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Ancient One

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Full of surprises
"Well, you are just full of surprises."
WARNING! This article contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Doctor Strange. Keep reading this article at your own risk.
"We never lose our demons, Mordo. We only learn to live above them."
―Ancient One to Karl Mordo[src]

The Ancient One was the Sorcerer Supreme as well as the leader of the Masters of the Mystic Arts. For centuries, the Ancient One protected Earth from mystical threats, and dedicated herself to helping others in need by educating them in the magical arts to give them new hope.

However, later on, she was challenged by a former student, Kaecilius, who had become corrupted by the Dark Dimension and sought to bring Dormammu to Earth. In the midst of her war with Kaecilius and his Zealots, the Ancient One encountered Doctor Strange and, despite her initial reluctance, was persuaded to accept him as her student by Karl Mordo.

During one final battle, the Ancient One was fatally wounded and despite the best efforts of Doctor Strange and Christine Palmer, she accepted her fate and died, but not before giving Doctor Strange the advice he needed to defeat Dormammu as well as to find his new purpose in life.

Biography

Sorcerer Supreme

"No one knows the age of the Sorcerer Supreme. Only that she is Celtic and never talks about her past."
Karl Mordo[src]

The Ancient One was the latest in a long line of Sorcerers Supreme who had defended Earth from mystical threats for millenniums. According to Karl Mordo, no one knew her exact age, and she never spoke of her own past, though it was still revealed that she was of Celtic descent.

Apart from her responsibilities as the mystical defender of Earth, the Ancient One was also dedicated to helping others in need, especially those who were paralyzed, heartbroken from loss of loved ones, or suffering from ailments believed to be incurable. Whether by coincidence, by luck, or by their own intentions, if they managed to reach Kamar-Taj, she would tutor them in the arts of sorcery, which in turn could either cure them of their supposedly incurable ailments, or enable them to find inner peace as well as to develop a better understanding of the natural laws. Examples of such individuals would be Jonathan Pangborn, who was cured of his paralysis through magic, and Karl Mordo, who claimed that the Ancient One gave him "the power to defeat his demons and to live within the natural law". [2]

Retrieving the Bow and Arrow of Apollon

"If that relic is in the hands of anyone but those who know how to wield it, the effect can be absolutely devastating."
―Ancient One to Karl Mordo[src]

To be added

Theft of the Book of Cagliostro

Ancient One Magic

The Ancient One preparing to fight the Zealots

"Master Kaecilius, that ritual will bring you only sorrow."
―Ancient One to Kaecilius[src]

However, the Ancient One's healing methods were not always effective: Kaecilius, one of her most gifted students in the mystic arts, did not manage to recover from his emotional wounds, and later on he discovered the secret of her drawing power from the Dark Dimension to preserve her immortality.

Given how the Ancient One had forbidden others from doing the exact same thing, Kaecilius viewed this hypocrisy as an act of ultimate betrayal and, besides losing all faith in her, decided to gather his own group of followers to carry out his own nefarious plans for the entire world. Stealing a forbidden spell from the Book of Cagliostro, he fled with his Zealots to London, where they ran down the streets hoping to get away from the Sorcerer Supreme. However, the Ancient One managed to drag Kaecilius and his Zealots into the Mirror Dimension, and expertly fought them by channeling magic through her Magic Fans. Through her Magic Fans and her ability to manipulate reality, she successfully killed many of the Zealots, but Kaecilius and a few others managed to escape.[2]

Meeting The Skeptic

Open Your Eyes 2

The Ancient One meets Stephen Strange

"You're a man looking at the world through a keyhole. You spent your whole life trying to widen that keyhole. To see more, to know more; and now, on hearing that it can be widened in ways you can't imagine... you reject the possibility."
―Ancient One to Doctor Strange[src]

One day Karl Mordo brought Doctor Stephen Strange to the Ancient One at Kamar-Taj as the latter hoped she could mend his damaged hands, with Strange at first mistaking Hamir for the Ancient One due to his preconceived ideas. As she poured him a cup of tea, the Ancient One told Strange to expand his mind but Strange remained stubbornly skeptical.

Doctor Strange Teaser 25

Ancient One hits Strange's Astral Form out.

When Strange accused the Ancient One of being a liar, she pushed his Astral Form out of his body and then sent him through several dimensions and realities, showing him terrifying images including sights of the Dark Dimension. She then sarcastically asked if he could find that in a gift shop.

AO Eye

The Ancient One discusses Strange's skills

Strange begged her to teach him but she refused as his arrogance and headstrong attitude reminded her of Kaecilius. Mordo convinced her that Strange could be of use to them in fighting Kaecilius and she eventually let him study magic.[2]

Training Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange EW Screencap 02

Ancient One begins training Doctor Strange.

