In the Undying Lands around TA 1000, Manwë summoned a council of the Valar to send three messengers to Middle-earth. Two Maiar came, Curumo (later known as Saruman) sent by Aulë, and (Morinehtar) Alatar, sent by Oromë. Manwë asked where Olórin was, and he came, after returning from a journey. Manwë asked Olórin (Gandalf) if he would go as the third messenger. Olórin said that he was too weak, and he was afraid of Sauron. Manwë said that 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 (Radagast) Aiwendil, 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 Valinor.
The Istari were known by various names, and were arrayed in different colours. 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 currently unknown. (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, and lived in Mirkwood for many years. Curunir and Olórin spent time with the Free Peoples, the Elves, Dwarves, and Men. Curunir, known as Saruman, was wise and respected and became head of the White Council in TA 2463. However, he became prideful and jealous of the potential and purity of spirit of Gandalf, who would eventually surpass him in power. Saruman slowly came to betray the original purpose of the Istari, and sought power for himself. During the War of the Ring he was overthrown, and he was finally killed outside of Orthanc, by his tormented servant Grima Wormtongue, after a failed attempt to rule the Shire. Saruman's spirit looked to the West, but was blown away.
At the end of the Third Age the Istari passed from sight, with the fall of Sauron their work was done. Gandalf passed over Sea with the Last Riding of the Keepers of the Rings. The fate of the other Istari is unknown.
The Istari bore the forms of old Men, although they were vigorous and seemed to age very slowly if at all. They possessed great skill of body and mind; their powers were focused through their staffs. Each of the Istari had his own colour and grade within the Order. Saruman the White was the eldest and Gandalf the Grey second. The other Istari were Radagast the Brown and the two Blue Wizards, who dwelt far in the east.
|Middle-earth name||Colour||Maia name||Belongs to|
|Saruman||White (later Many Coloured)||Curumo||Aulë|
|Gandalf||Grey (later White)||Olórin||Manwë and Varda|
- Curunir, the white wizard, was more commonly known as Saruman. He later claimed the title "Saruman of the Many Colours", after he was seduced by the evil power of Sauron.
- Olórin, the grey wizard, was more commonly known as Gandalf the Grey. However, after dying at the hands of a balrog, Gandalf was reborn as Gandalf the White.
- Aiwendil, the brown wizard, was more commonly known as Radagast. Radagast was a lover of nature and so did not play any major part in the War of the Ring except for announcing to the Great Eagles that Gandalf was at the Orthanc with Saruman
- Alatar and Pallando, the Blue Wizards. (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.)
Saruman was killed by Gríma 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 at least until TA 3018.