Merlin - Loved by many and Feared by most

Merlin and Vivien ~

Merlin and Vivien- Illustration from Legends & Romances of Brittany by Lewis Spence, illustrated by W. Otway Cannell
Merlin and Vivien- Illustration from Legends & Romances of Brittany by Lewis Spence, illustrated by W. Otway Cannell | Source

Who was Merlin ?

Who was Merlin, really -- more intriguing, what was Merlin? Was he a sorcerer? A Seer? A magician? A prophet? A warrior? A shapeshifter? Was he a trusted counselor and emissary to the High Kings, including Arthur? Merlin was all this and more. He was also the author of "Prophecy" which Geoffrey of Monmouth translated for the world. Merlin was loved by many and feared by most.

He was known by different names (Myrrdin, Ambrosius Merlinus, The Emrys) however, as Geoffrey of Monmouth claimed in the year 1136, “Merlinus qui et Ambrosius dice-batur” (His name is Merlin.) -- and that is the name most people call him.

Most of us know Merlin as King Arthur's trusted advisor and mentor. The first appearance of Merlin seems to appear in the Historia Regum Britanniae (History Of The Kings Of Britain), which was written in 1136 by Geoffrey of Monmouth. It is believed that Geoffrey based Merlin's character on earlier figures of both legendary and historical significance.

These figures Geoffrey supposedly drew on were Myrddin Wyllt (Merlinus Caledonensis), and Ambrosius Aurelianus. From these two men, Merlin Ambrosius was created.

Historical figures ~

Myrddin Wyllt, a historical person, lived in the late sixth century in Britain (c. 540 - c.584). He was a North Brythonic prophet and madman with no connection to King Arthur. Apparently, Myrddin Wyllt fought in the Battle of Arfderydd in Cumberland and lost. After losing the battle, Myrddin went insane and retreated to the forests to live with animals. The battle that Wyllt lost was in the same general area that another person by the name of Lailoken fought.

It is possible that Wyllt is the same person known as Lailoken, who was also a Northern Brythonic seer and prophet of the late 6th century and was considered a fool. The story of Lailoken as a wild man and seer living in the forests of Southern Scotland very closely matches that of Myrddin Wyllt, who was one of Geoffrey's prototypes for King Arthur's Merlin.

The other prototype Geoffrey used for the Merlin of Arthurian legends was Ambrosius Aurelianus, a Romano-British war leader. Aurelianus was of aristocratic heritage of high birth and had Roman ancestry. Aurelianus fought against the Saxon invaders and won. In Historia Brittonum (History of Britain), by Nennius, it is the Ambrosius Aurelianus who met with Vortigern to discuss the two dragons beneath Dinas Emrys (the castle Vortigern was trying in vain to build). Geoffrey used this bit of history for one of Merlin's famous adventures.

By combining the stories and characteristics of these two historical figures and possibly others, Geoffrey of Monmouth created a Merlin of very interesting character.

Merlin the Magician ~

Have you read about Merlin and do you believe he really existed?

See results without voting

Birth and great deeds ~

Geoffrey has Merlin born a cambion of a mortal woman and an incubus (demon in male form). Merlin inherits his supernatural powers and abilities from this demon. A cambion is a being that shows no sign of life yet appears alive. It has no pulse, no breath, and only slightly resembles a human child. By the time the being is around seven years old it is difficult to distinguish from a human. At the age of seven, Merlin had knowledge and abilities far beyond any human.

Geoffrey made Merlin the creator of Stonehenge, which Merlin built with the help of a giant. This circle of stones was the burial place of Aurelius Ambrosius. Merlin, still under Geoffrey's control, then arranges the birth of Arthur. By magic and intrigue Merlin brings together Uther Pendragon with Igraine, the wife of his enemy, so that Arthur becomes the next in line for the High King.

Geoffrey also gave us the great Prophetiae Merlini (Prophecies of Merlin), which he claims to be the actual words of the legendary Merlin during his days of madness in the wilds.

Having created such a fascinating character (what we would today call an overnight sensation) with great and seemingly unlimited power and potential, Geoffrey of Monmouth then leaves Merlin to wander off into obscurity. Was this to be the end of the legendary Merlin?


Merlin builds Stonehenge ~

Merlin builds Stonhenge with the help of a giant. From a manuscript of the Roman de Brut by Wace (British Library, Egerton 3208)
Merlin builds Stonhenge with the help of a giant. From a manuscript of the Roman de Brut by Wace (British Library, Egerton 3208) | Source

Merlin Returns from Obscurity ~

So, when Geoffrey abandoned Merlin to obscurity, was that the end of the wizard? No -- for Merlin returns from obscurity without the help of Geoffrey.

