Morgan le Fay: Benevolent Fairy or Evil Enchantress?

Morgan le Fay is one of the most controversial characters in all of Arthurian legend. In some instances she is portrayed as a benevolent fairy with marvelous healing powers who uses these powers for the good of others. In other cases, she is an evil enchantress, the often maligned rival of Merlin, bent on destroying Camelot and kidnapping her own brother Arthur and his men. In many of the first legends about Arthur, she was portrayed as a mere healer with great powers, yet with no blood relation to Arthur, though she helps his men on many occasions. She was often depicted as being able to fly, thus called "le Fay" or the Fairy. She was also one of the great Queens of Avalon, powerful, wise, just and good. When developed as Arthur's sister, she is depicted as being evil, using her enchantments to harm others. She ends up betraying her own husband, Uriens, and imprisoning her brother with an evil knight so that she could become Queen and replace Guinevere. She stole Excalibur and gave it to the man she truly loved, Sir Accolan, and forced Arthur to duel this Sir Accolan. In the end, Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, saves Arthur, helping him to regain Excalibur so that he can defeat Sir Accolan. Morgan is forced to retreat, her evil plans thwarted. Everyone believes her to have died after her evil plot was hatched, but really she had escaped far into the forest. Later, Arthur finds her and the two are reconciled.

Morgan vs. Merlin

Morgan's supposed bitter rivalry with Merlin was not created until much later in the development of the Arthurian legends. And then, she is only his apprentice and learns everything she knows from him, but decides to use her powers for evil. There is no mention of her actually fighting against Merlin or his spells until much, much later, the late 1900s. In the 1981 movie Excalibur she is not only Merlin's apprentice, but clearly his rival and ends up imprisoning him with his own magic, something that Nimue usually did in previous versions. After this, Morgan was seen clearly as Merlin's rival. Even in the popular show, Stargate SG1 she is Merlin's rival once again. She is an Ancient in this version, a being of great power, and is sent by the other Ancients to stop Merlin from creating the Sangraal, or the Haily Grail, which is a weapon that can actually destroy Ancients. In the end, however, she sees Merlin's reasons for doing so and decides to help the SG1 team trying to find the weapon.

Morgan le Fay: Fact or Fiction?

Like Merlin, Morgan le Fay herself was probably not based on a single person in history. In fact, she probably was not even based on a human. Instead, she was possibly based on one of the Ancient goddesses worshiped by the Celts. Her name, Morgan, means "water-nymph" in Breton terms thus emphasizing her fairy like or even goddess like qualities. She could have also been based on the river goddess Matrona or even the Irish goddess Morrigan. Also, like Merlin, she was part of a story different from Arthurian legend and then incorporated into the story at a later date.


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