Merlin

PaganGreen Paganism and Witchcraft

Merlin

Archetypal wizard of Arthurian lore. Merlin is
a Latinized version of the Welsh Myrddin. His exact origins
are lost in myth; he may have been a god, perhaps a
version of Mabon or Maponos, the British Apollo, the
divine ruler or guardian of Britain. The name Merlin may
have been given to a succession of wizards. There is no
concrete evidence, but it is likely that a Merlin, who was
a prophet or a bard, existed toward the end of the fifth
century and has become the basis for the Merlin myths.
Merlin’s first appearance in literature occurs in the
Latin works of Geoffrey of Monmouth, a 12th-century
Welsh cleric. The Prophecies of Merlin, written in the early
1130s, comprise verses of prophecies made by an alleged
man of the fifth century, named Merlin. Monmouth made
up many of the prophecies, which stretched beyond the
12th century. In the History of the Kings of Britain, which
Monmouth finished around 1135–36 and which laid the
foundation for the Arthurian legends, Merlin becomes
a character, though Monmouth muddles chronology by
placing him in both the fifth and sixth centuries. He is
a magical boy, born of a union between a mortal woman
and a spirit (a daemon, which later Christian writers
interpreted as the Devil). He has great magical powers
of prophecy and matures quickly. Merlin uses magic to
bring great stones from Ireland to the Salisbury Plain for
the building of stonehenge and arranges for King Uther
Pendragon to seduce Ygerna, who bears the infant Arthur.
At that point, Arthur vanishes from Monmouth’s story.
He reappears in a third poetic work, The Life of Merlin, in
which he has a sister, Ganieda, who also has prophetic
vision. Vita Merlini, written by Monmouth around 1150,
is a biography of the adult Merlin, but it is also a text
of Western magical and spiritual enlightenment. It sets
down oral lore of mythology, cosmography, cosmology,
natural history, psychology and what are now called archetypes
of the human personality.

In 1150 a French poetical version of History of the Kings
of Britain has Arthur constructing his Round Table under
the aegis of Merlin. The best-known portrait of Merlin
comes from Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, published
in 1485, a romantic tale in which the infant Arthur
is raised by Merlin. Upon the death of Uther Pendragon,
Merlin presents the youth Arthur to the knights of the
land and has him prove he is heir to the throne by withdrawing
the sword Excalibur from the stone in which it
is imbedded. Merlin serves as Arthur’s magical adviser
but disappears from the story early in Arthur’s reign. He
is brought down by his passion for Nimue, or Viviane,
a damsel of the lake who tricks him into revealing the
secret of constructing a magical tower of air, which she
uses to imprison him.

In contemporary fiction, Merlin usually is presented
as a wise old man, despite his youthfulness in early writings.
It may be said that he has three aspects: youth, the
mature prophet and the wise elder. He has been subject to
many interpretations: magician, mystic, shaman, lord of
the earth and animals, seer of all things, embodiment of
time and trickster

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