Understanding the Magician Archetype

Written by on January 27, 2016 in On Archetypes

The Shape of Things To Come by Michael Bilotta - Downloaded from 500pxIntroduction

The Magician is an archetype associated with mystery, alchemy and transformation. In the shadow it can be used to deceive, distract and manipulate by altering perceptions of reality. The Magician has an innate relationship with potentiality and possibility. The Magician is a thinker, a weaver, a creator of sacred space, a visionary and an intuitive. The Magician is a powerful and dynamic archetype with many variants. Those with this archetype usually have an interest in, or specialize in quantum physics, technology, psychotherapy, mythology, mysticism, astrology and other esoteric fields. The Magician is associated with the intellect and can easily bridge the inner world of mind and spirit to the outer world of creation and physical manifestation. The Magician usually has charisma and is well-liked and admired by others. The outer expression of the Magician can be seen in the constant learner, the drive to gain knowledge of the outside world and understanding through books, teachers and other formal methods of education. The inner expression of the Magician can be seen in the intuition. The Magician learns from the inner experience of intuiting and then trusting that inner information through action.

The Stage Magician

The stage magician is a way to look at this archetype and see it in action. The stage magician uses illusion to create an atmosphere and can be used to distract or give others a false impression. Magician shows are dedicated to creating an otherworldly atmosphere where anything is possible. This allows the audience to suspend reality and open their minds to possibilities. Think David Copperfield. But in this day of total transparency and exposure otherworldly isn’t impressive. Criss Angel is a good example of an illusionist who does not rely on atmosphere. That is one reason he is so amazing as an entertainer. He doesn’t manipulate what the audience sees but what the audience does not see. He also doesn’t claim to be anything other than an illusionist and even uses his skills to uncover the fakes and frauds who are claiming to be more than they are.

The Fool and The Magician

The Fool archetype and the Magician archetype are two opposing forces in the shadow and absolutely complimentary in their enlightened states. The Fool can expose the Shadow Magician revealing the Magician’s techniques for illusion. The Shadow Fool does this to humiliate and discredit the Magician. The Magician on the other hand, is not duped by the Fool’s pretense at innocence and humorous tactics. The Shadow Magician seeks to undermine and outwit the Fool. Penn and Teller, the magician duo, use the power of this relationship between the Fool and the Magician. Penn is the Magician, more serious and intellectual and Teller is the Fool, the silent sidekick that adds the element of humor using mime-like behavior. Their show sometimes exposes how certain magic tricks are done, using the exposition to their advantage by creating credibility and respecting audience intelligence.  Another example of the Fool and Magician combination is the comedy act The Smothers Brothers, with Tom as the wise Fool and Dick as the skilled Magician. The Shadow Magician will be wary and uncomfortable with the Fool archetype but in the light, the Fool will serve as a teacher and supporter.

The Many Masks/Hats of the Magician

The archetype of the Magician has a natural ability to wear many hats. Because the Magician knows that they can tap into skills and abilities beyond what is tried and true in the physical world, they are able to take risks and trust in the power that is available to all of us through intuition and the collective subconscious. For example, someone who  has this archetype may show up at the scene of an accident and simply take charge. Others will instantly look to them for guidance and support and then find out later that person was simply a bystander. The Magician is able to wear the hat of confident decision-maker without having any previous experience. With just a little knowledge they can appear to be a professional at nearly any skill. This can be very useful but only if the Magician does not keep this information a secret. Transparency is vital for the Magician to maintain integrity and act in its enlightened state. The Magician is the perfect example of the catch phrase”Fake it til you Make it.” But just to clarify things, the Magician is not actually faking it, they can of course be total frauds  (mask) but the real talent is their natural trust of their intuition. Their natural curiosity allows them to tap into the great wellspring of human collective knowledge and skill through intuition. When the Magician is in the shadow this skill is a mask, designed to deceive or elude others. When the Magician is acting in the light this skill is a hat revealing both the hat and the wearer.

