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

(Painting: Carle van Loo)

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Kali

Kali is the Hindu goddess of death.  Her name comes from Kalam and means black or dark in color.  She is associated with time, change, power, war, blackness, destruction, evil, and violence. In mythology, she is the consort of Shiva, and a ferocious slayer of demons.  But Kali is also a most ambiguous deity.

Kali Many followers perceive this goddess as the Supreme Mistress of the Universe because she was created first – out of the blackness – before the rest of time began.  Therefore she is the highest reality and the greatest force.  And because Kali brings death, she serves as the vehicle to human salvation.

Others view Kali as the benevolent Mother.  She is the Ultimate Being, and those who worship at her feet become her children.  Yet she is a fearsome sight to behold.  The goddess is usually portrayed as a naked blue woman with four arms, a sword, skull jewelry, matted hair, blood-shot eyes and a drooping tongue.  She feeds off human flesh and blood, holds a severed head, and has Shiva laid flat at her feet.  She is often accompanied by snakes and jackals.  Kali is a far-remove from the Christian image of the beautiful, meek Holy Mother!

Perhaps because of these ambiguities, some Hindus fear Kali as the Dark Goddess and have turned her into a witch.  Her followers are called Daayans – and many unfortunate women are currently being actively persecuted in certain regions of India today.  You can read some of their harrowing stories here:

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2015/06/magazine-meet-indian-women-hunted-witches-150603092941061.html

“The infinite is always mysteriously dark”  (Sri Ramakrishna).

 

Sources:

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

“Kali: The Dark Mother” at http://hinduism.about.com/od/hindugoddesses/a/makali.htm

“Mother Goddess As Kali” at http://www.exoticindiaart.com/kali.htm

(Picture: Public Domain)

Copyright © 2021 | KitPerriman.com | All Rights Reserved

 

Faust and The Devil

Faust

The Faust legend is a morality tale warning ambitious young men to reject the devil and all earthly temptations of power and desires of the flesh.

In German classic literature, a jaded scholar called Doctor Faust makes a pact with the devil, Mephistopheles, signed and sealed with his own blood.  He agrees to exchange his soul for worldly pleasure, riches, and knowledge – but when the terms of the agreement expire he is doomed to spend the rest of eternity in hell.

Who is Faust based on?  The most likely prototype seems to be Dr. Johann Georg Faust (c. 1480-1540), a famous German alchemist and magician.

Why does Faust make this pact?  He is a dissatisfied academic who yearns for something more.

How long is his rule on earth?  Faust is granted 24 years – one for each hour of the day.

What does the magician do with his new powers? First, he seduces a beautiful maiden called Gretchen.  Yet although he destroys her earthly life, she is granted a place in Heaven because of her innocence.  Then he plays pranks on people, settles old scores, and meddles in the politics of his day.  At one point he demands to see the most beautiful woman ever, and is granted a visit from Helen of Troy.  And finally – having sated his lusts and tamed the natural world – he has a moment of utter contentment before the devil appears and rips his body to pieces.

In choosing instant gratification and pleasure, Doctor Faust rejects Christianity and turns away from God.  He is a personification of Matthew’s warning: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (16:26-27)

Would you be tempted?

(Drawing: Public Domain)

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Morgan le Fay: The Fairy-Witch

Morgan

Another of Merlin the Magician’s students was King Arthur’s half-sister, Morgan le Fay.  At various times she challenged the Lady of the Lake for the title, The Queen of Avalon, and early writers had trouble deciding whether she was a fairy or a sorceress.  The name “le Fay” suggested she came from fairy heritage, while others associated her name with “Morgen,” meaning “sea-born.”  In all accounts though, she had supernatural powers.

Scholars now believe that Morgan derived from the Celtic Welsh goddess, Modron.  The first tales made her the eldest of nine sisters – or one of nine virgin priestesses – who lived on the Isle of Apples (Avalon).  She was an enchantress and healer, capable of flying and changing shape.  After King Arthur got wounded at the Battle of Camlann, he was taken to Avalon to be healed.

Throughout the ages Morgan has retained her healing powers.  But in patriarchal times she became more sinister and dangerous.  Like the Lady of the Lake, she was turned into a witch figure – lustful, sly, and unpredictable – finally becoming the arch-enemy of Arthur and his queen.

Later versions of Morgan made her more human.  She was born to Arthur’s mother (Igraine) and her first husband (Gorlois), and was therefore the king’s half-sister.  Morgan spent time as Guinevere’s lady-in-waiting, got unhappily married to King Urien, bore a son called Ywain, and had an unrequited passion for Sir Lancelot.  When she learnt of Lancelot’s love for the queen she caused all sorts of mischief to expose their affair, often being thwarted by her counterpart, the Lady of the Lake.  At some point she became Merlin’s apprentice, but instead of using her powers for good she commanded the forces of evil.  Her obsession with Lancelot – and hatred for Arthur and Guinevere – intensified to such a point she was exiled from Camelot.  Morgan lived in the forest and carefully perfected her craft, until the locals started calling her The Goddess.  Then she ended Arthur’s reign.  She gave Excalibur to her lover, and threw its protective scabbard into the lake, leaving King Arthur completely unprotected in battle so that he became mortally wounded.  She was ultimately the bringer of chaos and death.