The Ancient One showed Doctor Strange how spells work, using her Sling Ring to create images and shields from thin air made of pure energy. When Strange questioned how he could possibly do the things she could do, she responded by questioning how he had become a successful doctor, when Strange explained it had taken years of practice to reach an advanced level the Ancient One told him it was the exact same concept.

Doctor Strange Magic 6

Ancient One tries a new method with Strange

Having witnessed his difficulty in using magic, she promptly abandoned him on the top Mount Everest as an encouragement for him to finally work out how to wield his Sling Ring. Seeing this test, Karl Mordo declared "not again" suggesting that she had used this method of 'encouragement' before to varying success.

Strange succeeded in returning Kamar-Taj again only to rapidly progress in magic so much that he found it difficult to work in the conditions offered. To help, the Ancient One offered him the Mirror Dimension where he could train without affecting the Physical World.[2]

Battle of the Mirror Dimension

DS Spot 18 - 1

Ancient One is confronted by Doctor Strange

Once Doctor Strange managed to fend off the Zealots from destroying the Sanctum Sanctorum in New York City, the Ancient One offered him the title of 'Master' and a position as Protector of the New York Sanctum, as Daniel Drumm had been killed by Kaecilius. Strange refused and alluded to her drawing power from the Dark Dimension, which she never outright denied, in order to fuel her immortality. She warned him to choose his next words carefully before leaving.

DS Promo Clip - 5 Days 2

Ancient One battles the Zealots once again.

During the second attack on the Sanctum, the Ancient One saved Strange and Karl Mordo from the Zealots and fought them herself. She also confirmed that she did draw her power from the Dark Dimension when the symbol appeared on her forehead. During the fight she used her Magic Fans to duel but was fatally wounded when she was stabbed by Kaecilius' Space Shard and thrown hundreds of stories towards the Physical World ground below.[2]

Accepting Death

DS Spot 28 - 6

The Ancient One is thrown back to Earth

"We don't get to choose our time. Death is what gives life meaning. To know your days are numbered and your time is short. You'd think after all this time I'd be ready. But look at me. Stretching one moment out into a thousand... just so that I can watch the snow."
―The Ancient One's last words to Doctor Strange[src]

Though she was rushed to Metro-General Hospital where she was operated on, the Ancient One left her physical form and went out onto a balcony, prompting Doctor Strange's astral form to follow. Once outside, she confessed to Strange that she had always known the exact moment of her death, and though she had only been able to foresee the possibilities of his future, she did know what kept him from true greatness: his inability to learn that the world did not revolve solely around him.

The Ancient One went on to explain that Strange, like Jonathan Pangborn, also had a choice through his newly-acquired magical powers - he could have his hands restored to their former healthy state and regain his old life, or he could serve something greater than himself. She also confessed that she had always hated drawing power from the Dark Dimension, but she still did so to ensure that she was able to protect the world, and that he too would have to bend the rules for the greater good.

Despite agreeing with Strange's assessment that Karl Mordo would fail to understand her perspective, the Ancient One still told him that he needed Mordo's rule-abiding nature, just as Mordo needed his flexibility, for it was only through their cooperation could Dormammu be stopped. When Strange argued that he was not ready, she told him that no one was ever ready, and took his hand in hers.

Astral Form Snow

The Ancient One accepts her own death

With a final piece of advice to him regarding treasuring his time, as well as acknowledging her own fallibility, despite the centuries she had lived, she was also not ready for death, and was actually using magic through her astral form to manipulate time so she could watch the snowfall one last time. The Ancient One released Strange's hand and then vanished from the Astral Plane, signifying her death despite Christine Palmer and Nicodemus West's best efforts to save her.[2]

Personality

"I know that she is steadfast, but unpredictable; merciless, yet kind."
Karl Mordo[src]

According to Karl Mordo, the Ancient One is "steadfast, but unpredictable; merciless, yet kind." This is shown when she was willing to kill multiple Zealots in combat and initially refuse to help Stephen Strange when he first came to Kamar-Taj due to his arrogance, though she did so for the sake of protecting the world from the rogue sorcerers and to ensure that other sorcerers did not become like Kaecilius and his followers. While she enforced rules on the Masters of the Mystic Arts against breaking the laws of nature or using their power for god-like feats, such as manipulating time or becoming immune of death, she was willing to break her own rules to continue to personally ensure that they were followed and that the world was safe, though she never wanted to do so. This lead her to draw power from the Dark Dimension to become immortal, an act which she herself forbade. Since Doctor Strange was similar to her in her breaking the laws of nature to save the world, she believed that he and Mordo, the latter of which was completely devoted to following her rules, would need to balance each other out in order for them to protect the world when she died.

