Wizards - Real or Imaginary?
Professor Dumbledore from the Harry Potter books and Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings are stereotypical examples of wizards, wise old men with flowing white hair and long beards. Bumbling too is a characteristic, although when it matters they always produce the desired outcome. Did such people exist?
Fact and fiction.
The attributes of the fictitious wizards of literature sometimes merge seamlessly with real people who are now acknowledged to have been wizards. The kindly old wizard of literature were often guardians and teachers, men made wise not only by their life experience but by access to arcane knowledge. Merlin, wizard to the King Arthur of legend, is one of the best examples.
Wizards can change the natural order of things, this is called thaumaturgy of which controlling the weather is one example, shapeshifting another. A knowledge of herbs, casting spells, precognition, astrology are other attributes.
Moses famously competed with his Egyptian counterparts and turned his staff into a snake. King Solomon, whose name is still a byword for wisdom, was believed to be a powerful astrologer and alchemist. The New Testament documents the many magical effects or miracles attributed to Jesus; raising the dead; creating an abundance of supplies from meagre rations; healing the sick; casting out demons and calming the waters of the Lake of Galilee.
Druidism is the appreciation and manipulation of nature, through using herbs, symbology, and imbuing talismans and amulets with special powers. There are clear links between druidic natural magic, druidic wizards, the "wise folk" of the middle ages and modern Wicca.
The Middle Ages.
Alchemists were early scientists and often theologians, astrologers and inevitably wizards who worked to find the elixir of life (immortality) and the philosopher's stone, the means of turning base metals into gold. John Dee, court astrologer to Elizabeth I, is perhaps the most famous example. Dee, like many of his kind had a darker side and was also believed to be a necromancer, or summoner of the dead. Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa who served Emperor Maximilian 1 wrote the book "On the occult philosopy" and was a theologian, chemist and adept of the Jewish Kabbalah, popular today with celebrities like Madonna.
Real Modern Wizards.
In his book The Occult, Colin Wilson observed that the last decade of each century has witnessed an increase in interest in occultism, including wizardry. The late nineteenth century saw magical lodges springing up in for those wishing to pool resources and knowledge, the most famous of which was The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Members included modern occult legends like S.I. MacGregor Matthews, Arthur Edward Waite, Dion Fortune and most famously of all Aleister Crowley, the great beast himself, whose legacy to magic is immense. Many of the elements of wizardry was now encapsulated into ritual magic, creating magical phenomenon through the performance of laid down rituals. By the definition of an earlier age these practitioners were wizards and ritual magicians still practice today.