Merlin (welsh: Myrddin). Legendary wizard and advisor to King Arthur of Britain.
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The Historical Merlin
Merlin (Myrddin) does not appear in any of the documents associated with the several historical figures who are likely candidates for the basis of the Arthurian legend. Welsh poetry from the 7th century indicates that there were three "classic" (or "baptismal") Welsh bards: Taliesin, Myrddin Wyllt (Merlin the Wild) and Myrddin Emrys. Myrddin Wyllt is depicted as a bard gone mad. The earliest Welsh poems that concern the Myrddin legend present him as a madman living a wretched existence in the Caledonian Forest, ruminating on his former existence and the disaster that brought him low: the death of his lord Gwenddolau, whom he served as bard.
Myrddin Emrys is the one most associated with the Arthurian legend by Geoffrey of Monmouth, the British monk who first wrote of the Arthur.
Taliesin (c. 599) is well-established as one of the earliest Welsh bards whose Book of Taliesin is perhaps the earliest written example of Welsh bardic poetry.
The Legendary Merlin
It was Geoffrey of Monmouth, the first author of a written Arthurian legend, who introduced Merlin into the mythos of King Arthur. The name Myrddin is altered to Merlin to avoid a resemblance to the obscene French word merde. While Geoffrey is remembered most for his character of Arthur, it was Merlin whom he concentrated on, making the prophetic bard a central character of his three books: Prophetiae Merlini, Historiae Regum Britanniae and Vita Merlini. As a result of this second book, where Merlin appears in the tales of the king Vortigern, Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther Pendragon who reigned immediately before Arthur, Merlin in some later works also became a character in tales of Arthur. According to Thomas Mallory's Morte d'Arthur it was Merlin who engineered the entire sequence of events that placed Arthur on the throne of England. Merlin had been advisor and wizard to Aruthur's father, Uther Pendragon. Merlin, against his better judgment, enchanted Uther so that he could lay with Ygraine (wife of the Duke of Cornwall (http://www.princeofwales.gov.uk/about/duc_index.html)) as Cornwall lay dying in battle. Ygraine gave birth to Arthur, whom Merlin took away and fostered with Sir Kay. Merlin also arranged the "sword in the stone" test by which Arthur was later known as the True King of Britain. Merlin was ultimately enchanted away by a sea nymph.
In Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Idylls of the King Merlin is the wizard and counsellor to Arthur. Taliesin is the Bard to Arthur, thus bringing back the two (or three) Bards of Welsh history and muddying the facts even more.
Merlin in Thelema
Aleister Crowley included Merlin in his list of The Gnostic Saints. Writing in his diary in November 1920, Crowley observed that the editor of the edition of Rabelais that he was reading said that Merlin was usually spelled Melin, and Crowley speculated that Merlin might be the origin of Abra-melin.