Was Morgan Le Fay really a witch?

Explorations in Arthurian History

Geoffrey of Monmouth tells us that Morgan Le Fay was the leader of the nine maidens of Avalon, who took Arthur away in a barge after the Battle of Camlann. The idea is that Morgan is a healer, who will heal Arthur's mortal wound. William of Malmesbury, writing just before Geoffrey, had offered the tantalizing idea that Arthur's tomb had not yet been found, giving the slight hint that he was coming back. Geoffrey's portrayal of Morgan (in the Vita Merlini) would seem to suggest this as well. Geoffrey also says that Morgan could fly and change shape.

She is largely portrayed as existing for a long time, the concerns of mortals not having much effect on her existence.

Explorations in Arthurian Legends

Chretien de Troyes continues the idea of Morgan Le Fay as healer, an idea introduced in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Vita Merlini. Chretien also tells us that Morgan is Arthur's sister, her mother being Igraine and her father being Gorlois.

The Vulgate Cycle finds Morgan still on good terms with Arthur but angry at Guinevere for breaking a romance with one of her lovers. She tries alternately to seduce Lancelot and to expose his affair with the queen, presumably both through magical means. In the Prose Tristan, she has delivered to Arthur's court a magic drinking horn from which no unfaithful lady can drink without spilling.

The tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight ends with the revelation that the entire episode was a creation of Morgan, who was trying to test the continued worthiness of Arthur and his knights.

After the Vulgate Cycle, writers such as Malory said Morgan became angry with Arthur after he kills one of her lovers. Through magic and mortal means, she tries to arrange his downfall, most famously when she arranges for Accolon to have Excalibur and try to kill Arthur with it.

Malory, especially, portrays Morgan as mortal, having to use magic to make herself appear young, and scheming through magical means to embarrass and harm Arthur and his court.

Marion Zimmer Bradley says Morgan (called Morgaine) was not only Arthur's sister but also his consort at a Beltane ritual, at which Mordred was conceived.

In Bradley as well as in almost every Arthurian story, Morgan Le Fay is portrayed as having magic; many sources say she learned this magic from Merlin.

Was she a witch? That word usually has an evil connotation. Earlier sources portray her as a healer; given the evil connotation of the word witch, we must conclude that she was not one in the earlier sources. However, in the later stories in which she was portrayed as scheming to get rid of Arthur and his companions and using magic to those ends, we must conclude that she was indeed a witch.

See also

Literature of the Legends: Robert de Boron

Literature of the Legends: Vulgate Cycle

Literature of the Legends: Marion Zimmer Bradley and Mary Stewart

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