Morgan as Queen of Avalon: Ruler in Her Own Right
The earliest portrayals of Morgan le Fay depict her as the ruler of a magical island, known as the Avalon, the Island of Apples. Here the role of Morgan as Fairy Queen is established. She is no relation to Arthur in the original accounts, but is a powerful goddess and ruler in her own right, in a similar vein to Circe and Calypso in classical Greek literature. She is portrayed as a benevolent ruler and extraordinarily gifted magical being, who is admired, venerated and trusted; learned above all others and gifted with the arts of healing. She is all-powerful, and can change her shape, fly through the air, appear at will anywhere she wishes, and is a scholar of astrology and mathematics.
When the wounded Arthur is brought to her after the battle of Camlann, it is Morgan who heals him and makes him immortal. Here, in her earliest literary incarnation, the trope of Morgan as the sole ruler of a magical island is established. She has no relation to Arthur in this account, nor is any part of her human. She is a goddess and sorceress in the classical literary mode; an otherworldly queen of her own realm.
As a goddess-figure, Morgan was feared as well as revered. She was a Fairy Queen who, like Greco-Roman goddesses of old, had the power both to harm and to cure, to nourish and to punish. However, this power proved to be too much for early medieval writers and the depiction of Morgan gradually began to shift. Her status as deity and ruler of Avalon in her own right morphed into that of king’s sister and king’s wife. Morgan went from goddess to mortal, whose status depended on that of the men around her: from Fairy Queen of Avalon to King Arthur’s sister; from Goddess and independent ruler to King Urien’s wife.
Morgan’s role and character in literature were downgraded to try to divest her of her own power, and were eventually demonised to render any of her remaining power malevolent and unnatural. The portrayals of the once revered ruler of Avalon devolved further still, besmirching her name and blackening her character. She was recast her as an evil witch hell-bent on destroying Arthur and the knights, and on seizing power at all costs – a pervasive image that still persists today.
Read more about Morgan in my Fata Morgana Series.