A brilliant professor once told us that desire always lurks at the heart of Arthurian legends. Desire for glory, for love, for kingdoms, for power over one’s own life. While the desires of Arthurian women often led to unflattering depictions (depictions that Feminist retellings of the legends strive to rehabilitate or explain with a backstory), they also make them some of the legends’ most compelling characters. This is particularly true when magic is involved! With this in mind, today we offer a discussion of our top five most magical women of Arthuriana.
The first witch of Western literature, Circe lived what appears to be an idyllic, solitary life on the island of Aiaia. She spent her time honing her enviable magic spells, collecting herbs from the thick forest that fringed her land and doting on her magically docile pet lions and wolves.
The early sirens, the ones Odysseus encountered, were not fish at all but bird-women, but they had those great siren qualities – bewitching songs and the will to lure the unwitting to a bad end.
The fairy-tale witch is a compelling, frightening, and reliable stock character in our contemporary society. Mention “witch” and the hag of fairy-tale picture books for children comes to mind far more frequently than any other, more nuanced image.
The epic unfinished poem, The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser, published 1590-96, created a parallel of the medieval universe.