CIRCE: THE ORIGINAL WITCH

Known by many as a daughter of Hekate, whilst in other sources of lore, in the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, from the womb of Perse, an Oceanid Nymph and daughter of Oceanus- Circe is born. But Circe is a strange child – not obviously powerful like her father, not viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power – the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.  (From CIRCE by Madaline Miller).

For the remainder of 2023 we will be diving deep into the realm of Circe – Circe was one of the most powerful enchantresses of Greek mythology, who some call a witch and some a goddess. This parentage made Circe sister to another powerful sorceress, Pasiphae, wife of Midas, as well as Perses and Aeetes, famous kings of Greek mythology. Whilst, Perses and Aeetes were not known for their magical abilities, a niece of Circe, Medea certainly was. 

Of the three female sorceresses, Circe, Pasiphae and Medea, Circe was regarded as the most powerful of the three, and able to concoct powerful potions, but Circe was also said to have power to hide the sun and moon as she willed. Circe was also known to call upon the assistance of “dark” deities, in the form of Chaos, Nyx and Hecate. Circe was renowned for her vast knowledge of potions and herbs. Through the use of these and a magic wand or staff, she would transform her enemies, or those who offended her, into animals.

THE VERY CONDENCED VERSION OF CIRCE’S STORY:

There are several different ancient sources for Circe’s story. Homer’s Odyssey is a great place to start. 

CHILDHOOD

If we ignore the obvious correct story that Circe’s mother was Hekate and go with the other myths, then she was born to Perseis (an Oceanid) and Helios, the sun himself. Circe ended up with a human voice. Madaline Miller filled in the blanks on Circe’s childhood by painting a dismal picture of mother wound and an absent father. She was a disappointment to them and they also feared her. Things happened.* She was ostracized by her family. Helios drove her in that fire chariot of his to an island in the far west, Aiaia (Aeaea). Hermes and Athena generally caused her trouble throughout her life. Helios never did her any favors.

* According to myth, Circe turned a fair maiden into the sea monster Scylla because the guy she fancied, and had turned into a sort of demi-god

had a thing for the nymph. These were some of her earliest forays into transformation magic and truth revealing sorcery.

ISLAND WITCH QUEEN

 The island of Aeaea does not appear on any modern map, and in antiquity there was great debate about where Aeaea was to be found. Locations were given for the island of Aeaea to be found both east and west of Italy, and Apollonius of Rhodes tells of it being south of Elba, but within sight of the Tyrrhenian coastline. 

Circe remained an important mythological figure through until the Roman period, where writers told of Aeaea actually being the island of Ponza, or else Mount Circeo (Mount Circaeum), the latter being a mountain surrounded by marshland and sea, rather than being a true island.

Alone, abandoned and with problems all around, Circe could have chosen to meekly go about her business. However, she instead  became a woman “isolated by, but not ashamed of her powers” (Yarnall, 1994). Circe taught herself to be a pharmakeia, expert in plant magic. She tamed the wild beasts on the island, including lions (panthers, etc.) and wolves. She took advantage of her isolation to develop her full capabilities.

Eventually, visitors showed up on the island. Including Jason and Medea who were fleeing due to their murderous ways. Circe gave them absolution and cleansed them, thus permitting them to continue on their journey. Things didn’t work out well at all for those two. Soon others

ound their way to Aiaia’s shores, most notably Odysseus and his crew. Communicating with all these mortals was made so much easier since she had that human voice, although she was “liga” or shrill voiced according to Homer. Let’s pause here to consider this point: a powerful witch woman who needs no one and speaks her truth is regarded as shrill by a bunch of guys. Some things never change. Or do they? Is that why Circe is calling to so many right now?

NOTE: She had nymphs helping her.

 

CIRCE AND GLAUCUS
The theme of transformation was one which appeared in most surviving tales of Circe.