The Shadow Magician

All archetypes are patterns of behavior that define the way we perceive and exercise power. The Shadow Magician uses their power to create illusions, personae and false realities as a way of maintaining control of their own lives. Secrecy is part of this archetype and will show up in the shadow as one who keeps crucial information from others to prevent them from becoming self-empowered. Because they typically have an astute understanding of how things work, cause and effect, human behavioral responses etc. they are good at manipulating others into seeing only what the Shadow Magician wants them to see. They can be secretive, especially about who they are deep down, their weaknesses and vulnerabilities and anything they feel may threaten their identities. The passive side of the Shadow Magician is to create a persona of innocence, a kind of “who, me?” pretense. This passive quality is used to make others believe that the Shadow Magician is not responsible for their actions, they were simply unaware. It is much more subtle than the archetype of the Blonde, (which is related to the Fool) because the Blonde uses youthful inexperience and a lack of knowledge to play the innocent. The passive Shadow Magician keeps the persona of intelligence and skill (because they want to appear smart) without taking responsibility for their behavior. They want status without responsibility.

Illusion vs. Reality

The Shadow Magician understands the power of illusion. He or she creates illusions that serve their own purposes. Here is one example of Shadow Magician behavior. Think of the typical used car salesman that can get you so excited about a good deal or the car the he is trying to sell you that you fall under the spell of the illusion. It is only later when you go home with the purchase you didn’t really want that you realize you were duped. The car salesman may use any of your visible emotions to create an illusion  that will make you feel better. The salesman may also encourage you to open up and share your problems or concerns by being a charismatic listener and then he will use this information to create solutions to your problem. This false interest causes the potential buyer to invest emotionally and sooner or later, financially. The Shadow Magician is a quick study of human behavior and human needs and will use this knowledge to manipulate others to his or her advantage. The Shadow Magician is adept at getting others to do or say things that they want.The Magician is sensitive and aware of the power of ambiance and the subtleties of atmosphere and seeks to create environments the can support the illusion he or she needs to create. he Shadow Magician creates illusion after illusion until reality is a undetectable. The Shadow Magician is tricked into believing their own illusions.

The Manipulator

The Shadow Magician is a master manipulator always seeking ways to control their experience, their sense of self and how others perceive them through manipulation and misdirection. The Shadow Magician takes pleasure in manipulating others especially for the pure fun of watching them fall for it. Sometimes this manipulation moves into more dangerous and ugly expressions as the Shadow Magician makes others feel small so that they can maintain their illusion of greatness, intelligence, their skill or whatever the Shadow Magician’s strength may be. For example the Shadow Magician can put others down while creating the illusion that they are building them up. Their manipulative strategics can be exhausting as they try to manage their whole environment by manipulation but because they love to feel more important and better than others they will do whatever it takes to maintain this feeling. They will pretend to have special knowledge that others don’t have and if they do have special knowledge and share it, they will withhold part of the information so that they can maintain the feeling of having something others do not. Sometimes the Shadow Magician will use this special knowledge as a weapon against others when their identity or self-importance is threatened.

The Power of Secrets

The Shadow Magician can be secretive and tends to keep most of their private life inaccessible or mysterious to others. The Shadow Magician lives in gray world, where morality and immorality, dark and light get mixed together. They are classic evaders. Their deception can get them into sticky situations because the Shadow Magician does NOT like to take a stand. Maybe is a shadow magician word, they like to keep things off balance and uncertain. They prefer others to wonder about who they really are, rather than reveal what is deep inside. Appearances are very important to the Shadow Magician as it allows them to create an image that will protect them from being seen. The Shadow Magician easily falls into arrogance and self importance and constantly needs others to reinforce this belief. But the Shadow Magician also suffers a profound loneliness because there is usually only room for one in their secret world.

The Know it All

The Shadow Magician is a know-it-all. (The Fool on the other hand is a know-nothing, the same power used in the opposite.) The Shadow Magician will go to great (and often deceptive) lengths to avoid appearing stupid, uneducated or foolish. They have already read everything, heard everything, seen everything and are loathe to admit any weakness in the intellect. They feel a compulsion to “one up” others and keep their position of mystery and hidden knowledge intact. The need to know everything stems from their lack of self-worth and their abject fear of vulnerability. Their knowledge, whether real or pretend, protects them from any feelings of vulnerability. But according to the author, Brene Brown vulnerability is the cornerstone of self confidence and the source of our connections with others. The Shadow Magician’s fear of vulnerability exposes their lack of confidence and complete disconnect from others. Being the know-it-all comes at a high price as the Shadow Magician drives everyone away to protect their position and mystery. The old phrase, it’s lonely at the top is a fitting warning for the Shadow Magician.

