There are many different words used to define magic-users

  • Wizard
  • Sorcerer
  • Mage
  • Magician
  • Enchanter
  • Witch/Warlock

But is there an actual distinction between the names, or do some (or all) refer to the same thing?
For example: I'm almost certain that a common key difference between Wizard and Sorcerer is that a wizard naturally has their magic within them, while a sorcerer absorbs "manna" from the environment.

Note: There is no need to compare and contrast different writers' concepts too closely. I'm simply looking for definitions that are generally accepted.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ It doesn't matter, as long as you're clear in you're writing the distinction between them. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Apr 12 '16 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ The only real difference in my opinion is connotation. We burned witches for fun; the only enchanters I know of are Merlin and Tim; you can see one may have a more positive connotation than the other. Otherwise, you should only worry about clearly defining the terms you use, and differences between them if any. $\endgroup$ – AmiralPatate Apr 12 '16 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ I see "wizard" and "magician" as a little more likely to appear in a lighthearted context, and "sorcerer", "mage" and "witch"/"warlock" as a tad more ominous. According to a commenter at this link: nanowrimo.org/forums/appellation-station/threads/311798 , the distinction in German between Zauberer (= wizard) and Magier (= mage) is stronger than in English. Quote: "it's just been my (reading) experience in German that the books with magic that cater to children more or less consistently use "Zauberer" (or "Hexe", respectively), while the books aimed at adults tend to use "Magier". $\endgroup$ – Lostinfrance Apr 12 '16 at 23:40
  • $\begingroup$ I think this is off topic for this site. I reccomend asking here. english.stackexchange.com $\endgroup$ – Xandar The Zenon Apr 13 '16 at 3:40
  • $\begingroup$ @XandarTheZenon, I don't think it is off-topic. The question is only superficially about the meaning of English words. Both question and answers are really about how the different mechanisms people could use to do magic (via inherent powers, via knowledge etc.) assuming magic is real. The answers have reflected that.For instance you won't find any of what Shalvenay said in the dictionary; it is pure worldbuilding. I kept my own comment as a comment rather than a proper answer because all it covered was word-usage, without the worldbuilding. $\endgroup$ – Lostinfrance Apr 13 '16 at 5:54

Here is a good answer on the difference between Mage/Sorcerer/Wizard. Quoted from the source:

A mage has connotations of being a profession, which one joins as a neophyte and - by dint of study and exercise - rises to the level of master (as in the priesthood, referenced above).

A wizard is not a student of magic in the manner of the mage, but one who is 'wise', who can 'divine' by virtue of some inner well of potency. One can for example think of the sentence "He was a natural-born wizard" with less stumbling of thought then "He was a natural-born mage" or that the talent for wizardry could be inherited by a child from their parent(s) in a manner that the status of magus cannot be.

A sorcerer remains the most ambiguous of the three so far. One who influences fate covers much. Indeed, one could say that "a mage or wizard performs sorcerous acts" without misusing any of the words in the sentence.

And later:

Thus the respective differences between the terms indicate degrees to which the practitioner has acquired their powers through study and learning, with magi wholly dependent on these, sorcerers independent of them and wizards being a mixture of both learned and natural skill.

This offers some decent insight as to the differences between the three "archetypes", if you will (see source for further reading).

As for the remaining, I would personally consider Magician to be the long form of Mage.

When it comes to Enchanter and Witch/Warlock, I believe these to be specialties in a certain school of magic.

Enchanters, for example, use magic to cajole, enthrall or otherwise seduce someone to do their bidding.

Witch/Warlock are generally the female/male versions of the same thing, respectively. As a general rule, they focus on dark magic and are often associated with spirits or the undead.

Please note that, aside from the quoted/linked material, this is my own interpretation and may (slightly?) deviate from historical context.


Fundamentally, no there is no difference.

In certain systems and settings there may be a large difference (for example Wizards, Sorcerers and Witches in D&D or Pathfinder operate very differently from each other) or may just be different names for the same thing. (For example in Harry Potter a Witch is just a female Wizard).

There is a certain flavour that each tends to have, but certainly none of this is anything more than vague guidelines:

  • Wizard Tend to be solo or with an apprentice. Have towers or studies, vast libraries. A lot of book learning and while there may be an inate spark required they learn and research their magic.
  • Sorcerer Tend to be intuitive and natural, they do not need to learn and study but the magic just comes from within.
  • Mage Like wizard but more often found in larger groups.
  • Magician Often used for weaker or fake magic. Otherwise can be the same as Mage or Wizard.
  • Enchanter Rather than creating flashy effects directly tends to do it more by altering the properties of objects or people. They craft magical items, lay down curses and complex protection spells, etc.
  • Witch/Warlock Tend to be more nature oriented and call on external spirits for their power. Often involving bargains or deals with strange powers (sometimes evil, sometimes good.

You also missed a couple:

  • Cleric Religious magic. Calling on a deity or acting in their name.
  • Druid Nature magic. Tending the forests and looking after the wilds.

The distinctions (if any) drawn between the various terms used to refer to spellcasters are indeed strongly universe-specific -- the prior answers do a good job of highlighting this.

It is possible to generically taxonomise casters on two axes though:

  • The source of their power
  • How they learn to manipulate it

Power sources

The source of a caster's spells and abilities is often a major determinant of what they get to use, and also may influence how they use their magic.

Common power sources include:

  • A pervasive energy field
  • A deity
  • Some sort of relationship with nature or allied elements of the world
  • Some sort of relationship with a supernatural entity
  • An inner power source

Means of learning

Different casters come to their art in different ways in many universes -- this can influence how they go about casting their spells, and what preparations they need to make (if any) to use them.

Common means of learning include:

  • A formal education, either secular or religious in nature
  • Apprenticeship to a master spellcaster
  • Development of innate talents
  • Being given powers by a supernatural being

Between these two dimensions, you can then define pretty much any kind of caster you need.


Some others that aren't listed yet include:

  • Magister (can be seen as a cult/religious related title)
  • Arch Mage
  • Hedge Wizard / Hedge Mage (generally a connotation for weaker spell casters)
  • Priest / High Priest
  • 'mancers (eg: Pyromancer, necromancer etc)
  • Arcanist
  • Elementalist
  • Conjurer
  • Shaman / Witch Doctor / Wise Man

But, as Shalveny states in their answer, generally names/titles are derived from the power source and the method in learning/developing. At the end of the day, it is your world and you get final say, but generally speaking it's commonly broken down along four main lines in popular fiction:

Divine magic: i.e. magic either imbued as a direct result of appeal to a divine being (prayers, wardings etc) and used by religious bodies and agents (clerics, priests, magisters, acolytes etc)

Arcane magic: magic that is not associated with any particular god or diety. Most commonly used by magicians/wizards/sorcerers etc and often depends on the strength of the wielder.

Elemental/Natural Magic: Magic that is natural in source, often describe as maintaining the balance of life and guarding the natural world. Often straddling the border between Divine and Arcane. Users are most often depicted as Druids/shaman

Ritual magic: Power is drawn through the completion of rituals - sigil, ceremonies, relics. Takes time to complete, and can often involve a sacrifice of some description. Shamans, cultists etc are often portrayed performing ritual magic, generally speaking doesn't necessarily require innate magical abilities and is very often used by the antagonists/big bads.


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