You don’t have to speak fluent sorcerer to enjoy Doctor Strange, but it helps. The latest Marvel would-be blockbuster (opening on Friday) pulls a surfeit of magical words out of its proverbial hat, from Cloaks of Levitation to Sanctums Sanctorum. To help all those amateur magicians out there, we’ve assembled this Strange Glossary to provide a comic-book primer for all the weird characters, objects, and places that pop up in Doctor Strange. Where we’re going, you won’t need magic wands.
(Note: We kept this as spoiler-free as possible, using only images and information gleaned from existing comics and revealed in the film’s publicity materials and trailers.)
The Ancient One
Stephen Strange’s mentor and one of the key figures in the Strange pantheon, the Ancient One, whose given name is Yao, is a 500-year-old native of Tibet. Gifted in cosmic magic, he becomes Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme, protecting the world from supernatural evil, while training new generations of magic users in his Himalayan home base, Kamar-Taj.
Eventually, Strange inherits the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme and receives several of the Ancient One’s most prized artifacts, including the Book of the Vishanti, the Cloak of Levitation, and the Eye of Agamotto. Following blowback over the casting of Tilda Swinton in the Asian role for the film, producers explained that in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Ancient One” is a title passed down through millennia, with Swinton playing the current incarnation, a 500-year-old sorceress of Celtic origins and presumably a spiritual heir of Yao’s.
Also known as the place where Doctor Strange deviates from the typical Earth-bound Marvel Comics fodder and gets really trippy. The Astral Plane is the realm of the mind, an alternate dimension atop our material plane where supernaturally gifted beings can tap into the consciousness of others. Because this realm comprises ectoplasm, those who are powerful enough (like our Sorcerer Supreme) and can “astral project” themselves into the plane are able to manipulate matter and weaponize the world around them.
Book of the Vishanti
Compiled by the Babylonians several millennia ago, the bible of benevolent magic contains countless spells of the god-like magical beings known as the Vishanti. The spells are only for protection and cannot be used offensively; likewise, the book itself can act as a shield, deflecting dark magic. This treasured tome was considered so valuable by its authors that they had it guarded by a griffin. Of all challengers, only the Ancient One was worthy enough to defeat the beast and wrest away control of the volume, which he ultimately bequeaths to Strange.
The Seal of the Vishanti is one of the most prominent symbols in Doctor Strange lore. It famously adorns the book and the skylight of the Sanctum Sanctorum, where the volume is stored by Strange. The Book of the Vishanti is not seen in Doctor Strange, but its evil equivalent, the Darkhold, figures in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is part of the MCU. That black-magic tome also informs the Book of Cagliostro in the Ancient One’s library containing dimension-altering spells coveted by Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) and his cronies.
Palmer was one of three women working the late shift at New York’s Metro-General Hospital in the 1970s comic series Night Nurse. Geared to female readers and featuring no superheroes, Night Nurse was a “street comic” with melodramatic plots that would have worked in General Hospital or ER. While the book failed to find an audience and was quickly canceled, its characters have occasionally popped up in later comics.
Palmer, a Midwest transplant, encountered members of the X-Men. Another of the trio, Linda Carter, resurfaced in Daredevil, where she tended to the ailing hero and eventually became known as Night Nurse. Currently, Rosario Dawson’s character, Claire Temple, who appears in Netflix’s Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist series (all set in the MCU), is modeled in part on Carter.
Rachel McAdams plays a retooled version of Palmer in the Doctor Strange movie; instead of a nurse, she is upgraded to emergency room doctor and also linked romantically to Stephen Strange, another deviation from the comics.
Cloak of Levitation
Strange’s red cloak has been part of his signature wardrobe since the 1960s, but it wasn’t his first. In the early issues, he sported a blue cloak that wasn’t nearly as potent. After winning a battle with Dormammu, Strange received the crimson Cloak of Levitation as a prize from the Ancient One (along with the Eye of Agamotto). As its name suggests, the accessory allows its wearer to defy gravity, but that’s not all: The cloak, featuring an upturned “horned” collar also acts as a prehensile appendage, warping itself to its wearer’s will: it can mimic other clothing; it provides protection from elements, weapons, and magic; and, in a pinch, the cloak can act as a magic carpet of sorts to transport others. In the film, Strange comes across the cloak in the Sanctum Sanctorum and it becomes attached him.
In case you couldn’t guess by its name, the Dark Dimension is a nasty place infested with nasty beings. This nightmarish realm — a weird mini-universe with different laws of physics that looks like what you’d see if you took ’shrooms before going to a Pink Floyd laser light show extravaganza — is the home to the malevolent Dormammu, as depicted in Doctor Strange. Other denizens of the Dark Dimension include his sister and rival, Umar, the extra-dimensional beings known as Mhuruuks, the invasive army of Mindless Ones, and other Strange enemies like Veritas and Paradox — enough for plenty of sequels down the line.
Doctor Strange’s archnemesis in the comics, the dreaded Dormammu, is the ruler of the Dark Dimension. Dormammu has a flaming head — the result of the Flames of Regency, which bestow themselves upon whoever rules the Dark Dimension. (When Dormammu’s sister, Umar, takes control of the realm, her head catches fire too.)
