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During that particular period, which was approximately the mid to late 5th to early 6th Centuries, C.E., there lived the Goddess Morgan le Fay, whose name means "Morgan, the Faery." She was also known by such other names, such as Morgaine, Modron, Morgan le Fee, Fata Morgana, Argante, The Fae and Faery Morgana. Morgan was the Daughter of Igraine and Gerlois, the Duke of Cornwall. She was also the younger sister of Morgause and Elaine of Garlot and the half-sister of Arthur. It is believed, as well, that she may also have been the younger sister of Viviane.
Her English name, Morgan le Fay, originated from her French name, Morgain le Fee. In Italy, she was known by the title “Fata Morgana,” which title was attributed to a particular mirage that would frequently appear in the Straits of Messina, and which was believed to be the result of her magick.
She was known by many titles, including the Great Queen, the Queen of the Fairies, the High Priestess, the Queen of the Otherworld, the Priestess or Queen of Avalon and also, quite intriguingly, the Lady of the Lake. In several Arthurian romances, Morgan le Fay was referred to as either "Faery Morgana," or "Fata Morgana," and it was when she appeared in those aspects that she was associated with visions.
Throughout the many centuries that have passed since that time, there remains a great interest in, and speculation about, Morgan le Fay. That interest and speculation exist, in all likelihood, because of the many legends that connected her to Arthur Pendragon, better known as King Arthur, and to Camelot. It may well be because of that connection, that Morgan le Fey remains to this day, one of the most popular Goddesses that the British Isles have ever seen. She has been known by many names, and she has been known, as well, to take on many forms. Yet, even with all that we do know about Morgan le Fey, she continues to remain shrouded in mystery.
The name Morgan means "born of the sea," while le Fay means "a faery," or “of the faeries." Morgan has frequently been depicted as a faery, although she has also been depicted in a variety of other guises, running the gamut from a queen, to a crone, to a mermaid and even a witch.
The translation of her name has caused some people to consider that Morgan may have actually been the daughter of a Roman or Welsh Sea Goddess. If you take that, and then combine it with the magickal training that she supposedly received from Merlin, that would have given Morgan all the powers necessary for her to actually be a Goddess in her own right. It is extremely easy to envision Morgan as a Sea Goddess, standing at the exact point in the sea where man must cross over in order to reach the Islands of the Otherworld.
Speculation still exists regarding whether Morgan actually was a Goddess or whether she was, in reality, an aspect of the Irish Goddess of War, The Morrigan, having the ability to shape-shift and the power to heal. It was in Vita Merlini, that Geoffrey of Monmouth attributed those shape-shifting and healing properties to Morgan, stating that he also believed she had wings with which she could fly. There have been others who believed that Morgan was the daughter of Avallach, or Avalloc, the King of the Otherworld; or perhaps, in reality, the King of the enchanted island that some people might call Avalon, which actually might just be the Otherworld.
Welsh legend has also mentions another female figure that was associated with Avalon. Her name was Modron, and some people believe that Modron was the daughter of Avallach, and that it was her attributes that were eventually attached to Morgan.
Morgan le Fay is probably best known for being the half-sister of Arthur Pendragon, who eventually became crowned King Arthur. In Arthurian lore, however, Morgan was a Lady of Avalon in her own right. That is because her mother, Igraine, was the daughter of Avallach, which made Morgan Avallach’s granddaughter, and thus the heir to Avalon.
The names Modron and Matrona are believed to be two different versions of the same name of a Celtic Mother Goddess, who was frequently depicted as a Triple Goddess during the period when the Romans first conquered the British Isles. It is quite possible, as well, that Morgan was derived from a Triple Goddess trinity comprised of the Irish Goddess of War, The Morrigan’s, three aspects: Neaim, Macha, and Badb. Then, when you look at all the varying possibilities, the Lady of the Lake may have actually been nothing more then a different aspect of Modron. While many people believe that Modron was Avallach’s daughter, another belief also exists, which claims that Modron may actually have been brought into existence through a Triple Goddess that consisted of Elaine as the Maiden, Morgause as the mother and Macha as the crone.
