The Kiss of Medusa and Trauma's Return: Thought-Play (4)

Our automatic reaction to what we perceive as dreadful, threatening, or monstrous is apotropaic. We try to drive the monster away, fleeing from it—combining fight against it with flight from it, in the common “fight-or-flight” reaction to what engenders fear in us. Thus did one flee from Medusa, as one fled from all three Gorgons of Greek myth. Unfortunately—at least it strikes us at first as a misfortune, and continues so to strike us for a very long while—Medusa refuses to be avoided.

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The Kiss of Medusa and Trauma's Return: Thought-Play (2)

The wisdom of the desert hermits is that the only effective response to acedia, the devil of boredom that prowls at noon, is not to try to divert ourselves from it, in an unfulfilled, unfulfilled-able, and ultimately counter-productive—and ultimately magical—endeavor to ward it off and keep it away. Rather, it is to accept it, as one accepts a gift, and to remain with it. It is to let it wash over one, relaxing into it instead of stiffening against it in. 

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The Kiss of Medusa and Trauma’s Return: Thought-Play (1)

Apotropaic means “designed to avert evil” (from Greek apo-, “away from,” plus trepein, “to turn”). Acts so designed arise from the fear that evil—or at least what we experience as evil—evokes. To experience some thing or occurrence as evil is to experience it as injurious, dangerous, threatening. We flee from what we experience as evil, flee from it either by moving away from it, or by putting up defenses against it, to ward it off, deflect it, avert it (literally, “turn it aside”).

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