Scarlet Witch’s Powers and Chaos Magic, Explained

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[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for WandaVision Season 1, Episode 8, “Previously On.”]

“This is Chaos Magic, Wanda. And that makes you the Scarlet Witch.”

Nearly six years after Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff entered the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Avengers: Age of Ultron, WandaVision’s latest episode has officially given her the codename of her comic book counterpart. However, the meaning of the Scarlet Witch’s name may differ in the MCU. Agatha Harkness indicated that the Scarlet Witch was thought to be a mythical creation. But in that universe, Wanda is all too real, and even her artificial world is more than just mere illusion.

To better understand Wanda’s place in both the comic book realm and in the MCU, we’re taking a look back at her origins, powers, and the reason why the comics and the films/TV show incarnations of Wanda aren’t entirely consistent. But if WandaVision Episode 8, “Previously On,” is any indication, that may be about to change.

Brotherhood

Aaron Taylor Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen in Avengers: Age of Ultron

Image via Marvel

Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby originally created Scarlet Witch and her brother Quicksilver as members of Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants in The X-Men (1963) #4. However, Wanda and Pietro Maximoff weren’t malevolent like their teammates, and they went on to join the second incarnation of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in Avengers (1963) #16. Years later, a retcon revealed that Wanda and Pietro were Magneto’s long-lost children, which made them a very awkward family when Magneto briefly tried to reform.

For most of their comic book existence, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver were mutants who were defined by their infamous father. However, the Avengers and X-Men: AXIS (2014) event miniseries retconned away Magneto’s status as their father. In the current continuity, Wanda and Pietro were never mutants at all. Instead, they were genetically altered by a villain named the High Evolutionary, and subsequently returned to their foster parents, Django and Marya Maximoff. This retcon also established Natalya Maximoff as the twins’ biological mother, and the previous Scarlet Witch. Don’t worry, we’ll get back to Natalya. She’s important.

It’s widely believed that Marvel made this change to its continuity because of a dispute with 20th Century Fox, which owned the cinematic rights to the X-Men at the time. Because Wanda and Pietro were central characters for the Avengers and the X-Men, both Marvel Studios and Fox had the ability to use them in their movies. But the Marvel films weren’t allowed to make any references to Magneto or mutants. It seems petty to have changed their comic book origins because of that — thankfully, the Disney and Fox merger has rendered those conflicts inert. That said, Marvel has yet to revert to the previous origin for the Maximoff siblings.

RELATED: ‘WandaVision’ Episode 8 Recap: Time to Look At Some Real Reruns

Enter the Mind Stone

Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s mid-credits scene introduced the MCU’s Wanda and Pietro as the only survivors of Hydra’s experiments with the Mind Stone. That was the explanation for Pietro’s super speed, and Wanda’s unique blend of telepathy and telekinesis. It didn’t completely match Wanda’s comic book powers, but it was close enough.

WandaVision’s latest episode has opened the door for a different interpretation of these events. According to Agatha Harkness, young Wanda unknowingly used a probability hex to prevent the second Stark missile in her apartment from detonating when she and Pietro were ten years old. That was years before Wanda’s exposure to the Mind Stone; which implies that she was born with those abilities. The word “mutant” wasn’t uttered, but it’s extremely rare for someone to have naturally occurring powers in the MCU outside of the Inhumans’ terrigenesis.

There’s one other thing to call out here: Wanda’s exposure to the Mind Stone also triggered a vision of a woman in a costume similar to her comic book counterpart. It’s possible that Wanda was witnessing a glimpse of her future self. But if Natalya Maximoff or any of the previous Scarlet Witches exist in the MCU, then it’s also possible that Wanda saw one of her predecessors.

Elizabeth Olsen in Avengers: Age of Ultron

Image via Marvel

Mind Over Matter

As established in Age of Ultron, the MCU’s Wanda has a limited form of telepathy. She can read the surface thoughts of people, and even Ultron himself. She also used this ability to place her victims in a trance-like state while subjecting them to nightmarish memories and visions. Wanda was even able to put the Hulk into full berserker mode. Wanda has rarely used her telepathic gifts since joining the Avengers at the end of that movie. Instead, she has largely relied on her telekinesis.

Almost all of Wanda’s frequently used powers are derived from her ability to move and manipulate objects with her mind. Telekinesis gives Wanda the means to simulate flight, and mentally lift heavy objects. Yet her control is far more impressive than those relatively simple tricks. Wanda’s telekinesis is so refined that she can take apart objects at the molecular level. That’s how she destroyed the Mind Stone in Avengers: Infinity War, and how she nearly beat Thanos himself in Avengers: Endgame.