Morgan le Fay has often been envisioned as a Dark Goddess, characterized by the harshness of winter and the death and destruction of war. If the belief that Morgan was actually an aspect of The Morrigan is true, then when she took on The Morrigan’s attributes, she automatically would have been able to shape-shift into the form of a raven or crow which can, quite frequently, mean death.
The early Pagans did not view death as something that was bad, evil or even as something to be feared. To them, death was simply a transition, and when their time finally arrived it would take them to the Otherworld. Then, when they reached the Otherworld, they would live out yet another lifetime there, much like the one that they had lived out on Earth; and when they died, this time in the Otherworld, they would once again return to the Earth to live out yet another lifetime here.
During the 12th Century C.E., several texts appeared which referred to an island kingdom that was covered with apple trees, where no one ever grew old and where an abundance of fertility existed. That description is almost identical to the description of the Otherworld Islands, which frequently appeared in early Celtic literature. Reference was also made to a nameless virgin Goddess who had powers to heal, which were almost identical to those of Morgan. That virgin Goddess presided over all the other virgins on that island, and she was known as the daughter of "Rex Avallonis," which is Latin for the “King of Avalon.”
Many Celtic scholars agree that Morgan/Modron was, in reality, either an aspect of the ancient Gallo-Roman Goddess Matrona, or else an aspect of the Irish Goddess of War, The Morrigan. A belief also exists, that Morgan may have ruled over a castle of sisters, or priestesses in the area surrounding Edinburgh; while yet another belief alleges that Morgan may have been the Goddess of Glastonbury Tor, which was a very sacred place to Pagans, since it was considered to be the gateway through which one must pass in order for them to reach the Otherworld.
Most people, however, prefer to believe that Morgan was the Goddess of an island known as “the Fortunate Isle,” or “the Island of Apples” which was more commonly known as the "Magickal Isle of Avalon." It was on Avalon that the mystical Sisterhood of Nine lived. The Sisterhood of Nine was well known for its knowledge regarding the healing properties of plants, and each member had her own specific healing powers, as well as having the gift of “prophesy,” or “sight.” It is also believed that Morgan may have lived on the Island of Avalon with her eight sisters in a group that was similar, in many ways, to the Greek Muses. The Sisterhood of Nine stands firm, with its roots deeply planted in Celtic Mythology, and it was Morgan, in her role as the leader of that group, who tended to Arthur's wounds after the disasterous Battle of Camlann which destroyed his kingdom.
Conjecture exists, however, regarding whether Morgan was actually one of the three who carried Arthur’s body back to Avalon; or whether she remained at Avalon, waiting for her brother to be brought to her. Geoffrey of Monmouth stated an interesting premise in Vita Merlini, when he claimed that it was the Welsh poet, Taliesin, who brought the wounded Arthur back to Avalon, so that Morgan could use her powers to heal him.
Thomas Malory, the historian, followed a different path when he wrote in Le Morte D’Arthur, that Morgan and three other women, the Queen of Northgales (North Wales), the Queen of the Wasteland, and Nimue all arrived on a black ship, and that Morgan intended to take her brother back to Avalon with them, so that she could properly heal his wounds.
Morgan le Fay played a very important role in Arthurian Legend, which the Cistercian Monks worked extremely hard to destroy, or at least degrade. During the first quarter of the 13th Century, C.E., those Monks converted much of the original Arthurian literature into religious allegory, and they replaced the original literature with religiously influenced works, such as The Quest for the Holy Grail. They then placed all of them into a manuscript that became known as the Vulgate Cycle.
Once the Vulgate Cycle formally made its appearence, the attacks on Morgan began to steadily grow. The Cistercian Monks were determined to show that Morgan had become the mortal enemy of Arthur, and of Gwenhyfar, his Queen. As time passed, Morgan’s role began to take on a new and more sinister flavor, and it was from that point forward, that she was portrayed, more often then not, as being wicked, or else as having a “maligned” character. The Cistercian Monks did everything that they possibly could, to caste as negative a light as possible upon Morgan le Fay or, for that matter, upon anything that happened to be Pagan. Their power was, indeed, great and it continued to grow in strength throughout the Middle Ages.
