In Thomas Hardy's 1888 short story "The Withered Arm" (freely available to read online), Gertrude Lodge and Rhona Brook go together to see a man named Trendle, often called Conjuror Trendle, who is reputed to have some knowledge or ability with magic. He's the one who tells Gertrude that her affliction comes from Rhona, and also the one who tells her a possible way to get rid of it. After Gertrude's second, lonely, visit to him, we have the following paragraph from the start of Chapter VII:

The communication sank deep into Gertrude's mind. Her nature was rather a timid one; and probably of all remedies that the white wizard could have suggested there was not one which would have filled her with so much aversion as this, not to speak of the immense obstacles in the way of its adoption.

Why is he referred to as a "white wizard"? It surely doesn't mean his complexion, since he's described at their first meeting with him as "a grey-bearded man, with a reddish face". Was the phrase "white wizard" used in rural England at those times to denote a "conjuror" such as him? I've tried searching the internet, but of course nowadays most references to "white wizards" are from fantasy and the search results are full of those.

  • 1
    The story was published in 1888; that would be useful to mention.
    – arp
    Jan 17, 2021 at 15:22

1 Answer 1


The term "white wizard" is used in the context of the white magic / black magic distinction. Black magic is malevolent, used for harmful or evil purposes; white magic is benevolent, used for good and selfless ones. The site Wicca Living explains:

If people believed they were the victim of a curse, they would seek out a “white witch,” also known in some places as “cunning folk,” who would work a counter-spell to lift it. Any kind of bad luck, including illnesses and injuries, might be the result of someone else’s black magic and thus required white magic to reverse it.

"What's the Difference between Black Magic and White Magic?" wiccaliving.com/black-magic-white-magic. Retrieved 16 Jan 2021.

Since Gertrude has gone to see Trendle to understand why she has been afflicted and what she can do to reverse it, Trendle is therefore a white wizard.

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