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  • Jo-Anne Blanco

Defaming Morgan

Morgan le Fay by Howard Pyle

Why was it deemed necessary – and why is it still deemed necessary – to demote, defame and demonise the all-powerful, magic-wielding ruler of Avalon; the ally and counsellor of kings? A clear case can be made that, as Christianity developed, male writers, often clerics or monks, sought to dethrone the Fairy Queen, and wrest from the pagan goddess and/or her high priestess any reverence that was her due. A woman who was both powerful and benign was anathema to the beliefs of the Middle Ages: it was deemed blasphemous to attribute scholarly knowledge or healing skills to a female who was not a member of the Church.

Morgan as ruler in her own right disrupted male hegemony and what was considered to be the natural paradigm of male domination/female subjugation, a notion that has disturbing parallels with many aspects of our world today. That the prevailing modern perception and depictions of Morgan are still rooted in medieval tropes of evil queen/sorceress proves the efficacy of a targeted form of propaganda, which speaks – sometimes subconsciously, sometimes overtly – to patriarchal society’s ingrained misogyny against women who possess, wield or actively seek power and leadership. This propaganda serves to bolster already existing prejudices against women and girls, particularly when they are deemed powerful enough or outspoken enough to be a threat to the status quo.

In almost all the depictions of Morgan throughout the centuries, we only ever see her as a leader in the instances of her relationship to Arthur and his kingdom. It is exceedingly rare to see how she governs and rules her own realm of Avalon from within. 1983’s The Mists of Avalon made the most notable attempt by reinventing Avalon as the seat of pagan power in the world into which Arthur is born – still a mystical, magical place, but rooted in the politics of its time. Morgan, or Morgaine as she is in the novel, is trained from when she is a little girl by High Priestess Viviane, the Lady of Avalon, and eventually assumes her political and spiritual leadership role. But even then, Morgan’s rule is very much part of the politicking of Arthur’s world. Her advocacy of the faith in the Mother Goddess is pitted against Arthur’s championship of Christianity in a struggle which she ultimately loses.

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