Ladies of the Lakes

The Lady of the Lake raising her arm from the water to offer Excalibur to Arthur is a powerful image, one of the defining images of Arthur’s myths, I think.

Working on the graphic novel adaptation of Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, I’ve been obliged to notice that it’s not just one lake lady. Also, as a personal note, in some versions, Nimue/Vivien is a lady of the lake.

The second, less famous lake lady rocks up to Arthur’s court bearing a sword only a good knight can pull from its scabbard. This is a bit of an evil joke, because the man who takes the sword is then fated to kill someone he loves with it. Swords from lakes may be magical, but they aren’t reliably benevolent.

Who are these ladies? Spirits of place? Half-forgotten deities? Literary plot devices? A bit of minds-eye candy?

As I’ve been colouring on the project, I’ve thought about them a lot. I’d like to offer my unsubstantiated personal uncertainty on the subject. (It’s not gnosis, I really don’t know…)

We know the Celts made offerings to water, including offerings of weaponry. There are sites, in lakes, where lots of booty was thrown in. I think this has to be connected. One possibility is that the ladies of the lakes are a vague folk memory of the lake beings to whom those offerings were made. Another option is that they’ve come into being to explain the underwater hoards. It makes sense if you find a treasure under a lake to imagine it belonged to someone, and from there it’s not very far to the strange women lying in ponds distributing swords as a basis for a system of government.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

8 responses to “Ladies of the Lakes

  • landisvance

    The colors are excellent!! But I really wanted to say how much I love the ast sentence abut strange women lying in ponds – pure Nimue!!! You are helping me to see things with more possibility and humor. Thanks!!

  • locksley2010

    I’d say you’re on the right track, not to forget that a lot of the Celtic goddesses were water goddesses. It was customary for the chief to ‘marry’ the local goddess so that the water (apart from its life giving properties was also a gateway to the Otherworld) and the land were connected. I’m guessing this is where the Arthurian ‘King is the Land and the Land is the King’ motif came from. I do count the Lady of the Lake as one of my deities and this post comes most timely. Very good humour too!

  • Ella Wherry

    I love that you you are artistic in many ways! Do you suppose that the offerings were made to the ladies of Avalon, across the water, hidden in the mists? Maybe not a strange woman, but a magical one? Or many?

  • ibgreenie3

    An excellent explanation for treasures & offerings found in lakes, sacred pools & wells.

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