How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Many stories contain archetypical magical characters who add mystery and unstoppable mayhem to stories. By definition, magic lies outside the known laws of science and can take many forms, from traditional wizardry to natural and religious forces.
Magical characters are sometimes wielders of magic and sometimes the product of magic. They may have super-human or magical powers of varying kind, from increased strength or intelligence to simple spell-casting ability.
Magical characters are useful devices also for getting the hero into and out of a crisis. Just as the hero is about to get slain in an impossible situation, for example, the magical character can appear and save them.
There are many possible magical characters. Just a few of them are listed here.
The Magician is a relatively straightforward human character in that they have mastered magical arts to some degree (although this degree can vary greatly). They may be mercenaries for hire or be in the employ of good or bad characters. They may also play a leading role themselves.
Magicians suggest that magic is simply a skill and that we, too, could perhaps master its arts, although the grueling apprenticeship needed and perhaps the basic talent required may well put us off the thought.
The Sorcerer is a dark and aloof character whose alignment with good or evil may be unclear and perhaps may even prevaricate between the two. They may practice real magic or perhaps are illusionists who create the appearance of magic. Either way, probing this question can be a dangerous activity.
The Sorcerer represents mystery and reminds us that not all is as it seems and that we must be constantly wary.
The Sorceress is distant and mysterious and may represent the female principle, particularly as viewed from the male perspective. Desirable yet unattainable, she has unknown but great powers.
The Black Witch is a human who has learned dark arts for which she may pay dearly in an after life. Yet this is not our concern as we face her potions and spells of control.
Witches can remind us of how aged people appeared to use as a child, with their wizened skin and croaking voice. They may remind us of the smell of death and bony, probing fingers.
The Black Witch is mirrored by the White Witch, whose goodness contrasts that of the Black, and against whom she may battle or counteract. Witches often live alone in distant parts and are visited to gain knowledge, wisdom and potions.
More than a mother figure, the White Witch often has more of the purity of an angel or fairy. She is still a scary figure of power who must be treated with great respect and thus represents authority of some kind.
Fairies, as small creatures, seem as children, yet they have powers greater than their size might indicate (also like children).
Traditional fairies are often wild creatures who live by their own rules and use humans for entertainment and sometimes for mating. They are known to steal babies and bring them up in fairy ways.
There also is the good fairy who grants wishes and who sits atop the Christmas tree, sprinkling happy sparkles and goodness all around. Their uncomplicated and simple wisdom reminds us that being good need not be difficult and can lead to wonderful rewards.
The Oracle is an all-seeing (often female) character who can predict the future. They may be an old hag who casts bones, a Tarot-reading gypsy or a gifted and visionary child.
They are visited to gain knowledge such that future plans may be made, yet somehow that knowledge has limited value. Typically, the advice given is so cryptic that the person does not understand it until it is too late. This can add interesting twists to stories, such as where Laius is told he would be killed by his son and thus sends Oedipus away -- but who later returns unrecognized to fulfil his fate.
Miraculous children have powers given to them by fate or the gods. They may literally perform miracles or otherwise have special powers.
The Miraculous Child may awaken childhood fantasies of omnipotence. It also provides for an interesting reversal in stories where the child is superior to the adult.
The God is an ultimate magical character, who may be any combination or omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. They may have unlimited powers to create and destroy at will, and may be only kept from unleashing such terror by constant veneration and worship.
Gods can seldom be killed, although they may be outwitted or appeased in the hero's search for treasure. They may also be charmed into providing necessary support, or even take an unrequested interest and provide surprising help (and sometimes mischief).
Gods may represent parents in the centrality of their position in people's lives and echo a child's view of parental omnipotence. We are indeed children before them and thus may be led again through childhood transitions and emotions.
Angels are symbols of pure good. Far more than gods, they are approachable and recognizably human in their ways. They show concern and sympathy for us mortals and offer hope for the defeat of evil.
Angels are archetypical rescuers who play to the child in us who seeks magical rescue from life's ills. Angels also represent the pure good in us and we identify with them on this.
Demons are archetypal evil characters, mirroring the pure good of Angels. They seek evil for evil itself in the same way that Angels seek good. In this way they are deeply fearful creatures.
Angels and demons also play out stories in our heads, representing the good and evil within each of us. Each believes it is right and those who turn to evil see demons as proper and wrongly damned.
The Immortal lives for ever and is invulnerable to attack, aging or disease.
We may well envy the Immortal in their cheating of the death we so terribly fear, yet they may still be tragic characters, doomed to watch the mortals they love grow old and die again and again, like the BBC's Dr. Who or the movie Highlander.
Immortals may also be disdainful of mortals, with their brief flicker of existence and scraping at the toes of wisdom. We look at these perhaps as frightful aliens who have forgotten what it is to be human -- and in doing so we remember ourselves.
Immortals may have a weakness, as with Achilles' heel, by which they may be slain. This gives the hero the chance of slaying Immortal opponents (if they can find their weakness) or tragic heros to be killed.
The Undead are those who were once alive and normal humans, but are now exist in a different form that may not be considered as being truly alive, and certainly not in the human sense.
Undead include zombies, skeletons, vampires, liches.
The Undead awaken deep fears of death whilst also hinting tantalizingly at immortality, albeit in such a horrifying form. We are thus simultaneously attracted and repulsed, making them a fascinating character.
Undead characters are often evil, but do not have to be so (for example Frankenstein's monster and Angel in the 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' TV series). When they are not evil, they may well be a tragic character, living in a cursed state and perhaps yearning for the endless sleep or transition of true death. As such they remind us that death is perhaps not such a bad thing after all.
The Green Man in mythology lives in wild places, typically forests, and is seldom seen although his influence may be felt through his control of flora and fauna.
The Green Man represents the embodiment of nature itself and acts to protect the wild places.
Half-animals abound in classical stories, with centaurs (half-horse/half-man), manticores (man/lion/scorpion), medusas (snake hair) and so on. They are often fearsome yet may be good, bad or chaotic.
Half-animals remind us that we are descended from animals and still have animal nature in us. They also indicate that we should be respectful of animals.
The Golem is a machine brought alive. As such, it has little real life of its own. This may make it a pitiful creature. It may also make it scary as it lacks the sympathy that prevents most of us from harming one another.
The Shapeshifter can change their physical form to appear or become some other person or creature.
Some of these, such as werewolves, have a limited and uncontrollable transition. This Jekyll/Hyde switch echoes the multiple characters within most people and reminds use about our own, chaotic dark side.
Other Shapeshifters can change at will, perhaps to appear as specific other people. These typically use this ability for evil intent but also, as with many magical characters, may use their powers for good.
Dragons have a special position in the world of mythology. They are often the ultimate monster, with no natural enemies, except perhaps man. They are typically wise and may be good or evil. Their intelligence makes them a crafty foe who may trick the unwary hero, lulling them into a fatal sense of security.
As the greatest of monsters, Dragons can represent our greatest fears (and the term is still used as such). If we can slay dragons, then we can reach that heroic state of having conquered all fear.
There are a huge range of animal monsters who populate mythology. These can have special significance but generally act as worthy opponents for our super-human heroes.
A few common monsters include basilisks, chimeras, griffins, hydras, minotaurs and sphinxes.