A PERSONAL STORY OF AWAKENING
A PERSONAL STORY
Classic myth made Medusa the terrible Gorgon, whose look turned men to stone..actually, Medusa was the serpent-goddess of the Libyan Amazons, representing Ďfemale wisdomí.
The Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets by Barbara G. Walker
Lakini, the deity in the Manipura Chakra, is the benefactress
of all. She is four-armed, of radiant body, is dark of complexion,
clothed in golden yellow raiment and decked with various
ornaments, and exalted by drinking ambrosia...She has three
faces, each having three eyes, with large teeth, and is powerful;
she holds in her right hands..a thunderbolt and a spear and
her left hands are in gestures of dispelling fear and of granting
boons. She takes or absorbs all which is cosmic to make her
devotee free from bondage.
Chapter 7 - Medusa
When Rita Atria first gave testimony against her family and the Mafia, her mother went to the anti-Mafia judges to try and stop her. She used every method in her power and when nothing worked she asked for a private meeting with Rita. As Rita describes it, "She said to me in a threatening tone, ĎIf you go on collaborating with the authorities, Iíll have you end up the same way as your brother Nicola (who was murdered).'" Rita replied, "Iím not afraid. All I want is to see justice done." The documentary then showed a picture of the motherís face, which slowly dissolved into Ritaís face - showing a close-up of both of their eyes. The motherís eyes were cold, hard, dead-looking and Ritaís were full of life and tenderness. Rita said her mother was,"..a victim of the Mafia culture...she had suffered since she was a child. She became bitter and all she could do was take out her anger on us, the children." She said of her family and others in that culture, "..their real mother is the Mafia."
April, 2000. I have been fascinated with the myth of Medusa for months. She is one of the gorgons and is described as a woman with teeth (sometimes described as fangs) and tongue protruding, and hair made of writhing snakes. Some feel Perseus beheaded her because Athena was jealous of her beauty. In the Greek myth two helpers came to his rescue to help him with this task: Hermes, who furnished him with a sickle to cut off Medusa's head, and Athena, who gave him a polished shield, which was also a mirror and which enabled Perseus to kill the Gorgon without having to look directly at her and thus be turned to stone. In the Odyssey Odysseus says that it was fear of a gorgon encounter which made him flee precipitately from the land of the dead, "..enthralled by the awesome sights of Hades, he would have lingered there indefinitely."
During the time my third chakra begins to open, I have an encounter with an older woman in my extended family. She is very critical of me and when I try to tell her how upset I am by her words, she will not listen to me. While she is talking to me, I feel caught by the look in her eyes. I feel as if I have been turned to stone. I leave her house in the dark, and when I arrive home from her house, I take out my paints and splash colours on to paper with hard determined strokes. Medusa begins to emerge. It takes me several days to finish her - getting up in the middle of the night to add more snakes to her hair...more blood to the severed neck...more and more gold-sparkled circles to her eyes and mouth. When I feel she is complete, I hang her on my bedroom wall; but after a few days I take her down and tape her on to the side of the refrigerator. I cover her with a beautiful hand-made quilt a friend gave me - just a corner of her peeking out. She scares me and I don't know why.
A few days after the painting is finished, I have a dream of falling asleep and being stranded on Siwash rock; the tide has gone out and I am not sure how deep the water is. I am rescued by a man in a boat. My daughter, who is eight years old in the dream, comes flying down the beach and flings herself head-long into the sea, but she isn't hurt. I wake up thinking of Andromeda and remember that she was rescued by Perseus from the sea-serpent, Kraken, after he beheaded Medusa. He used the head to turn the sea monster into stone. The legend of Siwash Rock, in Stanley Park near my apartment, tells of a Squamish Nation Chief who was made immortal and turned into stone because he risked his life, against the forces, for his new-born child. He had to remain clean, by swimming in the ocean, while his wife was giving birth to their child. It was said of him that ..he stood for Clean Fatherhood...he was a warrior...who fought for everything that is noble and upright...who kept his life clean, that cleanliness might be the heritage of the generations to come. I am so curious about this idea of 'Clean Fatherhood' and what it means.
Over the next few days, I begin to experience nausea and intense pain in my abdomen, and feelings of intense vulnerability well up in me. I feel overwhelmed but try to allow the energy to flow through me without getting caught in thinking about what it all means. I find great help from the teachings of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche:
There is a fear that emotion might become too much, that we might fall into it and lose
our dignity, our role as human beings. Transmutation involves going through such fear.
