Merlin The Great Wizard
One of the most fascinating figures in the Welsh mythology and the Arthurian legend is Merlin, the great wizard, prophet and adviser to several kings, including King Arthur.
In this page, we will take a closer look at the role that Merlin played, as well as tried to piece together of what had happened to him in his final hours.
|Merlin is one of the most fascinating figures in the Welsh literature and the Arthurian legend. Merlin is a man of mystery and magic; contradiction and controversy surrounded his life.
Merlin wore many hats: he was a wizard or sorcerer, a prophet, a bard, an adviser and a tutor. He appeared as a young boy with no father. He appeared as an old, wise man, freely giving his wisdom to four successive British kings. He was dotting old fool, who couldn’t control his lust over beautiful women, who hold him in fear and contempt. He had even appeared as a madman after bloody battle, and had fled into the forest and learned how to talk to the animals, where he became known as the Wild Man of the Woods. Merlin was the last of the druid, the Celtic shaman, priest of nature, and keeper of knowledge, particularly of the arcane secrets.
According to the Welsh historian, Nennius, Merlin appeared as a young boy, but under the name of Emrys or as Ambrosius in Latin, with the British king, Vortigern. In a similar account with Vortigern, it was Geoffrey of Monmouth, who had named this boy – Merlinus Ambrosius (Merlin Emrys in Welsh).
In the work, titled Historia regum Britanniae (“History of the Kings of Britain”, c. 1137), Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote that he was a son of a nun and grandson of the King of Demetia in southern Wales. As to his father, he was either a devil or an incubus. Merlin is a paradox, he was the son of the devil, yet he was the servant of God.
Merlin had being identified to the Welsh fictional bard named Myrddin of the late 6th century, in the Welsh poem called Afallenau and several other poems, preserved in the manuscript known as the Black Book of Carmarthen, c. 1250. These rather old Welsh poems appeared rather obscure and gibberish.
Geoffrey of Monmouth composed a similar tale of Merlin’s madness, written in Latin, known as Vita Merlin or the “Life of Merlin”, in 1150. In this version, he was known as Merlin Calidonius. Here, he has a sister and a wife, but there’s no mention of his parents. It is the only text that mentioned Merlin having a wife.
Many scholars were puzzled over his birth, his magical power, his prophetic gifts and his mysterious yet often conflicting fate.
First of all, Geoffrey of Monmouth wasn’t the first writer who recorded event about Merlin in his Historia regum Britanniae (“History of the Kings of Britain”, c. 1137). In fact, how Merlin had gain his power in the Historia regum Britanniae was different to Geoffrey’s later work called Vita Merlini (“Life of Merlin”, c. 1152). These two contradictory works had led many scholars to believe that there are two different people with the same name, Merlin.
It should be understood that the early known work on Merlin has nothing to do with King Arthur or his knights. So before you read about Merlin, the friend and adviser of Arthur, we need to look where he had come from.
|According to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s work called Historia regum Britanniae (“History of the Kings of Britain”, 1137), Merlin was rumored to have been the son of a demon or an incubus and a mortal woman who was a nun. Merlin was probably born in the town of Carmarthen. Because of his link with a demon and God, Merlin had great wisdom and powers from the two opposing forces.
Later legend has expanded the amazing birth of Merlin, such as the prose adaptation of Robert de Boron’s Merlin; the adaptation was known as the Prose Merlin or the Vulgate Merlin, because it was part of the Vulgate Cycle. See Son of the Devil? for a brief tale of Merlin’s birth and how he had gained his powers of foresight and magic.
According to Geoffrey, his mother was the daughter of the King of Demetia (Dyved, kingdom in southern Wales). Though, a princess, she became a nun.
After King Vortigern lost his battle and much of his territory lost to the Saxons, he fled into Wales, where he decided to build a fortress. Everyday he had part of the wall built, but it would collapse the next day. The elders led by Magan, advised the king to find a boy without a father, kill the boy, and use the boy’s blood mixed with mortar, so the building would not crumbled again. These elders, who advised King Vortigern, conspired to have the boy Merlin killed, because they knew that he would cause their death.
When they found the boy without a father, he was brought before the king. When Merlin found out what the king’s advisers had told Vortigern, the boy told him it was the most ridiculous advice, and rebuked them for wanting his death.
Merlin told the king the reason why his fortress always collapsed. Merlin told Vortigern was not building the wall on solid foundation, because there was pool of water underneath. And underneath the pool was two sleeping dragons – one red dragon, the other was white. Another reason why the walls always collapse was that the dragons fought one another since they were trapped underground.
Everything Merlin had told to the king was true. The dragons wakened and rose out of the hole and fought one another.
