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December 10, 2016 / catherinebwrites



No 2.



 Inspiration and illustration: Marc O’ Connor.

There were actually four Gorgon girls but you only ever hear about three of them.   None of them were beauties but the three famous ones would give you the willies.   Snakey-haired, ugly-faced hags.  Medusa, the best known of them all, had real, living snakes growing out of her head instead of hair and, if you looked at her sideways, she’d turn you to stone.   And you know you’d be tempted because who can resist a look at a freak?

But the fourth one, Olive, the one you never hear about, was considered the good-looking one.  Helen of Troy she was not, but, compared to her sisters, she was all right.   At least she didn’t have snakes growing out of her head, just wriggly curls.   And her disposition was, perhaps, a little bit softer than that of her sisters’.  Maybe that’s why the other three demanded that she do all the housework.   Well, no Gorgon girl would put up with being a Greek Cinderella so she upped and left to roam the wide world.

She hitched a lift from Greece in a boat going to Italy and from there journeyed northwards through forest and mountain and marsh.  She swam rivers and lakes and even swam the northern seas till she arrived in Ireland, the last land of Europe, situated by the wild Atlantic Ocean.   She tried to swim the Atlantic as well but the mountainous waves were too great even for her, so she turned back and settled down in a comfortable limestone cave in Mullinahone.

She attempted to be badass, like her sisters, frightening travellers and farmers and spooking their livestock but she never succeeded.   It didn’t suit her temperament, so she lived a comfortable, if rather dull life, always feeling that, somehow, she had missed her vocation.   What that vocation might be she couldn’t have told you, except she knew that she’d missed it. Then Patrick showed up.

He’d been brought to Ireland as slave when he was a boy and had escaped.  But his return was totally different.   This time he’d come to preach and convert.   Olive went to hear him a couple of times and thought his words were wrong-headed but harmless enough.    That was, until he started preaching about the evil of snakes.

There were plenty of snakes in Ireland at the time, some striped, some dappled some reticulated, each with its place in the kingdom of Gaia.   If you didn’t bother them, they didn’t bother you.   Olive was fond of snakes and she did not like what she heard of Patrick’s attitude.   So, one fine summer’s day when he held one of his Halleluiah gatherings on the banks of the Anner, she went to see for herself and found Patrick up on a rock preaching to a gathering of fifty people or so.

“Snakes are,” he declared, “the embodiment of evil.   It was the shape of a serpent that Satan took when he came to tempt Eve into eating the apple, thus making her defy god’s explicit command.   And you can see the result, mankind was banished from Paradise to dwell forever in this valley of tears.”

Olive thought his whole creation story was nonsense. Everyone knew that first there was Chaos which created Death and Night, then Light which created Love and Order, then the goddess Gaia who was the Earth.  As for Adam and Eve, a snake and the apple…that was a tale to scare children.   She elbowed her way through the crowd till she was standing in front of Patrick.

“Who is this god who will not let people eat apples?”  She demanded.

Patrick looked down and got a terrible shock for Olive was standing in front of him totally naked. She’d been reared in Greece where naked was normal.  During the winters in Ireland she kept herself warm with a sheepskin or bearskin but, when the sun was shining like it was that day, she saw no need for clothing.

“Cover yourself woman.” Roared Patrick, “Cover your shame.”

“What shame?” she asked.

“The shame of your naked body, the same shame that Adam and Eve discovered when they were expelled from the Garden of Eden.”

“Why?   We all have a body.”

“The great Saint Augustine was right,” Patrick hissed, “unlike men, the daughters of Eve have no moral sense.”

“If men are so superior,” Olive retorted, “How come Adam did not have the guts to refuse the apple?”

Patrick’s face went as red as a ribbon and he stuttered and spluttered.

“Get away from here hussy.” He cried. “You would try to tempt me like Eve tempted Adam.”

Just then there was a disturbance at the back of the crowd and a burly shepherd pushed forward.

