Perseus and Pegasus
1 week after his arrival in December
A friend wondered why I would name the newest arrival to the sanctuary after “an antifeminist hero”—Perseus. Others of you might be thinking the same, so here is the real story of Pegasus and Perseus, along with a few other legendary lions.
Most people assume that the history of the winged horse Pegasus began with the Greek myth that made her famous. In actuality, Pegasus figures in human history from its very beginning.
The Greek myth got much of her story wrong and buried the truth of the rest of it in symbolism, obscuring it to all but the few who read the language of symbols. In the myth, Pegasus is born when “he” springs from the body (or blood) of the slain Medusa, who was beheaded by the Greek hero Perseus. That the mythmakers chose to render Pegasus masculine reflected the bias of the times toward male heroes and also the attempt to erase the heritage of the Goddess.
The Perseus myth tells us that Medusa was a Gorgon, a fearsome she-devil type, with snakes for hair, whose face would turn you to stone if you looked upon it. In the legend, Perseus is able to defeat Medusa by using a mirror so as to avoid looking directly at her. The mythmakers hid a grain of truth in the snakes they gave Medusa in place of hair. This detail provides a clue, perhaps unwittingly or perhaps as a snide joke, as to who she actually was—not a Gorgon, but a Libyan serpent-goddess. Though the myth depicts the snakes as fearsome and loathsome, serpents in ancient times were not objects of fear and disgust but were (and still are) synonymous with one’s inner wisdom, as many people have pointed out in deconstructing the Garden of Eden story, which gave both women and snakes such a bad name.
As for people turning to stone when they looked at Medusa, here is another grain of truth. What it symbolizes is that if you deny your inner wisdom, you disconnect from your soul and feel like stone inside. Or said another way, if you do not face your shadow within, it takes on huge and fearsome proportions and you think you will die if you turn inward and look at it. In truth, it is in not looking at Medusa that you are turned to stone. When you fully face your shadow and connect to your soul, you release the winged horse of creativity. So there is another grain of truth: Pegasus arising from the faced shadow. In actuality, she was there all along, reminding humans to look within instead of turning to stone, which is what all the Animal Messengers do. It is only when humans are brave enough to do that, however, that they are able to see the winged horse.
As for Pegasus’s birth, it had nothing to do with Medusa. Pegasus is actually the daughter of the great Earth goddess Demeter, which makes Demeter’s other daughter, Persephone, her sister. Persephone, whose name means “she who shines in the dark,” was the maiden goddess who descended to the Underworld and returned to tell about it. Now she goes back every year to keep in touch with the wisdom of the dark, or you could say, to keep her spiritual wits sharpened.
Pegasus’s pre-Greek name was Aganippe, which means Night Mare (note, mare!), a mare who visits dreamers in the night to impart her wisdom. The origin of the name “Pegasus” was either the sacred spring Pega or the Pegae, water-priestesses who tended sacred springs throughout the ancient world. It doesn’t matter which because in ancient days the springs and those who tended them were one, as humans and all of nature were, so each and both are the source of her name.
In those days, certain power-hungry humans rewrote the legends and myths in an attempt to separate people from nature and the divine feminine because people separated from their source are easier to control. The rewriting of Pegasus’s birth to have her rising from violence instead of nature and the divine feminine is an instance of this. The few grains of truth in the rewrites helped create confusion during the transition from the old to the new world order, and increased the odds of eventual acceptance of the revisionist history.
As I mentioned, Pegasus was around long before the Medusa myth began to be circulated in Athenian society. In fact, winged horses were featured in the art of ancient Persia, Mede, and Babylonia, thousands of years before the so-called Golden Age of Greece, which the modern Western world adopted as its foundation. The Golden Age featured the rewriting of many ancient myths. It was a violent time as certain factions strove to erase the history of harmony—hardly a golden age.
In her Greek period, Pegasus made her home with the Muses, all nine of them, on Mount Helicon (the Greek mythmakers retained this fact), which is between Delphi and Athens. One of the stories circulated about her in those days was that riding her was a way to become a great poet. Many aspiring poets took this literally and Pegasus was plagued by young men and women trying to climb onto her back. She always tossed them off, though never to their deaths, as the legend was embroidered for effect. Pegasus may have fumed to the Muses about the obtuseness of the poet manqués who followed her about. Perhaps Erato, the Muse of Poetry, attempted to instruct some of the poor aspirants on the concept of metaphor, a vital ingredient of poetry. “Riding Pegasus is a metaphor for the raptures of creativity,” I imagine her explaining to her bemused audience, and then dismissing them in annoyance when they looked at her blankly: “Go home and write, instead of chasing Pegasus.”
More grains of truth can be found in another installment of the Greek Pegasus myth in which the young warrior Bellerophon uses Pegasus for an attack by air on the monster Chimaera, like Medusa a supposedly fearful entity. Myth holds that after the slaying of the Chimaera and subsequent victories, Bellerophon’s achievements went to his head and he tried to use Pegasus to fly into heaven, but fell from her back and ended up blind and lame.
Reading the language of symbols, we discover that, like Medusa, the Chimaera was no monster. The truth can be found in what the word “chimera” has come to mean: “a utopian or unrealizable dream.” The mythmakers had Bellerophon slay the Chimaera as part of their campaign to train humans to think that “utopia” and “unrealizable dream” are one and the same. Believing that, the average man and woman in the street would stop embracing and manifesting their visions. The myth warned them that it is dangerous to aim too high. Bellerophon actually “fell” from his soaring into heaven because he denied the truth of the utopian vision and turned his back on his inner knowing. There was nothing Pegasus could do. As with all those who deny their truth, Bellerophon ended up “crippled” and unable to “see.”
In our current Age of Aquarius, we are leaving behind the age of “power over” and embracing partnership, the age of the heart. In this age, Perseus has the courage to face his own shadow, take responsibility for the inner wounding that impels him toward violence, and adopt a new way of relating to beings around him. Thus the gentle, affectionate horse who is the newest member of the Animal Messenger Sanctuary presents a model of the age of the heart: a loving way for he’s and she’s to be with each other, a demonstration of the healing of the male-female relationship, a revival of the original myths, and a reclamation of the name of Perseus as a noble one. And what a resonant sound: Pegasus and Perseus!
© 2014, by Stephanie Marohn, All rights reserved