The Split Self

One of the most profound side effects of the Shadow Magician is the splitting of the self. There are always multiple personae to manage and this can cause mental strain and even nervous breakdown and in extreme cases can facilitate mental illnesses. Those who have this archetype simply struggle to maintain a healthy and clear sense of self. They like the highs of being special, (skilled, talented or knowledgeable) but they suffer deep lows when they confront their loneliness and disconnect. The two (or more) selves are in constant conflict and the authentic self is often trampled underfoot, deceiving even those closest to them. But the greatest deception of all is the one the Shadow Magician uses against him or herself and the consequence is the loss of the basic awareness of the true Self.

The Enlightened Magician

The Enlightened Magician instinctively understands the laws of the universe and can alter perceptions of reality for the benefit of others. The Enlightened Magician is a master of win-win creative solutions and can hold the big picture while still examining the minutiae. They have a natural gift for specialized knowledge and are often interested in technology because to the Enlightened Magician technology can be a powerful vehicle for creating magic. They may also show interest in metaphysics, shamanism or other esoteric fields. The idea of dimensions and invisible worlds is totally natural to the Enlightened Magician. But the real gift of the Enlightened Magician is their ability to monitor their own egos and to trust in the wisdom of life itself. They choose to act consciously, knowing what they are doing and why, acknowledging their motivations and understanding their own intentions. The Enlightened Magician takes action, doing what needs to be done, realizing their potential by making what’s possible, become real. The Enlightened Magician will practice what they preach holding themselves accountable for their actions. When the Magician carries out a plan it often produces magical results. The Enlightened Magician makes a strong impact on those they meet.  They have a vision of what is possible and they can bring impossibility and the possible into healthy relationship.

Initiation and Sacred Space

The Enlightened Magician has the natural ability to create sacred spaces for the purpose of change and transformation.The Enlightened Magician will have experienced some kind of initiation, often painful or humiliating, that opens the doors to their own transformation from shadow to light. They can then, become vehicles of initiation for others seeking transformation and even healing. The Enlightened Magician is an excellent listener and can sense what lies beneath the surface of others words, reaching deep down into the heart of a persons intentions and feelings, drawing them forward, to be seen. They are adept at making others feel at ease and they recognize and can name the value in each and every person. They can see the silver lining on every cloud because they know the power we all carry within us to create that silver lining. In this sacred space, NOTHING is impossible to the Enlightened Magician. The Enlightened Magician  becomes a catalyst for others, willing and able to be a vessel, channeling whatever is necessary, for the benefit of others.

The Healthy Skeptic

The Enlightened Magician is a healthy skeptic, using their natural skills and ability to see through the masks. They use skepticism to get at the deeper root of things, to see intentions of others and spot ulterior motives in those seeking to control or manipulate. The Enlightened Magician is not easily fooled or tricked because they have learned the difference between skepticism and cynicism. The cynic doesn’t trust anyone or anything always seeking some evidence or proof before they will allow themselves any room for belief. The skeptic on the other hand, is a wise questioner, seeking the truth that is often hidden before accepting something. The skeptic trusts their own intuition about what they see around them. The Enlightened Magician is a healthy skeptic and can reveal others who are frauds. They can point out false advertising and help others know when they are being manipulated and used. Their skepticism comes from a deep curiosity about the origins of things rather than pessimism or fear of being manipulated.


