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Myths and Legends: Journeys Through Time

Merlin
Magic, witchcraft, sorcery, wizardry. Spells, enchantments, herbs, talismans and the four elements (five if you count lightning). Some of it said to be the devil’s work, some of it said to be innate, if only people would open their minds, and some of it said still to be inexplainable. They don’t know why it happens, only that it does. Magic of course is the object and the most well known user of it, the subject. Who he is, is none other than a man named Myrddin. Myrddin is also better known as Merlin. As stated previously, myth and legend are akin to first cousins instead of siblings. Sometimes they are interchangeable, other times they are not. Most often actually, they are not interchangeable. Myths are usually stories that are passed down from generation to generation and are about beings with immortality, amazing powers, and are usually similar  no matter what country of origin. Legends however are exaggerated tales that most likely have a grain or two of truth in them. Sometimes though, a legend may be a grain of truth wrapped in many layers of myth. The legend (sometimes referred to as a myth) of Merlin is one possible sort of myth-legend hybrid. Merlin is popular through the Legend of King Arthur and the stories of Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table. Merlin is also popular in his own right through mentions of the Lady of the Lake, Excalibur, and a strange quirk about his birth. Merlin was purported to have been fathered by an incubus or a male demon that has sex with woman while the woman are sleeping. Sometimes the incubus does this solely to produce an heir. Merlin is supposedly one such child which is what gave him his extraordinary powers. Speaking of powers, Merlin is credited with the powers of shapeshifting, illusions and gifted with prophecy. Some versions of this myth-legend say that the gift of prophecy is something that he was born with due to his half demon heritage, and other say that the gift of prophecy is something that happened to him, due to having gone mad with grief during the Battle of Arfderydd. This particular version deal with the Welsh myth of Myrddin, who was supposedly a bard and a seer. He came to be a seer after going mad with grief and running into the woods, unable to speak and not wanting to be around anyone. During this time he lived like and animal and spoke with the wild beasts. He was known as the “Wild Man of the Wood”. Merlin is connected with Arthur Pendragoon in the event that he foresaw Uther Pendragoon’s (Arthur’s father) being victorious in a battle between King Vortigern and King Uther Pendragoon. What Merlin saw was a red dragon fighting a white dragon and the white dragon winning. King Vortigern was represented by a red dragon and King Uther Pendragoon by a red dragon. Due to his correct prediction, Merlin became an ally of Uther’s and enabled Uther to spend another night with his wife, thus ensuring the conception of Arthur. Merlin was involved in Arthur’s life, trusted with his upbringing and preparation for kingship. Merlin had made a prediction that Arthur would be a “great king that united all of Britan”. It’s been said that the Lady of the Lake gave Merlin the magical sword Excalibur, which he then stuck into a rock proclaiming that only the rightful heir to the throne would be able to extract the sword. Many tried but it was only Arthur that succeeded in doing so. Merlin is also sometimes credited with creating Stonehenge, the Round Table at which Arthur and his knights sat, and is also linked with the Holy Grail and Perceval’s quest for it. As all myths and legends come to an end, Merlin did too. How he met his end however, is varied. Some say it was his lust for women that caused his downfall, in the event that he persued Nimue (Niviane, Nymue, Niniane, Nyneue, or Vivane),a huntress and the daughter of a king. Merlin falls in love with her and wants her but she’s afraid that he’ll take advantage of her by enchanting and enspelling her. To prevent this she swears that unless he teaches her all the secrets of his magic, she’ll never love him. Smitten with love Merlin agress to teach and in doing so seals his fate. After he teaches her everything that he knows, she uses this knowledge against him, sealing him away in a magic tomb after casting a spell over him. Other versions of this say that he was imprisoned in an invisible tower, in a grand illusion in the woods or  in a rather gory version, beheaded by Arthur for upsetting him. However it was that Merlin met his fate, his tales whether myth or legend have lived on for countless centuries and have inspired many a mind to create even more tales dealing with powerful wizards, sorcerers and magic users, or to delve into the unknown mysteries that are without a doubt magic. As for who the Lady of the Lake was exactly…some versions of this myth-legend name her to be Nimue, the very person through which some accounts say that Merlin met his fate.