Circe the Enchantress: Working with Archetypes

This week’s PBP prompt is C – so I am going to write about Circe.  I have seen in some Pagan literature Circe referred to as a goddess figure, and in some literature almost reinvented.  First, I am going to say I will not deal with her as a “goddess”; I feel this term is incorrect – Circe is an archetype.  Circe is the original femme fatale.  In Jungian theory, archetypes are images that rise out of the collective unconscious and speak to the human experience.  Archetypes work within myths to help people have ways of relating to the human experience.  Judith Yarnall explains myth in her book Transformations of Circe: the history of an enchantress (1994).

"Circe" Wright Barker, 1900.

“A myth is a symbolic narrative that is flung out like a life preserver from the collective psyche toward a phenomenon that it does not understand and yet cannot avoid addressing.” (Yarnall)

I. MYTH
Circe is the daughter of Helios (sun-god) and Perse (an ocean nymph).  This makes Circe divine and immortal, but not necessarily an Olympian goddess.  In fact, Circe lives in a “hiera domata” according to Homer, or a sacred palace on the island Aiaia. The palace Homer describes is not unlike the palace in which Demeter lives. This island is at the end of the world, possibly towards Anatolia by the description given by Homer.  Also separating Circe from Olympian goddesses is her elemental ability to speak with humans, she speaks human languages. For this reason, I do not treat her like a “goddess” exactly – more like a divine intermediary power.

Circe the enchantress was the most powerful witch in the ancient Greek world. She is famous for her power to transform and her knowledge of potions.  She is also a gifted prophet in the ancient world, a talented witch (thus her later association with Hecate), and practices necromancy.  Circe guides Odysseus though his journey into the Underworld and helps him complete the necessary necromantic rituals.  Despite her powers, Circe was said to have been haunted by visions and spirits in her palace at night as well. Like many other divine enchantress, Circe spends her days weaving. This makes her similar to many other figures in myth and alludes to her control over fate.

Circe is beautiful, often described with fair or red hair.  She often uses her beauty to seduce men, this is part of her role as an archetypal enchantress.  She is also a talented lover – she takes many lovers throughout the mythological world. Aiding in her charms, Circe has a haunting and beautiful voice, and a shrill scream full of emotion.  This combination sounds like stories of nymphs and sirens.  She is known for punishing those who reject her. Two famous stories involving lovers rejecting Circe end with her poisoning and transforming the object of their affections into monsters.

Circe’s earliest appearance in recorded myth is in Homer’s Odysseus: however it’s likely she was already a familiar figure in Greek myths at this time. When Odysseus’s ship lands on her island, Circe turns his men into swine and other animals with a potion after they follow by her haunting voice though the woods to her palace. Odysseus rescues his men after he threatens Circe with death (though she cannot be killed) and she surrenders herself to him. Circe seduces Odysseus, but she agrees to release his men and reverse the spell as well as help him along in his journey.  Their love affair seems to take varying periods of time, some myths have Odysseus fathering several children with Circe during this period.

"Circe Invidiosa" John William Waterhouse, 1892.

II. LORE
In Homer’s account of the relationship between Circe and the hero Odysseus, Circe represents the Unknown. Although she is the femme fatale: beautiful and deadly, using seduction to convince the hero (or anti-hero) to meet her own ends, Circe is a benevolent if intimidating figure. The powerful woman with the power to transform thoughts into substance speaks to the collective unconscious in many ways. As women, we can look to Circe’s power as an inspiration or roadmap to become our own enchantress.  For men, the story of Circe illustrates the ways which women may wield power over them: they are turned into wild animals figuratively or literally. Circe provides a lesson for all of us as humans that what at first seems intimidating with the correct tools can aid us in our journey toward fulfilling our destiny.

Circe is also sometimes said to the Hecate’s daughter. I think it is likely that her association with Hecate is the result of both figure’s association with witchcraft and the Underworld.  I do not see her as relating to Hecate in any descent, to me it makes most sense that she is the combination of elemental divinities as she is a mercurial goddess intent on forming the world and transformations. Some myths claim she called upon Hecate for help in her magickal workings or Hecate taught her witchcraft. In other roles in mythology Circe controls fate and incarnation. Circe was famous for her knowledge of herbs as well as other forms of enchantment, making her an excellent archetype to work with for any aspiring herbalist.

III. PRACTICE

My personal experiences with Circe include using her as an archetype for meditations and inspiration. I work with herbs a lot and have been slowly learning to make potions. I have in the past left offerings for her as thanks and a way to relate to the archetype.  Offerings I have left include dog hair, baneful herbs but especially aconite, and a vial of my new potions.  (Of course, if anything you are leaving is harmful it’s important to leave it in a safe place away from anywhere children or curious animals might get ahold of it.) I have also called on Circe during empowerment rituals and often call on her to aid in spell work.  By invoking Circe, I can better tap into the collective unconscious grid when something requires a large amount of energy.  Circe has been a great teacher to me in both herbalism and magic generally and I hope others will enjoy working with her as much as I do.

Sources and Further Reading:
Kirke: The Dread Goddess” http://mythagora.com/bios/kirke.html
“The Goddess Circe” http://www.covenofthegoddess.com/goddesscirce.htm
Yarnall, Judith. Transformations of Circe: the history of an enchantress. University of Illinois Press, 1994.

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About Pixie

I'm just your average 20-something trying to figure it out. I am also a theologian, yogi, witch, pagan, dirty hippie, activist (progressive politics), feminist, knitter, environmentalist, and friend. I've also been accused of being a hipster - I am not sure about that. I am sometimes happy to be Gen Y (go Harry Potter) and most of the time confused (seriously guys... ) by everyone else. My hobbies including knitting (and maybe crochet), quilting, recycling, cooking, writing, reading, and biking. I'm finishing up a masters in public policy and when I worked worked in political nonprofits as an activist.
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2 Responses to Circe the Enchantress: Working with Archetypes

  1. I am playing hooky, and read your post, though I should be doing some work. Anyway, I really enjoyed your post and am interested in what resources you have used in your study of herbs and potions. I am a newbie in this area and I am eager to read and learn. Also, on a technical note, how did you add pics in wordpress? Each time I tried to post, it would only capture the title and not the body. Once I deleted the pic, it went through. Any help would be much appreciated ; )
    CorinaDragonfly

    • Pixie says:

      Hehe I was up all night writing this so I hope it’s not showing how sleep deprived I am… time for a nap!
      But adding pictures; I use word press’s editor and at the top there’s a little camera button thing. Click on that. You could upload the images to WP (which I do when the image are legitimately mine) or upload at something like Flickr or photo bucket and copy and past the URL into the boxes. For whatever reason, even in HTML mode, an script doesn’t work. If you are using HTML mode you will see the scripts WP is using.
      If that doesn’t make sense let me know and I’ll try explaining when I’ve had a nap and some yoga. 🙂

      Thanks for reading.

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