RE-WEAVING THE SACRED THREADS: WRITINGS BY TRACY BOYD © 2004-2018

 

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MERLIN’S FAIRY MISTRESS


by Tracy Boyd

© 2012

Gusave Doré’s engraving of Merlin and Vivien

for Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, 1867.

“Teach me all, and I will consent to everything you desire.”

MERLIN’S “END”


There are numerous stories of varying description that purport to describe Merlin’s “end”.  We should be fools, however, to think that the great Merlin came to any finality such as we mortals experience.  It was nothing of the kind.  If we are to understand where Merlin has gone, we must sift through the substantially divergent versions to find whatever useful information can be gleaned from them, eliminate all of the Christian moralizing and prejudicial animus that has diverted us from the original Pagan script, and combine what emerges into a truthful account of such facts as remain. 


As far afield as the thematic explanations of Merlin’s disappearance differ, they are consistent in one essential respect, namely, that in all of them, “Merlin retires from all society and withdraws into eternal silence.” (2)  Some say that he abides in an amorphous state between worlds at his mysterious L’esplumoir Merlin, (3) others, that he lies buried in a cave, or tomb, or glass tower, or between walls of air, or that he studies the heavens in his observatory in the woods, or that he is cradled within the embrace of the fragrant hawthorn bush. 


As to the circumstances of his vanishing into thin air, there are those who believe that Merlin had gone mad and run off to the woods where his sister, Ganieda, took him under her care.  Others claim that he was beguiled by a femme fatale who sometimes went by the name of Vivien, who hated him with a vengeance, and whose trickery they entirely blamed for his demise – well, that, and his own foolishness for falling for her in the first place.  But there are other more level-headed observers who have recognized that the wisest man in all of Britain consciously submitted and willingly succumbed to the love-spell of his belovèd Vivien, or Niniane, who loved him in return, and that his withdrawal from the humdrum world was a purposeful “renunciation of worldly power” (4) and a deliberate “submission to the unconscious” world of the dream. (5)


And let us not forget that he did, after all, say his sad farewells to Arthur and to others before he made his final exit.  It was just that they were not prepared to let him go and so could not hear his words.  The mid-fifteenth century Prose Merlin, which is a Middle English translation of the early 13th century Old French Vulgate Cycle, (6) presents his intentions in no uncertain terms:


         . . .  And he [the kynge] seide to hym right tenderly, "Dere frende Merlin, seth

        ye will go, I dar yow not withholde agein youre wille and volunté. But I shall

        never be in hertes ese till that I may se yow; and therfore, I praye you for the love

        of oure Lorde, haste you soone to come agein."

        "Sir," seide Merlin, "this is the laste tyme; and therfore, to God I you comaunde."

        Whan the kynge herde how he seide it was the laste tyme that he sholde hym se,

        he was sore abaisshed. And Merlin departed withoute moo wordes sore wepinge,

        and travailed till he com to Blase his maister . . . .

        And whan Merlin hadde be ther eight dayes, he toke leve of Blase and seide,

        "This is the laste tyme that I shall speke with yow eny more, for fro hensforth I

        shall sojourne with my love, ne never shall I have power hir for to leve ne to come

        ne go."

        Whan Blase undirstode Merlin, he was full of sorowe and seide, "Dere frende,

        seth it is so that ye may not departe, cometh not ther." "Me behoveth for to go,"

        quod Merlin, "for so have I made hir covenaunt; and also, I am so supprised with

        hir love that I may me not withdrawen. And I have her taught and lerned all the

        witte and connynge that she can, and yet shall she lerne more, for I may not hir

        withsein ne it disturve." (7)

   

The problem with so many of the elaborations of Merlin’s “end” is that they leave out crucial mythical and symbolic details, either purposely or as a result of  ignorance, thereby missing the whole point of the story.  Additionally, there is such an excess of – largely Christian – judgmental derision and projection that Merlin ends up looking either like a fool or a madman, or both, while the lovely Vivien, or Niniane, is portrayed as a vicious, conniving woman, at best, or a lascivious harlot, at worst.  In many of the mediaeval romances, she is character-ized in the other extreme – as the innocent nubile virgin who defends her virginity against a driveling old man who perpetually chases after her and whom she comes to despise utterly, and who takes her revenge by enchanting the Enchanter.  In this role, there is sometimes “a strain of duplicity . . . perceptible in her character, as in the nature of a sorceress who entices heroes to their own undoing”, (8) and she is seen as having deliberately and purposefully caused Merlin irreparable harm, entrapping him for all of eternity in her snares. 


In the view of Emma Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz in their prodigious analysis of the Grail legend,


        the negative evaluation of the sprite’s union with Merlin is connected

        with the Christian prejudice towards the realm of Eros, from which it

        follows that the masculine and feminine are able to oppose each other

        only in a battle for power; this induces intellectual suppression of Eros

        on the part of the masculine, imprisoning possessiveness on the part of

        the feminine. Love, in the broadest sense of the word, is missing. This    

        prejudice was also conducive, in the later literature, to Merlin’s inclusion

        in anti-feminist writings and his portrayal as the victim of an evil woman. (9)


One of the few accounts that is not only entirely respectful of both Merlin and Niniane but which overflows with mythic detail and therefore rings “true” to anyone with a knowledge of such things, is Théodore Hersart de la Villemarqué’s Myrdhinn, ou l’Enchanteur Merlin, a tale compiled in 1861 from early Breton sources by a philologist and bard immersed in the literature of Brittany. (10)  Despite the harsh criticisms of Villemarqué for transgressions of scholarship surrounding the “doubtful authenticity” of his apparently “retouched” 1839 collection of Breton songs entitled Barzaz Breiz, (11) his entirely believable account of Merlin and his fairy mistress remains unscathed by such assertions.  Additionally, we must consider that the Arthurian literature of the Norman-French and Anglo-Norman troubadours of the 11th and 12th centuries was originally gathered from the Celtic tales of Brittany and Wales.  These, in turn, were often inherited from “the Irish story-tellers, [the Druids, who constituted] the dominant literary class in the Celtic world throughout the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries,” (12)


Because the mythic themes of this Breton version are very old, we would be advised to pay attention to this rich telling which makes it very clear from beginning to end that “Merlin was not imprisoned by magic art, but achieved bliss through his love for the fairy forest nymph.” (13)  It also allows us to see what is lost in so many of the other variants – that Merlin is no ordinary man; that despite his magisterial robes, and his rarified position in Arthur’s Court, the forest is his natural habitat – the place where he is truly at home.  And it is the place where he finds his final rest from the cares of the world, in the ancient Forest of Broceliande, that sacred forest which, according to Villemarqué, the priestesses of Druidism inhabited in Gaul. (14)  And this is where he belongs, for whatever else Merlin is, he is a Druid first and foremost.