Dormammu gained power over the Dark Dimension after creating a zone of safety for its humanoid inhabitants protecting them from the Mindless Ones, massive monsters who shoot lasers from their eyes and spend every moment of their existence punching one another. Dormammu ruled the Dark Dimension with an iron fist and sought to extend that rule to Earth — only to be stopped by Doctor Strange. In the film, the disembodied Dormammu dispatches Kaecilius to wreak havoc on Earth.
Eye of Agamotto
The Eye of Agamotto resides inside Doctor Strange’s amulet and enables him to see through illusions and into other beings’ minds. When activated, the lidded amulet opens, revealing the eye inside — and the eye is sometimes transposed onto its user’s forehead. Doctor Strange received the Eye of Agamotto as a reward from the Ancient One after defeating Dormammu. The Eye is not to be confused with the Orb of Agamotto, a tripod-mounted crystal ball that enables Strange to see and travel into other dimensions. (In case you were wondering, Agamotto is one of the Vishanti, a collective of magical godlike beings.) In the film, the green-glowing eye allows Strange to manipulate time; it was also revealed to serve an additional role that will play out in future MCU events.
The makers of the movie Doctor Strange dove deep into the archives for Kaecilius. This villain appeared in a handful of early issues of Strange Tales as a nameless disciple of Strange’s rival Baron Mordo. Along with two other minions, Doctor Strange erased this disciple’s memory, and he disappeared into oblivion until a brief reappearance in a one-off story in the early 1980s that revealed the villain’s name. But he never regained the spotlight — in fact, prior to the release of the film, Kaecilius hasn’t appeared in the comics in over three decades.
In the movie, however, Kaecilius (Mikkelsen) and his acolytes are working with Dormammu to open up a portal between Earth and the Dark Dimension.
Kamar-Taj is the Himalayan refuge of the Ancient One — a temple complex atop a snowy mountain peak. Its earliest appearances represent peak Marvel Comics Orientalism — giant headdresses and bizarro stone idols figure prominently in its design elements.
The Mirror Dimension depicted in the movie was created specifically for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and doesn’t appear in the comics. But its look is heavily inspired by the weird geometry of the surreal realms imagined by Doctor Strange co-creator Steve Ditko.
In the film, the Mirror Dimension is a safe zone constructed by sorcerers to practice magic that is too dangerous for the real world.
Just as Batman has the Joker and Captain America has Red Skull, Karl Mordo is the primary adversary of Stephen Strange. A Transylvanian-born fellow pupil of the Ancient One, Mordo plotted to kill his teacher and would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for that meddling Strange. The two would continue to tangle over the ensuing decades, with one of their most memorable adventures appearing in the pages of Marvel Premiere, when Strange and Mordo travel back to the very beginning of time.
Chiwetel Ejiofor plays a kinder, gentler Mordo in the film version, but don’t take that to mean that this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship…
Located at 177A Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village — an accidental, but amusing parallel to 221B Baker Street, where Benedict Cumberbatch hangs his deerstalker cap when he’s in Sherlock mode — the Sanctum Sanctorum functions as both Doctor Strange’s HQ and a focal point for the mystical energies that surround our world.
Onscreen, the New York branch is one of three major sanctums, with the other two located in London and Hong Kong. Carefully guarded by sorcerers, these sanctums also house powerful magical artifacts; for example, the Cloak of Levitation and the Dark Scepter are among the many items on display in the Sanctum Sanctorum. (Fun fact: The real address is an apartment where several Marvel staffers lived.)
The rings used by Doctor Strange and other sorcerers to travel between dimensions in the film don’t have a direct counterpart in the comics. (Strange typically uses other relics, like the Eye of Agamotto, to jump from plane to plane). But in one early appearance, Strange does receive a ring from the Ancient One that allows him to access all of his astral powers while in his physical form. The ring was never named, but fans have dubbed it “The Ring of Full Power.”
In the end, there can be only one … Sorcerer Supreme, that is. It’s an exalted rank that only the world’s most powerful practitioner of magic can attain, and getting there requires countless hours of training, as well as numerous head-to-head battles with those who traffic in darker forms of magic. In the comic books, Stephen Strange has reached Sorcerer Supreme status, but his film counterpart still has a long journey ahead of him.
In a former life, Stephen Strange was a renowned neurosurgeon who relied on his metaphorically magic hands to fix the ailments of countless patients. When injuries from a car accident rob him of that ability, he becomes a reluctant, then willing, pupil of the Ancient One, devoting his formidable brain to mastering magic. He may be arrogant, but he’s got the skills to back it up.
Watch Cumberbatch talk about bringing magic to the MCU:
The latest descendent in a long line of magical monks, Wong was personally assigned to serve alongside Doctor Strange by the Ancient One. Over the decades, Wong has acquired a more extensive backstory and takes a more active role in his partnership with Stephen. He has even turned against his friend in the past, particularly when Strange declined to save Wong’s fiancée from a sorceress.
British actor Benedict Wong plays the role in the film, which depicts Wong as the Ancient One’s stern chief librarian who has a soft spot for pop music.