Another of Merlin the Magician’s students was King Arthur’s half-sister, Morgan le Fay. At various times she challenged the Lady of the Lake for the title, The Queen of Avalon, and early writers had trouble deciding whether she was a fairy or a sorceress. The name “le Fay” suggested she came from fairy heritage, while others associated her name with “Morgen,” meaning “sea-born.” In all accounts though, she had supernatural powers.
Scholars now believe that Morgan derived from the Celtic Welsh goddess, Modron. The first tales made her the eldest of nine sisters – or one of nine virgin priestesses – who lived on the Isle of Apples (Avalon). She was an enchantress and healer, capable of flying and changing shape. After King Arthur got wounded at the Battle of Camlann, he was taken to Avalon to be healed.
Throughout the ages Morgan has retained her healing powers. But in patriarchal times she became more sinister and dangerous. Like the Lady of the Lake, she was turned into a witch figure – lustful, sly, and unpredictable – finally becoming the arch-enemy of Arthur and his queen.
Later versions of Morgan made her more human. She was born to Arthur’s mother (Igraine) and her first husband (Gorlois), and was therefore the king’s half-sister. Morgan spent time as Guinevere’s lady-in-waiting, got unhappily married to King Urien, bore a son called Ywain, and had an unrequited passion for Sir Lancelot. When she learnt of Lancelot’s love for the queen she caused all sorts of mischief to expose their affair, often being thwarted by her counterpart, the Lady of the Lake. At some point she became Merlin’s apprentice, but instead of using her powers for good she commanded the forces of evil. Her obsession with Lancelot – and hatred for Arthur and Guinevere – intensified to such a point she was exiled from Camelot. Morgan lived in the forest and carefully perfected her craft, until the locals started calling her The Goddess. Then she ended Arthur’s reign. She gave Excalibur to her lover, and threw its protective scabbard into the lake, leaving King Arthur completely unprotected in battle so that he became mortally wounded. She was ultimately the bringer of chaos and death.
But having been called a fairy, healer, enchantress, seductress, and witch, modern pagans are now reclaiming Morgan as a symbol of feminine power. She is seen by some as the third face of the Triple Goddess (the Crone or Warrior Woman), which reunites her with Celtic Modron – the Mother.
Of all the many aspects of her mythology, Morgan le Fay is indeed a shape-shifter!
Norako, Leila K. “Morgan le Fay.” http://d.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/theme/morgan
Wikipedia, “Morgan le Fay.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morgan_le_Fay
(Picture: Frederick Sandys)