Morgan Le Fay

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Morgan le Fay, by Frederick Sandys. Courtesy Fortean Picture Library.

Morgan Le Fay

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Arthur's sister in the Arthurian legend, her name comes from the French Morgain la Fée, in which fée, or fay, means "of the fairies." Her character is based on Welsh Modron, daughter of Avallach, and a water nymph of Breton folklore. There are also ties to the ancient river goddess Matrona, and the goddess known to the Irish as Morríghan.

Such writers as Geoffrey of Monmouth, Chrétien de Troyes, Giraldus Cambrensis, and Guillem Torrella of Majorca have sullied the waters to the extent that there is no unequivocal pedigree for the lady. She appears as a noblewoman, a temptress, an enchantress, as Arthur's sister, Guingamor's mistress, and as a "good fairy." She also appears in two aspects, as a young girl and an old woman. According to some legends she was Merlin's sister.

Whatever her true identity, Morgan le Fay was usually presented as evil but also as adept in the healing arts. On the one hand she was working against Arthur, yet on the other she magically healed his wounds after the battle of Camlan.

Morgan le Fay

(pop culture)
In the Arthurian myths, Morgan (sometimes spelled Morgaine) le Fay is often cast in the role of King Arthur's foe. But in many versions of the legend, she is also known as one of the women who will bring about his eventual return. Next to Queen Guenevere, Morgan le Fay is arguably the most important female figure in the Arthurian myths. In Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur, Morgan is depicted as Arthur's half sister, the daughter of Arthur's mother Igraine and her first husband, the Duke of Cornwall. Arthur was her half-brother, the child of Igraine and Uther Pendragon. Although Arthur grows to become a formidable warrior and wielder of the mystic blade Excalibur, Morgan possesses a knowledge of mysticism, which she inherited from her mother, that Arthur cannot match. Some sources credit the mother as being the daughter of LeFay, a Welsh sea goddess. (The root of the name “Morgan” means “sea.”) Most modern versions of the Arthurian myths consider Morgan the mother of the evil Mordred (or Modred), fathered by Arthur after Morgan seduced him, though older versions of the myths place Morgan's sister, Morgause, in the role of seductress. Placing Morgan in opposition to Arthur conflicts with older versions of the legend in which Morgan is one of the women who await Arthur on the Isle of Avalon, where he went upon his death, to heal him of his mortal wound while Britain anticipates his return. In several sources Morgan has nothing against Arthur, but does carry a grudge against some of Arthur's allies and friends. She is depicted as an enemy of Guinevere in the Vulgate Lancelot, in which Guinevere puts an end to Morgan's affair with Guiomar, Guinevere's cousin. An angry Morgan becomes determined to expose the queen's infidelity with Lancelot. She attempts this by, among other things, giving Arthur the gift of a magic drinking horn from which only women who are faithful to their husbands can drink without spilling, and attempting to seduce Lancelot herself. From this, it is easy to imagine that authors would fashion enmity between Arthur and Morgan. The twentieth century brought a renewed interest in Morgan le Fay and her role(s) in the Arthurian legends. Marion Zimmer Bradley brought le Fay to the forefront as the protagonist of her novel The Mists of Avalon (1983), reflecting an increased feminist interest in the role of women in the legends. Juliana Margulies played Morgan in the 2001 television adaptation of the same name; Joan Allen played Morgause. Morgan le Fay has enjoyed a number of interpretations in comic books, though not always in a light in which she might find flattering. For example, the character was portrayed as a matriarchal, but still vital, opponent to King Arthur in Jack Kirby's comic The Demon (1972–1974), and is one of the major villains in the DC Comics series Camelot 3000 (by Mike W. Barr and Brian Bolland, 1982–1985). She has also fought Wonder Woman and other members of the Justice League in an episode (“Kids' Stuff”) of the Justice League Unlimited cartoon series (2004–present), where she was voiced by Olivia d'Abo. Morgan le Fay has also appeared in the comic strip Prince Valiant by Hal Foster, in the continuity “The Sorceress” (February 26, 1938), and in the Marvel Comics series Iron Man by David Michelinie and John Romita, Jr. (1981), Spider-Woman by Mark Gruenwald and Carmine Infantino (1981), and Knights of Pendragon by Dan Abnett and John Tomlinson, illustrated by various artists (Marvel UK, 1990–1993). She also appears in the Caliber Press revisionist series Camelot Eternal by J. Caliafore (1990–1991). In all these comics series, le Fay is depicted as a villainess, eager to take revenge against the protagonists for some new insult, real or imagined, or to form an alliance with the enemies of King Arthur, to further her own evil schemes. Le Fay is usually depicted as sexually seductive, employing black magic or psychological manipulation, rather than the use of sheer physical power, to achieve her ends. Her frequent ploy is to make a male protagonist fall in love with her, then use him to betray his allies. Borrowing from her Arthurian roots, perhaps some future series will depict Morgan le Fay not as King Arthur's foe, but as his enigmatic ally.

Morgan le Fay

reveals Lancelot and Guinevere’s affair to Arthur. [Arthurian Legend: Harvey, 559]

Morgan le Fay

tricks Accolon into stealing Excalibur. [Arth. Legend: Le Morte d’Arthur, Walsh Classical, 3]

Morgan le Fay

sorceress of Arthurian legend. [Medieval Romance: Brewer Dictionary, 620]
References in periodicals archive ?
In the Morgaine sequence one reason to close down the Gates that permit instantaneous travel between worlds and ages is the environmental damage such invasions always cause.
Soap-opera-style plot-description alert: Arthur also hooks up with a watery Gwenhwyfar (that's Guinevere to you and me, and played by Mathis), who stiffs Morgaine by forcing her to marry the father of the man she truly loves (of course, both she and Guinevere have a thing for Lancelot, but that's yet another story).
Meanwhile, don't count out Morgause, who, were she alive today, would be the woman in a corporation who betrays all womanhood by getting ahead through sex and slander; she raises Mordred (he being the medieval version of a latchkey kid and Morgaine the Arthurian equivalent of a working mom) to be evil, just like her.
Thankfully, old ally Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) is on hand to help the Doctor and Ace neutralise the threat posed by Morgaine and co.
Arthur, Merlin, Lancelot and Mordred are still important to this telling, but the action is driven mainly by Viviane (Huston), Morgaine (Margulies) and Morgause (Allen).
Igraine also surrenders the young Morgaine to her Aunt Viviane to be instructed in priestessing, which includes being able to part the lake mists and gain access to the sacred land of Avalon, which is invisible to its nonbelievers.
JULIANNA MARGULIES AS MORGAINE IN TNT'S MISTS OF AVALON - Current Emmy nominee Julianna Margulies has left ER for Camelot.
Margulies will portray Morgaine, Arthur's sister, who becomes Viviane's pawn in the quest for control of Camelot.