I worked as an actress at a renaissance festival for a few months back in 2012, and it was one of the single best experiences of my life. Towards the end of the festival’s run, I had a pendant made at a coin stamping booth with an image of Medusa on it. I was drawn to the design immediately — it was just magnetic. I’ve worn it pretty much every day since.
I don’t get to see my niece Maggie that often — she lives in Texas with her family and I’m out in Chicago for law school. But my Medusa pendant has become a drawing point for her, something we can bond over every time we’re together.
The first time Maggie saw it when she was around two and a half, she asked me, “who’s that?” “That’s Medusa, Maggie. She has snakes for hair,” I explained. She laughed, thinking it was hilarious. This became a constant back and forth nearly every time she saw me — asking about Medusa, laughing at the snake-hair. I quipped one day that it must be really hard for her to brush her hair. Maggie also thought this was hilarious and incorporated it into the routine — “So funny!” she’d say, hands over her mouth as she giggled. “So hard!” she’d squeal, putting her hands on her head to mime brushing her hair. She’s remembered Medusa every time she’s seen me since.
At the end of 2012 she started asking more questions — as I’m learning, that’s what three-and-a-half year olds do. She asked me, “Why?” — Why does Medusa have snakes for hair? I momentarily panicked, trying to figure out how to tell the story. I should have probably just gone with the older, simpler myth of “She was just born that way,” but I’ve always preferred the later myth where Medusa was a beautiful woman who was transformed into a monster by Athena out of jealousy.
Because I hadn’t thought the answer to this particular question through very much, I told Maggie a very simplified version of that story (leaving out the parts about Poseidon raping her and the sight of her face turning people into stone and all). I then spent a little bit of time reassuring Maggie, that no, her hair would not turn into snakes.
I heard later from my sister that Maggie had gone around on Christmas day with her father’s side of the family telling people, “Aunt Rachael really loves Medusa!” I giggled at this, as it makes perfect sense that a young child would interpret me wearing someone’s face around my neck as a sign of affection. Hearing this however, helped me to realize that at some point, I needed to sit down and explain to Maggie why I did wear my Medusa pendant and what it meant to me — as I didn’t necessarily want her thinking that I was in a romantic relationship with an ancient Roman myth (although it must be noted that Uma Thurman was super awesome as Medusa in Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief) . Of course, I had to figure this out for myself first.
I get asked about my necklace fairly regularly. I love telling friends and random grocery store clerks about how the Medusa head, known as a Gorgoneion, was a symbol of protection in ancient Greece. Greeks would often put a Gorgoneion by the entrance to their house, or on the front of their shields as they marched into battle. As a former Christian who hasn’t quite figured out what she believes in yet, I find comfort in wearing a symbol of protection. She’s also read as a feminist symbol by some — the epitome of a strong woman.
The pendant also represents my great love for mythology, history, art and theatre. I’m in law school now and don’t have a lot of time for my side hobbies, but wearing the pendant reminds me of my creative side and the importance of fantasy and dreaming in my life. It also reminds me of the wonderful friendships and connections I made during my time at the renaissance festival and in my amateur Shakespeare troupe. The confidence I gained during my ventures into acting gave me the strength to admit I was unhappy with my career and life the way it was and the courage to quit my job and venture into the wild unknown of law school, off in a different city.
My Medusa pendant serves as a reminder of the creative world I love, my endless search for more knowledge and my own inner strength. I smile in the mirror daily when I see the pendant and think of how far I’ve come. I’m not sure how I’m going to explain all this to Miss Mags, but I’ll likely give her bits and pieces over the years as she gets older and is more capable of understanding what it means to me.
My Medusa pendant has now become a symbol of the bond I share with my beloved niece — a sign which she can remember me by even when I only see her two or three times a year. And that may be the best reason to wear my Medusa of all.