10 DECEMBER

HEX THE MOON

SERIES II · EPISODE XI

In the days when I was lost at sea, my men and I came to the Isle of Aeaea. It was the home of Circe of the fair tresses, a Dread Goddess, who nonetheless spoke in a voice as soft as humans. From a high vantage I saw smoke rising up from the forest.

Within that hushed and shady woodland, my crew found the house of Circe, built of polished stone and standing high upon the mountain where all the valley could be seen. Then echoing from the floors within the hall, we heard the sweet voice of Circe as she sang...

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In Hex the Moon, we look at the dreams of witches and sorcerors in Greek myth. In the company of the goddess Circe, who has mastered the arts of sorcery and witchcraft, Odysseus learns about divination and prophecy in dreams, and hears the story of another witch in the family of the Gods, Medea of Colchis.  Medea was infamous for her deeds of witchcraft and the dreadful revenge she on her lover Jason for his betrayal of her love: the slaying of their own children.

At the opening of the episode, Odysseus and his men pay their dues to Hecate, the Greek goddess of witchcraft, and a Titan goddess associated with the moon. As well as witchcraft, Hekate had power over the night, over travellers and any cross-roads where three ways met, and she also blessed the home and the household. Her symbols included a pair of torches and a key, and she was often depicted as a ‘Triple-Form’ goddess, which three faces that gazed down the paths of the cross-roads.  She was often said to rule over aspects of the whole world, the sky, the sea and the earth, and the spiritual forces which bound them together; but in fitting with her nature, seemed to have existed at the edges rather than the centre of the pantheon of the gods; a goddess of the spaces in-between the different realms and domains of the gods.

 

Hecate’s Supper was a feast day which took place over three days of the New Moon at the end of the monthly lunar calendar in Athens. During this time, Hecate was said to roam over the earth, accompanied by spectral hounds, and leading the spirits of wrongfully killed or unavenged - the restless dead. Food and offerings were left for the dead to eat, including any food or leftovers which had fallen to the ground inside the house, which were believed to be claimed by the dead.  The offerings were placed in a shrine at the intersection between the house and the street, a symbolic cross-roads.  The household cleansed themself of any offence against Hekate by the ritual of transferring their sins to a sacrificial hound, which was killed on the altar, and by purging the home through cleaning and fumigation. During the supper, the household remained indoors, to avoid a deadly meeting with spectres and apparitions.  It was often understood, and even accepted, while still being slightly taboo, that it was in fact the poor who would eat the offerings left out on the evening of Hecate’s Supper.

The tale of Medea and Jason’s romance is most famously told in Apollonius’ Argonautica.  It tells the story of how Jason and his men travel to Colchis to recover the Golden Fleece, at the behest of King Pelias, who wants to see Jason dead on account of a prophecy that suggested Jason would kill him.  Jason’s efforts are supported by the goddess Hera, because Pelias refused to honour her.  Hera sends Eros to the court of King Aeetes, and the god strikes Medea with one of his arrows the first time she lays eyes upon Jason. Later, she is visited by dreams, in which she sees herself performing the trials set by her own father to dissuade Jason from his quest for the Fleece. When they meet, Apollonius tells us how Jason, too, is caught up by the wind of love.  Although Jason performs the trials set by Aeetes, he does so by following the explicit instructions of Medea, and enabled by magic charms and strategems which he gives to her.  Medea’s dreams represented an opportunity to fully centre Medea and her agency in our version of her myth: within the visions of her dream, it is her, and not Jason, who performs the tasks and labours required by her father.  This allows us to stay true to the text of the sources, while subverting its casting of Medea in the trope of the “helper maiden” - a young woman and love interest who exists primarily to enable the main hero’s quest.

When Medea’s killing of King Pelias in Iolcus leads to their flight to Corinth, Jason quickly proves himself incapable of bearing the same shames, losses and indignities which Medea endured for his sake: he arranges a marriage with the Corinthian princess. He initially seeks for the safety and upkeep of Medea and her children, but does not take a stand against her exile when she refuses to acqiesce to the marriage.  The story ends tragically with the death of Medea’s children. In earlier versions, Medea does not murder her children deliberately: and one writer reported that there existed up to five different accounts of how they died. In one version, Medea buried them alive under Hera’s Temple, believing they would be taken up to heaven; in another, they are killed by a vengeful Corinthian mob.  It was only in Euripedes that Medea deliberately slays her children to spite Jason, but this later became the definitive version of her story.  After the death of her children Medea was said to have fled from Corinth and gone to Thebes, where she aided the hero Heracles, and then to Athens where she married Aegeus, with whom she had another son, Medus. The return of Aegeus’ long lost son Theseus led Medea to try and murder him, and she was once again forced into exile.  According to different authors, Medea and her son later rejoined her brother Aeetes in Colchis, or went to live in Persia.  

Apollonius tells us that it was Hera, plotting with Athena and Aphrodite, who sent Eros to inspire Medea’s love for Jason and enable him to take the Golden Fleece; but also that Selene, the Titan Goddess of the Moon, was pleased by this turn of events, because Medea had used her magic to make her fall in love with Endymion. 

And the Titanian goddess, the moon, rising from a far land, beheld her as she fled distraught, and fiercely exulted over her, and thus spake to her own heart: "Not I alone then stray to the Latinian cave, nor do I alone burn with love for fair Endymion; oft times with thoughts of love have I been driven away by thy crafty spells, in order that in the darkness of night thou mightest work thy sorcery at ease, even the deeds dear to thee. And now thou thyself too hast part in a like mad passion; and some god of affection has given thee Jason to be thy grievous woe. Well, go on, and steel thy heart, wise though thou be, to take up thy burden of pain, fraught with many sighs.

- Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica, Bk. VI

 

Our version again recentres the myth on Medea by suggesting that Selene conspired in Medea’s downfall as punishment for this hubristic act.  The name of the episode, ‘Hex the Moon’, is inspired a contemporary social media controversy in modern witchcraft, in which older practitioners condemned a younger generation of  witches for promoting an effort to cast a spell on the moon, and risked incurring the wrath of a higher power.

In this episode, the killing of Medea’s children is depicted as a rejection of her humanity and an embracing of her divinity, and the chilly aloofness that implied: having been mistreated and dehumanised by Jason, Medea renounces her sympathy and care for human life. This is a cruel interpretation, in keeping with the tradition of Euripedes’ version of Medea.  It is also possible to imagine a version in which Medea kills her children so that they can ascend with her to heaven.  But this ending mirrors elements of Euripedes’ play, in which Medea’s role, actions and words mirror those of divine characters who often intercede decisively but violently in human affairs, and where she even announces the foundation of a religious cult, as gods often did. In this episode, Medea’s story concludes with her re-joining the family of the gods by ascending to heaven, in the company of a powerful triumverate of female dieties.  Hera, Hekate and Selene represent and invoke Medea’s connection, as a sorceress, to female power in the family of the gods, and to the role of the Moon as the crossing between heaven, earth and the underworld.

 

Rick Scott
STORYTELLER

EPISODE CREDITS

Story interpreted by Rick Scott.
Sound editing, audio design and original illustrations by Rick Scott.
Lore & Legend Series Themes composed and performed by Robert Bentall.

Podcast hosting by Anchor. Video and audiogram creation using Headliner.

Additional sound and effects sourced from the community at Freesound.org.

AUDIO CREDITS

Incidental music, background ambience and sound effects by multiple authors sourced from Freesound.org. See below for the full list of audio files and attribution credits:

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