After this, Merlin proclaimed that his name was also Ambrosius. Merlin then foretold a series of prophecies about Britain. The significant of the two dragons fighting one another, was that the future kings of Britain would drive the Saxons out of their country, but inevitably, the Saxons would overcome the Britons and ruled over Britain. The red dragon represents the Britons, while the white dragon was seen as the Saxons. Merlin also foretold that the Boar of Cornwall shall drive out the Saxons giving relief to the Britons. The Boar of Cornwall was the banner of Arthur, son of Uther. Merlin also foretold that 6 descendants of Arthur shall rule after the great king before Saxons would return and conquer Britain.
With the dragons gone, and the foundation stabled, Vortigern completed the construction of his fortess, and the king named it Dinas Emrys, which is “Ambrosius’ Fort”.
This episode in Geoffrey’s work was largely derived from the historian Nennius, who wrote the Historia Brittonum (c. 9th century). In Nennius’ work, the boy-prophet was named Ambrosius (or Emrys in Welsh), not Merlin. Where as Geoffrey claimed that Merlin’s father was an incubus, Nennius wrote that Ambrosius (Merlin) claimed his father was a Roman consul.
In Nennius’ text, Vortigern’s adviser told the king that “You must find a child born without a father….”. This doesn’t mean his father wasn’t mortal. It most likely mean that his father died, before Ambrosius (Merlin) was born. Geoffrey made this statement, that Merlin’s father was the devil.
Also that the king found young Ambrosius (Merlin) was found in the field of Aelecti, in the district of Glevesing, not in the town of Carmarthen. It was Ambrosius who became adviser to King Vortigern after he reveal the mystery of the falling walls.
The significance of Carmarthen (Caerfyrddin) was not only the place of Geoffrey rested on how this town was translated to “Caer Merddin” or “Merddin’s Fort”.
After Vortigern’s death, Merlin advised Aurelius Ambrosius of bringing the large bluestones from Mount Killaraus in Ireland, and erecting a circle of stones known as the Giant’s Ring (Stonehenge) in Salisbury, England. Aurelius Ambrosius and his brother Uther had to fight a series of battles against the Saxons.
One night, Uther and Merlin saw a comet in the sky, where the tail caused the sky to lit up in the shape of a dragon. Merlin informed Uther, that his brother (Aurelius Ambrosius) had died from poisoning, and Uther was now king of the Britons. This dragon became the symbol of Uther’s kingship, and Merlin gave the new king the surname “Pendragon” (Uther Pendragon).
It was here, for the first time, Merlin was seen as sorcerer or wizard. He had used his magic to move the stone. It was his magic that allow Uther to disguise to look like the husband of Igraine.
Merlin became involved in the conception of Arthur, when Uther fell in love with Duke Gorlois’ wife, Igraine. Gorlois (Hoel) was duke of Cornwall, and he was one of Uther’s allies in the war against the Saxons. Gorlois was offended when he saw that Uther could not control his feeling for his wife. Gorlois withdrew his support to Uther. Gorlois thought to protect Igraine in his strongest castle in Tintagel, while he fought Uther in another castle.
Uther could not control his lust and obsession for Igraine and asked Merlin to aid him in seducing Igraine. Merlin use his magic to make Uther into Gorlois’ double, so that no one including Igraine could recognise Uther. The bogus duke (Uther) had sex with Igraine, on the same night Gorlois was killed. Tintagel and Cornwall immediately surrendered to Uther, and the king married the newly widowed Igraine. Igraine gave birth to Arthur.
Apart from the conception of Arthur, Merlin was never involved in Arthur’s life in Geoffrey’s account. According to later authors (Robert de Boron, writer of the Vulgate texts, and Thomas Malory), Merlin was active in Arthur’s reign, as the chief adviser. Merlin was also responsible for Arthur’s secret fosterage. See Merlin and Arthur.
See Life of King Arthur, House of Constantine for all of the above events.
|In Geoffrey’s Historia regum Britanniae (“History of the Kings of Britain”, 1137), we see Merlin Ambrosius as a enchanter and prophet, and how a boy prophet became King Vortigern’s adviser, as well as adviser to two successive kings (Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther). See Vortigern in the Life of King Arthur.
Now, shall look at a different tale where Merlin gained his gift through madness in the wilderness, where he is known as the Wild Man of the Wood.
There are several different sources for this legend, but let us begin with Geoffrey’s Vita Merlini in Merlin Calidonius.
