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Merlin the Wizard

Not many myths about the greatest wizard ever have survived throughout time, but there are enough of them nowadays to satisfy our curiosity. Some recognize Merlin the wizard as the tutor of King Arthur, while others believe he was the power behind the throne. Those who don’t believe the arcane world exists think of Merlin as a part of fiction stories, poems, and chronicles from the middle ages. He is the most fascinating character in the Welsh literature, whose life was surrounded by magic, mysteries, controversy and contradiction.

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The Early Life of Merlin

Like all mystic beings before him, Merlin was conceived by a miracle. His mother was a young girl, living among nuns in St. Peter’s church, when the evil spirit in a body of a young man started to visit her chambers. At first, he was only talking to her, but on few occasions he lay in her bed, kissed her and embraced her and left her with a child. That child was Merlin and his firs prophecy happened when he was still a young boy. At the time, the British overlord Vortigern was constantly under attacks from the Saxons, so he decided to build a fortress to keep his people safe. He searched far and wide, until the place around the mountains of Eryri, North Wales was found suitable. He hired workmen from different countries and the construction started. Every morning, when the workers would go to the site, the foundation they have constructed the day before would be gone. This disappearance happened for a while, until they decided to tell their king about their vain efforts. Vortigern gathered 12 wise men to ask for their advice. They told him that he has to sacrifice a young boy without a father and spray his blood over the cement and stones of the foundation.

Messengers were sent throughout the kingdom to find such boy. As they were passing through, they came across a couple of boys fighting. One of the boys said to the other that he is not decent enough to quarrel with him, because he was coming from a royal family while the boy didn’t even know his father. The messengers overheard their dispute and decided to take the boy for the king’s sacrifice. Once Merlin found out what the king is about to do, he requested kindly to speak to the wise men. He asked them whether or not they know what is causing the base to disappear and it was established they didn’t know. Merlin said to the king to arrange for his men to dig the soil where the foundation was supposed to be built, and after they did this, a pond appeared that was swallowing the construction every day.

They drained the pond and at the bottom they found two dragons underneath two huge stones. One of the dragons was white, the other one was red. A battle begun between the dragons in which the red dragon seemed to have lost, because the white one was powerful and mighty and chased the red dragon all over the pond. But the red dragon soon regained his strength and expelled the white one out of the empty pond. Merlin asked the wise men whether they know how to read this wonderful omen and after their ignorance was confirmed, Merlin earned the king’s trust and respect. He told the king and the wise men that the pond was the emblem of their world. The red dragon was signifying the Britons, while the white dragon was representing the Saxons, thus the fight between them two indicated that the British kingdom will rise and deport the Saxons from where they came from. The red dragon still exists as one of the national symbols of Wales. The British king then gives a fortress to Merlin, known as Dinas Emrys and Merlin provides his knowledge for the king.

Merlin the Wizard or the Merlin the Madman?

After the fall of the Roman Empire, entire Europe was in turmoil. People were slain, enslaved and brothers were killing brothers. Merlin was a man of God, with kind heart and gentle words. He couldn’t watch the misfortune happening around him and the cruelties between his fellow human beings, so he decided to escape into the forest and live there. There, the legend says, Merlin learned the language of the animals, he played with them, eat with them and they became his loyal friends. According to this myth, Merlin had a sister and a wife, who fell sick after his departure. His sister was married to the king of the Cumbrians, Rhydderch, and he and his wife sent couriers to find the wizard and bring him back. The courier searched every mountain and valley, until one day he interrupted Merlin’s payer to God. Merlin saw him and run away. Another messenger was sent to find the beloved brother and husband, and this time the survey was much more successful. Merlin received the uttering of the messenger about his sister and wife sorrows and decided to visit them.

At this point, Merlin was already a famous wizard and the crowd welcomed his arrival. But after all the time spent alone without human contact, Merlin could not endure the crowd, so he wanted to go back in the woods. The queen and his wife begged him to stay, but he wanted to go back to the wildlife and the king had to chain him. He wasn’t feeling well in the castle, he refused to talk and smile. One day, the king met his wife, kissed her and took a leaf out of her hair. Merlin started to laugh which made the king wonder what caused his sudden change in mood. Merlin refused to answer, but after hours of begging he told the king that his sister is cheating on him, and the leaf in her hair was from aberrant caressing in the bushes. Merlin’s sister got mad and wanted to prove her brother is lying to get out of the castle. She brought a boy in the room and asked Merlin to predict his death. Merlin said he would fall off the rocks. Then she took the boy out, cut his long hair, changed his clothes and presented him back to her brother with the same question. This time, Merlin said the boy will meet death on a tree. The king still wasn’t convinced, so she dressed the boy in woman’s clothes and asked the question again. Merlin said that this girl will die in a river. The king accused Merlin of false prophecies and told him he was free to go.

