‘Helios- ween’: Witches, Monsters & the Undead
Updated: Nov 11, 2021
I write this on the Eve of Halloween on a dull gray raining day on Toronto, Canada. The spooky season is in full effect and ghouls are howling with anticipation to celebrate their wicked festival. Did you know, the Halloween tradition stems from the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain. Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and herald in the darker half of the year. (1) My readers may be wondering, how on earth is this related to classics? Fear not my fellow Amused Angels for I have an innovative comparison to shine upon your eyes.
Put on some shades and observe the primordial god of the sun. I’m not referring to Apollo but his Titan predecessor Helios. Helios was one of the few titans who were able to continue a peaceful life after the titanomachy. Having aided Zeus and his clan of Olympians to gain supreme power over the cosmos, Zeus allowed Helios to go unpunished. Helios continued to live his immortal life riding his golden chariot across the sky dragging the sun around the world for his days work, along side his siblings Selene (the Moon) and Eos (Dawn). (2)
Helios had many children in Greek mythology which we have heard the names of through other famous stories but with deeper analysis one can see that his descendants all have unique qualities that conjure up Halloween undertones. Let us examine four of the sun gods’ descendants to see how his divine bloodline creates a Greek mythology ‘Helios’-ween topic.
Circe the Witch
Starting with the well-known enchantress of Aeaea, Circe. We get to meet Circe on the travels of Odysseus on his journey home from the Trojan war in book twelve of Homers, Odyssey. One key feature of modern-day Halloween are the cackling malevolent antics of witches. Circe is considered of be a witch in ancient Greek mythology. Being one of four children from the union of Helios and Oceanid nymph Perse, Circe is legendary for her extensive knowledge of potions and herbs. (3) Circe shares many similar traits to the legends of modern witches; in some myths she is even associated with being the daughter of Hecate the Greek goddess of black magic and witchcraft. A wonderful book recommendation if you are interested in Greek mythology and witchcraft is CIRCE by Madeline Miller. She does a wonderful job narrating an exclusive story through the perspective Circe and you journey alongside the witch to learn how she came to be the enchantress we know her as today. Encounter other familiar characters from Greek mythology like Daedalus, Hermes, Prometheus, Odysseys, Penelope and Minos.
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Pasiphae & Ariadne help raise a Monster
With the mention of King Minos of Crete, that brings us to the second and third descendants of Helios Pasiphae and her daughter Ariadne. Pasiphae is the daughter of Helios and sister of Circe; she was gifted as a bride to King Minos son of Zeus and Europa. We catch a few glimpses of Pasiphae in Madeline Millers novel Circe but to truly understand the Halloween significance of this daughter of Helios, we need to look at her children. Pasiphae had many children, but we will only acknowledge two; Ariadne and Asterion better known as the Minotaur. (4) Ariadne has a lot going for her in Greek mythology; the granddaughter of a sun titan, daughter to one of the most powerful kings in mythology, sister to a monster and wife to a god. This is an impressive mythology resume and not one to go unnoticed. The family of Minos was cursed by Poseidon for not sacrificing a white bull of immeasurable beauty due to King Minos selfishness. Without getting too gory, Poseidon possessed Pasiphae to desire this majestic bull leading her to ask the palace captor Daedalus to engineer a wooden cow so she could get closer to the bull. Long story short Pasiphae and the bull conceived an ungodly monster named Asterion. (5) As mentioned before Asterion is better know to society as the minotaur meaning “bull of Minos”. (6) King Minos of Crete took this curse and turned it into a source of fear and power to intimidate other ancient Greek nations like Athens. He asked Daedalus to build an impressive prison / maze to trap the monstrous bastard son of Pasiphae. King Minos had a grudge with Athens since his eldest son was killed in a fluke accident at a gaming event in Athens. To save Athens from the military wrath of Crete, Minos requested that seven young males and seven young females be shipped to Crete as sacrifice to the Minotaur as atonement for the death of his eldest son. (7) This is how Theseus the slayer of the Minotaur wound up coming the Crete. A wonderful modern adaptation of the Theseus and Ariadne story is ARIADNE a debut novel by Jennifer Saint. Helios bloodline has once again proven that he can conjure Halloween related figures like monstrous beings along side witches. What else can his divine blood create that fits into our ‘Helios’-ween topic?
