“Nobody put Medea in a corner. They tried to, but she came out raging. Medea is the Witch of Zero F%#ks Given. Pushed beyond caring about anything but violence, we can interpret her murderous ways as extreme vengeance, but that’s only the expression of her unbearable pain.”
Medea is so much more than her shadow self, though. Being the Witch of Zero F%#ks Given not only implies that she was beyond caring to the point of annihilation, but also that she lived according to her rules. That included standing sovereign in her witch-power. Medea, to me, is a goddess. She inspires me (both in what to do and NOT to do), guides me and offers her energy to my witchery.
NOTE: My personal practice includes Hekate and Her Four Sovereign Goddesses: Artemis, Medea, Persephone and Kirke. I employ their archetypes of wild, wounded, warrior, witch and wise one. Read more here.
Historical Medea: The Briefest of Summaries
There is no way that I can do a thorough job of summarizing Medea’s story as it was told by the ancient Greek and Roman authors who were so fascinated with her. Most likely, her example of the dangerous woman was around long before Euripides scratched out his play. You ready? Here we go…
Medea was a princess/witch trained by her Aunt Kirke (Circe in Latin, I prefer the Greek just like I do for Hekate) who lived on an island where her dad was king. Her grandfather was Helios, the sun itself. She was a Priestess of Hekate, making her also a Daughter of the Moon (and the Under World). Jason (the Argonaut) showed up needing her help to get something he really, really wanted (a throne…which required a golden fleece). Medea killed her own brother to make it happen for that seductive warrior prince. Off they went to claim the throne, get married and live happily ever after.
Into The Cauldron
It didn’t work out that way. Does it ever? Medea used her powerful healing abilities to “rebirth” Jason’s dad in her cauldron (restore his health). She was persuaded to do the same for his uncle which ultimately led to the death of the king (Jason’s dad). That’s enough of a story right there to provide loads of symbolism and ways to work with Medea, but…wait…it’s only getting started.
Jason and Medea flee the scene. Through a whole bunch of complex events, Jason ends up wanting to ditch Medea (power hungry jerk that he is) for another woman. Medea, not being welcomed back on her home island (due to killing her brother) or in Greece (she is a foreigner), feels backed into a corner. The King of Athens happens to be in town. He offers to give her refuge if she can cure his sterility.
She Who Has Been Poisoned, Poisons Others
However, no one puts Medea in a corner. She goes on a murderous rampage, killing Jason’s trophy bride (and her dad also dies just for good measure), her sons and wrecking havoc. NOTE: she gave the replacement wife a poisonous crown and dress. She escapes the mess in one of her grandfather’s chariots pulled by either dragons or snakes depending on the translation. Oh, all of this was orchestrated by Hera who was pissed off at Jason’s uncle. Medea, in some versions, fled to Athens, married the king, and once again tried the poison thing (this time on the king’s son) which backfired. Whew! Now I shall take a nice, deep breath and then talk about ways we can work with Medea in our 21st century witchery.
Like with almost all the Greek myths and stories, there are different versions of Medea’s tale. I’ve tried to summarize the key events from them. I’ve listed the ancient ones available in the public domain below.
Medea: The Eternal Energy of Female Witch Power
Medea represents an energetic current: that of female witch power. My emphasis on the dangerous woman vibe is most definitely not a slur against those who don’t identify as female. Medea’s story can be both an inspiration and warning to everyone who uses the label “witch” (and even those who don’t). Medea is the mysterious and dangerous “other” that is both alluring and frightening. Moreover, she is the symbol of outlaw witches who refuse to play by the rules. Sadly, Medea succumbs to her wounds, resulting in her wicked ways. But, it’s entirely understandable. The question Medea poses is “what would you be willing to believe, to conceal, to do, to save your own skin, or simply to stay close to power? Who would you be willing to sacrifice?” (Margaret Atwood)
Speaking of her enduring lesson, Medea remains a very relevant figure in popular culture and academic study. You can find links below. She has been hailed as a feminist icon and a victim of the patriarchy. Is her story one of empowerment or victimhood? I think the answer is “both,” showing how complex a character Medea is. The powerful evil sovereign/victim witch queen theme is found in countless stories across time and cultures. Today, this archetype is most wonderfully, wickedly demonstrated by the character of Cersei in Game of Thrones.
