Circe | magic & witchcraft

Bhakti Issa Urra
3 min readOct 29, 2023

This Halloween season it is a real treat to read the novel, Circe by American writer Madeline Miller. This adaptation is derived from various Greek myths set during the Greek Heroic Age. Told from the perspective of Circe — the first witch in western literature.

The novel explores Circe’s origin story and narrates this contentious sorceress’ encounters with humans, gods, monsters and all sorts of mythical creatures — on her own road to revelation.

book cover art

Circe is a bold and subversive retelling through the lens of a fierce feminist and formidable enchantress. The story brilliantly reimagines her life of wild adventure and ever enlightening awareness.

Circe is a goddess of Greek mythology fathered by the sun god Helios and her mother who in this version is the Oceanid nymph Perse — not the alternative goddess of magic Hecate.

Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses by John William Waterhouse

Madeline Miller drew her Circe character from several sources. Homer’s poem Odyssey is where Circe is best known. The role she plays in the epic voyage of Odysseus was vital in shaping this story.

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses she is embroiled in a love triangle with Glaucos and Scylla. Her love transforms a human into a god whose rejection sparks the revenge she regrets but cannot undo.

Giovanni Battista Trotti’s fresco of Circe returning Ulysses’ followers to human form (c. 1610)

In Apollonius of Rhode’s Argonautica Jason and Medea seek her aid and sanctuary. Circe does what she can to pacify the gods but leaves the couple to face the repercussions of their actions without her assistance.

Telegony and other lost shorter pieces still contributed to the story with inspired ancient and other world details to allude to. Building Circe as someone caught between worlds — born a goddess but drawn to mortals. An outsider who does not quite know where she belongs.

Circe Invidiosa, 1892

Circe is rarely described as a goddess though. Most think of her as a sorceress, a witch, or even a temptress. Over time the character of Circe became less helpful and kind. She was depicted more and more as a type of femme fatale — a seductive witch.

As both a goddess and a figure of legend Circe attracted worshippers in the ancient Greek world. She is credited with inventing many types of magic. Those who believed that spells could be cast through herbalism and potions sought her inspiration in their own work.

The Magic Circle, 1886

Circe was often associated with Hecate. — goddess of magic and witchcraft worshipped by many of the same people who found inspiration in the character of Circe.

Though often depicted as a seductive ensnarer or a dangerous temptress Greeks believe she is a genuinely helpful figure. Today Circe is worshipped as a goddess of magic. May her light shine bright in our world and transform our lives.

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Bhakti Issa Urra

canvassing consciousness, constantly curious — ever challenged & changed