Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Merlin and Nimue

The Beguiling of Merlin, Edward Burne-Jones, c.1874

First, a happy Lammas to you all. Mary has a wonderful post for the day. Go visit her blog and enjoy.

In the Arthurian legends, this day is associated with the imprisonment of Merlin by Nimue. It's a myth any seeker should contemplate.

"Nimue, the daughter of Dionas, was a maiden of great skill, having the blessing of Diana and the wisdom of the Lady of the Lake's realm within her. The combination of her beauty and otherworldly skills drew the love of Merlin, who knew no maiden of his own kind. Merlin taught her many wondrous things, for she was an insatiable student of enchantment. Her only desire was to learn Merlin's deep wisdom, yet he was sparing of his study and busy in affairs of state. One day she asked how to make a tower without walls and Merlin, unthinking, taught her. While he lay sleeping, Nimue made a circle of her wimple about him and, walking nine times about it, raised up a tower of glass. When he awoke, he protested: 'Sweet love, why have you done this?' Nimue smiled, 'Now you will do my bidding and teach me all you know, for you cannot leave here unless I will it.' 'That will never be,' said Merlin, 'for I will not teach you any more, lest you wreak enchantment upon the kingdom.' And so it was that Merlin remained a prisoner in the glass castle. And though Nimue frequently entered to entreat his tutoring, Merlin ever refused her."

From The Arthurian Book of Days, Caitlin and John Matthews, Macmillan Publishing Co., 1990.


Anonymous said...

I don't understand what Merlin and Nimue have to do with Lammas.

But I love the painting!

BitterGrace said...

The association is based on the idea that Merlin was a priest of the god Lugh, or an avatar of Lugh--August 1 is also Lugh's day, Lughnasadh. Lughnasadh is seen in some traditions as a funeral feast, initiating a period of mourning, which jibes with Merlin's imprisonment. He is freed after the Winter Solstice.

Anonymous said...


Now I get it. Thanks.

BitterGrace said...

Well, the Matthews version suggests that his release is promised after the Solstice, but it's vague. Most versions (Tennyson, etc.) have him imprisoned forever. Or dying. This is one of the problems with heedless appropriation of different strands of Celtic lore.

The association of Merlin with Lugh is pretty well-established, I think, but the connection between Lughnasadh and the Anglo-Saxon Lammas is just neo-Pagan sloppiness. Marrying the Arthurian legends with the Wiccan Wheel of the Year is problematic--but fun.

Anyway, the legend interests me as a parable of error in the search for enlightenment.

And I love the painting, too.

chayaruchama said...

Happy to you as well, my sisters !
What a glorious painting.
Nimue was such a beauty....

Mary said...

I prefer to believe that Merlin is still locked up in a tree somewhere. Greek and Roman mythologies were fairly straightforward and simple compared with Celtic. Love the painting! A blessed Lammas-tide to all.

BitterGrace said...

That is an incredible painting isn't it? SOmeone ought to do a perfume inspired by Nimue.