Morgan Le Fay literally means “Morgan the Fairy.” Morgan probably derives from the Welsh word for “sea,” mor; Celtic mermaids are known as morgans or in Ireland, merrow from the Gaelic muir. Although now most famous as King Arthur’s half-sister, Morgan Le Fay is older than the Arthurian Saga. One theory suggests that Morgan was originally a Celtic death goddess, similar to an angel of death or a psychopomp.
Morgan is the ruler of the Celtic paradise, Avalon, the Isle of Apples. She is sometimes envisioned as a mermaid. She may be an aspect of Celtic war goddess, the Morrigan. A theory suggests that Arthurian tales of Morgan and Avalon recall a shrine on a small, isolated British isle, a Pagan outpost that survived invasions and Christianity at least for a while.
Morgan first appears in the Arthurian sagas in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s twelfth-century Life of Merlin as a healer. Morgan leads the Nine Holy Women of Avalon who tend Arthur’s wounds following the final Battle of Camlan. In this version, she’s not Arthur’s sister. They fall in love, and he promises to stay with her in Avalon. By end of the twelfth century she was portrayed as Arthur’s sister but was still benevolent. By the thirteenth century, a different story emerged and Morgan was transformed: Cistercian monks composed the Prose Lancelot (also known as the Vulgate Cycle) between 1230 and 1250, which describes the adventures of Lancelot of the Lake and the Quest for the Holy Grail.
Morgan also has powerful roots in Italy, where she is called Fata Morgana. (Fata is Italian for “Fairy.”) Fata Morgana is also the name of a fatal mirage, an optical illusion that lured sailors to their deaths in the Straits of Messina. The goddess Morgana was held responsible.
Frustrated by the popularity of romances with not-so-hidden Pagan sympathies, Cistercian scribes determined to remake these romances as religious allegories and in so doing, Demonstrate the superiority of spirit over flesh, male over female, Christian over Pagan. They believed it was blasphemous to attribute powers of healing and prophecy to women who were unaffiliated with religious orders. New elements were added to the story: incest and Demonic possession, with Morgan the wicked witch as Arthur’s primary antagonist.
Morgan emerged as the sorceress supreme, an expert in botanical magic, especially poisons. She was consistently portrayed as a heartless, plotting, but beautiful monster. Morgan Le Fay remains a ubiquitous presence in popular culture, usually as a villain but occasionally as a heroine:
• Morgan is a Pagan priestess and heroine in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s 1982 novel The Mists of Avalon.
• She is a primary antagonist in Bryan Davis’ series of Christian fantasy novels, Dragons in Our Midst in which Morgan is envisioned as an avatar of Lilith
• Helen Mirren, Helena Bonham Carter, and Julianna Margulies are among the many actresses who have portrayed Morgan
• Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Anthony Fred erick Sandys, and Aubrey Beardsley are among the artists inspired to paint portraits of Morgan.
• Morgaine Le Fey is among the many powerful witch characters featured in DC Comics
Morgan Le Fay is a spirit of healing, love, and romance. She is the mistress of illusions, hallucinations, visions, and dreams. She may be invoked for magical instruction, and spiritual guidance. Her functions as a psychopomp may also be requested.
ALSO KNOWN AS:
Morgana Le Fay; Mor gaine Le Fay; Fata Morgana
Morgan is a brilliant shape-shifter who can assume virtually any form.
Morgan is no simple woodland Fairy but has substantial real estate holdings:
• She rules an underwater kingdom possibly near Brittany.
• She rules a Fairy paradise near or on Mount Aetna called Mongibello (or Mongibel).
• She has a castle staffed with beautiful Fairies near Edinburgh.
• She lives on the magical Isle of Avalon.
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.