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We can talk to the dead, but in books, they can talk back.



Sarah Illes Johnson may be a familiar guide for devotes of Hecate from her earliest book “Hekate Soteria”, which was a foundation for many of us working to find Her history, and perhaps give historical context to our own theology and practice.

Scholarly treatments of what has come to us from the existing Greek and Roman literature can give us insight into Her stories and how others have seen Her through her history. Incomplete as they are, these stories can allow us glimpses into Her journey through history to our present. Because so much of this literature has been lost and what remains to us comes from different places and time, and from different points of view, with the same story sometimes changing over time, It’s good to have someone with Dr Johnson’s level of mastery to accompany us into this material.    

 

Sarah Johnson’s other works may be of some interest as well. Her books, “Hekate and the Restless Dead” (which I’ll tell you about later) and her book, “Ancient Greek Divination” are a deeper dive into these topics which may be of interest to working witches. Her most recent book of Greek Mythology is more for a popular audience but it’s a good read that pulls together many of the stories from the Greek pantheon and their ( mostly unfortunate) humans. It’s out on Princeton University press. (Ask your library to order a copy for the youngsters).

She’s worked on Medea quite a bit as well and a quicker/ free read about Medea as a working witch can be found in her recent blog post over on Linkedin.

A brief “fair use” bit excerpted from this Medea post follows here, ( brief, because you know, copyright lawyers): She writes:

“…Medea, who not only gives Jason the knowledge and the magical salve that will allow him to survive the challenges that her father sets, but who also leads Jason to the tree where the Golden Fleece hangs. Then, according to the best-known version of the story, by the Greek author Apollonius of Rhodes, Medea herself conquers the dragon that coils around that tree, guarding the Fleece. To do so, she chants a spell that conjures sleep and uses a juniper sprig to shake a potion that she has created onto the dragon’s eyes. Jason leaps forward to snatch the Fleece from the tree only after the dragon has crumpled to the ground, insensible….

In the years between the two books, I had learned more about Medea and about the craft that she practiced. Nowadays, she is frequently referred to as a witch, a term that often implies either an inborn ability to practice magic or an ability that is bestowed by some supernatural power with whom the aspiring witch has made a deal.

There is no ancient Greek equivalent of the word ‘witch,’ however, in that sense of the word. The Greeks talked about magicians, who were understood to have acquired their craft through long study and apprenticeship to experts…

All of the real practitioners of magic whom we know about from historical Greece were men, but in myths, a few women are represented as practicing magic as well, Medea and her aunt Circe being the best-known examples. In her novel Circe, Madeline Miller portrays Circe as dedicating a great deal of time and effort to learning the properties of natural substances and how to use them—a portrait that is already hinted at in ancient texts. In the Odyssey, for instance, Circe is described as using pharmaka, a noun that embraces plants and all manner of other natural substances that can be used in spells, as long as the practitioner knows what they’re doing. The Roman poet Ovid describes Circe as ‘knowing well the potency of every leaf, what ingredients to mix together and how much of each.’ The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus credits Circe with discovering the natures and powers of many hitherto unknown plants—although he also notes that she learned a great deal from Hecate, whom Diodorus idiosyncratically makes Circe’s mother. Diodorus makes Medea the daughter of Hecate, as well, and thus the sister of Circe, and he claims that Medea learned ‘all the powers that pharmaka possess’ from her mother and sister. In Gods and Mortals, I developed this and other ancient references to Medea’s studious acquisition of her knowledge into a picture of Medea as a dedicated scholar of magic….”


It’s a different story of Jason and the golden fleece, isn’t it?

Maybe Medea belongs on your ancestors altar?


Sara Illes Johnson is, as far as I can tell, not a witch or devotee herself, but perhaps she holds a different set of keys that can unlock useful ways of knowing that skillful weavers here can add to the warp and weft of their personal practice.

B.B., Y’all!


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Sorry for the duplication folks; work in progress here. Cute graphic, though, No?

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