Lady of the Lake
The legendary Lady of the Lake appears in many of the tales of King Arthur. Also known as Dame de Lac in French, she was a woman of great magical power.
There seemed to be several “Lady of the Lake”. The most important was Niniane (also known as Viviane, Vivien or Nimue). Other names she had been referrred to include Nymue, Nimueh, Vivien, Vivienne, Ninianne, Nivian, Nyneve, or Evienne.
Niniane later became the guardian of the sword, especially when the dying Arthur returned Excalibur to the lake.
Where Did She Live?
According to legend, she lived in a castle beneath a lake that surrounded a mystical island called Avalon.
A great enchantment was cast upon her castle to hide her land from intruders, also believed to be a Celtic Otherworld.
Glastonbury is believed by many to be Avalon, though there are a number of locations in Great Britain that are traditionally associated with the Lady of the Lake.
Other possible locations include Martin Mere, Dozmary Pool, Llyn Llydaw, Llyn Ogwen, Llyn y Fanc Fach, The Loe, Pomparles Bridge, Loch Arthur.
It is now generally believed that the Lady of the Lake, including her connection to Arthur’s sword Excalibur, is of Breton origin. The Lady of the Lake is generally said to live in the forest of Brittany.
It was said she was the foster mother of Lancelot and raised him beneath the waters of her lake after the death of his father, King Ban of Benoic.
Merlin Loved Her
Merlin is said to have fallen madly in love with the Lady of the Lake.
According to the Lancelot-Grail cycle (also known as the Vulgate cycle), Viviane refused to give Merlin her love until he taught her all his secrets. Once she had learned his magic, she then used her power to trap him. In some stories, she trapped him in the trunk of a tree, in others, he is beneath a stone.
Merlin even had the power of foresight to know what was going to happen, but he was unable to stop himself. He continued to teach her his secrets until she finally entraps him.
Why Did She Entrap Him?
In early versions of the story, she entraps Merlin because of her hatred for him.
Later versions, as in Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur she does so because Merlin would not leave her alone. He was in love with her, though she did not love him back. She tired of his sexual advances, and was also so afraid of his power that she felt that she had no other choice. She traps him so he cannot escape.
In the Post-Vulgate cycle, the Lady of the Lake is called Ninianne. Here is where the story of the sword Excalibur was first bestowed upon Arthur.
When Arthur and Merlin first meet the Lady of the Lake, she holds the sword Excalibur out of the water. She offers it to Arthur so long as he promises to fulfill a request from her later, which of course, he agrees.
Later, the Lady of the Lake comes to Arthur’s court to receive her end of the bargain. She asks for the head of Sir Balin. She blames Sir Balin for her brother’s death. Balin, in turn blames her for the death of his mother. Arthur refused this request, and Balin beheads her instead, much to Arthur’s distress.
When Sir Pelleas was rejected by Ettard–the woman he loved– the Lady of the Lake took care of him. She and Pelleas fell in love and were married. She became the mother to his son, Guivret.
According to Malory, she acted as an obedient wife, and also as an advisor to the court by subtly helping sway the court in the right direction. She was also a compassionate, clever, strong-willed, and sympathetic character. She is pragmatic, unflappable and knowledgeable.
Return of Excalibur
After the Battle of Camlann, the final battle of King Arthur, the Lady of the Lake reclaimed Excalibur.
Arthur commanded Bevidere to throw Excalibur into the lake to fulfill the prophecy written on the blade. The sword was so magnificent, he couldn’t do it. He hid it behind a tree believing Arthur wouldn’t know what he had done.
When he returned to the king, Arthur asked him what he saw when he threw the sword in the lake. Bevidere said he saw nothing, and Arthur knew immediately he was lying. He ordered him once more and again, Bevidere disobeyed by throwing his own sword into the lake.
Bevidere once again, told Arthur he saw nothing. Arthur orders him a third time to throw Excalibur into the lake.
Finally, he threw Excalibur into the middle of the lake. An arm rose out of the water, right up to the elbow, and caught the sword. It brandished the blade three times before disappearing into the lake.
Nimue arrived not long after Bevidere returned the sword to the lake, along with Morgan le Fay, the Queen of Northgales and Queen of the Waste lands. They took took Arthur, wounded and near death, to Avalon for healing.
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