggesting a difference between the hunter who kills out of need (in order to eat or in order to defend one’s herd and home) and the hunter who kills for sport—i.e., the pleasure of killing. This is another form of confrontation with choice and ability, wisdom and pleasure. Yes, Athena versus Neptune takes many, many forms in each of our daily lives!

So Perseus slays Medusa. Covering the head in a leather wallet (big wallets in those days), he carries it away. But being a teenager, he wasn’t so neat about it—dribbles of blood dripping from the sack as flying fleet-footed Perseus heads home give birth to all the poisonous snakes in Africa. And yet…! That all which can be poisonous is not always bad? That’s cunningly told here too, for several drops of the gorgon’s blood are given to someone with the highly polysyllabic name Erichthonius with instructions that they can be used either as a poison…or to reanimate the dead. In other words, from our greatest downfalls may come more terrible things ….or the salvation of others. Or to put it more personally (as is our job here): if life hands you lemons, are you going to sit around watching them rot or hop to the making of lemonade?

To wrap this up, ultimately Polydectes gets his, proving that be careful what you ask for, you might just get it might be a fitting moral for his segment of the story. As for the rest? Once this deed is done, Perseus returns all the immortal garb and gives Medusa’s head to Athena, who then embeds it on the front of her shield. Is it a warning? Perhaps. Often we try so hard to find something out and then are sorry we know so much. With knowledge comes power—and responsibility. And sometimes that can be very frightening. But not knowing is to act on instinct—and that plainly can ruin our lives. Lives which could have been…beautiful.

In the chart, Medusa appears to have different qualities based on whether it’s aspected or not—and what it may be in aspect to. Certainly when posed with a planet, Medusa speaks to what we learn and experience through that aspect of life, and all the people, events and dynamics associated with the symbol, the sign and house it’s positioned in the condition of the planet ruling the cusp of that house. With this said however, not much documented astrological research has yet been done on Medusa. But it does appear to be focal by planet and/or axis in the charts of many whose lives are all about dealing with finding answers and searches for truth—some of which is surely unnerving, miraculously bizarre or even frightening in its ability to challenge what a formerly conceived of happy status quo.

Is Medusa something to keep track of by transit? Maybe yes. Even if un-aspected natally, events seem to trigger our latent Medusa issues when transited, just as they affect all asteroids, TNO’s (etc.) which may be unaspected natally.

And yes, we all have some Medusa issues. The question is whether we have the courage to look at them—even in reflection—or not. Ultimately, Medusa’s face on Athena’s shield tells us that overwhelmingly emotion is a mask. Behind it may lie beauty or ugliness. It may represent the ugliness of vanity which appears and appeals through beauty. Sometimes our feelings are themselves are a mask, shielding us against others or even against something we don’t want to know or think about ourselves. Or our world. Medusa’s face in Athena’s reflective shield is sometimes our fear of facing our fears about the process of learning. Or the responsibility which inevitably comes with being the person who knows or knows how—the wise person who has to live knowing others depend on them. Sometimes we grasp something or acquire wisdom which we know will be uncomfortable for others to hear. When we speak that truth, might we not be seen as Medusa? How do we feel about that—and are we really frightening others if their emotional reactions are theirs and not ours? What is the ultimate value of wisdom against the cost (or wisdom) of ignorance? Is one thing always wise, or can wisdom itself be a form of Neptunian seduction? Why as humans are we so drawn to preferring the dream, which we can never build on to a factual reality?

This ability to walk with wisdom and reconsider our values in the light of our (hopefully) ever growing wisdom about who we are as individuals is ultimately our prime Athena/Medusa challenge. Through its cyclic trials we discover the difference between the Gemini idea and the Sagittarian “does it work” polarity which is so intrinsically Athena. We learn how that truth may well be at odds with Medusan pre-occupation with self/ego and the tendency, even the craving so many have to be immersed and “saved” by a greater power, a mass movement, a sexual fantasy or self-abandonment through corruption of one’s functionality. These are the conflicts between Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius and Pisces which astrologers call the mutable quality, the process of learning as we go. Today’s answer is tomorrow’s starting place and maybe the next day’s quandary, we just don’t know. That it’s so hard to accept and believe without “seducing’ others to come along on our ride is one very exact form of the Medusa mythos, a concept which asks us whether we have not seduced ourselves by thinking we know what’s “right.”

Beyond whatever else, this frightening face in the shield of wisdom tells us that the greatest wisdom isn’t about mundane facts—it’s about the ability to see and have revealed to us our greatest fears. Only through knowing what these are can we get past them to real acceptance of who we are. What wisdom is. What potentials lie in knowing who we really are—and how, in Athena’s having sprung from the brow (and intellect) of Zeus/Jupiter (literally the god-head!) that there’s always more to learn, and thus to be.

And that ultimately, that knowledge really can set us free to be like children, once again beautiful and innocent and trusting and unafraid to learn just about anything.

Note: Medusa is a relatively small celestial object, not all online chart casting/ephemeris database sites offer information on its location. One which does is Serennu.com, a website which offers zodiac positions on many “non-standard” astrological objects including TNO’s (Trans Neptunian Objects), dwarf planets, damocledians, asteroids and centaurs—even some fixed stars and black holes. If you’re an astrologer using Solar Fire Gold (v.7) you can download and install a Medusa ephemeris file (asteroid 149) free of charge from Astrodienst.com.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Medusa Rising September 15, 2012 at 2:57 pm

I do have that that power to stun men with my gaze, Medusa is conjunct my sag ascendant, and my mercury is conjunct agol.

It is not a fun power to have, and you will be hated for it. It’s lonely to have men afraid of you. You have to get past your own hatred of men and how you have been treated by them to be able to use it for good. Transform the inner victim/predator dynamic into a higher level and reclaim your power.

alex miller November 9, 2009 at 3:17 pm

extraordinary work, boots! a great look at the mythic potential of this body, and i particularly appreciated the science side of it as well. it struck me as i read that medusa might also show where we cause others to become entrenched, to calcify, dig in their heels, refuse to budge, much like being turned to stone. i think it’s also significant that even after death, this ‘mortal’ creature has the power to turn others to stone. after polishing off his would-be step-father polydectes and his wedding banquet guests by making a hall of statuary out of them, perseus uses the head to defeat the sea monster that is threatening his future wife, andromache. and even once athena has reclaimed her former priestess and applied her to her aegis, the head keeps working for her! in fact, becomes one of her more recognizable emblems. there’s a sort of satisfying circularity to athena’s relationship with medusa, who is triply her creature, as priestess, defiled grotesque creation, and finally defender. perhaps that says, on some level, that if we’re true to our search for knowledge/wisdom, however ghastly the result of what we uncover, in the end, we’re stronger for it.

at any rate, a really wonderful, thought-provoking article!

Nancy November 2, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Wouldn’t part of every woman like to have Medusa’s power to turn every man who looks at her to stone? It’s kind of the reverse of Helen of Troy’s power. And sometimes you just want to be able to turn off Helen’s power and freeze them in their tracks…

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