Morgan le Fay Myths and Legends: The Goddess Diana
In Arthurian legend, Morgan le Fay is the link between the fairy world and the mortal world. Her original incarnation as the Fairy Queen of the magical Isle of Avalon crosses over with her varying portrayals at Arthur’s court as his half-sister, counsellor, lover, and most effective and implacable enemy. She is the queen regnant to his ruling king, the fairy to his knight, the pagan to his Christian. She is also the link between the Arthurian legend of the Middle Ages to the earlier Celtic tradition and myth.
Similarly, the Roman goddess Diana provides a link between different worlds and cultures; between pagan Romano-Celtic beliefs and medieval Christian religion. Stemming from her Hellenic roots as Artemis, Diana was predominantly a benevolent deity, though she could be equally fearsome as well. As a benefactor, she helped with the harvest and spinning, and was especially worshipped by women in childbirth because she aided them in their time of greatest need and watched over the destinies of their children. As the Roman goddess-protector of plebeians and slaves, Diana cared for the poor. She looked after wild animals and defended the forest, which was her realm as much as it was later to be Morgan’s.
Morgan and Diana also share strong associations with water. Morgan’s name means ‘Sea-Born’: the etymology of her name and her mythical persona connect her both to the Morgens or Mari-Morgans (sea fairies of Brittany akin to the Greek sirens) and the Morgans (Welsh lake spirits). Morgan and Diana are both depicted in Arthurian literature as magical island queens and goddesses of the sea. Among Morgan’s many roles, in a number of versions of the legend it is she who is the true Lady of the Lake. The Roman Diana had a temple on the shores of Lake Nemi, known as Diana’s Mirror, whose priest was traditionally an escaped slave. In order to obtain this exalted position, the slave had to kill his predecessor in single combat, a rite echoed in the deeds of Arthurian knights who would have to fight the guardian of a castle in order to take up the position themselves.
In the Middle Ages, Diana, like Morgan, was a figure both revered and feared. Many of her traits as the Moon Goddess and Huntress were retained in her later incarnation as the leader of the Wild Hunt. In Germanic tradition, she was a Mother Goddess who awoke after the Winter Solstice and rode across the skies followed by her Furious Host, comprised of the souls of the dead. Diana’s closest Celtic equivalent, Epona, goddess of horses, was responsible for carrying the souls of the dead over to the Otherworld, just as Morgan carries the dying Arthur over to Avalon after his final battle.