The Magician Archetype

The Magician within us is a clever, transforming archetype. But what does he transform?

He can transform confusion to clarity, ignorance to wisdom, risk and danger into safety, one state of consciousness into another, and success into failure — or failure into success.

He can think problems through to a solution, he can access an incredible depth of wisdom and creativity and intuition. He can, in short, be your greatest asset. Unfortunately he can also be your greatest hindrance.

There are obviously a few paradoxes here which we need to examine. But before we do, let’s look at the characteristics of the Magician in his mature form, in his fullest expression.

What Is The Magician Archetype?

The Magician In His Fullness

1 The Magician archetype is a thinker. He is creative, logical, and rational. He can solve problems – indeed, solving problems is the Magician’s forte. By looking at all aspects of a problem, by gathering the required information, by seeking out possible solutions, and by applying his own reasoning to the situation, he can produce answers and insights, strategies and plans that can resolve any difficulty.

2 And the Magician archetype is intuitive. This mysterious property of the human mind is entirely the realm of the Magician. How intuition works is pretty much a mystery, but it certainly relies on the unconscious aspects of the Magician archetype. When you find answers popping into your mind unexpectedly, or knowledge appearing from apparently nowhere, or when you have a profound sense of “knowing” that just feels certain, you’re probably in your Magician archetype, or at least experiencing his output.

3 The Magician archetype is also a master of altered states of consciousness. Throughout history Magicians have appeared in the guise of Shamans and witches, wizards, healers, wise women, sages, advisers to the Sovereign, counsellors, sorcerers and priests or priestesses.

These Magicians are adept at holding ceremony and accessing other worlds. (As described here.) They thrive on ritual and ceremony. Some of these are sanctified by institutions in society at large, such as the church, where priests and priestesses in their ornate garb hold sway over their congregations to this day. Other rituals make up the secret societies and processes of the Shaman, taking him- or herself or others on a journey to other worlds and other lands – that is to say, the lands that that lie in the inner world of the unconscious mind.

4 Perhaps most of all, the Magician archetype serves a protective function. We could call this part of the Magician archetype the Risk Manager or Safety Officer. It’s a part of the archetype that develops early in childhood when a child’s environment appears to be unsafe in some way.

The Safety Officer

The other-worldly face of the Magician?

In the face of big risks such as physical, emotional or sexual abuse, the Magician archetype’s strategies for dealing with these situations may be quite extreme – complete dissociation, for example. Yet that is only extreme from one perspective, a very human perspective.

From the point of view of the Magician, dissociating completely, even having an out of body experience, might be the most sensible possible strategy to avoid feeling the unbearable emotional pain associated with what is happening.

Not all children, happily, face this kind of risk in childhood, but all children face some degree of risk. One of the reasons that we, as humans, carry shadow within us is that we had to put certain parts of ourselves away, out of sight, during childhood.

It might be, for example, that a girl’s anger or a boy’s sadness (or of course the other way round) are not acceptable in the family environment. So they go into shadow. Almost all children want to maintain the acceptance of their family because their survival ultimately depends on it. And so they will quickly learn how to behave in a way which fits in with the family dynamic, a way that is acceptable.

Any parts of the child which aren’t welcome in the family will either be suppressed or distorted or put into shadow or only expressed when it’s safe to do so, such as in the company of loving, friendly and compassionate other people.

This of course is how the Shadow forms – we put away the parts of ourselves that are not acceptable to those around us in childhood. And it is our Magician archetype which controls these strategies. In the form of our Safety Officer, he or she will make decisions about how the child in which he lives can and cannot behave. This control ensures (or tries to) his or her emotional, psychic and even physical safety and family environment.

But although this aspect of the Magician archetype sounds like a great asset – and indeed it is, because many Risk Managers or Safety Officers literally save children’s lives – there is a problem.

These behavioural strategies are being worked out in a sophisticated way by the Magician within us, but at a young age, and therefore with a child’s mind and a child’s knowledge and understanding of the world.

So protective strategies like this can be quite childlike. A further difficulty is that although they may serve us well during childhood, as we grow older these strategies may become restricting. Once a Safety Officer puts a risk protection plan in place, it tends to stay there.

This is one of the reasons why you sometimes see adults behaving like children when they’re under stress. They may be reverting to the protective strategies that their Magician archetype came up with during childhood.

