Three Gorgon sisters, daughters of sea spirits Keto and Phorkys, lived on an island in the Western Ocean, in the direction of Night, past their sisters the Graeae near the Garden of the Hesperides:
Two sisters were immortal like their parents; Medusa’s alleged mortality left her vulnerable to Perseus, the Greek hero who would eventually cut off her head. The Gorgon Sisters have brass heads, golden wings, and tusks like boars. Snakes entwine their heads and bodies. They possessed a special power: anyone who looked at the Gorgons turned to stone. It must be said, in all fairness, that the sisters did not exploit this power. They lived alone on an incredibly remote island and did not go visiting others. It took a lot of effort to reach their island, as the myth of Perseus Demonstrates. Those Gorgons were no threat to anyone except those who went out of their way to find them.
It is possible that there is more to their myth than is now known. Hidden beneath themonster story may lie ancient goddesses who epitomize the magical and spiritual powers of menstruation. The Gorgons live in extreme isolation and only among other women similar to the tradition, once common among many cultures, for menstruating women to retreat to isolated menstrual huts shared only by other women for the duration of their periods. Menstruating women were feared as it was believed that they possessed many supernatural powers including the ability to paralyze men who gazed at their faces.
The Gorgons in their classical form were venerated by Neo-Platonists in Harran (now modern Turkey) in the tenth century CE. Vestiges of a Mystery Tradition may have survived.
The Gorgons survived the murder of Medusa and the fall of Paganism to reemerge transformed. In modern Greek folklore, Gorgon also refers to a type of potentially dangerous mermaid. The Gorgons have moved east: their original island was in the Atlantic past the Moroccan coast. Mermaid Gorgons favour the Black Sea. They emerge from the waters to ask sailors whether King Alexander yet lives. That’s Alexander the Great, and it’s a ritual formula question, not a request for a history lesson.
Tell the Gorgon mermaid that Alexander does indeed live and reign.
Offer her heartfelt blessings and she will sing to you with her beautiful voice. You will arrive on shore safely and blessed with good fortune.
If you reveal that Alexander is dead, she may personally and immediately capsize your boat or raise a storm from which there is no escape.
The word “gorgon” is sometimes used to describe any mean, ugly or repulsive woman. In The Gorgon, the 1964 Hammer Studios horror film, the spirits have moved north to Ger many and become aggressive: venturing out to attack people when the moon is full. With the exception of Medusa, the film substitutes the names of Erinyes for those of the real Gorgons.
Legend has it that when Alexander the Great was conquering the known world, he got as far as the gates of Paradise. The gates opened. He was invited to drink from the fountain of immortality with the proviso that once he did, he would no longer he human hut a spirit and thus must stop his military campaign. Alexander declined hut many in his entourage accepted the offer. They transformed into sea spirits who still concern themselves with the fate of their erstwhile ruler. They do not want to hear that he’s dead.
The modern Gorgon, a beautiful fish-tailed mermaid, does not resemble the classical Gorgon. (The same word refers to both types.)
She holds a ship in one hand and an anchor in the other.
The mermaid gorgon is painted on the walls of Greek tavernas; she appears on menus and is a popular tattoo design.
Mermaid gorgons are most active and likely to emerge on Saturday nights.
- Lamia of the Sea
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.