Who the Heck was this Merlin Character?

merlin

Of all the characters peopling the Arthurian mythic landscape, the most enigmatic seems to be Merlin.

I think there have been more modern tales written about Merlin even than Arthur. Science fiction, fantasy, romance, and even urban novels have been built around the fellow.

But, was he real?

Many historians point to the records about a wildman in the forest of Northern England as a likely candidate. Others point to the archetypal druid priests or bardic poets of Welsh folklore.

Writers have mostly had him be a magician but some have him be merely a very intelligent man, acting like a sort of vizier to King Arthur.

But a real magician named Merlin?

Such a thing will not be found in any historical source as magician’s are not supposed to exist and as the majority of written texts of the period were penned by churchmen, what would you expect?

The Welsh sources of the period were passed down by mouth from one generation of bards to the next. By the time their tales were written down, almost everyone “knew” magic was impossible.

Historical research has brought us the identity of the “real” Arthur, but can similar research produce the identity of this character?

Anything is possible, of course, but we would probably have to look for records mentioning his use as an ambassador, minister, lawgiver, or some other function where he might actually have entered the historical records without the onerous title of “magician” which would probably have been excised over the years.

One thing to be noted is that in the earliest versions of the stories about the wizard, he was around to help get Arthur crowned king but then disappears from the story. He was not normally seen as the mentor or power behind Arthur’s throne.

Another curious thing is that several early texts indicate the wizard was a member of the princely house, perhaps as someone who stood heir to the throne but could not attain it either from aptitude or choice. But the “facts” are a little hazy.

Has anyone seen any likely candidates?


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The Sword in the Stone

swordinstone

This is a favorite feature of the Arthurian legend: a stone in which a sword has been magicked accompanied by a small sign that says something about the one who can pull out the sword will be the likewise right King of Britain.

It conjures up images of Merlin using his talents to sink the sword into the stone as some sort of publicity gimmick. Rather than simply announce Arthur is the rightful king, he allows others to try their hand at pulling out the sword. So everyone knows the rightful king is coming but they are all in anticipation. So when the clueless lad pulls out the sword, he is recognized immediately.

Though most writers have embraced this image – some even trying to “explain” how it came to pass – I have derived a different interpretation. It is at the core of the story, Bear of Britain, my new novel about British history. And specifically about the historical Arthur.

Though there was a sword in the stone in question, it was not readily visible. The stone in question had fallen from the sky and it was held as an object of fear and adoration by the locals.

Young Arthur was without a sword but he noted this strange stone was solid metal. So he convinces the locals that there is a very powerful sword inside the stone and he alone can “draw it out”. So he sets up a forge and heats the stone, pounding it into a sword.

And how could the sword thus drawn from the stone NOT be supernatural? The thing had fallen from the sky after all!

Anyway, that’s the novel’s take on that subject.


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From a Dream

leatherarmor1

There was a strange dream I had when I was about thirteen. The scene in the dream was relatively short but packed with data.

I was riding on a horse, dressed in armor made primarily of leather with a few metal plates attached at strategic points. My name was Laqmael Coll and I was a prince of a region in modern Wales.

My father was the chieftain of the area and I was coming home after spending a season at the court of Arthur, where I was a knight in his company.

The close forest path on which I was riding was beginning to thin as I approached a village, whose fields lay in the foreground. And earth embankment marked the closest edge of the village territory proper.

On a raised area in the center of the village, with sharpened poles ringing the pinnacle, was the chieftain’s house, which was in flames. The smoke was rising into the nearly cloudless sky.

That was the extent of the dream, about ten seconds of visual data.

I awoke astonished at the vision and wrote down everything I could recall. And the name was especially haunting as it was different than anything I had previously encountered.

My spelling was “Laqmael Coll” though the proper spelling, I have sense discovered, would be more like “Lacmael Coel”.

The “mael” of the first name was common in old Welsh names, as was the “coel”. It was the true name of Shakespeare’s “old King Cole”.

The rendition with the Q and the LL in the name turn out to be a Romanized version similar to a stone found in Britain in 1998.