Merlin went back to his dearly loved wilderness but after a few years, his false prophecies turned out to be true. The boy whose death he differently predicted three times went hunting on his horse in companion of his dogs. Racing the horse in the middle of the high mountains, the horse got scared, slipped off the rock and the boy who was now a man, fell off the cliff into the river, with his leg stuck in a nearby tree. Time passed by and his wife wanted to remarry. Merlin approved of her wish but requested to never have to see his face. On the day of their wedding, Merlin gathered wild animals to escort him to the wedding. When they arrived, his wife ran forth to greet him. When he saw the new husband behind her, Merlin got mad, turned the wild beasts to the groom and command them to kill him. He retreated back to his woods, where his sister built him a fortress in the base of a tree with many windows from where he could observe the night sky and animals surrounding his new wooden home.

Merlin and Arthur

Merlin was the most important figure in the realm of three British kings. While Uther Pendragon had sovereignty over Britain, he lusted for the duke’s Gorlois wife. With the help of Merlin he took the form of Gorlois and slept with his wife. From that conception Arthur was born, and after the duke died, his widowed wife became the queen. The legend states that Merlin took Arthur after his birth and raised him under his tutorship. He will see his mother after he becomes a king of Britain. When the king died someone had to take over the land, so Merlin used his powerful magic to place a sword in a middle of a stone. The writing on the stone indicated that whoever pulls the sword out of the stone will be the rightful king of England. Many contenders took their turn to take the sword out of the stone but only Arthur succeeded. The sword, named Excalibur was given to Merlin by The Lady Of The Lake and in the future will help Arthur chase and cease many of his enemies. Merlin assisted Arthur throughout his reign and until his death.

Merlin and the Lady Of The Lake

The story about the Lady Of The Lake and Merlin was debated many times. Some sources say that the Lady did not like Merlin and she kept him cruelly trapped in a tower, while others clearly depict that a woman’s charm can captivate even the greatest wizard’s heart. Her name was Viviane and she was a student of Merlin. In the first myth, Merlin is wildly in love with the Lady and he wants to take her virginity, so she imprisons him and she keeps him away from Arthur’s court. Many historical analysts do not believe that Merlin, his magic and prophesies were responsible for the rise of the British realm. This myth is proving that the kings would have managed the kingdom equally successful without the wizard’s help, as he was trapped by Viviane in the tower. In the second story, Viviane is the one to seduce Merlin. Merlin falls deeply in love with her and he leaves the court voluntarily to spend his days with his love. In both myths she is depicted as an evil sorceress, who brought Merlin to his downfall. Merlin took her everywhere so she can learn magic from him. At the end, she either turned one of his own magic spells against him, or she tied him to a tree, where his desperate voice can still be heard. After his death, she takes his place in Arthur’s court and becomes the chief advisor and counselor.

Did Merlin Really Exist?

Many legends mention Merlin, but not always under the same name. Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote about the sorcerer Merlin first in his books the History of the Kings of Britain and Merlin's Life. He took the characters out of old Celtic myths about a magician and Druid named Myrddin. Another similar character which historians think gave the birth of the famous legend we call today Merlin, is the fierce warrior Ambrosius. In many Welsh writings the name Ambrosius is extracted from Emrys (Dinas Emrys, Merlin’s fortress), while Myrddin appears as Merlin. In Latin, the word Merdinus is Myrddin. Ambrosius was known as the king’s advisor and he, just like Merlin has been a mystic. Many believe that the name Merlin is actually a title, because many figures in that time were referred to their titles instead of their real names. Merlin is thought to mean eagle, and the wizard was named this way after his famous prophecy of the Eagle. Merlin was known as the most powerful magician, wizard and prophet in British mythology. He could take any shape he wanted, from a child, to a woman to an animal. He was known to change locations instantly as he pleased and travel through time. Some even believe that is how he actually predicted the future.

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