For today’s post, I will be looking at the concept of Faery Glamour. Faery Glamour is both a principle within folklore and something that can be utilized magically. This is a magick of illusion and transformation. Within this post, I will take a look at three of the primary literary examples of Faery Glamour. That means a dive into the Arthurian legends, as is a common theme here on White Rose of Avalon!
The first story that deals with Faery Glamour that I will discuss is actually the tale of the conception of Arthur himself. When Uther Pendragon became obsessed with Igraine, the wife of Gorlois Duke of Cornwall, he would stop at nothing to have her in his bed. This took the form of him going to war with Gorlois, and with the help of Merlin, pretending to be the Duke to deceive Igraine into sleeping with him! I have written quite extensively about this event in my posts on Igraine and Arthur, so here I will simply focus on the Faery Glamour element. Merlin used Faery Glamour to change Uther’s appearance, making him look identical to Gorlois. At the same time that he got into Tintagel in the guise of Gorlois, the actual Duke was being slaughtered on the battlefield! It is this coupling of Uther and Igraine that begets Arthur’s conception. This is an example of Faery Glamour being used to make a human look like another human as an act of deception.
The second story featuring Faery Glamour that I will discuss here is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Now, this one has multiple cases of Faery Glamour contained within it, making it a perfect choice to look at. The Green Knight is in truth Sir Bertilak transformed with Faery Glamour by Morgan le Fey into an intimidating green woodsman. At Bertilak’s castle the old lady that spends much time with his wife, and has a place of honor in the household, is none other than Morgan herself transformed into a loathly lady. This is a case of using Faery Glamour to hide in plain sight, in the form of a figure that would be typically ignored. Some scholars have also speculated that Lady Bertilak is also under Faery Glamour, given her amazing beauty, and the usage of this Glamour is to test Gawain during his trials! The whole of the testing begins with the initial challenge that Gawain takes up against the Green Knight, which was Morgan’s attempt to both challenge Gawain and to try to horrify Guinevere by the beheading. The events with Sir Bertilak occur a year later when Gawain is trying to complete the second half of the challenge. In the end, he succeeded in his test by being willing to lose his head if it meant keeping his honor!
The third and final story featuring Faery Glamour that I will discuss here is another one about Gawain. It is the story of The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle. Ragnelle begins as a loathly lady who is testing Arthur and Gawain. Arthur had been tasked with finding out what women desire most. Gawain accepts Ragnelle’s terms of his marriage to her, and Arthur and Gawain learn that what women most desire is sovereignty! Arthur wins the contest, but the wedding of Gawain and Ragnelle still goes on. On the wedding night after the feast, Ragnelle revealed to Gawain that she was cursed to be an ugly hag until an honorable knight married her, but now she must spend half the day as an ugly hag and half in her true form as a beautiful maiden. She gives Gawain the option of having her beautiful during the day for all to see his wife’s loveliness, or beautiful at night for his own pleasure. Gawain tells her that he wants her to do whatever she wants, and that breaks the spell fully because he had given her sovereignty, what women most desire! The story works as a parody of other romantic tales in many ways, yet it also is a prime example of Faery Glamour. Ragnelle tests knights in the form of an ugly hag, a loathly lady, and testing is what Faery Glamour does best in Arthurian tradition.
As it can be seen throughout the three tales I have highlighted in this post, Faery Glamour can be utilized in a myriad of ways. It can be used to make a faery, or someone that the faery performs the Glamour on, look beautiful or ugly, old or young, or even like an entirely different person or being! In each case, we see how the power of Faery and the ancient Pagan magick is at the periphery of these Arthurian tales. The magick and Celtic origins of the Arthuriad were never fully removed, even by the Christian clerics that recorded the tales in the medieval period! I hope that you have enjoyed this analysis of Faery Glamour in the Arthuriad. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is a lovely image of Gawain and Ragnelle. I found the image on https://www.deviantart.com/sigune/art/Spring-Gawain-and-Ragnell-602997743.
- Le Morte D’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory
- Sir Gawain and the Green Knight translated by Marie Borroff