But having been called a fairy, healer, enchantress, seductress, and witch, modern pagans are now reclaiming Morgan as a symbol of feminine power.  She is seen by some as the third face of the Triple Goddess (the Crone or Warrior Woman), which reunites her with Celtic Modron – the Mother.

Of all the many aspects of her mythology, Morgan le Fay is indeed a shape-shifter!

 

Sources:

Norako, Leila K. “Morgan le Fay.”  http://d.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/theme/morgan

Wikipedia, “Morgan le Fay.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morgan_le_Fay

(Picture: Frederick Sandys)

Copyright © 2021 | KitPerriman.com | All Rights Reserved

Vivien: The Lady of the Lake

Vivien and Merlin

“For Merlin, overtalked and overworn,

Had yielded, told her all the charm, and slept”

(Alfred Lord Tennyson)

Most Arthurian legends feature Merlin’s love-interest, Vivien.  She usually appears as The Lady of the Lake and ruler of Avalon, but sometimes she is described by other names such as Nimue – Niviane – the daughter of a vavasor named Dionas – a princess of Northumberland – or the Queen of Sicily.  And like the great magician himself, her character has undergone several important changes throughout history.

In the majority of early versions Vivien meets Merlin by a spring in the Forest of Broceliande, Brittany.  They fall in love, share a relationship, and exchange supernatural knowledge.  The Lady of the Lake is associated with water, the essential essence of life, and she quenches the lonely old man’s thirst for companionship.  She also gives King Arthur the magic sword Excalibur, and raises Lancelot in Avalon after the death of his father.  Then she takes Merlin away from Camelot and he is never seen again.

In Thirteenth Century Pre-Vulgate French mythology, Vivien is a fairy.  She appears as Merlin’s adoring student and he falls in love with her youth, intelligence, and beauty.  When Vivien uses one of her mentor’s spells to create a magical tower that locks them both away from the rest of the world, she does so to preserve their happiness together.  She acts out of genuine love without any deception or malice.

But when the Catholic Church adopted King Arthur as a champion of Christianity, Vivien was transformed into an evil sorceress and witch.  She is thereafter portrayed as another Eve-like temptress who seduces a good man and brings about his downfall.  In these tales she uses her feminine wiles to uncover Merlin’s most powerful spell and ultimately uses it against him.  Then she locks him in an enchanted tree – or prison made of air –  or tomb covered with a stone that no one can move – rendering him invisible from the outside world until he falls asleep forever.

In the post-feminist era, however, this fascinating character has evolved yet again and  Vivien emerges as the New Woman.  No longer is she portrayed as a dependent fairy or malicious witch.  Instead she has become a strong force in society – a free thinker –  someone in charge of her own destiny.  She lives with Merlin as a lover and equal.   She could survive perfectly well without him, but chooses not to.

The modern Lady of the Lake tale now suggests that mutual love is the greatest magic of all!

Sources:

Brunel, Pierre.  Companion to Literary Myths, Heroes and Archetypes. London and New York: Routledge, 1996.

Collier’s Encyclopedia (15).  Macmillan, 1974.

Wikipedia, “Lady of the Lake”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_of_the_Lake

(Picture: Julia Margaret Cameron)

Copyright © 2021 | KitPerriman.com | All Rights Reserved

Merlin: Madman or Magician?

merlin

There are many contradictory legends surrounding the famous magician, Merlin.  Tolstoy suggests he was a real Druid who lived in Sixth Century Scotland, though it is more likely that the sorcerer was actually a composite created from several mysterious literary figures.

Most stories agree that Merlin was the son of a nun who was impregnated by an incubus in her sleep.  This means he was born of a devil and a virgin.  The demon gave him knowledge of the past – but the nun had the child baptized at birth to protect him from Satan – and in order to create a natural balance in the universe God granted the child a prophetic knowledge of the future.  His life was thereafter spent on the threshold of good and evil.

The Welsh claim Merlin as one of their own Celtic prophets and magicians.   In British mythology he was the protector of the young King Arthur.  Merlin was often portrayed as a princely figure who was overcome by madness.  He ran off to live in the forest and there acquired the supernatural powers that made him famous.

Some tales claim that a disguised Merlin slept with the Duchess Igerna and fathered the future King Arthur.  In other versions Merlin helped King Uther Pendragon to seduce Igerna, whom he married a short time later.  Either way, Arthur was protected by the wizard until the time was right for him to step forward and be crowned the king.

Merlin made the Round Table for King Uther.  It is also said that he created Stonehenge, in memory of Uther’s brother who was massacred at the Battle of Salisbury.  The wizard was said to control the wind, foresee the future, and transform his shape at will.  He once made a dragon on a banner breathe real fire, and enchanted a bed so that those who slept on it lost all sense and memory.

The magician’s most famous saying is, Who aims to cheat a friend / Gets cheated in the end.  Yet his wisdom did not stop him falling into the clutches of Vivien – the Lady of the Lake who brought about his end!

Sources:

Brunel, Pierre.  Companion to Literary Myths, Heroes and Archetypes. London and New York: Routledge, 1996.

Collier’s Encyclopedia (15).  Macmillan, 1974.

Wikipedia, “Merlin.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merlin.

(Drawing: Public Domain)

Copyright © 2021 | KitPerriman.com | All Rights Reserved

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

(Painting: Wright Barker)

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