John William Waterhouse, The Magic Circle, 1886

With a long stick, a woman draws a flaming circle in the dirt around herself and the bronze cauldron she tends. We find frogs and ravens outside the circle; one raven sits on a human skull partially embedded in the earth. Inside the circle we find flowers recently cut by the sickle held in the woman’s hand. Since the ancient Greeks, the sickle has been a symbol of both bountiful harvest and violent transition of power from one generation to the next. She wears a live ouroboros snake (a symbol of Greek magic) around her neck. We can assume that this woman is a witch, engaged in ritualistic ceremony.

It has been said that if you view the actual painting at a specific distance, you can see a self-portrait of the artist in the billowing smoke.

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