The sage archetype is a motif that exists across cultures and timespans. It represents a wise guide, teacher, and provider of deep truths. The sage protects us and guides us through his or her knowledge (Mills, 2004; Rijo, 2023).
Generally, a sage is seen as a lover of knowledge and learning, often taking the form of an old wizard or professor. However, there are also other forms of sages in film and literature, such as the wise child or the wise feminine figure (Hanson, 2021).
Sage Archetype Overview
Archetypes refer to primordial symbols that are believed to exist across all cultures and all eras.
The concept is most prominently associated with Carl Jung, who argued that all humans share a “collective unconscious” – a set of symbols that we’re all born with and innately know and understand, i.e. archetypes (Jung, 1957).
Jung’s student, Erich Neumann, used the analogy of organs to describe archetypes. According to Neumann (1954), archetypes are similar to organs in that they exist relatively similarly in all of us, but are invisible and unfelt.
Primordial archetypes supposedly live in the unconscious part of our minds, but they still can be seen and measured through the stories and mythologies throughout cultures and religions. Jung believed we can see how these symbols are dug up from our unconsciousness and reoccur over and over again.
The sage is one such archetype described by Jung:
“Carl Jung believed the sage archetype could take many different forms in our lives. The most common form is a teacher who plays an integral role on the hero’s journey from start to finish, and this includes both people as well as other symbols like insights, dreams or life lessons.” (Hanson, 2021)
I should note that there are plenty of critiques of this idea of Jungian archetypes. In fact, there’s no true scientific evidence of Jung’s theory, and in my opinion it borders on the realms of pseudoscience. As a sociologist, I personally see motifs like “the sage” more as social constructs rather than archetypes, and I believe ideas such as the sage archetype can change over time and across cultures.
It is not so remarkable, after all, that all cultures have stories where someone is framed as a wise character. All societies will naturally have wise members who become respected and codified in the social imaginary.
Sage Archetype Examples (In Film and Literature)
1. Yoda from the “Star Wars” series
Despite his small stature, Yoda from Star Wars is incredibly powerful in the Force. He possesses a deep, philosophical understanding of it, emphasizing the spiritual and moral responsibilities that come with such power.
Yoda often speaks in riddles and proverbs, emphasizing the importance of patience, discipline, and understanding over brute strength. One of his most famous lines, “Do, or do not. There is no try,” reflects the sage’s teaching that commitment and intent are more important than mere effort.
Under Yoda’s tutelage, Luke Skywalker evolves from an impulsive young man into a mature Jedi, understanding the deeper nuances of the Force and his role in the galaxy.
2. Gandalf from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”
In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf the wizard is known for his wisdom, leadership, and bravery. He’s a strategist and a mentor, but also not afraid to engage in battle when necessary.
Throughout the Lord of the Rings series, Gandalf provides counsel to various characters, warning them of the dangers of the One Ring and guiding them in their quest. His knowledge of Middle-earth’s history, combined with his intuitive understanding of people, makes him instrumental in the defeat of Sauron.
Gandalf’s guidance is pivotal for Frodo, Aragorn, and others. He plays a key role in uniting disparate groups and leading them towards a common goal.
3. Dumbledore from J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series
In Harry Potter Albus Dumbledore is the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and a renowned wizard with many achievements to his name.
Dumbledore is characterized by his calm demeanor, kindness, and a keen intellect. He’s also known for his unwavering stand against the dark arts and his belief in the power of love.
Dumbledore frequently provides Harry with sage advice and insight into the nature of good and evil, choices and destiny. He understands the larger game at play with Voldemort’s return and makes necessary, often painful, decisions for the greater good.
Under Dumbledore’s mentorship, Harry learns not only about magic but also about bravery, friendship, and sacrifice. Dumbledore’s teachings shape Harry’s choices and ultimately prepare him for his final confrontation with Voldemort.
4. Mr. Miyagi from “The Karate Kid” films
In The Karate Kid, Kesuke Miyagi is an elderly Okinawan karate master who becomes the mentor to a young boy named Daniel LaRusso, who moves to California and struggles with bullies.
Mr. Miyagi is gentle, patient, and introspective. He possesses a deep knowledge of karate and life, both of which he imparts to Daniel.
Mr. Miyagi teaches Daniel not just about fighting techniques, but the philosophy behind martial arts, emphasizing balance, respect, and discipline. His iconic teaching methods, like “Wax on, wax off,” demonstrate that often, deeper lessons are hidden in simple tasks.
Through Mr. Miyagi’s guidance, Daniel not only becomes a skilled martial artist but also learns valuable life lessons about perseverance, respect, and understanding.
5. The Ancient One from Marvel’s “Doctor Strange”
In Doctor Strange, The Ancient One is a sorcerer and the former Sorcerer Supreme. She is the mentor to Stephen Strange, a former neurosurgeon who seeks healing after a devastating car accident ruins his hands.
The Ancient One is enigmatic, wise, and, at times, stern. She is immensely powerful and knowledgeable about the mystic arts.
The Ancient One introduces Strange to the world of magic and the multiverse, teaching him that there’s more to existence than the material world. She emphasizes the importance of selflessness, humility, and the broader perspective when wielding magical powers.
Under the guidance of the Ancient One, Doctor Strange evolves from a self-centered and arrogant individual to a selfless protector of Earth and the fabric of reality.
Many brands choose to use the sage archetype in their branding and marketing, intending to position themselves as wise, trusted advisors, often providing their audience with information, insights, and expertise (Mills, 2004; Wahlstrom, 1999).
Here are five brands that embody the Sage archetype:
- BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation): Known for its comprehensive news coverage, documentaries, and educational programs, the BBC is viewed by many as a trustworthy source of information. Its long-standing reputation as a public broadcaster gives it an image of a wise and balanced informer.
- National Geographic: With its captivating photography and in-depth articles, National Geographic has long been a beacon for those seeking knowledge about the world, its cultures, and its ecosystems. The brand’s commitment to exploration, science, and storytelling positions it as a knowledgeable guide.
- TED: TED Talks have become synonymous with spreading innovative ideas and insights from experts across various fields. The brand curates and shares knowledge, positioning itself as a platform for wisdom and deep thinking.
- Harvard University: As one of the oldest and most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the world, Harvard symbolizes intellectual rigor and pursuit of knowledge. Its brand is associated with academic excellence, research, and thought leadership.
- Merriam-Webster: As a leading dictionary publisher, Merriam-Webster provides definitions, meanings, and pronunciations of words, making it an indispensable resource for those seeking linguistic clarity. Their regular updates and “Word of the Day” features also position them as a constant source of learning.
Hanson, C. (2021). Within: Healing Through Sacred Feminine Archetypes – Awaken the Goddess Within. Balboa Press.
Jung, C. G. (1957). The Undiscovered Self: With Symbols and the Interpretation of Dreams. Princeton University Press.
Mills, H. (2004). The Rainmaker’s Toolkit: Power Strategies for Finding, Keeping, and Growing Profitable Clients. AMACOM.
Neumann, E. (1954). The origins and history of consciousness. Princeton: Princeton University.
Rijo, S. (2023). The Archetype Code: Unveiling your true self. Sergio Rijo.
Wahlstrom, T. L. (1999). Psychological Applications in Management: The Hero’s Journey. Universal Publishers.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]