Wizards and witches appear in every culture around the world.
They mostly do so in fiction, but history also includes various figures with a reputation for the arcane and the mystical. We’ve put together 30 famous wizards in history and fiction for you to read about today.
Abe no Seimei
An onmyouji from 10th century Japan, he followed the wisdom of a traditional Japanese school of mysticism based on Chinese concepts of yin and yang. In fact, Abe no Seimei became so famous for his knowledge that his patrons included the Emperor and other members of the Imperial Court. His services included predicting the future through astrology, as well as offering advice on how to deal with issues facing the court in spiritually correct ways.
He also lived a very long time, dying at the age of 84 when most people died in their 30s, and managed to avoid coming down with any major diseases. This further helped Abe no Seimei’s reputation, as it served as evidence of his magical powers. After he died, Emperor Ichijou had the Seimei Shrine built in Kyoto to honor Abe no Seimei’s memory. The shrine still stands today, with Abe no Seimei having become the archetypal magician in Japanese folklore much like Merlin in the West.
The headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Dumbledore has a major supporting role in the Harry Potter franchise. For one thing, he serves as a mentor figure for Harry, teaching him the importance of love and forgiveness. Dumbledore also serves as the main deterrent against the franchise’s antagonist, Lord Voldemort. In particular, Dumbledore’s eventual death causes the franchise’s overall tone to take a turn for the dark and desperate.
However, while Dumbledore initially appears as a wizard along the lines of Merlin or Gandalf, it’s later implied that he lived under the shadow of his past. This past later received elaboration in the Fantastic Beasts film series, a spin-off/prequel series based on the Harry Potter companion books.
Originating from Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 franchise, Ahzek Ahriman belongs to the Thousand Sons Traitor Legion. A Chaos Sorcerer in service to the Chaos God of Change, Tzeentch, Ahriman’s most infamous act involved the spell called the Rubric of Ahriman. He crafted the spell to solve the problem of uncontrolled mutations destroying his legion, itself ironically a side-effect of their service to Tzeentch.
The Rubric magnified the psychic powers of every sorcerer in the legion, while also keeping them from suffering from any more mutations. Those of the legion who lacked psychic powers, though, found their bodies reduced to dust, which then became magically sealed inside their armors. Ahriman saw it as an acceptable outcome, but his father, Magnus the Red, Primarch of the Thousand Sons, disagreed.
Magnus would have killed Ahriman on the spot, but Tzeentch personally intervened to save him. Magnus then banished Ahriman, with the sorcerer spending the next ten thousand years wandering the galaxy. In particular, he seeks to find the Black Library, which Ahriman thinks holds the knowledge he needs to become a god in his own right.
Also known as Belgarath the Sorcerer, he’s a major supporting character in David Eddings’ Belgariad and Malloreon series of novels. The first of the god Aldur’s disciples, Belgarath also became the first man to learn the secret of the will and the word. This made him the first and most powerful sorcerer in the world and even made him immortal. In fact, his daughter even once claimed that fear of Belgarath’s power helps deter the Angaraks from invading the Kingdoms of the West.
Ironically, Belgarath dislikes his reputation and avoids revealing his identity unless absolutely necessary. This has led to him disguising himself as a beggar to keep people from recognizing him. He’s also even hired tailors to make him clothes that only look ragged and dirty, but actually last a long time.
A demi-goddess from Greek mythology, her parents vary depending on the source material. Some stories claim the titan Helios and the nymph Perse as her parents, while other sources say it’s King Aeetes of Colchis and the goddess Hecate. Regardless of her origins, she is infamous for her role in The Odyssey.
When King Odysseus and his men landed on her island on the way home from Troy, she turns the king’s men into pigs. Odysseus has to bargain with Circe to return his men to normal, which she eventually does. In return, Odysseus lives with Circe for a year, and they had two sons, Latinus and Telegonus.