Witchery Themes With Medea
Not surprisingly, Medea as the Eternal Witch offers many themes for us to incorporate in our own witchery. Medea was a skilled herbal crafter, well trained by her Aunt Kirke, and she was a surrogate daughter to Hekate. One powerful witch, indeed. Like all witches, her magic was neither good nor bad. She used it for healing many times, included her rejuvenation spells.
Proceed with Caution
Medea is a very powerful witch, as is the eternal dangerous witch energy current that she represents. Medea and I have been tight for as long as I can remember. She’s not a force that will gently rub your back and say kind words. Medea will kick your ass, turn you upside down and, ultimately, help you become the witch you were born to be. However, go gently and respectfully towards her. She does have that murderous side. If you are timid of working with her energy, then I strongly caution against it. There are many more kinder witch ancestors that you can appeal to.
If Medea comes calling, then you might want to read my “When Hekate Calls” guide but apply to the Eternal Witch. Like mother, like daughter. Medea is definitely experiencing a comeback of late. This is not surprising since Hekate has emerged as a dominant force in witchery over the past few decades. If you’re trying to find Medea, try adapting my Finding Hekate recommendations.
The Shadow Self
I liken Medea to the shadow within each of us. There are times when we need its protection but succumbing to it can destroy both ourselves and those we care for. Like Medea, our shadow side shouldn’t be dismissed but understood with compassion. Through this approach, including acceptance of the past, we can move towards healing. If you are drawn to shadow work, petition Medea to help you overcome yours.
Medea was a herbalist first and foremost. While she is remembered for her speciality, poisons, she also did a lot of healing. Turn to Medea’s energy to empower your own skills as a herbalist, medical intuitive and healer. Her energy can be sought when learning new techniques or for following your intuition.
RebirthThat cauldron of hers was a highly effective tool no matter how she used it. Claim your own rebirth through the witches’ cauldron. Take a ritual bath using non-toxic members of Hekate’s Garden, such as lavender. Envision being immersed in Medea’s Cauldron where she rebirths you into your true self, freeing you from your pain. Hekate awaits on the other side.
“We recall too that Medea’s caldron was to
effect a rebirth for Pelias. But the image of the narrow waters also recalls that
other, more elemental realm where the female is all-powerful. It is precisely
through her power as a mother, through the power of the womb that bore
Jason his sons, that Medea attains her fullest triumph and her most effective
Feeling a bit “meh”? Tap into that eternal passionate energy of which Medea symbolizes so well. Put that red dress on and be dangerous (but in a safe way). Develop a passion spell seeking Medea’s help, but ask her for only what you can handle.
Honoring Witch Ancestors
Setting up a Witch Ancestor altar and developing a ritual honoring the ones who appeal most to you is a fantastic way to tap into the witch energy currents. I include mythic (like Medea) and actual (like Doreen Valiente) in my workings. Who am I to say what and who is real? They are very, very present in my life. That’s real enough for me.
Including Medea in Witchcraft
- NOTE: My experience has been that Hekate is not always keen to be involved in spells while Medea is always up for some witchery.
- When I am witch crafting, kitchen witchin’ or doing other spell work, I light a black candle to Medea, Kirke and Hekate, seeking their wisdom and blessing over my actions.
- Banishing spells – write her astrological symbol or others (see below) with a poison pen on an image of whatever it is you need to get rid of.
- I often sing my incantations just like she did. I like to think that she hovers nearby, half-smiling at my lame rhyming skills.
- Bless botanicals, especially poisons, in her name. Offer them to her and infuse them with her energy as appropriate. Aconite is her favorite (wolf’s bane, monkshood).