You see, although Safety Officers sometimes change their strategies spontaneously, most of them prefer to stick with what they know, and so they lead us into adulthood with a whole host of protective strategies that served us well as children. That may not be such a good plan when we are an adult.

When anybody becomes frustrated with their own repetitive behaviour it’s time to do some deep personal work to explore what’s in shadow in the unconscious mind.

You see, these protective strategies are generally not held in people’s awareness. That’s the nature of the shadow – it lives in the unconscious. And so, as you might expect, much of the Magician archetype’s activities are played out beyond the realm of conscious awareness. (Read more about the Magician here.)

Although these strategies can be incredibly helpful when we were children, they tend to stick around into adulthood, and that might not be so good for us. Magicians like to maintain an attachment to things that were useful in childhood, and they rarely change their strategies as we grow older.

In short, protective strategies that originated in childhood may need to be worked through with a competent facilitator who is able to hold the energy of the Magician and meet him on equal terms. Then, working together, the facilitator and the individual’s inner Magician may well be able to bring about behavioural change which leads to a more functional set of strategies suitable for adulthood.

Let’s suppose for example that a child learned it was not a good idea to be boisterous or loud or confident or to demand attention, or to express a desire to be seen and heard, or to ask for approval, or to try and show adults what he or she could do.

Let’s suppose that such behaviour was greeted with shaming responses such as “You’re too big for your boots”, “Nobody likes a show off”, “Pride goes before a fall”, “What a little madam”, “You’re just a silly little show off”, or, perhaps worse, “Why can’t you just shut up for one minute!”…

And of course many children experience much worse responses than this, as you yourself may know.

So in this example, a child’s natural desire to be seen and heard, to be approved of, and to gain recognition, produces humiliation and shame. The Magician archetype within the child, responding to this, will pretty quickly learn to keep the child quiet, to shut him up, prevent him speaking up or showing himself so as not to be seen or heard. He may even make the child somehow “invisible”.

Like I said above, these childhood strategies tend to stick around, so you can imagine the consequences for an adult carrying this behavioural pattern.

The Magician’s Paradoxical Nature

And here’s the paradox of the Magician – he  is more concerned with results in the short term than the longer term consequences of his actions. It’s not just in the strategies of the Safety Officer that we see this aspect of the Magician.

Magicians are thinkers and they (usually) like to solve problems. This might mean, for example, that working out out how to produce an atomic bomb is a very satisfying experience for a Magician. Of course it’s rather less satisfying for the people on the receiving end of the Magician’s work.

But to moralise and to judge the Magician for his or her failure to see and consider all aspects of such a situation is inappropriate.

That’s because the Magician is a problem solver and a thinker and a creator, and given a problem will most likely find a way to solve it.

It is the Sovereign archetype inside us all that needs to provide the moral considerations, or to place appropriate boundaries around the Magician’s activities.

And therein lies one of our greatest human difficulties. Generally the human race doesn’t operate in a way that is very Sovereign – at least, not in my judgement. What this means is that there are comparatively few Sovereigns around who are strong enough to have their internal Magician working under their direction as a counsellor and adviser.

Yet that is where Magicians are happiest, where they flourish. They don’t like taking responsibility for the whole kingdom, but they will do if there is no Sovereign around.

And when they do that, chaos tends to erupt. First, as I implied above, there is a lack of moral consideration, a lack of ability to see the bigger picture. There is often little motivation or even ability to keep in mind the principle of finding the best solution for all concerned.

I would say that in the people with whom I work, where there is either no Sovereign or a very weak Sovereign, it is usually the Magician who takes charge of the Kingdom. Unfortunately this usually means that the man concerned is living a pretty chaotic and out-of-control life.

For Magicians who are not boundaried by a King, or who are not strong enough, or clever enough, or intelligent enough to really run a kingdom well, tend to drop into a cycle of never-ending repetitive thinking in their attempt to solve the problems they faced with. Read a lot more about the Magician in an interview with Marianne Hill here.

The Emotional Tone Of This Archetype

Magicians can experience a lot of anxiety. You can probably see why – after all, he is a crisis manager who responds to problems, a transformer of situations when change is needed, and a protector when danger is in the air. And pretty much all of these situations involve a degree of fear or anxiety.