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Medea controls the Undead and Summons Dragons
Another famous grandchild of Helios is the meddling Medea the bringer tragedy and pain. I honestly feel bad for Medea because she was trying her best to help different individuals. They used her for her powers and disregarding her once the purpose was fulfilled which is probably why she turned spiteful in the later years. Medea is the daughter of King Aeetes who is the son of Helios and hails from the far-off land of Colchis. (8) Medea is first mentioned in the tales of Jason and the Argonauts when he arrives at Colchis to retrieve the golden fleece to fulfill his quest. Upon first glance (maybe with some intrusive engagement from Aphrodite) Medea falls in love with Jason and was willing to assist Jason with the promise that he’d whisk her away after. Medea and Ariadne both fall blindly in love with ‘heroes’ from foreign lands amid a quest that is part of their great destiny. Aeetes was not willing to give up his prized golden fleece, so he appointed Jason with impossible labours to try winning the fleece. Medea blinded by love aided Jason in these tasks by creating a special ointment to make him fire resistant to a fire breathing bull which was to be yoked to plow a filed where Jason then to sprinkled Hydra’s teeth in the soil. Medea knew of all her fathers’ tricks and suggested what Jason should do once the earth-born ‘Spartoi’ sprung from the soil from the planting of the Hydra teeth. (9) This scene is most famously depicted in the 1963 film ‘Jason & the Argonauts’ where seven skeletons emerge from the soil to fight Jason in an epic stop motion action scene which revolutionized cinematography.
Once the undead earth born soldiers defeated themselves, Jason and Medea where able to retrieve the gold fleece and flee Colchis but not without leaving a bloody trial in their wake. Medea lust for blood started with the mutilation of her younger brother during their departure and only progressed as she continued her journeys to other regions like Crete, Iolcus, Corinth, Athens and Iran. (8) One of Medea’s most theatrical exists was during the murder of her two sons with Jason in Corinth. Jason was about to get married to the princess of Corinth (which Medea also killed) when Medea murdered her two sons. Upon Jason’s discovery Medea summoned a get away vehicle like Helios sun chariot which was drawn by two dragons (a gift for her grandfather) and left the crime scene before any retaliation could occur. (10) Medea is a complex character in mythology because she is known as a heartless murder who seeks vengeance against anyone who wrongs her but the people who wrong her are no better. I will say Medea took things too far with the slaughter of her brother and sons, but she should have been treated better by the people who were suppose to care most for her. If you would like to read more about the tragic Medea, check out the ancient Greek playwright Euripides.
I hope you enjoyed the twisted tale analysis of Halloween with emphasis of Helios from Greek mythology. This is just a special way I’d like to share mythology inspired book recommendations with a fun festive twist of popular tales. All Greek gods are connected to spooky creatures, but it seems that Helios divine blood adds some special flare to eerie mythology figures. In the spirit of Halloween, we have mentioned witches, monsters, the undead, mass murders and dragons; all in the context of Greek mythology.
More Halloween Content in Relation to Antiquity
World History Encyclopedia Articles:
Ancient History Fan Girl Podcasts:
Werewolves of Wolf Mountain: Terrors of Ancient Greece
Three Ghost Stories from Ancient Greece
Ancient Vampires: They Only Knock Once
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: Ancient World Edition
Medea by Euripides: Summery
1963 'Jason and the Argonauts' Skeleton fight scene
(1) "How Halloween Traditions Are Rooted in the Ancient Pagan Festival of Samhain". Time. Retrieved 4 December 2019.
(2) Cartwright, M. (2016, May 16). Helios. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.worldhistory.org/Helios/
(3) Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2018, February 16). Circe. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Circe-Greek-mythology
(4) Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 31. 1
(5) Diodorus Siculus, Historic Library 4.77.1
(6) Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 1.16.1
(7) J. E. Zimmerman, Dictionary of Classical Mythology, Harper & Row, 1964, article "Androgeus"
(8) GreekMythology.com, The Editors of Website. "Medea". GreekMythology.com Website, 08 Apr. 2021, https://www.greekmythology.com/Myths/Mortals/Medea/medea.html. Accessed 26 October 2021.
(9) https://www.theoi.com/Gigante/Spartoi.html Accessed 30 October 2021.
(10) Wasson, D. L. (2018, February 14). Medea. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.worldhistory.org/medea/