Medea

One of Hecate’s most famous priestesses is the Greek princess, witch, and enchantress called Medea.

XIR182676 Jason and Medea, 1759 (oil on canvas) by Loo, Carle van (1705-65); 63x79 cm; Musee des Beaux-Arts, Pau, France; (add.info.: murdered her own children when Jason left her;); Giraudon; French, out of copyright  Medea – the daughter of King Aeetes of Colchis – was born divine, with the gift of prophecy.  Her aunt was the same Circe who turned Odysseus’ men into swine.  Unlike other deities, however, she is not portrayed as a benevolent mother figure.  Rather, Medea seems to have always glowed in the popular imagination as a jealous wife who avenged herself on the man who betrayed her.  She is a murderess – but not without cause.  And even when portrayed as a vicious scorned woman, Medea retains her celestial strength and dignity.

Medea helps the hero Jason in his quest for the Golden Fleece because she falls in love with him at first sight.  She pledges her magical assistance on the condition that he takes her away from her father’s tight grip and agrees to marry her.  To aid their escape from Colchis, Medea kills her brother and scatters his body parts into the sea, a ruse that buys time because the father has to locate all the parts for a proper burial.  The couple live happily together for ten years and have several children, possibly five sons and a daughter.

According to Euripides’ Medea, Jason finally leaves his enchanting wife for a young maid called Glauce, King Creon’s daughter.  Medea’s anguish turns to spite, and using her herbal lore the witch sends a poisoned gift to the palace that murders both the new bride-to-be and her father.  Not content with this, however, the distraught mother butchers two of her own sons – Mermeros and Pheres – to ensure that Jason feels the same hurt and loss that was inflicted on her.  Calling on supernatural aid, she then escapes from Corinth in a cart drawn by dragons, sent from her grandfather Helios.

Some time later Medea remarries the aging King Aegeus, promising to restore his vitality so that she can give him another child to accompany his lone son Theseus.  They do have a baby together, but Aegeus catches Medea in the act of trying to poison Theseus in order to assure her own son’s place on the throne.  She is driven away, leaving behind only her reputation as an evil sorceress.

Sources:

Encyclopedia Britannica, “Medea” at http://www.britannica.com/topic/Medea-Greek-mythology

Euripides, Medea and Other Plays (New York: Penguin, 1963)

Greek Mythology Link, “Medea” at http://www.maicar.com/GML/Medea.html

Theatrehistory.com, “Medea” at http://www.theatrehistory.com/ancient/bates018.html

Wikipedia, “Medea” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medea

Witchcraftandwitches.com, “Medea” at http://www.witchcraftandwitches.com/witches_medea.html

Picture: Jason and Medea by Carle van Loo (1705-65)

Circe the Witch-Goddess

Circe

Circe – one of the foremost witch goddesses from the European literary tradition – was immortalized in Homer’s Odyssey.  Offspring of the sun-god Helios and a sea nymph called Perse, Circe lived on the island of Aeaea.  Some sources, however, claimed she was the daughter of the dark goddess Hecate because of her association with the moon.

The fair-haired Circe was skilled in the arts of transformation and illusion.  She was also the mistress of glamor magic with a vast knowledge of potions and herbs.  In Homer’s tale she transformed Odysseus’ men into pigs with human intelligence.  Eurylochus escaped the enchantment and managed to warn Odysseus, who had remained behind to guard their boat.  On the way back to rescue his crew the hero was met by Hermes and given a magic plant called moly to protect him from the witch.  Odysseus overpowered Circe, demanded that his men be restored to their human forms, but then he stayed on the island with her for another year.  During this time he fathered a son called Telegonus, the boy who eventually killed him with a poisoned spear.  Later, Circe was slain by Telemachus – Odysseus’ legitimate son with Penelope.

Botanists suggest that enchanter’s nightshade could have been one of Circe’s magic plants because it contains an anticholinergic that produces hallucinations, and may make men believe they have been transformed into animals.  Also, moly might derive from the snowdrop, as this flower contains the anti-hallucinogenic compound called galantamine.  

Circe appears to have functioned as a symbol of luxury and wantonness, perhaps as a warning against the drunkenness, lust, and debauchery that made men act like pigs. But unlike other mythological hags who rendered men impotent, she was a beautiful, alluring witch figure who catered to their sexual fantasies instead.  Small wonder her fame lives on!

Sources:

Graves, Robert. New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology.  Worldwide: Hamlyn, 1977.

Oxford Classical Dictionary (Third Edition).  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Wikipedia: “Circe”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circe

Photo: Wright Barker