Let your self be in the emotion, go through it, give in to it, experience it. You begin to go
toward the emotion, rather than just experiencing the emotion coming toward you. A relationship,
a dance begins to develop. Then the most powerful energies become absolutely workable rather than
taking you over, because there is nothing to take over if you
are not putting up any
resistance...the music and the dance take place at the same time.
That is the lion's
In 1974, while married to Larry, I decide to go on a spiritual retreat with Jean Vanier. I know very little about him, but I see a small note in a church bulletin telling of a ten-day retreat in a town near Vancouver. All I know about Jean Vanier is that he works with the 'poorest of the poor' and has opened homes for mentally handicapped adults in many parts of the world. I also know that I have to go - I feel as if a thin thread is pulling me there. I have never been away on my own during my nine years of marriage. When I discuss the idea with Larry, he tells me that this isn't a good time for me to be away. At first I acquiesce, but something in me persists even though I can sense that he doesn't want me to go. I am frightened; I have the feeling that everything in my life will change if I go on this trip. One afternoon Larry and I are standing on a busy downtown street with our children - ages five, three, and one and a half - standing at our sides. I tell him that I have decided I have to go on the retreat. Larry looks at me with such coldness - perhaps even hate - and then he says, "If you go, Iíll make sure you never see your children again." I have a hard time taking the words in. I feel as if I have been thrown into some terrible darkness, as if the earth has opened up and I have fallen into an abyss. I feel miles from anything familiar. Slowly, I come back to the present moment and I hear the noise of cars rushing by and the sound of our children's voices. I stand staring at my husband - the man who promised to love and care for me - for what seems like a very long time. I am finally able to see who he is for the very first time. The mask has come off.
A few days later, I board a bus late at night headed for Nelson. Each day as I listen to Jean Vanier speak, I sit on the floor at his feet. I can feel my world opening and opening. Each afternoon, during our break, I sit in the sunshine looking over the lake and mountains, and each evening I watch the light on the hills as the sun goes down. I feel so alive. On the day I leave to go home, I hear someone playing Amazing Grace on the bagpipes. When I get home, I pack up my children and a few possessions and escape out of the house while Larry is at work.
For the next several years, whenever I tell someone about the difficulties I am facing, I watch their face. I can tell from their eyes whether they think I am lying or exaggerating or whether they are afraid of what I am telling them. Most often it is both. When I meet Peter, nine years after leaving Larry, I tell him of my situation - that I am trying to get visitation rights cancelled because two of my children are afraid to see their father, that Larry has guns, and that he has been terrorizing me for years. Peter and I have known one another for only a short time. We have been working together on a project with my students creating slide-tape presentations connected to his work as a Naturalist. When I explain the kind of situation I am dealing with, I see a look in his eyes that I have never before seen - complete belief in me.
November, 1992. Having left Lake Pergusa, I am driving through the countryside in the fog on my way to Yvonne and Santiís place near Piazza Armerina. When I arrive, I immediately feel a connection with Yvonne. We talk for hours, sharing stories of our lives with one another. We feel like sisters. As we talk, she tells me that Santiís sisterís husband committed suicide on the day I visited their home in Pietraperzia. He jumped off a balcony - on to one of the streets I had been circling with my car. He had been representing a member of the Mafia in court and was, himself, being investigated for possible underground connections. The day he died was the day after I had the dream about Larry and the Mafia.
A few days after I arrive at their home, Yvonne and Santi attend his funeral. Yvonne says she feels as if the Mafia is coming closer to her, and I think that it is also coming closer to me. She tells me about the demonstrations that have erupted since Judge Paolo Borrsellino was murdered. The tree outside his home has become a shrine, and people come to leave photos and offerings and then stand in front of it and clap. A Sheet Campaign has begun where women hang out clean white sheets from their balconies - as a sign of purification. Some have slogans on them, letting others know that they will no longer condone or tolerate the Mafia activities. Not long before Rita died, she wrote in her diary, "Before taking on the Mafia you have to examine your own conscience, and then after defeating the Mafia inside yourself, you can take on the Mafia around you and among your friends; the Mafia is us and our mistaken way of acting."
Four days after I arrive at Yvonne and Santiís, I become very ill with an attack of Diverticulitis and canít carry on with my travels. My mother suffered from many episodes of this condition - an inflammation and infection in the intestines - and this is my fourth attack. Yvonne takes me to a doctor and Santi gives me daily injections of antibiotics. Yvonne suggests that I move into the Tibetan Buddhist Center on their property. They live in a little house on an olive grove up the hill from the Center. I feel confused - I came to see the Goddess and now I am spending my days immersed in Tibetan Buddhism. My bed is at the foot of the Lamaís throne. Their teacher left a few days before my arrival, after performing a purification ceremony for the Center. I am glad; I feel the need of purification.
