In the Undying Lands around TA 1000, Manwë (leader of the Ainur and King of both the Valar and Arda) became aware that the dark lord Morgoth's most loyal lieutenant, Sauron was rising to power once again. He then summoned a council, the Valar to send three messengers to Middle-earth to protect the free peoples and assure them the Valar had not forgotten them. Two Maiar came: Curumo (or Curunir; later known as Saruman) sent by Aulë, and Morinehtar (Alatar), sent by Oromë. Manwë asked where Olórin (later known as Gandalf) was, and he came, after returning from a journey. Manwë asked Olórin if he would go as the third messenger. Olórin said he was too weak and that he was afraid of Sauron; however, Manwë said that was all the more reason to go, and that he commanded Olórin to go as the third. Then Varda said, "Not as the third." Yavanna begged Curumo to take Aiwendil (Radagast), and Alatar took Rómestámo (Pallando) as a friend. They were forbidden to dominate the free peoples of Middle-earth or to match Sauron's power with power. When Saruman, the greatest of the Wizards, disobeyed this injunction, he was cast from the order and banished from ever returning to Valinor, thus leaving his spirit to roam Middle-earth for eternity.
The Wizards were known by various names and were arrayed in different colors. Of those who came to Middle-earth, sent by the Valar, five are known, the Heren Istarion (Order of Wizards). After arriving in Middle-earth, the two Blue Wizards apparently went east before the War of the Ring; whether they played a part in the events of that war is unknown. (Note: According to Tolkien's letters they may have formed cults for magic worship and practice among the Easterlings.) Radagast the Brown concerned himself mainly with plants and animals, living in Mirkwood for many years. Saruman the White and Gandalf the Grey spent their time with the Free Peoples: the Elves, Dwarves, and Men. Saruman was wise and respected, later becoming the head of the White Council in TA 2463. However, he became prideful and jealous of the power and purity of Gandalf's spirit, who would eventually surpass him in power. Saruman slowly came to betray the original purpose of the Wizards and sought power for himself. He was overthrown during the War of the Ring, by his tormented servant, Grima Wormtongue. Grima slit Saruman's throat after a failed attempt to rule the Shire. Saruman's spirit looked to the West of Valinor but was rejected due to his betrayal of Manwë and the original purpose of the Wizards.
At the end of the Third Age, the Wizards passed from sight; since, with the fall of Sauron, their work was done. Gandalf passed over the Sea with the Last Riding of the Keepers of the Rings. Saruman became a naked spirit and wandered Middle-earth forever, due to his banishment from Valinor. Radagast remained in Middle-earth, tending to the wilderness. The fate of the Blue Wizards is unknown.
The wizards bore the forms of old Men; they were ancient and seemed to age very slowly. They possessed the great skill of body and mind; Most of their power as Maiar resided in their staffs. Each of the Istari had his color and grade within the Order. Saruman the White, who dwelt in Orthanc, was the eldest and most powerful. Preceding him was Gandalf the Grey, who roamed Middle-earth, never remaining in one location for an extended period of time. The third Istari was Radagast the Brown, who resided in Mirkwood. The remaining Istari were Pallando and Alatar the Blue, who dwelt far in the east.
- Curumo, the White Wizard, was more commonly known as Saruman. However, after being seduced by the evil power of Sauron, Saruman became the Many-Coloured Wizard.
- Saruman (human form) was killed by Gríma Wormtongue following the Battle of Bywater, and Gandalf returned to the Undying Lands in TA 3021. However, the fates of the three other Istari are relatively unknown. Alatar and Pallando disappeared in the east, while Radagast stayed in Middle-earth until at least TA 3018.
- Olórin, the Grey Wizard, was more commonly known as Gandalf. However, after dying at the hands of a Balrog, Durin's Bane, Gandalf was reborn as the new White Wizard.
- Aiwendil, the Brown Wizard, was more commonly known as Radagast. Radagast was a lover of nature, meaning he didn't play any major part in the War of the Ring except for announcing to the Great Eagles that Gandalf was imprisoned at Orthanc with Saruman.
- Alatar and Pallando, the Blue Wizards, little is known about them, although Gandalf suspected they may have founded a few magical cults in the east. It isn't expressed why he thought this, although perhaps he noted some strange similarities of knowledge from Maia and knowledge of those cults/teachings (Note: Later in his life, Tolkien wrote a note, suggesting that the names of the Blue Wizards were Morinehtar and Rómestámo. It is not clear whether these names were intended to replace the names Alatar and Pallando, or whether Morinehtar and Rómestámo were alternate names for the Blue Wizards, possibly those given to them by the peoples of Middle-Earth).
|Middle-earth name||Colour||Maia name||Belongs to|
|Saruman||White (later of Many Colors)||Curumo||Aulë|
|Gandalf||Grey (later White)||Olórin||Manwë and Varda|
|Foreign Language||Translated name|
|Bulgarian Cyrillic||Магьосници (Wizards)
|Serbian||Чаробњаци (Cyrillic) Čarobnjaci (Latin)|
|Tongan||Kau fie mana|
|Uzbek||Сеҳргарлар (Cyrillic) Sehrgarlar (Latin)|