Circe also appears in other stories, with some versions of Jason and the Argonauts claiming Circe as Medea’s teacher in magic. There’s also the story of King Picus of Latium, who refused to let Circe seduce him. In retaliation, Circe turned him into a woodpecker. Circe also competed with the nymph Scylla for the affection of the sea god Glaucus. When Glaucus chose Scylla over her, the enraged Circe turned Scylla into a monster in response.
One of the most iconic wizards in modern media, Doctor Strange first appeared in comic books published by Marvel. Later on, he appeared on the big screen as part of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (MCU). In all his appearances, Doctor Strange holds the title of Sorcerer Supreme, leader of the Masters of the Mystic Arts. An ancient secret society of sorcerers, they hold the responsibility of protecting the Earth from arcane threats.
Doctor Strange himself also holds the responsibility of guarding the Time Stone, one of six Infinity Stones dating back to the creation of the universe. As its name implies, it holds power over time. These include the ability to stop, reverse, or even fast-forward time, as well as see the future. That said, Doctor Strange prefers not to use the Time Stone as much as possible, as doing so runs the risk of causing unintended consequences. Even without the Time Stone, however, Doctor Strange remains one of the most powerful heroes in Marvel’s list of characters.
Also known as Darth Sidious, he holds the title of Dark Lord of the Sith, with George Lucas explicitly describing him as the most powerful man to ever hold that title. In particular, Palpatine became infamous for bringing the Grand Plan of the Sith to completion. As part of the plan, he subverted the Galactic Republic into the Galactic Empire with himself as Emperor, before wiping out the Jedi Order.
He also managed to subvert the prophecy of the Chosen One, Anakin Skywalker. Corrupted into Darth Vader, he instead became Palpatine’s tool to destroy the Jedi instead of the Sith. Although Luke Skywalker later redeemed Vader who then killed Palpatine, the prophecy itself remained broken.
Palpatine later returned from death using Sith Magic, the Dark Lord using clone bodies to house his spirit. He also used Sith Magic against the New Republic to try and rebuild his empire, by conjuring powerful Force Storms. And while the Skywalkers eventually managed to kill Palpatine again, it still took the combined efforts of every Jedi to have ever lived to keep him from returning from the grave again.
The antagonist of Disney’s Aladdin, the sorcerer Jafar officially serves the sultan as the Grand Vizier. In secret, he uses his magic to manipulate the sultan’s mind, and plots to eventually usurp the throne. This leads him to recruit Aladdin to get the genie’s lamp for him, as the Cave of Wonders has strict conditions for anyone who tries to enter. However, Aladdin proves more intelligent than Jafar gave him credit for, and eventually takes the lead in fighting against Jafar’s evil plot.
While he’s best known for his antagonistic role in the film, Jafar ironically did not exist in the original story from The Book of One Thousand and One Nights. In fact, his character was a fusion of two separate characters: an unnamed evil sorcerer and the unnamed Grand Vizier. And while the Grand Vizier also disliked Aladdin in the original story, he wasn’t particularly villainous.
A mystic from 16th century England, John Dee became famous thanks to the patronage of Queen Elizabeth I. Officially, he only served as a court astronomer, but this office’s responsibilities included using astrology to try and predict the future for the queen. Surprisingly, however, Dee managed to balance the science of astronomy with the mysticism of astrology. In particular, he stayed close friends with the greatest astronomers of his time. These included Tycho Brahe, who further refined Nicholas Copernicus’ theory that the Earth orbited the Sun instead of the Sun orbiting the Earth.
In addition to astrology, though, Dee also used a crystal ball for scrying, or magically viewing distant places. Later in his life, Dee also attempted to communicate with angels. He hoped to learn the universal language of creation, which he thought would lead to humanity’s unification.
One of the main characters in The Lord of the Rings, he also went by the names Gandalf the Gray and later, Gandalf the White. One of the wizards sent to Middle-earth by the Valar during the Third Age, he has the role of uniting the people against the evil of Sauron. However, he has to according to a strict set of rules, such as never assuming any office of authority. They also could not force people to follow them, only offering advice and suggestions to point people in the right direction.
