Morgan Le Fay: The Celtic-Based Evil Arthurian Sorceress
1Morgan Le Fay, the sorceress of Arthurian legends
2Morgan Le Fay and Merlin
3Morgan and Lancelot
4Sorceress Morgan's powers and attributes
5Morgan: evil sorceress or good fairy?
6Sorceress Morgan le Fay in fiction
6.11. Knights of the Round Table (1953)
6.22. Excalibur (1981)
6.33. Merlin (1998)
6.44. Game of Thrones (2011)
A fascinating character of medieval legends within the Arthurian Cycle, sorceress Morgan is a powerful witch that acquires diabolical features as the main nemesis for King Arthur and Queen Genevieve. Although she is presented as an evil sorceress, Morgan's origins come from Celtic mythology as a good fairy from the sea. Read on and see for yourself the two sides to sorceress/fairy Morgan.
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Morgan Le Fay, the sorceress of Arthurian legends
In the first version of Arthurian legends, goddess Modron married King Urien and birthed Owain and Gwayr, Arthur's sister, who was mother to Medrawt and a powerful witch. Later on, it is said that Morgana is the eldest of nine sisters ruling over the magic island of Avalon. This was the foundation for the creation of an essential character to the Arthurian Cycle, sorceress Morgan.
The most extended version introduces us to her as a sorceress with the great skill of changing her appearance, and that is why she is attributed with the qualities of trickery and manipulation. Also, she received black magic teachings from Merlin, which she then used against him and to harm Arthur.
As far as her confusing family situation is, Morgan is daughter to Arthur's mother and her first husband, Duke Gorlois of Cornwall; therefore, Arthur is her stepbrother. She is initially a good fairy, but medieval Christianity turned her into an evil sorceress since Chrétien de Troyes first attributed her the family connection to King Arthur.
Morgan Le Fay and Merlin
Precisely because of the narration created by Chrétien de Troyes', the great French medieval storyteller, Morgan le Fay becomes more relevant in King Arthur's legend. Morgan is described as a student to Merlin, the most powerful wizard, and then becomes his enemy.
Her conversion begins when Uther Pendragon, Arthur's father, kills her father Gorlois and she vows revenge. Her great obsession is to ultimately destroy Merlin, who with his powers contributed to her father's murder, and to kill her brother to get revenge against Uther.
Morgan flees into the woods, where she develops her black magic arts, and comes back to King Arthur's court as a kind-hearted sister while secretly planning betrayal on his back. Then, she transforms into Queen Genevieve and conceives a child with King Arthur, Mordred, who will come to the round table as an adult to take the traitor's place and fight for his right to the throne.
Morgan and Lancelot
Knight Lancelot manages to soften Morgan's heart, but he doesn't love her; he loves Queen Genevieve instead. Morgan kidnaps them several times, but then manages to escape, and plots revenge. He manages to send Merlin off of Camelot, and reveals Lancelot's and Genevieve's betrayal, causing a feud between the round table knights.
Internal feuds and Roman invasions leave Great Britain on the brink of destruction, which Mordred uses as an advantage to take the throne as king. However, he also falls in love with Genevieve's charms, and she locks herself in the highest tower. Fate is decided on a fight to the death between Arthur and Mordred, which ends with Morgan's son's defeat.
This is the time where the evil sorceress realises all the suffering and pain she has caused, and regrets her actions. Then, she rescues a wounded Arthur from the battlefield and brings him to Avalon.
Sorceress Morgan's powers and attributes
From her role in the Arthurian legends' narration, sorceress Morgan has become one of the most famous sorceresses in Western literature through time. Although she started as a mere white magic apprentice, literature has transformed her character until making it the classic archetype of the connection between evil and witchcraft.
Morgan's character brings together the attributes of evil, hatred and revenge, and she is often portrayed with the classic image of a raggedy old lady with a hooked nose. However, in some versions, this character has a duality-based personality, because she also represents a burning beauty, desire and temptation.
Among Morgan le Fay's powers there are the skills of transforming into any animal, persuading mortals through telepathy, seeing and altering the future, and tempting good responsible men to take them into ruin.
Among her victims we can find Arthur Pendragon and Merlin the Bard, two icons of duty and responsibility who lose their glory and grandeur because of Morgan's foul arts.
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Morgan: evil sorceress or good fairy?
But the building of the Arthurian legends' antagonist turned evil sorceress of Western literature is just the distortion of an original character whose complexity unfolds in the stories of Celtic mythology.
Morgan's most accurate origins lie in a Celtic queen, Mohr Righan, 'The Great Queen', who had a position in the Irish pantheon as the goddess of war.
This questions the right to the throne in the Arthurian myths, because Celtic societies were matriarchal, and the law of druid succession was the norm: royal dignity was inherited by the son of the elder sister, that is, the true heir was Arthur's nephew Mordred. This overthrows Arthur's rights to the throne.
That is why Christian clergymen, who were against matriarchy and in favour of the law of the firstborn, made Mordred the bastard son of an incestuous bond between Arthur and Morgan, which takes away all legitimacy.
But it's obvious that there is a connection between The Great Celtic Queen and Morgan, because they can both transform into animals and have a well-built sexuality. They are both creators and destructors at the same time, able to do the best and worst.
Another version explains the connection between Morgan and Muirgein, a sea fairy linked to Modron, the Great Goddess and mother to Celtic mythology that's connected to the sea from her father, god Avallach. In French tradition, the Morgens are the water spirits.
Sorceress Morgan le Fay in fiction
The epic of King Arthur's legend and the round table knights has been taken into film many a time. These are your unmissable movies if you want to know the story better, and where Morgan appears one way or another.
1. Knights of the Round Table (1953)
This was the first filmed imagery of Arthurian myths in fiction, a movie where Anne Crawford brought Morgan to life as an ambitious lady chasing after the English throne, who will fight Arthur to take his power since he slid the Excalibur sword out of the stone.
In order to achieve it she has the help of Mordred, her son with Arthur, although that detail is not talked about in the movie. But there are instances instead of Morgan and Merlin's rivalry, because the wizard wants to stop the evil sorceress' intentions until she manages to poison him.
2. Excalibur (1981)
But if there's an actress with a tight relationship to Morgan's role, that's the unforgettable Helen Mirren, whose interpretation plays an essential role in this free-spirited version of the Arthurian myth. This time, Morgan and Merlin are master and student, but they are also in a relationship. However, Morgan falls in love with Lancelot, who is in turn in love with Genevieve.
Still, Morgan is blinded by the hatred towards her father's murderer's son, and wants to steal the throne. That's why she kills off Merlin and steals his powers to pass as Genevieve. The new factor to the story is that this movie shows Morgan's death, which doesn't appear in any story.
3. Merlin (1998)
Another memorable piece is Morgan's association to Helena Bonham Carter in the 1998 miniseries Merlin. In this version, Morgan isn't the antagonist; her actions are moved by betrayal, but also manipulated by the true form of evil, Queen Mab, who has the real intentions of defeating her great nemesis, Merlin.
4. Game of Thrones (2011)
The hit show Game of Thrones, based on the George R.R. Martin novels, has used Morgan as a mythological reference to build up Melissandre. While in Arthurian legends Morgan has a great sexual dimension, in Game of Thrones Melissandre has men working for her.
Also, Melissandre uses her powers to change appearance, in the same way that Morgan achieved her shapeshifting and flying powers in legendary narrations. In Game of Thrones, Melissandre is played by Clarice von Houten.