Someone in one of my local Pagan Facebook groups for some reason posted a link to the Wikipedia listing for the Greek goddess Circe this morning. It put me in mind of a story about her I wrote for the inaugural Wellspring Bardic Chair Competition in 2009. The competition required contestants to perform a song, poem, and story, memorized and original all the better. Many of the bards attending the festival took issue with the challenge, protesting that they could sing but not write poetry, could tell stories but couldn’t carry a tune, etc., and they decided not to take the challenge. Music was certainly my strong-suit, and I had written a considerable number of Pagan songs and chants by that point in my life, so the song portion didn’t faze me. I also figured that I could put together and perform a passable poem. But storytelling just wasn’t in my wheelhouse. So I decided to take the opportunity to work on this bardic weak point.
I used to write plays in my youth. In fact, plays were the first sort of creative writing I had ever attempted. They just seemed to make sense to me. Once I realized that a story could be like a monologue, I devised a retelling of Odysseus’s encounter with Circe from Homer’s Odyssey from Circe’s point of view. I spent a lot of time refining the story, memorizing it, and practicing, practicing, practicing.
My story and my performance of it at the Bardic Chair Competition proved to be my strongest of the three categories, and it went a long way toward my winning the whole thing. I was certainly proud and pleased to have won, but I was more proud of myself for not dismissing the opportunity to compete out of hand just because I didn’t fancy myself a storyteller and instead took the opportunity to grow as an artist. And as I haven’t shared anything here in a while, I figured I’d share it here now.
I am the Daughter of the Sun, the Mistress of Magic, Lady of my own land.
As such I know the moment a ship lands upon my shores. And one day a black ship landed, a ship full of sweaty, savage men. Knowing I hadn’t long until their gluttony drove them to discover my palace and my stores, I swiftly prepared some food and other necessities in anticipation of their arrival. Then, gathering my handmaid nymphs about me, I set to weaving and singing a spell to hasten them on their way.
Soon enough a handful of the brutes did indeed darken my door. I welcomed them in, plying them with food and wine, all sprinkled with a simple drug that clouded their simple minds as they greedily indulged themselves at my table. Taking up my wand I then cast the spell that reveals men’s true nature–changing every one to swine. I expected no better. After seeing them packed off to the sty, I settled myself back at the loom, knowing that more would follow their missing comrades.
And so it was. Soon another of the beasts appeared at my door, marveling at the wild animals milling docilely about my grounds. Smiling to myself, I welcomed him into my home, to his similar fate. Seating him in a silver chair, I noticed he was handsomer than the others, with a more noble bearing about him. Their leader, perhaps? No matter, I would know his true nature soon enough for he quickly quaffed the potion I placed before him. I raised my wand for the spell, but before I could touch him he drew his sword and rushed me, aiming the blade at my throat. Startled I ducked beneath the weapon and clasped his knees in entreaty, my mind racing. How could he remain unaffected? And then it hit me—Hermes. Hermes must be helping him. And I realized he was the one Hermes always told me would find his way here, the famous Odysseus. At this realization I felt quite flattered—a Hero in my own house! Not an opportunity to be squandered, for sure.
“Sweet Odysseus,” I purred, slowly rising and taking hold of his sword. “Surely a Goddess and a Hero can come to some sort of understanding.” But he balked at my generous advances, nattering, “How can I trust that once I’m naked and in your clutches you won’t simply unman me?” Unman him? Why would I want to do a thing like that? I mean the man was gorgeous; it wasn’t for his conversational skills that Calypso kept him so long. So I swore the Great Oath by Styx not steal his penis or harm him in any other way. “So come, my dear, and let us seal our friendship at last.” “No,” he replied, shaking his pretty head. “No, it’s just not right, that I would be in this house having sex with a Goddess while my men remain in the pig pen.” “Fine,” I sighed. “If that’s what you want, I’ll change them back.” Which I did, but only I made them taller and handsomer than they were before. I mean if I’m going to have them under foot, at least they should be pleasant to look at. “So,” I said. “Are you satisfied now?” “No,” the Hero replied, “but I have a feeling we both will be soon.”
And so it was.
The seasons circled ‘round and Odysseus’s men had their fill of my stores while we had our fill of each other. But finally they began to once again think of home, as men always do, and I had to reveal to Odysseus his next dark road. For I had seen that he would never again see Ithaca’s bright shores unless he learn the way from the seer Tiresias, dead in Hades dread realm. After teaching him the summoning spells and providing him with the necessary supplies, he and his men made ready to leave. All but one, the most piggish of them all, who had fallen asleep drunk on my roof and who subsequently had fallen to his death in my yard. For the Lord and Lady of the Dead demand their own sacrifice, and only death may open their Gate. And as I watched the Hero’s white sail disappear over the horizon, I sang a spell to hasten him on his way to his next adventure. While I, the Great Goddess Circe, lady of my own land, awaited my own.