The Cistercian Monks were well aware of the great power and influence that The Morrigan, a Goddess that represented life, death, sexuality and conflict had upon her Pagan worshipers. The fact that The Morrigan was also a Triple Goddess caused the Cistercians to see an even stronger connection between Morgan and The Morrigan, which they considered to be way too close for comfort. There was absolutely no way that they could ever represent Morgan as being a kind and compassionate healer, whose roots were deeply planted in the ancient Pagan religion. Since she appeared to be so strongly connected to The Morrigan, the Ciistercians believed that it was their God-given right and moral duty to portray Morgan in as black and evil a manner as possible.
Unfortunately for Morgan, the Cistercians Monks believed that it was blasphemous to attribute healing powers to a woman, much less to a woman who was not a member of any religious order of the Church. They also believed that healing powers that were attributed to a woman who was outside the auspices of the Church, would do nothing other then undermine the authority of the Church and its priesthood.
Morgan le Fay was a woman who lacked any vocation within the Church. Then, when the Cistercians realized exactly how powerful a figure Morgan actually was in Arthurian lore, they made quite sure that she was represented in as negative a light as possible. That was actually nothing new for the Cistercians, since many of them refused to believe that women even had souls. They believed, as well, that it was their religious duty to let everyone know that Morgan le Fay represented everything that was evil in the world, and that she used sorcery and spells to gain control over, and then manipulate people.
Three schools of thought exist regarding how and where Morgan learned her magick. The majority of people believe that she received her training in magick, which was referred to, in that period in time, as the "black arts" from Merlin, who was her lover, and who later increased her magickal powers by teaching her everything that he knew.
It is believed that Morgan was extremely intelligent, and that she had such a sharp mind that it did not take long for her to become an excellent scholar. That, in and of itself, was totally unheard of in that period in time, and those qualities were never considered relevant when they were associated with a woman.
The second school of thought suggests that when Morgan was a child, she was sent away to get an education in a convent, and that she somehow learned the magickal arts there. In 1485, Thomas Malory supported that theory when he wrote Le Morte D’Arthur. However, he went even farther in that particular vain, when he alleged that Morgan emerged from that convent a gifted and skilled magician.
Even Crétien de Troys, the 12th Century French poet of Welsh origin, considered Morgan le Fay to be a dark enchantress or dark sorceress, who was introduced to and then educated in her initial magickal skills through a corrupt education at an early Christian nunnery.
The final school of thought believes that Morgan was a Princess, and a Priestess of Avalon where she grew up Pagan. It was in Avalon that Morgan trained to be a Priestess, in the service of the Goddess, and that she climbed her way up, to the pinnacle of that hierarchy, gaining her powerful knowledge of magick along the way. If that truly was the case, as Marion Zimmer Bradley contends, in her historical novel, The Mists of Avalon, Morgan may very well have mated with her younger half-brother Arthur, in the Pagan ritual with the Stag King, at Beltane. It was through that union that their son, Mordred, was conceived. Some time later, Arthur became the King of Britain, but that would never have happened had it not been for the help and support of the Pagan people.
If we look at Morgan, and Arthur’s Queen, Gwenhyfar, through Pagan eyes, we are able to see that Morgan represented the dark barren throws of winter, with its isolation and death, similar, in many ways, to The Morrigan. Gwenhyfar, on the other hand, can be seen as Morgan’s antithesis, representing the arrival of spring, and taking on a role quite similar to that of Persephone, the Greek Goddess of Springtime. Gwenhyfar, however, also had a dark side to her, as well, and it was in that particular role that she took on characteristics that are very strongly related to those of the Welsh “Flowerface” Goddess, Blodeuwedd, whose earthly desire for an extramarital affair came very close to killing her husband and, in the end, caused her nothing but disaster.
The way that Pagans might view these characters is extremely unique, and had the Church been able to view them through Pagan eyes, they might have understood that Morgan played a dualistic role in Arthurian Legend, since she appeared as both a dark magician and a benevolent healer. They may have better understood, as well, that even though Morgan may have appeared as Arthur’s nemesis during his life; quite to the contrary, she took on the role of his guardian at his death.
There has always been much speculation regarding who the Lady of the Lake actually was. There are many women, including Viviane, Morgause and Nimue, whose characters have frequently been combined in a variety of Arthurian legends, and who all appear to have the ability to successfully wear that role. Thomas Malory believed that the Lady of the Lake was the person who gave Excalibur back to Arthur, only to take it back again at a later point in time, after it had been thrown into the water. Other people, however, believe that the Lady of the Lake was the woman who had fostered and then raised Lancelot.