The Enlightened Magician exposes the underside of things. They are especially careful to expose their own egos, motivations and the source of their abilities. Transparency is vital to keeping the Magician in its enlightened state. Humor can be a powerful tool for the Enlightened Magician and learning to laugh at themselves makes the transparency comfortable. Learning to be completely open and visible is the journey of the Magician, to allow others to see the deepest part of them, to intentionally expose this to others. The Enlightened Magician is a skilled diplomat and is able to navigate extremely sensitive or explosive situations, deftly. They can carefully reveal others needs and concerns before things get out of hand because the Enlightened Magician can see what lies beneath and addresses the problem at the source. They are excellent responders rather than reactors. If you have a difficult conversation that needs to take place, its always good to have an Enlightened Magician with you. They make excellent hostage negotiators, political diplomats, therapists and marriage counselors.

Self-Trust and the Power of Play

The Enlightened Magician naturally trusts their own intuition and their ability to handle life as it is, rather than trying to manipulate in an effort to avoid pain and fear. The Enlightened Magician has developed the self-trust deeply enough that they learn the power of play. Play is an act of trust and vulnerability. The Enlightened Magician does not fear being discovered, looking silly or being vulnerable so they are able to enter the intuitive world of play. The Piano Guys, a group of instrumental musicians, are an example of Magicians who use the power of play and improvisation in hugely creative ways. To watch them play, both their instruments and in an emotionally open state is almost a form of play in itself, inspiring others to experience more deeply each moment. They bend rules rather than defy them, creating music that is both familiar and unique. The Enlightened Magician is fun to be around and their creativity is contagious. Through the power of play the Enlightened Magician can work the greatest magic of all, to bring simple joy to themselves and others by reconnecting to the wonder, creativity and mystery of life.

Improvisation and Vulnerability

The Enlightened Magician’s powerful intellect is always guided by their heart. Their motivations are heart-centered rather than ego centered. They know that vulnerability is the doorway to a more mature and developed intuition. The more they embrace their own vulnerabilities the more their other skills and talents shine. To transform the Shadow Magician into the Enlightened Magician requires a high degree of vulnerability because the Shadow Magician rejects anything that resembles vulnerability and views it as a weakness. So vulnerability is a key aspect of this transformation. But once this vulnerability is recognized as a strength and a support for the Enlightened Magician, a whole new world is opened up, especially creatively. Improvisation is an example of how vulnerability can produce amazing, creative art in all its forms. Consider the work of pianist Keith Jarrett. Jarrett is a professional composer and improvisational jazz pianist. He has taken improvisation to the highest level, performing solo piano pieces entirely by “the seat of his pants.” His work is emotional, spiritual and totally off the cuff. He is a Magician, trusting in his innate access to the creativity within and the magic of improv. In speaking of creating music and  performance Jarrett says: “I go in emptier than you can get because, I actually have to wipe myself clean of any thoughts of music when I walk out there. If it doesn’t start from silence and then just go into sound, the rest of the piece suffers.” Jarrett is the perfect example of the Magician. He understands the importance of transparency, to let the audience know that he is improvising on the spot as well as not needing to capture everything but that by allowing some things to disappear other things can become real. He also understand how important vulnerability is to performance and creativity. Jarrett confessed that he actually played better when he felt emotionally vulnerable or sick. The walls of the mind were weakened even more forcing him deeper into self trust and his heart. I highly suggest reading some interviews with Jarrett about his process and why he does improvisation to understand the Magician archetype. A fascinating but lengthy interview with Jarrett conducted by the author David Shenk. The magic Jarrett produces by entering a concert completely unprepared is the power of his performance. It is the very thing that draws his fans and makes him a compelling and unusual musician.

Variants of the Magician

The Magician is a very old archetype and as such many different expressions have developed over the centuries. While there are too many variations of the Magician archetype to list, below you will find some of the more common types. You may strongly relate to just one or two of these sub-types or you may see yourself in all of them. Either way, they all follow the basic pattern of the Magician archetype.


The Priest/Priestess archetype has special knowledge connected to religious rites or spiritual life. This type may use religion or a connection to the divine source as a mask for ulterior motives. The shadow side of the Priest/Priestess can be seen in some of the medieval priests that used the specialized education they were given to keep the peasants and other uneducated masses under control through manipulation, pretending to have power over their spiritual lives, such as promising salvation or forgiveness of sins. An example of the enlightened Priest/Priestess is the monks and nuns that created sacred spaces where people could come to pray and reconnect to the divine power. They were also advisers to kings and rulers. The ancient Egyptian Pharaohs’ priests were also referred to as sorcerers or magicians. Religion of old was also seen as a kind of magic and anyone who had access to the rites was considered to have access to the invisible world.

