The power over life and death is a form of magic that lies at the very heart of the Old Religion. It can be used either

Merlin uses the Power over Life and Death to kill Nimueh and save Gaius.

to revive people who are dying or to create a new life, as long as a life is given in return. One of the most important laws of magic is, in fact, that life cannot be mirrored without giving anything in return and to save or create a life there must be a death for the balance of the world to be restored. Once someone enters into a life-for-a-life bargain, it cannot be undone.

This power can be used to allow a barren woman to conceive.

This form of magic is very powerful and can only be achieved by powerful and experienced sorcerers, those who serve the Old Religion and, thus, hold dominion over life and death. Only two known individuals have mastered this power: Nimueh, former High Priestess of the Triple Goddess, and Merlin. It is presumed that all High Priestesses carry this power, though Morgana and Morgause have not been shown to demonstrate it. The Questing Beast also carries this power.
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Nimueh, High Priestess of the Old Religion, with the Cup of Life.

This is a very dangerous power to use because of its fatal and potentially unpredictable effects. For example, when Uther Pendragon asked Nimueh to use her powers to help his wife, Ygraine, who could not conceive, Ygraine's life was taken. Uther blamed the Old Religion itself for this and he started executing anyone who practiced magic. Its unpredictability was shown when the Old Religion almost took the life of Merlin's mother, Hunith, instead of his, though Merlin believed it was not the Old Religion that did this but Nimueh. When Gaius decided to sacrifice his life to save Hunith and Merlin, the young warlock killed the High Priestess Nimueh, and so the balance of the world was restored.

There are many ways with which the Old Religion, or those who serve it, have control over life and death: Nimueh (and probably all the other High Priestesses) used the Cup of Life, both to revive the dying and and to kill the intended sacrifice. The Old Religion can also be called upon by the High Priestess to strike a sacrifice with incurable disease. When Nimueh chose to use this power to sacrifice Hunith, Merlin called upon the gods to gather the clouds and strike the High Priestess with lightning, with her death reviving Gaius. (Le Morte d'Arthur).
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The power of the Old Religion ready to strike.

Exceptions To The RuleEdit

Although it is clearly stated by Nimueh and other characters that a life must always be exchanged for a life, this rule has apparent exceptions, as mortally wounded characters can be healed through other means of magic. It is also known that the power over life and death is not involved in the reanimation of corpses/skeletons (Necromancy) [1, 2, 3, 4], or any magic used to prolong life an unnatural amount, preserve a soul, or gain immortality.

  • Sir Leon was brought back from the brink of death by the Druids with the Cup of Life. Nobody is known to have died as a result (The Coming of Arthur).
  • The power over life and death may also be involved in the creation of an Afanc (The Mark of Nimueh), though no one is known to have died from this.
  • Taliesin healed Arthur of a potentially fatal wound caused by a poisoned arrow. Nobody is known to have died as a result (The Crystal Cave).
  • Balinor healed Arthur of a bad, most likely infected, battle wound. Nobody is known to have died as a result (The Last Dragonlord).
  • Kilgharrah healed Merlin after he got stung by a Serket. Nobody is known to have died as a result (The Tears of Uther Pendragon).
  • With the help of Kilgharrah, Merlin healed Morgana's serious head injury. Nobody is known to have died as a result (The Crystal Cave).
  • The Vilia healed Merlin when he was dying from an attack by a Dorocha. Nobody is known to have died as a result (The Darkest Hour). It is also stated that no one has ever survived a Dorocha attack, so it is probable that Merlin's great resistance to magic is what ultimately saved him.
  • Merlin attempted to heal Uther of his fatal wound. There is no implication that a sacrifice was needed for this (The Wicked Day).

Considering these exceptions it is apparent that the power over life and death, and therefore a sacrifice, is only needed to revive a victim when the power itself has caused the victim's death. For example, when the Questing Beast used the power to kill Arthur, he could only be revived through it. This also applies with Ygraine, who would only conceive through this power, and therefore had to be killed by it.

When this powerful magic is used to kill, unlike other means of death (magical or otherwise), which cause death indirectly, it is unique in that the very effect of it is the victims death, and therefore no healing can counteract it. As the power uses the essence of the Old Religion itself to kill the victim, Life and Death, it can only be countered through the Old Religion, which requires a sacrifice to restore the balance of the world.

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