Collstone

An interesting aside, I tried to find the name in the list of Arthur’s knights without much luck.

That is, until I came upon an ancient French story of the knights that included a knight named “Lacotemayle Toll”.

This name later became associated as a nickname for Sir Breunor and rendered as “La Cote Mal Taillée” which meant an ill-fitting cloak.

But what would would expect for a Welsh name, rendered in French, re-translated back into English… it had to mean something!


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the Identity of Arthur

karthur

This is an item of recurring interest, people always writing about who the “real” Arthur was, even if he was really named Fred or something.

John Morris wrote many books about Arthur and his time and translated a lot of the primary documents of early Britain that mention the character at all.

The subject fascinated me and I went searching in all the literature trying to ferret out the mystery.

At long last, I found the man.

After going through all the researches from other scholars on the subject, I noticed one connection that seem to have gotten swept aside. Perhaps no one found it of any interest.

After Arthur lost his battle on the continent, his son fled to the east and became a local chieftain of any area there. This was an interesting tidbit that I began researching more deeply and I discovered genealogical records that showed the same relationships with an historical person.

That person was John Riothamus, otherwise King of the Britons.

Using the genealogical records, I found who I considered to be the real Arthur. So, I started writing a book about the discovery.

Shortly afterward, there was a new book released by Geoffrey Ashe entitled The Discovery of Arthur.

Having read his work before, I thought this new research might offer something to bolster my own theory, so I read it to discover who he claimed to be the real Arthur.

That person was John Riothamus, otherwise King of the Britons.

I was amazed to find that his trail was completely different than my own but wound up with the same result. I corresponded with him at the time and we had a chance to compare notes. He was completely unaware of the genealogic angle but was gratified that it brought the same result.

I won’t say that this in any way is proof of the matter but it does seem strange that two different investigations from completely different angles found the same result.

And while this may be the answer many will accept, there is really a lot more to the “Matter of Britain” than the answer to this one simple question.

How did all the religious trappings become attached to Arthur?

What about the Grail?

And who the heck was this Merlin character?

All these are elements not found in the Riothamus identification.

So there are further connections to be made.

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Anglomania

I have friends that are anglophiles, people that think British culture is all that and a bag of (fish &) chips.

Some fly the Union Jack, most drive Mini’s, and all of them shop at the local “British Pantry” for their tea, their scones and crumpets. Most of them have pictures in their houses of places in Britain, maps of Britain, and – even a few – display pictures of the Queen.

America has, in many ways, not fallen far from the tree that fruited us: Great Britain. Sure we share the same language and have a lot of history together, but there has been the constant British invasions… the Beatles, Stones, and their long-haired compatriots, then Twiggy, then Princess Di, then Harry Potter, and now the arrival of Kate Middleton’s baby, the once and future HRH.

I too was bitten by the bug when I was younger. I saw a map of the world and saw all the areas under control of the British Crown and I noticed the country itself was so tiny on the globe. How did such a small place come to control so much of the planet? It boggled my mind.

As I grew and studied history more, I came to understand how such events had come to pass. It made sense.

But there was some undercurrent in European history that I could not put my finger on. It seemed people of the past were drawn inexplicably to the island. Wave after wave of invaders came to possess the land across the channel. And archaeologists have found the trend going backwards, even before the written histories left us the names of the invaders. Wave after wave preceded each other into the earliest mist-shrouded days of antiquity.

What was there about the island that seem to draw such attention?

Stonehenge was built there and became a site for religious pilgrimage by the Iron Age peoples all over Europe. King Arthur and his myths have captivated the world for centuries.


Years ago I read the Historia Regum Britanniae (“History of the Kings of Britain”) by Geoffrey of Monmouth and was surprised at the wealth of data he supplied about the misty early days of Britain. Though most historian’s have marginalized his work, they are finding much of it might actually have some merit. But I won’t get into all the nitty-gritty at the moment. Maybe later…

And then I came across a mind-bending work by Guy Raglan Phillips called Brigantia: A Mysteriography. I cannot express how much this one small book altered my perception of the undercurrents of British history and the power that has been a draw for millennia. My dog-eared copy was lost years ago, another was loaned out and lost, and I have had to purchase yet another copy recently. It is always a pleasure to re-read.

