Character Archetypes: C for Catalyst

Today’s character archetype is a Jungian archetype, one of the 12 archetypes defined through myth. But it’s also commonly used in Branding today, and often referred to with a different label – that of The Magician or Visionary.

archetypes catalyst

The Catalyst or Magician

“It can happen!” or “I make things happen” ~ Magician motto

The catalyst is difficult to drill down on. It is mentioned often, but seldom fully explained, and through various other archetypal combinations in character can be acted out as a role rather than as archetype.

Catalyst means change-making and is defined as something or someone who speeds up an event to cause change without affecting themselves. The word comes from chemistry.

Catalysts make things happen through other characters, but they may not do those things themselves, and they do not change themselves in the process, only the world*

Some confusion reigns because the catalyst is also known as “The Magician” (or permutations like Wizard or Alchemist) which can muddy our connotations because of the associated magic, spells and wizardry.

Perhaps a better label may be “The Visionary“, although this isn’t a character who sits around doing mantras and envisioning the future – this archetype puts things into motion to create that vision.

In general terms, any person who motivates or pushes change through the protagonist or the protagonist’s world (including his or herself) can be a catalyst.

* The major situations of the story will be inspired and motivated by a catalyst, but will not create a change in the catalyst’s own character journey because of this. The catalyst character can have a separate character arc where they have to battle their own flaws and dark side, to enable them to be the catalyst for another character. Or they may be a static secondary or even tertiary character without an internal arc.

Signs of the Catalyst / Magician / Visionary

Because there are so many sources of use for the catalyst archetype, and the role itself can be found within other standard archetypes, it is difficult to immediately recognise a catalyst (unless they appear straight out as a mentoring wizard wearing a costume, that is). A catalyst-

  • exudes transformative powers, enjoys intentionally influencing people and seeing beneficial change.
  • is excellent in times of strife or upheaval
  • does not change himself from the change-making
  • is spiritual, believes in inter-connectivity
  • is charismatic and capable of articulating ideals and complex reasoning simply (good characters with this archetype are often full of shareable quotes)
  • is consciousness-raising, visionary
  • is imaginative and clever
  • has high standards – sometimes too high
  • and is mysterious, mystical, and idealistic
  • may combine with other archetypes such as the mentor, or sidekick role as part of an assemble cast, or may be a tertiary character who is sought out for advice.
  • there are examples of the protagonist / hero also being a catalyst for other characters ie. the rebel leader, revolutionary or kick-butt karate master (see more examples of the catalyst hero below)

Examples of the Catalyst / Magician

Fiction: Obi Wan Kenobi (Star Wars); Dumbledore (Harry Potter); Fred MacMurray (or Robin Williams) in The Absentminded Professor; Patrick Stewart (Professor X) and Ian McKellen (Magneto as shadow) in X-Men; Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho. Loki (Marvel and Nordic Mythology) and Darth Vader (Star Wars) as shadow. Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (later series).

Real Life: Nostradamus and Isaac Newton; Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Oprah, Steven Spielberg, Albert Einstein.

Other Names & Associates

  • catalyst names: magician/wizard or alchemist, visionary, mentor, influencer, change-maker, shaman
  • associations: healer, medicine man, witch, warlock
  • catalyst hero: advocate, champion, charismatic leader, rebel leader, revolutionary or reformer (enneagram type 1)
  • business or brand: magician, visionary, enchanter, associated with entrepreneur as category
  • shadow: the entrepreneur who uses their own vision for self-profit; a reformer who is corrupt or working for themselves for power; a wicked witch, evil wizard – all who turn to forceful manipulation to get what they want

The Sources for the Catalyst Archetype

The Catalyst or Magician Archetype is nominated in many archetypal systems. These may be further discussed and linked to within a supplementary PDF ebook for this Character Archetype series which will be published with interest (please comment below if interested). Sources discussed –

  • Jung‘s Catalyst / Magician
  • Pearson-Marr Archetype Indicator (PMAI)
  • Catalysts in mythic structures
  • The Catalyst Hero / Advocate or Champion
  • The Catalyst in the Fascinate System
  • The Magician in Tarot
  • The Catalyst / Magician in Business and Branding
  • As Mature Masculine archetype via Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette
  • Caroline Myss – Alchemist archetype


Further Details

Further details on this archetype (origins, appearances and details) may be extended in the supplementary ebook: A to Z of Character Archetypes  which may possibly be published after the final in this series. If you are interested in this, please comment below.

Part of 2016’s Character Archetype Series (A-Z) @ Hunter is Writing.

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