Merlin and Taliesin
Are they the same?
Who was Merlin?
(In Welsh: Emrys or Myrddin, latinized as Merlinus). In the traditional legend, Merlin was Arthur's magician and counsellor, in many ways the architect of his reign. The popular modern image of Merlin is a wise elder, but there is abundant evidence in many early sources of Merlin's true nature as a shamanistic mad prophet, magician, wise man, and, paradoxically, foolish seeker of the truth. During the middle ages, his glamour outshown Arthur. His life was in three phases: innocent prophetic youth, madman and hermit, and wise elder. It was Geoffrey of Monmouth whose HISTORIA REGNUM BRITTANIAE and VITA MERLINI provide the chief early sources for his life. In these books, Merlin makes a series of prophecies concerning the fate of Britain.
In the classic form of the tale, Merlin was begotten by an incubus. Robert de Boron says the devils of Hell had determined to set on earth an evil being to counterbalance the good introduced by Jesus Christ. Happily, the child was promptly baptized countering the evil and giving us our magician! At the time of Merlin's youth, Vortigern, King of Britain, retreating from the treachery of his Saxon allies and the arrival of his British enemies, Ambrosius Aurelianus and Uther later called the Pendragon, determined to build a tower near Mount Snowdonia in Wales. His engineers' attempts proved futile for each day's labors were lost as the tower collapsed without apparent reason during the night. The king's counsellors told him he would need to sacrifice a fatherless child to remedy this. A search turned up Merlin Emrys. The youth confounded the king's advisors and prophesied that the real reason for the tower's collapse was the existence of a pool beneath the foundations. Digging revealed the truth of this and a brace of dragons emerged, one red and one white; which caused Merlin to utter a series of prophecies about Vortigern's death and the future of the land.
From this point, he becomes increasingly involved in the struggle that was to have its peak with the reign of Arthur. When Aurelius Ambrosius defeats Vortigern, he wished to put up a monument of the men killed treacherously by the Saxons during the 'Night of the Long Knives'. Merlin advised him to procure certain magical sarsen stones from Ireland and these were erected on Salisbury Plain as Stonehenge (historically inaccurate as Stonehenge was built over a thousand years before the time, but may show an attachment between the great henge monument and the name Myrddin, since Britain was known as Clas Myrddin or Merlin's Enclosure). After the death of Aurelius, when Uther came to the throne, Merlin arranged for him to seduce Igraine by magically making him take the shape of her husband, Gorlois. He took the child, Arthur, born of this union, and spirited him away for safety. When the aged and infirm Uther is nearing his last battle, Merlin arranges the Sword-in-the-Stone contest, and magically or pre-ordained, Arthur draws forth the sword and becomes the true and rightful king. Merlin becomes Arthur's main counselor and architect of the Round Table but slowly withdraws from the court.
According to Malory in the Morte D'Arthur, Merlin became infatuated by Nimue (elsewhere called Viviane), whom he taught magical secrets which she used to imprison him in a glass tower, or under a stone or in a hawthorn tree. Geoffrey, however, has him active after Camlann, bringing the wounded Arthur to Avalon.
It is possible that Geoffrey's Merlin may be a merging of extant stories of Arthur's Merlin and the sixth-century Welsh poet, Myrddin ab Morvryn, often called Merlin Sylvester or Merlin Calendonensis (several ancient poems are attributed to him, including Affalenau). Myrddin was the court poet of Gwenddolau ab Ceidio, a pagan king whose court was located just north of Hadrian's wall near Carlisle, and fought at his side at the Battle of Arfderydd in 573CE. Myrddin was driven mad when his king and patron Gwenddolau was killed in the battle. Myrddin's madness is paralleled in several traditional stories concerning the Irish Suibhne Gelt and the madman from the life of Saint Kentigern, Lailoken. All three mad prophets are said to suffer the threefold death caused by falling, hanging and drowning, a druidic style ritual death.
