Before traveling on to another culture, I wanted to circle back to a character that wasn’t necessarily a Goddess, but who is historically tied to Witchcraft and Sorcery. She was known as a Priestess to the Goddess Hecate, and has ties to Circe by way of Circe’s brother King Aeetes. You see, Medea was King Aeetes daughter, and I discovered a whole tangled web of dysfunction that I just couldn’t let pass before heading onto another country’s mythology. So let’s stay in Greece a bit longer and, this time, we will dive into the story of Jason and the Argonauts.
Origins of Medea
As I mentioned, Medea was the daughter of King Aeetes of Colchis who, in turn, was the brother to the Goddess Circe. While that would make him a God as well, the stories seem to downplay his powers. I wonder if the birth of his daughter had a bit to do with that, you know, passing on the powers so to speak. Medea was a priestess to the Virgin Goddess Hecate as referenced by Euripides. There is also mention of Hecate being Aeete’s wife, and subsequently Medea’s mother in the work by Diodorus Siculus. Since we went with the idea that Hecate was a Virgin Goddess in my post about her, we will stick with that theory now and presume that Medea’s mother was Idyia, an oceanid nymph.
Along with being Hecate’s priestess, Medea was seen as an enchantress of divine descent with a gift for prophecy. Her grandfather was Helios, Titan God of the Sun and her grandmother was Perse, an oceanid nymph. Just an observation, the men of that family seemed to have a thing for oceanids. Anyway, all of this powerful lineage fed into the stories about her and, according to some works, she controlled the sun, stars, and moon. She was also thought to have the power of healing and was proficient in making potions.
The stories of Medea show her has a capable woman, without whom Jason would be able to secure the Golden Fleece. It seems in other stories that Medea is portrayed as a wildly powerful woman who will go to any length to seek revenge if she was misused. She would even go as far as killing her own children, which is a far darker side of the healing and maternal Goddess Hecate than we know. But changes were made as new countries and religions were being born, and it is possible that some stories were designed to dissuade folks from following the teachings of someone who was considered unstable or evil. We of course will never know, but the history of the persecution of the witch started long before the Inquisition or the trials in Salem.
Medea and Jason
Medea’s role in the story of Jason and the Argonauts is key to his success in obtaining the Golden Fleece. When he arrives on the Island of Cochis and speaks to Medea’s father, King Aeetes, he is told that he can take the fleece after he performs a handful of impossible tasks. Jason has to plow a field with fire-breathing oxen, sow the teeth of a dragon into the earth (which would then sprout an army of warriors), then kill the dragon that guarded the Golden Fleece. It was love at first sight for Medea so, of course, she was going to help him, especially since Jason had promised to marry her. She was ready to leave Colchis I guess, ah young love. So with her knowledge of potions, she concocted something to make the fire of the oxen harmless to him and put the dragon to sleep. She also told Jason how to get past the warriors by tossing a rock in the middle of their numbers which would cause them to attack one another. Her cunning and magick was what made Jason’s quest successful and they lived happily ever after, right? Sorry to say, not so much.
After the tasks were complete, and the Golden Fleece was secured, Medea left with Jason against her father’s wishes. In order to escape with her love, the story told was she killed her brother, chopped him in pieces and pitched them over the side of the ship for her father to collect. A bit drastic, but she was a woman in love and I suppose her assumption was that it would slow her father down in order to give his son a proper burial. She was right, and they were able to leave her homeland.
Once Jason returned to Greece, he found his parents dead and Pelias to blame. He once again turned to Medea for her skills of witchcraft. She demonstrated her powers by cutting up an old ram and boiling it as she cast her spells. A young lamb sprang from the pot, which convinced Pelias’ daughters that they could make their father “young” again. The daughters got as far as chopping up their father and getting him into the pot, but when they looked for Medea to say the necessary magic words, she had vanished with Jason.
After leaving Greece, Medea and Jason exiled in Corinth where they had children and a few good years. But as many of these stories go, Jason had a wandering eye and fell in love with the daughter of the King and married her. Medea was enraged and gave the princess a poison robe. Not sure why the princess thought it was a good idea to accept the gift, but she put it on and burst into flames. It was later that Jason found out his children with Medea had also been killed and she had fled in a dragon-drawn chariot sent by her grandfather Helios. It isn’t clear what happened next, but there are some references to her being made immortal and living in the after-world of the heroes where she became the wife of Achilles. Yet another fun tie to the story of Circe by way of Odysseys.
Medea in Modern Witchcraft
Medea’s power is alluring but at the same time frightening, which I believe gave her the power to transcend decades of oppression. Her spirit lives on today, in the strong empowered woman who embraces her own destiny and desires. Much like the other role model goddesses, Circe and Hecate, she is an archetype for the modern witch. With her connections to healing and spell work, it isn’t surprising that her name continues to be invoked today.
Use of herbs for medical purposes has gone by the wayside with western medicine, but there are those who still believe in their worth. Sage and Lavender are among the herbs most commonly used in her honor and happen to be two of my favorite scents. Binding the two together and drying them make wonderful smudge wands. For anyone interested in making those, I found a great resource here.
It seems that each of these female figures, Medea, Circe and Hecate, have swirled and blended into a single persona over time. Depending on the needs of the person seeking their guidance, it is possible that one or all of them will answer the call. To me, Medea seems to be the most volatile of the three personalities. Circe was a bit more level-headed on the other side of the spectrum, while Hecate floated between the two, lending assistance where she was needed most. But all three have a common love for the earth and the magic that comes from it by way of the simplest of plants. The women who learned how to tap into the powers of nature, are the goddesses that are admired for their amazing minds and fascinating skills.
I have included some clips below as well as some other links that will give you more information on Medea should you be interested. As always, feel free to link to more resources in your comment below. In the meantime, stay tuned for future segments! We will be travelling to other places around the globe to check out Goddesses of Witchcraft in other cultures. To make it easy, I have started an index of my #MythicalCreatureMonday posts which you can link to here. Happy reading! XO