As an Arthurian scholar and enthusiast, I love Morgan Le Faye. She has a very sensual and powerful je ne sais quoi. On the other hand, I also like the Morrighan in Irish mythology. These two women share so many characteristics could they be one in the same? I did a little research, and below you’ll see what I found.
The Morrigan, the Great Queen, the Phantom Queen and the Monster Queen and her sisters Babd and Macha, are a triple Fairy Queen. They are mistresses of war, magic and prophesy. The Morrigan’s animal form is a crow, and thus she appears as the fairy of death in battle.
It was by her valor, future sight and druid’s magic that Tuatha Dé Danann, the Tribe of Danu, defeated the Fir Blogs in the first battle of Mag Tuired. That the Celtic war diety is female, and not male, says a lot about the deep cultural chasm between bronze age Keltic folk and their Greco-Roman, Levantian and Egyptian contemporaries.
More than with most Irish mythic characters, the tales and personas of The Morrighan vary from time to time and place to place. As a cattle fairy she reigns over property, sovereignty and fertility. But as fairy of death in battle she transforms into crows, bansees, and the death eaters of the Harry Potter cycle.
Morgan Le Faye
Morgan Le Fay: popularly known as Arthurian sorceress, benevolent fairy, priestess, dark magician, enchantress, witch, sea goddess, shape-changer, healer, and the sole personage of Avalon the Isle of Apples, not to mention daughter of Ygerna (Igraine) and Gorlois, half-sister to King Arthur, mother of Mordred, lady-in-waiting to Guinevere, wife of Uriens, lover of Sir Accolon, fancier of Sir Lancelot, and ‘as fair a lady as any might be’.
Morgan Le Fay was first introduced into Arthurian legend by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the Vita Merlini (c. 1150) but her true origin, as with many Arthurian characters, leads back into Celtic mythology and inevitably develops with each new rendition of the tale. Morgan Le Fay’s character is interesting enough, but so is her name.
The name ‘Morgan Le Fay’
In Celtic terms, Morgan (or Morcant) is a man’s name. The feminine version is more correctly Morgain (or Morgue or Morgne). Also Morrigan equates with Morrigu of Irish mythology. According to Celtic tradition the Morrigan (a Triple Goddess of Celtic myth, thought of as the Goddess of Death) flew over battles, shrieking like ravens and claiming dead soldiers’ heads as trophies. Or the answer may lie in Uriens – in early Welsh literature Modron (a version of Matrona) was the daughter of Avallach, wife of Urien, and mother of Owein. The Welsh and Arthurian story lines were later merged, forming a link between Modron and King Arthur. Further, there was a sixth-century Cumbrian ruler called Urien Rheged who presided over a loose coalition of kings (according to some accounts there was also an Arthur, son of King Aedan of dal Riada). Urien had a loose ally: Morcant Bulc – a man – who eventually plotted to assassinate him, which could have been Sir Thomas Malory’s inspiration for the plot in Le Morte d’Arthur where Morgan Le Fay attempts to kill Arthur and Uriens.
‘Le Fay’ is an ancient word for a fairy and to this day, apparently, the Breton name for a water-nymph is a ‘Morgan’.
The possible roots of the Arthurian character Morgan Le Fay therefore run deep into early British mythology and can be traced across several hundred years up to her final act as one of the three women who transported the fatally wounded King Arthur in a barge to the Isle of Avalon to be healed (outcome unrecorded). A speculative summary, based on Welsh and other Arthurian legend, suggest an identification with Modron and also with the river goddess Matrona, possibly derived from the Irish goddess Morrigan. Given the superstitious Christian attitude to supernatural women in the medieval era, the more she is humanised, the more the name Morgan Le Fay descends into an easy literary metaphor for devious, sometimes evil mischief.
Nonetheless the much-maligned Morgan Le Fay never becomes purely evil. Her attractive qualities remain – a healer, she is associated with art and culture, she is sexy, and in the end is worthy of redemption.
What do you think? Feel free to comment below with your thoughts and questions.