The Wizard card

Blurring the Between Magic and Philosophy: Legendary Wizards of the Ancient World

The word ‘wizard’ is derived from the Middle English word ‘wys’ (meaning wise) and the suffix ‘-ard’. Therefore, a wizard was basically a wise man, up until around the middle of the 16th century AD. Prior to this period, the distinction between magic and philosophy was blurred. It was only after the 1550s that the word ‘wizard’ gained its present meaning, i.e. one who has magical abilities. In this sense, the word ‘wizard’ may be used interchangeably with such words as ‘sorcerer’, ‘magician’, ‘warlock’, ‘sorceress’ (female) and ‘witch’ (female).

Wizards are common characters that can be found in many varieties of tales. Stories involving wizards come from different periods of time and from diverse parts of the world. Although a wizard may be distinguished by his magical powers, he is not exactly a one-dimensional ‘stock character’ that plays the same role in every tale he is featured in. In certain tales, for example, the wizard is the protagonist, in others the side-kick, and still in others, the anti-hero. In this article, several wizards will be looked at.

Ancient Egyptian Wizards

A set of tales regarding wizards can be found in an ancient Egyptian text known as the Westcar Papyrus. There are five known stories, though only the conclusion of the first one has survived. This text is thought to have been composed during the Middle Kingdom or Second Intermediate Period. The tales may be regarded as ‘stories within a story’, as the Westcar Papyrus is essentially a story of magical stories told at the court of Khufu.

Westcar Papyrus on display in the Ägyptisches Museum, Berlin.

Westcar Papyrus on display in the Ägyptisches Museum, Berlin. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The stories in the Westcar Papyrus deal with a number of different topics. In one tale, for instance, an unnamed scribe uses magic to make a wax crocodile for the purpose of catching the man whom his wife was having an affair with. In another tale, the chief scribe of Sneferu uses magic to part the waters of a lake so that a girl could retrieve the green jewel she dropped into it.

Detail of a relief showing Sneferu wearing the white robe of the Sed-festival, from his funerary temple of Dahshur and now on display at the Egyptian Museum.

Detail of a relief showing Sneferu wearing the white robe of the Sed-festival, from his funerary temple of Dahshur and now on display at the Egyptian Museum. (CC BY 2.0)

A third tale tells of Dedi, who is said to live during the time of Khufu, and, amongst other things, had the power to magically re-attach the heads of decapitated animals to their bodies.

The ‘Merlin of Japan’

Another wizard who served in a royal court was a man by the name of Abe no Seimei, often dubbed as the ‘Merlin of Japan’. Seimei was a historical figure who lived between the 10th and 11th centuries AD, and served as an onmyoji (a practitioner of onmyodo, a mixture of natural science and occultism).

Amongst other things, Seimei conducted exorcisms, warded off evil spirits, and prophesized the future. Additionally, numerous legends sprang up after his death, thus making Seimei larger than life. For example, the legends say that Seimei was half-human, as his mother was a kitsune (a fox spirit). Additionally, he is reputed to have been able to command weak oni (a type of Japanese ogre) even as a child.

Abe no Seimei as drawn by Kikuchi Yōsai.

Abe no Seimei as drawn by Kikuchi Yōsai. (Public Domain)

Malevolent Wizards

Not all wizards have a positive reputation like Seimei or the Egyptian ones in the Westcar Papyrus. This is especially so if the source of a wizard’s magical power is thought to have been derived from evil forces. One such example is a Christian saint by the name of Cyprian.

Saint Cyprian

Saint Cyprian (Public Domain)

According to the Golden Legend (a collection of hagiographies, i.e. the biography of a saint), St. Cyprian was originally a pagan wizard. In order to gain the love of a virgin called Justina (either for himself or a man named Acladius), he summoned demons to do his bidding. The demons, however, were not able to do anything to her when she made the sign of the cross. Realizing that the God of Christianity was greater than his demons, Cyprian decided to renounce his previous way of life, and converted to Christianity.

Saint Cyprian and the demon, 14th-century manuscript of the Golden Legend.

Saint Cyprian and the demon, 14th-century manuscript of the Golden Legend. (Public Domain)

Wizards can also be found in the famous Thousand and One Nights. Like St. Cyprian prior to his conversion, some of these wizards are portrayed negatively.

The Martyrdom of Cyprian and Justina

The Martyrdom of Cyprian and Justina (Public Domain)

Amongst the more famous wizards in this story is the one found in the story of Aladdin. In this well-known story, it is an African wizard who plays the role of the villain, and tricks Aladdin into finding a magic lamp for him.

What is less known perhaps is that this wizard was killed by Aladdin, and that his brother (also a wizard) wanted to avenge his death. Interestingly, not much is said about the magical prowess of these two wizards, except perhaps, that the second wizard found out about his brother’s death through necromancy.

The Sorcerer traps Aladdin in the magic cave.

The Sorcerer traps Aladdin in the magic cave. (Public Domain)

Featured image: The Wizard card. Photo source: (OffbeatWorlds /CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

By Ḏḥwty


Anon., The One Thousand and One Nights [Online]
[1864. The Thousand and One Nights, or, The Arabian Nights' Entertainments.]
Available at:

de Voragine, J., The Golden Legend [Online]
[Caxton, W. (trans.), 1483. de Voragine’s The Golden Legend.]
Available at:

Harper, D., 2016. wizard (n.). [Online]
Available at:

Hugo, 2011. The Merlin of Japan: Abe no Seimei!. [Online]
Available at:

Mackenzie, D., 1907. The Tales from the Westcar Papyrus. [Online]
Available at:


No mention of Socrates, Plato or Aristotle, or of the ancient Chinese philosophers who explicitly rejected such stuff. The suggestion that the the distinction between philosophy and magic was blurred until the the middle of the 16th century is a self-serving West European myth.

what you are talking about as Wizards of the Ancient World is the Egyptian Mysteries.

One Book that reflects on the Ages of the Mysteries is "The Secret Teachings of All Ages"

Don't worry these secrets are still around hidden, not as hidden as the Dark Ages but still hidden.

The Occult Shows the Truth.

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

Rice goddesses are found across cultures
For centuries, rice has been a staple diet and plays an important role in Asian culture. Although rice farmers have found their lives becoming more difficult due to climate change, Bloomberg states in 2016 that 16 million people still farm rice in Thailand alone. Commemorating the beginning of the rice growing season with an annual Royal Plowing Ceremony

Human Origins

Map of sites and postulated migratory pathways associated with modern humans dispersing across Asia during the Late Pleistocene.
Most people are now familiar with the traditional "Out of Africa" model: modern humans evolved in Africa and then dispersed across Asia and reached Australia in a single wave about 60,000 years ago. However, technological advances in DNA analysis and other fossil identification techniques, as well as an emphasis on multidisciplinary research

Ancient Technology

Detail of a star chart dating to the Middle Kingdom.
The calendar is one of mankind’s most important inventions. Calendars allowed societies to organize time for religious, social, economic, and administrative purposes. The calendar, or rather, two sets of calendars, were invented by the ancient Egyptians. One of these was a lunar calendar, which was used mainly for the organization of religious festivals.

Ancient Places

Smuts house
The farmstead of General Jan Smuts on the outskirts of Pretoria, is reputed to be one of the most haunted private homes in the country, according to Mr Mark Rose-Christie, raconteur and social scientist, who regularly takes brave visitors on a tour of haunted sites on his mystery ghost bus.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article