Later, Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote another book, called Vita Merlini (the “Life of Merlin”, c. 1150). This contained a different story of how Merlin gained his prophetic gift, which contradict Geoffrey’s earlier work (Historia regum Britanniae, 1137), where Merlin was born with the gift. However, the Vita Merlini was derived largely from Welsh and Scottish sources.
Merlin was a bard and a lawgiver in Demetia (Dyved), a region in southern Wales. Merlin took part in the war between Peredur of the Venedotians against Guernolus (Guennolous, Gwenddolau or Gwendoleu in Welsh) of Scotia and King Rodarch (Rhodarcus, or Rhydderch in Welsh) of Cumbria (Cymru or Wales).
Note that Geoffrey had never given a name to this battle, but in the Welsh legend of Myrddin, it was known as the Battle of Arfderydd, fought in AD 573. According to the Welsh Triads, the Battle of Arfderydd was one of the “Three Futile Battles”.
Merlin was overcome with grief for the death of Peredur’s three brothers in battle. His grief had overwhelmed his sanity so that he had gone stark raving mad and ran into forest of Calidon. During the time he had not only lived like an animal, he had the ability to speak to the wild animal in the forest.
For a moment, Merlin regained his senses, when he heard some music played by the retainer of Ganieda (Gwenddydd). Ganieda was the sister of Merlin and wife of King Rodarch.
Merlin returned to the court of King Rodarch for only a while. Madness returned because there were too many people in Rodarch’s court, and Merlin fled back into the forest. Rodarch tried to persuade his brother-in-law to return, but Merlin refused, so the king had him returned in chain. Ganieda took care of her brother.
One day, Rodarch removed a leaf from his wife’s hair. Seeing this Merlin laughed. Curious, Rodarch wanted to know the reason for Merlin’s laugh. Reluctantly, he told the king that Ganieda had met her lover under a tree. Ganieda told her husband that her brother was still suffering from madness, so Rodarch shouldn’t take too much notice of what he say.
To prove that Merlin was either mad or clairvoyance, Rodarch ask Merlin see what the fate of one of the boys in the court. Merlin saw this boy three times; each time he gave a different answer. Merlin said that the boy would die from a fall. Then at a second look, Merlin would say that the boy would died from a tree, and later still, he reply that the boy would die in a river.
With this three-fold death, Rodarch dismissed Merlin’s accusation of his wife’s adultery and concluded that Merlin was indeed mad, so the king released his brother-in-law. Merlin decided to return to the woods, but before he did, he informed his wife, Gwendoloena (Gwendolyn) that she had his permission to marry someone else, dissolving his marriage to her. Gwendoloena had been living with Rodarch and Ganieda, since the day of his disappearance after the battle.
However, Merlin also warned his wife that he will bring a gift to her on her wedding day, but that her new bridegroom should not see him on that day, and that her new betrothed should avoid standing in his path. This interdiction is like the Irish geis or taboo that are imposed on rulers or heroes, where it usually spell doom of the person, who break his geis.
While Merlin was in the forest, his foretelling of the boy’s death came true. The boy fell off a rock, where his feet were caught in a branch of a tree. With the boy hanging upside-down, his head was in the water, so the child drowned. Rodarch realised that Merlin was a prophet and that what he said about his wife’s adultery, must also be true.
On the day of Gwendoloena’s wedding, she saw from her window, her ex-husband mounted on a stag, leading a herd of stags and deer into Rodarch’s court. Gwendoloena laughed at this spectacle. Her laugh brought her fiance to the window; thereby her fiance had broken the first interdiction. Then Merlin broke off one of his stag’s antler and hurled it at her fiance’s head, which killed him. This was Merlin’s gift to Gwendoloena.
Merlin returned to the forest, but Rodarch had him brought back to his palace again.
One day, when Rodarch heard Merlin laughed again, the king again wanted to hear the cause of Merlin’s amusement. Merlin only agreed to tell his brother-in-law, if he was free to return to the forest.
Merlin told him that he had seen a young man buy a pair of shoes with some extra leather for repair, but he would die on that very day. Merlin also witnessed an old beggar resting beside the palace gates, not realising he was sitting on top of a treasure. Both predictions were true, so the king freed the prophet.
In the forest, Ganieda had a large building constructed for her brother, with 70 doors and 70 windows, so Merlin could observe the stars in the winter, while he was free to roam the forest in the summer.
Merlin then began to foretell a series of some of the bleak events about Britain. All these prophecy was written down. One day will Ganieda was visiting her brother, Merlin told her that Rodarch had die, and that she should attend her husband’s funeral and deliver an elegy. Merlin also told Ganieda that she should bring Taliesin to him (Geoffrey called him Thegesinus), who should have return from his study with Gildas in Armorica (Brittany).
