I May Never Find Merlin

February 13, 2014

merlin the wizard

I can’t find my Hero.

Is this the Blog that people thought would never come, or perhaps they just thought I would never write it ? An article where, try as I might, I have to concede that I cannot find my namesake and hero of old, Merlin and therefore I must settle for the evidence of those whose powers gave way to the myths and legends.

One of the many things that troubled me over the years was that with the over romanticised Hollywood versions and the ultra modern twaddle being dished out on the BBC the mighty Merlin of old would be lost twice. Once in the mists of ancient legend and again distorted beyond all recognition by people who appear never to have actually bothered reading the original stories.

I think it’s fairly certain that what I have found in my research is that the monks and scribes of old were just as capable of spinning a fictitious yarn as the best of us. The vast majority of people, me include, believed that the very fact that it was written down at all meant that it must be a true account, or why else bother ?

However, what if these tales were written for another purpose altogether; as a sort of ancient ‘spin doctoring,’ yet again why bother or more specifically who would bother ? Kings…. that’s who and as to the why you need look no further than their vain attempts to claim legitimacy to a crown over lands not actually theirs.

Back in the year 1136 Geoffrey of Monmouth is the man credited with the creation of Merlin, based upon a real Welsh character called Myrddin. Then as now many things get lost or distorted in translation and as Geoffrey was writing in Latin Myrddin may well have become Merdinus (obviously too close to the French word merde for Geoffrey’s liking ) so he modified it to Merlinus.

Geoffrey wrote The Historia Regum Britanniae (The History of the Kings of Britain) this was long treated as an accurate account by serious historians but has now proved to be a wonderful blend of fact and fiction for what purpose no one really knows.

Once we reach the period after the Romans leave (400A.D) a character called Vortigern comes to power, and it is he who is given credit for inviting the Saxons under Hengist and Horsa to settle in what is now the county of Kent to help him fight his enemies as mercenaries. However, like all the best laid plans the hired help rose against him and add Essex and Sussex to their own lands. Poor Vortigern he is not known as being one of the smartest Kings we ever had.

Britain remained in a state of war against the Saxon invaders under a new leader Aurelius Ambrosius, who was a Romano- Briton and according to Geoffrey had a brother. This is where things start to blur into fiction and we get Uther Pendragon and the Arthurian legend is born.

Nobly assisted by the wizard Merlin first Uther then his son Arthur fight against the Saxons Arthur is credited for so severely defeating them that they cease to be a threat until after his death. With Arthur gone, the Saxons return, and become more and more powerful.

So is there anything left of Merlin the magician, after all surely he must have been based upon someone originally, or as I surmise more likely a group of someone’s.

Those that know me are well aware of my Pagan beliefs, not Neo Pagan or Neo Druid or Neo anything for that matter. To me those are just some ridiculous modern day attempts at inventing some sort of new religion, for a purpose way beyond my comprehension. Paganism is not or ever was a religion, it is merely the extension of the Latin word Pagan, (rural dweller). However I’m happy to leave that for discussion at another time.

No my Pagan beliefs are the ancient variety, those that predate all known religions and in quite a few instances pre date written history itself.

Most of these beliefs were born of fear, ignorance and superstition most cultures have ancient myths and stories that cover things beyond the comprehension of their ancient ancestors, which at the time was practically everything.

Of course back then it would have been extremely difficult to try and understand and explain a sudden earthquake, or a thunder storm where a tree close by was hit and destroyed by a bolt of lightning.

What was the Sun, and where did it go every night? Or the Moon that disappeared and then reappeared in small sections. Was it all Magic or the work of the sky gods and spirits?

Way back then I am certain there were charlatans who would claim it to be magic and that only they could explain it. Imagine the power you would have if you understood weather patterns and could spot the rain coming in time to tell everyone to take their washing in ?

In my research I have discovered that a widespread belief in reincarnation exists within many cultures around the world and from this I surmise that this belief must have been common in the early human wanderers as they left Africa and entered southern Europe broke up and spread to the far corners of the globe.

Again this would account for many similar ancient stories and beliefs such as that the stars in the sky are the campfires of our ancestors as they await us to join them or to their own re birth. We also have the Native American Indians with their Happy Hunting Ground in the sky, an obvious distortion.

As I was actually only looking for Merlin for this study I followed only the early Indo-European tribes as they too started spreading far and wide until we reach my ancient forefathers the Celts and Britons. So I was more or less zeroing in on a period from 700 BC to 50AD or when the Romans arrived in Britain, although we know the Celtic traditions and beliefs carried on into and well beyond the Roman occupation.

