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Wizards and Witches: Merlin and Morgan

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Magic is as much a part of the Arthurian world as the Knights of the Round Table, and the two most famous magicians are Merlin and Morgan le Fay.

Merlin and Morgan are among the most popular characters of the Arthurian cycle, but they are also something of a paradox. Merlin has been described as a powerful wizard, a mythic poet and a shaman who was ultimately defeated by his own magic. Morgan le Fay, together with other female enchantresses such as Vivien, Nimue, Ganieda and The Lady of the Lake, are ambiguous figures full of power that can be both deceptive and helpful.

As with so much associated with the Arthurian legend, to understand magic and the characters who practice it, one must look behind the tales and traditions.

Merlin and Morgan have been viewed as elegant medieval fictions and as the survivals of Celtic deities, and these differing views have influenced their appearances in later fiction, film, and popular culture.

These many-faceted practitioners of magic now inhabit the neo-medieval worlds of Lord Tennyson and T.H. White, modern fantasy literature, computer games and  cosplay.

What were the ‘authentic’ Merlin and Morgan really like? Our quest will take us through literature, folklore, archaeology, and art.

Learning and teaching

The module will be delivered through ten 2-hour sessions.

These sessions will consist of a lecture followed by class discussion and group work on specific topics relating to the module.

The discussion and group work will enable students to think critically and contribute to the debates and topics presented during the lectures.

The discussion-led sessions and the lectures will be supplemented by resources available to students via Learning Central.


  1. The World of Magic and Medieval Romance
  2. The Birth of Merlin and the Entrance of Morgan
  3. Shamans and Goddesses - Origins of Arthurian magic
  4. Morgan and the Enchantresses at the Arthurian court.
  5. Love and Loss: Merlin and Viviane
  6. Magicians and Enchantresses: the Renaissance and Beyond
  7. Meeting Merlin and Morgan in Cardiff’s Special collections
  8. Arthurian magicians in Welsh literature: Myrddin and Ganieda
  9. Chivalry and The Lady of the Lake
  10. Merlin and Morgan in Fiction, Fantasy, and Art

Coursework and assessment

You will be expected to complete two pieces of assessed work:

  • a short critical review
  • a 1000-word essay.

There will be lots of help and support available for both assignments.

Reading suggestions

  • Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain, trans Lewis Thorpe (Hardmondsworth: Penguin, 1966).
  • Geoffrey of Monmouth, Life of Merlin, trans Basil Clarke (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1973).
  • John Bollard, ‘The earliest Myrddin poems’, in Arthur in the Celtic Languages: The Arthurian Legend in Celtic Literatures and Traditions, edited by Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan and Erich Poppe (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2019).
  • Thelma S. Fenster, Arthurian Women (New York: Routledge, 2009).
  • A.O.H. Jarman, ‘The Merlin legends and the Welsh tradition of prophecy’, in The Arthur of the Welsh: The Arthurian Legend in Medieval Welsh Literature, ed. Rachel Bromwich, A. O. H. Jarman, and Brynley Roberts (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1991).
  • Carolynne Larrington, King Arthur’s Enchantresses: Morgan and her sisters in Arthurian Tradition (London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2006).

Library and computing facilities

As a student on this course you are entitled to join and use the University’s library and computing facilities. Find out more about using these facilities.


Our aim is access for all. We aim to provide a confidential advice and support service for any student with a long term medical condition, disability or specific learning difficulty. We are able to offer one-to-one advice about disability, pre-enrolment visits, liaison with tutors and co-ordinating lecturers, material in alternative formats, arrangements for accessible courses, assessment arrangements, loan equipment and dyslexia screening.