Circe: The Original Witch
When talking about where the origins of Witchcraft came from, many may not have a clear answer. New Witches especially may hear lore of where Witchcraft came from but may not be sure how accurate it is. There is no one answer saying where Witchcraft originated from. But, some were strong influences for the Craft. For instance, one of the biggest Witchcraft influencers was Circe. Circe, humbly given the Original Witch title, holds the strong position of being one of the first few to use and develop Witchcraft so others like us can use it today. Let us take a look at who exactly Circe is and how she influenced the use of Witchcraft.
Circe is a Greek enchantress. She has quite the noble bloodlines in her. She is the granddaughter of four Titans, cousin to the King of Olympians, Zeus, and daughter of Helios, the Sun God, or Titan, in Greek mythology. But that is all that is known of Circe’s family. It is unknown who exactly her mother is. Some legends state that her mother was Hecate, a Goddess of both good and evil and early patron of Witchcraft. Since Hecate pre-dates many Olympians, she would have been favored for being Circe’s true mother. But another, more well-believed legend says that Circe’s mother was Perse, an Oceanid nymph who was the keeper of the Golden Fleece. Both possible mothers were virgin goddesses with no regular consort, so figuring out which one gave herself to Helios is where the confusing lineage occurs.
But regardless of who her mother is, what does not change is that she was not born as expected from having such a noble family line. She was blessed with having charming family members, but she was born lacking all enticements and goddess-giving beauties. She was short, dark-haired, and lacked a lovely singing voice. Without any beauties, she was not as well respected or admired by her family, and they ended up casting her aside.
Circe and Witchcraft
Circe was well aware of her shortcomings compared to her family. Since she lacked beauty, she was not marriage material. And due to her lack of leadership, she was denied a kingdom of her own. So, with no other option, she stayed with the Titans and Olympians but mainly kept to herself.
It was during her self-isolation that she started to develop her gift of the Craft. Her natural ability could be linked to her maternal parentage, but it could also be that she was destined to have these abilities, and her role was set.
Circe’s primary abilities took the shape of potion making and spell casting. Because she had a short temper, she quickly used her spell casting to cast curses on those who ridiculed her. Her potions were made to bring harm to those who had done her wrong. Her potion making and spell casting could have been used for good, but because she let her anger get the better of her, her spellcasting took a dark route.
Perhaps the most notable quirk to her spellcasting was her short fuse with would-be lovers. If any were to upset her, even in the slightest way, she would turn them into an animal. This was her most common spell, so it took no energy on her end to cast them. Many men ended up avoiding courting her for fear of being turned into an animal. But, that did not stop her from turning men into animals. Any excuse she could find, she would turn a man into an animal as punishment, even if they had no intention of harming her. This quick to act habit would cause Circe her punishment.
Circe had fallen in love with the sea-god, Glaucus, but no matter how hard she tried to seduce him, she could not win his heart. Glaucus was also besotted with Scylla. Circe poisoned the water where Scylla bathed, which turned her into the sea monster we know her to be. Circe was then exiled to the remote island of Aeaea, which is believed to have been located off the southern coast of Italy. She would be doomed to live her life-long banishment on this lonely island away from her home and family.
Circe and the Odyssey
The work of literature Circe is most referred to in is Homer’s Odyssey.
Odysseus and his men find themselves on Aeaea, where Circe is described as a beautiful enchantress with oddly docile wild animals wandering her home. She invites Odysseus’ men, who were sent ahead to explore, into her home with the promise of wine and food. All the men enter but Eurylochus, who is suspicious of Circe and hurries to warn Odysseus. Before Odysseus can reach Circe’s home, he is stopped by Hermes. Hermes reveals to him how to defeat Circe and free the crewmates.
Hermes gives Odysseus the herb moly that will protect him from Circe’s magic. He also warns that he must draw his sword and act as though he will attack her, which will spark Circe to ask him to bed. Before Odysseus accepts, he must get Circe to swear by the names of the gods that she will return his men and not hurt him. Otherwise, she would still be able to turn him into an animal once in bed.
Odysseus manages to overcome Circe and free his men by following Hermes’ advice. The travelers stay on Circe’s island, being pampered by her, eating glorious meals, and being merry on hearty wine. While with Circe, they produce three sons: Agrius, Latinus, and Telegonus. The travelers stayed for about a year before Odysseus had the desire to return home.
When the travelers set to leave, Circe offers Odysseus advice. She tells him to travel to the Underworld first to learn how to appease the gods so they can return home safely. She also bestows him with protections and ways to speak with the dead, which held his answer for a safe return home. She also warns him that there were two routes he could take to go home but to exceed extreme caution as both were highly dangerous. Of course, her warnings were ignored, and the men suffered a worse fate from an even more vengeful woman, but you’ll have to read the Odyssey to find out what happened after Circe’s island.
Circe in other Myths
There are other myths and legends surrounding Circe.
One of her myths continues with Odysseus. As stated in Hesiod’s Theogony, Circe and Odysseus’ son, Telegonus, had become ruler over the Tyrsenoi, or the non-Greek people in Etruscans. Circe tells him who his father is and why he abandoned them. Fueled with a desire to find his missing father, Telegonus decides to head out to find him. Unbeknown to him, Circe gives him a poisoned spear, which ultimately leads to Odysseus being killed. Unsure of why his father died, Telegonus brings Odysseus’ body back to Aeaea and buries him. Circe makes her children immortal once Odysseus’ body is buried, perhaps as a secret reward for finally ending the man who tricked and used her.
Another legend speaks of yet another man that Circe had fallen in love with, this time a mortal. The mortal was named Picus, and Circe was determined to gain his affection. But he was fiercely devoted to his wife, Canens, and refused Circe’s advances. But since Circe could not come to terms with yet another man who would not accept her, she cursed Picus to live the rest of his life as a lowly woodpecker. Unable to handle the sorrow of losing her husband, Canens throws herself into the River Tiber.
Then there is the legend of Jason and Medea. In this legend, Circe makes an appearance during the adventures of the Argonauts. Apollonius, the philosopher, says that Jason and Medea showed treason to the Colchian prince, Absyrtus, and brutally killed him. They are living sins trying to escape what they have done regarding being caught, which is when they run into Circe on her island. She purifies them of their sins, but she chases them away once she learns of what they did before they could do the same to her.
Circe has paved the way for Witches to learn the art and use it in our unique ways. Some may believe that Circe is not the best representation of a Witch, but we are lucky to have past Witches to learn from and better ourselves. Circe proves that anyone can learn Witchcraft, but it still takes energy on the learner’s part to use Witchcraft positively rather than let it be controlled by emotions. That being said, Circe is still worthy of being respected as one of the original Witches. Her stories can inspire and blossom desires to be a Witch. If you want to learn more about Circe, try picking up one of the pieces of literature written on her or delving into the art world. The more you learn, the better Witch you can become.