Powers and Abilities

Powers

"We harness energy and shape reality."
Ancient One to Doctor Strange[src]
Doctor Strange Final Trailer 04

The Ancient One demonstrates her powers

  • Master Sorcerer: As the Sorcerer Supreme, and the leader of the Masters of the Mystic Arts, the Ancient One was the most powerful member of the order, possessing absolute mastery of the mystic arts, which she used to defend her native reality from threats from other dimensions of the Multiverse, having successfully prevented countless threats during her long life. With the help of numerous mystical artifacts and relics, in addition to her astral powers, the Ancient One is able to gain access to a multitude of mystical powers.
    • Eldritch Magic Manipulation: The Ancient One is able to create, shape and manipulate Eldritch Magic.
    • Teleportation: Using a Sling Ring, the Ancient One is able to open a fiery portal to another location, gaining the ability to move tremendous distances instantaneously.
      • Inter-Dimensional Travel: Using the same Sling Ring, the Ancient One can travel between different dimensions and universes, crossing over different planes of existence or traveling across various forms of reality. She was also able to forcibly send Strange's consciousness flying across multiple dimensions to prove a point.
    • Astral Projection: The Ancient One is capable of separating her astral spirit from his body, gaining access to the Astral Dimension, being able to speak to Doctor Strange's spirit before her clinical death. She was also able to forcibly push Strange's soul into the Astral Dimension to prove a point.
"She draws power form the dark dimension to stay alive."
Doctor Strange to Karl Mordo[src]
  • Immortality: The Ancient One achieved immortality by drawing power from the Dark Dimension to fuel her long life. However, this form of immortality only suppresses the aging process, meaning that she can still be fatally injured. She was notably resilient enough to not be killed instantly by falling from a great height after being stabbed through the torso by Kaecilius. Furthermore, she lasted several minutes afterward to be brought into an operating table, just so she could astral project and watch the snow fall outside before her clinical death.

Abilities

  • Master Martial Artist: The Ancient One was a highly skilled martial artist, in both armed and hand-to hand combat, with her overpowering many Zealots sorcerers and seemingly maintain the upper hand against Kaecilius, though the latter ultimately managed to kill her while teaming up against the Ancient One with his Zealots.
  • Multilingualism: The Ancient One could speak English and Chinese, in addition to Sanskrit, which the Book of Cagliostro is written in.

Equipment

  • Sling Ring: A mystical object which enables the wearer to open a fiery portal to another location.
  • Magic Fans: Two ordinary fans she channels her magic through to wield as weapons. When in use, they emit an aura of orange sparks. The way the are fanned out can be easily changed easily during battle and they can be fully extended them into shields.

Relationships

Allies

Enemies

Trivia

  • In the comics, the Ancient One was an ancient Tibetan magician named Yao, and the previous holder of the title of Sorcerer Supreme. After his death, he transcended into the spiritual plane after his death, becoming a minor cosmic entity.
  • The mark that forms on the Ancient One's forehead and her ageless life are both references to the comics, as both the Ancient One and Doctor Strange passed a test of the entity Death, earning them an ageless life, and an ankh-shaped mark on their foreheads only appeared when their lives were in dire jeopardy.

Behind the Scenes

  • Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has stated that in the Marvel Cinematic Universe there have been several individuals who have held the title of The Ancient One throughout the ages: "As we were developing this film we looked at The Ancient One as a mantle more than a specific person. The sorcerers have been around for millennia, protecting us from things we didn’t know about until this story. There have been multiple [Ancient Ones], even if this one has been around for five hundred years, there were others. This is a mantle, and therefore felt we had leeway to cast in interesting ways."[3]
  • The casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One has been the subject of much controversy, with many accusing it of whitewashing. Screenwriter C. Robert Cargill explained that the motivation behind the casting was that the character in the comics is considered a racist caricature originating from Tibet, a country that has suffered much political unrest : "The Ancient One was a racist stereotype who comes from a region of the world that is in a very weird political place. He originates from Tibet. So if you acknowledge that Tibet is a place and that he’s Tibetan, you risk alienating one billion people who think that that’s bullshit and risk the Chinese government going, ‘Hey, you know one of the biggest film-watching countries in the world? We’re not going to show your movie because you decided to get political.’ If we decide to go the other way and cater to China in particular and have him be in Tibet… If you think it’s a good idea to cast a Chinese actress as a Tibetan character, you are out of your damn fool mind and have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about."[4] Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige also stated that the character's race and gender were changed to avoid stereotyping: "The casting of The Ancient One was a major topic of conversation in the development and the creative process of the story. We didn’t want to play into any of the stereotypes found in the comic books, some of which go back as far as 50 years or more. We felt the idea of gender swapping the role of The Ancient One was exciting. It opened up possibilities, it was a fresh way into this old and very typical storyline. Why not make the wisest bestower of knowledge in the universe to our heroes in the particular film a woman instead of a man?".[5]
  • Morgan Freeman, Bill Nighy and Ken Watanabe were originally considered for the role.[6]

References

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