One of the most fascinating figures in the Welsh mythology and the Arthurian legend is Merlin, the great wizard, prophet and adviser to several kings, including King Arthur.
The Many Faces of Merlin
Merlin is one of the most fascinating figures in the Welsh literature and the Arthurian legend. Merlin is a man of mystery and magic; contradiction and controversy surrounded his life.
Merlin wore many hats: he was a wizard or sorcerer, a prophet, a bard, an adviser and a tutor. He appeared as a young boy with no father. He appeared as an old, wise man, freely giving his wisdom to four successive British kings. He was dotting old fool, who couldn't control his lust over beautiful women, who hold him in fear and contempt. He had even appeared as a madman after bloody battle, and had fled into the forest and learned how to talk to the animals, where he became known as the Wild Man of the Woods. Merlin was the last of the druid, the Celtic shaman, priest of nature, and keeper of knowledge, particularly of the arcane secrets.
According to the Welsh historian, Nennius, Merlin appeared as a young boy, but under the name of Emrys or as Ambrosius in Latin, with the British king, Vortigern. In a similar account with Vortigern, it was Geoffrey of Monmouth, who had named this boy – Merlinus Ambrosius (Merlin Emrys in Welsh).
In the work, titled Historia regum Britanniae ("History of the Kings of Britain", c. 1137), Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote that he was a son of a nun and grandson of the King of Demetia in southern Wales. As to his father, he was either a devil or an incubus. Merlin is a paradox, he was the son of the devil, yet he was the servant of God.
Merlin had being identified to the Welsh fictional bard named Myrddin of the late 6th century, in the Welsh poem called Afallenau and several other poems, preserved in the manuscript known as the Black Book of Carmarthen, c. 1250. These rather old Welsh poems appeared rather obscure and gibberish.
Geoffrey of Monmouth composed a similar tale of Merlin's madness, written in Latin, known as Vita Merlin or the "Life of Merlin", in 1150. In this version, he was known as Merlin Calidonius. Here, he has a sister and a wife, but there's no mention of his parents. It is the only text that mentioned Merlin having a wife.
Many scholars were puzzled over his birth, his magical power, his prophetic gifts and his mysterious yet often conflicting fate.
First of all, Geoffrey of Monmouth wasn't the first writer who recorded event about Merlin in his Historia regum Britanniae ("History of the Kings of Britain", c. 1137). In fact, how Merlin had gain his power in the Historia regum Britanniae was different to Geoffrey's later work called Vita Merlini ("Life of Merlin", c. 1152). These two contradictory works had led many scholars to believe that there are two different people with the same name, Merlin.
It should be understood that the early known work on Merlin has nothing to do with King Arthur or his knights. So before you read about Merlin, the friend and adviser of Arthur, we need to look where he had come from.
According to Geoffrey of Monmouth's work called Historia regum Britanniae ("History of the Kings of Britain", 1137), Merlin was rumored to have been the son of a demon or an incubus and a mortal woman who was a nun. Merlin was probably born in the town of Carmarthen. Because of his link with a demon and God, Merlin had great wisdom and powers from the two opposing forces.
Later legend has expanded the amazing birth of Merlin, such as the prose adaptation of Robert de Boron's Merlin; the adaptation was known as the Prose Merlin or the Vulgate Merlin, because it was part of the Vulgate Cycle. See Son of the Devil? for a brief tale of Merlin's birth and how he had gained his powers of foresight and magic.
According to Geoffrey, his mother was the daughter of the King of Demetia (Dyved, kingdom in southern Wales). Though, a princess, she became a nun.
After King Vortigern lost his battle and much of his territory lost to the Saxons, he fled into Wales, where he decided to build a fortress. Everyday he had part of the wall built, but it would collapse the next day. The elders led by Magan, advised the king to find a boy without a father, kill the boy, and use the boy's blood mixed with mortar, so the building would not crumbled again. These elders, who advised King Vortigern, conspired to have the boy Merlin killed, because they knew that he would cause their death.
When they found the boy without a father, he was brought before the king. When Merlin found out what the king's advisers had told Vortigern, the boy told him it was the most ridiculous advice, and rebuked them for wanting his death.
