Morgan Le Fay

morgan and merlin - jones

Morgan Le Fay, aka Vivian, is portrayed in ‘The Beguiling of Merlin’ 1872-7 by Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833 – 1898) Liverpool Museum

The following contains some basic information on Morgan Le Fay, which literally translates ‘the morning fairy’, as one of the foremost recognized witches of all time. Morgan was known by different names and characteristics, in some instances good, and others wicked. This post focuses in part on the Gothic influence of a painting by Edward Burne-Jones on a sketch found within the story, The Witch. While the writer was inspired by the painting, he did not know the character portrayed was the legendary Morgan. Perhaps her influence was also as a muse.

The Beguiling of Merlin

This story is taken from the Arthurian Legends, which were Burne-Jones’s favorite subjects. Merlin had fallen in love with Nimue (also called Nimiane, Vivian or Vivien). She profited from his infatuation by learning his skills in enchantment. Here she is shown sending Merlin into a deep sleep.

The intensity and close relationship between the two figures may be read as a reflection of the artist’s own private life. Burne-Jones had become infatuated with one of his admirers, Mary Zambaco (a member of the Ionides family who were important patrons of contemporary art in 19th century London) in the 1860s. They remained close during the early 1870s.

The long sinuous lines of Nimue’s figure and of the hawthorn trees behind still entrance the spectator, just as they entranced Merlin in the legend and contemporaries of Burne-Jones. The writer Oscar Wilde described the work as being ‘full of magic.’ Visit the Liverpool Museum.

Arthurian Legend

In Celtic myth, Morgan (or Morcant) is masculine. The feminine version is referred to as Morgain (or Morgue or Morgne). Morrigan bares similarity to Morrigu of Irish mythology. In Celtic tradition the Morrigan, a Triple Goddess of Celtic myth, was thought of as the Goddess of Death. This suggests that many myths have been blended to give us the lore of Morgan Le Fay that we now recognize, combining water superstitions, the faerie, and a morning/evening mythology.

” ‘Le Fay’ is an ancient word for a fairy and to this day, apparently, the Breton name for a water-nymph is a ‘Morgan’.

The possible roots of the Arthurian character Morgan Le Fay therefore run deep into early British mythology and can be traced across several hundred years up to her final act as one of the three women who transported the fatally wounded King Arthur in a barge to the Isle of Avalon to be healed.” Read the article at Arthurian Legend.

(Note: In Roman deities there is also a Triple Goddess reference, Diana/Luna/Proserpine, see Witches.)

Britannia

Lady of the Lake

The Lady of the Lake was the foster-mother of Sir Lancelot and raised him beneath the murky waters of her Lake. She is, however, best known for her presentation to King Arthur of his magical sword Excalibur, through the intervention of the King’s druidic advisor, Merlin (Myrddin) who was constantly worried that his monarch would fall in battle.

Merlin had met the Lady at the Fountain of Barenton (Brittany) and fallen so deeply in love with her that he agreed to teach her all his mystical powers. The lady became Merlin’s scribe, who recorded his prophecies, as well as his lover. Unfortunately however, over the years, the Lady became so powerful that her magical skills outshone even her teacher and she imprisoned him in Glass Tower (or similar dungeon). To some extent she stepped into Merlin’s role at King Arthur’s side, but the old man’s removal contributed considerably to the great monarch’s downfall. The Lady of the Lake was eventually obliged to reclaim her sword when Arthur was fatally wounded at the Battle of Camlann and Excalibur was hurled back to misty waters. She was later one of the three Queens who escorted the King to Avalon. Read the article at Britannia.

Ladyofthelake burne jones

“The Lady of the Lake is usually referred to by various spellings of the names Nimue or Vivienne. Nimue is thought to be related to Mneme, the shortened form of Mnemosyne, one of the nine water-nymph Muses of Roman and Greek Mythology who gave weapons, not unlike Arthur’s sword, to the heroic Perseus. Vivienne betrays the Lady’s Celtic form, for “Vi-Vianna” probably derives from “Co-Vianna”, a variant of the widespread Celtic water-goddess, Coventina. Remembering Latin pronunciation, this name probably relates to Merlin’s original partner in early poetry, his wife Gwendoloena. Thus Gw-end(-ol)-oena = Cov-ent-ina. There have also been attempts to show Vivienne as a corrupt form of Diana or Rhiannon. Though possible, these theories seem unlikely…” Read the article at Britannia

siren coventina

Coventina Nimue from Britannia.com

Celtic Society held water deities in high regard. It was thought that they manipulated the essence of life itself. The flow of springs, and accumulation of water in rivers and lakes demonstrated the natural phenomena of the goddesses who lived in the water. Offerings to the lakes and rivers became customary. Consider our modern wishing wells—the tradition still occurs today. The custom of honoring the Lady of the Lake is now reflected when we call on “Lady Luck”!

