Dedicant's Work

Study Program











Pagan Student Association

CafePress Shop


Magic 1, Requirement 2

Discuss your understanding of the evolution of the magician from early to late periods within one Indo-European culture. (minimum 300 words)

The best place to trace the evolution of the magician is to look at what the witch begins as, becomes, and ends as in Greco-Roman societies. I've chosen to discuss these two societies primarily because discussing them separately is difficult at best in this case.

When we first meet a witch in Homer's Odyssey, we encounter Circe. He describes her as an "impressive Goddess, gifted with human speech, sister of terrible-minded Aitces: both are children of Helios and Perse, daughter of Old Eanos:" (Odyssey 10.136-9) She is beautiful, a goddess, and quite seductive. Her actions are not even all that offensive: she is charming or beguiling (thelgein is the Greek word used). Her magic comes from the powerful substances (pharmakon) and the staff (a sign of authority) she carries.

The next witch we meet is Medea in Hesiod, who is led away by Jason. In the Theogany and in Pindar, Medea is the victim, a virginal girl of generally ambivalent nature (not really good or bad). "The son of Aeson married the daughter of the mighty king Aietes. By the counsel of the immortal gods, led her away from Aietes, after he performed the harmful tasks whom the ruthless king Pelias had imposed on him." (Hesiod, Theogany) But by Ovid's Metamorphoses, she is a completely different character, moving from the goddess-like Medea of Hesiod and into the sorceress we start to see in later Greco-Roman works: "When the moon was full, she left the house, with bare feet and her open hair touching her shoulders Three times she turned, three times she poured river water over her hair, she opened her mouth three times for a howl, kneeled on the hard soil and said: 'Night, guardian of secrets, stars and moon, three headed Hecate my helper, incantations and powers of sorcery, and you, Earth, who gives powerful herbs to the magicians . . ." (Ovid, Metamorphoses)

Horace, of course, presents us with child sacrifice, a woman named Canidia who had snakes braded into her hair, and Velia who could bring amazing chaos through her singing (Horace, Epode 5).

Lucan's Erictho becomes our archetypal witch in the end, going so far in his stereotype that Dr. Graf calls her "a sort of superwitch" (Graf, 190), who lives in a constant connection to the dead and the world below, on the fringes of society, and Lucan even indicates that her powers threaten the gods themselves. There is nothing at all attractive about this figure. By this point, we have seen the full spectrum, from divinity (Circe) to evil personified (Erictho). This particular progression is typical of the view on certain kinds of magicians in the Greco-Roman world.


Content © 2003 - 2006, Michael J Dangler
Updated on 03/01/2006. Site Credits / Email Me!
Basic site design from
(Yes, I stole it!)