- She can be associated with all of the plants in Hekate’s Garden, including popular ones today such as lavender, mugwort and sage. Less common but awesome examples are Dittany of Crete and saffron.
- Connect with animal spirits that she is associated with, including the sacrificial ram, but also owls and snakes. Dragons are her companion. Call upon them to drag you out of the Under World and stand in your own power. Crows as a contemporary symbol of witches are also suitable.
- She can be petitioned and honored at initiation rites.
- Epithets/Roles/Characteristics: Initiator, Herbalist, Wise One, Priestess of Hekate, Witch, Princess, etc.
- Elements: south (fire), west (water).
- Worlds/Selves: Under World/Emotions/Lower Self; Middle World/Actions/Middle Self; Upper World/Intellect/Higher Self. She covers all three, in the same way that Hekate does.
- Colors: red, yellow, black
- Moon and Sun (she also has an asteroid)
- Symbols: crown, leaf, cauldron
- Days: Sunday, Monday and perhaps Saturday since aconite is associated with Saturn (also with Hekate).
- Witch style: anyone who weaves poison into a crown and dress is a style icon to be honored and called upon accordingly.
Medea, like most witches, even today, was both revered and hated for her talents. Her story is equally triumph and tragedy. Medea’s wisdom includes the message that sovereign witches (especially female ones) are often seen as threats. Her humble admission reminds us that, no matter how powerful we become, we are at the risk of our shadow selves’ foolish (and harmful) ways:
“If you were to teach the uneducated something new and beautiful, not only will they not appreciate it
but they’ll call you “good for nothing.” And if those who think themselves to be wise, consider you
even wiser than them, then you’ll hurt them most awfully. And that’s where my own suffering stems
from: They call me “wise” yet, in reality I am not very “wise” at all. Some people scorn me, others
simply hate me and you are now afraid that I might do you some enormous harm!”
– Medea, Euripides, translated by G. Theodoris
For More Medea
Medea is part of my Five Sovereign Goddesses Summer Solstice Ritual and a journey with them is included in my Shadow Work class, both currently available in The Witches’ Realm.
Selected Contemporary Sources
Hamer, Mary (2018). Medea: Founder Member of the First Wives’ Club. (pp 103-112). In On Replacement: Cultural, Social and Psychological Representations, Edited by Jean Owen and Naomi Segal.
Nadareishvili, Ketevan (2011). Medea in the Context of the East/West Relationships. Phasis 11-12.
James, S. Clauss and Susan Iles Johnston (1997). Medea: Essays on Medea in Myth, Literature, Philosophy and Art.
Segal, C. (1983). Dissonant Sympathy: Song, Orpheus, and the Golden Age in Seneca’s Tragedies. Ramus, 12(1-2), 229-251. doi:10.1017/S0048671X00003726
Trinacty, Christopher V. (2014). Senecan Tragedy and the Reception of Augustan Poetry.
Examples of Medea in Contemporary Culture
Medea has become a symbol of female empowerment. One great example, The Medea Project, gives women hope and skills through theater: http://kalw.org/post/medea-project-puts-women-s-hope-and-healing-stage#stream/0
Christina Wolf (1998). Medea: A Modern Retelling. (With an introduction by Margaret Atwood). Read this.
Medea, staring the great Maria Callas (1969). I found this on YouTube after not finding it on any of the movie services I actually pay for. I know what I’m doing this weekend: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmZJedbZJ4A
If you’re feeling philosophical, here’s an analysis of the movie with a postmodern lens: http://cinephile.ca/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/medeasfamilyreunion.pdf
Selected Ancient Texts
(This is just a partial list of ancient writings about Medea. You can find these all online.)
Apollonius Rhodius. Argonautica. Translated by R. C. Seaton (1912). Available at: http://www.theoi.com/Text/ApolloniusRhodius1.html
Euripides, Medea. Translated by G. Theordoris (2005). Available at: https://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Greek/Medea.php
Seneca, Tragedies. Translated by F.L. Miller (1917). Available at: http://www.theoi.com/Text/SenecaMedea.html