The Celtic people were a brilliant and talented people, their expertise in farming meant they had a fair amount of time for leisurely pursuits and were gifted metal workers, artists, musicians and storytellers, however outside tribal groups they did not play well with others and their fierce warrior status would have, and did, bring them into direct conflict with the Roman forces.

At the time Britain was not a united country and the Celtic tribes who settled and worked here were not organised well enough to defend against the Roman occupation. Most of the Celtic Kings surrendered to the Romans in return for concessions mainly being allowed to stay King, as long as they were loyal to Roman.

One such King was Prasutagus, King of the Iceni tribe in Eastern England, when he died he willed that his wife and two daughters be co heirs to his kingdom along with the Roman Emperor.

Needless to say the Romans did not honour the will nor the Kings wishes and they annexed his lands, looted the wealth flogged his queen and raped the daughters.

That Queen was Boudica and in true Celtic tradition she rose up and for once managed to raise enough neighbourly support to kick some serious Roman ass ! Boudica destroyed Camulodunum (Colchester) before heading on London. At the time the Romans did not have sufficient forces to defend the town and so abandoned it without a fight and it too was raised to the ground.

Such was her success that at one point the Roman Emperor Nero considered withdrawing all troops from the island but was persuaded by the Roman Governor Paulinus to allow him to take the fight to Boudica at a place of his choosing rather than hers. He did… She Lost… We got stuck with the Romans for four hundred years!

Under Roman occupation Celtic traditions were forced to the outside fringes of the Roman occupation, Wales, Ireland, Scotland and some of the wilder places of England where they were left pretty much on their own where they carried on a style of life as if the Romans had never come to town.

We know from history that it was the Romans who brought early Christianity to Britain, around the beginning of the fourth century and of course with the usual brutal Roman efficiency the new religion was rigidly enforced but only within the towns under their control.

It is at this time the derogatory term Pagan is first heard, (Latin Paganus, meaning rural dweller) and comes into common use to describe all who are outside Roman areas of control. By 430 the ruling class of Britain by law was entirely Christian. Although it should be noted that after the fall of the Roman Empire Britain once more became a largely pagan region as the old Celtic traditions spread back to fill the vacuum.

The whole country was again divided into warring tribes and Kingdoms, a period in our history referred to as the Dark Ages. Not dark, as in lack of light, but dark as in lack of information written down. The Romans were great scholars and scribes, however if they taught the early Britons how to write and administer anything then they soon forgot or abandoned the art.

It is now we enter the timeframe of King Arthur and Merlin, and as I said before not the deeply romantic rubbish of Hollywood all chivalrous and loving, but a dark and bloody world. Back then Kings did not play well with others, the job description demanded that you were more aggressive than your neighbour or else he would pop over, kill you and take your land and ravish the peasants.

Merlin on the other hand was a Celtic Shaman, one of many spread throughout the land who would have mastered the dark arts and would certainly have used those powers in the service of his King. For all their powers the Celtic Kings were still as gullible and superstitious as everyone else, something that the Shaman and the Druids would continue to exploit.

Such men were feared and held in high esteem, even by the Kings they served for should they ever change their allegiance then Kingdoms would fall and so would the King. Such was that power even the mention of an allegiance between a King and someone of Merlin’s power would sometimes be enough to settle a dispute.

Grand sorcerers like Merlin were thought to be capable to controlling the very forces of nature, lightning, rain and thunder, by calling upon supernatural powers. Their magic was part of all the seasonal rituals and celebrations in the belief that appeasing the spirits would bring good harvests, health, wealth and success.

King’s, like Arthur would employ magicians, to use their powers to confuse and confound the enemy and so guarantee victory. In the Arthurian legends when Arthur’s forces were outnumbered and out flanked Merlin summonsed the breath of the dragon to blind Arthur’s enemies to allow Arthur and his troops to escape.

The Celts may have been Pagan to the Romans however that should not imply ignorance or stupidity. They were deeply spiritual and like many other ancient societies they worshipped both gods and goddesses but these were minor deities to their main belief.

They were largely pantheistic which was misinterpreted to mean they believe and worshipped a divine creator or one God. True they were pantheistic, but what they worshipped was the ‘One Creative Life Source,’ or ‘The Great Earth Mother,’ more simply they saw her in all natural things.

Control of all things spiritual was the domain of the Shaman but there was another, more organised group, the Druids. Although they were and remain a fairly mysterious lot, where they originated from, how and when they arrived in Britain and from where they gained the power and influence they had.

