This is an artist’s (Rembrandt’s) impression of Myrddin in one of his earlier manifestations. He’s carrying the Ten Commandments, written in the language spoken at the time in that part of the world. His name was Moses then…
I first realised it was Myrddin when I read the Book of Exodus, which clearly chronicles the words and deeds of a powerful wizard. Moses had the finest teacher of course, so the story goes: one who understood that magic could confound and thus convince of a power that passed all understanding. The people would never see this Supreme Sorcerer – the Creator of the Heavens and of the Earth – but they could see Moses, and had better do as they were told by him: because he had clearly had some of the magic passed down to him…
For those were the days of miracle and wonder. God’s was a long distance call. Moses’ rod turned into a serpent and back again into a rod (these days magicians normally use flags or flowers). He turned water into blood, parted a sea conveniently red, laid claim to plagues of frogs and locusts, and brought commandments carved in stone alone down from a mountain. His was the voice of God on Earth, he said, in that grim place. Popes had not yet been invented…
The difficulties created by names were recognised even then:
“And Moses said unto God, ‘Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, “The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you”; and they shall say to me “What is his name?” what shall I say unto them?” And God said unto Moses, “I AM THAT I AM…”
The trouble with names is they get in the way.
Myrddin’s later nomination as “Merlin” seems to have occurred around the time of King Vortigern (“a fifth century warlord in Britain, whose historical existence is considered likely, though information about him is shrouded in legend” [Wonderful Wikipedia]).
I recommend that you read the story: “Merlin the Magician Rescues King Vortigern and Why the Red Dragon Is the Emblem of Wales”, by W. Jenkyn Thomas. You’ll find interesting and obvious parallels to another story you know well.
King Vortigern had 12 wise men, who advised him to scour the land to find a boy who did not have a father. When he was found, the wise men said, he should be sacrificed and the king’s new castle built on the land where his blood was spilt.
The boy was found and brought to Vortigern, but he wasn’t sacrificed because he was able to prove that his powers were greater than those of the king’s wise men. He asked them what lay beneath the ground on which they stood and they didn’t know. He said there was a pool. The king commanded men to dig, and found that it was so.
The boy then asked what lay beneath the surface of the pool and the wise men didn’t know. He said there were two vases, fired together and sealed. The king’s men dived in and brought up the vases.
He asked them what was in the vases and the wise men didn’t know. He said there was a tent, and the king commanded the vases to be broken open, and Hey Presto! What do you think they found?
The boy then asked what was in the tent and the wise men did not know (of course they didn’t – this wasn’t their trick). He said there were two serpents, one white and one red (the terms “serpents” and “dragons” were pretty interchangeable in those days). The dragons fought, and at first the red seemed to be the weaker; but then it got a fresh infusion of strength from somewhere (guess where?) and overcame the white one…
And in this manner were twelve wise men replaced in the heart and mind of a king by one wiser boy, whose name in Wales was (and is) Myrddin.
The English knew him as Merlin from the Tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. In this manifestation he has an abiding popularity. You can’t beat a bit of magic in a tale of derring-do.
I found him again in Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. Here is one artist’s impression of Prospero that I found on the net:
He was living on an island that was certainly an outpost of Avalon. He had control over the weather. He had a magic spirit – Ariel – who did his bidding. He had books of spells, and was a powerful magician.
Pictures of this abiding character at its source can also be found in Google Images. Who is THIS meant to be, do you think? There is the rod and the robe and the beard. “Ego sum alpha et omega; primus et novissimus…”
But I had no need to think of yet another name for him, even though Myrddin himself suggested that in extreme age he had finally turned into Father Christmas (Book 3, chapter 60), because “Myrddin” was the name he used when he first introduced himself to Gordon (Book 1, chapter 57). I know, because I was there. So “Myrddin” will be good enough for me.