This being called Merlin that Geoffrey created could have been an evil monster had he not been brought back by a French poet of the late 12th and early 13th centuries. Robert de Boron pulled off a miracle when he had Merlin's mother consult Blaise, a Master Druid. Blaise had Merlin baptized a Christian immediately upon birth, which thwarted any plans for the evil destiny of the child.

Blaise then becomes Merlin's teacher for life. From this frightening beginning in life, Merlin then grows to become a sage who is well known for his powers. Geoffrey did not remedy the demonic potential of Merlin, but Robert de Boron did in his poem, Merlin, several decades after Geoffrey left Merlin to walk off the pages of history.

Merlin dictating his prophecies to Blaise. ~

Merlin and Blaise; French 13th century miniature from Robert de Boron's Merlin en prose  (written ca 1200)
Merlin and Blaise; French 13th century miniature from Robert de Boron's Merlin en prose (written ca 1200) | Source

Merlin's redemption ~

Robert de Boron adds much to the character of Merlin and his legend. Robert adds weight and prominence to Merlin's powers as a shapeshifter and also gives the magician a great sense of humor. Merlin's connection to the Holy Grail (appearing first in works by Chretien de Troyes, another French poet in the 12th century) is expounded upon by Robert.

It is Robert who introduces Blaise as Merlin's master. Blaise takes it upon himself to write down all of Merlin's deeds, and tells of how they came to be known and preserved. Robert's poem was re-written in prose as Estoire de Merlin. It is also referred to as the Vulgate or Prose Merlin. Originally, Robert had the poem attached to a cycle of his poems in which he tells of the Holy Grail.

Robert put great emphasis on Merlin's shapeshifting abilities. Merlin appears under Robert's pen as a woodcutter with an axe dangling from his neck, a ragged coat, bristly hair and bushy beard. In the forest of Northumberland, Merlin was found by one of Uther Pendragon's men. That time Merlin was an ugly man tending a herd of beasts. He was also seen as a very handsome man, a beautiful boy, a peasant who was tall, dark and bristly, cruel and fierce looking, and as a short hunchback with a long beard and in tattered clothing.

Other authors followed Robert's rendition of Merlin and added their own embellishments to the legendary character. The Prose Merlin was like a prequel to the Vulgate Merlin Continuation in which the early adventures of King Arthur come into the legends.

In Livre d'Artus, Merlin appears to Julius Caesar in the form of a huge stag. He tells Caesar that the only one who can interpret the troubling dream Caesar had was the wild man of the woods.

Inspired by these early works, Sir Thomas Malory then took up the Merlin legacy and wrote Le Morte d'Arthur, which became possibly the best-known work of Arthurian literature in the English language. Mallory became the principal source for many modern writers of Arthurian legends. T. H. White used Mallory as a source for his popular The Once and Future King just as Tennyson did for The Idylls of the King.

In 'The Once and Future King', White portrays Merlin (he spells it Merlyn) as a delightful, loving, sometimes confused old wizard who lives backwards in time. Merlyn takes on the duties of tutoring a young boy named Wart (who obviously is Arthur) to prepare him for the use of power and royal life. Using his great sense of humor, Merlyn turns Wart into different animals for some of the lessons in order to learn from specific points of view.

From Geoffrey of Monmouth forward, countless stories, poems, books have been written about Merlin, his legendary and notable deeds. So, our Merlin came back, again and again -- every time another author writes about the Arthurian legends, Merlin returns and lives again. Yet for those who understand and love Merlin, he lives forever.

~ ~ ~ ~

The Enchanter Merlin ~

Merlin the Enchanter, by Howard Pyle from The Story of King Arthur and His Knights. (1903)
Merlin the Enchanter, by Howard Pyle from The Story of King Arthur and His Knights. (1903) | Source

The Lady of the Lake ~

Merlin and Nimue, Lady of the Lake, shown holding the infatuated Merlin trapped and reading from a book of spells, in The   Beguiling of Merlin by Edward Burne-Jones.
Merlin and Nimue, Lady of the Lake, shown holding the infatuated Merlin trapped and reading from a book of spells, in The Beguiling of Merlin by Edward Burne-Jones. | Source

History of the Kings of Britain ~

Note from author ~

I have read every book I could get my hands on about Merlin and King Arthur and each one, although slightly different, has been delightful, enchanting and very interesting.

Thank you for reading my article. Your opinions are important to me and let me know your interests. This helps me to offer more of your favorite subjects to read about. Your time and interest are very much appreciated. I hope to hear from you in the comments section below.