After the funeral, Ganieda returned and lived with her brother for the rest of her life, rather than stay at the palace. Taliesin informed that he had visit the Isle of Avalon, bringing with him Arthur, who was wounded in the battle of Camblam (Camlann), on a ship belonging to Barinthus.
The Isle of Avalon was ruled by nine sisters, sorceresses who were famous healers and had the ability to fly. Morgan le Fay, more beautiful and powerful than her sisters, told Taliesin that they could heal the king, only if Arthur stayed with them. The future of Britain was uncertain and bleak, so Taliesin want to return Arthur to his kingdom, but Merlin informed the bard that it was not yet time for Arthur’s return.
One day, the rain came, creating a new spring in the forest of Broceliande (Paimpoint). Taliesin guided Merlin to the spring, and when he drank the water, his sanity had returned to him. The healing spring became known as the fountain of Barenton.
Upon hearing of Merlin being healed of madness, the people of Demetae (Dyved) wanted the prophet to become their ruler, but he refused on the ground that he was old.
One day, Merlin met another madman in the forest, whom he recognised to be Maeldin. The prophet brought his friend to the magical spring, curing and restoring Maeldin’s sanity. At that same time, Ganieda was overcome with a frenzy that gave her the ability to foretell the future. The tale ended with Merlin announcing that his retirement as a prophet, and that his sister had taken over his task.
The Vita Merlini was derived from early Welsh and Scottish sources, which also tell of man gone mad, where he became the “wild man of the woods”, and later became a prophet. Geoffrey adopted the stories of Lailoken and Myrddin.
Myrddin was a fictional bard and seer, who supposedly lived around the year AD 576. The earliest reference to Myrddin comes from Armes Prydain (Prophecy of Britain) from the 10th century, where he foretold the future of Britain.
Myrddin was also in a number of poems in the Black Book of Carmarthen, a Welsh manuscript of 1250. These poems were called Afallenau (The Apple Trees), Oianau (The Greetings), and Ymddiddan Myrddin a Thaliesin (Dialogue of Myrddin and Taliesin).
In each poem, part of it deals with the legend of Myrddin, while other part of poem deals with the prophecy of Britain.
In this poem called Afallenau (“Apple Trees”), we find that Myrddin had been hiding from Rhydderch’s men among the apples trees. Though, Gwenddydd (Ganieda) was Myrddin’s sister, she was married to Rhydderch, whose son he had killed. As the narrator of the poem, his name is not given.
Myrddin was horrified of the slaughter of his people and the death of his chieftain, Gwenddolau (Gwendoleu, or Guennolous in Latin) at the battle of Arfderydd (probably in Cumbria). Gwenddolau was the son of Ceidio, and he was a chieftain in the Welsh-speaking North (Scottish Lowland).
Mryddin hid in the forest from the men of Rhydderch. Although, warriors were all around in the woods, the apple tree that he sat perch on the branch, hid him from Rhydderch’s men.
In the poem Oianau, Myrddin lamented the death of Gwenddolau, his lord, and of how low he had fallen. Isolated from his peers, with only a small pig for company, Myrddin talked to the pig as if he was human. Here, the poem had for the first time, mentioned the name Arfderydd as the place of the battle. Again, we still haven’t seen Myrrdin’s name in this poem. The narrator of the poem (Myrddin) talk of the prophecy.
It is in Ymddiddan Myrddin a Thaliesin in which Myrddin’s name first appeared in the Black Book of Carmarthen. The poem involved the discussion between Merlin and the great mythical bard Taliesin, over several battles and some prophecies over Britain.
All three poems deal with the legend of Myrddin.
Overwhelmed with remorse from the death of his sister’s son, Myrddin fled to the Coed Celyddon (Caledonian Forest in Scotland), where madness overcame him and he lived as the “wild man of the woods”. Myrddin found sanctuary among the Apple Trees, where he hid from the men of Rhydderch. It was during his madness that Myrddin became gifted with the prophecy. Myrddin foretell a less than bright future for the Welsh people.
In another manuscript, known as the Red Book of Hergest, there is another poem called Cyfoesi Myrddin ac ei Chwaer Gwenddydd (The Conversation of Myrddin and his Sister Gwenddydd), Gwenddydd encourage her brother to prophesy. At the end of the poem, Gwenddydd urged her brother to accept communion from God before he died, but Myrddin refused to receive communion from excommunicated monks. If he was to take any communion, he would receive one, directly from God.
It is in this dialogue, that we will find that his father was named Morfryn. We also find out that Myrddin and Gwenddydd are twins.
(According to the Annales Cambriae, the Battle of Arfderydd took place in AD 573, which is 36 years after the Battle of Camlann.
