The Wizard Merlin
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Before Merlin (an Introduction to Understanding)

For fairies feared humanity, they feared human duplicity and adaptability. Merlin's fore bearers drove the fairies underground, using magical secrets to take control of Wales, Ireland, and the other Celtic lands from the hands of those who came before and from the hands of the deities and fairies themselves. There was little difference between humans and fairies in so far as magic is concerned, humans could become fairies, and fairies could become humans. For in Celtic Myth humanity was descended from the lord of the underworld. Fairies worked hard to keep the secrets of magic and immortality from humans, for they feared what humans might do if they gained these. Everything fairies taught a human was taught in confidence such that the human could not share it except under very special circumstances.
Thus Merlin was special, he was unique in the knowledge which was shared with him. Upon his birth Merlin was plunged into a fountain. Now in Christian mythology this was a fountain of priest blessed water but it's important to understand that such sacred fountains had been sacred long before Christianity. Indeed Brigg's states that sacred wells and water fairies are the most common and important of beings in Celtic lore. Such wells where so sacred that Christians could not stop their worship and so they claimed them to be holy to Saints thus turning fairies into Saints. Odin the deity of the Germanic peoples himself gained much of his wisdom from a sacred fountain.
After being blessed by the fountain Merlin was given over to the fairy Nimue to be raised. Here too we see a commonality with a water fairy tradition that spans back for thousands of years. Heroes in European mythology were most often raised by water fairies. Zeus was raised by Nymphs as were the founders of Greek cities. In Slavic mythology those who knew magic and did great deeds were raised by Rusalka /Villa. Wizards were by necessity raised by water fairies who were the only fairies to share their knowledge with humanity on a regular bases.
As with all Proto-Indo Europeans Merlin would have learned two primary sets of secrets in order to utilize his magic. The first would be the power to cast spells using poems, songs and chants. For magic was in songs and poetry. The second thing he would have learned would have been which herbs to cultivate and how to cultivate them for every herb needed to be cultivated in a specific way in order to draw out its powers.

As a young man Merlin was found alone by a king. In this much we see a similarity with 'The Green Children' who were fairy children which got lost in the human realm and were taken in by a duke. Merlin as a wizard, however, did not look like a fairy he looked like an ordinary boy. Thus he was believed to be an orphan and so he was selected as a sacrifice to help build a castle, Merlin showed his vast knowledge at this point by explaining how the castle could be built without sacrificing him, how the king had displeased a water dragon.

King Uther would later demand that Merlin help him conquer all of England but Merlin refused this. Still Merlin did help Uther to take the form of another womans husband so that he might sleep with her. The child born from this union (Arthur) was taken by Merlin and raised to be the king Uther could not be. What we can take from this is that Merlin knew in advance what the outcome of Uther's dalliance would be and so he helped it in order to bring Arthur into being.  This is one of the key roles of wizards, to manipulate events in the present in order to vastly alter the state of the world in the future. For they have an advantage no one else in the mortal realm has, the ability to see the outcomes of what they do. In many ways one could argue that divination is one tool which wizards use to cause events to happen, for when they foretell the future peoples attempts to escape or make the future often leads to the foretold event coming true.

The challenge to understanding Merlin as a figure comes from the fact that most of our sources composite him from many characters or invent his traits wholesale. What's most important to understand about Merlin, however, is that he is part of an ancient tradition of Wizard beliefs to which he contributes.

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