I write on several different subjects, all evergreen articles. You can read more about me and see more articles I wrote by clicking on my name by the small picture of me at the top right of this page.

Blessings and may you always walk in peace and harmony, softly upon Mother Earth.

Phyllis Doyle Burns - Lantern Carrier, Spiritual Mentor
~ ~ ~ ~

© 2014 Phyllis Doyle Burns

More by this Author


Comments 30 comments

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton

Phyllis.. Like I mentioned before I enjoy reading these types of Hub.. they fuel my creativity.. And the research you must have done to bring Merlin to us with conviction just goes to prove that your hubs are top notch


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

My gosh, Frank -- you keep me fueled with the desire to keep writing with passion. I love history, mythology, and intriguing stories. And you are one of my greatest motivators. Thank you, kind sir. You surely must be a descendant of Merlin's, for you are an Enchanter.


joanveronica profile image

joanveronica 2 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

Phyllis, I am spellbound! I've always loved Merlin and the Arthurian legend. My interest was wisely fueled by the two most important persons in shaping my mind and thoughts, my Granny and my mother. And that was many years ago! Loved this Hub, can you writre more on this same theme? Perhaps focusing on some specific detail, like the two dragons, or the sword in the lake, etc? I must take time to digest the video, can't do that right now. Congrats and let's have many more! Up and shared.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Joan, you are a dear heart -- thank you so very much for such words of encouragement. Of course I will write more on the Arthurian legends. Merlin has always been a special part of my love for history and mythology. Thanks again, Joan. There will be more from me about Merlin and Arthur. Take care. Hugs :)


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

Hello Phyllis. I enjoy reading about fable and legend and find that most that are continued through the years are originally inspired by real people or events. Most are elaborated on and made more mysterious and exciting over time. This being said, it appears that most of the Merlin the magician legend seems fictional, though loosely based on Myrddin Wyllt. Great hub once again. Voted up. Love the pics.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Thank you, Jodah. I agree that Merlin was based a little on Myrddin Wylit. I love Merlin. Each author who has written about the lovable magician gives him a little different personality. I think my favorite is the Merlin in "The Once and Future King" where he is a bit forgetful, lives backwards in time and has a sense of humour. Thanks again, Jodah, for your visit and comment.


Marie Flint profile image

Marie Flint 2 years ago from Jacksonville, FL

Hi Phyllis, it's been a while since I've read one of your hubs. I am keenly interested in this one because my spiritual studies explain Saint Germain, the avatar for the Aquarian age, as having been embodied as Merlin.

Merlin was a master alchemist. One of the feats at which the master was adept was "bending" time. This was useful in dropping in on enemy circles without being seen.

Saint Germain, as the Wonderman of Europe, was seen to appear and disappear before the royal French court. From a bone of a deer, he created a venison dinner in the hopes of winning the king's trust and persuade him to takes steps to avert the bloody French Revolution.

There is an exercise in the book about Saint Germain for students wishing to become skilled in alchemy. One is to focus on the image of a maltese cross and begin to "feel" the object in the hand. After much preparation and concentration, the cross becomes physical in the hand. This is the science of precipitation, a focus of God's fifth ray, which happens to be emerald green. Archangel Raphael and Mother Mary are also on this ray.

The gift of alchemy, or precipitation, does not happen until one has learned the tenets of God's love.

If you would like to explore the subject further, I recommend the book SAINT GERMAIN ON ALCHEMY published by the Summit Lighthouse. The website is tsl.org.

Voted "Interesting." Blessings!


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Thank you, Marie. I appreciate your visit and comment. Take care.


DDE profile image

DDE 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

So interesting about Merlin you have shown s lots here and I enjoyed this magical bit from your true talent


sheilamyers 2 years ago

The only traits of Merlin I was aware of were those written about in "Le Morte d'Arthur" by Sir Thomas Mallory because that's the only book I've read about King Artur and Merlin together. As you said, many movies incorporate the same basic story, so I haven't learned much of the other things you discussed. This hub has added much more to the legend I knew. I've always thought all of the characters have been based on real people (if only loosely in some cases), but the only ones I've read historical accounts about are the king and his knights. You've made me curious and I'll have to find some non-fiction books about Merlin.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Devika. Thank you so much. I am glad you enjoyed it and I appreciate your comment.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Sheila. Norma Lorre Goodrich wrote three books (Merlin, Arthur, and Guinevere) that you might be interested in. Goodrich approaches the Arthurian legends through historical facts, actually traveling to and exploring places mentioned in the legends. Like she mentions in her book on Merlin, the history has been "muddled", and quite a bit I might add. Like all legendary characters, we each find our own interpretations and beliefs. There is another book, The Arhurian Reader by John Matthews, that is interesting also. Matthews compiles as much information as he can to try to arrive at the whole story of fact and fiction. Thank you, Sheila, for reading and commenting -- I really appreciate it.


sheilamyers 2 years ago

Phyllis: Thanks for listing the books.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Sure Sheila, you are most welcome.


