|Morgan Le Fay
much maligned Morgan Le Fay was, to a large extent, the
invention of medieval romance writers such as Sir Thomas
Malory. In his "Le Morte D'Arthur" Malory tells
us that Morgan was one of the half-sisters of King
Arthur, daughter of Ygerna
and her first husband, Gorlois.
The Vulgate Cycle of Arthurian tales tells how
she became Guinevere's
lady in waiting and fell in love with the King's nephew,
Giomar. Guinevere, however, put an end to the romance
and, as a result, Morgan eventually betrayed the Queen's
affair with Lancelot to King Arthur. She even sent the
Green Knight to Camelot in order to frighten Guinevere to
death. Morgan herself took a fancy to Lancelot at one
point and imprisoned him for some time before he was able
Morgan as a giver of healing ointments, but the lady is
usually portrayed as a wicked enchantress who learned her
initial mysterious skills from her corrupt education in
an early Christian nunnery. Later, Merlin
helped her to extend her magical powers. The story that
she inticed King Arthur into an incestuous affair from
which Mordred was born is, however, a misconception
derived from the desire of modern authors to merge Morgan
with her more sympathetic sister, (Anna-) Morgause.
Malory shows how Morgan hated Arthur for his purity
and plotted with her lover, Sir Accolon, to steal both Excalibur
and the British throne. Arthur met Accolon in combat
without his magical sword, but the Lady of the Lake
helped him retrieve it and win the battle. In return,
Morgan stole Excalibur's scabbard and threw it into the
nearest lake. She eventually escaped Arthur's wrath by
transforming her entourage into stone.
Morgan retired to Gore (Gwyr) and then to her
Castle of Tauroc (possibly in North Wales). The Royal
court appears to have thought her dead until Arthur came
across her residence while out hunting one day. The two
were immediately reconciled. In late life she moved to
the Isle of Avalon, and it was to here that she and her
allies, the Queens of Northgalis (North Wales)
and the Wastelands, took her wounded brother to be healed
after the Battle of Camlann.
Malory makes Morgan the wife of King Urien
Rheged, an historical mid to late 6th
century King of what is now Cumberland and Westmorland in
Northern Britain. Though technically this may have been
just about possible, during this time period it is
stretching credulity a little far. Morgan was an elder
half-sister of King Arthur who fought at Mount Badon
around 495-500 and traditionally died in 537. Urien was
assassinated during a military campaign around 590. The
earlier Vulgate Cycle, however, makes Morgan a
generation younger, being the daughter of King
Lot of Lothian (Gododdin). On the
other hand, Welsh Tradition tells us that Urien's wife
was Modron ferch Afallach, apparently a sister-in-law of
Gwynedd, and it may be that two ladies have
Alternatively, this latter identification may betray
the lady's true origins as a Pagan Celtic Goddess. Modron
was the name of the Celtic Mother-Goddess, often depicted
in Romano-British times as having a triple personality.
This may be seen in Arthurian tales through her
association with the Queens of Northgalis (North
Wales) and the Wastelands. The Lady of the Lake may
have been another aspect of the lady. Modron's father, Afallach,
was the titular God of the Celtic Otherworld, Avalon.
Morgan is said to have lived here with her nine sisters,
a not insignificant group similar to the Greek Muses.
Some early sources actually refer to Morgan as "the
Goddess," while her shape-shifting and healing
aspects clearly indicate heavenly powers. She appears to
have gradually degenerated into "Le Fay" - a
fairy - who could fly through the air on enchanted wings:
to this day, the Breton name for a water-nymph is a Morgan.
The lady's wicked character appears to have been the
invention of the Cistercian monks who wrote the stories
of the Vulgate Cycle. Influenced by memories of
the ancient Irish Goddess, the Morrighan (Phantom
Queen), another triple-aspect divinity representing
life & death, sexuality and conflict, they painted
poor pagan Morgan as black as they could. They believed
it blasphemous for a healer to be neither male nor a
member of a religious order and Morgan paid dearly for
Geoffrey Ashe (1990) Mythology of the British
Peter C. Bartrum (1993) A Welsh Classical Dictionary.
Ronan Coghlan (1991) The
Encyclopaedia of Arthurian Legends.
David Day (1995) The Quest for King Arthur.
Chrétien De Troyes
(1160) Erec and Enide.
Chrétien De Troyes
Miranda J. Green (1992) Dictionary of Celtic Myth and
Phyllis Ann Karr (1997) The Arthurian Companion.
Thomas Malory (1485) Le Morte D'Arthur.
John & Caitlin Matthews (1988) The Aquarian Guide
to British and Irish Mythology.
John Matthews (1994) The Arthurian Tradtion.
Geoffrey of Monmouth (1150) The Life of Merlin.
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