This so-called “mythical” forest, consisting mostly of broad-leafed oaks, (15) was, in fact, visited by the Norman poet Wace in the 12th century who “even in his day knew [that Broceliande] was the haunt of fays” (16) and was sorely disappointed not to encounter any there, and by Villemarqué in the 19th, who remarked on its evi-dently still resonating Druidic presence. (17)  That most ancient correspondence between the Druids and trees, especially with that of the oak, – which stems largely from the literal meaning of the word Druid, from dru-wid, or ‘oak-wise’ – is firmly embedded in Merlin’s mythology. 


It is so much so, that when the already widely-known folktale of Tom Thumbe, which is set at the Court of King Arthur, appeared in print for the first time in 1621, it duly noted that Tom’s mother went to pay her respects and to seek the advice of the old Druid by presenting herself at the “Caue of old Merlin, which was the hollow trunke of a blasted Oke, all ouer growne with withered mosse, . . . [where she finds him] mumbling spels of incantation, making Characters in sand, with an Ebone staff.” (18)  Nearly two hundred and fifty years later, when Gusave Doré created his illustrations for Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, his 1867 engraving of Merlin and Vivien showed a dewy-eyed old magician leaning against an enormous old oak with his belovèd fairy mistress swooning in his lap. (19)  As it happens, she, too, has extra-ordinary connections with the oak woods.


And so, we begin with the backstory of Merlin’s “fairy forest nymph” who, to be absolutely precise, resembles a dryad, an ‘oak nymph’, who is sometimes known as Niniane.  There are so many variations on the name Niniane as to defy the imagination, yet its origins are unknown. (20)  “In French literature, . . . no trace of Niniane’s name exists previous to its connection with Merlin, and it is altogether reserved for his fairy mistress.” (21)  The mysterious Niniane is known also by the more familiar name of Viviene, which in the context of our story, is in some ways most suited to her, for it derives from the Latin vivus, ‘that which is alive’, ‘the flesh with life and feeling’. (22) 


We have been bequeathed an unforgettably moving portrait of her by the poet Alan Seeger in his 1916 Vivien.


        Her eyes under their lashes were blue pools

        Fringed round with lilies; her bright hair unfurled

        Clothed her as sunshine clothes the summer world.

        Her robes were gauzes––gold and green and gules,

        All furry things flocked round her, from her hand

        Nibbling their foods and fawning at her feet.

        Two peacocks watched her where she made her seat

        Beside a fountain in Broceliande.

        Sometimes she sang.  .  .  .   Whoever heard forgot

        Errand and aim, and knights at noontide here,

        Riding from fabulous gestes beyond the seas,

        Would follow, tranced, and seek  .  .  .  and find her not  .  .  . 

        But wake that night, lost, by some woodland mere,

        Powdered with stars and rimmed with silent trees. (23)


Although she has caught the eye of many a dreamy poet, there is a paucity of substantive information about this alluring beauty.  This may be explained by the fact that “in studying Niniane, we are seeking to discover the fundamental traits of a fay who has practically no independent existence in romantic material outside of her relations to Merlin.” (24)  While such a narrowly focused biography may be unusual in the mythological world, there is a little-known, perfectly rational mythical explanation for Niniane’s singular attachment to Merlin.  It seems that at the time of her birth, she was pledged to Merlin by her father’s godmother, Diana, that centuries-old goddess-queen of the oak cult whom Frazer immortalized in The Golden Bough.  Niniane is elusive because she is ‘his’.  And in return, Merlin is ‘hers’ to do with what she wishes.  That is their mutual Destiny.  There is no getting around it.

   

It is not such a rare thing in this very magical forest to have one’s fortune blessed by the fays.  According to Lady Charlotte Guest who, early on, translated the  Arthurian tales of The Mabinogion from the original Welsh into English, “the fairies who are reported to haunt the Forest of Brécéliande, appear to have patronized children in an especial manner, and to have delighted in showering down gifts upon such as were brought there soon after their birth to receive their benediction.” (25)  The blessings of a goddess, however, are another matter entirely.  But Niniane is no ordinary child.  She is, after all, the daughter of the Duke of Burgoyne’s vavasour (‘vassal’), Dionas, lord and master of the woods of Broceliande, who was perhaps at one time, it is rumored, the paramour of Diana herself as “King of the Wood” and she as oak goddess and goddess of the hunt.  Their names alone suggest this connection, about which Frazer says,


        the two pairs of deities, Jupiter and Juno on the one side, and Dianus

        and Diana, or Janus and Jana, on the other side, are merely duplicates of

        each other, their names and their functions being in substance and origin

        identical. With regard to their names, all four of them come from the

        same Ayran root DI, meaning ‘bright’, which occurs in the names of the

        corresponding Greek deities, Zeus and his old female consort Dione. In

        regard to their functions, Juno and Diana were both goddesses of fecun-

        dity and childbirth, and both were sooner or later identified with the

        moon. (26)


Although Diana is known to make an occasional appearance in the French mediaeval Merlin romances as “la dieuesse del bois” (‘the goddess of the wood’) (27) and at other times is portrayed in those stories as a fay, (28) her marked presence at Niniane’s birth is unique in the Arthurian oeuvre.  The mediaeval storytellers have revived Diana’s ancient Roman character to present her in this light.  In her excursus on “The Diana Myth and Fairy Tradition”, Lucy Allen Paton reminds us that at


        the sanctuary of Diana in the grove of Aricia on the shore of Lake Nemi

        . . . Diana was specially worshiped by women in her capacity as Genitalis

        or Lucina, and therefore to a certain extent she shares with Juno Lucina

        and the Parcae the care over a child's birth. In the Vulgate Merlin, as the

        giver of a "destiny" to a child, she plays practically the same role as the

        earlier Parcae and the later fays. (29)


As it happens, “there is abundant evidence that Diana made her way into northern Europe, and that her cult persisted through the middle ages.” (30)  In fact, through-out that period, “the learned recognized the Diana of the Roman poets as still appearing to mortals as a queen of the fays.” (31)  The case has been made, and made definitively, that “the nymphs of Diana are maidens of the Celtic other world.” (32)  In the particular instance of Niniane, there is even the hint of a variation of Diana’s name in her own. (33)


How “this enchanting fairy child who is the incarnation of the magic depths of the forest itself” (34) met her Fate with the great enchanter Merlin when she had come of age and what followed thereafter, is detailed in the Merlin romances: Roman de Merlin, Le Roi Artus and Livre d'Artus, and in numerous other versions. (35) These sources include Villemarqué’s compilation from Breton sources, which is quoted by Lewis Spence in his Legends and Romances of Brittany, his being the only extant translation into English.  These earlier tellings, regardless of their specific variations in detail, are a sharp departure from the later Arthurian versions and the still later Victorian poems in which Vivien “is drawn as the scheming enchantress who wishes to lure Merlin to his ruin for the joy of being able to boast of her conquest.” (36)  Here, as Spence has presented it, is “the Broceliande account of what happened in Broceliande.” (37)


      Disguised as a young student, Merlin was wandering one bright May morning

        through the leafy glades of Broceliande, when . . . he came to a beautiful

        fountain in the heart of the forest which tempted him to rest. As he sat there

        in reverie, Vivien, daughter of the lord of the manor of Broceliande, came to

        the water's edge. Her father had gained the affection of a fay of the valley, who

        had promised on behalf of their daughter that she should be loved by the wisest

        man in the world, who should grant all her wishes, but would never be able to

        compel her to consent to his.


