The Lady of the Lake As A Celtic Symbol
Though one of the central figures and symbols of the tales of King Arthur, the Lady of the Lake as a Celtic symbol is a perspective that is generally overlooked.
In the Arthurian tales the Lady of the Lake goes by the names of Nimue or Vivian. Nimue is believed to derive from Mnemosyne, or Mneme, a water-nymph of Greek and Roman mythology. Nimue gives Arthur his sword; Mneme provides Perseus with similar weapons.
The name Vivian, however, relates the Lady of the Lake to Celtic mythology. ‘Vi-Vianna’, or ‘Co-Vianna’, most likely derives from the Coventina, the Celtic triple goddess of wells and springs.
In the Arthurian legends Nimue/Vivian was the scribe, and later lover, of Merlin, though her part in the legends is often confused with that of Morgan le Fay (whose name, Morgan, means ‘water-nymph’ in Breton). Both, in fact, learned their magic from Merlin. Both were extremely powerful, almost divine figures. Both were among the queens who took the mortally wounded Arthur to be healed on the magical Island of Avalon (‘Island of Apples’) that stood in the centre of the same lake.
According to some theories, in fact, Vivian is identified as one face of a triple goddess, of which she represents the Mother figure (according to legends, she was the foster-mother of Lancelot, having spirited him away as a child and raised him beneath the lake), Morgan le Fay (who is associated with the Celtic goddess of war and death) the Crone figure and Guinevere the Maiden figure.
The Lady of the Lake gave Arthur the magical sword Excalibur, thereby making him king, and received it again at his death (the famous arm emerging from the water of the lake), symbolising the birth/death cycle.