Of the five wizards, only Gandalf stayed true to his mission, with the other wizards losing their way. Ironically, Gandalf himself has a short temper and sometimes snapped at other characters. Despite this, however, he also knew his limits, and genuinely trusted his friends and companions to do their part. He also proved willing to sacrifice himself to do the right thing, which later led to his new title of “the White”.
Also known as the Good Witch of the South, Glinda comes from The Wizard of Oz franchise. She rules Quadling Country which lies south of Emerald City, and also serves as the protector of Princess Ozma.
After the Wizard of Oz leaves using his balloon, Glinda gains the reputation of being the most powerful sorceress in Oz. She later shows her power by casting a spell that makes Oz completely invisible to people from our world.
However, despite her reputation as a “good witch”, Glinda also has a ruthless streak of her own. This shows in the novel The Emerald City of Oz, where Glinda deliberately ignores violence in lands like Jinxland and the Skeezer Territory. That said, she only does so as long as the violence doesn’t threaten the Emerald City or innocent people. She also justifies doing so by pointing out that magic can’t solve every problem in the world. Sometimes, people just have to work out their problems on their own.
The main character of The Dresden Files book series, Harry is a detective who has magical skills. He uses said skills to assist him in his duties as a detective, which comes in handy as the world he lives in treats magic as an open secret. Officially, magic isn’t real, but unofficially, everyone accepts its existence, as well as that of various magical creatures like vampires and werewolves.
Harry also holds the reputation of “the world’s only consulting wizard”. Clients both human and non-human visit him regularly to have him handle cases both discreetly and efficiently. His reputation grew steadily throughout the franchise, which also earned him a list of enemies. In particular, he once finds himself caught against a global conspiracy that he has to face to protect the innocent people of the world.
There isn’t a child who doesn’t know his name. Harry Potter is the main character of the Harry Potter franchise. As a baby, he was orphaned and given to relatives Vernon and Petunia Dursley, who treated him horribly. His parents, James and Lily Potter, supposedly died in a car crash. On his 11th birthday, however, a man named Hagrid reveals the truth. Harry’s parents had magical powers, and so does Harry.
Harry enters the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to learn to control his powers. There he makes friends and enemies, and also a series of life-threatening adventures. He also comes face-to-face with the Dark Lord, Voldemort. Voldemort is a dark wizard who seeks to gain complete control of Britain’s magical society. Harry and his friends eventually lead the fight against him throughout the franchise.
Judah Loew ben Bezalel
A rabbi who lived in Prague during the 16th and 17th centuries, Loew earned his fame for his contributions to Jewish philosophy. As a rabbi, he deeply studied the Talmud, the core text of the Jewish faith, and even wrote commentaries on other Jewish scholars’ commentaries of the Torah. This made him relevant not just to Jewish scholars, but to Christian scholars as well, as the Torah is essentially the first five books of the Bible’s Old Testament.
However, Loew also had a reputation as a mystic, with Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II consulting with Loew on the Kabbalah. This later led to rumors of Loew supposedly having magical powers of his own. In particular, he supposedly had the power to make a golem, a living statue of clay, which he used to protect the Jews of Prague from persecution.
Unfortunately, as Loew lacked God’s power to give the golem a soul, the golem could not truly tell right from wrong. This led it to go on a vengeful rampage against anyone who wronged the Jews and killed innocent people in the process. Loew eventually destroyed his creation to stop its rampage, but he preserved and hid the knowledge to make a golem, in case it ever proved necessary again.
Magnus the Red
Another character from the Warhammer 40,000 franchise, Magnus ruled over the planet Prospero. As one of the 20 sons of the Emperor of Mankind, he inherited great psychic powers from his father. However, this also made him arrogant, and contemptuous of any attempt to regulate his and others’ psychic powers. This eventually led to his damnation, when the Emperor banned the free use of psychic powers after the Council of Nikaea.