        Vivien reclined upon the other side of the fountain, and the eyes of the sage

        and maiden met. At length Merlin rose to depart, and gave the damsel courteous

        good-day. But she, curious and not content with a mere salutation, wished him

        all happiness and honour. Her voice was beautiful, her eyes expressive, and

        Merlin, moved beyond anything in his experience, asked her name. She told him

        she was a daughter of a gentleman of that country, and in turn asked him who he    

        might be.

       

        "A scholar returning to his master," was the reply.


        "Your master? And what may he teach you, young sir?"

   

        "He instructs me in the magic art, fair dame," replied Merlin, amused. "By aid

        of his teaching I can raise a castle ere a man could count a score, and garrison

        it with warriors of might. I can make a river flow past the spot on which you

        recline, I can raise spirits from the great deeps of ether in which this world rolls,

        and can peer far into the future--aye, to the extreme of human days."


        "Would that I shared your wisdom!" cried Vivien, her voice thrilling with

        the desire of hidden things which she had inherited from her fairy mother.


        "Teach me these secrets, I entreat of you, noble scholar, and accept in return

        for your instruction my most tender friendship."


        Merlin, willing to please her, arose, and traced certain mystical characters upon

        the greensward. Straightway the glade in which they sat was filled with knights,    

        ladies, maidens, and esquires, who danced and disported themselves right

        joyously. A stately castle rose on the verge of the forest, and in the garden the

        spirits whom Merlin the enchanter had raised up in the semblance of knights and    

        ladies held carnival. Vivien, delighted, asked of Merlin in what manner he had

        achieved this feat of faëry, and he told her that he would in time instruct her as to

        the manner of accomplishing it. He then dismissed the spirit attendants and    

        dissipated the castle into thin air, but retained the garden at the request of Vivien,

        naming it 'Joyous Garden.'


        Then he made a tryst with Vivien to meet her in a year on the Vigil of St John.


        Now Merlin had to be present at the espousal of Arthur, his King, with

        Guinevere, at which he was to assist the archbishop, Dubric, as priest. The

        festivities over, he recalled his promise to Vivien, and on the appointed day he

        once more assumed the guise of a travelling scholar and set out to meet the

        maiden in the forest of Broceliande. She awaited him patiently in Joyous

        Garden, where they partook of a dainty repast. But the viands and the wines

        were wasted upon Merlin, for Vivien was beside him and she alone filled his        

        thoughts. She was fair of colour, and fresh with the freshness of all in the forest,

        and her hazel eyes made such fire within his soul that he conceived a madness

        of love for her that all his wisdom, deep as it was, could not control.


        But Vivien was calm as a lake circled by trees, where no breath of the passion of    

        tempest can come. Again and again she urged him to impart to her the secrets

        she so greatly longed to be acquainted with. And chiefly did she desire to know

        three things; these at all hazards must she have power over. “How,” she asked,

        “could water be made to flow in a dry place? In what manner could any form be    

        assumed at will? And, lastly, how could one be made to fall asleep at the pleasure

        of another?”


        "Wherefore ask you this last question, demoiselle?" said Merlin, suspicious even    

        in his great passion for her.

   

        "So that I may cast the spell of sleep over my father and my mother when I come

        to you, Merlin," she replied, with a beguiling glance, "for did they know that I

        loved you they would slay me."

   

        Merlin hesitated, and so was lost. He imparted to her that hidden knowledge

        which she desired. Then they dwelt together for eight days in the Joyous

        Garden, during which time the sage, to Vivien's delight and amaze, related to

        her the marvellous circumstances of his birth.


        Next day Merlin departed, but came again to Broceliande when the eglantine

        was flowering at the edge of the forest. Again he wore the scholar's garments.

        His aspect was youthful, his fair hair hung in ringlets on his shoulders, and he    

        appeared so handsome that a tender flower of love sprang up in Vivien's heart,

        and she felt that she must keep him ever near her. But she knew full well that

        he whom she loved was in reality well stricken in years, and she was sorrowful.

        But she did not despair.


        "Beloved," she whispered, "will you grant me but one other boon? There is one    

        secret more that I desire to learn."


        Now Merlin knew well ere she spoke what was in her mind, and he sighed and    

        shook his head.


        "Wherefore do you sigh?" she asked innocently.


        "I sigh because my fate is strong upon me," replied the sage. "For it was foreseen

        in the long ago that a lady should lead me captive and that I should become her

        prisoner for all time. Neither have I the power to deny you what you ask of me."


        Vivien embraced him rapturously.


        "Ah, Merlin, beloved, is it not that you should always be with me?" she asked        

        passionately. "For your sake have I not given up father and mother, and are not

        all my thoughts and desires toward you?"


        Merlin, carried away by her amorous eloquence, could only answer: "It is yours

        to ask what you will."


        Vivien then revealed to him her wish. She longed to learn from his lips an en-

        chantment which would keep him ever near her, which would so bind him to

        her in the chains of love that nothing in the world could part him from her.

        Hearkening to her plea, he taught her such enchantment as would render him

        love's prisoner for ever.


        Evening was shrouding the forest in soft shadows when Merlin sank to rest.        

        Vivien, waiting until his deep and regular breathing told her that he was asleep,    

        walked nine times around him, waving her cloak over his head, and muttering

        the mysterious words he had taught her. When the sage awoke, he found himself

        in the Joyous Garden with Vivien by his side.


        "You are mine for ever," she murmured. "You can never leave me now."

       

        "My delight will be ever to stay with you," he replied, enraptured. "And oh,    

        beloved, never leave me, I pray you, for I am bespelled so as to love you    

        throughout eternity!"


        Never shall I leave you," she replied; and in such manner the wise Merlin

        withdrew from the world of men to remain ever in the Joyous Garden with

        Vivien. Love had triumphed over wisdom. (38)


In the Merlin romances of Le Roi Artus and Livre d’Artus, which stand in sharp contrast to this scenario of mutual bliss, Niniane willingly leads Merlin to her chamber, but fears the power of his love.  Lucy Allen Paton provides us with a concise outline of the commonality of events in the varying mediaeval versions, noting some parenthetical differences along the way:


   The scene is laid by a fountain in the forest of Briosque, a favorite haunt of            

        Niniane, the beautiful daughter of Dionas, a vavasour of high lineage. Hither

        one day Merlin, assuming the guise of a fair young squire, takes his way, wins

        a gentle greeting from the maiden, and explains to her that he is the pupil of a

        wise master who has given him instruction in the magic art. He himself, he

        assures her, knows how to build a castle in the air, how to walk on the water

        without wetting the soles of his feet, how to make a river flow over a dry plain,

        and how to perform even greater wonders. Niniane, dazzled by such genius,

        exclaims that if Merlin will show her some of these marvels she will become

        his love sauve toute vilenie (‘save all wickedness’), and receives Merlin's ready

        promise for so rich a reward to teach her all that she wishes to learn. (In Livre

        d'Artus, P.: Merlin merely tells Niniane that he is skilled in necromancy, and will display

        his art to her on condition that she grant him her love.)

