The Symbolic Meaning Behind The Medusa Tattoo

Whether you learned about her during the Greek mythology unit at school or on your own mythology journey, there's a chance you've heard of Medusa. Powerful and mesmerizing, she's known for her snake hair and her haunting power to turn anyone into stone just by looking into their eyes. Within the past couple of years, Medusa's face has not only been seen in books and movies but also in expressions of art. Medusa has become popular among the many tattoo trends of the decade, circulating around TikTok and other social media. In fact, the TikTok hashtag #medusatattoo has nearly a billion views.

When it comes to why Medusa has her powers, there's a darker side to her story and more to the tattoo than meets the eye. You can give a tattoo any meaning you want, but the Medusa tattoo has become a significant symbol for survivors of sexual assault and abuse. 

A symbol for sexual assault survivors

In the most common interpretations of Greek mythology, Medusa is raped by the sea god Poseidon in Athena's temple. Athena, the goddess of war and wisdom, is furious and places a curse on Medusa, giving her snakes for hair and the ability to turn people into stone when she makes eye contact with them. It's Medusa who is blamed and punished, rather than Poseidon, and she must live with the consequences for the rest of her life. This ancient tale speaks to the issues that survivors still go through in the present day, including victim-blaming and shame. Though Medusa has a curse, many view her power as a strength, allowing her to protect and defend herself against enemies.

People have been having more conversations about sexual assault within the last few years, especially with the #MeToo Movement helping survivors to share their stories without shame or stigma. The Medusa tattoo has been another outlet for survivors to heal and overcome their trauma. Therapist Anita Astley shares her own interpretation of the tattoo with Parade, saying, "I believe the Medusa tattoo is the perfect visual depiction of a survivor's journey from pain to resilience, strength, empowerment and self-preservation — a protective symbol, as she has the ability to destroy those who are a threat to her being."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Other reasons for Medusa tattoos

For many people, tattoos are meant to tell a story on their skin. Others get tattoos purely because they enjoy the art and aesthetic value. Both reasons are valid. Though a Medusa tattoo is associated with survivors of sexual assault, anyone can get a Medusa tattoo. Simply having an appreciation for Medusa is enough of a reason to do so. After all, she is a powerful symbol in art and mythology.

Medusa's death is another famous part of her story that people find strength in. According to experts at The Met, Medusa was beheaded by Perseus, a hero figure in Greek mythology. Medusa's power to turn people into stone still remained even after death, so Perseus would bring her head along with him on his travels to fight his enemies. He later gave the head to Athena to use for her shield. This myth holds symbolism for people as well, representing a shield or protection. A tattoo of Medusa can represent the ways we can turn negativity into strength and positivity to get us through difficult times.