Morgan le Fay

Morgan le Fay first steps into Arthur’s mythos in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Vita Merlini, written in 1150. Here, she is the eldest of the nine sisters who rule the ethereal isle of Avalon and is a powerful healer. This Morgan could shape shift into animals, manifest as a crone or a maiden and fly. She’s also clever – a skilled mathematician and astronomer. Arthur’s men trust Morgan and take their mortally injured king to her to be healed. Geoffrey’s portrayal of her is sympathetic and he creates a strong, rounded female character.

In Chrétien de Troyes’ French romantic interpretation of the myth, she is presented as Arthur’s sister and described as ‘Morgan the Wise’. She is no longer the ruler of the island, but is in a relationship with its ruler, Lord Guigomar. And so her power starts to be subsumed, manipulated by medieval writers, reluctant to believe a woman could be knowledgeable, powerful or clever.

She remains a relatively benign character until Arthur’s tale is dramatically rewritten in the French Vulgate Cycle (c. 1210–30), thought to be composed by fundamentalist Cistercian monks. Cistercians were crusaders, dedicated to eradicating heretics. They despised women – some even argued against the existence of a female soul – and used the Arthurian tales as propaganda for the Christian religion. Morgan embodied everything that terrified them about the old forms of worship – a knowledgeable, gifted woman, unashamed of her flesh and desires, existing in a society that acknowledged a female presence. They twisted the benevolent character of Morgan Le Fay into a more sinister seductress and obsessive witch.

Using her looks and sexuality, she persuades Merlin to teach her the dark arts. She exposes Guinevere’s affair with Lancelot and later tries to seduce the knight. In the order’s later works, Morgan’s character becomes more overtly evil: she uses her powers to steal the magical sword Excalibur and its scabbard to use against Arthur and plots his downfall, only to be thwarted by the new witch Ninianne, the Lady of the Lake. However, at the end of Vulgate Cycle, Morgan is one of the ladies who escort Arthur on his final trip to Avalon.

By 1485, when the definitive Arthur book, Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory, appears, the Cistercian template is set. Malory’s Morgan is even more reductive. There is no affair that initiates her conflict with Guinevere; instead she’s just a fundamentally wicked person, malevolent, Arthur’s nemesis, a mistress of the dark arts, manifesting the medieval world’s fear of the knowledge and power of women.

In Germany, the Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches) was about to be published near-simultaneously and these books helped to whip up anti-magic fervour and presaged a spike in UK witch trials. One last vestige of Morgan’s earlier incarnation remains – she is permitted to transport Arthur’s body to Avalon.

Morgan has remained a powerful figure in literature – she appears in Italian Renaissance poems, French literature and English writer Edmund Spenser’s epic poem The Faerie Queen. She has smouldered on the big screen, memorably portrayed by Helen Mirren in Excalibur (1981).

Her character is strong enough to bear endless reworking. The image of a sexually confident woman, clever, and gifted with magical healing abilities has been reimagined from benevolent to evil, yet still retains its power. Medieval authors turned Morgan into an evil, vengeful caricature – the only way they could deal with her independence, her power, her sexuality.

Sources: Warriors, Witches, Women


Doggerland, the area of land that once connected Britain to Europe. This map shows the gradual sea level rise with estimated dates.

It was often thought that there could be a lost land submerged beneath the North Sea. In the 20th century fishermen discovered evidence to support this belief when they dragged up an antler from the seabed. Other finds include the remains of lions and mammoths and prehistoric tools.

Doggerland was a land of small sloping hills with wooded valleys, rivers, lagoons and salt marshes. It is believed to have been abundant in wildlife including woolly rhinoceros and mammoth. The land was home to hunter-gatherers who probably migrated with the seasons.

Over thousands of years Doggerland was gradually submerged by rising sea levels until the last remnants were flooded possibly by a huge tsunami just over 8,000 years ago. But some disagree with the tsunami hypothesis and believe that Doggerland survived the tsunami and was gradually submerged afterwards…


Originating from Orkney and United Kingdom folklore, a Selkie is a gentle water spirit believed to live in the sea as a seal, but once on land, they fully assume human form.

They must shed their seal skins to become human but should always keep their pelt close by otherwise, they will remain in human form forever.

According to some legends, Selkie are fallen angels who were too pure to be condemned to Hell and instead fell to the shoreline of Earth. They’re often described as beautiful and doe-eyed.

Other folklore stories warn humans from shedding Selkie blood, or wild and violent storms will claim many human lives at sea.


A Boggart is a shapeshifting spirit or creature from English folklore that inhabits both moors and marshes and is sometimes called a Boggard or Bag. Some legends say that boggarts haunt the swamps of northern England, Scotland, and Wales.

In many Scottish and northern English folklore, there are numerous household boggarts who act similar to a Brownie by doing household chores. However, Boggarts tend to be more malevolent by destroying household items if not rewarded or mistreated, whereas Brownies tend to be more friendly.

These types of fae can appear in a variety of forms and act like a demon or poltergeist.

