For today’s post, I have decided to look at Morgan le Fay in her connection to the Greek mythological witch Circe. The first writers featuring the story of Morgana le Fay were Christian clerics who would have been schooled in the classics and aware of The Odyssey, making it highly plausible that the connection between Morgan and Circe was planned. After all, when they read the source material of the Celtic Goddesses that would become the Faery women of the Arthuriad, they would have desired to make correlations between these tales and other ancient myths.
Circe is the first witch according to Greek mythology. She was the daughter of the Titan Helios and his wife, a nymph. When Circe began to cause trouble with her magical workings, which were technically forbidden to anyone but Gods, she was sent off to live on her own island. She was not entirely alone as several nymph handmaidens were said to have been sent there with her. Circe would occasionally have visitors in the form of stranded sailors and warriors. She took delight in using her magick to transform them into animals, in particular swine! This is why she had so many wild animals that were tame on her island, especially pigs! Odysseus was the one to change her tune, in that he got her to transform his men back to humans and even charmed her enough to find himself in her bed as her lover!
These facts about Circe seem to mirror several facts presented to us about Morgan le Fay over the course of several versions of the legends. Circe ruling over a group of nymph handmaidens on her own private island is very similar to Morgana, the foremost of nine magical sisters on the Isle of Avalon. The fact that Circe was very skilled in transformational magick, is linked too, as something that Morgan is known to have likewise wielded. Morgan could turn herself into a crow, was able to use Faery Glamour to turn Sir Bertilak into the Green Knight, and was able to transfigure herself to hide her identity when she desired to do so. Circe punishing warriors by turning them into swine is similar to Morgan punishing Knights who were unfaithful in love by trapping them in her Val Sans Retour. Finally, similar to Circe bedding Odysseus, Morgan famously had affairs with Knights like Giuomar and Accolon, even though she seemed to hate the Knights of the Roundtable in general.
I hope that you have enjoyed this short analysis of the connection between Morgan le Fay and Circe. Did you know of the similarity of their stories? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is one of Waterhouse’s paintings of Circe, but I have always felt it has a very Morgan feel as well! I found the image on https://myths-legends.fandom.com/wiki/Circe.
- The Odyssey by Homer
- Circe by Madeline Miller
- Vita Merlini by Geoffrey of Monmouth
- Arthurian Romances by Chretien de Troyes
- Vulgate Cycle by anonymous French writers
- Le Morte D’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory
- The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley