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'When I Hear Your Voice' by Montserrat


CIRCE, GREEK GODDESS AND SORCERESS




Circe was both a Goddess and a Sorceress, and she has sometimes been referred to as "The Dread Goddess." A variety of stories exist regarding her parentage. One claims that she was the daughter of the Goddess Hecate, but more likely then not, she was actually the daughter of the Sun God Helios and Sea Nymph Perse, the daughter of Okeanos. Varying reports also exist regarding who Circe's siblings actually were. There are those who have suggested that she was the sister of King Perses of Tauris, while others claim that she was the sister of King Aeetes and Queen Pasiphae.

The Greek poet, Hesiod, believed that Circe had been married to the Prince of Colchis, whose Kingdom was located near the Black Sea. Then, almost immediately after their honeymoon was over, she took total control of its throne. Other stories suggest that Circe had been married the King of Sarmaria, who she then poisoned so that she could gain control of his Kingdom. However, once it was discovered that Circe had murdered her husband, she had no other choice but to flee; and flee she did, until she finally arrived on the shore of the Island of Aeaea, in the Northern Adriatic Sea. The name “Aeaea,” when translated, means "wailing," and that island has always been considered a funerary shine. It was for that reason that Hesiod considered Circe to be a Goddess of Death, although there are others who believed that she was a Moon Goddess or possibly even a Goddess of Degrading Love.

Circe has often been linked to the death-birds known as "kirkos." Those birds are actually falcons, who circle their prey before they finally dive in for the kill; which is, in reality, an excellent way of describing Circe, since she encircled her human prey within her island home, and then used her magick to enchant them. A falcon’s cry sounds something similar to "circ-circ," and many have considered this sound to be the magickal cry of Circe, whenever she was beginning one of her acts of creation or destruction. Interestingly, the Latin words “circus” and “cirque,” both have the same root as the name Circe, and they are both described as an enclosure for funerary games, which does, indeed, describe Circe’s lair.

Like many other Goddesses, Circle also had a strong association with birds. Birds have frequently been believed to travel freely between the Underworld and the Earth, often taking their God or Goddess with them. The Greek poet, Homer, referred to her as "Circe of the Braided Tresses," because she was believed to use the braids of her hair, not only to control fate, but also to control the forces of creation and destruction. It is not that uncommon for someone to use braids in magick, since the tying and untying of knots has often been used in folk-magic spells as a way of binding and releasing magickal energy; and Circe was, indeed, an extremely powerful Sorceress.

The following are but a few of the many myths regarding Circe, because there are so very many of them to choose from. Chapter 10, of Homer’s epic poem, the Odyssey, tells the story of Odysseus and his men. In the Odyssey, Homer described how, after escaping from the Laestrygones, Odysseus and his men continued to sail until they reached the Island of Aeaea, which was "located beyond the east and west when the dawn rose." Once their ship had dropped anchor, they went ashore. Odysseus then sent twenty-three of his finest men into the interior of the Island to search for food and fresh water, and once they had accomplished that, they were to report back to him with their findings.

The men’s search took them deep into the interior of the Island, where they came upon a variety of of wild animals, including lions and wolves. Surprisingly, the animals approached the men in an apparently friendly manner, even wagging their tails in a friendly attempt to greet them. Even though that encounter was quite puzzling, the sailors continued on with their search until they reached the center of the Island. It was there that they began to hear beautiful singing softly in the distance. They then followed the sound, in the hope of finding out where it was coming from.

Suddenly, there before them stood the palace of the Goddess and Sorceress named Circe. Circe graciously welcomed the men into her home, and invited them to accept her hospitality. First, she offered the men drink, and once that was accomplished she invited them to attend a feast which she would have prepared in their honor. Little did the sailors know that Circe had other plans for them, rather then serving them a excellent dinner.

When the men were finishing their meal they began to feel drugged, as their metamorphosis began to slowely change them into swine. Circe then rounded the sailers up, and put them in her pigpen, where she proceeded to throw slop onto the ground for them to eat.

What is extremely interesting about Circe is that even though her magick may have transformed those men into swine, it did not, in any way, impair their ability to reason, and they were totally aware of everything that was happening to them. While Circe's magick transformed the men into animals, never once did she ever do anything, which might alter their spirit or their soul. She simply transformed a man’s body into whatever animal she believed best suited his true nature. Eurylochus was the only sailor to escape the transformation. He rushed back to the ship and immediately informed Odysseus about Circe and what she had done to the rest of the crew. Then he strongly suggested that they board the ship and leave the Island immediately. Odysseus, however, refused to even consider abandoning his men, so he began his journey into the interior of the Island to rescue the members of his crew.

On the way to Circe's palace Odysseus came upon Hermes, who appeared in the guise of a young man. Hermes told Odysseus that he could save his friends, but only if he followed his instructions precisely. That was when Hermes reached down and pulled a plant, which was known as “moly,” out of the ground while explaining to Odysseus that mere mortals would have trouble digging it up, but that it was quite easy for him, since he just happened to be a God. Armed with the antidote to Circe's magick, Odysseus fearlessly continued on his way. When ghe arrived at Circe's compound, Circe welcomed Odysseus with open arms, believing that she had found yet another victim. Once he had feasted, Odysseus pretended to fall into a deep sleep and Circe, believing him to be asleep struck Odysseus with her magick wand, which was the final step in the transformation process. However, when she struck Odysseus, he quickly jumped up and pressed the sharp blade of his sword against her throat.