By looking at the shadows , the undercurrents of the early history, I started evolving a story line that I called “the Tales of Anglia”. Most started as little more than character sketches of people I imagined lived at important junctures in the far past but some of the events on the timeline have blossomed into stories larger than a mere mention.

These are going to be novels.

The first completed is from the first century, just after Rome has begun its conquest of the island. Tancorix involves a young woman captured and sold into slavery to become a gladiatrix, yearning for her freedom and to return to the island of her birth.

And, of course, there will be a later book about the life of King Arthur.

How could there NOT be, eh?


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Missing the True Power

cross

The framers of the Christian religion – following the lead of the murderer Saul (Paul of Tarsus) – pushed firmly for the divinity of the man, Jesus. There were various factions within the early church and the majority did not believe that Jesus was other than a man. Many of them did not even believe he was the single and only son of God.

As a writer and historian – not as a theologian – I make an observation.

If he had been the only Son of God, why did he not proclaim it consistently in scripture rather than either deny the claim or say he was Son of Man? Of course, the Church tells us today that “Son of Man” means “Son of God”. They probably also think “not the Son of God” also means “Son of God” which is as patently ridiculous as their other claims.

One thing the church says is that we should all model our lives after his. Perhaps not to the extent of getting executed, but the other stuff (well, except for his lying about who he was, of course). This might be something we could see as attainable… well, if Jesus had been a man.

But by proclaiming Jesus was none other than God Himself, they have removed the possibility that we can ever attain that degree of holiness, that degree of peace. Of course he was that good, people say, he was God!

And until we, too, become gods, we can never be that good.

If they had taught that Jesus was just a man, we would all understand that beatific lifestyle could be attainable by us all.

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the Identity of Shakespeare

shakespeare

When my wife started college, majoring in English, there was a bit of a controversy brewing about the identity of Shakespeare.

She asked me about it and I referred her to an excellent book on the subject proposing the DeVere Duke of Oxford as the author who penned under the name of Shakespeare.

Her professor was indignant about the idea. He wrote an article for the local paper claiming that “there has been no break in the history since that time [i.e. Shakespeare’s time] and they knew who he was then so it should be no surprise that we know who he is today. The book is based on questionable scholarship.”

That was a mighty powerful pronouncement from an accredited academic professional, for certain.

Unfortunately, the fellow should have actually done a little thing we peasants call “research” before he published his thoughts.

In the middle of the nineteenth century – long after the “days of Shakespeare” – academics in England were busy with a search. As you could guess, it was the search for the identity of Shakespeare.

Yes, by the middle of the 1800’s, the Brits had realized Shakespeare’s works were the epitome of excellence from Elizabethan times and they wanted to honor the man and his life… if only they could figure out who the fellow actually was!

For several years, the researchers published articles and findings about their candidate of choice for the honor and there were quite a few candidates. Bacon and Oxford, for sure, but quite a few people who went by the name of Shakespeare, or something close to that.

In the end, the character from Avon was chosen by popular acclaim to BE the William Shakespeare.

So, it was not something known since Shakespeare’s time. It is something that was put up to academic election. And could they have gotten it wrong? Certainly!

I visited the historical place of the Bard and was amazed how small and quaint the place was and completely devoid of books or anything vaguely resembling a study where the bard could research for his material.

Sure the books could have been sold off later but there was no place for books either. And it is not like the Bard could have utilized the public library to check his references to ancient sources.

Plus the fact that the chosen fellow we call the Bard seems to have very little evidence that he knew how to write. well, anything much more than his signature, anyway, which was done very poorly at that. And by several variant spellings, too.

Historically, the Brits have their Bard, right or wrong, and that’s the one their sticking with.

The city of Stratford would hate to see their cottage industry reduced due to anything like “truth”.


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