       

        Forth from the forest he summons by enchantment a merry band of knights

        and ladies; he spreads before the delighted maiden's eyes a smiling garden;

        jongleurs sing caroles about a magic circle that he draws, young knights tilt

        and dance gaily off with fair maidens under the spreading trees. At sunset the        

        illusions vanish, (These details are omitted in Livre d'Artus, P.) and Niniane is ready to

        declare that Merlin can ask nothing too great for her to grant him, after he shall

        have taught her all of his art that she wishes to know. He at once gives her a

        lesson in magic, and leaves her, promising to return on the eve of St. John and

        teach her more.

       

        At the appointed time Niniane keeps tryst with him by the fountain, and leads

        him secretly to her chamber. Fearing the excess of his love, by many blandish-

        ments she induces him to show her how to keep a man asleep at her pleasure.

        She protects herself further against him by inscribing on her flesh magic words

        that deprive him of the power to draw near her except in accordance with her

        will; she deludes him by laying an enchanted pillow in his arms, that casts him

        into a deep sleep. (In the Livre d'Artus, P., Niniane learns from Merlin how to produce a

        sleep that shall last at her pleasure, and how to summon him to her when she wishes. She tries

        to protect herself by casting him into a sleep.)

       

        Merlin's visits to Niniane are frequent. (Vulgate Merlin, pp. 299, 402, 452; English

        Merlin, pp. 565, 634; Livre d'Artus, P., §§30, 67, 85, 87, 101, 136.) He becomes "the victim

        of a slowly enfeebling infatuation," and gradually imparts to her more and more

        of his magic art, (At this point the accounts end in Le Roi Artus and Livre d'Artus, P.) teach-

        ing her all that she asks to know. Then she plans to withstand him forever. She

        would keep him with her always, and by flattery and beguiling pictures of

        the beautiful spot that she will fashion where they alone shall dwell in happi-

        ness, she induces him to show her how to confine a man sans tour & sans mur

        & sans fer par enchantement. [‘to enchant without a tower & without walls

        & without iron’.]

       

        One day as they sit beneath a white-thorn bush in Broceliande, Niniane lulls            

        Merlin to sleep. With her girdle she makes a magic circle nine times about the    

        sleeper; when he wakes he is in the fairest tower in the world, which only

        Niniane can destroy. She dwells with him, but goes in and out at her own will.

        Later Sir Gawain riding through Broceliande hears a voice, but sees only a thick

        mist before him. The voice is Merlin's addressing him from the walls of air, say-

        ing that by her to whom he had taught much he has been enclosed here never to

        come forth. (39)


There are no pretenses whatsoever in the Roman de Merlin, as there are in the Livre d’Artus, of Vivien’s insistence on a relationship “without wickedness”, which is to say, one of a purely platonic nature that would guarantee the perpetuity of her virginal state. (40)  Her loving relationship with Merlin is overtly sexual in the early 14th century history of King Arthur, Le Roman de Merlin


        . . . Niniane made Merlin promise to teach her his art, and they swore to love

        one another eternally. They took one another, and in the joys of love-making

        Merlin taught her many singular things. They could hardly bear to part; and

        every time they met, the wizard found himself more closely bound to her. And

        so he taught her more and more. He knew very well that the day would come

        when she would completely enchant him with his own magic. Nevertheless he        

        continued. And he took his leave of Arthur and the world of his fame.


        When Merlin returned from his last visit to Camelot and rejoined Niniane in the    

        magic forest, she received him more winningly and passionately than ever.

        “Teach me,” she besought him, “how, without fetters or prison walls, I can

       enchain a man, purely by magic, and in such a way that he shall never

       escape me unless I choose to set him free.”


        Merlin sighed and bowed his head. Then, keeping nothing back, he taught her

        all the arts and elements of so powerful a spell. Niniane was beside herself with

        joy, and gave him so freely of her love that he would never know happiness

        again except with her.


        And so they meandered hand in hand through the forest of Broceliande, and

        when they were tired, sat down under a whitethorn tree, heavy with sweet-

        smelling blossoms. There they delighted each other with tender words and

        kisses, until at last Merlin laid his head in her lap. and she stroked his face and    

        entwined her fingers in his hair until he slept. As soon as she was sure that he

        was sound asleep, she softly rose, took her long veil, and wound it around the

        whitethorn bush. Then, using the spells that Merlin had taught her, she stepped

        nine times around the bush within a circle that she had drawn, whispered nine

        times the proper magic words, and knew that after that the spell was unbreak-

        able. Whereupon she sat down, and again took Merlin’s head in her lap.

   

        The wizard awoke and looked around him; he seemed to be lying on a bed

        inside an incredibly high tower. “If you do not stay with me forever,” he said,

        “you have betrayed me; for no one but you can release me from this tower.”


        “My dear love,” answered Niniane, “I shall often rest in your arms.”

   

        And she kept her word. Very few days or nights ever passed that she did not

        spend with him. And he could not stir from the spot, but she herself could come

        and go as she pleased. After a little time, however, she would have given him

        his freedom gladly, for she was sorry to see him always a prisoner; but the spell

        had been made too strong, and it was not in her power. So she remained with him,

        a perpetual sadness in her heart. (41)



THE MYTHIC DIMENSION 


There are many points of mythological interest interwoven throughout the texts which only a reader with a rigorous familiarity with the themes of mythology, the folk practices of the day, and a knowledge of the world of faerie might take notice of in an instant.  When we read, for example, that Niniane “stepped nine times around the bush within a circle that she had drawn”, and then, that she “whispered nine times the proper magic words”, we know full well, as does Niniane herself, “that after that the spell was unbreakable”.  We know this not only because of the enclosing circle of power that she has drawn around the bush which, we note, she, herself stands within, but because of long-held beliefs in the magical power of these numbers: in “threes”, “the all-powerful 3 X 3”, (42) “nines”, and even in “twenty-sevens”, all of which occur with an assuring regularity in the mythology of the Celts. (43)


Of course, we need not look further than the Nine Maidens so familiar to us from the Arthurian legends, or the Triple Morrigan, or the Nine Hazels of Wisdom, or beyond the ninth wave, (44) but there are a seemingly infinite number of other such examples.  There is a distinctly lunar feel to these mystical numbers, and this, in fact, may be the ultimate raison d’être behind their power. (45)  From a different numerical perspective, which we might venture to identify as “solar”, it was also deduced that “nine, like five, symbolized the whole”, (46) “with the eight directions and the centre making nine.” (47)  From either perspective, nine is a number, which stands for “completion, fulfilment, attainment, beginning and end, the whole.” (48)


