Famous Wizards and Sorcerers from European Folklore

Wizards in fairy tales and folklore’s are people thought to have had magical powers of some form. They were considered to be individuals with abilities that enabled them to bend the laws of nature, either for actual events or deadly outcomes. Many folklore’s portray sorcerers as women, but men can also be found in some narratives. They are viewed as hideous beings and seductive enchantresses, and are littered throughout many European mythologies. Below is a list of famous wizards and sorcerers from European Folklore’s.

Baba Yaga The Witch

Wizards and Sorcerers from European Folklore

In Russian folktales, Baba Yaga is an old witch. According to legends, she could be scary, fearsome or the heroine – and other times she managed to be both.

Baba Yaga means an older woman, or grandmother who brings illness or disease.

As the folklore goes, she had iron teeth and a conspicuously long nose. She lived in a hut on the edge of the forest. The cabin had legs like that of chicken, and it supposedly moved on its own. She did not fly on a broomstick like other folkloric wizards. Instead; she walked around in a large mortar, which she managed to push along with an equally large pestle, rowing it almost like a boat on water.

To cover up her tracks, she swept behind her with a broom made of silver birch. It was never clear if she wished good or evil on people, but what was clear was that to her, bad people had to get their punishment. Baba Yaga was there to make sure that was the case.

This story was told to warn children from wandering into the forest alone or even in groups believing the older woman to lurk in the shadows.

Merlin The Sorcerer

Wizards and Sorcerers from European Folklore

In Britain, one of the most iconic sorcerers is Merlin, found in the Arthurian legends. As is expected with folklore dated as far back as the 12th century, Merlin’s portrayal changes from story to story.

A writer by the name Geoffrey of Monmouth is viewed as the creator of the great wizard. Merlin was described as both the son of the devil and a servant of God. Merlin had many hats: he was a sorcerer or a wizard, a bard, a tutor, a prophet and an adviser to successive British Kings including King Arthur.

A writer by the name Geoffrey of Monmouth is viewed as the creator of the great wizard. Merlin was described as both the son of the devil and a servant of God. Merlin had many hats: he was a sorcerer or a wizard, a bard, a tutor, a prophet and an adviser to successive British Kings including King Arthur. In his advisory role, Merlin advised against Vortigern building his towers because of two fighting dragons. After many years, Robert de Boron gave Merlin shape-shifting powers, and linked him with the quest for the Holy Grail.

He is said to have had his prophecies while he was only a young boy. Later, as Merlin grew up, his other powers came into being and kings began to wonder about his wisdom, taking him as an advisor in effect.

He became a mentor to his equally infamous half-sister Fay who would later turn against Merlin, and work against him taking over the king’s throne.

The Grimhildr Mythology

Wizards and Sorcerers from European Folklore

Grimhildr or Grimhilde was a sorceress in Norse mythology of the Scandinavian region, during the Viking age. She was married to King Gyuki, and her legend is cited in the Volsungs saga, where she is portrayed as a fierce-hearted woman.

She was easily bored, and often found pleasure in enchanting people- including the hero Siguror, who she wanted to see wed her daughter Gudrun.

Her spell did the trick, and Siguror left his wife. Out for more mischief, Grimhildr decided that her son Gunnar should marry the spurned Brynhildr, the ex-wife of Siguror.

It didn’t turn out as she wished, as Brynhildr refused this arrangement. Not taking no for an answer, Grimhildr tricked Brynhildr into thinking she was marrying Siguror, after she switched Gunnars body with that of Siguror.

Circe The Goddess

We can’t have an article on European wizards and sorcerers, without diving into Greek mythology.

Greek mythology is filled with a plethora of legends about those who had mystical powers. One of the most famous wizards from the Greeks is Circe.

She is a goddess of magic and at times nymph, an enchantress and even sorcerer. She was the daughter of the god of the sun, Helios, and the goddess Hecate, and was widely known for her vast knowledge of herbs and potions.

She is one of the best known mythological ladies of chaos and mayhem. She appears in the legend of The Odyssey.

According to the story, Odysseus and his Acheans found themselves escaping the land of the Laestrygonians. The Laestrygonians were a race of cannibalistic giants, and after some of Odysseus’ scouts were eaten by the Laestrygonian King, the Archeans ended up on the shore of Aeaea, home to the witch-goddess Circe.

She turned the men into pigs, and so Odysseus set off to rescue them. He received tips on how to defeat Circe by the messenger god, Hermes. After defeating Circe, she turned the men from pigs into men again and finally became the lover of Odysseus. After Odysseus’ death, she used her magical powers to bring him back to life again.

Mother Shipton the Witch

Mother Shipton is not found in mythology, but is a real person documented in English history as a witch who could foretell the future.

There are so many myths built around her, but this only helps to cement her status as one of the most feared witches in England. Her reputation still endures to this day.

Mother Shipton was one of the most revered and well-appreciated prophetesses from England in the 16th century. Her mother was also a suspected witch.

She was described as very disfigured and hideous to such an extent that locals labeled her hag-face, with some even suggesting her to be the devil’s child. However, regardless of her unfortunate looks, she was considered to have been one of the most celebrated clairvoyants, and she has been likened to Nostradamus many times.

As the story goes, she predicted the Great Plague of London, the Spanish Armada, the execution of Mary Queen of Scots and the Great Fire in London. Some people speculate that she predicted the coming the internet with her words: “thoughts would fly in the twinkling of eyes around the world.”

Mother Shipton died a natural death, unlike her peers who were killed by the sword after being convicted of sorcery. It is thought she was buried in York in an unholy place.

Some fictitious names are hard to know if they were real or not. Witches may have been around in folklore and pop culture to teach, or warn young children from doing certain things in the community. Whatever the case, wizards have a long history in the folklore’s of many communities because they were viewed as mystical beings with powers, an ordinary person could not comprehend. Ironically, while it is possible some witches in history and folklore used wizardry for dark purposes, many embraced it for healing or protection against immorality.