We have:

  • Gandalf the White:

    Picture showing Gandalf the White with a beard

  • Albus Dumbledore:

    Picture showing Albus Dumbledore with a beard

  • Merlin (beard mentioned in many descriptions - see Wiki)

So, is there some info of how did this trope actually get started (especially in fantasy/SciFI, to which I include for the purposes of this question any oral/written stories about mages/wizards)?

  • 3
    You might have answered your own question as I've always seen Merlin having a long white beard, and from what I know of wizards, he was the archetype of the character. Dec 24, 2011 at 8:25
  • That's also the trope for the wise old man, which all of the characters you mentioned are.
    – apoorv020
    Dec 24, 2011 at 8:38

3 Answers 3


Intuitively, it seems likely that the basic elements were all gathered from Odin, the Wanderer, or related Anglo-Saxon gods.

Dumbledore was most likely based directly on Gandalf, and Gandalf in turn is known to be based on Odin's wanderer guise.

Exactly how Odin's wanderer guise became what it is then becomes the question, but the representation of him as a gray bearded man is way old, and he in many ways forms the archetypal wizard.


As others have said, each major wizard identifies themselves as such by taking the image from previous ones - especially the long white beard and flowing robes.

However the origins of the wizard image are from "wise men", the people in a tribe or group who dedicated their lives to gaining wisdom and information, and who used their learned skills to help the tribe.

The long grey beard is a visual sign of this, and a natural effect of spending longer reading books than shaving - it is an indication of age, especially in times past when reaching 40 was an achievement. It also gives a greater sense of "age" and "wisdom" to the wizard.


My take is that it comes from various near-Eastern mystical traditions and religions such as Zoroastrianism and Shaivite Hinduism.

  • Specific details and references would be helpful. Dec 25, 2011 at 1:45
  • There are several references you can find by Google-ing on 'Zoroaster beard' or 'Zoroastrianism beard' (ignore the metal band links). Zoroastrian priests are thought to have been the Magi from the New Testament and were often portrayed in church art. A 'Shaivite Hinduism beard' search also has several references (ignore the scrapped Wikipedia articles). In general, you'll find that a long white beard is often associated with near-Eastern mysticism and religions.
    – jfrankcarr
    Dec 25, 2011 at 4:52

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