If you write much fantasy, you know the feeling of trying to come up with terms for your magicians, mages or witches. I put together this resource ages ago for my personal reference. I was just sick of using mage. Sometimes it doesn’t fit the feel you’re going for, and sometimes you just want to use a synonym to spice things up.
I thought it might be useful so everyone else can, at a glance, see some of the different archaic, foreign or just easily forgotten words for mage.
When developing your magic system, hopefully these synonyms will help you refresh your next writing project. One synonym at a time, it might stop you calling everyone a mage!
It is important to note that many of these words are also actively used by people today in practicing their spiritual beliefs, and you should do research before portraying their beliefs in fiction.
A to L of Synonyms for Mage
- Alchemist – From Arabic al-kīmiyā, itself from a Greek name for Egypt. Originally a scientific and philosophical view, early alchemists were scientists and philosophers who sought to learn about the makeup of the world. It evolved into attempts to transmute metal in the early middle ages. It developed into a mystical system later on, and has been popularised by recent fantasy literature to mean one who creates potions.
- Arcanist – A practitioner of magic, often a craftsman of magical objects. Originally meant someone who knew a secret of a manufacturing process.
- Beldame/Beldam – A Middle English word, originally meaning ‘grandmother’ but also sometimes also for a hag or magical old woman. Elder Scrolls use the word to mean a coven leader.
- Bokor – A voodoo witch for hire who deals with both good and bad spirits. Often summoners of zombies.
- Brujo/Bruja – A Spanish language word for a shaman or magic user. Brujería refers to the path of magic and the spiritualist beliefs of a brujo (masculine) or bruja (feminine).
- Bruixa – A Catalan word for witches, usually feminine. Plural bruixes. Bruixeria is the word for the magic of a bruixa.
- Carline / Carlin – A Lowlands Scots word meaning old woman, witch. Related to the Gaelic Cailleach, a divine hag in folklore. Carlin stone is the name of several prehistoric standing stones believed to have potentially magical significance.
- Conjurer – Either a synonym of Summoner, or an entertainer or minor prestidigitator. Sometimes just any mage (i.e: one who conjures magic).
- Druid – A priest of the pre-Roman celtic religion. Druids filled the role of a priest, lawmaker, historian and medicine man in Celtic culture. Modern conceptions are based on Neo-Druidic movement in the Victorian age, and the term was later adopted by many RPGs as a kind of nature mage.
- Elementalist – A spellcaster who specialises in or is limited to manipulating the elements (classical or otherwise). Often a subclass of mage in RPGs.
- Enchantress/Enchanter – Cognate but not always used the same. An Enchanter may be the male form of Enchantress, or someone (gender neutral) who creates enchanted objects. An Enchantress is often a fairy tail witch.
- Galdra – Icelandic, Person who does magic
- Hexer/Hexe – German, Male and female witch respectively.
- Incantor – One who incants (to chant magical or ritual words); shares the same root as enchanter, Latin incantāre – to consecrate with spells.
- Inyanga – From Zulu, a type of Sangoma who uses concoctions of plants and animal parts to heal.
- Lybbestre – Anglo-Saxon, Female magic user
- Lyblæca – Anglo-Saxon, Wizard or Sorcerer, root lybb meaning drug
M to Z of Synonyms for Mage
- Mage/Magi – From Latin Magus, originally a term for a priest of Zoroastrianism. A wise man or scholar. Maga is the proper feminine form, almost never used in English. An archaic form is Magian.
- Magician (Magitian) – A general magic practitioner, or an entertainer. Archaic form Magitian.
- Mystic – One who practices the mystic, the occult or ancient religions. From French Mistique.
- Necromancer – The idea of Necromancer popularised by recent fantasy is of someone who raises zombies, however the term originally meant a diviner who would speak to the spirits of the dead to learn about the past or future. From necromantia, Latin “divination from an exhumed corpse”, from Greek Nekros (dead) + manteia (oracle).
- Prestidigitator – A magician or entertaining who uses sleight-of-hand and minor tricks.
- Runesmith – One who writes in or deciphers runes, sometimes magical.
- Scinlæce – Anglo-Saxon, Female mage.
- Shaman – A traditional wiseman or elder who can influence spirits, and often performs magic in a trance. Possibly from the Evenki language.
- Sorcerer/Sorceress – From latin Sors, lot or fate. Originally a diviner. Now often a learned or scholarly magician. May be used as a more powerful or respected version of Wizard in some media.
- Summoner – A magic practitioner who specialises in summoning of spirits or familiar.
- Tofra – Icelandic, One who beguiles or bewitches.
- Vølve/Völva – A female ritual practitioner from pre-Christian Scandinavia who practiced a form of magic and divination known as Sejd.
