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  • Jo-Anne Blanco

Origins of Morgan le Fay: Morgan and the Moirae (the Fates)

Better known to us today as the Fates, the Moirae were the personification of what was for Homer the individual and inescapable destiny of every human being. Hesiod described them as goddesses and they were three in number: Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos. Clotho was the Spinner who spun the thread of life. Lachesis was the Alotter who measured the thread and twisted it into various shapes; she also represented the element of luck or fortune which every person would receive. Atropos was the Inexorable, the Inescapable, the Inevitable, against whom there was no appeal; she was the oldest and most dreaded of the Fates, who chose the means of death and severed the thread of life at the appointed time. Clotho’s attribute was a spindle; Lachesis’ attribute was a measuring rod; and Atropos’ attribute was her ‘abhorred shears.’ The Moirae were independent and their decisions absolute – not even Zeus, Lord of Olympus, could countermand their authority.

Morgan le Fay can trace her origins directly to the Fates. In post-classical mythology and foklore, the Italian fata, the French fée, and the Spanish hada emerged from the concept of the Fates. Just as the Fates arrived at the birth of every child bringing with them the child’s fate, the fées would arrive when a child was born, bringing their gifts of good or evil fortune. In time they became either fairy godmothers or wicked fairies in the fairy tales of Madame D’Aulnoy and Charles Perraut (the spindle in The Sleeping Beauty harks back directly to the spindle of Clotho). The French fée is the etymological and conceptual origin of the fays in medieval Arthurian literature. ‘Fai-ery’, originally meaning a state of enchantment, came to be the name of those casting the spell – those of whom Morgan le Fay is the most fascinating, most ambiguous, and best known. The Italians named the famous mirage ‘Fata Morgana’ after her: Morgan the Fairy or Morgan the Fate.

Gallery images:

Morgan le Fay, Frederick Sandys (1864)

The Three Fates, Giorgio Ghisi (1558)

Le Tre Parche (The Three Fates), Bernardo Strozzi (ca. 1664)

Atropos or The Fates, Francisco de Goya (1819-1823)

A Golden Thread, John Melhuish Strudwick (1885)

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