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Merlin

Merlin the Magician, Merlin the Sorcerer, Merlin the Prophet and Merlin the Tutor of King Arthur, legend and Hollywood have many accounts of Merlin. The truth is lost in the mists of time, but Carmarthen has probably the best claim for links to Merlin because of the name Caerfyrddin meaning Merlin's Castle (Caer is Welsh for fort while fyrddin is the mutated form of Myrddin). When other local references to Merlin were first made are unknown, Merlin's Oak was almost certainly a 17th century invention, but when Merlin's Seat, Merlin's Grove and Merlin's Hill all set around Abergwilli just over a mile from the centre of Carmarthen were first associated with his name is unknown. Some argue that Merlin was so named because he came from Carmarthen while others contend that he was a mythical figure invented to explain the name of the town, rather like Romulus and Rome.

 Merlin is believed to have lived in the 5th century and the basis for the legend is of a boy advising King Vortigern of the Britons, written by Nennius a Welsh monk writing in the 8th century (some authorities dispute the date of some of the writings). The youth according to Nennius was named Ambrose. Some put the location as North Wales and Vortigern was later supposed to have set up a new town that some experts believes was Carmarthen. Nennius did not identify Ambrose as Merlin but this was obviously the basis for Geoffrey of Monmouth's later stories.

The first mention of Merlin was by Geoffrey of Monmouth writing in Latin, previously Merlin was known as Myrddin. Geoffrey was a scholar. Educated at Oxford he became a priest on February 11th 1152, and ten days later was appointed Bishop of St Asaph. It was around 1135 however that Geoffrey first wrote about Merlin. In his early works, Merlin was a prophet advising King Vortigern on the building of a castle and releasing the Red and White Dragons from a cave with the Red Dragon representing the British and the White Dragon the Saxons. In his later works Geoffrey connects Merlin with King Arthur and it was Geoffrey who was mainly responsible for the popularization of the Arthurian Legend that spread quickly through the whole of Europe.

There are various theories about Merlin. Some believe that he was Myrddin Wyllt, sent mad by the sight of the Battle of Arfderydd in 573 and lived the life of a wild man of the woods living in the Caledonian forests, but this would appear to refer to another Merlin as Vortigern reigned in the early part of the previous century.

Geoffrey's Merlin was based on a confusing combination of Merlin Wyllt and Merlin Ambrosius, though the setting for his tale is Carmarthen (Merlin's Castle). 

Tradition has it that Merlin was born of a woman but sired by an incubus, a demon who takes on the male human form to have sexual intercourse with women. The resulting children are evil, but this was negated by Merlin's baptism though he inherited his supernatural powers from his father and used them to engineer the birth of Arthur. Merlin later becomes Arthur's advisor until bewitched and imprisoned by Vivian in a cave. In Carmarthen the cave is said to be on Merlin's Hill. The myth of an incubus is very ancient and goes back to 2400 B.C. in Mesopotamia and the story of Gilgamesh who was said to be the product of his mother and an incubus.

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