They seemed to have been wanderers and there are references to them in Western Europe, and in Gaul, (France) 150BC. The Romans suppressed their activities in Europe, and we all know how the Romans suppressed things, so it is likely persecuted groups or individuals fled and escaped by sea and found their way to the shores of Cornwall and Ireland and spread outwards from there.

Somehow over time the Druids managed to supplant the tribal Shaman and became the spiritual leaders, teachers, arbitrators, astrologers, medicine men and story tellers. Like the Kings of the time, the Druids were not above a little inventive poetic licence and they laid claim to direct linage back to Merlin in an attempt to give themselves a little more street cred.

It obviously worked for they made themselves indispensable to the tribal Kings and so gained considerable power and influence. They were seen as moderators and peacekeepers, and were able to pass from one tribal territory to another without harm or hindrance.

Of course, the period following the departure of the Romans was also a period of other invaders from across the North Sea. The Angles and Saxons and let’s not forget the good old Vikings all fancied a piece of the land the Romans abandoned.

Even with the influence of the Druids England was a pretty violent place, border disputes were frequent and usually settled with the breaking of heads and the spilling of blood. Peace treaties and alliances were forged and broken and the death of a King meant everything was up for grabs again and round the circle they all went once more.

So how or why that in the year 597AD Pope Gregory ever though these Islands were saveable is anybody’s guess but he sent his faithful monk Augustine to England to evangelise the island. Augustine visited the king of Kent who agreed it would be a shrewd political move to acquire some valuable continental allies, and so he signed up and became Christian. Christian in Druids out or at least forced back to the outer fringes once more.

If you ever wondered how the early Christian church got a foothold in Britain and Ireland this is how it was done.

Remember I told you right at the beginning what a gullible and superstitious lot the people were ? So what had changed, nothing, absolutely nothing, the age of the Shaman had come and gone the Druids came but were just as likely to use the same old ‘smoke on the tongue’ flimflam, to help keep their stage magic secret.

So when someone new comes along someone with a new sales gimmick, ‘sign here and I can guarantee your everlasting peace in the hereafter…’

“OK; How much ?”

“Oh not much… let’s say a few acres of land… may be a church or an Abbey…It’s for the monks…for myself I need nothing you understand….!” (Sorry went a bit Jewish there for a moment).

In actual fact it was the women folk related to the Kings court who were the soft target and the unprotected under belly, it was they who succumbed to the conversion first and through them the minds if not the heart of the King duly followed. If you remember your early history this was the same tactic the Christian’s used to ensnare the Roman Emperor Constantine by converting his mother Helena. Constantine himself did not receive baptism until just before his death which makes me think he was merely hedging his bets.

Anyway back to the English Kings, I suppose the king didn’t give the whole thing much thought, kept the wife happy, his place in the afterlife was assured as long as he confessed his sins and gave the church a hefty donation so without too much effort on their part it was pretty much business as usual.

Pretty sweet deal, what else changed ?

Nothing ! King continued to swat King, steal his land, rape the peasant women kill their men folk and burn the villages to the ground as a lesson to everybody that a new bad ass was in town.

Of course, now they were Christians when they got home and explained where they been the last few months and confessed a few un Christian transgressions and said they were very sorry …Oh yes… perhaps offering to get his peasants to build a new Abbey or Monastery as penance, this surprise, surprise usually managed to generate the required forgiveness.

Needless to say over time the church managed to acquire great wealth from all the free land and no taxes.

The early Christian monks might have been a bunch of lying weasely petty crooks and opportunists but they weren’t stupid, not to grant a King forgiveness might mean having a nasty accident… and being given your own head or other body parts to play with, by accident of course !

The bottom line is whatever else they were the monks did one hell of a sales job, within a couple of hundred years the place was awash with churches, Abbeys and Monasteries all chanting away, why not come look for yourself most of them are still here.

Not all the Abbeys and Monasteries of course, in the year 1535 as a lesson to a Pope who forgot the old rule never to piss off a King…our Henry VIII burnt and knocked them down, quite frequently around the ears of the occupants, reclaimed all the land for the crown (him) and took all their wealth as well (Back Taxes).

So nothing really changed there then !

Other than Geoffrey of Monmouth’s account ‘Historia Regum Britanniae’ there is no real historical evidence for King Arthur, however at the time and in later years Geoffrey’s account was held to be historically accurate and so if any man could trace a linage to Arthur then who better to give his claim to the Crown of England a bit of legitimacy.

Same goes for Merlin, laying claim to a direct linage back to him and his powers, as the Druids have claimed on occasions was merely to give themselves more credibility among the gullible who then as now still believe it.