The Improviser

The Improviser is a clever survivalist able to make anything work out of nearly nothing at all. The TV character MacGyver is an example of this type of Magician. More practical than some of the subtypes the Improviser is willing to take risks knowing that all the ingredients for success exist at a base level. The Improviser, to a greater degree than some of the other sub types lives off the cuff. This ability to improvise will express itself in whatever creative talent the person has, whether it is art, cooking, running a business or any other endeavor. The Improviser can handle a crisis and make it look easy. But they also struggle to let others see them in their challenges or admit to failures. This type can make failures look like successes and walking the line between being fake and improvising can be really difficult.

The Exorcist

The Exorcist has the ability to draw out and confront their own and others darker sides and allow the shadow to be transformed into the light. While the Exorcist has associations with casting out devils and evil spirits that is only the symbolic aspect. The Exorcist can maintain their personal light in the face of tremendous evil and darkness. Viktor Frankel is an example of the enlightened Exorcist. He survived the concentration camps and returned to his work as a therapist and wrote one of the most well known books on human behavior called Man’s Search for Meaning. He discovered the light within the darkest evils human beings are capable of and went on to help  thousands of other people find their own light in dark situations. This archetype may find themselves drawn to psychiatry, therapy, social work and other careers that require them to deal with highly negative and ugly situations. They may also be drawn to police and detective work as they hunt out the dark in society. The Shadow Exorcist is unwilling to look at the dark impulses in themselves and can use their talent to help hide evil behind a facade of good.  The light side of the Exorcist sees through the dark and can help bring the light forward by expelling the darkness with their own light.

The Shaman

In many Native American cultures and other tribal cultures the shaman appears as an important part of the community. As an archetypal pattern they perform a kind of magic for those seeking initiation or spiritual enlightenment. The Shaman archetype is drawn to the invisible world of energy and spirit. This type will find themselves interested in healing, transformation, astral travel, animal spirits, past lives and many of the other “out of this world” modalities. Like all Magician types finding integrity and maintaining transparency is difficult. In the light, the archetype uses ritual to create a sacred space or portal for others to access the invisible world of healing, visions and personal enlightenment. The shaman is a conduit between worlds. In the shadow, the Shaman can use his skills to threaten and exert control over the minds of others.

The Shape-shifter

The concept of the Shape-shifter is an old one. The ability to take on another skin, to completely transmute or take on another form is the unique quality of the Shape-shifter. The Shape-shifter does not allow any situations to become static or ideas to be stated as absolute. They question what appears real and challenge others to see that nothing is what it seems. The Shape-shifter knows that life is formless and all forms are but expressions of formlessness. The Shape-shifter sees all dimensions as equally real. The dream world, the intuition and other magical realms as part of the formless. The Shape-shifter uses this tool to become whatever is necessary for the moment. The shadow Shape-shifter loses their authentic self in an attempt to control their life or how others view them. The Shape-shifter can be anything to anyone. The motive behind shape-shifting is to create the illusion of possibility. The shadow Shape-shifter uses this illusion to deceive, manipulate and exploit the vulnerability and trust of others by hiding their intentions and loyalties.

The Visionary

Visionaries can see what might be possible rather than what is. They can look into the future with their strong intuition and can see the possibilities as more real than the average person. Their talent is often used to bring forth creative endeavors that benefit societies and cultures. The always have the big picture in mind seeing what is just beyond the horizon. The light side of the Visionary is highly creative and optimistic seeing the future as full of hope rather than doom. This type is similar to the inventor but is less pragmatic and more of a dreamer. They see what will be important to the world just a bit before others. Their magic lies in their ability to envision the possibilities and help bring them into reality. Examples of Visionaries include Steve Jobs, Marie Curie, Walt Disney and others.

