Vivienne or Nimue: By Any Name the Enchantress of Merlin

For this weeks’ Femme Fatale Friday I have chosen to take a brief look at the deadly aspect of Vivienne, or Nimue, the Lady of the Lake that became the undoing of Merlin!    No matter which of her many names you call her by, it is evident that in several versions of the Arthurian legends that she was the cause of the fall of this powerful wizard.

In the versions where the Lady of the Lake becomes the undoing of the great wizard, she used him to gain knowledge.    Merlin, in these tellings, was long enamored with the beautiful young Lady of the Lake.     After not showing interest in the aging Merlin, she eventually decided to use his being enthralled with her to her advantage!    There are versions that state the Lady herself was the pursuer of Merlin, as it was her desire to gain all of his knowledge.    In this iteration she is fitting into the classic version of the femme fatale.

She is a woman who used her sexuality to seduce an older man who had something she wanted, only to then imprison him when he was of no more use!   For anyone familiar with the classic film noir films of Old Hollywood, this is a common trope for a woman to gain power in a patriarchal society.    Using her wiles and sexual favors to get what she wanted from Merlin, the Lady became the most powerful of the faerie women on Avalon!    

It must be noted that this version of the undoing of Merlin (where the Lady of the Lake is a wicked enchantress) was a later addition to the legends.    This came out of the medieval romances where the female figures became seen as naughty for having any power at all.   In the older versions of these tales Merlin chose to retreat from society, and the Lady of the Lake always had power.    She was a faerie woman in service of the Goddess, and lived in Avalon!    Most versions had her as one of nine sisters, who were powerful magical practitioners and healers.   

The Lady of the Lake is a multilayered and complex figure in the Arthurian legends.    This is true of most all of the important female figures in these legends, as with their power and intelligence they were seen as otherworldly, and often feared by the males who wrote of them!   These woman can all be seen as possibly having faerie origins, making them truly magical by birth, and it is possible even more powerful than the men of these same legends!    This could be why the Lady of the Lake has long been accused of being the undoing of the great mage Merlin!

Thank you for joining me for Femme Fatale Friday here at White Rose of Avalon!  I hope you enjoyed this look at the deadly aspect of the Lady of the Lake.   Please join me next week for Femme Fatale Friday!   Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is Merlin and Nimue by Anna Marie Ferguson.   I found the image on via

Further Reading

  • Le Morte D’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory
  • Arthur and the Sovereignty of Britain by Caitlin Matthews
  • Arthurian Magic by John & Caitlin Matthews with Virginia Chandler