Morgan Le Fay was the half-sister of King Arthur in many tellings of the Arthurian legends. She was a faerie woman and sorceress, and is often depicted as an evil figure. She is mostly depicted as the mother of Mordred, although sometimes Morgause is his mother. In popular culture Morgan featured in cinematic and television adaptions of the legends, as well as in novels based on these tales. She was famously portrayed by Helen Mirren in Excalibur, and Eva Green in Camelot.
Morgan studied magic on the Isle of Avalon. She learned at the helm of the Lady of the Lake, and Merlin oftentimes. Morgan practices witchcraft that is often seen as malignant. In many tellings of the legends she used her craft to do harm to Arthur and the realm of Camelot.
In several versions the conception of Mordred happened when Morgan used her sorcery to seduce Arthur into bed. The incest within this coupling is certainly a hugely taboo subject. That is why when the legends took on a more Christian tone the coupling of siblings was viewed as something inherently pagan, and something of black magic. Faerie women like Morgan, Guinevere, and Isolde were feared in the medieval church, and this makes them the perfect villains of the story. Guinevere and Isolde were seen as women that used magic and adultery to make kings bend to their will. Morgan was seen as an enchantress who used her black magic and incest to attempt to gain power from her brother, the king.
Morgan actually becomes the Lady of the Lake in some cases. She takes over this mantle from a previous Lady of the Lake, and in so became the supreme leader of the Isle of Avalon. When Arthur is dying of battle wounds after the Battle of Camlann it is Morgan Le Fay who comes to him on a boat to take him away to the mystical Isle of Avalon. Some scholars have compared Avalon to the Celtic Otherworld. The Otherworld is both a realm of the Faeries and a land of the dead! While in Avalon Arthur waits for his country to have need of him again. When Britain is in its greatest peril, Arthur again he shall come back again to save his beloved country. This is where the title Once and Future King comes form!
In the modern Avalonian Tradition of Witchcraft the priestesses are referred to as Morgens. This harkens back to a theory that Morgen was a title given to magical practitioners on Avalon. Some tellings of the legends referred to Morgan Le Fay as the leader of nine sisters who lead goddess worship and magical practices on the Isle of Avalon. It is Morgan and the rest of the nine sisters who ferried Arthur to Avalon after the final battle of Camlann, and this is where he would remain in waiting for his country to need him again!
I hope this post has been informative! Let me know your thoughts on this Arthurian lady in the comments below.
- Le Morte D’Arthur by Thomas Malory
- The Age of Chivalry by Thomas Bulfinch
- Excalibur (1981)
- Camelot (2011)
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is Morgan le Fay by Frederick Augustus Sandys. I found the image on wikipedia.com.