While I lie in bed, I read the book Meetings With Remarkable Women. In it, Roshi Kennett, a Zen Buddhist Nun who was very ill from Cancer, tells about a friend of hers, who was very worried about her, and how he, "...yelled out HELP!...he yelled it in the right way and the Eternal heard him." I imagine yelling HELP! in the right way, but I donít know how. I spend my days reading and listening to teachings on tape. I read about reincarnation, karma (the law of cause and effect), tulkus (reincarnated lamas), samsaras (cycles of suffering)...I feel as if all my beliefs are being turned upside down. I think back to Enchanted April when one of the women, while in Italy, says, "The brain shifts in a place like this."
I spend two weeks with Yvonne and Santi. I am too ill to go anywhere, except for short walks. At dusk the colours of the hills are like the colours of the Italian Lire in my dream. My journal tells of great inner confusion. One day I love it here, the next, I feel lost. On the day before I am to leave on my flight home, I suddenly begin to recover my strength. I am finally able to eat solid food and I think of how Persephone, too, was not allowed to eat in the underworld. When she was ready to return to her mother, Hades,"..secretly slipped her a pomegranate seed, a sweet one, to eat..a precaution so that she would not stay everyday up there with the venerable Demeter," and so she had to return half of every year to his domain. The day before I am to leave, Santi goes to retrieve my passport, which was being held for me in the hotel at Lake Pergusa.
On the day my flight is to leave, Yvonne and Santi drive me to the airport in Palermo, which is several hours away. We leave early in the morning in the dark. The fog is just lifting from the hills and by the time we arrive in Palermo it is sunny and warm. During the drive I think of the importance of being able to travel between the upperworld and the underworld and, also, of how easy it is to stay too long in one world or the other. I feel it is just the right time to be going home. I say goodbye to my friends and as I walk away and look back, I am able to see something I couldn't see as clearly when I was with Santi: that he is deeply suspicious and frightened of the world. I wonder how much his culture has contributed to this, but I know that I, also, can turn the world upside down when I doubt what I see or feel.
When my plane takes off for Rome, we circle over the Island of Sicily and I can see how beautiful it is from a distance. In the sky there is a rainbow and we head straight under it. Later, I read that at the end of the myth of Demeter and Persephone, the Goddess Isis appeared as a rainbow. It is "the necklace of the Great Mother who ruled the Golden Age." Just as Demeter searched and searched for her daughter, I, too, have been searching for a part of myself during this trip. I think back to how my mother was the one person, before I met Peter, who never wavered in her belief in me during those difficult years after I left Larry. I ask the gods for a healing of the anger my daughter feels towards me, and I pray for all mothers and daughters who have difficulty remembering that we are only mortals.
After Persephone was returned to the upper world:
Demeter immediately brought in a harvest from fertile lands. And the whole earth was weighted with leaves and flowers. And she taught...the mystery of her rites, and she revealed...her beautiful mysteries which are impossible to transgress, or to pry into, or to divulge; for so great is oneís awe of the gods that it stops the tongue. The Homeric Hymns
April, 2000. Peter and I have been visiting a salamander which lives in the forest near our apartment. Athough we try not to disturb him too often, we delight in finding him every time we lift a particular log. My symbol book says the salamander is "...the animal of fire...it represents enduring faith, bravery and courage, unquenched by the fires of affliction."
May 1. Dream: "My son is eight years old. I am with him under the house in the water, holding him, when suddenly there is a loud roaring sound and he is sucked out of my arms into a whirlpool and disappears. I search for him for days and then I find him lying just below the house. He is dead. At first I am afraid to look at him, but when I find the courage to look, I see his eyes are wide open. With great tenderness I close his eyes, then curl my body around his, and hold him. He is shaped just like the Kundalini serpent in my painting."
When I wake up from the dream, I think back to the day my mother died. She had been in what seemed like a comma for hours when, all of a sudden, she opened her eyes wide to look at me and then at my brother; then she took her last breath. As I am thinking about the death of my eight-year-old son of my dream, I realize that it is eight years since my mother died and since my trip to Sicily. I get out of bed, take the picture of Medusa out from under the quilt and put her on the wall beside my computer. I am happy to have her out in the open.