February 08, 2021
Most of people know the story of Merlin the Welsh wizard, as his name has been popularised over the centuries and his story has been dramatised in numerous novels, films, and television programs. Merlin is said to possess supernatural powers and is well-known in mythology as a tutor and mentor to the legendary King Arthur, ultimately guiding him towards becoming the king of Camelot.
Merlin was regarded as one of the greatest prophets of Wales. For centuries his words of wisdom greatly influenced the minds of many important people.
Portrait of Don Crosby as Merlin from Camelot by Douglas Baulch, Melbourne 1963. © Douglas Baulch
He is portrayed in six medieval poems which, combined with Scottish and Irish versions of the tale, make possible a reconstruction of its main outline. In most of these poems the subject – who is either named as Myrddin or is generally assumed to be him – is portrayed as a Wild Man of the Woods living in Coed Celyddon (the ‘Caledonian Forest’), where he has fled to after losing his reason (‘wandering with madness and madmen’) in the northern battle of Arfderydd, fought between rival chieftains c. 573 A.D.; with this lapse into madness Myrddin is said to have acquired the gift of prophecy.
According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, medieval English chronicler, major work, the Historia regum Britanniae, Merlin was fatherless and was born in Carmarthen in miraculous way. His mother, Geoffrey tells us, was the daughter of the king of Dyfed. She, living with the nuns at a local convent, had been impregnated by an incubus demon. This child was further found to have prophetic powers and Geoffrey makes him utter the Prophetiae Merlinus, a long series of obscure prophecies.
Though the story has different interpretation: the fatherless youth is named as Ambrosius, not Myrddin/Merlin and he was found in Glywysing (Glamorgan), not at Carmarthen in Dyfed, Caerfyrddin, as the town is known in Welsh, is still associated with Merlin.
According to the legend, Vortigern, a 5th Century ruling warlord and king of Britons, had fled into Wales to escape Anglo-Saxon invaders. He decided to settle at Dinas Emrys as this site would prove good to defend against the enemy. Day after day his men would work hard building the first of several proposed towers; but the next morning they would return to find the masonry collapsed in a heap.
These strange and mysterious events continued for several weeks. Eventually Vortigern sought advice and was told to seek the help of a young fellow not conceived by mortal man. The King sent soldiers out to scour the land for such a child. Finally they found a boy who met this unusual description, called Myrddin Emrys (Merlin Ambrosius). Following the advice of his councillors, Vortigern planned to sacrifice young Merlin to appease the strange supernatural forces that were undermining his efforts to build a fortress. Merlin thought this was a terrible idea, and instead explained that the hill fort could not be built because of a hidden pool that contained two dragons. He told Vortigern that although the White Dragon of the Saxons was winning the battle at present, it would soon be defeated by the Welsh Red Dragon.
It is believed that Merlin hid his treasures in a cave at Dinas Emrys. He placed it in a golden vessel, which was put with his golden chair inside the cavern. He then rolled a large rock over the entrance and covered it with earth and green turf. It is said that the discoverer of the treasure will be ‘golden-haired and blue-eyed’. When that lucky person is close to entrance of the cave, a bell will ring to invite him or her into the cave, which will open of its own accord as soon as that person’s foot touches it.
Mysterious Wales / Chris Barber
December 30, 2023