The part that mentioned “Merlin went mad”, was most likely a late addition to this line.
The Welsh Triads had also mentioned a confrontation of Peredur and Gwrgi against Gwenddolau at Arfderydd.)
In the Scottish legend of Lailoken, he went mad when he heard voices from heaven in the middle of a battle. Lailoken foretold many events including the death of a king and his own doom. The queen’s shepherds murdered Lailoken.
It is amazing of the similarity of Geoffrey’s work with these other legends, yet the tale of Merlin Calidonius in Vita Merlin conflict with the events of Merlin Ambrosius in Historia regum Britanniae. Some experts and scholars suggested that Geoffrey may have been be writing about two different Merlins. The time different between Merlin Ambrosius with Vortigern and Merlin Calidonius was over a hundred years. Which is also quite possible.
Strangely enough, Merlin or Myrddin doesn’t appear in any of the Welsh narratives in the Mabinogion. The sorcerer who appeared in the Mabinogion that have any (superficial) resemblance to Myrddin is Menw fab Teirgwaedd, or Menw son of Teirwaedd. Menw is wizard and one of the advisers of Arthur.
|I have already mentioned that Geoffrey of Monmouth had told of Merlin’s incredible birth in Historia regum Britanniae (c. 1137): how Merlin was the son of incubus and a nun. Geoffrey doesn’t actually go into great detail on the account about Merlin’s birth, but Merlin had appeared as boy when Vortigern tried to build his castle in Wales, but the walls would always collapse the next day. (See House of Constantine about Merlin and Vortigern.)
Geoffrey’s episode was not very detailed. So it rest on other writers to flesh out his legendary birth. Layamon added a little bit of detail to his birth. Perhaps the most detailed account can be found in the Prose Merlin (c. 1240, part of the Vulgate Cycle), which was a prose adaptation of Robert de Boron’s Merlin (c. 1200). The story had changed to account for the wizard’s role in the Grail legend. The wizard was also a prophet who knows of the past and present, as well of the future.
(I like to apologise for telling of Merlin’s birth, here rather than at the beginning of this page. I thought it would be best to tell this account here, in relation to his involvement with the Grail, in the next two articles.)
The tale actually began with a rich man, who lost his family and wealth, because he was tormented by the devil, demon or incubus. This part of the tale, sort resembled the Biblical Book of Job, except it wasn’t so much as test, as the devil’s determination to destroy every soul in this family.
This man had a large, rich land, a wife, a son and three daughters. To keep it brief, the devil first destroyed his livestock and cattle, which had greatly distressed the man. Then the demon strangled his son in bed. His son’s death caused great sorrow in the household that with prompting from the demon the man’s wife hanged herself. Struck by this double tragedy, the devastated man never recovered from his melancholy, fallen ill and died.
The demon wasn’t satisfied, so he turned his attention on to the man’s three daughters. The middle child was the first to succumb to temptation. She was caught committing adultery with a squire, and was buried alive for her sin.
The surviving two daughters sought help from a priest, who was a confessor and a clerk, named Blaise (also called Bleheris or Bleise in Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, 1469). The good priest suspected that the family had been tempted by the devil, so he tried to counsel the two sisters to lead on the right path to God’s salvation, through prayers and penances, and by avoiding sins.
At first, the demon’s plan to destroy the rest of the family was disrupted by the priest, but the demon could not be denied. With cunning, the devil sent a woman to lure the youngest sister to sin and damnation. The woman advised the sister it would be wrong to lead a life without a man and sex. But the younger sister’s fear of sharing the fate of her older sister who had committed adultery. The older woman told the maiden that to avoid punishment of the law, the sister should take on many lovers, by becoming a whore. So the youngest sister sold her soul to the devil, when she started sleeping with every man in town.
When the oldest sister found out what had happened to her younger sibling, she was distressed and fearful that she would also fall into temptation. So she sought help from the good priest again. The priest was amazed at the news of the younger sister’s debauchery. So the priest advised the young woman that she must avoid sin and believe in God, Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit. She must pray each evening, and cross herself before going to bed. Blaise warned the girl to avoid anger or wrath, which was the easiest sin to fall into.
So the young woman lived a life of prayers and chastity. Frustrating the demon’s plan for another two years.
So the demon cleverly sent the woman’s younger sister with her lovers to her house. The woman tried to get her sinful to leave her home, but she refused. The young woman became upset with her sister’s sinful behaviour, and became increasingly angry that she soon forgot Blaise’s wise warning to avoid wrath. Her sister’s lovers started beating her, until she managed to escape.
