Hello my lovely readers, and welcome to another Femme Fatale Friday here at White Rose of Avalon! This week I will be writing about the truly fatal side of the Arthurian figure of Morgan Le Fay. I am sure this is a post some of you may have been waiting for, given that I write about Arthurian legends regularly, and I even referenced Avalon in the name of this site!
Morgan Le Fay is most commonly given to be Arthur’s half-sister, his mother’s daughter from her first marriage to Gorlois Duke of Cornwall. There are older versions where she is a great healer and magician who originated on the Isle of Avalon, instead of going there later. Even though it is more common for Morgan to be portrayed as Arthur’s half-sister on his mother’s side, some variations of the legends have her as his father’s daughter instead!
In both cases Morgana had reason to hate Arthur, and resent the Pendragon line. In the versions where she was the daughter of Igraine, she was taken away from her mother to be sent to a nunnery. It was at the nunnery that she learned the arts of magic and necromancy. After she left that nunnery she was married off into a marriage she did not want, or consent to! This is a breeding ground for resentment and hostility. In versions where she was daughter of Uther, she is most often portrayed as neglected (or not even acknowledged by her father) and this is why should would hate her brother. Her brother, after all, had all the power and love of her parent (no matter which parent they shared)!
This is what happened when a powerful female figure, who was once a goddess became demoted in Christianized retellings. It began with her being demoted to a powerful faerie woman and healer, and in this she was shown as a positive magical figure. As time went on she got further demoted to a role of antagonist, who wanted nothing more than to enact the downfall of Camelot! In these versions of the legends it is where she is seen as an ultimate femme fatale figure! As an Arthurian antagonist we see a woman who was overcome with a desire for revenge.
That desire for vengeance certainly would have eaten away at her soul, and darkened her heart. It is in this variant of Morgana that we see her perform magic for dark purposes. This is where we see her as the enchantress who sent the Green Knight to scare Guinevere to death. Morgana in this version even goes so far as to manipulate Arthur into believing she cared for him. She was given Excalibur into her safe keeping, and used this trust to make a duplicate sword with black magic. The real Excalibur was given to her lover when he fought a duel against Arthur! The king is nearly killed in this confrontation, and realized what had happened when his opponent is not injured (as the scabbard of Excalibur prevents the holder from being injured in battle)! Finally, it is in this guise that she is a figure plotting to show Arthur the truth of Guinevere’s love for Lancelot. This adultery is the thing that is shown to truly cause the downfall of Camelot (in most tellings). An ultimate betrayal by Arthur’s queen and his most beloved knight is the thing that ends Camelot.
The story of Morgana as an evil enchantress has a long history, and is the most remembered version of her tale. She is often forgotten for her positive attributes, as many people do love a villain. The most compelling performances by actresses playing her on the screen tend to be the ones that portray her as a villain! We can even say we see versions of this in film and television that are not directly about the Arthurian legends. For instance I have always felt that the episode of Charmed (the original one that ran from 1998-2006) that featured Paige’s past life was a version of the Morgana tale. This season four episode told the story of a “fairytale” Paige remembered from childhood about an Evil Enchantress. She finds out that the enchantress was real, and she was remembering one of her own past lives! The personality, and look of the Evil Enchantress here, as well as the medieval setting, screams Morgan Le Fay to me. It aligns with the negative and antagonistic version of this figure that became passed down for centuries, but it also shows a little sympathy in that Paige was connected to her (by once being her)!
Morgana, like all Arthurian woman with power, is a complex figure who has evolved over the centuries. I hope that you have enjoyed this look at Morgan Le Fay as an evil enchantress. Thank you for joining me here at White Rose of Avalon for Femme Fatale Friday, and I hope you will join me next week! Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is Morgana. I found the image on once-upon-a-time-reborn.fandom.com.
- Vita Merlini by Geoffrey of Monmouth
- Le Morte D’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory
- The Vulgate Cycle (collection of Arthurian tales by various anonymous medieval authors) also called The Lancelot-Grail Cycle
- Charmed Season 4 Episode 6 “A Knight to Remember”