The Alchemist

Transformation is a deep calling to the Alchemist archetype. Artists that transform trash into beautiful sculptures are examples of the Alchemist. There is a strong need to create through transformation. Self transformation though is the real purpose the Alchemist feels called to perform. This type has an almost magical ability to turn dark into light, despair into hope and to elevate even the basest concepts into transcendence. The shadow will use this skill to turn a profit, to maintain superiority and in its darkest form, to turn good intentions into evil acts. They can also transform themselves into whatever persona bests suits their needs. The Alchemist is most interested in how creativity and ideas can be brought into form. They can use this natural ability to create businesses, charities and other entities that can exist independent of their creator.

The Inventor

The Inventor is one of the more practical variants of the Magician applying their knowledge and magic to the physical world through inventions. The Inventor must have a vision of what is possible and then believe in that vision strongly enough to carry it through, magically bringing it in to form. The Inventor sees that things can be better, more efficient and more useful. They see possibilities in the mundane and are always looking for ways to improve things. They can be secretive about their inventions and may fear others will take the credit for their creation. Highly curious and always willing to take action, many of todays visionaries and inventors are doing so through computers and technology. Examples are Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison and others.


The Magician is an archetype that is hard to pin down. But through transparency, honesty and self awareness the Magician can be a powerful force for change and transformation. By transforming the self, the Magician can then bring surprise and even miracles to the rest of the world.

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  1. One of the best articles I’ve read on the Magician Archetype! Thank you. Look forward to reading the others :-).

  2. Lynne says:

    This article has been a great help when I wrote the archetype for my blog. Thank you!
    heart Lynne

  3. Navid says:

    This is informative and descriptive. Do you plan to write on other archetypes ?

  4. Susanna says:

    I am working on other archetypes. My next article will be about the Lover Archetype. Thanks for your interest.

  5. Bert Iedema says:

    For the first time ever I really found the key to myself. Thank you!

  6. Elizabeth Watson says:

    I so identified with “me” through this incredible description of the Magician. It was wonderful and I thank-you. Good to feel known somehow!

  7. Susanna says:

    Thank you Elizabeth! I so appreciate your comments.

  8. Trish says:

    So enlightening and gave clarity of the Shadow Magician I have been trying to live with for the past five years. Can’t wait to read about the Lover archetype.

  9. Susanna says:

    Thanks for the comment Trish!

  10. Jude Temple says:

    Wow! Absolutely fascinating and bursting with information. You’ve left me with lots to contemplate. Thank you!

  11. Susanna says:

    Thank you Jude, so much, for your comments!

  12. Jill says:

    Wow. I only read the first of the twelve. Awesome insight into the many facets of the Magician.

  13. Susanna says:

    Thanks Jill!

  14. Tiffany says:

    Impressive! Thanks so much! Great insight and I use the links to help others understand archetypes. Thank you!

  15. Susanna says:

    Thanks for commenting!

  16. Charlie says:

    All great leaders have always had a Merlin. I’ve done a million different things in my short life, nothing is ever enough, I move from state to state. I must know everything, no achilles heel can be revealed even though they are there.

    Great article.

  17. Susanna says:

    Thanks Charlie!

  18. Conor Santry says:

    Excellent articles!! I was hoping to see one on The King Archetype. Would really love to read that….

  19. Susanna says:

    Thank you! I will keep writing about archetypes and eventually I will write about the King archetype.

  20. mega mills says:

    I must say…I am so happy to have found your site. This article clarifies why I am so seduced by archtype. And why I am repelled. They are great manipulators and they get my attention.. But then they slowly create diversions, smoke and mirrors. Creating tension and a sense of urgency. However, they have to create distance to keep illusions. I usually end up feeling used, confused and mislead in my dealings with them. They are OK with it because they saw me coming and I was being seduced from the gate. I’m a healer BTW.

  21. Jane says:

    Hi Susanna, I love your blog on archetypes especially the Wounded child Wow. I am looking for information on the Mother and Father archetypes. Specifically the Devouring Mother and Weak Father (?) archetypes. Any recommendations?

  22. Susanna says:

    Thanks Jane! I too have searched for good articles written about the Mother and Father archetypes but have had no success. I plan to research and write about them. Thanks for commenting though.