Magnus, trying to prove his father wrong, discovered that his brother Horus had plans to betray and usurp the Emperor. Magnus used his powers to warn the Emperor, but in doing so, ruined his secret project and allowed demons to invade the Imperial Palace. The Emperor ordered Magnus’ arrest, but Horus altered the orders so their brother Leman Russ instead destroyed Magnus’ home planet. This, in turn, led to Magnus making a deal with the Chaos God Tzeentch, saving him and his Thousand Sons Legion. This also turned Magnus into a demon himself and ensured he could never undo his unknowing betrayal of his own father.
One of the most infamous characters from Greek mythology, as a witch and the daughter of King Aeetes of Colchis, Medea served as the priestess of Hecate. When Jason and the Argonauts arrived, the goddess Aphrodite made her fall in love with Jason. This led her to first murder her brother, and then help Jason steal the Golden Fleece.
Jason took her with him to Greece, where he married Medea and had children with her. However, Jason eventually left Medea to marry Glauce, the daughter of King Creon of Corinth. Medea responded by poisoning both Glauce and Creon, only for Corinth’s citizens to murder her children in return. Medea buried them in the Temple of Hera, before cursing Jason for breaking his marriage vows. The gods upheld Medea’s curse, with the Sun Titan Helios sending her a chariot drawn by dragons to bring her to safety. Terrified, the Corinthians banished Jason from the city, and he later died, cursed and abandoned by the gods.
As for Medea, she returned to Colchis at first, where she reconciled with her father. Later, she had another son, Medus, who became King of the Aryans. Medus renamed them the Medes and their nation the Median Empire in his mother’s honor.
The archetypal wizard in Western culture, Merlin comes from the Welsh name Myrddin. He plays a major role in the Arthurian legend, although the details vary between the many versions of the story.
In all versions, however, Merlin serves as a mentor to Arthur before he became king and afterward continues to serve as his advisor. More than that, Merlin even has a hand in ensuring that Arthur even exists in the first place. This resulted from how Merlin helped Arthur’s father, King Uther, seduce Igraine. Merlin also later places a sword in a stone, with whoever draws it becoming the rightful King of Britain. However, he also made sure that only Arthur could ever draw the sword.
Merlin eventually gets trapped in a cave or a tower by the Lady of the Lake, although he leaves a series of prophecies foretelling various events in the future.
A wizard from The Princess Bride, Miracle Max ironically never gets called a wizard in the novel. Instead, he’s called a medicine man, as well as a miracle worker, from which he gets his name. Although he once served the royal family of Guilder, he eventually gets dismissed in favor of a younger man.
Miracle Max’s dismissal later returns to haunt Prince Humperdinck of Guild, when a spiteful Miracle Max helps the prince’s enemies. In particular, Miracle Max helps bring Westley back to life. Ironically, despite his small but important role in the story, Miracle Max never actually had much characterization of his own. In fact, the author, William Goldman, even admitted that he came up with Miracle Max’s story on the spot.
Morgana le Fay
An antagonist from the Arthurian Tradition, she’s Arthur’s half-sister from their mother’s first marriage with the Duke of Cornwall. Uther seducing her mother caused Morgana to develop a grudge against her half-brother. This eventually led to her seducing Arthur and having a son with him, Mordred. She plots to have Mordred kill Arthur before taking his throne, but Arthur foils her plot by killing Mordred, before getting taken away to Avalon.
That said, scholars note that Morgana’s traditional character results from a synthesis of older oral traditions about King Arthur. In particular, they note that Morgana originally served as Arthur’s protector after Merlin’s disappearance. She also never had any relation with Arthur, whose half-sister named Morgause. Morgana also later became one of four witches who carried away Arthur after his battle with Mordred to Avalon. There they watch over Arthur’s sleep until the day comes when Britain needs him to return.
A Sith Lord from the Golden Age of the Sith, Sadow lived around 4,000 years before the events of the Star Wars films. Although many Sith Lords practiced Sith Magic in his time, Sadow’s mastery of the craft proved so great that many Sith Lords found it disturbing. However, no one could deny his power, which helped him succeed Marka Ragnos as the Dark Lord of the Sith. Sadow then launched a surprise attack on the Galactic Republic, beginning the Great Hyperspace War.
