For today’s post, I would like to look at an archetype commonly found in medieval legends. I personally refer to this archetype as the Mystical Femme Fatale. In many of her portrayals in medieval romances, Morgan le Fay fits into this archetype. In truth, many of the women of Arthurian Legend can be seen in this light! As this is a favorite subject of mine or two favorites (the Arthuriad and magic) I felt this would make for an interesting post.
First of all, I would like to define the mystical femme fatale, as an archetype. This is a woman that is magical, either by having actual abilities, or an aura of intrigue and being a beacon of light for others. She is also sexy and alluring, not to mention flirty and seductive. Like the name of the archetype suggests she has both the characteristics of the classical femme fatale as well as that of a mystic!
Morgan le Fay follows this archetype in her appearances within the Vulgate Cycle and beyond. It can also be argued that she began appearing in this capacity as early as Vita Merlini, as she was already depicted as the Queen of Avalon, and shown as a powerful Faery Goddess capable of great magick. In the works of Chretien de Troyes, she had first (in recorded writing), been shown as Arthur’s sister, and her implied healing ability is still there. However, it is in the Vulgate that we first see her as both magical, as well as ravenously sexual, and potentially deadly!
Now, this is not to say that the mystical femme fatale must always be a wicked figure. Morgana was portrayed that way often, but there is much more, and the overarching appearance of her throughout the medieval period best summarizes this archetype. Morgana is both very sexual and also supremely magical, making her an ideal of this archetype!
Guinevere likewise, can be seen this way. She began as a Goddess figure and a representative of Sovereignty. As the medieval period wore on, her magical origins were largely erased. She was seen as a femme fatale certainly, with her seduction of knights. However, she had magical and faery origins in the earliest texts, and the Vulgate even essentially equates her as being a witch! Malory also slyly accused her of enchantment, in this case using magick to keep Lancelot faithful to her. All of this combines to make her a fitting counterpart to Morgan le Fay as a mystical femme fatale.
Other Faery women of the Arthuriad that can be seen as fitting this archetype on some level include Ragnell, Enide, Blanchefleur, Lunette, and Laudine. Each of these features within prominent stories that are found in Chretien de Troyes, and some in the Mabinogion. Ragnell becomes the bride of Gawain in a test that exemplified the loathly lady archetype, but also falls into the mystical femme fatale, as she must test the knight and ends up utilizing her beauty to do so. Enide is the bride of Erec (or Gerent) and they must pass a test of love, in that they must learn to love as adults instead of childlike puppy love. Enide is mystical in that her origins are that of Faery. Blanchefleur is a Faery woman who is instrumental to the evolution of Perceval into knighthood. Lunette and Laudine feature in the story of Yvain (or Owain). Laudine is his Faery Queen bride, who married him after he killed her husband. This act bestowed sovereignty on Yvain, and after abandoning her he must pass tests to win her love again. Lunette is the handmaiden and a Faery woman associated with the moon, who helps Yvain win Laudine not once but twice!
The appeal of this archetype is that these women are both strong and sexy. They are both intelligent and attractive. They contain what some may view as opposing elements of personality, but are powerful! In medieval times the idea of a woman being complex made her easily misunderstood, and that contributes to the otherness, and even wickedness, of the portrayal of these figures. Needless to say, this archetype continues to have appeal to us, and many of us can find strength in empowering ourselves with this archetype!
Reading about these magical and sultry figures can help us learn about how we can incorporate this type of mystical femme fatale energy into our daily lives. To work with this archetype, we are essentially working with the Queen, the Lover, and the High Priestess all rolled into one! This is a potent and intense archetype, and this may seem scary (or even bad), but it is truly a misunderstood way of living. If you feel in need of having more sovereignty or freedom to make your own decisions, this would be a good archetype to work with, as it empowers us to be true to ourselves and our own needs!
I hope you have enjoyed learning a bit about this archetype! I would love to know if this has inspired anyone out there to claim their inner mystical femme fatale. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is a lovely painting of Morgan le Fay. I found the image on https://pixels.com/featured/morgan-le-fay-renee-lavoie.html.
- Vita Merlini by Geoffrey of Monmouth
- The Arthurian Romances by Chretien de Troyes
- The Mabinogion translated by Sioned Davies
- The Vulgate Cycle
- The Post Vulgate Cycle
- Le Morte D’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory
- Goddesses in Everywoman by Jean Shinoda Bolen