Merlin told the king the reason why his fortress always collapsed. Merlin told Vortigern was not building the wall on solid foundation, because there was pool of water underneath. And underneath the pool was two sleeping dragons – one red dragon, the other was white. Another reason why the walls always collapse was that the dragons fought one another since they were trapped underground.
Everything Merlin had told to the king was true. The dragons wakened and rose out of the hole and fought one another.
After this, Merlin proclaimed that his name was also Ambrosius. Merlin then foretold a series of prophecies about Britain. The significant of the two dragons fighting one another, was that the future kings of Britain would drive the Saxons out of their country, but inevitably, the Saxons would overcome the Britons and ruled over Britain. The red dragon represents the Britons, while the white dragon was seen as the Saxons. Merlin also foretold that the Boar of Cornwall shall drive out the Saxons giving relief to the Britons. The Boar of Cornwall was the banner of Arthur, son of Uther. Merlin also foretold that 6 descendants of Arthur shall rule after the great king before Saxons would return and conquer Britain.
With the dragons gone, and the foundation stabled, Vortigern completed the construction of his fortess, and the king named it Dinas Emrys, which is "Ambrosius' Fort".
This episode in Geoffrey's work was largely derived from the historian Nennius, who wrote the Historia Brittonum (c. 9th century). In Nennius' work, the boy-prophet was named Ambrosius (or Emrys in Welsh), not Merlin. Where as Geoffrey claimed that Merlin's father was an incubus, Nennius wrote that Ambrosius (Merlin) claimed his father was a Roman consul.
In Nennius' text, Vortigern's adviser told the king that "You must find a child born without a father....". This doesn't mean his father wasn't mortal. It most likely mean that his father died, before Ambrosius (Merlin) was born. Geoffrey made this statement, that Merlin's father was the devil.
Also that the king found young Ambrosius (Merlin) was found in the field of Aelecti, in the district of Glevesing, not in the town of Carmarthen. It was Ambrosius who became adviser to King Vortigern after he reveal the mystery of the falling walls.
The significance of Carmarthen (Caerfyrddin) was not only the place of Geoffrey rested on how this town was translated to "Caer Merddin" or "Merddin's Fort".
After Vortigern's death, Merlin advised Aurelius Ambrosius of bringing the large bluestones from Mount Killaraus in Ireland, and erecting a circle of stones known as the Giant's Ring (Stonehenge) in Salisbury, England. Aurelius Ambrosius and his brother Uther had to fight a series of battles against the Saxons.
One night, Uther and Merlin saw a comet in the sky, where the tail caused the sky to lit up in the shape of a dragon. Merlin informed Uther, that his brother (Aurelius Ambrosius) had died from poisoning, and Uther was now king of the Britons. This dragon became the symbol of Uther's kingship, and Merlin gave the new king the surname "Pendragon" (Uther Pendragon).
It was here, for the first time, Merlin was seen as sorcerer or wizard. He had used his magic to move the stone. It was his magic that allow Uther to disguise to look like the husband of Igraine.
Merlin became involved in the conception of Arthur, when Uther fell in love with Duke Gorlois' wife, Igraine. Gorlois (Hoel) was duke of Cornwall, and he was one of Uther's allies in the war against the Saxons. Gorlois was offended when he saw that Uther could not control his feeling for his wife. Gorlois withdrew his support to Uther. Gorlois thought to protect Igraine in his strongest castle in Tintagel, while he fought Uther in another castle.
Uther could not control his lust and obsession for Igraine and asked Merlin to aid him in seducing Igraine. Merlin use his magic to make Uther into Gorlois' double, so that no one including Igraine could recognise Uther. The bogus duke (Uther) had sex with Igraine, on the same night Gorlois was killed. Tintagel and Cornwall immediately surrendered to Uther, and the king married the newly widowed Igraine. Igraine gave birth to Arthur.
Apart from the conception of Arthur, Merlin was never involved in Arthur's life in Geoffrey's account. According to later authors (Robert de Boron, writer of the Vulgate texts, and Thomas Malory), Merlin was active in Arthur's reign, as the chief adviser. Merlin was also responsible for Arthur's secret fosterage. See Merlin and Arthur.
