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A Review of Merlin: Once and Future Wizard by Elen Sentier

Reviewed by Frank Malone

Elen Sentier’s latest book continues the fabulous Pagan Portals series from Moon Books. These brief volumes constellate an author’s accumulated wisdom on a specific subject. From my perspective as a psychoanalyst, I had heretofore approached Merlin as an archetypal image of the Wise Old Man. Amongst other things, Sentier is trained in transpersonal psychotherapy. She has opened my eyes so that I can begin to see the depth and complexity of Merlin. Furthermore, Sentier teaches us that Merlin is available to us now for relationship.

To my surprise, Sentier shows us that Merlin is the spirit of the land of Britain – and Brittany to boot! She thus explains the many (apparently) contradictory places in Britain and the Continent associated with Merlin in the legends. As spirit, he is far older than the figures in the stories. Sentier takes us through the divers guises of Merlin in literature. This includes, inter alia, the Green Man. The author discusses the light that these incarnations shed on Merlin as spirit.

Sentier is also one of the awenyddion (Celtic shamans). I was fascinated to learn about the Celtic way of journeying to the Otherworld. The trance-induction is different from the auditory-driven induction used in core shamanism, which is my training and practice. The author draws contrast between these two shamanic approaches. Additionally, the Celtic journey process described is, as she observes, “far closer to what Jung calls ‘active imagination’. It was also interesting to read how she integrates shamanic knowledge with her practice of psychotherapy.

I was delighted and grateful for her chapter on Nimue/Vivian. This was the most satisfying treatment of the topic I have seen. I enjoyed as well the integrated biographical material woven throughout the book. I appreciate authors who can be genuine and not hide behind an intellectual defense. The book is also infused with her gentle good humour. Sentier’s book is fun and informative, and I shall keep it around to refer to for years to come.

More about the book here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/pagan-portals-merlin

Merlin—A different version of King Arthur

Merlin is a new television series that was first on NBC and now new episodes are being shown on the SyFy Channel. I have seen numerous angry posts about this new show. King Arthur fans are upset because this show is different from other versions of King Arthur—some posts stated that the writers have ‘murdered’ the legend. Merlin is about a teenage Arthur and Merlin. The concept is what if Merlin, Arthur, Gwen and Morgana grew up together?  Uther is still alive and king of Camelot, Gwenhwyfar is a Moor and handmaiden to Morgana, and Merlin is Arthur’s servant. Merlin has to hide his magic because Uther has banned magic from the kingdom. Morgana is still Gorlois’s daughter, but she is Uther’s ward. I’m not sure which parts of this show anger people more, but I think seeing Merlin as a servant is most upsetting to some people.

I almost stopped watching Merlin after the first show because I had a hard time seeing them as boys in a setting much different from most versions of King Arthur, but I stuck with it and now I find the series fun and interesting. I like to see different versions of myths. These are myths, after all and not recorded history. Marion Zimmer Bradley did a really different version of King Arthur that became popular with a lot of people, though some people were opposed to her adaptation.

Personally, I think Merlin, despite showing the characters as teenagers, stays truer to the original Celtic legend of King Arthur. I’m not a fan of the later writings that to me seem to be Christianized versions of the myth. This series focuses more on the old religion and magic that had to still be alive in the fourth/fifth centuries even though Christianity had spread throughout Britain. I picture King Arthur as someone who respected Christianity and paganism—that was how he was able to unite all of Britain. I do have some issue with the way the historical setting is portrayed in the twelfth century rather than the fifth century when it was more likely King Arthur’s time. Maybe the writers thought the Dark Ages might be too dismal for some people. Despite this, I still enjoy this series so far.

Merlin does not pretend to be a true depiction of Britain’s history or of the Arthurian legends. It is more of a fantasy with a mythical kingdom, magic and adventure. The description on the SyFy website says: “The mythical city of Camelot, in a time before history began. A fantastical realm of legendary beasts and mysterious peoples.” The main point of the story remains—the relationship between Merlin and Arthur and their shared destiny. Everything else is just icing on the cake.

There are many variations on the King Arthur myth so why does this one have a lot of people so upset?

Kelley Heckart

‘Timeless tales of romance, conflict & magic’