We know, too, that there is a great sense of humor at work in these stories when we read that after that rapturous first meeting in the Joyous Garden with his belovèd fairy, Merlin promises to return to her “in a year on the Vigil of St John”, for magical things happen, not only on Midsummer’s Eve, but on St. John’s Eve. (49)  The vigil falls at the height of the summer in the Month of the Oak, or the Door, on June 24th, the traditional day “on which the oak-king was sacrificially burned alive”. (50)  Thus, does the great oak door close on the light half of the year that began at the Winter Solstice, to open the way for the dark half. (51) 


Contributing to this exceedingly magical time was the common belief that “invisibility was thought to be conferred through the virtue of fern-seed, which is ‘supposed to become visible only on St. John’s eve, and at the very moment when the Baptist was born’.” (52)


        Because the “fern seed" could not be seen, it was claimed by some early        

        herbalists that it must be invisible. This ultimately led to a widely held

        belief that the invisibility of the fern seed conveyed invisibility to the

        bearer of the seed, but only if the seeds were collected at midnight on

        Midsummer Night's Eve, June 23, also known as the eve of Saint John,

        the shortest night of the year.  However, you could only catch the

        elusive invisible fern seed by stacking up twelve pewter plates beneath

        a fern leaf, the seed falling through the first eleven plates to be stopped

        by the twelfth; the absence of the fern seed on the twelfth plate was blamed

        on roaming fairies. (53)


If one were to look for fern-seed on the Eve of St. John for the purpose of be-

coming invisible, the best possible place to find ferns would be in a forest such as that which serves as the backdrop for our story.


There is a wonderland of natural clues placed throughout the literature of Merlin’s “end”, but they are easily missed.  Probably few will recall that in the Breton romance, Myrdhinn, ou l’Enchanteur Merlin, for example, we are told that Merlin again returns to Niniane “when the eglantine was flowering at the edge of the forest.”  Eglantine Rose, or Rosa rubiginosa, is more familiarly known as sweet briar, a thorny pink-flowered shrub which blooms from late spring to midsummer, and which is beloved for its heady, overpoweringly sweet apple fragrance which lasts for months beyond its blooming. (54)  Its mesmerizing scent offers but a hint of what we find in the Roman de Merlin, where “the master of magic” (55) is “wittingly and willingly” (56) bewitched and enraptured in a fully flowering whitethorn bush whose intoxicating fragrance Robert Graves has noted, “has, for many men, a strong scent of female sexuality.” (57)


One could almost predict the ultimate fate of this beguiling romance by the mere mention of the overpowering whitethorn bush, for the most essential thing to know about the hawthorn is that it is, first and foremost, a fairy tree; that it “is primarily thought of as a tree sacred to or haunted by the fairies”, (58) for it is well-known that “spirits and fairies meet at hawthorn trees.” (59)  The Hawthorn (Crataegus), which is in the Rosaceae, or Rose family, is known about the countryside as the whitethorn, thornapple, or may, the latter because it is most famous as the tree of the month of May which, in England, is the time when it flowers to its fullest glory.  Its fragrant white flowers are thought to be fairy flowers and its branches believed to “protect against sorcery.” (60)    


Only under the puritanical constraints of Christianity did its flowers come to symbolize “virginity, chastity, or miraculous virgin birth.” (61)  This unnaturally forced association would have been in keeping with the relentless suppression by the Church of sexuality in general and would have furthered their goal of eradicating the thoroughly ingrained orgiastic celebrations at the time of the flowering of the hawthorn on Beltaine, in particular.  Under this chastened view of the world, it was “considered bad luck to bring hawthorn indoors . . . [and was] a plant kept out of doors, [because it was] associated with unregulated love in the fields, rather than conjugal love in the bed.” (62)


As is the case with all members of the family of the Rose, there is the thorny side of the hawthorn to consider.  Much in use as a hedge-barrier, its name is derived from the rather ominous combination of the words, hag, meaning both ‘hedge’ and ‘witch’, plus thorn. (63)  It is, “in general, an unlucky tree and the name under which it appears in the Irish Brehon Laws, sceith, is apparently connected with the Indo-Germanic root sceath or sceth, meaning ‘harm’; from which we derive the English ‘scathe’,” (64) whose archaic use suggests ‘to injure or hurt’, ‘to blast’, ‘wither’, ‘sear’, or ‘denounce fiercely’. (65)  This brings us squarely into Druidic territory, where scathing humor against one’s opponent can actually scar.  


The Hawthorn is completely identified with the month of May, a month that is laden with mixed messages.  For the ancients, it was a month in which there were strict taboos against marrying.  It was a time of elaborate public purification rituals, of “the washing and cleansing of the holy images” (66) and their temples, rites that paved the way for the lighting of new fires and which cleared the way for propitious marriages in the month of June. (67)  Robert Graves has remarked that during this time, people “also abstained from sexual intercourse” (68) and from this, concluded that “the hawthorn, then, is the tree of enforced chastity.” (69)  How confusing this is in view of his observation, which we have noted above, that the “hawthorn blossom has, for many men, a strong scent of female sexuality.” (70)  


Clearly, the Celts had an entirely other view of the hawthorn as is witnessed in the vast evidence of the full-blown sexual excesses of the rites of May 1st on the feast of Beltaine.  One authority on the subject of folk superstition does advise, how-ever, that because “the hawthorn is . . . associated with fairies, . . . it is dangerous to sit under it on those special days when these intermediate spirits are most powerful, such as May Day, Midsummer Eve, or Hallowe’en. Whoever does so runs the risk of being enchanted or carried away by them.” (71)  And so, with full knowledge, does Merlin lie with his fairy-love, Niniane, under the heady fully flowering boughs of the hawthorn.  One can only guess that this must have been in the month of May, for it could not have been at any other time.


        In the white-thorn bush in full blossom in Broceliande, beneath which        

        Merlin is lulled to sleep by Niniane, there may perhaps be a reminiscence

        of the white musical boughs that bring drowsiness, which in Celtic tales

        are borne to mortals by messengers from the other world.” (72) 


This is the “branch of silver with white blossoms,” (73) which lulls to sleep by its “wonderfully sweet mysterious music”; (74) the magnificent, extravagantly blossoming Silver Bough, whose sudden appearance in story is always a clear sign that we are either in, or are about to cross, the threshold of the world of faerie, where it is always and forever springtime.  In The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries, Evans-Wentz presents adventure after Irish adventure in which the hero who is destined “to enter the Otherworld before the appointed hour marked by death,” (75) is given the gift of a “silver branch of the sacred apple-tree bearing blossoms, or fruit,” by the Celtic fairy queen. (76)  Sweet fairy music seems to emanate from the fully-flowering blossoms themselves, lulling its hearers to sleep, (77) or sending them into a swoon to prepare them for what they are about to experience in the Otherworld.  The initiate emerges with a knowledge that can be found nowhere else. 