It was said that Circe was in love with Glaucus, a minor sea deity, but Glaucus knew not of this love, for he only had eyes for Scylla, a beautiful maiden. Some tell of Circe poisoning the water in which Scylla bathed, and some tell of Circe giving Glaucus a love potion, which the sea god believed would ensure Scylla fell in love with; in either case, Circe’s potion transformed Scylla into a hideous monster who later became famous for wrecking ships in conjunction with Charybdis.

CIRCE AND PICUS
A similar tale of love scorned would be told by Roman writers, when Circe fell in love with Picus, a son of Cronus (Saturn). Circe would seek to seduce Picus, but she was scorned once again, for Picus was in love with Caenns, a daughter of the Roman god Janus

Picus rejected the advances of Circe, and in retribution recited a spell which transformed in Picus into a woodpecker.

When friends of Picus came to Circe to seek news of their friend, they being unaware of his transformation, Circe then transformed them into other animals, giving rise to much of the fauna found upon Mount Circaeum.

CIRCE AND THE ARGONAUTS
In the generation before Odysseus and his men, Circe had also played host to another band of heroes, for Medea led the Argo to the island of Circe, as Jason and his men fled from Colchis.

To enable the escape of the Argonauts from the Colchian fleet, Medea had killed her own brother, Apsyrtus, and then thrown his dismembered limbs into the sea, delaying her father Aeetes, who sought to retrieve all of the body parts of his son. For such a crime, Medea and Jason required absolution, and so it was to her aunt hat Medea came, and Circe was thus said to have purified them, allowing them to continue their voyage unmolested.

CIRCE AS LOVER, WIFE AND MOTHER
As a lover of Odysseus, Circe was said to have become son to three sons by the King of Ithaca; these sons being Agrius, Latinus and Telegonus.

Of these three, Telegonus is the most famous, for as well as being a king of the Etruscans, Telegonus also accidentally killed his father. Subsequently, Telegonus would wed Penelope, and Telemachus, son of Odysseus and Penelope, would wed Circe.

Circe was then said to have made Penelope, Telegonus, and Telemachus immortal through her potions, with all four later said to have resided upon the Islands of the Blest,

Some also call the son of Circe, Latinus, king of Latium, who would welcome Aeneas to his kingdom, though nothing of note is said about Agrius.

Later mythology, particularly in the work of Nonnus, also named Faunus (Phaunos) the rustic god as a

son of Circe and Odysseus, but Faunus was more commonly considered to be an equivalent to Pan.

CIRCE’S ANCIENT WITCHES & INFLUENCE

There were ancient cults devoted to Circe that practices her pharmakeia, her greatest gift to all the witches. This is the practice of plant spirit medicine. Each time we use an herb or connect with a plant ally, we are honoring Circe.

Homer was likely influenced by existing goddesses when he brought Circe to life in The Odyssey. One interpretation of her name – “hawk” -potentially references hawk/vulture goddesses in Asia Minor. Some translations have her name meaning “circle” which is a less likely translation, but is reflective that this interpretation was common prior to the 20th century. This was all about how she trapped – “encircled” men. The meaning of Circe’s name and how she is viewed is greatly influenced by the time in which she is being studied.

She was reviled as an evil enchantress in art and literature for centuries, although this began to change around the beginning of the twentieth century. Circe’s journey through the centuries reflects that of women, especially those of us who are rebellious non-conformists. In other words, what the world has often labelled as “witch.” 

CIRCE’S POWERS:

Call upon Circe for contemplating these topics, and petition her favor for rituals with these themes:

Absolution

Acceptance

Adaptation

Changing your mind

Cleansing

Individuality

Justice

Revelation

Self deception

Sovereignty

Transformation

Unique voice

Weaving

One of her major themes, besides all manner of witchcraft, is longing as expertly imagined by the poet H.D.:

But I would give up
rock-fringes of coral
and the inmost chamber
of my island palace
and my own gifts
and the whole region
of my power and magic
for your glance. – from Circe by H. D. (1886 – 1961)

Circe had so much taken from her; her family, her lovers and even her son. Like us, she knew the grief of loss. She also knew what it meant to desire what no longer existed. Circe is a powerful teacher for those of us dealing with clinging to the past. She is also a Goddess of Adaptation like Persephone. She was given a cup and she fully drank from it.

