Q&A with a Goddess: Circe Tells All
Banished to the island of Aiaia for using magic to turn a romantic rival into a monster, Circe — nymph and daughter of the sun god Helios began to hone her craft… including turning men into pigs. To really know this mysterious and lustrous Goddess, we imagined what it would be like to sit down with Circe for a woman to woman Goddess to Goddess chat, but most importantly to learn about her through her own voice and not the voice of men who have told her story for over a millennium.
Circe arrives in a long, flowing, silk dress the color of the ocean on a stormy morning, murky gray with glistening ribbons of viridian and zaffre. Her braided hair is the color of damp earth after a hundred rainy days, with coppery sun faded ends that curl into unkempt ringlets. Her braid swings as she walks, sweeping the small of her back in a rather hypnotizing rhythm. It is neither elaborate nor plain, but the sort of braid that a woman makes herself when she has work to do, when she has little time to fuss with a hairstyle and when she yearns to feel the full breadth of a breeze against her face. When our eyes meet, I can see why she is known for captivating men at sea who have washed up on her shores. They are light hazel, nearly yellow, with bolts of copper like the ends of her braid. She tilts her face to the side, her sharp chin well-defined as she breaks into a tight smile. Her lips are full, the color of a late summer sunset and as she sits down, fluffing her dress, she begins to speak. Her voice is light like mortals, unlike the voice of your typical Goddess.
Circe: So what would you like to know? I am assuming you’d like to hear about the men I turned into pigs?
Circe laughs. She is ready to speak to us, eager almost. She is a Goddess with a story to tell and we’re here to listen.
Awe: Circe, we are beyond honored to speak to you. It’s not everyday that a mere mortal woman gets to sit down with such an icon. We’d love to know about the pigs but first we’d love to know a little bit more about your childhood. Can you talk to us about that? Having Helios as a father — wow.
Circe: Please, never play down being a mortal! All of us are Goddesses! But yes, my father, sun God Helios, was very intense as you can imagine. Most say that my mother was Perse, an ocean nymph, one of the 3,000 Oceanid, water-nymph daughters of the Titans Oceanus and Tethy. But others claim that my mother was Hecate. My younger years were quite difficult. I was mocked for not having the beauty like my sister and my voice was said to be weak and un-God-like. This is actually why I sought comfort and companionship with the mortals, they were so different from the Gods. Vulnerable, unassuming, easy to love, easy to captivate.
Circe’s piercing eyes light up with fire when she mentions her family. A sadness or anger, her expressions feel more mortal at this moment than God-like.
Awe: When did you start to notice your own powers? Or when did others notice?
Circe: I came by my craft and powers naturally as it runs in my family. My sister, Pasiphae was a known charmer and had extensive knowledge of herbs and concoctions, and do not get me started on my niece, Medea. Another story for another time. So yes, I became well known as a witch, a powerful enchantress, a Goddess of magic. I knew a lot about potions and herbs, and sometimes used this knowledge against my enemies and people who treated me unfairly, even turning them into wild animals at times. As you can imagine, it did not always afford me a good reputation, even when I was completely justified. A mortal I met, Glaucus, was a fisherman, and I fell in love with him. When he discovered my powers, I transformed him into a God. That was a mistake— once immortal he stopped noticing me and was enchanted by a nymph, the beautiful Scylla. I admit, this made me very jealous, I loved him, so I turned Scylla into a 12-headed monster.
Awe: Impressive. How did that go over with your father?
Circe laughs with a high pitched, wild and unbridled laugh.
Circe: Not good. Zeus ordered my father to banish me to Aiaia but it is there that I was able to really practice and perfect my craft and knowledge of sorcery. I surrounded myself with lions and wolves for protection. Any dangerous men who came to the island were turned to pigs.
Circe’s mouth turned upward into an alluring smile. Her head tilted backward and she flipped her long braid from one side to another. Our eyes lock and somehow I understand again why in the Odyssey, it is said she lured Odysseus to stay on her island for over a year. (Though we hear the attraction was mutual.)
Awe: Was Odysseus one of those island visitors? We’ve heard the stories.
Circe: Of course. The stories are all true. Odysseus and his men were sailing home to Ithaca after a long battle where he led the Greeks to victory in the Trojan War. Not fully trusting men and knowing their intentions, I transformed the first group of approaching sailors into pigs. Not Odysseus though. He knew how to protect himself thanks to God Hermes for warning him. When we met, we charmed each other. He could not resist me as I bathed him, let him live in my luxurious home, and fed him delicious food. He lost track of time, forgot that he needed to return to his wife, Penelope in Ithaca. With Odysseus, I had let down my guard… fell in love with another mortal. I admired his bravery and he admired my powers. He stayed with me a whole year.
Awe: A love story for the ages, did you ever see him again?
Circe’s hands clutch each other and she looks down at them. They are delicate but strong. She is wearing three gold rings and a gold bracelet that make sounds like music when she moves. Her eyes close and she takes a deep breath, exhaling and opening her eyes that now look like glass as they fill up with tears.
Circe: When Odysseus left, he did not know that I was carrying his son. I delivered him myself and named him Telegonus. He was mortal like his father and as he grew up he wanted to leave for Ithaca and learn about his valiant father. Of course, I am a protective mother and I cast protection spells over him on his journey. When he arrived in Ithaca, Goddess Athena and I struggled over his fate. I was able to protect him, but I was never able to rest, in fear of retaliations from the Gods and Goddesses.
Awe: A mother never truly rests when their children are not near them. What happened to Telegonus? Did he return to your island?
Circe: He did, but he brought Penelope, Odysseus’ wife and his half-brother, Telemachus. You see, Telegonus unwittingly killed his father with a spear that had been tipped with the point of a stingray. There was a prophecy that his death would come from the sea… and it did. When they came to the island, we buried Odysseus and I married Telemachus and Telegonus married Penelope. What a scandal right? What can I say though, it was ancient Greece.
Circe straightens up, takes a sip of her wine. We laugh a bit about turning men into pigs and talk some more about life on the island, growing up amongst Gods and the struggle women face when others are confronted with their power.
Awe: Circe, it was an honor to sit down with you today. You’re a Goddess for the ages with tales and lessons that today’s modern Goddesses can surely apply to their lives. Can you offer any advice or words of wisdom to women who may be reading this and searching for strength within themselves?
Circe: Absolutely and thank you for this. It’s not common for the Goddesses to speak for themselves. To share their side of the narrative through a female gaze. To women—GODDESSES everywhere, I’d say that one of your biggest strengths is your intuition. We all have it as it’s one of the universe's divine gifts. The next thing I’d say is to never dull your shine or knowledge for others. Your intellect is not a curse, it’s your power. And the last thing I’d say is to have courage, even if it means faking it at times. The world will not always be kind to you, but having courage to stand up to your adversaries and to those trying to silence you, is your power. Find strength in your power.
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