Gold dust representing magic coming out of a man's hand.

What is the Magician archetype defined by Carl Jung? What part of the psyche is the Magician?

Of the Jungian archetypes, Magician is most important for developing curiosity and a love for learning. The Magician becomes empowered by learning how to learn better.

Read more to learn what makes this part of the psyche unique.

The Magician: Knowledge and Wisdom

Looking at Jungian archetypes, the Magician is, in a way, the polar opposite of the Warrior archetype. The Magician is the deeply intellectual part of the psyche: It studies, learns, and seeks to understand obscure and complex subjects. This aspect is called the Magician because it grants insights and abilities that can seem supernatural—for instance, a skilled computer programmer could design software tools that boost his productivity to levels that other people would think are impossible. 

The Magician’s drive for understanding also includes understanding people, including the person whose psyche it’s a part of. It’s the part of the mind that analyzes people’s behavior and tries to discern their real intentions and motivations. As such, the Magician is a person’s internal lie detector and moral compass.

(Shortform note: Picking up on someone’s intentions and motivations is often a matter of reading their body language and other contextual clues. Most people do this naturally to some extent, but it’s also a skill that can be learned and honed. In The Dictionary of Body Language, former FBI agent Joe Navarro describes numerous nonverbal cues that people give, and how to interpret them. For example, rubbing one’s shoulder is a self-soothing behavior and therefore might indicate nervousness. The next step is to figure out why that person is nervous—in Navarro’s case, he might use various other cues to decide whether they’re just nervous about talking to an FBI agent, or if they’re nervous because they’re lying to him.) 

Finally, the Magician empowers someone to act as a healer and problem solver, like the wise men of ancient cultures. The Magician’s knowledge makes it the aspect that’s best suited for treating illnesses and injuries, as well as giving advice in difficult situations. Again, this includes helping the one whose mind it’s a part of. For example, suppose someone hurts his ankle: His inner Warrior might encourage him to push through the pain, but his Magician aspect will wisely advise him to rest and heal. 

Empower the Magician by Learning How to Learn

Since the Magician aspect’s abilities come from learning, people can empower their inner Magician by learning how to learn effectively. For instance, someone who wants to become a doctor (a “professional magician,” so to speak) needs to learn an enormous amount of information in medical school, and that would be difficult without an effective study strategy. 

In Limitless, educator and “brain coach” Jim Kwik presents a learning model that he says will remove the limits on a person’s ability to learn. The Limitless model has three components: 

1. Mindframe: The learner must truly believe in their own limitless potential and must be open-minded about new information. In other words, they must know that they’re able to learn, and they must be ready to learn. 

2. Drive: The learner must find ways to motivate themselves to learn about whatever topic they’re studying. This is crucial because even someone who knows they can learn anything still won’t learn about subjects they’re not interested in. 

3. Techniques: The learner uses specific practices and strategies to quickly absorb and retain new information. For example, Kwik suggests that people try visualizing what they’re learning about, instead of just trying to memorize the words on a page.

The Immature Magician: the Gifted Child

Before a Magician aspect is fully developed, it manifests as the Gifted Child. 

This immature version of the Magician first appears when a child discovers the joys of learning and of sharing his knowledge. Driven by a sense of wonder, the Gifted Child is excited to see and understand everything. As such, it’s the aspect that drives people to explore and experiment in the endless search for knowledge, including knowledge about themselves. 

In this case, the difference between the immature and mature aspects is experience, rather than mindset. The Gifted Child has the same urges to learn and to help others as the Magician does; he simply hasn’t gathered enough knowledge yet to become a fully realized Magician.

Recapture the Gifted Child’s Wonder

Both the Gifted Child and the fully developed Magician are motivated by curiosity, but many people lose their curiosity as they grow up. In A More Beautiful Question, journalist Warren Berger explains how to regain a childlike sense of curiosity and wonder—and, by doing so, become more knowledgeable and more successful. 

Berger says people can accomplish this by regularly asking three types of questions:

1. Why? What’s the reason for something being the way that it is? Although these can seem like simplistic questions (such as “Why do things fall when we drop them?”), searching for the answers can help people to understand complicated subjects (like how gravity works). This question’s counterpart is why not?—meaning, do things have to be the way that they are? Is there any reason not to try something different?

