Hell Hath No Fury: The Relationship Between Greece's Medusa and Egypt's Wadjet
Two seemingly unconnected goddesses have more in common than most know. The earth is a small place and mythologies from one country overlap and even overtake myths from another country. Serpents in myth have an amazing connection, especially between Wadjet of Egpyt and Medusa of Greece. These goddesses were fierce and not to be trifled with and they also had an uncanny ability for wisdom. They were the strength that women, as a race, needed at the time when they were being oppressed by man. No man wanted to be turned into stone by Medusa and Wadjet would not stand for anything other than justice. Both had the guile to destroy however they saw fit. Fierce women make for interesting myths and an insight on forbidden strengths in women.
Ancient Egypt had a vast array of Gods and Goddesses. Many were a mix of animal and human characteristics, but none were more prolific and older than Wadjet. She is known by many names including Buto, Uatchit, Uadjet, and Edjo to name a few (McDevitt). "Buto is the Greek name for the town where her worship centered in the Nile Delta" (Babb); The most accessible information on her is that she was the protector of Lower Egypt and associated with snakes, especially cobras. Some myths attribute justice and the idea of heaven and hell to her but Wadjet was mainly a protector who looked after childbirth, children and even pharaohs (Harris).
"Legend has it that Wadjet was the daughter of Atum, the first god of the Universe. He created her as his eye. Her purpose was to search the Universe for his lost sons, Tefnut and Shu. Wadjet did find his sons, and Atum was so happy to see them that he cried. It is said those tears made humans. As a reward, Atum placed Wadjet upon his head in the form of a cobra [otherwise known as a ureaus]. There she would be feared and respected by all the gods and men" (Harris).
The ureaus is a symbol of Wadjet and is generally worn as a head garment by royalty. The ureaus is always associated with Wadjet and it is thought that her spirit resides there, possibly indicating her protection of the land. (Harris) In being linked to justice Wadjet is a fierce protector. There is one myth in particularly that states why the ureaus is important for only a just and true ruler to wear it.
"Before being crowned as king, Geb attacked and raped his mother Tefnut. When he went to take his place as pharaoh and put the Royal Ureas on his own forehead, the snake reared up and attacked the god and his followers. All of Geb´s retinue died and the god himself was badly injured. Clearly, his actions were against Ma´at [justice] and Wadjet was not prepared to allow him to go unpunished."
Othertimes the Eye of Ra is referred to as the Eye of Wadjet or just known as the Wadjet. This is because there is a variation of the myth where Wadjet is to find Tefnut and Shu. Amun created her as his eye to find his children, which she did, but upon return from her journey she found that he created another eye. She became enraged and "Amun turned her into a cobra that he placed upon his third eye". (Babb) The king enjoyed the respect he gained from being feared because of her rage and the goddess was respected as well.
Medusa was originally a very beautiful woman in charge of protecting Athena's temple. Medusa had many suitors and refused them all. Then one night Poseidon in the shape of a horse seduced Medusa in Athena's temple and impregnated her. (George) Athena was so enraged that she turned Medusa and her gorgon sisters into hideous monsters. Medusa was by far the ugliest and one look from her could turn men into stone. Poor Medusa's fate was sealed after Perseus decided that he must retrieve her head. When Perseus cut off the gorgon's head her two sons were born from her neck. She gave birth to Pegasus. (George) After Medusa's demise Athena gave vials of Medusa's blood to Asklepius, the God of Healing. " It was said that blood from her right vein could cure and restore life, and that the blood from her left vein could slay and kill instantly." (George) Medusa's blood is symbolic of female menstrual blood and how the ancient people believed that if a woman was menstruating and a man saw her he could be turned into stone. (Le Van) "Menstrual blood was also thought to be the source of all mortal life and also of death, as the two are inseparable." (Le Van) Another interesting fact is that Medusa can also mean Metis, which was the consort Zeus had a fling with to create Athena. (Le Van) This points to the idea that Athena and Medusa were once the same deity that split.
The most prominent issue these two entities have in common is their correlation with serpents. Lore surrounding snakes had a dual meaning. Some cultures believe the snake to be evil and other believe it to be good. The snake represents both death/life, solar/lunar and poison/healing. The shedding of its skin represents reincarnation, or death and immortality. "The snake is considered to be the embodiment of all potentials of a physical,material and spiritual nature." (Conway 208) To the Greeks certain snakes were kept as pets because they were related to savior deities of the mystery cults and deities of healing. (Conway 209) Athena's temple had a caged serpent, possibly symbolic of Medusa's beheading. The Egptians also felt that the snake was a protector and a cobra was a traditional symbol for any female goddess. (Conway 200) This relates to Wadjet and Medusa because they embody binary opposite traits. Medusa was beauty with a hideous head. Wadjet was a fierce protector to the point that Ra had to fool her into getting drunk to make her stop killing. Snakes have always been a misunderstood creature and it is easy for modern people to classify snake related deities as evil. In reality they are just strong, misunderstood women. These two women in mythology understand how to be self sufficient and were persecuted for it. As matriarchal societies began to wane and patriarchal societies took over, the powerful women in the myths were demonized and either forgotten or killed.
The story of Medusa in particular portrays "actual events during the reign of the historical King Perseus (ca. 1290 BCE), founder of the new dynasty in Mycenae." (George) During this time the early female deities of "North Africa were usurped by patriarchal-dominated invaders of mainland Greece." (George) The beheading Medusa means that the Hellenes overran the Goddess’s chief shrines, stripped her priestesses of their Gorgon masks, and took possession of the sacred horse. (George) This change in history was represented in its myth. The other deities destroyed may not have been called Medusa, but could have been any cult that wore snakes on its head like Wadjet. A story of an evil gorgon with an ugly head that could turn men into stone at one glance is a more efficient way to scare and entertain the masses than saying that a bunch of beautiful maidens were slaughtered and raped. It is a way to control the population into continuing to follow the Greek God/Goddesses and maintain the idea that any other religions or Gods were evil. Also since the Greeks were a patriarchal society, any society that held women in high esteem was deemed a threat to their own way of life. Perseus beheading Medusa was the Greek way of showing how a man can over take a women, even a powerful one.
Wadjet was constantly over shadowed by the Pharaohs that she protected. It was the Egyptian way of putting a women in her place. Since Wadjet was a protector of children and the pharaoh, its almost as if she is a royal mother figure. She was not overly sexual but would kill if any one threatened her homeland. As a mother figure, she must have perfected the look of death that only a mother can give to a child. This look can keep order. Since her name is also given credit to the Eye of Ra or Horus, her look must have been powerful. She was able to find Tefnut and Shu in a vast ocean. Her anger stemmed from being replaced with another eye (another goddess) and this is were her power draws from-anger. The same can be said for Medusa. If she was raped instead of "seduced willingly", and then persecuted for her actions, anger would be a natural emotion for any woman. Medusa's anger is transformed into her ugly head that she can never change. Her wrath has over taken her and become her source of power. Men fear her. That was the outcome she wanted to never be raped, or taken by another person ever again. The reality is that anger can be a great source of power for women, but men will destroy them or own them eventually.
In conclusion, myths from around the world share many common themes and symbols. Sometimes it is because of historic events that need retelling or events that change society's views. Other times it is symbolic of personal trials and tribulation. Women will continue to be a source of fear for men as long as women retain any shred of sexuality with that power. Men do not want to feel completely owned since they are unable to control their snake as well as women do.
Babb, Charlotte. "Hail, Wadjet". Find a Goddess. Dec. 5th 2009.