Much of human history has assumed
that it is men that have left home to wander, leaving the women to keep
hearth fires burning. This division is often reflected in the roles of
goddesses and gods. However, just as there have been gods who are
thoroughly domesticated so have there have always been goddesses who
walked alone. Often seen as ugly hags or gorgeous temptresses by men,
the fear and the attraction are different for women.
As a woman,
I've walked much of my Spiritual Journey alone. Of course I have had my
guides and guardians but the lure of solitary spirituality has afforded
me an opportunity to divest myself of roles and responsibilities that
society would place on me. I've learned to become both seeker and
subject by beginning my own search for the goddess within.
the many Goddesses I have encountered while traveling on my journey of
the spirit, Circe remains a strong archetype and teacher in my life. As
Goddess of the karmic wheel of fate, Circe as a positive archetype is
no easy task. She is complex and demands your vulnerability
before showing you your strength. Even though Her lesson is hard, Circe
nurtures and delights showing you who you are and aiding you in
reclaiming and healing your true self.
Hesiod portrays Circe as a
daughter of the sun who gained the throne of Colchis near the Black Sea
by marrying its prince. She murdered her husband in order to rule alone
and fled to the Isle of Aeaea in the north Adriatic when she was found
out. Aeaea translates as "wailing" and has generally been considered a
funerary shine. In this light, Hesiod identifies Circe as a death
Like Kali, Circe was considered the death-bird "kirkos"
(a circling of falcons) because she encircles her "victims" within her
home before enchanting them. A falcon's cry is "circ-circ", and
sometimes-considered Circe's magical song that controls both creation
and dissolution. From the same root comes the Latin word circus or
cirque, originally an enclosure for funerary games. Her identification
with birds is important because birds are said to have ability to
travel freely between the realms of heaven and earth; possessors of
occult secrets, givers of omens, angelic messengers and carriers of the
spirit or soul.
Homer identified Circe as a femme fetale, calling
her "Circe of the Braided Tresses". In his tale, Odysseus arrived at
Aeaea, "located beyond the east and west, when the dawn rose." He sent
a large party of his sailors ashore to reconnoiter the Isle, where they
found a beautiful palace built in a clearing at the center of the
island: Circe's home. Prowling lions surrounded it and wolves that were
quite tame and their hostess was generous, as she was beautiful, laying
out a sumptuous banquet for the sailors.
Homer relates that the food
was drugged with a potion and that Circe, taking advantage of the
loutish sailors' weakened state and transformed them into pigs. It is
duly noted that Circe never tampers with the spirit or soul of man, but
merely transforms him to the animal closest to his true nature.
Once he learned of his men's'
fate, Odysseus took up his sword in a rage and hurried to rescue them.
On the way, he meets up with Hermes who gifts him with a sacred moly,
or magical herb that will protect him from Circe's potion. Once she
believes he is under her spell and is about to turn him into a pig, he
puts his sword to her throat and forces her to swear that she will not
attempt to further harm to him or his sailors and makes her free his
crewmen from the spell, and "they turned back into men, younger than
been and taller for the eye to behold and handsomer by
far." Circe is so impressed by his show of cleverness and strength, she
invites him to share her bed and reign with her at Aeaea.
Odysseus and his crew stay with Circe for a year and when he decided to
leave, Circe becomes a beloved counselor, advising him on the proper
etiquette to visit the entrance to Hades and how to call up the dead
prophet Tieresias who can tell him how to get home. As a parting gift
she provides the sheep he will need for offerings at Hades. "Whose eye
can follow the movement of a god passing from place to place, unless
the god wishes"?
The archetype of Circe is that of the
autonomous woman: whole unto herself, alone but not lonely. Manuela
Dunn, in the Song of Eve, portrays Circe as "a queen of magic. Standing
alone within her own circle, she enchants existence into playing with
her". Circe represents love in its irrational passion and incredible
power. She has asked me to courageously look within and "bring to light
an untamed force" which represents not only sexuality, but the
treasures of the unconscious as well.
The most important
message contained in the myth of Circe for me is the challenges to not
only accept but also to take responsibility for my own actions and
life. Antithetical to society's conditioning that life just
happens to us, she encourages me to use my own power to create my own destiny.
Working with Circe can be painful but out of pain comes knowing, out of
knowing comes growth, out of growth comes transformation and out of
transformation comes power. Whether she is "Circe of the Braided
Tresses", "Queen of Magic", "Goddess of the Wild Beasts", or
Fatespinner who sits at her loom weaving destinies and singing spells
of becoming, Circe's power is that of transformation, a power archetype
that inspires and guides your spirit to heal the self and the world.
(Originally published in The Daily Goddess E-Zine, in two parts October 26 and 27, 1999)