The Wild Man of the Woods
In Geoffrey's Historia regum Britanniae ("History of the Kings of Britain", 1137), we see Merlin Ambrosius as a enchanter and prophet, and how a boy prophet became King Vortigern's adviser, as well as adviser to two successive kings (Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther). See Vortigern in the Life of King Arthur.
Now, shall look at a different tale where Merlin gained his gift through madness in the wilderness, where he is known as the Wild Man of the Wood.
There are several different sources for this legend, but let us begin with Geoffrey's Merlin Calidonius.
Merlin was a bard and a lawgiver in Demetia (Dyved), a region in southern Wales. Merlin took part in the war between Peredur of the Venedotians against Guernolus (Guennolous, Gwenddolau or Gwendoleu in Welsh) of Scotia and King Rodarch (Rhodarcus, or Rhydderch in Welsh) of Cumbria (Cymru or Wales).
Note that Geoffrey had never given a name to this battle, but in the Welsh legend of Myrddin, it was known as the Battle of Arfderydd, fought in AD 573. According to the Welsh Triads, the Battle of Arfderydd was one of the "Three Futile Battles".
Merlin was overcome with grief for the death of Peredur's three brothers in battle. His grief had overwhelmed his sanity so that he had gone stark raving mad and ran into forest of Calidon. During the time he had not only lived like an animal, he had the ability to speak to the wild animal in the forest.
For a moment, Merlin regained his senses, when he heard some music played by the retainer of Ganieda (Gwenddydd). Ganieda was the sister of Merlin and wife of King Rodarch.
Merlin returned to the court of King Rodarch for only a while. Madness returned because there were too many people in Rodarch's court, and Merlin fled back into the forest. Rodarch tried to persuade his brother-in-law to return, but Merlin refused, so the king had him returned in chain. Ganieda took care of her brother.
One day, Rodarch removed a leaf from his wife's hair. Seeing this Merlin laughed. Curious, Rodarch wanted to know the reason for Merlin's laugh. Reluctantly, he told the king that Ganieda had met her lover under a tree. Ganieda told her husband that her brother was still suffering from madness, so Rodarch shouldn't take too much notice of what he say.
To prove that Merlin was either mad or clairvoyance, Rodarch ask Merlin see what the fate of one of the boys in the court. Merlin saw this boy three times; each time he gave a different answer. Merlin said that the boy would die from a fall. Then at a second look, Merlin would say that the boy would died from a tree, and later still, he reply that the boy would die in a river.
With this three-fold death, Rodarch dismissed Merlin's accusation of his wife's adultery and concluded that Merlin was indeed mad, so the king released his brother-in-law. Merlin decided to return to the woods, but before he did, he informed his wife, Gwendoloena (Gwendolyn) that she had his permission to marry someone else, dissolving his marriage to her. Gwendoloena had been living with Rodarch and Ganieda, since the day of his disappearance after the battle.
However, Merlin also warned his wife that he will bring a gift to her on her wedding day, but that her new bridegroom should not see him on that day, and that her new betrothed should avoid standing in his path. This interdiction is like the Irish geis or taboo that are imposed on rulers or heroes, where it usually spell doom of the person, who break his geis.
While Merlin was in the forest, his foretelling of the boy's death came true. The boy fell off a rock, where his feet were caught in a branch of a tree. With the boy hanging upside-down, his head was in the water, so the child drowned. Rodarch realised that Merlin was a prophet and that what he said about his wife's adultery, must also be true.
On the day of Gwendoloena's wedding, she saw from her window, her ex-husband mounted on a stag, leading a herd of stags and deer into Rodarch's court. Gwendoloena laughed at this spectacle. Her laugh brought her fiance to the window; thereby her fiance had broken the first interdiction. Then Merlin broke off one of his stag's antler and hurled it at her fiance's head, which killed him. This was Merlin's gift to Gwendoloena.
Merlin returned to the forest, but Rodarch had him brought back to his palace again.