2. What if? What would be the outcome of a certain action or situation? This question helps people to connect thoughts in ways they hadn’t considered before and come up with new ideas. For instance, the Doctor Who franchise started with the question ”What if a time traveler taught children about history and science?” 

3. How? What course of action would turn an idea into reality? For example, the childlike question “How can people fly like birds do?” was eventually answered with the invention of the airplane. 

The Imbalanced Magician: Scheming and Inaction

Like the Warrior, the Magician is disconnected from human emotions—it’s concerned with knowledge, not with feelings. Therefore, it’s unfortunately common for a Magician to develop without the crucial drive to help others, which can lead to two different imbalanced aspects.

The Puppet Master

A Magician who uses knowledge selfishly becomes the Puppet Master. Instead of helping others, the Puppet Master manipulates them—for example, a politician who turns his constituents against each other so they don’t realize that he’s the one causing their problems. In other cases, a Puppet Master will help others, but he’ll charge extortionate fees for his services; this might manifest in doctors who refuse to treat uninsured patients, or a master craftsman who jealously guards his trade secrets until someone pays to become his apprentice.  

The Puppet Master might seem useful from a purely selfish point of view, but a man under the influence of this aspect lives a fruitless and unsatisfying life. He manipulates others because he’s afraid to take action himself; instead of taking risks and experiencing life, he stays trapped in his own mind. The Puppet Master is so scared of making the wrong decision that he never makes any decisions. Then, as the end of his life draws near, he regrets all the things he never did.

(Shortform note: Fear is only one possible explanation for why people become abusive and manipulative. In Why Does He Do That?, Lundy Bancroft—a counselor who specializes in working with abusive men—says that people like the Puppet Master behave the way they do simply because it benefits them. Bancroft argues that most abusers know what they’re doing, and they do it intentionally. Therefore, their behavior is the result of moral problems, rather than mental or emotional ones; in simple terms, they’re extremely selfish. That being the case, one effective way to fight back against people like the Puppet Master is to enforce consequences for their behavior. This works because a self-centered person won’t change their behavior until they realize it’s also hurting them.) 

The Saboteur

At the other end of the spectrum is the Saboteur. While the Puppet Master tries to get others to do what he wants, the Saboteur tries to stop others from accomplishing anything at all. 

The Saboteur wants the recognition and respect that a great Magician earns, but he doesn’t want to do the Magician’s work of helping others. Like the Puppet Master, the Saboteur is driven by the fear of taking action (and, therefore, having to take responsibility for his actions). However, instead of using the Puppet Master’s underhanded tactics, someone under the Saboteur’s influence comes up with endless excuses about why he can’t or shouldn’t handle things himself. At the same time, he undermines other people’s work to make himself look better by comparison. 

A common example of someone under the Saboteur’s influence is a teammate or board member who disparages everyone else’s suggestions, yet offers none of his own. This person is trying to raise his own status by lowering everyone else’s. He can’t earn respect by making real contributions, because he’s too afraid of people scorning his ideas like he scorns all of theirs.

A Tip to Overcome Fear: Start With Something Small

In The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson offers one way to start overcoming the fear of taking action: Just do something, no matter what it is. He suggests that people who are paralyzed by fear, like the Puppet Master and the Saboteur, should pick some extremely small goal and then accomplish it. For instance, the board member from the previous example might set a goal to make just one suggestion of his own, even if it’s about something unimportant like which restaurant should cater their next meeting.

Manson says that setting such a low bar will help in two ways: 

First, the task is so trivial—and the consequences for failing are so minimal—that the person will be less afraid of making a mistake. To continue the earlier example, that board member should ask himself whether it really matters if the board decides not to go with the restaurant he suggested. After realizing that it doesn’t matter, he’ll feel free to make that suggestion.

Second, accomplishing even a tiny goal will prove to the fearful person that they’re making progress, and it will motivate them to keep making progress. To continue the earlier example, perhaps that board member’s next goal could be to make just one suggestion about something business-related. Once he realizes that he can do that, he’ll start being able to function as a contributing member of the board instead of a Saboteur.  
Jungian Archetypes: Magician, Seeker of Knowledge and Wisdom

Becca King

Becca’s love for reading began with mysteries and historical fiction, and it grew into a love for nonfiction history and more. Becca studied journalism as a graduate student at Ohio University while getting their feet wet writing at local newspapers, and now enjoys blogging about all things nonfiction, from science to history to practical advice for daily living.

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