Thursday, April 18, 2013

Images Of Ambiguous Women, Possibly Being One And The Same Person, Of Multiple Identities

"His (Merlin's) dearest pupil... whose name was either Niniane or Vivian... (and) who was in her lifetime honored by the title "Lady of the Lake," has generally been dismissed as 'wily Vivian," just as King Arthur's learned and royal half sister, Queen Morgan, has been scorned as "Fay," or Fate, or crazy."-- Norma Lorre Goodrich, Merlin, New York, 1988

Sir Edward Burne-Jones: The Beguiling of Merlin, 1874: Medieval
morality dictated that Arthur's adviser, the wizard Merlin, be punished
for his pagan origins.  As the Arthurian Romance cycle evolved, he
was transformed from wise magus to a foolish old man, besotted and
ultimately imprisoned by the devious Nimue.
"Three medieval texts speak of her (Morgan) as a goddess... (she) is also related to the many, frequently nameless lake fairies of modern Welsh folklore."-- entry for "Morgan le Fay," by Roger S Loomis, in Funk & Wagnall's Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend, New York, 1972

Aubrey Beardsley: The Lady of the Lake Receives the sword
Excalibur from Sir Bedivere, 1894: The image of a bodiless hand
and arm holding an upraised sword appears to tap into a Jungian
archetype of  some sort and can be found in the mystical imagery of
the Rider-Waite Tarot deck as the Ace of Swords where it is
used to symbolize the essence of "Air" as opposed to "Water". 

Walter Crane: King Arthur asks the Lady of the Lake
for the sword Excalibur, late 19th Century: This illustration
evokes the bird symbolism associated with Celtic goddesses
but retranslates it into terms more palatable to Christian
readers of the late 19th Century-- rather than being
associated with ravens flocking around the battlefield,
the Lady moves across still waters of the Spirit as the
guardian of a righteous king's weapon in the battle against
dark forces.
"Vivien or Vivian: The name given by Tennyson and Mathew Arnold to the enchantress who beguiled Merlin...(her name) appears in the French manuscripts in many forms... (such as) Nyneue or Nymue.  She was identifified with the Lady of the Lake... and the fairy lady Rhiannon..."-- entry for "Vivian," by R Roger S Loomis, in Funk & Wagnall's Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend, New York, 1972

Unidentified: The Lady of the Lake, Date Unknown: Some variants
of the story of Arthur and his knights of the Round Table have it that
Vivian, Lady of the Lake, was foster-mother to Lancelot, both the man
who loved Arthur dearest and the man who betrayed him greatest.

Frederick Sandys: Morgan le Faye, 1864: The character of
Morgan first appears in the Arthurian Romance cycle in
Geoffrey of Monmouth's Vita Merlini, circa 1150, where she
is a healer who dwells on an island paradise with her eight
sisters and tends to the wounded king Arthur.  A decade or so
later, Chretian of Troyes writes of her as a loving healer and
informs us that she is also the noble king's sister.
"As for Morgen, she was one of the characters with a clearly divine origin, recognized even in the Middle Ages.  She began as the Celtic goddess Matrona, who became Modron in Welsh.  Touches of an Irish goddess were added to her, so that she too was a composite.  Geoffrey (of Monmouth) made her a healer, heading a benevolent sisterhood, and nursing Arthur after his last battle.  In romance, however, the hardening of (religious) orthodoxy gradually told.  As an enchantress she simply could not be good.  She became a malicious witch, ensnaring knights, and mischief-making at Arthur's court."--  Geoffrey Ashe, The Discovery of King Arthur, New York, 1985

Unidentified: The Lady of the Lake With Mortal Women, Date Unknown: The
mythologist Joseph Campbell has noted that there are very few masculine figurines
from the early European Neolithic period but many that are feminine.  The ability
of woman to bring forth and nourish life transferred itself into many cultures into
the identification of water and earth as female forces.

Alan Lee: Rhiannon, 1984: Students of the mythology and legends of
the British Isles see a connection between the story of Nimue galloping
into King Arthur's Great Hall on a white palfrey and the Mabinogion's
account of  the Rhiannon riding past Pwyll and his courtiers on a
white horse of almost supernatural speed.
"Morgan (le Faye) in Irish legend is 'the Morrigan', meaning "Great Queen"... Robert Graves, The White Goddess, New York, 1948

Mike W Barr and Brian Holland: Morgan Le Fay from an issue of Camelot 3000,
DC Comics, 1982-1985: This graphic novel series plays on the theme of Arthur
reawakened in Britain's Darkest Hour in the distant future.  His half-sister Morgan,
originally a goddess with profound insight into the cycle of life, appears in the
graphic novel in much the same light as she does in the late Arthurian Romance
cycle: a cunning, evil, and sexually charged female presence whose sole role in
creation is to destroy the purity of a good man who would serve God.


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Note: Information for this essay is taken primarily from readily available sources such as Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia, and almanacs.  When other sources are employed they are credited either in the text or as follows:  none. All photographs are taken from Wikipedia or Google Images without source or authorship credits available, except as noted: Unidentified artist's undated print of the Lady of the Lake from David Nash Ford, Early British Kingdoms 


  1. You do very important educational work here, in your blog, Louis! I found this April 18 publication most interesting. And thank you very much for featuring my Three Graces in it!
    Brachot Mirushalayim!

    1. Many thanks for your kind words, Nekoda! I suspect I'll be featuring more of your work in the future-- your collection is truly intriguing and should be seen by a wide audience. Shabbat shalom!