One day, when Rodarch heard Merlin laughed again, the king again wanted to hear the cause of Merlin's amusement. Merlin only agreed to tell his brother-in-law, if he was free to return to the forest.
Merlin told him that he had seen a young man buy a pair of shoes with some extra leather for repair, but he would die on that very day. Merlin also witnessed an old beggar resting beside the palace gates, not realising he was sitting on top of a treasure. Both predictions were true, so the king freed the prophet.
In the forest, Ganieda had a large building constructed for her brother, with 70 doors and 70 windows, so Merlin could observe the stars in the winter, while he was free to roam the forest in the summer.
Merlin then began to foretell a series of some of the bleak events about Britain. All these prophecy was written down. One day will Ganieda was visiting her brother, Merlin told her that Rodarch had die, and that she should attend her husband's funeral and deliver an elegy. Merlin also told Ganieda that she should bring Taliesin to him (Geoffrey called him Thegesinus), who should have return from his study with Gildas in Armorica (Brittany).
After the funeral, Ganieda returned and lived with her brother for the rest of her life, rather than stay at the palace. Taliesin informed that he had visit the Isle of Avalon, bringing with him Arthur, who was wounded in the battle of Camblam (Camlann), on a ship belonging to Barinthus.
The Isle of Avalon was ruled by nine sisters, sorceresses who were famous healers and had the ability to fly. Morgan le Fay, more beautiful and powerful than her sisters, told Taliesin that they could heal the king, only if Arthur stayed with them. The future of Britain was uncertain and bleak, so Taliesin want to return Arthur to his kingdom, but Merlin informed the bard that it was not yet time for Arthur's return.
One day, the rain came, creating a new spring in the forest of Broceliande (Paimpoint). Taliesin guided Merlin to the spring, and when he drank the water, his sanity had returned to him. The healing spring became known as the fountain of Barenton.
Upon hearing of Merlin being healed of madness, the people of Demetae (Dyved) wanted the prophet to become their ruler, but he refused on the ground that he was old.
One day, Merlin met another madman in the forest, whom he recognised to be Maeldin. The prophet brought his friend to the magical spring, curing and restoring Maeldin's sanity. At that same time, Ganieda was overcome with a frenzy that gave her the ability to foretell the future. The tale ended with Merlin announcing that his retirement as a prophet, and that his sister had taken over his task.
According to ancient Celtic lore, there is a magical tree associated with each month of the year. Find out which one is your helper and learn valuable information about your personality from the wisdom of the trees–including the planet and gemstone associated with your Celtic tree horoscope.
December 24 - January 20: BIRCH
Planet: The Sun
Gemstone: Rock Crystal
Birch people tend to be hard-working and ambitious, with strong leadership qualities. You are generally loyal and faithful, although you may tend to hide your feelings.
January 21 - February 17: ROWAN
Rowans tend to be idealistic and original, a free-thinker filled with the fire of idealism. You are probably unconventional, artistic, and ahead of your time, imaginative and humanitarian in your outlook.
February 18 - March 17: ASH
Ash people are good communicators, witty and spontaneous, and generally curious about life.
March 18-April 14: ALDER
Alders are filled with courage and affection, loyalty and determination. Your energy is considerable, you enjoy physicality, and love to play.
April 15 - May 12:WILLOW
Planet: The Moon
Willows tend to be in touch with their emotions, intuitive, and adaptable. Underneath the appearance of hesitance, willows possess great flexibility and inner strength, along with a strong will.
May 13 - June 9: HAWTHORN
Hawthorns are spontaneous and sometimes impatient, possessing great confidence, creativity, and charm.
June 10 - July 7: OAK
Oaks tend to be self-confident and responsible, optimistic and proud, with ample charisma and a strong philosophical streak.
July 8 - August 4: HOLLY
Gemstone: Red Carnelian
Holly people are cautious and practical, reasonable and filled with personal integrity, sensitive and protective.
August 5 - September 1: HAZEL
Hazels are very perceptive, idealistic, and artistic. Wisdom and creativity are especially important to hazel people.
September 2 - September 29: VINE
Vine folks are very sensitive and self-critical, gentle and romantic. You can be quite authoritative, and harmony is of great importance to you.