As mentioned above he went mad after the battle of Arthuret and became a wild man, living in the woods. According to Giraldus Cambrensis, this was because of some horrible sight he beheld during the fighting, where three of his brothers were killed. King Rhydderch Hael was married to Merlin's sister, Ganieda, who persuaded him to give up his life in the forest, but he revealed to Rhydderch that she had been unfaithful to him. He decided to return to the greenwood and urged his wife, Guendoloena, to remarry. However, his madness once again took hold of him and he turned up at the wedding, riding a stag and leading a herd of deer. In his rage, he tore the antlers from the stag and flung them at the bridgegroom, killing him. He went back to the woods and Ganieda built him an observatory from which he could study the stars. Welsh poetry antedating Geoffrey largely agrees with this account, though it has Merlin fighting against Rhydderch rather than for him. Similar tales are told about a character called Lailoken, who was in Rhydderch's service and this may have prompted Geoffrey to change the side which Merlin was on.
As to the historical Merlin, if he existed, modern writers such as Ward Rutherford and Nikolai Tolstoy think he may have been a latter-day Druid and so took part in shamanistic practices. Jung and von Franz also see shamanistic elements in the story of Merlin. This contrasts with the earlier theory of E. Davies that Merlin was a god (the evening star), and his sister Ganieda a goddess (the morning star). There is some evidence that Merlin may originally have been a god, for in the TRIADS, we are told that the earliest name for Britain was Merlin's Precinct, as though he were a god with proprietorial rights. Geoffrey Ashe would connect him with the cult of the god Mabon. Because of his association with stags, there may be a connection with Cernunnos, the Celtic horned god. Merlin's mother was called Aldan in Welsh tradition. The Elizabethan play THE BIRTH OF MERLIN - which may have been partially authored by Shakespeare calls her Joan Go-to-'t. That he had no father does not seem to be a feature of Welsh tradition in which he is given the following pedigree: Coel Godebog - Ceneu - Mor - Morydd - Madog Morfryn - Myrddin (Merlin). He was also said to be the son of Morgan Frych who, some claimed, had been a prince of Gwynedd. Both Welsh poetry and Geoffrey have him speaking with Taliesin, with whom he seemed to be considerably connected in the Welsh mind. Thus one Welsh tradition asserted he first appeared in Vortigern's time, then was reincarnated as Taliesin and reincarnated once more as Merlin the wild man. The idea that there were two Merlins, wizard and wild man, is found in Giraldus Cambrensis (the Norman-Welsh chronicler of the twelfth century), doubtless because of the impossibly long lifespan assigned to him by Geoffrey of Monmouth. A modern relic of the Merlin legend was to be found in the pilgrimages made to Merlin's Spring at Barenton in Brittany, but these were stopped by the Vatican in 1853.
"Sweet apple tree with fragrant branches
Fruit bearing, of great value, belonging to me,
Sweet apple tree, a tall green tree,
Fruit bearing, full branches and fair trunk,
Sweet apple tree, a yellow tree,
Which grows at the end of a hill without tilled land around it,
Sweet apple tree which grows beyond Rhun.
I had contended at its foot for the satisfaction of a maiden,
With my shield on my shoulder and my sword on my thigh,
And in the forest of Celyddon I slept alone;
O! little pig why didst thou think of sleep?
Listen to the birds, their imploring is heard,
Sweet apple tree which grows in a glade,
Its peculiar power hides me from the men of Rhydderch;
A crowd by its trunk, a host around it,
It would be a treasure for them to find me, brave men in their ranks.
I am hated by Gwasawg, the supporter of Rhydderch,
Now Gwendydd loves me not and does not greet me,
For I have killed her son and her daughter,
Death has taken everyone, why does it not call me?
For after Gwenddolau, no lord honors me,
Mirth gives me no delight, no woman visits me;
In the battle of Arderydd, my torc was of gold,
Though today I am not treasured by the one of the aspect of swans."