This is a look at the lives of wizards in the Earthsea SyFy miniseries (apologies to book fans, I will get to them later). Wizards are solitary people of great power who are there to heal and protect a specific area. They assist others with finding the true name their soul should bear, rather than depending on what society labels them as. The true wizards practice centering meditation and listening to nature.
Learning the way of a magus means putting what is loved and known behind. In Ged’s case, it meant giving up his girlfriend and facing the wrath of his father to ask for a blessing. His father points out that choosing the path of a wizard means giving up his home and being a family—it is a path of danger.
The wizard Ogion is portrayed as one of the wisest in Earthsea. He tries to teach Ged the way using nature and growing things, but the young man is frustrated because he wants to just learn magic quickly and be done. Ogion spends most of his time helping others, no matter how humble, rather than actively instructing Ged in magic. “A wizard’s job is to serve the people he lives among—whether their animals are sick, the crops fail, or they are threatened by warriors.” Ged had imagined an exciting life of magical duels, not the practical wizard’s life of helping people’s goats and roaming the hills learning of nature and letting knowledge seep in. Ogion explains that a wizard must come to learn who he is inside before worrying about learning power.
Ogion lives in a humble cottage with just enough to live on, similar to the vow of poverty lived out to the extreme. Wizards who show off tend to be distrusted and feared by the people. Those like Ogion who use their magic to humbly serve are loved and respected by the people. For them the poverty helps those without magic to trust and not fear their magus.When a wizard is given a staff, it is not a sign of magical power, rather that the person has found themselves and is ready to use that power wisely.
When Ged goes off to a school for wizards, before he can even enter a lesson is learned. Every time he tries to walk inside, he finds himself back outside instead. When he realizes he must admit he needs help is when he is able to enter—that even with magic he cannot do it on his own. The school teaches that things are the way they are for a reason. Before seeking to change something, the wizard must truly know what they are first, rather than just judging it as good or evil. Even when the school is attacked, the arch-magus begs the conquering king to stop the war and prevent loss of life.
In a powerful storyline, Ged unleashes something he sees as evil that keeps attacking him and the people he loves. It is not until Ged realizes he is fleeing the dark shadow of himself that he is able to face the assailant. When he runs away, evil gets to choose his path, and when he embraces it as part of him, that gives Ged the strength he needs.
There are some wonderful parallels with religious life today—many Sisters live on their own because their ministry is far from the motherhouse. Like the wizards, they are there primarily to serve the people around them, and while they are living physically on their own, they are still part of a community and understand they cannot truly have power just in themselves.
The training of a wizard, particularly Ogion’s way, definitely reminds me of religious formation for novices. Much of the time is spent reflecting and learning about oneself and finding the wisdom of accepting both light and shadow within, rather than constantly fighting it. Like Ged, the formation is a combination of roaming the hills of nature and the intense study found at his school. Also like Ged, novices make a lot of mistakes and that is okay—it is part of how we learn.