My friend Alyth has a bronze figurine of Artemis in her room, a little statuette that I bought for myself on my travels in Greece nearly fifteen years ago, long before I met the Archers. A shared love for the divine huntress, casta diva, is one of the things that has cemented my unlikely friendship with Alyth.
We arrived at our choice of goddess in very different ways, however. For me the journey began with Iphigenia, and I forget exactly when and how the golden haired Mycenaean princess captured my heart, but it may have been in Sheri S. Tepper’s The Gate to Women’s Country (there’s an interesting analysis by Shiloh Carroll in Both Sides of the Gate Patriarchy in Sherri S. Tepper’s The Gate to Women’s Country). I’ve read a few books by Sheri S. Tepper, and I’m always in awe of her imagination and the power of her ideas.
Iphigenia plays an important role in my first novel, Kings of Infinite Space, which is written as a fantasy but is science fiction in my mind. There she is high priestess of Artemis, the crimson goddess. Artemis appears also in my second novel, Suzie and the Monsters, but only in the distance; there the goddess is one of a triumvirate of dark goddesses, together with Aphrodite and… Lilith.
Alyth’s interest in Artemis stems not from a love of bathing naked in the moonlit forest (which is generally not recommended in Scotland, even during the summer months) but from her interest in witchcraft. This predates her recent assertions to being a witch herself.
Scotland has a long and dark history of witchcraft. It’s no coincidence that Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the Scottish play, opens to a scene of three witches doing a medieval version of a Saturday morning cookery show, working through an unusual recipe with unlikely ease, muttering:
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
before sitting down for a chat with the celebrity guest, in this case none other than Hecate:
O well done! I commend your pains;
And every one shall share i’ the gains;
And now about the cauldron sing,
Live elves and fairies in a ring,
Enchanting all that you put in.
the show finishing as usual with some music (‘Black Spirits’ is great for a singalong).
We’ll be back with Hecate in a bit.
Alyth grew up in North Berwick (a town on the coast, east of Edinburgh) which makes an interest in witches almost inevitable. In 1590, a few years before Macbeth was written, over a hundred women in the North Berwick area were brought to trial for witchcraft, which invariably led to confession under torture. (The sad tale of Agnes Sampson breaks my heart, and she is just one of tens of thousands of women to have suffered a similar or worse fate during those dark times.)
In 1649-50, a Scottish witch hunter was hired to test for witches in Newcastle upon Tyne. This ‘witch-pricker’ (see DrRoy’s detailed description) ‘had been the death of above two hundred and twenty women in England and Scotland, for the gain of twenty shillings a piece’.
Nice work if you can get it, and if you’re a monster.
Anyway, back with Hecate, ancient goddess and Queen of the Witches. Her identification with Artemis is explained very well in Lykeia’s Commentary on the Orphic Artemis-Hekate.
I stumbled across that post while searching the web for the story of Lycaon, the Arcadian King who was, supposedly, the first werewolf, and who was eventually slain by Artemis’s silver arrow. If Alyth’s boyfriend really is a werewolf, will she be forced eventually to follow in her goddess’s footsteps?