Sadow used his magic to try and balance the republic and the Jedi’s greater numbers but failed. The defeat led to the collapse of the Sith Empire, with Sadow abandoning his people to their deaths. The Jedi pursued Sadow, but Sadow again proved his mastery of Sith Magic by using it to blow up stars behind him. This caused heavy casualties among the Jedi, while also causing them to lose Sadow’s trail.
He eventually arrived on Yavin 4, where he built a network of Sith Temples, one of which housed his body in suspended animation. This allowed Sadow to live until the arrival of the fallen Jedi Freedon Nadd. Nadd learned all Sadow had to teach before betraying and killing his master, thus ensuring the survival of the Sith tradition past the Great Hyperspace War.
A French astrologer from the 16th century, Nostradamus had various noble patrons, most famously Catherine de’ Medici, who married King Henry II of France. Nostradamus cemented his reputation as a seer when he predicted all three of her sons would become kings. This prediction became reality when the brothers succeeded each other in order, as Kings Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III.
Nostradamus later published a book, Les Propheties, containing 942 prophetic poems. According to his modern supporters, these poems supposedly predicted events far ahead of Nostradamus’ life. These include the rise and fall of Napoleon, WWI, the rise of Adolf Hitler, WWII, and even the September 11 attacks.
Historical experts, however, dismiss these claims as coincidence at best, or as Nostradamus’ supporters simply interpreting his poems subjectively. They point out how the vagueness of his poetry could mean anything, and that the poems known today have changed in context giving the linguistic shifts of the French and English languages in the centuries since.
The protagonist of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Prospero originally ruled the city of Milan in Italy as its duke. However, his brother Antonio usurped the duchy, before setting Prospero and his daughter Miranda adrift on the sea to die. They, however, managed to find a small island, where they start a new life.
Prospero uses his magic to control the weather, as well as fend off any threats to his and Miranda’s survival. He also uses magic to release a spirit, Ariel, from a prison on the island. In return for his freedom, Ariel agrees to become Prospero’s servant. Prospero also similarly binds a monster, Caliban, which lives on the island.
At the end of the play, though, Prospero destroys all his materials of magic and swears never to use it again. Shakespeare wrote this to remove any ambiguity about the play’s ending, in light of Christian beliefs on the immorality of magic.
A character from the Dragonlance franchise, Raistlin reflects many of the traits commonly associated with wizards in modern fantasy settings. On one hand, Raistlin possesses powerful magic, including the ability to control time. He’s also shown as incredibly intelligent, while also tending to see his questionable actions as small sacrifices in pursuit of the greater good.
His magical talent also makes him physically weak. Raistlin, at one point, even ends up coughing up blood from overusing his magic. His great power also eventually goes to his head, until he finally becomes a villain. This reflects the modern perception of how power tends to corrupt those who have it.
A character from the Discworld series of novels, Rincewind ironically has the reputation of a failed wizard. This stems from failing the wizardry course at an unnamed university for magic in the city of Ankh-Morpork. The irony comes from despite failing his magical studies, Rincewind clearly has great magical powers. However, he struggles to properly control it, with Rincewind described as turning minor problems into major disasters.
In fact, Rincewind typically appears in the novels as always on the run from people out to kill him. These efforts to kill him all tend to invariably fail, though. With that, he earned the status as the Chosen One of the Lady, the personification of luck. This explains his habit of causing disasters, by unknowingly invoking bad luck. Similarly, he unknowingly invokes good luck while running away from people trying to kill him, allowing him to stay ahead of them.
Also known as Saruman the White, he led the wizards sent by the Valar to Middle-earth during the Third Age. While he also operated under the same limitations as the other wizards, as their leader, Saruman could use more power than the others. Gandalf also described him as the most cunning of the wizards, and the one who seemed to understand Sauron the most.
However, other characters also described Saruman as unwise, despite his cunning and intelligence. They also saw his understanding of Sauron as ironically leading to Saruman eventually making a power play of his own. This eventually leads to Gandalf stripping Saruman of his membership among the wizards. Saruman’s final attempts to regain power ultimately end in his death. And even then, the Valar condemns his spirit to wander the world as punishment for betraying his duty.
