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Merlin the Wizard - Fact and Fable

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Facts and fables about Merlin the wisard, the adviser and guide to King Arthur, and his link with Carmarthen (Caerfyrddin).

Facts and legend about Merlin the Wizard

The origin of Merlin

The legend of Merlin is well known - a magician, wizard, sorcerer, and the adviser and guide to King Arthur of the Britons.

The first written evidence of Merlin appears in Historia Regum Britanniae (written about 1136) by Geoffrey of Monmouth. The character of Merlin is thought to be a blend of previous legends and figures of history, such as Myrddin Wyllt (a mad prophet who is mentioned in many Welsh poems) and Ambrosius Aurelianus, a warrior leader.

The 13th century Black Book of Carmarthen, written in Welsh also includes tales and poems of heroes of Britain in the Dark Ages, including of those of Merlin (Myrddin in Welsh). The book's permanent home is at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.

The literature provides us with a romantic vision of a wise wizard or sorcerer who is linked to many magical legends. Merlin was reputed to be a mystical Druid, and a Celtic priest who possessed the knowledge and secrets of ancient times. He was therefore revered as a great prophet, and is said to have been enchanted by the Lady of the Lake to be the guardian and guide of King Arthur. He was also linked with transporting the great stones of Stonehenge to Salisbury Plain in England.

Merlin and Carmarthen

Fable has it that Merlin was born and lived in a cave just outside of the South West Wales market town of Carmarthen. He is said to be buried under the hill that bears his name - Merlin's Hill, where he sleeps ready to wake when he's needed

A popular misbelief is that the Welsh name for the town of Carmarthen - Caerfyrddin is taken from the Welsh translation of Merlin - Myrddin (the 'm' of Myrddin mutated to 'f' in 'fyrddin). However, this is incorrect as Caerfyrddin derives from the Roman name for the town - Moridunum (sea fort). The town is far older than any historical evidence of Merlin, and it is therefore concluded by historians that Merlin (Myrddin) is derived from the name of the town, and not the other way round.

One prophesy lives on

The prophesy of the Old Oak of Carmarthen (sometimes called Priory Oak or Merlin's Oak) is attributed to Merlin -

'When Priory/Merlin's Oak shall tumble down, then shall fall Carmarthen Town'.

To honor the prophesy, and to avoid mishap to the town, the ageing stump was supported and protected by concrete for many years, until it was finally moved for safe keeping to the County Museum at Abergwili - where it remains to this day.

Merlin's name lives on in the town and streets of Carmarthen. As well as the hill where Merlin is said to be sleeping, the town has a Merlin Street, Myrddin School and Merlin Shopping Arcade where there is a large carved wooden figure of the wizard.

The legend of Merlin continues to provide awe and wonder in the wider world as well - in the UK the BBC television series 'Merlin' is very popular, and the Channel 4 Camelot serve to keep the story alive.


About This Article

David Lewis

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