Monday, September 14, 2015

Merlin the Magician: Real or Invented?


Said to be the image of Merlin: pic by Peter Herring
Research opens all sorts of doors into the past, and my research for The Search for the Stone of Excalibur uncovered some fascinating characters. One wonders if Merlin, the famous magician in the Arthurian legends, was a real person. Apparently, Merlin, like Arthur, has his roots in history.
He was born circa AD 400, the illegitimate son of a monastic royal princess of Dyfed. The lady’s father, however, King Meurig ap Maredydd ap Rhain, is not found in the traditional pedigrees of this kingdom and was probably a sub-king of the region bordering on Ceredigion. Merlin’s traditional biography casts him as a cambion: born of a mortal woman, sired by an incubus, the non-human wellspring from which he inherits his supernatural powers and abilities. The name of Merlin’s mother is not usually stated, but is given as Adhan in the oldest version of the Prose Brut (a mediaeval legendary and historical chronicle of England named after its first hero, Brutus, a descendent of Aeneas and the epic founder of Britain). The original story may have been invented to save his mother from the scandal which would have occurred had her liaison with one Morfyn Frych (the Freckled), a minor prince of the House of Coel, been made public knowledge.

Legend then tells us that after the Roman withdrawal from Britain and the usurpation of the throne from the rightful heirs, Vortigern was in flight from the Saxon attacks and went to Snowdonia, in Wales, in hopes of constructing a mountain fortress at Dinas Emrys where he might be safe. Unfortunately, the building kept collapsing and Vortigern's house wizards told him that a human sacrifice of a fatherless child would solve the problem. One small difficulty was that such children are rather hard to find. Fortunately for Vortigern's fortress, Merlin was known to have no human father and happened to be available.

Before the sacrifice could take place, Merlin used his great visionary powers and attributed the structural problem to a subterranean pool in which lived a red and a white dragon. The meaning of this, according to Merlin, was that the red dragon represented the Britons, and the white dragon, the Saxons. The dragons fought, with the white dragon having the best of it, at first, but then the red dragon drove the white one back. The meaning was clear. Merlin prophesied that Vortigern would be slain and followed on the throne by Ambrosius Aurelianus, then Uther, then a greater leader, Arthur. It would fall to him to push the Saxons back.

The dragons fighting: image courtesy of Wikipedia.
True to the prophecy, Vortigern was slain and Ambrosius took the throne. Later, Merlin appears to have inherited his grandfather’s little kingdom, but abandoned his lands in favour of the more mysterious life for which he has become so well known. After AD 460 British nobles were massacred at a peace conference, as a result of Saxon trickery. Ambrosius consulted Merlin about erecting a suitable memorial to them. Merlin, along with Uther, led an expedition to Ireland to procure the stones of the Chorea Gigantum, the Giant’s Ring. Merlin, by the use of his extraordinary powers, brought the stones back to a site, just west of Amesbury, and re-erected them around the mass grave of the British nobles. We now call this place Stonehenge.

Stonehenge: image courtesy of Wikipedia
After his death, Ambrosius was succeeded by his brother, Uther, who, during his pursuit of Gorlois and his beautiful wife, Ygraine, back to their lands in Cornwall, was aided by Merlin. As a result of Merlin’s powers of deception, Uther was transformed into the image of Gorlois. He entered their castle and managed to fool Ygraine into thinking he was her husband. Ygraine conceived a child, Arthur. Gorlois, not knowing what was going on, went out to meet Uther in combat, but instead was slain by Uther’s troops.

After Arthur’s birth, Merlin became the young boy’s tutor, while he grew up with his foster-father, Sir Ector (alias Cynyr Ceinfarfog (the Fair Bearded)). In the defining moment of Arthur’s career, Merlin arranged for the sword-in-the-stone contest by which Arthur became king. Later, the magician met the mystic Lady of the Lake at the Fountain of Barenton (in Brittany, France) and persuaded her to present the king with the magical sword Excalibur.
In the 12th Century romances, Merlin is the creator of the Round Table, and is closely involved in aiding and directing the events of the king and kingdom of Camelot. He is pictured by Geoffrey of Monmouth at the end of Arthur’s life accompanying the wounded Arthur to the Isle of Avalon for the healing of his wounds. Others tell how having fallen deeply in love with the Lady of the Lake, Merlin agreed to teach her all his mystical powers. She became so powerful that her magical skills outshone even Merlin’s abilities. Determined not to be enslaved by him, she imprisoned the old man in a glass tower, a cave, or similarly suitable prison. Thus his absence from the Battle of Camlann was ultimately responsible for Arthur’s demise.

If you’re looking for more adventures, then please visit The Quest Books, where Middle Grade authors Cheryl Carpinello, Wendy Leighton-Porter and I have teamed up to offer readers an array of exciting quests. Sign up for our monthly newsletter with exciting exclusive material and get your choice of any e-book on the site FREE!


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