The true characters upon whom Merlin was based were the tribal Shaman of old, wise man, healer, guardians and interpreters of the spirit world, astrologers and students of the seasons, plants and herbs.

They officiated at all the sacred ceremonies and yes I’m certain these would have taken place in near darkness for maximum effect. They would have known what chemicals and minerals burnt and with what effect…. Smoke and mirrors, along with copious amounts of home-brew and a little rhythmic and possible hypnotic drum beating and you have the magic. Every ancient Pagan culture around the world has a very similar hierarchy and rituals older than any religion.

Like the Druids who followed and took over they were the high priests for the worship of the Great Mother Earth but this was not a religion, it never was, it was habitual ritual a long standing way of life.

I’m glad that there is a new age of people who are turning back to that way of thinking and learning that we are of the Earth and not its masters.

We are but one of the Earth Mother’s creations who must relearn to share the world with the rest of life not try to dominate it or believe it is ours to do with as we please.

That is what it means to be a true Pagan of the old world.

I may never find Merlin but I did find something to believe in, Nothing ‘NEO’ about it !

There is a greedy driven self centred, selfish attitude in this world that scares me, it revolves around materialism and a misguided belief that we can do no wrong and are doing no wrong.

I think they are wrong, and I also believe that we are pushing Mother Nature too far and when finally she lets loose it will be the death of us all.

Not the planet of course, that will survive as it has done many times in the past and will do so many times in the future.

6 Responses to “I May Never Find Merlin”

  1. Jim Sellers Says:

    Well said Merlin. This is a wonderfully written recap of my entire history of Britain course at university. Of course Merlin (Sr) isn’t the only visionary healer of old who has been exaggerated and made legend with every retelling of his story. Of course who hasn’t wished for some wizard/superhero to come and vanquish the oppressive powers that control our lives?

  2. merlinfraser Says:

    Hi Jim, I hated history when I was at school and for more years than I care to mention I had very little interest in the subject.

    When I started writing I had these ideas about Paranormal and supernatural experiences I wondered where they originated. That led to religions which in turn led to superstitions and pre history.

    I think as a person I have more in common with Mr. Spock, (from Star Trek ) than real humans, my brain seems to be unnervingly logical and I see strings and patterns and timelines leading backwards.

    As far as Merlin (Sr) is concerned I have come to believe he is not so much a person as a title like “The Merlin” and therefore was a series of people.

    Still I love the old stories, and like everybody I enjoy dreaming.

    Thanks for stopping by, perhaps you may like a trawl through my other Blogs, some humorous many give glimpses of my past.

  3. Raani York Says:

    Dear Merlin,
    I found this post VERY interesting! In many ways… one hears, reads and sees the legends of King Arthur and Merlin so differently, it’s hard to tell where it comes from. Did I ever believe Merlin did exist?
    Uhm… Let’s say: I figure, as much as I believe nowadays Wilhelm Tell, the brave and only one, unique Swiss Hero who loved his country as much as to risk his own sons life…
    Am I disappointed? No, I’m not.
    Sometimes things are a bit mythical… so what? Nothing wrong with that. At least not for me. I need that to get my fantasy moving.
    A little bit of magic, a little royalty… the reality and truth would only destroy the spark of magic in the air.
    I think, Merlin… with what you are capable of: you do find your hero, the “other” Merlin, within your own heart.

  4. laurie27wsmith Says:

    A great, well thought out and written piece Merlin. Out of all of this I have to admire Boadicea, what a woman. Did you know that Henry the Eight’s elder brother was named Arthur. He died, so Henry was it.

  5. merlinfraser Says:

    Hi Raani, for me there will always be a Merlin as long as there people like us with vision and imagination. If you read the Harry Potter stories there is a ‘Merlin Merit Award. A few years ago Stargage SG-1 high jacked the whole Arthurian story and made Merlin an alien. I did enjoy the plot because they were quite faithful to the original stories.

    Unlike the idiots who wrote the latest load of rubbish shown on the BBC called ‘Merlin’…. I wrote to the BBC asking them if they had bothered to read any of the old stories ? They never answered.

  6. merlinfraser Says:

    Hey Laurie, I wonder if people realise just how close the Roman’s were to pulling out of Britain because of Boadicea, she really did kick some serious Roman Butt for a while !!

    It doesn’t surprise me that many Kings had an Arthur somewhere in the mix, it was a way to legitimise their true claim to the throne by tracing their linage all the way back to King Arthur.

    Same way as certain Religious leaders try to claim linage all the way back to Adam and Eve….. Total Codswollop, of course but their are still millions of people out there that if you put the words GOD said in front of anything they will happy believe it.

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