One of my favorite stories is of Circe in Homer’s The Odyssey. Maligned as a self-indulgent and dangerously coercive “witch” and “sorceress” for over two thousand years by male poets, scholars, philosophers, and critics, I find Circe to be one of the most fascinating and misunderstood female characters in Western literature and culture.
If you don’t know her story, here is the very briefest of summaries:
When Odysseus, travel-worn, weather-beaten, and heart-weary washed up on the shores of her island, Aiaia, she took him and his men into her Great Hall and fed them. However, she used a potion in their food that turned the sea-men—all but Odysseus—into swine. How insensitive of her! Right?
What few bother to notice, however, is the larger context of her actions in the story, and that Circe’s reasons for transforming Odysseus’ crew are ultimately just: her “magic” is a form of divine punishment, or warning, for the mens’ crudity, bestiality, and ignorant disregard for and objectification of both Nature and the Feminine. Her potion functions like a mirror that reflects the true heart or nature of those who have consumed it. In the case of Odysseus’ crew, the men have been transformed into that which they most resemble: swine or wild boar. Consequently, a more contemporary understanding of Circe’s story and role in The Odyssey shows us a fascinatingly complex and compassionate woman: indomitable, equanimous, independent—and, a divine force of balance between masculine and feminine energies.
(If you want the full story, you can find it literally at the heart of The Odyssey).
Her medicine grounds the mind by integrating it more fully with the nervous and circulatory systems—into the deeper centers of knowing that exist in our bodies. In other words, the medicine of Circe is about helping people become more present to the soft animal sense of their bodies. She helps enliven the senses and our awareness of ourselves and physical beings. Her craft is about balancing masculine and feminine energies within the individual, as well as within the world beyond—and in doing so, she helps create psychic wholeness, physical restoration, and a life-manifesting creativity.
Featured Herbs in Artemis Teas’ Circe blend:
damiana- reconnects us to the honest, simple intelligence of our bodies, and helps renew our trust in the sacred language of sensation. In doing so, damiana helps us feel safe in the world once more.
The medicine of damiana is used to widen our physical awareness and to teach us to listen from our hearts.
The energetics of damiana are focused downward, helping us ground ourselves and reconnect to the earth. For this reason, it is used to treat pelvic blood stagnation because it increases warmth and blood circulation to the pelvic area and reproductive organs. Damiana has been used for centuries as an aphrodisiac, but perhaps more precisely it is an herb that helps focus, “tone,” or cultivate desire. Damiana heightens sensory capacity, increases physical awareness, and promotes feelings of wholeness by helping reconnect mind and body.
Damiana is also used as a deeply soothing nervine, which means it is soothing and restorative to the nervous system, helping to interrupt the body’s stress responses and feedback loops by redirecting the nervous system into a state of relaxation.
mullein - there are several plants that scholars have suggested are the sacred “moly” plant that Hermes offers Odysseus before the hero makes his way to Circe’s hall. The moly plant is crucial to the story of Odysseus and Circe, because it alone provides Odysseus “protection” against Circe’s herbal potion—against her magical debasement of a disordered and unruly masculinity. In other words, there is something about the sacred moly plant which helps strengthen and re-align Odysseus’ unruly masculinity—enough so that he alone does not succumb to the power of her potion.
Some herbalists, Matthew Wood among them, believe the sacred moly plant was a mullein plant (Verbascum thapsus). Mullein grows extremely tall and rigid—a very phallic plant—though it also possess the opposing qualities of softness in its basal rosette of large, silvery leaves. Wood suggests mullein as a remedy for conditions where sharpness has impinged on softness—or where an unbalanced and aggressive masculinity threatens or attacks what is “feminine”. In the story of Circe and Odysseus, we can see this troubled dynamic in the way Odysseus and his crew, up until meeting Circe, habitually disregard, desecrate, or mindlessly appropriate nature, animals, plants, women . . . Thus, mullein may indeed have been an appropriate remedy to balance and strengthen Odysseus in preparation for his meeting Circe as an equal.
Artemis Teas Circe blend brings together ancient and traditional herbs that convey a story about mental and physical wholeness—a story about the restoration of balance, focus, and determination; a story about the reintegration of masculine (yang) and feminine (yin) energies within the body into a more potent and powerfully creative unity.