Dragging Down the Moon

Any thoughts on dragging down the moon ritual?

Why did you ever cross the Clashing Rocks, slate-grey Symplegades, the boundary that separates the ordered world from chaos?


The stuff I’ve been thinking about is what was really at play when Medea and Thessaly witches dragged down the moon? It seems clear that there was violence done to the moon, so I doubt it’s a communion with Selene, as many contemporary Wiccans would have it.

The point was… darkness? If so, was Medea/said witches doing weather magic? Why did they want it down?

So we’re clearly missing a major chunk of Medea’s sorcery. We are told that she was an extremely skilled herbalist, specializing in deadly plants, she possibly did blood transfusions (honestly, I don’t remember the source, and chanted “fearful incantations.”

The moon though. We read: Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 4. 55 ff (trans. Rieu) (Greek epic C3rd B.C.):
“Rising from the distant east, the Lady Selene (Moon), Titanian goddess, saw the girl [Medea the witch] wandering distraught [for love of Jason], and in wicked glee said to herself: ‘So I am not the only one to go astray for love, I that burn for beautiful Endymion… How many times, when I was bent on love, have you disorbed me with your incantations, making the night moonless so that you might practise your beloved witchcraft undisturbed!”

I think it’s interesting that the Moon experiences this as violence or coercion, exercised merely for Medea’s convenience.

We also read,
“Skilled Medea brought to me many drugs, taking them from the innermost part of a chest smelling of incense. At once, I fashioned certain images from barley-meal [the text is corrupt here]. I threw them onto the pyre, and as a sacrifice to honor the dead, I killed three black puppies.” [I’ll spare you the deetz]

During Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece, we’re told that “alone among us, Medea kept in her breast a fearless soul. For she had pulled up with her hands deadly roots.”

More strikingly,
Ovid, Heroides 6. 85 ff (trans. Showerman) (Roman poetry C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.:
“She [the witch Medea] is one to strive to draw down from its course the unwilling moon (luna), and to hide in darkness the horses of the sun (sol).”

Seneca, Medea 672 ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.):
“Often have I seen her [the witch Medea] in frenzy and assailing the gods [Sol-Helios and Luna-Selene, the sun and moon], drawing down the sky.”

Here we hit the wall again. Why would Medea assail her supposed grandfather Helios? What’s with the frenzy?

Moving on,
“The powerful herbs surrounding the Golden Fleece include “asphodel, beautiful maidenhair, rushes, galingale, delicate verbena, sage, hedge-mustard, purple honeysuckle, healing cassidony, flourishing field basil, mandrake, hulwort; in addition fluffy dittany, fragrant saffron, nose-smart; and also lion-foot, greenbrier, camomile, black poppy, alcua, all-heal, white hellebore, aconite, and other noxious plants which are born from the earth.”

Herbalism and the Prometheus potion/charm aside, I actually think it’s possible to tune into the lunar frequency/light and bind it temporarily. This would require tapping into elemental forces (at least to my mind) and the ability to maintain massive amounts of energy. I highly doubt I have this kind of juice and to what end would anyone attempt to do this?

Of course, discussing Medea without referencing her murder of her own children is ludicrous. But today we’re not talking about the black passion that drove this woman.

“At the end of the play, Medea is adamant in the face of Jason’s entreaties, while the Chorus watch their exchange silently. Their last words of substance come at 1290–92 as they lament, ‘a woman’s sexuality can bring many pains; it has already reaped its swathe of suffering for men’, but now they have nothing to add and certainly no real comfort for Jason. Medea continues to ascribe ultimate authority for her actions to Zeus (1352), who, like the Chorus down below, makes no intervention to foil her plans.” [emphasis added]

In Homer, Medea intimidates the nature into cooperation by essentially bragging about her ability to drag down the moon. Here she appeals to Zeus, essentially embodying her superior. I wonder if this has anything to do with the Godface technique I wrote about earlier. Another wild speculation is that it is the pull of the lunar force somehow got in the way of her sorcery.

The most satisfactory explanation is the following:

“According to Daniel Ogden, the drawing-down of the moon was one of the most familiar commonplaces of literary magic in the Greco-Roman world, and it was associated above all with the performance of erotic magic by witches. […] When brought down to the earth it deposits its foam on plants as “moon juice” (virus lunarae). This can then be collected and used in a love potion.”

This practice has been described as “the Thessalian crime” by Statius. It kinda makes sense, since Medea is repeatedly described as lovesick and exceedingly passionate. In this case, bringing down the moon is the means, not the end, which is consistent with the abusive connotations, as it’s being skimmed of its foam. Wait, I take that back. How about “witches… know how to turn the Moon dim and muddy-coloured, as though she were being eclipsed by the Earth’s shadow… after which they pull her close to them and torture her until she secretes poisonous foam on the plants growing underneath.” [emphasis added]

Torture aside, it also kinda explains why the rite became so widespread in Thessaly, which had an abundance of herbs and Medea’s magic worked strictly through herblore.

Indeed, when dragged down, the moon “was supposed to deposit a foam on plants when brought low, which could then be collected up for magical purposes.” We also learn that “the Thessalian women pay a terrible price for the drawing-down of the moon: they must lose either children or their eyes.” Furthermore, “Asclepiades says that the Thessalian women learned how the moon moved and advertised that they could draw it down, but only at the cost of damaging themselves.”

Even Plato himself bears witness to this undoing,

“See whether this is to your advantage and to mine, so that we may not, my good friend, suffer the fate commonly ascribed to those women that draw down the moon, the Thessalians. Our choice of this power in the city will come at the price of what we hold dearest.”

So if the price was so steep, why bother? What is this, erotic magic with your eyes gouged?

But I know we’re missing something about the moon and the whole violence and crime thing and it’s bugging me.