The woman fled to her room, and locked herself in from her sister’s and her sister’s lovers. Distressed and angry, she collapsed on her bed, weeping until she fell asleep, but she forgot to pray and commend herself to God, by crossing herself.
The devil, which was really an incubus, saw that the woman had forgotten the priest’s warning and that she had sinned through anger. As she slept, the incubus came to her and had sex with her, causing her to conceive a child.
When the woman woke she realised that she had lost her virginity, and couldn’t figure out how, since all her doors and windows were locked from the inside. She took her problem to Blaise, who did not think it was possible for to lose her virginity without knowing whom her lover were. So the priest thought she was lying. Yet, the woman was adamant that she had not committed any cardinal sin. Still, the priest was willing to help her, providing that she hadn’t lied in her confession, so he placed her on penance. Blaise told her to send for him, if she was ever in trouble with the law because of mysterious pregnancy. The priest as a precaution wrote down when she had lost her virginity.
So she tried to live a life of penance, but soon she discovered that she was pregnant, and couldn’t hide her condition from the others. The young woman feared that she would have to face a similar death that of his younger adulterous (middle) sister of being buried alive.
Soon the judge arrived in town and discovered that she was pregnant and the judge thought that she was lying that she couldn’t identified her lover, so she was imprisoned, and mostly likely she would die the same way her sister did. Fearing to die, she sent for her confessor.
Blaise failed to persuade the judge to spare the unfortunate girl, so he asked for the postponement of her execution, allowing her to give birth to the child; at least until the child was able to eat by itself. The judge agreed to the priest’s proposal.
The girl was imprisoned, and two women were to share her cell, to help with delivery and the care of the pregnant woman. Blaise told the unfortunate damsel that she should have the child immediately baptize after giving birth, before the priest departed.
Months had passed, and the two women helped her delivered the child. They were all shocked and frightened to see her son was so hairy like a wild animal. The young mother remembering her confessor’s advice, so she told them to send her son to be baptised. She named the child after her unfortunate father, Merlin. No women in her town were willing to nurse Merlin, because they feared him.
The devil had planned that this child of his would become the Antichrist that the Book of Revelation had foretold. However, the devil defeated his own plan, when the newborn baby was baptised, which free the child from being a demonic monster.
So months have past, as she raised her son in the prison cell, until the eighteenth month. The two women finally decided that it was time for them to leave, but leaving would mean that the young mother would be executed soon. No matter how she would plead, they refused to stay any longer, now that her son could walk and eat by himself.
As the two women were petitioning to leave, Merlin tried to comfort his mother by telling her that he would save her from execution. Stunned that her son could talk, she dropped him on the floor, causing him to wail. The women returned, where the mother told them that her son could speak. The women thought she was mad and trying to kill her own son. Her son did not say anything. The three women tried to trick Merlin into speaking, but he wasn’t fooled, but he again tried to comfort his mother.
When news of this wonder became public, the judges had decided that it would be time to execute the mother. When she was brought before the judges, Merlin’s mother continued to plea her innocence, saying that she never saw the man who had sex with her while she slept. The judges didn’t believe that was possible. So Merlin intervened on his mother’s behalf. All the judges were amazed that the boy could talk at this age.
Merlin challenged the chief judge that if need be, he would prove everyone’s guilt and his mother’s innocence. Merlin told the judge that he knew of the judge’s father better than he did. Merlin told the judge that if he could prove her innocence, then the judge must spared his mother (Merlin’s); the chief judge agreed, but warned that if he failed then Merlin would share his mother’s fate.
So the execution of Merlin’s mother was delayed until they can be bring judge’s mother before the judges, to prove Merlin’s abilities. Merlin tried to persuade the adamant judge to free his mother without revealing the secret of the chief judge’s true father, because he knew that the chief judge may not like what he hear. But the judge stubbornly insisted Merlin to prove to him, who is his real father.
So when the chief judge’s mother arrived, Merlin revealed to everyone that the judge’s father had not died, because his real father was a priest, whom the judge’s mother had committed adultery. Everyone thought that the judge was the son of his mother’s husband, and no one suspected that the judge was really the son of the priest. The colour drained from the mother’s face, as she weakly deny the accusation of adultery from a boy, who was no more than 18 months old. She thought Merlin was the devil. Merlin also mentioned that she had continued to have her long, secret affair with the priest to this present day, because she had most recently slept with priest, as late as last night.
In despair, the judge’s mother pleaded with her son for mercy, since she had confessed that her accuser was right. The judge realised that everything Merlin had told them was the truth. The judge acquitted Merlin’s mother of all charges, since he could not condemn his own mother, who had been secretly committing adultery.