If we are to understand this unimaginably blissful experience, the kind that Merlin, too, gave himself to, it is essential that we know something of the true nature of the Celtic fairy queen herself.  We quote the astute observations of Lucy Allen Paton who, in her brilliant Studies in the Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance of 1903, traces the lineal descent of the fay of medieval romance directly to the Celtic fairy queen.  She warns us that



        . . . we must lay aside, for the time being, our cherished pictures of

        Queen Titania and Faery Mab, (78) and remember that the fay of

        Arthurian romance is essentially a supernatural woman, always more

        beautiful than the imagination can possibly fancy her, untouched by time,

        unhampered by lack of resources for the accomplishment of her pleasure,

        superior to human blemish, contingency, or necessity, in short, alto-

        gether unlimited in her power. Insistent love is a fundamental part of

        her nature, but she holds aloof from ordinary mortals and gives her favor

        only to the best and most valorous of knights. . . . (79)


        Her power at first is manifested by some mysterious agency. Like the    

        musical bough to which Bran listened, this may benumb the senses, or like    

        Connla's magic apple, it may increase a longing for her . . . . The effect of    

        these agencies is merely the sign that the mortal is feeling the bewildering    

        fairy influence, and unconsciously, but perforce, yielding to it. When the    

        inevitable result ensues, and he obeys her summons to the other world, his    

        bewilderment becomes complete oblivion, and he dwells in utter forget-

        fulness of all things mortal, conscious only of the delights that the fay

        offers him.


        He may grow restless at his retention in fairyland, but . . . in the fairy    

        mythology of romance the law is invariable, that for the mortal who once    

        has experienced the fairy control there is no true release . . . [for] she . . .    

        moves in accordance with a definite law of her nature, the law of absolute    

        supremacy whenever she pleases to exercise her control, and this control is    

        primarily effective for the welfare of the knight whom she loves. (80)


In the Celtic world, the turning of the sun divides the year into a never-ending sequence of new beginnings.  At each successive station of the sun, the thin veil that separates the worlds is opened for a brief moment.  At such liminal times, when things are “neither this nor that,” (81) it is as if a Druidic mist has enveloped the world.  All boundaries vanish to create a mystical, mysterious atmosphere in which all the rules are suspended as one is subsumed into sacred time and sacred space. (82)  What better time than Beltaine, at the moment of blossoming and fragrance and celebration of all that is alive with the fullness of life, to withdraw from the secular world into another of such bliss? 


What has been said of Arthur of Britain – that he is the penultimate King of the May – can be said, too, of his distinguished Druid.  In the words of the early 13th century bard Wolfram von Eschenbach, “What fragrance, they say, is in the air around him!” (83)  And, like his King, who soon thereafter floated into the land of mists that some call Avalon under the care of another of Merlin’s students of magic, the ‘Great Fairy Woman’, Morgan le Fay, Merlin abides in an amorphous state between worlds.  He is suspended in time and space: neither here nor there, this nor that, not-dead. (84)  He lives in the boundaries between worlds, invisible to all but his adored fairy mistress, Niniane.



NOTES:

MERLIN’S FAIRY MISTRESS


FRONTISPIECE ILLUSTRATION: Gusave Doré’s engraving of Merlin and Vivien showing the dewy-eyed old magician leaning against an enormous old oak with his belovèd fairy mistress swooning in his lap, which appeared in Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King in 1867. From: Illustrations for “Idylls of the King. (New York: Dover Publications, 1995), Plate X, p. 21.


NOTES:


  1. 1. Le Roi Artus, Vol. II, Continuation, as quoted in Norma Lorre Goodrich, Merlin. (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), p. 211.

  2. 2.  Emma Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz, The Grail Legend. Andrea Dykes, Translator. (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons for the C. G. Jung Foundation for Analytical Psychology, 1972), p. 364.

  3. 3.  See: Pierre de Gentil, “The Work of Robert de Boron and the Didot Perceval”, in Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages: A Collaborative History. Roger Sherman Loomis, Editor. (Oxford: Oxford University, 1959), p. 259. For an exploration of Merlin’s esplumoir, see: Tracy Boyd, “The Birds in Arthur’s Court”, a work in progress to be published at <www.sacredthreads.net>.

  4. 4.  Emma Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz, The Grail Legend, op. cit., p. 390, quot. Heinrich Zimmer, “Merlin”, in Corona, IX, 2, 1939.

  5. 5.  Ibid.

  6. 6.  Prose Merlin: Introduction. Edited by John Conlee. Originally Published in Prose Merlin (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 1998. Available online at: <http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/teams/pmint.htm>.

  7. 7.  Prose Merlin. Edited by John Conlee. TEAMS Middle English Texts Series, 1988. Originally published as Prose Merlin. John Conlee, Editor. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 1988. Online at: <http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/teams/imprfr.htm> under Chapter 27, lines 16-24 . . .  38-47.

  8. 8.  Lucy Allen Paton, Studies in the Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance. (NY: Burt Franklin, 1970 reprint of her original 1903 Radcliffe Thesis), p. 216.

  9. 9.  Emma Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz, The Grail Legend, op. cit., pp. 394-95.

  10. 10. For more on Villemarqué, see: <Théodore Claude Henri, vicomte Hersart de la Villemarqué - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia> and <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goursez_Vreizh>.

  11. 11. La Villemarqué, Théodore Claude Henri, in The Encyclopaedia Britannica. Eleventh Edition. (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1911), Vol. XVI, p. 294; and <Théodore Claude Henri, vicomte Hersart de la Villemarqué - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia>.

  12. 12. Alfred Nutt, The Fairy Mythology of Shakespeare, in A Fairy Tale Reader: A Collection of Story, Lore and Vision. John & Caitlin Matthews, Eds. (London: Aquarian/Thorsens, 1993, Excerpted from Alfred Nutt, The Fairy Mythology of Shakespeare. (London: David Nutt, 1900), pp. 177-78 passim.

  13. 13. Lewis Spence, Legends and Romances of Brittany. (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 1997 republication of the work originally published by Frederick A. Stokes Company, New York, n.d.), p. 65.

  14. 14. Lady Charlotte Guest, “Note on the Forest of Breceliande and the Fountain of Baranton”, in The Mabinogion. Lady Charlotte Guest, Translator. 1877, p. 75, quoting the Vicomte Théodore de la Villemarqué, “Visite ou Tombeau de Merlin” in Revue de Paris. Tome 41. 7 Mai, 1837, pp. 47-58, in the original French: “ces forêts sacrées qu’habitaient les prêtresses du druidisme dans les Gaules”, at: <http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/mab/mab08.htm>.

  15. 15. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paimpont_forest>.

  16. 16. Lucy Allen Paton, Studies in the Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance, op. cit., p. 95.

  17. 17. Lady Charlotte Guest,“Note on the Forest of Breceliande and the Fountain of Baranton”, in The Mabinogion, op. cit., p. 75, quoting the Vicomte Théodore de la Villemarqué, “Visite ou Tombeau de Merlin” in Revue de Paris. Tome 41. 7 Mai, 1837, pp. 47-58, at: <http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/mab/mab08.htm>.