Boggarts are notorious for their deception and seldom have a description because they rarely appear, and when they do they take on other forms. Boggarts who manifest as people are typically more violent than those who manifest as animals.

Boggarts were featured in the Harry Potter series written by J.K Rowling. Stephen King is also a Boggart.

Another [story] tells of the Boggart of the Brook, at Garstang in Yorkshire, which appears as a woman in a hooded cloak at the roadside requesting a lift from travelers, usually those on horseback. When the “hitchhiker” has become a passenger, she reveals herself to be a skeleton, and her demonic cackle and clawing grip spur the traveler into a frenzied ride, causing injury or death.

~ Carol Rose – Spirits, Fairies, Gnomes, and Goblins

The Chained Books of Hereford Cathedral (Hereford, Herefordshire – Great Britain)

The Chained Books of Hereford Cathedral (Hereford, Herefordshire – Great Britain)

This cathedral contains two medieval marvels: a chained library of rare books and one of the earliest maps of the world.

In the Middle Ages, before the availability of the printing press, volumes on law and religion were quite rare and valuable. To protect against theft, the books at Hereford Cathedral were chained to desks, pulpits, and study tables.

The chained library was created in 1611 when a collection of hand-transcribed, hand-bound books was moved into the Lady Chapel. Most of the volumes in the collection are acquisitions dating back to the 1100s, although the oldest book in the collection, the Hereford Gospels, dates to about the year 800.

The medieval world map stored at Hereford Cathedral depicts three continents: Europe, Asia, and Africa. On the as-yet-unexplored periphery of these lands roam fire-breathing dragons, dog-faced men, people who survive on only the scent of apples, and the Monocoli, a race of mythical beings who take shade under their giant feet when the sun becomes too bright.

The 5 × 4.5-foot map (1.5 × 1.4 m), created around 1300, is part geography, part history, and part religious teaching aid. A lack of confirmed information on Asian and African geography presented no obstacle for the mapmaker, who used hearsay, mythology, and imagination to fill in the gaps—which explains the four-eyed Ethiopians.

Sources: Atlas Obscura

Smoked Salmon, Rocket, Lemon and Capers Tea Sandwich

Smoked Salmon, Rocket, Lemon and Capers

2 cups cream cheese at room temperature

juice and zest of 1 lemon

2 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon white pepper

1 cup chopped baby capers

1 small Spanish onion, finely diced

1 bunch chives, chopped

11½ ounces.smoked salmon

1 bunch washed rocket

12 slices dark rye bread

Makes 6 sandwiches

In a bowl cream together with an electric or hand beater the cream cheese, lemon zest, juice, sea salt and pepper to a whipped cream consistency. Fold in the capers, onion and chives.

Spread each slice of bread with a generous amount of the cream cheese mixture, distributing evenly, then the smoked salmon and rocket. Sandwich bread together, cut off the crusts and then cut into triangles.

Tip: I like to use dark rye for this recipe, but sourdough is a good alternative.

Stonehenge: Was it Relocated?

The discovery of a dismantled stone circle—close to Stonehenge’s bluestone quarries in west Wales—raises the possibility that a 900-year-old legend about Stonehenge being built from an earlier stone circle contains a grain of truth. Radiocarbon and OSL dating of Waun Mawn indicate construction c. 3000 BC, shortly before the initial construction of Stonehenge. The identical diameters of Waun Mawn and the enclosing ditch of Stonehenge, and their orientations on the midsummer solstice sunrise, suggest that at least part of the Waun Mawn circle was brought from west Wales to Salisbury Plain. This interpretation complements recent isotope work that supports a hypothesis of migration of both people and animals from Wales to Stonehenge.

In the oldest story of Stonehenge’s origins, the History of the Kings of Britain (c. AD 1136), Geoffrey of Monmouth describes how the monument was built using stones from the Giants’ Dance stone circle in Ireland. Located on legendary Mount Killaraus, the circle was dismantled by Merlin and shipped to Amesbury on Salisbury Plain by a force of 15,000 men, who had defeated the Irish and captured the stones. According to the legend, Stonehenge was built to commemorate the death of Britons who were treacherously killed by Saxons during peace talks at Amesbury. Merlin wanted the stones of the Giants’ Dance for their magical, healing properties.

This 900-year-old legend is fantasy: the Saxons arrived not in prehistory, but only 700 years before Geoffrey’s own time, and none of Stonehenge’s stones came from Ireland. Yet the fact that Stonehenge’s ‘bluestones’ derive from Wales—far to the west of Salisbury Plain—has led to speculation that there may be some truth in Geoffrey’s pseudo-history. Moreover, at the time Geoffrey was writing, this region of south-west Wales was considered Irish territory. One possibility is that the bluestones did indeed derive from a stone circle in west Wales, which was dismantled and re-erected as Stonehenge. A similar conclusion was reached a century ago by geologist Herbert Thomas, who established that the spotted dolerite bluestones at Stonehenge originated in the Preseli Hills of west Wales, where, he suspected, they had originally formed a “venerated stone-circle”

Source: Journal Antiquity