The judge asked who Merlin’s father really was, and Merlin reply that his father was incubus, a demon who could entered a locked house and ravished his mother while she slept.
For this reason, Merlin had a great deal of power, which included ability to see everything of the past. Yet, he also revealed that since his mother’s goodness and frequent prayers to God, as well as his baptism after birth, this allowed Merlin to break his tie with demonic father, but still retained this awesome power of foresight. God also gave Merlin the power to see into the future.
Then Merlin privately talked to the judge, revealing that the judge’s mother will go to the priest with the news of the revelation. The priest would fear the judge and flee into the woods, before drowning in a pond. Merlin urged the judge to send two men to follow the judge’s mother, to prove without doubt of his power.
The judge did what Merlin advised him to do, sending two men to secretly follow his mother, who went to the priest. As Merlin had predicted, the priest thought that now the secret was out, the judge would probably have him tried and executed, so the priest fled from his home, into the woods.
Since the devil had used the priest to commit sin, with the judge’s mother, now demon hounded him to commit suicide. Rather than go through the ignoble execution that he thought he would receive from his own son, the priest leaped into the lake. The two men witnessed the priest’s death and returned to the judge with the news of his father’s death, everything as Merlin had predicted. The judge now believed all that Merlin had claimed, naming him wise.
When Merlin departed with his mother, Blaise decided to accompany the prodigy. Blaise tried to test Merlin’s remarkable abilities, yet the priest was fearful of his power. Merlin reassured Blaise that it was God’s will that he retained his ability of the devil to see the true past, but the devil’s hold on Merlin was broken, when Merlin’s mother had followed Blaise’s own advice, having Merlin baptised at birth.
Blaise became Merlin’s life long friend. It was said that Blaise was the chronicler of the reign of Arthur and the high adventure of the Holy Grail. Blaise otherwise known as Bleheris was also said to be either Welsh or Breton poet, who composed the lost archetype legend of Tristan, which the poet Beroul and Thomas may have used as their source for their own poems.
Yet despite Merlin’ assurance to the words that he work on behalf of God and Jesus Christ, some people were still suspicious because he was the son of the devil, so many still didn’t trust him, including the Lady of the Lake.
|It was Geoffrey who invented the episode of Arthur’s magical conception and birth. When Uther fell in love with Gorlois’ wife, Igraine, Merlin helped the king, by transforming Uther to resemble Gorlois (duke of Cornwall). When Gorlois died, Uther married Igraine, but she was already pregnant.
According to the earlier authors about Arthur (Geoffrey of Monmouth, Wace and Layamon), apart from his involvement in the incident of Arthur’s conception and Merlin’s foretelling of the Britons defeating the Saxon with the help of the future king (Arthur), Merlin was never present during Arthur’s reign.
However, many later writers say that Merlin was involved in Arthur’s education. According to the French writer, Robert de Boron, at Arthur’s birth, Merlin gave the infant to Sir Antor (Malory called him Sir Ector) to raise the child in obscure fosterage. Antor was the father of Kay, later a knight who served as his foster brother’s seneschal.
When Uther died it was Merlin who informed the barons of Logres that only a person, who could draw the sword from the stone, would be the rightful king. Merlin was largely responsible for putting the crown on Arthur’s head. Some lords were discontent when only Arthur could draw the sword. Merlin was also involved with Arthur, providing strategy to win the war against the rebel barons. See Birth of Arthur (Vulgate version) and Kingship and Early Wars.
When Arthur broke this sword that had named him king in a fight with King Pellinor (Pellehen), Merlin brought Arthur to the lake where he received a new sword from the Lady of the Lake. This sword was the true Excalibur (see New Sword in Legend of Excalibur page). Merlin told the young king that the scabbard was better than the sword, because it would prevent him from bleeding from his wounds.
Merlin foretold of the greatness of Lancelot and Tristan, though Merlin had died shortly after Lancelot was born.
|Merlin was heavily involved with the Grail in later legend. Though, in Chretien de Troyes’ Conte du Graal, Merlin doesn’t appeared at all in the first Grail romance. In Boron’s one of trilogy, Merlin (c. 1200), such as the Prose Merlin (Vulgate, c. 1235) and the Suite du Merlin (c. 1240), Merlin designed and constructed the Round Table that King Arthur and his knights would sit around. Merlin had modelled the table from the Grail Table created by Joseph of Arimathea, centuries earlier.
Since the Second Grail Continuation, Merlin had a master and friend, named Blaise or Bleise (see Son of the Devil?). According to the legend, Blaise was responsible for the chronicle of Arthur and the Grail. Blaise was also a confessor of Merlin’s mother, at Merlin’s conception and was still alive when Arthur’s Golden Age had fallen apart.