The Examiner-1 profile image

The Examiner-1 2 years ago

Hi Phyllis, I am just reading this now because I am a little behind in my email. Anyway, I did not recognize him through the whole article; and when I viewed the video I was thinking that I had watched it until the first guy finished speaking. The only Merlin that I heard of was in "The Sword in the Stone". LOL It was an interesting article. It did not sound anything like the small bit of the TV series I saw (on the video).

Kevin


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Kevin. Since Geoffrey of Monmouth first created Merlin there have been many variations and enhancements added to the character. I love the Arthurian legends and Merlin is my favorite. Thanks for reading and commenting. I must admit I am surprised to know someone who is not familiar with a legendary figure that has been so widely researched and written about since the 12th century. But, then history and mythology is my passion so I am very familiar with the legends of Merlin. Thanks again, Kevin.


Marie Flint profile image

Marie Flint 2 years ago from Jacksonville, FL

Finally got to watch the movie. Charming, to say the least!


The Examiner-1 profile image

The Examiner-1 2 years ago

Phyllis,

History was not one of biggest subjects in school. I just did not have interest in it - at least not what they taught in school. You talk about the history of birds or other areas that interest me, that is different. (grin)

Kevin


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

I am glad you found time to watch it, Marie. I had never seen it before and I enjoyed watching it.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

That is what I realize, Keven. We each have our own interests as writers. I love your articles on birds.


CarolynEmerick profile image

CarolynEmerick 2 years ago

Hi Phyllis, I can't believe I missed this one! I found it because HP recommended it at the bottom of my hub on Merlin and when I clicked on it I saw it was yours! I love the images you chose and the information you presented, definitely Upvoted and sharing :)


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Carolyn, I will go check out your Merlin. I love the Arthurian legends. Merlin has always been one of my favorite legendary characters. Thanks for reading and commenting... and for the votes/sharing, I appreciate that.


CarolynEmerick profile image

CarolynEmerick 2 years ago

What's actually very funny is that I scour through Project Gutenberg to find illustrations for articles (I also write for Celtic guide magazine and you would be more than welcome if you ever wanted to!) and then I put the artwork up on wikimedia commons to "pay it forward" for other writers who rely on public domain images for their articles... And the one at the very top of your article is one I put on Wikipedia! If you click on it on Wikipedia and scroll down to the user who uploaded it, it says Csemerick, I was just giddy to see that people actually do use them! :D


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

How awesome is this, Carolyn? What a connection we made. I love that image -- I try to get all of the images I use from Wikipedia. Thanks for loading that image into Creative Commons. I will have to check out Celtic Guide Magazine, sounds interesting. Thanks!


newbizmau profile image

newbizmau 2 years ago from Mobile, AL

I'm a Merlin Fan too! So glad I found this one and glad its on Hubpages. I have a book called The Encyclopedia of Angels Spirit Guides and Ascended Masters by Susan Gregg. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw Merlin. After finding this my will to learn more about him increased and I've found many channeled messages online about him. I included the links to two of my favorite ones in my Merlin Hubpage. Had fun reading yours. Love and light! -Maurice


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hello Maurice. What a delight to hear from another Merlin fan. I will check out that book by Susan Gregg - how interesting. Thanks for mentioning that. I will hop over and read your page on Merlin. Thanks for reading and commenting on my hub.


newbizmau profile image

newbizmau 2 years ago from Mobile, AL

Phylliss its a very interesting book. There were many other surprises to find. A very interesting book. Another surprise was Odin of Norse culture and Cupid. I didn't know that Cupid was apart of Roman culture. Lots of history about them and invocations to ask for their help. That book was a great find.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Maurice. Eros was a Greek god and Cupid was his Roman equivalent. I love the Eros and Psyche story. I had it as one of my hubs, but took it down because it was so long. I am going to put it back up after I make 4 or 5 shorter hubs on it. Odin ! one of my favorite gods. I love that image of him as The Wanderer. I must get that book.


newbizmau profile image

newbizmau 2 years ago from Mobile, AL

I should read some more on Eros. I don't know much about that story.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

It is a wonderful story. I will be publishing the first part probably later today.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working