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The Madness of Merlin

The popular concept of Merlin is that of an elderly magical wizard in the vein of The Sword in the Stone. The modern telling of the King Arthur legends evolved from published works by T.H. White, Sir Thomas Malory, and back to Geoffrey of Monmouth, who wrote The History of the Kings of Britain around the year 1136. Geoffrey also wrote an extended poem called Vita Merlini, which tells the story of Merlin's life after Arthur's reign. Surprisingly, the Merlin in this ancient tale was a warrior who became a minor king in southern Wales. Following a battle against the Scots, Merlin, although victorious, suffered severe PTSD over losing some beloved comrades.

Peredur and Rhydderch could not console him so great was his distress, so they followed his instructions, leaving him alone in his anguish.  As Merlin’s cries rent the air his mind was taken by a fury, and he fled into the woods where he found joy and peace in the quiet of the trees and hidden glades. Naked, he hunted animals and harvested nuts, fruit, and roots, surviving only from the gifts of the woods. He watched the animals and birds and learned of their ways, studying the trees and the plants and the natural world about him.

Winter came and food and shelter became hard to find, and Merlin struggled to survive.  He often talked out loud to himself about the problems he faced.  One day, while he was hidden among the trees and thickets, a traveller heard him and stopped to listen to what was being said.  To the surprise of the traveller, when he approached, the wild man fled through the undergrowth faster than any animal.

Merlin's wife and sister spent years trying to bring him back to civilization. They were successful off and on, but he always preferred living in the wilderness, whether he was in his right mind or not. And throughout his madness, Merlin never lost the gift of foresight. Read about the further adventures of Merlin, part 1 and part 2, at Folklore Thursday. -via Strange Company


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