- Warlock – Oathbreaker, from Scots language; usage to mean an evil magic user/mage. From roughly the 20th century, Warlock was adopted and popularised by romanticism literature.
- Witchdoctor – Pre-19th century England, originally a person who healed damage done by witchcraft. Applied since 19th century to traditional healers of African cultures.
- Witch – From Old English Wicce and Wicca (male and female) meaning an individual who does magic by the power of spirits. Original general neutral plural form Wiccan. Middle English Wicche was gender neutral. T added in 16th century. Came to mean specifically a female magic user during 18th/19th century
- Wizard – From Middle English ‘wys’, or wise. Philosopher or Sage. Now often used to mean a scholarly magician, similar to a sorcerer.
Prophets, Oracles and Diviner
- Astrologer – From Greek to mean study of the stars. Divination through the positions of stars and planets.
- Augur – Roman priest who foresaw the future by studying the patterns of bird migrations.
- Chiromancer – From greek for Hand + Divination. Synonym for a palmist.
- Clairvoyant – A person gifted with the ability to see the future or ghosts. From French for ‘quickness of understanding’.
- Crystal-gazer – A fortune teller who uses a crystal ball.
- Diviner – One who tells the future or discovers something, and practices divination. Archaic forms devynour and divinour. Used in Water Diviner.
- Fortuneteller – One who sees into the future, usually with a connotation of fairground magic, and methods such as tarot, astrology, and crystal balls.
- Galdre – Anglo-Saxon, Used to translate Latin necromantia. See Galdra.
- Gealdricge – Anglo-Saxon, User of magic through ‘incantations’
- Haruspex/Aruspex – A Roman prophet who studied the entrails of animals to foresee the future in a practice called Haruspicy
- Oracle – From Latin orare, ‘to speak’. An ancient prophet, often Greek.
- Palmist – A prophet who foresees the future through palm reading, a practice called Chiromancy.
- Prophet – A religious fortune teller. From ancient greek to mean ‘speak’. Often used in reference to Christianity.
- Pythia/Pythian – The title of the Oracle of Delphi. Later term for the Sibyl of Delphi. From the original name of Delphi, Pytho.
- Seer – From ‘see’, one who sees. Usually some form of prophet.
- Sibyl – Ancient oracles of Greece and the mediterranean, who gave divine prophecies. Famous Sibyl’s include the Pythia of Delphi, and the Libyan Sibyl.
- Soothsayer – From sooth + say, and related to sothseggere. ‘One who speaks the truth’.
Divine Mages and Clerics
- Cleric – A clergyman, later popularised by Dungeons and Dragons to mean a divine magician.
- Exorcist – From Greek exorkismos, “administration of an oath”; 15th century word for one who drives out spirits
- Paladin – A religious warrior, term derived from the 12 greatest knights of Charlemagne. Usually possess religious magic since Dungeons and Dragons.
- Sangoma – Zulu, A traditional healer, especially one who uses divination to heal.
- Thaumaturgist – From Greek Thauma (marvel) and ergon (work). Person who works miracles, often used in middle ages to refer to a saint; sometimes used to mean a magician.
- Theurgist – Theurgy is the practice of rituals performed to invoking the protection or evoking the presence of gods. A theurgist is a performer of these rituals.
- Berserker – The english word is derived from Old Norse words ber and serkr meaning a “bear-shirt”. They are bear warriors of the Viking age and believed to transform into a werebear.
- Skinfylking – Boar warriors of the Viking age believed to transform into a wereboar.
- Úlfédnar – Wolf warriors of the Viking age believed to transform into a werewolf.
- Bogatyr/vityaz – Slavic or Russian heroic warriors who sometimes used magic, and often went on great quests in myth.
Related suffixes and prefixes
- Arch- From arkhi, Greek for ‘chief’. Applied to various noble and magical titles (Archbishop, Archpriest, Archmage, Archduke) to signify greater importance.
- Hedge- Usually means an inferior or amateur practitioner. For example hedge-witch, hedge-priest, hedge-mage and hedge-rider.
- -Mancer – Pyromancer, Technomancer, Cryomancer, etc. A mage who uses elemental powers. From manteia, “divination”. Now often applied to any elemental word to indicate use of it in magic.
- -Kinesis – From κίνησις, “movement”. To use the mind or magic to move something. For example Pyrokinesis and Telekinesis.
- -Path – From Pathos, “Suffering”. Generally indicates a psychic ability to connect to something. Used in Telepath, Empath, Technopath, Cyberpath, etc.
If you think I’ve missed any terms, drop a comment below. I hope this resource helps you next time you’re writing.