The Lady of the Lake was also supposedly the person who had caused Merlin's downfall, which premise was set forth, not only in Le Morte D’Arthur, but also in the Vulgate Cycle. In these varying works, the Lady of the Lake used the magick that Merlin had taught her, as a means of enchanting him; and once he taught her everything that he knew, it was he who actually brought about his own demise. Interestingly, even though Balin had supposedly killed the Lady of the Lake in Arthur’s court, she was somehow able to reappear at a later point in time. That can only lead to the assumption that the Lady of the Lake may have actually been a title, rather than a specific person.
Marion Zimmer Bradley’s historical novel, The Mists of Avalon, shows Arthurian Legend, as it was seen through the eyes of the women behind the power. Bradley also implied that the Lady of the Lake was the title given to the High Priestess of Avalon, rather then to one specific character; and that the title had been passed down from one generation to the next. Bradley also considered the name “Merlin,” or “The Merlin,” to be a title, which belonged to the highest-ranking member of the Druid hierarchy.
The use of women as central characters in Bradley's book, attempts to present them as they actually were during the period within which the Arthurian Legend most likely took place, or some time during the 5th or 6th Centuries, C.E.
Many writers have all too frequently placed the events surrounding King Arthur and Camelot in a variety of different periods, although they always placed them in much later periods then the one in which they actually would have taken place.
Even though the later times, which were the 12th through 13th Centuries, C.E., may have been considered by some to be a “romantic” period, it was during that same period that the powerful Christian Church de-emphasized any role that a woman might have and, by doing that, they diminished women in general until they had little, if any, importance. If a female character played a major role in a story, the Christian Church automatically provided that character with mystical or otherworldly attributes.
Many different views exist regarding where the name Morgan le Fay came from, and while no one can be completely certain, it is strongly believed that it leads, as do most Arthurian names, directly back to Celtic Mythology. While many people believe that Morgan was actually the character Modron, of Welsh legend and literature, there are others who believe that it was the Bretons who changed her name from Modron to Morgan. Moreover, the Bretons often referred to a character that was similar in many ways to Modron, and who went by either the name "Morgane the Goddess," or “Morgain,” as set forth in the Vulgate Lancelot.
Many people believe that Morgan was the person who plotted Arthur's death, thereby connecting her, once again, to The Morrigan; citing the fact that they both had a similar aspect which was that of a Goddess of Death. If we look at The Morrigan more closely, we might be able to better understand why Morgan has so frequently been considered to be one of her aspects. The Morrigan was an ancient Irish/Celtic Goddess of War, as well as a Triple Goddess, which consisted of various Crone Goddesses who depicted war, battle, death and destruction.
The Morrigan, like many other Goddesses in true Celtic tradition, was frequently depicted in the form of either a raven or a crow and, when the men on Earth entered into battle she was there, flying overhead, and crying her battle cry. The raven or crow remained at the battle until it finally ended, and the dead bodies lay spread across the battlefield. That was when The Morrigan went down among the dead, to claim the bodies of the warriors as her trophies. The Morrigan is also related to the Norse Valkaries, who are Corpse Goddesses, and whose name means the “Choosers of the Slain.” It was the Valkaries that chose the bravest and most heroic of the dead from the battlefield, and then took them to the great hall known as Valhalla, which belonged Odin, to the Leader of the Norse Gods.
Was she a Goddess, or was she a Sorceress? Did she walk with the forces of darkness or was she at one with the powers of light? That we may never know. In all likelihood, Morgan le Fay may have been any, or all of these things and more. What we do know about Morgan is that there was something about her that was special, and that she had the ability to dramatically effect people’s lives.
Was she a Goddess? Was she a Pagan Princess? Or was she simply an extremely intelligent woman, who was well ahead of her time, and who just happened to be thrown into the midst of the scheme of things from which history is made? That, too, we may never know. What is important, however, is that by learning about Morgan le Fay, we are able to not only view the past; we are also able to view our own lives in a variety of new and different ways. That alone is a form of magick, and one that we should all be eternally grateful for.