Odysseus’ actions totally surprised Circe, and she immediately surrendered to him|. Then she released all twenty-two of his men by anointing them with another of her magickal potions. While she had, indeed, restored the men to their original forms, Odysseus strongly suggested to her that she should do more for them, as retribution for having turned them into swine. Circe did as Odysseus requested, and she made his men taller and more handsome then they had ever been before.

As a way of making further amends to Odysseus and his crew, Circe offered her home to them, as well as all of its hospitality. She also offered herself and her bed to Odysseus, and their lovemaking was so wonderful, that both he and his men continued to stay there for what is believed to have been for at least one year. It was during that year, as well, that Odysseus and Circe supposedly conceived two children. Circe also gave Odysseus some much needed advice, telling him that he needed to travel to the Underworld, and once there seek out Teiresias of Thebes, who would tell him exactly what he had to do in order to settle his problems with Poseidon, thereby allowing him to finally be able to return home.

After having lived with Circe for that year, Odysseus began to feel a great desire to return home. Amazingly, Circe did not attempt to stop him from leaving, and when she said her final farewell to him, she even told him how to sail safely past the Island of the Sirens, and the six-headed Scylla who haunted the Straits of Messina in partnership with the monster whirlpool Charybdis. Allowing Odysseus to leave her, was not something that Circe was known to do. Odysseus was the only man who had ever defeated her, and that, for some reason, sat extremely well with her. Usually, when she did not get what she wanted, especially when she could not have a man that she wanted, Circe would use her magick, sometimes quite savagely and violently, to exact her revenge. Legend tells us that Circe turned a man named Picus into a woodpecker, when he refused to return her affections, because he whappened to be in love with a woman named Pomona.

There is also the well-known story of Circe and Glaucus. Glaucus was an ordinary fisherman who just happened to eat a particular kind of herb which immediately turned him into a River God, complete with gills, fins and long blue hair, as well as the ability to breath underwater. Amazingly, he had become a God simply because he had eaten a magickal herb. One day, Glaucus came upon a beautiful nymph named Scylla, and he fell madly in love with her. Scylla, however, found Glaucus’ appearance to be so terrifying, that she ran away from him as quickly as she could. Not the least bit discouraged, Glaucus quickly came to the conclusion that he wanted to make Scylla his wife, but he knew that he first had to win her heart, and then transform her into the same kind of being as himself.

Glaucus soon realized that he was getting nowhere with Scylla, so he decided to obtain some magickal help to make her fall in love with him. It was then that Glaucus turned to Circe, who he had always considered to be his very good friend. He told her of his love for Scylla, and how she always seemed to be so frightened of him. He told Circe, as well, that Scylla always ran away from him, whenever they happened to meet. Glaucus was an extremely desperate man, so he ask Circe if she could help him, by brewing a magickal potion which, when given to Scylla, would transform her into his own fishlike form. Once that had been accomplished, Glaucus believed that things would become much easier for him, and that he could then make Scylla his wife.

Only one problem existed, however, regarding Glaucus’ request. It seems that Circe was actually in love with him, herself; and she was completely astounded, that he could even consider asking for her help, so that he might pursue another woman. Circe did tell Glaucus that she would help him, although she never intended to help him in the manner that he expected her to. Circe had other things in mind for Scylla, but they were things which would only hinder Glaucus’ romantic quest. Instead of making the portion that Glaucus requested, Circe created a potion of a slightly different nature, and when she put it into Scylla’s pool, the nymph slowely began to change into a collection of barking monsters and serpents. Very quickly, the once beautiful nymph’s personality began to change, until it finally took on the characteristics of the monster that she had become. Scylla actually became so ferocious that she ended up eating everything that happened to cross her path. In the end, her monsterous body became stuck at one particular place, and she spent the rest of her life there, consuming whatever prey might happened to come her way. This action was a completely different action then the one that Circe used when she turned Odysseus’ men into swine. This time, she was consumed with jealousy, and it was because of that jealousy that she did, indeed, perform magick that would change a person’s soul.

Circe was a very powerful Goddess and Sorceress. Not only did she have strong connections with the Underworld, and the ability to turn men into animals, but she also had the ability to see into the future. More importantly, for Odysseus, was the fact that Circe also had an intimate knowledge of Hades, which made it possible for her to advise him how to enter and leave the Underworld in safety. She actually went so far as to give Odysseus the sheep that he needed to give as an offering to Hades, and then she advised him how to complete the rest of his journey in safety.

When it came to Odysseus, Circe became a completely different kind of Goddess, minus any of the treacherous characteristics for which she was so well known. She even allowed Odysseus to leave her, to return to his wife, even though she loved him, quite deeply, herself. This story gives the reader a glimpse of Circe in a totally new and different light. Through her relationship with Odysseus, we are able to see what a complex and autonomous Goddess Circe was. What explains Circe quite well, is the fact that she was "whole unto herself, and alone but never lonely." The way that Circe’s behavior changed when she met Odysseus, shows us what the power of love can do.

Legend tells us that some time later, Circe met with a violent and terrible end. Telemachus first murdered Circe, and then proceeded to marry her daughter Cassiphone. One can only consider what a terribly sad ending that was, for such a complex and unique Goddess as Circe.




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"When I Hear Your Voice"
Painting by Montserrat
Used with Permission