Circe, goddess and enchantress


Circe offering the cup to Odysseus.  J. W. Waterhouse.  Public domain.

In the mythology of ancient Greece Circe (or Kirke) was a Queen Goddess and a powerful enchantress and sorceress and nymph whose name meant ‘falcon’. This fits with her epithet of falcon-nosed crone with her Falcon-Maiden attendants.  Also a Death Goddess, who sings as she spins, she was also known as ‘Pure Mother Bee’. The daughter of the sun-god Helios (Helius) and the sea nymph or Oceanid known as Perse, she was the sister of Pasiphae the mother of the Minotaur and of Aega.. Circe was also the sister of Aetes the King of Colchis as well as the aunt of Medea. Homer described her as a fair-haired goddess and the most famous of witches in The Odyssey.

Circe on Aeaaea

Circe on the Isle of Aegaea.  Public domain.

Circe was renowned for her knowledge of herbs, incantations and drugs. As a sorceress Circe transfigured her enemies using magical potions and witchcraft into change humans into beasts such as pigs, lions and wolves. After Picus, the father of Faunus,  refused her love she converted him into a woodpecker. Circe poisoned Scylla and transformed her into the monstrous six-headed dog because of her love for Glaucus. Circe murdered her husband for which she was banished to the isle Aeaea, known to the Greeks as the ‘Island of the Dawn’, which is sometimes considered to be Circeo on the coast of Latium. However, Circe’s island could have been off the coast of Istria at the head of the Adriatic, near the mouth of the river Po. The island, originally meaning ‘wailing’ was a death or sepulchral island. is now called Lussin


Glaucus and Scylla (1615).  Salvator Rosa.  Public domain.

In exile Circe immersed herself in the study and practice of magical secrets whilst she surrounded herself with wild animals. These beasts had been transfigured from seafarers cast upon the shores of her realm. They became the drugged victims of potions and wine from her magic cup. This was the fate that awaited Odysseus and his men when they ate the cattle on the island.

Circe 2

 Circe.  Wright Barker (1889).  Public domain.

The death island of the ‘Witch Goddess’ Circe was surrounded by Alders as sacral trees. At Colchis there was a Willow Grove cemetery of Circe (who was a priestess of Hecate) which was sacred to Hecate. The crew of Odysseus were transfigured by Circe into swine. Pigs were sacred to Hecate the death goddess. The transformation doctrine, which is known as metempsychosis, was resisted by Odysseus himself because he used a herb (Moly)  given him by Hermes. The herb called moly is either wild cyclamen, a type of garlic, or wild rue. One of these herbs was used to counter Circe’s enchantment which was one of Hecate’s moon magic.


Circe Invidiosa (1892).  J. W. Waterhouse.  Public domain.

Odysseus remained for a year on Circe’s island after she became his mistress in return for changing his men back to human form. Circe had a son by Odysseus called Telegonus, who later killed his own father in a raid on Ithaca. According to Hesiod Circe actually had three sons by Odysseus who were Telegonus, Agrius and Latinus. It was Telegonus who rule the Etruscans known as the Tyrsenoi. However, according to Dionysus of Halicarnassus, the three sons by Circe were Romus, Anteias and Ardeias the eponymous founders of the cities of Rome, Antium and Ardea.

Wine of Circe

The Wine of Circe (1900). Edward Burne Jones. Public domain

After the death of Odysseus, at the hand of Telegonus, Circe married Odysseus’s son Telemachus and Telegonus married Penelope the widow of Odysseus.

Sources consulted

Coleman, J. A.  (2007).  The Dictionary of Mythology.  Arcturus Publishing Ltd, London.

Goodrich, N. L.  (1989).  Priestesses.  Franklin Watts, New York.

Graves, R.  (1979).  The Greek Myths, vols 1 & 2.  Penguin, Harmondsworth.

Hesiod.  (1973).  Theogony.  Penguin Classics.  Harmondsworth.

Jordan, M.  (1992).  Encyclopaedia of Gods.  Kyle Cathie Ltd, London.

Leach, M. ed.  (1972).  Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend.  Funk & Wagnalls, New York.

Leeming, D.  (2005).  The Oxford Companion to World Mythology.  OUP, New York.

Lempriere, I.  (1994).  Classical Dictionary.  Bracken Books, London.

Murray, A.  (1988).  Who’s Who in Mythology.  Bonaza Books, London.

Pausanias.  (1979).  Guide to Greece.  Penguin Classics.  Harmondsworth.

Price, S. & Kearns, E.  (2003).  The Oxford Dictionary of Classical Myth and Religion.  OUP, Oxford.

Shapiro, M. S. & Hendricks, R. A.  (1981).  A Dictionary of Mythologies.  Granada, London.

Dionysus of Halicarnassus






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