September 30 - October 27: IVY
Planet: The Moon
Ivy people are social and loyal to their friends, kindly but sometimes restless, and, although appearing hesitant, actually very strong.
October 28 - November 24: REED
Reeds tend to be fearless and stubborn, uncompromising and independent, imaginative, loyal, and sometimes jealous.
November 25 - December 23: ELDER
Elders are energetic, self-disciplined, although disliking routine, open, spontaneous, and self-sufficient.
inspired by The White Goddess and other works by Robert Graves
WHAT DID THE CELTS CELEBRATE, AND HOW?
The Celts had thirteen months in their year - twelve months that roughly matched our modern calendar and one that lasted three days, leading up to Samhaine.
Their year was divided into one half of light, the other of dark. Samhaine marked the beginning of the dark half. Beltaine marked the beginning of the light. These two were fire festivals and between them came the other fire festivals, Imbolc and Lughnasadh, dividing the year into four quarters.
All four festivals were each celebrated over three days. The time between festivals was divided again by the solstices and equinoxes making an eightfold year. The fire festivals were solar (male) and the other four were lunar (female), creating an equal number of each for the year.
They also measured time by nights, rather than days.
IMBOLC: (February 1st or 2nd) Also known as St. Brigit's Day and in the Catholic holidays as Candlemas.
ST. PADDY'S DAY (March 17th) - a Celebration of St. Patrick's mission to the Irish
OSTARA: (March 20th) This true first day of Spring is the Vernal Equinox. The days of light begin to grow longer than the nights. A time of renewed life. Tradition activities include planting seeds, tending gardens, and working with herbs for all purposes. Flowers should be placed on the altar and worn as well. Foods made of seeds, nuts, and leafy vegetables are eaten. Interesting dishes made with flowers are also made.
TARTAN DAY: (April 6th) A modern US holiday celebrating Scottish Heritage
BELTANE: (May 1st) The May Day holiday celebrates the merging of the Goddess and the God, and the passing of the Young God into manhood. The symbol of Her fertility is celebrated as well. This is the time of May Poles, representing the phallus of the God, while flowers and greenery represent the Goddess. Beltane is usually celebrated in a forest, or near a living tree. Weaving is popular at this time to join two separate things into one.
GEORGIA CELTIC DAY (May 15th) A holiday to celebrate Celtic heritage. Celtic Heritage Week May 15-21st
MIDSUMMER: (June 21st) Also known as the Summer Solstice. The powers of nature reach their highest point. Bonfires are built and leaped over to promote fertility, health, and love. This is the time of the longest daylight hours, midsummer being the longest day of the year. Herbs for Midsummer are vervain, chamomile, rose, lavender, daisy, carnation, and lily.
LUGHNASADH: (August 1st) This is the time for the first harvest of the year. The Goddess sees the God lose his strength as the days grow shorter, yet she knows she is with Child from the union at Beltane. The holiday was not originally celebrated on this day. It was observed on the day of the first reaping. We are reminded at this time that nothing in nature remains constant. The fruits of the Earth are cut and stored for the long winter months. The altar is adorned with wheat, oats, fruits, and bread. It is also custom to plant the seeds from the fruit eaten during the celebration.
MABON: (September 23rd) This is also the Autumn Equinox. This is the time of the completion of the harvest started at Lughnasadh. Day and night are equal once more as the God prepares to travel toward renewal and rebirth from the Goddess. Nature prepares for winter and the time of rest. It is traditional to walk wild places gathering dried plants to be used for decorating or future herbal magick. The altar holds acorns, pine cones, corn stalks, and various colored leaves.
SAMHAIN: (October 31st) Also know as All Hollows Eve or Halloween or Feast of the Dead.
YULE: (December 21st) Celebrating the rebirth of the Sun. Also known as the Winter Solstice.
The deocrated Fir Tree was originally used, but was a living tree. It was adorned with food for the wild animals and topped with a star, admonishing the Goddess (Mother Earth). Garland, the exchanging of gifts, the wreath, & the yule log, are also known as part of the Pagan celebration .