Magic—it’s found in just about every fantasy novel out there as well as a good helping of paranormals and even mixed with the occasional science fiction story.
What do you call your magic practitioners, though?
There are several options, each with its own connotation and background. I have listed some of the more common below with short descriptions and links to more comprehensive sites.
Note that my descriptions and the explanations on the links provided are subject to interpretation. These are the common ways in which these magic-users are portrayed. Conventions are made to be broken.
Hope you find this helpful.
Derived from “wise,” wizards are often portrayed as the quiet, studious type. The line seems to be split 50/50 in terms of natural magical capability that is enhanced by study and the learning of how to manipulate the elements purely through education. (In the case of the latter, the wizard gains his power from study and is a normal human until he begins his learning.) An in-depth analysis of the wizard and his main roles in fantasy literature (the hero, the mentor, and the villain) as well as information on limiting the wizard’s power can be found here.
NOTE: A female wizard is sometimes (but not very often) referred to as a Wizardess in fantasy literature.
Sorcerer’s have natural talent. Unlike wizards, sorcerers do not need to engage in long years of study before they can throw their weight around, magically speaking. In the Dungeons and Dragons world, sorcerers gain their power from natural reflection, which enhances the power already flowing in their blood. A bit more about sorcerers can be found here.
The title “warlock” seems to be associated more with dark magic. The word itself translates literally to “oath breaker,” and it was the name given to wiccans who left their coven. Warlocks are often portrayed as villains and have a tendency to be the magic-users that cross over into the warrior realm. In Dungeons and Dragons talk, we call that multi-classing, but warlocks are hardly that. They just break less easily than wizards or sorcerers. And speaking of wizards, here is a article about the differences between warlocks and wizards.
NOTE: Warlocks (except in fantasy literature) are not male witches.
Shamans are good, pure and simple. They usually live among nature (very removed from society) and take their duty to both nature and the spirit realm very seriously. Here is a very detailed analysis of the role shamans play in fantasy literature.
Druids are not shamans. Where shamans commune more with the spiritual realm of nature, druids are more connected to physical nature. Dungeons and Dragons (back in the day) referred to them as nature priests. Their powers include (but are not limited to) divination and shapeshifting into one or more animal forms. A bit more about fantasy literature druids as well as information about real druid groups can be found here.
They deal with dead things—summonings, communication with spirits, reanimation of corpses, etc. Like warlocks, necromancers are often thrust into villain roles. It’s nothing personal, really. As may be expected from anyone who interacts more with the deceased than the living, necromancers in fiction are often portrayed as at least a little unhinged. That makes them great bad guys. Wikipedia offers an interesting article on the history of necromancy and how it has been viewed over the centuries.
There isn’t much to be found on the interwebs for the role of witches. Perhaps this is because their role seems self-explanatory in the wake of “The Wizard of Oz.” In keeping with the stereotype, witches are often portrayed as evil, as flying on a broomstick, and as wearing a pointed hat. With the expansion of contemporary fantasy, witches have changed and now the title seems to be a catch-all for magic-users (usually women) in modern settings. I guess it sounds more up-to-date than sorceress or wizardess.
NOTE: The witches of fantasy literature are not to be confused with Wiccans (practitioners of Wicca). Information about Wicca can be found here.
Other names for magic-users are listed below with a bit of casting info.
Enchanter/Enchantress – cast enchantments (“enchantment” is used very often in fairytales)
Charmer – cast charms (charms are often either weaker spells or the blanket term for controlling animals)
Mage – magic (Note that prefacing mage with “arch” denotes a more powerful practitioner.)
Spellcaster – spell (spell seems to be a generic term applied to the castings of most magic-users)
Magician – magic (often associated with one who does magic tricks, not actual magic)
Witchdoctor – Oo ee oo ah ah ting tang…just kidding. Go with spells or charms.
Magus – magic (variant of mage)
Occultist – occult magic
Here is a bit more about wizards, warlocks, and sorcerers.