Like the Grail Table, one seat was left vacated at Arthur’s Round Table. This seat was called Siege Perilous. Only the pure and best knight in the world could sit on the Siege Perilous. The knight who sat on the Siege Perilous would also be the eventual champion of the quest for the Holy Grail.
In Boron’s Perceval (now lost) and the Didot Perceval, this Grail knight was Perceval. Merlin became Perceval’s adviser in the quest. In the Vulgate Cycle, the new Grail hero was Galahad, the son of Lancelot. Merlin had disappeared shortly after Lancelot was born and long before Galahad’s time.
Merlin continued his usual role in the later legend as a prophet. In Suite du Merlin (Post Vulgate romance), during the time of Balin’s adventure, Merlin foretold a lot of events that had to do with the Quest. The most important was Balin using the Holy Lance (Bleeding Lance) against King Pellam. The wounding of the Grail King was known as the Dolorous Stroke. The Dolorous Stroke not only maimed the king loved by God, but had devastated and lay waste to the kingdom of Listinois, and placed a great enchantment upon Logres (Britain). Only the true Grail knight (Galahad) can heal the king and lift the enchantment from Logres (Quest of the Holy Grail).
Merlin foretold particular events surrounding the Grail quests. Apart from that, Merlin had foretold the greatness of Lancelot and Tristan, the two greatest lovers of the ages, as well as their great duel they would fight. Merlin had foreseen that Arthur desire to marry Guinevere would one day bring ruin to Arthur and the kingdom, yet he was powerless to dissuade Arthur from the love match. Merlin also foretold the treachery of Morgan le Fay, who stole Excalibur from her brother (Arthur). Merlin foretold the death of Balin, Pellinor and Arthur.
Last of all, Merlin foretold his own death, at the hand of the Lady of the Lake.
|There were several versions of Merlin’s death or his mysterious disappearances from the legend. As I said before, Merlin disappeared before Arthur was born in the works of Geoffrey of Monmouth (Historia regum Britanniae, 1137) and Wace (Roman de Brut, 1155). Merlin was involved in Arthur’s conception, but doesn’t appear again in Arthur’s reign.
In most later tales, Merlin was still alive when Arthur became king. In Didot Perceval, he outlived Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, in the final battle against Mordred. It was he who guided Perceval in the final stage of the quest for the Holy Grail. Merlin told Perceval that he would not die until the end of the world.
In a few tales, a maiden or a fay had trapped Merlin in an enchantment. The most famous was the Lady of the Lake. Again, there are few versions involving his death at the hand of the Lady of the Lake.
The Lady of the Lake was a powerful sorceress and the lady of Otherworldly realm, hidden by the illusionary lake. The Lady of the Lake was known by several other names, such as Niniane, Viviane and Nimue. Further confusion resulted when some author listed several women with title the Lady of the Lake.
The variation of names depends on the authors, but whatever her name was, the most important one was foster-mother of Lancelot and sorceress who had trapped Merlin in a enchantment. She appeared as either Niniane or Viviane in the Vulgate or Post-Vulgate cycles; while in Morte d’Arthur, Malory called her Nimue.
In Vulgate Merlin, Niniane or Viviane, the Lady of the Lake had first met Merlin, when she was only twelve. She was amazed by the power of Merlin. She promised to love him if Merlin would teach her all his crafts. Years later, Merlin met Niniane again. Through subterfuge, Niniane seduced and used her magic to confine in a enchanted tower in which Merlin was powerless to leave, while the Lady could visit and leave the tower at will.
In Suite du Merlin (“Merlin’s Continuation”, 1240) and Malory’s Book IV of Le Morte d’Arthur (1469), Merlin met and had fallen in love with the Lady of the Lake named Niniane (or Viviane, while Malory called her Nimue), after Arthur and Guinevere’s wedding. Niniane did not like Merlin at all, because she thought that the wizard was the son of a devil.
Niniane should not be confused with the Lady of the Lake, who gave Excalibur to Arthur, because Balin had murdered her in the king’s early reign. See New Sword and Balin about the other Lady of the Lake.
She used Merlin’s love, so that he would teach her his magic. In return, for the lessons in magic, Niniane offered to return his love, was nothing more than a subterfuge to gain power to trap the wizard. Merlin had also built her home at Lake of Diana, within the forest of Broceliande, probably in Brittany. With his power, he hid her domain from mortal eyes, so that anyone who travelled by, would only see the lake instead of her home.
At the dolorous forest of Broceliande (some called it Darnantes), Niniane used Merlin’s own magic against the sorcerer; she entombed Merlin in a rock.