The main antagonist of The Lord of the Rings, Sauron actually has many names and titles. These include Mairon, Thu, Gorthaur the Cruel, Sauron the Sorcerer, Sauron the Great, and Sauron the Deceiver.
In The Lord of the Rings prequel, The Silmarillion, Sauron served the first Dark Lord, Morgoth, as his second-in-command. After the Valar defeated Morgoth, Sauron received the chance to atone for his past evils but didn’t out of pride. This led him to become the next Dark Lord, with Sauron tricking the remaining elves in Middle-earth to create the Rings of Power. The rings had the power to preserve the world against the decay that came with age and time.
However, Sauron secretly bound the rings the elves had made to his own One Ring. This allowed him to control those who had and used the other rings as extensions of himself. Sauron planned to use this as part of a plot to finish what his old master had started, and rule the world. This led to an alliance between men and elves which succeeded in temporarily defeating Sauron, and the loss of the One Ring. Sauron eventually returns after 3,000 years, with the story of The Lord of the Rings focused on the quest to destroy the One Ring.
Tom Riddle Jr.
The main antagonist of the Harry Potter franchise, Tom also goes by another name, that of Lord Voldemort. He created the alias to avoid having to use his real name, which he finds insulting as it reflects his background. Specifically, Tom’s mother used magic to seduce his father, only for his father to abandon them both after the magic wore off. This led Tom to develop a hatred for non-magical people, or Muggles, as they’re known in the franchise. This hatred extends to any witches or wizards with muggle blood in them, even to himself, hence his refusal to use his real name.
Tom also greatly feared death, which resulted from the early death of his mother. This led him to resort to the evilest kind of magic to try and become immortal. In fact, the final conflict of the franchise revolves around Harry and his friends destroying magical pieces that make Tom immortal.
The Wicked Witch of the West
The first antagonist of The Wizard of Oz franchise, she rules the Winkie Country in the Land of Oz. Ironically, while described as having an ugly appearance to reflect her evil nature, she lives in a beautiful castle. This later became changed in the novels’ various adaptations, with the witch’s castle becoming a sinister fortress.
The witch allies herself with the other Wicked Witches of the land to conquer Oz. However, her selfish nature becomes apparent when the Wicked Witch of the East gets killed. Instead of grieving her fallen ally, the Wicked Witch of the West plots to instead loot the Wicked Witch of the East’s silver shoes to increase her power. This leads her into a confrontation with Dorothy and her friends, who managed to recover the shoes after the Wicked Witch of the East’s death.
The Wizard of Oz
He also goes by the name of Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkle Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs. Unsurprisingly, he prefers to use his title instead of his name, given its great length. He also has other titles, such as Oz the Great and Terrible, and Oz the Great and Powerful. All his titles refer to his status as the most powerful sorcerer in the land, and thus the supreme ruler of Oz.
Ironically, it’s eventually revealed that like Dorothy, he originally came from Earth, where he worked as a stage magician. On his arrival in the Land of Oz, he used his tricks to make himself appear to have magical powers of his own. Despite this trickery, the Wizard of Oz earns great respect from his people. He eventually leaves Emerald City to go on new adventures. He also later starts learning real magic from Glinda, the actual most powerful magician in the land.
An Iranian prophet from the Second Millennium BC, Zoroaster founded the Zoroastrian religion. He also founded the magi, priests who served at the Zoroastrian fire temples. They also practiced astrology and other forms of magic to divine the future. This gave them a reputation as wise sages and masters of magic. In fact, the words “magic” and “magician” both trace their roots back to the Iranian word maγu- via the Latin magus.
Ironically, Zoroaster himself remains a mystery both to modern historians and even Zoroastrians themselves. However, his status as the founder of the magi has resulted in Zoroaster sharing his disciples’ reputation as mystic masters. In modern times, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche popularized his original Iranian name, Zarathustra. Nietzsche used Zarathustra as the protagonist of his work, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which describes how a man can surpass humanity to become a superman.