The Arthurian Legend and the Celts

The legend of King Arthur is one of the most famous and enduring myths in Western literature, and has close ties with Celtic pagan mythology. The legend has been passed down through the centuries in various forms, including poetry, prose, and even film adaptations. It centres around the mythical British king, Arthur, and his knights of the Round Table, who embark on epic quests and battles in the pursuit of honour, chivalry, and justice.

The story of King Arthur is said to have originated in medieval Britain, with the earliest recorded mention of him being in the 9th century Welsh poem “Y Gododdin.” However, it was not until the 12th century that the legend of King Arthur really took off, thanks to the works of Geoffrey of Monmouth and Chrétien de Troyes. Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “Historia Regum Britanniae” portrayed Arthur as a heroic and virtuous king who defended Britain against Saxon invaders, while Chrétien de Troyes introduced the concept of Arthur’s court at Camelot and his famous knights, such as Lancelot and Percival.

While the legend is largely dominated by male characters, there are several important female characters who play significant roles. Guinevere, Arthur’s queen, is often portrayed as a beautiful and virtuous queen who is torn between her loyalty to Arthur and her love for the knight Lancelot. The love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot is a central theme in many adaptations of the legend, highlighting the complexities of human relationships and the consequences of betrayal.

Another important female character in the Arthurian legend is Morgan le Fey, Arthur’s half-sister and a powerful sorceress. Morgan le Fay is a complex and enigmatic figure, often depicted as a foil to Merlin, the wise and benevolent wizard who serves as Arthur’s advisor, highlighting the duality of magic in the Arthurian world.

In terms of historical accuracy, there is much debate among scholars about the origins of the Arthurian legend and whether King Arthur himself actually existed. While some historians believe that Arthur was a real historical figure who lived in Britain in the 6th century and led the Britons in battle against the invading Saxons, others argue that Arthur is a purely mythical figure created by medieval writers to symbolize the ideals of chivalry and heroism.

There are striking similarities between key figures and events in Celtic pagan mythology and the Arthurian legends, suggesting that the legends drew heavily from ancient mythology. One prominent parallel is the figure of Merlin, the wise and powerful magician who serves as Arthur’s advisor and mentor. Merlin’s characteristics bear resemblance to the Celtic god Lugh, who is associated with healing, magic, and wisdom.

The Lady of the Lake, who gives Arthur the sword Excalibur, is reminiscent of the Celtic goddess of the water, Rhiannon. The theme of the Otherworld, a supernatural realm inhabited by deities and spirits, is also present in both Celtic mythology and the Arthurian legends. Additionally, the motif of the quest for the Holy Grail in Arthurian legend echoes the Celtic myths of cauldrons of plenty and vessels of divine power. Avalon itself, where Arthur finds the mighty Excalibur, is a sacred location in Celtic history. These shared themes and characters demonstrate the rich tapestry of Celtic influences present in the Arthurian legends, blending ancient pagan beliefs with Christian symbolism to create a complex and enduring mythology.


Jenna is a pagan and lifelong student of history. She's the potion expert at High Priestess, and also designs tarot decks, oracle decks, and powerful ritual oils.