“I’ve caught the devil.” he roared waving a large striped snake in the air and flinging it down in front of Patrick.   Patrick leaped from the rock and beat the unfortunate snake round the head with his crozier.   Everyone joined in attacking the unfortunate animal with their crooks and their sticks till the poor thing lay dead and dismembered. Sickened by the savage display, Olive slipped away.

All that night she sat up in her cave meditating on snakes.  And during that time she believed that she’d found her vocation.

“I am changing my name.” She declared “From this day on I will be known as Medusa.   The Medusa of Mullinahone, Protector of Snakes.”

And Gaia, goddess of Earth, on hearing her words gifted her the ability to speak with snakes.

As the sun rose The Medusa of Mullinahone stood at the mouth of her cave and opened her arms.

“Snakes of Ireland,” she chanted, “you are in danger.  Patrick provokes men to kill you but come to me and I will protect you.”

Every snake in Ireland heard the message and they slithered stealthily to Mullinahone and stayed there for protection.   Soon the myth grew that Patrick had banished the snakes from the Emerald Isle but that wasn’t true.   The snakes were so grateful to Olive, the Irish Medusa that, every night, they formed themselves into a great blankets to keep her warm and during the day they wove themselves into living garments and at her specific request they wove themselves into her hair.   Once all that was done she realised that protecting snakes wasn’t enough to be her vocation so she tried being badass like her sisters.

She frightened a few farmers and herders, scarified several dogs, threw a panic into a herd of goats but it didn’t give her much satisfaction.  Meanwhile, as a result of Patrick’s preaching, men of Ireland were leaving kith and kin to live on barren rocks or hidden glens and erect stone churches and crosses to honour their god.  This didn’t concern the Medusa of Mullinahone but what she could not figure out was why did they choose to live without love?   She’d have to investigate.

She found Peadar Rua in his beehive cell, lying alone in the dark, muttering prayers to his god for inspiration. He hadn’t eaten a crumb for over a week nor let water pass his lips.   He lay on his pallet of straw with a stone on his belly trying to come up with ideas to illuminate the manuscript he was charged with copying.   This was how poets sought inspiration so,

why not scribes?  The Medusa of Mullinahone opened his door and went in without leave.   She lit a rush torch and stood before him naked except for the serpents that writhed round her body giving him glimpses of rosy nipples and sun-kissed belly.

Peadar Rua thought he must be hallucinating because fasting had that effect.   Or perhaps he was dreaming?  Or was this Satan come to tempt him?   Or an angel come from God to test his chastity?  He squeezed his eyes closed and prayed for the strength to resist the temptations of flesh but his flesh was already showing every sign of being tempted.   He opened his eyes again and she was still there.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I am the Medusa of Mullinahone” she answered “Protector of snakes.”

Peadar Rua breathed a sigh of relief.   There were no snakes in Ireland so this must be a dream and no man need account for his dream.   A serpent slithered up his leg and slid round his groin.   For a moment he feared it but, remembering it was but a dream, he relaxed and enjoyed the sensation.  More serpents slid under his robe caressing his body waking his senses.  The woman was totally naked now and she lowered herself on to his sore-tempted flesh.  If this is a dream, thought Peadar Rua, I don’t want to wake up.   Slowly and sensuously he and the Medusa and all of her snakes writhed together in glorious union until they reached ecstasy.

“Sweet Jesus” he moaned, overwhelmed with pleasure.

Afterwards he fell asleep and woke, not only renewed and refreshed but, full of ideas.   He went straight to the scriptorium, sharpened his quills, mixed his colours, filled his inkwell, collected his quire of vellum and got ready to start. He drew the sinuous a snake which took up the whole page. All day he laboured without stopping for food or for drink, drawing snake intertwining with snake, curling and twisting and coming together to create one beautiful capital, Celtic T.

Meanwhile The Medusa of Mullinahone left his beehive hut laughing, she too was feeling renewed and refreshed… it had been a long time….   She looked round the other beehive huts that sat in this glen.   There had to be other scribes here who benefit from her ministrations and many more in the numerous monasteries scattered throughout Ireland.    She had found her true vocation at last.

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