The Myths of Medusa and Pygmalion: Finding Flexibility

Over the last few months I’ve noticed a stiffening in my body, due to lack of movement mostly. My body is big and heavy to move around, which dis-incentivizes me from moving, which of course just makes things worse. Because I typically think of the world in mythic metaphors, it’s gotten me thinking recently about myths about turning to stone, and, hopefully, of turning from stone to flesh again. I have been meaning to write about myths in this space since I decided to take this project public, but I had an interesting insight into this process this morning, so today feels like the right time to write about Medusa and Pygmalion.

The most potent part of the Medusa myth is the ability of her head to turn people to stone. She is a living woman, very beautiful, but after Posiedon raped her in Athena’s temple, Athena turned her into a monster with snakes for hair, whose sight could turn anything to stone. Medusa is killed by Perseus, who manages it by using a reflective surface to chop her head off. From then on he uses her head as a weapon.

As with all myths, there are some interesting insights to be gleaned from this myth, and certainly some troubling aspects of it as well. It is Medusa, rather than Poseidon, who is punished for her own rape. Athena has always been a favorite goddess of mine, but she does not come across so well in this story, especially when we consider the fact that she ultimately benefits from the weaponized Medusa’s head, as it was set into the breastplate that she was known to wear. Why punish the woman for the god’s crime? Unfortunately, women being punished for the crimes of men is a circumstance that we’re still familiar with even today.

I don’t think I fully understand yet everything this myth has to teach me. I feel the presence of the archetypal Medusa in the stiffening of my body, and I want to honor that archetypal energy as I simultaneously reach out toward the turning of stone back into flesh, a revivification of my body.

The myth that comes to mind as I attempt this is the story of Pygmalion. It is this myth that provided the inspiration for the musical “My Fair Lady”, as it’s a story about a sculptor who falls in love with the image of a woman that he has carved from stone. Pygmalion was a Cypriot sculptor, and he carved a young woman out of ivory, who he named Galatea. He fell in love with this image that he had created, and prayed to Aphrodite that he would be given a bride in the very likeness of his statue. When he returned home, his statue came to life.

I also struggle with this myth, because it seems to be told in the context of the male gaze, as it were. She comes to life because she is desired by a man, for the purpose of becoming his bride. She doesn’t exist on her own. Because such a large part of my issues with my body seem to have been in relationship to the men in my life over the years, this aspect is a difficult one for me. I am not attempting to turn from stone to flesh for the benefit of anyone but myself.

I’ve been meditating on these two myths for a few days now, and I still don’t think I’ve gotten to the bottom of what I need to know about them, but I did come to an interesting realization about the need for more flexibility in my life, in a way that goes beyond the physical capabilities of my body.

As you may know if you’ve been following my original blog Mythic Stories, I will be co-leading a trip to Greece with a friend and yoga teacher, Ali Valdez of Sattva Yoga. Obligatory pitch here-we’d love it if you’d join us. I’m really excited about the trip and the work that we’ll be doing there. However, one aspect of the planning for this major event has been a challenge for me.

I’m a planner. Always have been. Planning is, for me, a thing that helps me to feel safe in the world, much like my extra weight does. When I go on vacation, I plan out every detail months in advance. When I teach a class or give a lecture, I prepare my material with lots of time to spare. This approach may be safe but it’s definitely lacking in flexibility. (See where I’m going here?)

In the months that I’ve been booked to do this Greece trip, it has been an enormously stressful time for me, because I can’t plan it the way I want to. I’m being forced to be flexible about the planning, as the details and needs of the trip have been changing rapidly. I can’t just make my plan 6 months in advance. I’ve really been struggling with that, but this morning it finally occurred to me how good this forced flexibility was for me. I hadn’t realized before that I needed more flexibility in more than one aspect of my life.

I know that the next few months will be painful, as I try to find my way through toward increased flexibility, both of body and mind. I hope you’ll be along on the journey with me.


About mythicstories

Allison Stieger is a mythologist, writer, teacher and workshop leader who is passionately interested in the intersection between myth, creativity, innovation and culture. She is available for classes on many topics related to myth including writing and creativity, embodiment and myth, and general myth instruction.
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1 Response to The Myths of Medusa and Pygmalion: Finding Flexibility

  1. Shirley McNeil says:

    Great food for thought. I’ve always thought of Medusa as a very powerful figure, an embodiment of feminine rage in a patriarchal culture. Athena is a virgin goddess sprung from her father’s head and distant to feminine embodied power so it is interesting that she “shields” herself with Medusa’s image on her breastplate. Perhaps it’s a reminder of the rage within.


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