“Her names clearly reveal this Lady to have been the Celtic Water-Goddess Coventina (presumably identified by the Romans with their Mnemosyne). This lady was worshipped throughout the Western Roman Empire, in Britain, the Narbonne area of Gaul and North-Western Iberia too. She is most celebrated for her shrine at Brocolitia (Carrawburgh) on Hadrian’s Wall. Here a quadrangular temple surrounded a central pool fed by a sacred spring. Coin, jewelery and small bronze figurine offerings have been excavated as well as numerous altars dedicated by the local soldiers.”Read the article at Britannia

Today the legend of the Lady of the Lake has been replaced by Merlin’s student and lover, Morgan Le Fay, this name also means ‘water-nymph’ in Breton. As a witch, Morgan appears multi-dimensional, displaying both beneficial and dangerous characteristics. Lore also suggests that the three queens who escort Arthur to Avalon maybe in fact Morgan. This third persona could also be considered the well-known theme of a Celtic Triple-Goddess. (Note: In Roman deities there is also a Triple Goddess reference, Diana/Luna/Proserpine, see Witches.)

"Morgan Le Fay; Queen of Avalon" 1864 by Anthony Frederick Sandys (British, 1829-1904) Medium: Oil on panel, Birmingham Museums

Occultism & Parapsychology Encyclopedia: Morgan le Fay

“Sister of King Arthur and wife of King Urien of Gore. Arthur gave into her keeping the scabbard of his sword Excalibur, but she gave it to Sir Accolon whom she loved and had a forged scabbard made. Arthur, however, recovered the real sheath, but was again deceived by her.”

The reputation of Morgan le Fay coincides with legends of Celtic deities Morrigan, Macha, and Modron (a divine mother). She was prominently referred to as “Queen of the Land of Faerie”. French and Italian romantics also make reference to a similar deity. Morgan first appeared in text with the Arthurian legends, Geiffrey of Manmouth’s twelfth-century volume, Vita Merlini. Morgan is purported to have cast Excalibur into a lake. She was also now to bestow trinkets and treasure on her favorites and associates.  Source: Lacy, J. Lacy, ed. The Arturian Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Publishing, 1986.

Wikipedia

Morgan first appears by name in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Vita Merlini, written about 1150. Purportedly an account of the wizard Merlin’s later adventures, it elaborates some episodes from Geoffrey’s more famous earlier work, Historia Regum Britanniae. In the Historia, Geoffrey explains that after Arthur is seriously wounded at the Battle of Camlann, he is taken off to Avalon, the Isle of Apples, to be healed. In the Vita Merlini he describes this island in more detail and names “Morgen” as the chief of nine magical sisters who dwell there. Morgan retains this role as Arthur’s otherworldly healer in much later literature.

 

Ceridwen by Christopher Williams (1910)

Ceridwen by Christopher Williams (1910)

The Story of Taliesin
by Jennifer Cochrane
Once there was a witch named Ceridwen, and she had two children. The one, her daughter, was as beautiful a child as you could ever hope to see; the other, her son Morfran, was so ugly, ill-favored and stupid that he sickened everyone who saw him. Morfran evades his fate and becomes the legend we know today as Merlin.….read more

Another brief synopsis of the story of Ceridwen is at realmagick.com.

The accounts of Ceridwen in these stories suggest a shapeshifting ability, or the power to transform dimensions. Merlin acknowledges this ability in his declaration…

I have been a blue salmon,

I have been a dog, a stag,

a roebuck on the mountain,

A stock, a spade, an axe in the hand,

A stallion, a bull, a buck,

A grain which grew on a hill,

I was reaped, and placed in an oven,

I fell to the ground when I was being roasted

And a hen swallowed me.

For nine nights was I in her crop.

I have been dead, I have been alive,

I am Taliesin.

visit innerlight.org to read more

Writer Ric Kemp offers reasoning as to the duality of Morgan Le Fay’s character in his essay, A Grail Quest, “. ..perhaps forerunner of the Grail, Ceridwen’s Cauldron, was kept ever broiling beneath the prodigious Llyn Bala by a well-fed fire, at the bottom of this vast lake. I wonder if the inspiration for this correspondence was partly water’s ability to reflect, giving an optical illusion of the two disparate elements – fire and water – as one? ” Read the article

John Waterhouse's Magic Circle features the persona of Morgan: Nimue.

Merlin and Vivian by Albert Herter

Nimue, Damsel of the Lake by Cowper

Morgan Le Fay by Sir Edward Burne Jones (1833-1898)

Morgan Le Fay by Dora Curtis (1875-1925)

A parchment sketch by the author of The Witch. Click the image and read the tale of a witch's romantic encounter.

Edward Burne Jones: The Beguiling of Merlin. This original oil was inspiration for sketch above.

 

All images and text are copyright of their respective owners and are used here under Fair Use for research and informational purposes and represent the subject of this article in critical commentary.

 

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