Merlin (also known as Myrddin, Merlinus) was a legendary magician who allegedly lived during the 5th century in Britain and is one of the main characters of the Arthurian cycle. According to legend, Merlin was the son of a woman and a demon, who passed on his powers. Merlin is often portrayed as an old man with a long white beard and a pointed hat. He is said to be wise and powerful, able to use his magic to help King Arthur and his knights in their quest for justice. He is also credited with creating the magical sword Excalibur and teaching King Arthur of cavalry forms. It is able to change shape in various animals, such as a bird or fish, and can travel through time and space. Merlin can also communicate with animals and possess prophetic powers. He is believed to have a deep understanding of the natural world, and is able to use his magic to manipulate the elements.
For Celtic mythology, Merlin had a real existence, but nothing less than seventy years after King Arthur. How did these two characters come together? In the 12th century, Geoffrey de Montmouth incorporated him into the Arthurian tradition.
The story of King Arthur is completely inseparable from that of Merlin. It is said that only through the help and counsel of the sorcerer could he rule with righteousness and wisdom. Uther Pendragon fell in love with a married woman and, taking advantage of the fact that her husband was fighting away from home, Merlin, by means of a spell made Uther take the husband’s face and spend the night with the woman. In return, he promised Merlin that he would give him the son born from these encounters.
When Arthur was born, Merlin took him to live with Sir Hector, who raised him under the wizard’s supervision. As we have already said in writing about Arthur’s life, he managed to remove the Excalibur sword from the stone or helmet in which it was embedded and became king.
Merlin became Arthur’s mentor, a great support in all aspects of his life as king, from his conception to his education, the conversion to king and the creation of a court ruled with great values. It is said that it was Merlin who advised Arthur to build the Round Table in order not to distinguish himself as king in front of his knights.
Merlin is a fundamental pillar in the life of all the main characters of the Arthurian cycle. He is able to see the past and the future, but he is also aware that there are things that cannot be altered.
When Merlin was old, he met the young Viviana he fell in love with. She revealed her secrets: powerful enchantments and other spells, in exchange for her becoming her lover. Merlin, blinded by the love of the young girl, built her a palace at the bottom of a lake and Viviana became the well-known Lady of the Lake. Fearful of Merlin’s great power, Viviana got him to say the spell so she could catch a man and locked him in a glass prison from which Merlin could no longer escape.
Since the Middle Ages, many historians have been fascinated by the figure of Merlin; among them John Matthews who, after an investigation of thirty years, concluded that the magician was indeed a real historical character, specifically the leader of a tribe that inhabited the highlands of Scotland, the Picts. As chief he fought at the Battle of Arderyd in 573, during which he saw members of his family die, which drove him mad and retired to live alone in a forest where he is believed to have died.
It’s really interesting to dig into the story and see that, characters that we thought lived only in our imagination, in stories, in the cinema… end up being real and not as fantastic as we thought. But which version did we get? Are we really going to take away all of Merlin’s powers and turn him into a warrior?
Sincerely, I stay with the Arthurian Merlin, the one who gave wise advice, who performed spells to do good, who helped Arthur to be a good king and to rule with the imposition of the fight for the great values, who lived an existence of service to what he believed was his duty and eventually died captivated by a young girl. Even the great magicians succumb to love…