  18. 18. Richard Johnson, The History of Tom Thumbe, in Iona and Peter Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974, Reissued 1992), p. 33, in which the entire tale published by Richard Johnson as The History of Tom Thumbe, the Little, for his small stature surnamed, King Arthur’s Dwarfe: Whose Life and aduentures containe many strange and wonderfull accidents, published for the delight of merry Time-spenders, of which only one copy has survived, is reproduced on pp. 33-46. See also: Tracy Boyd. “Titania, the Queen of Faerie, and the Druid Tom Thumbe”, at <www.sacredthreads.net>.

  19. 19. Gusave Doré, Doré’s Illustrations for “Idylls of the King”. (New York: Dover Publications, 1995), “Vivien”, Plate X, p. 21. This appears as the Frontispiece for the present article.

  20. 20. Celtic scholar John Rhys, who thinks her names are a misreading of Rhiannon, remarks in his Studies in the Arthurian Legend, that in the preface to the Huth Merlin alone, “preference is given to Ninienne over Nivienne, and forms such as Niniane, Niniene, Nimenne, Nimainne, Jumenne, are mentioned; also Viviane and Vivienne, the worst and most popular in print.” (John Rhys, Studies in the Arthurian Legend. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1891), p. 284, Note 1.

  21. 21. Lucy Allen Paton, Studies in the Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance, op. cit., p. 240.

  22. 22. D. P. Simpson, Cassell’s Latin Dictionary. (London: Cassell & Company Limited/New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., First Macmillan Edition, 1977), “vivus”, p. 647.

  23. 23. Alan Seeger, Vivien, 1916, in Poems by Alan Seeger. William Archer, Introduction. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, MCMXVII), p. 86. Seeger is most remembered for his stirring World War I poem I Have a Rendezvous With Death . . . , which was one of his last poems. (Ibid., p. 144.) He was killed in the Great War. His Vivien is also available on line courtesy of The Camelot Project at the University of Rochester at <http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/vivmenu.htm>.

  24. 24. Lucy Allen Paton, Studies in the Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance, op. cit., pp. 204-05.

  25. 25. Lady Charlotte Guest, “Note on the Forest of Breceliande and the Fountain of Baranton”, in The Mabinogion, op. cit., p. 74, available online at: <http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/mab/mab08.htm>.

  26. 26. Sir James G. Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. Part I, The Magic Art and the Evolution of Kings. Two Volumes. Third Edition. (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1922), Vol. II., p. 381; and pp. 376-387.

  27. 27. As, for example, in Le Roman de Merlin: or, The Early History of King Arthur.  From the French MS. Add. 10292 in the British Museum, c. AD 1316, in the original French, edited by H. Oskar Sommer with paragraph summaries in English, p. 223 on Google Books at: <http://books.google.com/books?id=XH5FAQAAIAAJ&pg=PR3&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false>

  28. 28. See: Lucy Allen Paton, Studies in the Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance, op. cit., p. 239.

  29. 29. See: Lucy Allen Paton, Excursus IV: “The Diana Myth and Fairy Tradition”, in Studies in the Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance, op. cit., p. 275-76, citing: Cicero, De Natura Deorum, II, 68: Catullus, Carm. xxxiv; Horace, Carm. Saec, v. 15; above, p. 193, note i.; and Paton, passim, pp. 275-79. For more on goddesses of childbirth and the pronunciations of the Fate of the child, see: Tracy Boyd, “The Keepers of the Flame: Vesta and Her Brides”at <www.sacredthreads.net>.

  30. 30. Lucy Allen Paton, Studies in the Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance, op. cit., p. 276.

  31. 31. Roger Sherman Loomis, “A Survey of Scholarship on the Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance Since 1903”: “Niniane of Viviane”, in the Supplement to Lucy Allen Paton, Studies in the Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance, op, cit., p. 298.

  32. 32. Lucy Allen Paton, Excursus IV: “The Diana Myth and Fairy Tradition”, in Studies in the Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance, op. cit. p. 279.

  33. 33. See the detailed explications of this in Lucy Allen Paton, Studies in the Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance, op, cit., pp. 240-47.)

  34. 34. Heinrich Zimmer, “Four Romances from the Cycle of King Arthur”: IV. “Merlin”, in The King and the Corpse: Tales of the Soul’s Conquest of Evil. Joseph Campbell, Editor. (NY: Pantheon Books, The Bollingen Series XI, 1948, p. 197.

  35. 35. See: Lucy Allen Paton, Studies in the Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance, op. cit., p. 205.

  36. 36. Lewis Spence, Legends and Romances of Brittany. (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 1997 Republication of  the work originally published by Frederick A. Stokes Company, New York, No Date), p. 69, referencing Geoffrey of Monmouth's book and the Morte d’Arthur.

  37. 37. Ibid., p. 65; the following being a translation of Villemarqué’s 1861 Myrdhinn, ou l’Enchanteur Merlin.

  38. 38. Lewis Spence, Legends and Romances of Brittany, op. cit., pp. 64-69. Spence translating/quoting from Villemarqué’s 1861 Myrdhinn, ou l’Enchanteur Merlin.

  39. 39. Summary by Lucy Allen Paton, Studies in the Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance, op. cit., in “Niniane and Merlin”, pp. 205-206, citing her sources in p. 205, Note 1: Vulgate Merlin, pp. 222-226, 299, 402, 432, 452, 483, 484, 493, 494; English Merlin, pp. 307-312, 378, 565, 607, 634, 679-681, 692-694; Merlin (1528), I, cxlv, cxlvi ; II, cxxvi, cxxvii; Paris, R. T. R., II, 174-181, 334; Livre d'Artus, P., §§ 17, 30, 67, 85, 87, 89 ff., 101, 130, 136.

  40. 40. See Paton’s detailed delineation of the differences between the versions in Lucy Allen Paton, Studies in the Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance, op. cit., in “Niniane and Merlin”, pp. 205-227.

  41. 41. Heinrich Zimmer, “Four Romances from the Cycle of King Arthur”: IV. “Merlin”, in The King and the Corpse: Tales of the Soul’s Conquest of Evil. Joseph Campbell, Editor. (NY: Pantheon Books, The Bollingen Series XI, 1948, pp. 195-96, translating/quoting Roman de Merlin, 277-280, 526, 554-557, Sommer’s ed., pp. 223-226, 45-452, 482-484.

  42. 42. J. C. Cooper, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1978), “Numbers”, p. 118.

  43. 43. See: Alwyn Rees and Brinley Rees, Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1961), passim, pp. 192-96.

  44. 44. About the ninth wave, see: Tracy Boyd, “The Mythic Ground of the Longing for Wisdom and Love in William Butler Yeats’s The Song of Wondering Aengus” under the heading “Shape Shifting” at <www.sacredthreads.net>; and Alwyn Rees and Brinley Rees, Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales, op. cit., pp. 96-97.

  45. 45. See: Ibid., pp. 194-95.

  46. 46. Ibid., p. 193.

  47. 47. J. C. Cooper, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols, op. cit., “Numbers”, p. 118.

