Morgan Le Fay

Morgan Le Fay by Sandys Frederick
A couple of weeks ago I posted about the three main witches in the King Arthur tales: Vivian - the Lady of the Lake, Morgan Le Fay, and Nimue. I thought it would be interesting to explore all of them in more detail, starting with Morgan (also called Morgana or Morgaine).

She's generally identified as Arthur's half-sister. In the popular version of Arthur's conception, Merlin uses magic to make Uther Pendragon look like Igraine's husband. Uther gains entry to the castle, and believing Uther to be her husband, Gorlois, Igraine sleeps with him, conceiving Arthur. She already has two daughters, Morgause and Morgan Le Fay.

What I like about Morgan is her complexity. Morgan is portrayed as a skilled healer, a practitioner of magic, and then a witch, as her story becomes darker and darker through the years. It has been suggested that her abilities as a healer may stem from her origin in Celtic mythology as a Pagan Celtic Goddess, Modron. Modron's father, Afallach, was the God of the Celtic Otherworld, Avalon, and Modron had nine sisters who all lived on Avalon. Morgan has also been associated with the Morrigan, a triple-aspect divinity representing life and death, but the link is tenuous.

As well as healing, Morgan's powers include shape-shifting, flying, the ability to live beneath the water, and the ability to control animals, including dragons. Merlin's teachings increase her magical powers. And of course she is linked to the faeries and the Otherworld through her name Le Fay.

Her relationship with Arthur is complex and changeable. Jealous of his power, and resentful of his purity, she plots to kill him with her lover Sir Accolon, aiming to steal Excalibur and the throne. When Accolon loses, Morgan throws Excalibur's scabbard into the lake. This scabbard also has magical properties, stopping the loss of blood from injuries, or preventing death from loss of blood. The scabbard is lost forever. But later in life she and Arthur meet again and they reconcile, and when he is close to death, she and her sisters escort him to the Isle of Avalon where she uses her healing powers on Arthur. There he sleeps until he is needed. Other authors have her bear a son with Arthur, called Mordred, or sometimes Mordred is her nephew, and it is with Mordred that she attempts to steal the throne. Confusing!
The Last Sleep of Arthur by Edward Burne-Jones

But the layers and retelling of the stories and the characters are part of the beauty of the Arthur myths; they also tell us a lot about the times they were written in. Morgan first appears in the Vita Merlini by Geoffrey of Monmouth, she later appears in the stories of Sir Thomas Mallory, Chretien De Troyes, and The Vulgate Cycles.

When I was searching for a good villain for Tom's Inheritance, and a character that was strongly linked with Arthur, Morgan was the natural choice because of her links with the Otherworld and her fey blood. I almost wish I'd kept her around!

If you fancy reading a book with Morgan at the centre, I recommend The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

Comments

  1. The Mists of Avalon is one of my favorite books ever.

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  2. I was obsessed with it once, many years ago. I still haven't read any of the other books she wrote. I must remedy that!

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