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The Sage Archetype: A Guide | Literature & Latte

Advisor, mentor, imparter of truth and knowledge... find out why the sage archetype may be just the character your novel is missing.

Archetypes are useful in fiction and movies as they allow readers to quickly grasp the main traits of characters without detailed descriptions. 

Theses archetypes are ideas that are so ingrained in humanity that they can be represented simply. When you create a familiar archetype, the reader is able to fill in the blanks, knowing a lot about the type of character or situation, based on their past experience.

Among the many archetypes used in fiction and movies, the sage archetype may be one of the most easily recognisable. The sage archetype consists of the wise man or woman who aids and guides the hero in their journey. The sage archetype's role is to provide wisdom or counsel and sometimes help the hero, though the sage knows that the hero must ultimately complete their journey on their own. The sage's influence is important, but it stops before the hero reaches the pivotal moment that leads them to the end of their quest. 

What is a sage archetype?

The sage archetype is a seeker of truth, wisdom, and knowledge. The sage engages in meaningful introspection and self-reflection, and strives to understand the world and its mysteries. The sage is not satisfied with superficial answers or opinions, but rather wants to discover the underlying principles and facts behind everything.

The sage archetype is often associated with the spiritual aspect of personality, as it represents the quest for enlightenment and transcendence. The sage does not seek material wealth or power, but rather the inner growth and development of the self and others. The sage believes that the truth will set us free, and that knowledge is the key to happiness and fulfilment. As part of this, the sage shares their wisdom with others to help them achieve their goals.

The sage archetype is the character that the hero or heroine turns to when they need help overcoming obstacles. This isn't physical help, but knowledge; the knowledge to reach the next step on their journey, or sometimes the inspiration to find that knowledge within themselves. 

The sage archetype can be a god or goddess, a wizard or magician, or a philosopher, but they can also be a contemporary exemplar of that type of character: a teacher or professor, a CEO or mentor, or a wise grandparent. The sage has knowledge and wisdom, sometimes vast, sometimes based on decades of experience, and common sense, and uses this to help the hero or heroine find their way. The sage archetype often has vast power, but knows not to use it for their own benefit alone.

The sage archetype may hold an important position in their daily role, but despite this, doesn't seek the spotlight. The sage is often a loner, sometimes a hermit, and loves knowledge more than people. However, the sage archetype also knows when it is time to cast aside the books and help those in need.

Photo: Alex Shute

The sage is generally an old character; Carl Jung called the sage archetype the senex (the Latin word for old man), the wise old man or wise old woman. This person has wisdom accrued through time and experience, and the sage archetype exemplifies the knowledge that comes from patience and worldliness; from learning from their own mistakes. 

Knowledge is power, and the sage often benefits from 'soft power' - the ability to co-opt rather than coerce - because of their vast wisdom. People look up to the sage, respect them, and fear them. 

Sage archetype examples

Examples of the sage archetype are common in fiction, especially fiction that follows the hero's journey. The sage can be a guide, or a woman or man of action, such as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings or Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars movies, who both offer wisdom and are warriors, but step back when it's time for the hero to take over. Morpheus, in The Matrix, leads Neo to question his existence, and guides him in his search for the truth. And Merlin, in the Arthurian legends, is one of the most long-lived sage archetype examples, and has served as a template for the sage over many centuries.

In Shakespeare, the sage archetype can be seen in Prospero, in The Tempest, a magician and wizard, who uses his powers to control other characters in the play. And Rosalind, in As You Like It, while not old, acts as a sage by bringing together several couples in the play, including uniting herself with Orlando.

When the sage archetype is a woman, she is often (unfortunately) called a crone. An example of the sage archetype as a woman is the 108-year old Mother Abagail, who lives on a farm in Nebraska, in Stephen King's novel The Stand. She calls the main characters together, and leads them to their new home. Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter stories is a wise teacher who helps Harry and his friends in their fights with Voldemort.

The sage archetype can have a dark side, though. With their focus on knowledge, the sage can be perfectionist, and not suffer fools gladly. They can have a feeling of superiority - because the sage is wiser than most - and this can sometimes lead them to be arrogant and closed-minded. By valuing the rational over feelings, the sage archetype can also be cold and aloof. 

Using the sage character archetype in Scrivener

When writing in Scrivener, you can use character sketches to record the traits of archetypes, along with other information about your characters, as you build them in your projects. You can create character sketches for archetypes you want to use, then change them to the names of your characters as your project develops.

Scrivener is writing software designed for you to get writing – and keep writing. Scrivener is the go-to program for writers of all genres, with best-selling novels, screenplays, nonfiction books, student essays, academic papers and more being written with it every day. Scrivener won’t tell you how to write; instead, it will give you everything you need to get started and keep writing, letting you mould the app to how you work best. Why not take a look?

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