  48. 48. For a discussion of the power of these numbers carried over into things like the re-drawing of boundaries and the precautions taken in the kindling, or configuration of the laying of the new fires at the ritual celebrations of the New Year, such as those of Beltaine, see: Tracy Boyd, “The Daunce of Nine-Men’s Morris and The Boundaries Between Worlds”, under the heading: “The Boundaries Between Worlds” and “Fire Rites” at <www.sacredthreads.net>. For a very far-ranging and fascinating study of “nines”, see: Stuart Mc Hardy, The Quest for the Nine Maidens. (Trowbridge, Scotland: Cromwell Press, 2003.

  49. 49. For a detailed discussion of the confusion of these eves, see: Tracy Boyd, “Finding the Light at Our Lady of Chartres”, under the heading: “Timing is Everything” at <www.sacredthreads.net>.

  50. 50. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974; 7th Printing of Amended and Enlarged Edition of 1966), p. 177.

  51. 51. For the perennial battle of Winter and Summer, See: Tracy Boyd: “The Tarot Fool’s Hand”, under the heading: “The Fool’s Dance” at <www.sacredthreads.net>.

  52. 52. Lewis Spence, The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain. (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 1999 unabridged republication of 1945 edition), p. 63, quot. Sir Walter Scott, The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, II, p. 278.

  53. 53. <http://www.sierrapotomac.org/W_Needham/WoodFern_060305.htm>.

  54. 54. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosa_rubiginosa>

  55. 55. Heinrich Zimmer, “Four Romances from the Cycle of King Arthur”: IV. “Merlin”, in The King and the Corpse: Tales of the Soul’s Conquest of Evil, op. cit., p. 197.

  56. 56. Ibid.

  57. 57. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 176.

  58. 58. Katharine Briggs, An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1976), “Fairy trees”, p. 159.

  59. 59. J. C. Cooper, An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols, op. cit., “Hawthorn”, p. 80.

  60. 60. Ibid.

  61. 61. Ibid.

  62. 62. Roy Vickery, A Dictionary of Plant-Lore. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), “Hawthorn”, p. 168, quot. J. Goody, The Culture of Flowers. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 256.

  63. 63. Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language. College Edition. (Cleveland and New York: The World Publishing Co., 1959), “hawthorn”, p. 665.

  64. 64. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 174.

  65. 65. Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, op. cit., “scathe”, p. 1302.

  66. 66. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 175.

  67. 67. Robert Graves neatly summarizes the events in a few paragraphs in his The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., pp. 174-75. For a very detailed article about the extensive Roman rites, see: Tracy Boyd, “The Keepers of the Flame: Vesta and Her Brides”at <www.sacredthreads.net>.

  68. 68. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 174.

  69. 69. Ibid., p. 175.

  70. 70. Ibid., p. 176.

  71. 71. E. and M. A. Radford, with Christina Hole, Editor/Revisions. The Encyclopedia of Superstitions. (New York: Metro Books, 2002), “Hawthorn”, p. 183.

  72. 72. Lucy Allen Paton, Studies in the Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance op. cit., p. 210.

  73. 73. Ibid., p. 211.

  74. 74. Ibid.

  75. 75. Walter Yeeling Evans-Wentz, The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries. (New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, Inc., First Printing, June 1966, First published in this form by Oxford University, 1911), p. 336, and pp. 336-351 passim.

  76. 76. Ibid., p. 336.

  77. 77. Ibid. See especially, The Voyage of Bran, Son Of Febal, pp. 338-40, and Cormac’s Adventure in the Land of Promise, pp. 340-43.

  78. 78. Lucy Allen Paton, Studies in the Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance op. cit., p. 4, Note 2: For a popular discussion of the relation between the Celtic fay and the fairy of Shakespeare see Nutt, The Fairy Mythology of Shakespeare, London, 1900. We do not necessarily agree with Ms. Paton on this point about Titania. For an in-depth discussion of Titania, see: Tracy Boyd, “Titania, The Queen of Faerie, and the Druid Tom Thumbe” at <www.sacredthreadsnet>.

  79. 79. Lucy Allen Paton, Studies in the Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance op. cit., pp. 4-5, p. 5, Note 1 Cf. Philipot, Rom., XXV (1896), 279.

  80. 80. Lucy Allen Paton, Studies in the Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance, op. cit., pp. 4-6, p. 6, Note 1. On the nature of the fay see Nutt, Holy Grail, p. 232; id., The Fairv Mythology of Shakespeare, pp. 17, 18; Schofield, Studies and Notes, V, 237; Lays of Graelent, etc., pp. 131, 132; Brown, Studies and Notes, VIII, 19-22.

  81. 81. Alwyn Rees and Brinley Rees, Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales, op. cit., p. 345.

  82. 82. See: Tracy Boyd, “The Daunce of Nine-Men’s Morris and The Boundaries Between Worlds”, under the heading: “The Boundaries Between Worlds” at <www.sacredthreads.net>.

  83. 83. Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival: A Romance of the Middle Ages. Helen M. Mustard and Charles E. Passage, Translation and Introduction. (New York: Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, 1961), Book VI, 281, p. 153.

  84. 84. For a thoroughly enjoyable discussion of these states of “betwixts-and-betweens”, see: Alwyn Rees and Brinley Rees, Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales, op. cit., pp. 345-46.



FURTHER READING:


The work presented here is but one aspect of the very interesting Niniane. She is portrayed in other roles in mediaeval and modern poetry and prose, the two most important of which are those of La Dame du Lac (‘the Lady of the Lake’), in which she appears as a syncretization of Morgan, and La Damoisele Cacheresse, in which she is reconciled with the ancient archetype of the great woodland goddess Diana. In addition to the books and articles cited in “Merlin’s Fairy Mistress”, readers may wish to consult these additional sources:



  1. -Norma Lorre Goodrich, Merlin. New York: Harper & Row, 1988. A very interesting read

  for the casual reader who does not mind not always knowing which story came from where.

  1. -Carolyne Larrington, King Arthur’s Enchantresses: Morgan and Her Sisters in Arthurian Tradition. London/New York: I.B. Tauris & Co., Ltd., 2006. A brilliant analysis of the facts, impeccably researched and presented by a scholar of Mediaeval English. 

  2. -Caitlin and John Matthews, Ladies of the Lake. London: Thorsens, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers & The Aquarian Press, 1992. Jumps all over the place with much interesting information and conjecture by two long-time Celtic scholars.

  3. -“Merlin and Vivien”, in The Poetical Works of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Poet Laureate. Eugene Parsons, Biographical and Critical Introduction. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co. Publishers, 1900), pp. 268-286. An extremely well known and very venomous view of Vivien and Merlin.

  4. -The Romance of Arthur: An Anthology of Medieval Texts in Translation. James J. Wilhelm, Editor. New Expanded Edition. New York & London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1994.)

  5. -The Romance of Merlin: An Anthology. Peter Goodrich, Editor. (New York & London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1990.

  6. -Jessie L. Weston, “Merlin”, in The Encyclopaedia Britannica. Eleventh Edition. Twenty-Nine Volumes with Index. Cambridge, England: At the University Press, 1911), Vol. XVIII, pp. 170-71.

Niniane to Merlin (1)