CIRCE: UNLEASHING YOUR FEMININE POWER:

Circe’s portrayal changes over time with the evolving views of women and female power. Embrace your own power by exploring her energy through contemplating the various artworks depicting her. How does she inspire you? How could you be more like her? What is your unique voice?

UNLEASHING YOUR TRUTH THROUGH CIRCE:

To the ancient Greeks and Romans, she was a powerful witch, highly skilled in necromancy, prophecy, illusion and magical herbalism. Turn to  Circe to connect with your internal eternal witch and to petition her favor over all sorts of magic. Her ancient tools included the wand, the chalice (for those potions), the loom (she was quite a weaver of spells and more) and the blade. Her home and one version of her parentage has her firmly associated with the sun, although her powers were chthonic. She is thus both an Upper World and Under World goddess, yet another way that she represents opposites. She was both the transformer of those who were very basic (nasty men into pigs) and the mud (she had some pretty base motives herself). Circe found her strength through weakness. She was skilled in change and

in revealing things exactly as they were and accepting the inevitable (Odysseus had to leave no matter how she felt about him). She was maiden and mother. She was wise and innocent.

CIRCE’S DARKNESS IS OUR OWN:

Circe’s darkness is evidenced through the cannibalism that her guests unwittingly engaged in when dining on pork that had once been human. This is symbolic of the ways that the power hungry can consume themselves, with a bit of magical intervention. Did these men get anything other than exactly what they deserved? Like many women, Circe was forced into a horrible situation by powerful men. She used what she had to make the most of the situation.

She grappled with loneliness, isolation and rejection. In spite of all her wounds, she continued to choose love – for her son, lovers and Medea. A complex witch whose story became vilified as an example of the dangers of female power. We can learn much about our own shadow selves by contemplating Circe’s story.

CIRCE’S PLANT SPIRIT MEDICINE

Circe is associated with many plants, including the aforementioned moly that’s maybe garlic or possibly mullein. Use mandrake to invoke her. 

Dittany of Crete is favored by Circe. 

Other botanicals include nightshade and traditional witch herbs, including mugwort. 

She is associated with bronze, gold and onyx.

CIRCE’S PLANT SPIRITS

These are some of the botanicals most closely connected to Circe. Note that the specific species of plant that moly could have been is debatable.

Dittany of Crete

Garlic

Mandrake

Mugwort

Mullein 

WITCHERY WITH CIRCE:

Although Circe is a fabulous ally for all manner of witchcraft, there are certain types she favors just a bit more:

Binding

Herbalism

Illusion

Knot Spells

Love Magic

Necromancy

Pharmakeia

Phylactery

Potions

Prophecy

Purification

Root Cutting

Sorcery

Transmutation

Truth Spells

The original witch’s true self was only fully revealed after triumph over trauma. The witch phase is a time of personal growth when we successfully defeat our wounds and reclaim our innate wildness. Some people don’t achieve this, so their years are spent in stagnation. Or worse, they know the witch is inside of them, but she never gets to stand in her power. It can be difficult, but remember “where there’s a witch, there’s a way.” Sovereignty requires curiosity, risk-taking and openness (tempered with the boundaries of the warrior). Circe’s true self witchery is unbeatable, call upon her assistance in revealing yours. 

Hopefully you won’t turn into a pig. – from Five Sovereign Goddesses: Artemis, Medea, Persephone, Circe & Hekate.

Connect with Circe while wild foraging or when you need to work some serious magic, especially for getting to the truth. 

A simple technique is to do some phylactery, wearing a charm made of plants associated with her.

Call upon Circe when you need to speak your truth. 

Also strongly associated with wild animals as well as domestic ones, she can be involved in animal spirit work. 

In this regard, she controls the beasts so go into such a ritual/journey with this mindset. 

Rule over those lions and wolves. – Cyndi Brannen.