Put a Hex on It

Comic book Wanda was initially far less powerful than her MCU counterpart. During her first days as both a villain and a hero, Wanda relied on her mutant hex ability to affect the probabilities around her. Wanda’s powers were also seemingly reliant on her hand gestures, and she could be subdued if her hands were immobilized.

Over time, Wanda’s powers expanded and she was able to draw upon real magic. This was due in part due to the malevolent elder god Chthon, who attempted to make Wanda his vessel when she was still an infant. Chthon wanted to reenter this world and take over Wanda’s body as his own. But the side effect of his actions gave Wanda an unusually strong affinity for both magic and chaos magic. Under the tutelage of Agatha Harkness, Wanda became a skilled sorceress who could use actual spells in addition to her mutant hex powers.

Over time, Wanda’s powers expanded so much that reality itself bent to her whims, even when she didn’t realize it. After Wanda married Vision and settled down for a life of marital bliss, she unknowingly conjured their sons, Billy and Thomas, into existence by using slivers of Mephisto’s life force. (If you don’t know who Mephisto is, think of him as Marvel’s version of the devil.)

Because it was impossible to separate Billy and Thomas from Mephisto’s grasp, Agatha cast a spell that caused Wanda to forget about her sons; which temporarily defeated Mephisto when the siblings faded from existence. Years later, Billy and Thomas were reincarnated as the Young Avengers Wiccan and Speed, but not before Wanda went insane and nearly destroyed the Avengers when she suddenly remembered how she had lost her children.

Agatha as a Salem witch in WandaVision Episode 8

Image via Disney+/Marvel Studios

Embrace Chaos

Although WandaVision hasn’t yet explained the concept of Chaos Magic in the MCU, the comics have revealed that it is perhaps the most powerful form of magic. The Elder God Chthon is the Marvel Universe’s most prominent Chaos Magic-user, and he has called himself the “God of Chaos.”

Why is Chaos Magic so powerful? Because a master of Chaos Magic can literally rewrite reality around them. If that sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve been watching Wanda do it throughout WandaVision. Any time she warps and manipulates objects and people into new forms, that’s Chaos Magic. Very few sorcerers are skilled enough to use it. As noted above, in the comics Wanda’s affinity for Chaos Magic comes from Chthon’s attempt to possess her as a child. It’s believed that Wanda’s innate power would have only been energy manipulation if Chthon hadn’t tried to corrupt her during her birth at Mount Wundagore.

Agatha was also a key part of Wanda’s Chaos Magic education in the comics. Through years of practice, Wanda was able to use Chaos Magic to enhance her innate Hex powers. She reached the peak of her potential with magic and was one of the most formidable witches in the world. But it may have also led to Wanda’s downfall into insanity during the Avengers: Disassembled storyline.

House of M

One of the key comic book stories that WandaVision is drawing from is House of M, an event miniseries where Wanda used her powers to reshape the entire world into a mutant utopia that left Magneto and his family in charge, while humans became the oppressed underclass. At the time, Wanda was still in a fragile mental state after attacking her friends in the Avengers. She also wanted to give her “father” the version of the world that would finally make him happy.

RELATED: ‘WandaVision’ Episode 8 Showed The Avengers’ Biggest Screw-Up Yet

By comparison, the MCU’s Wanda doesn’t quite have that raw power yet. Wanda’s artificial world only exists within the boundaries of the Westview hex. When Wanda extended the borders at the end of WandaVision Episode 6, she subsequently lost control of the illusion in Episode 7. The fourth episode also established that any physical object changed by the Hex remained transformed when it returned to the real world.

MCU Wanda may not have reached the peak of her abilities, but Agatha was openly astonished by how much she had accomplished without formal training. If we’re taking Agatha at her word, no other witch or sorcerer in the MCU can do what Wanda has already done. Hence the mythological status of the Scarlet Witch. But we don’t know if Wanda is the first Scarlet Witch, or merely the latest one to emerge.

Mind Stone Scarlet Witch in WandaVision Episode 8

Image via Disney+

From Mother To Daughter

The Scarlet Witch (2016) solo comic book series took full advantage of the retcon that removed Magneto from Wanda’s family tree. That comic introduced readers to Natalya Maximoff, the previous Scarlet Witch. Wanda encountered her late mother’s spirit on more than one occasion, and she learned that the Scarlet mantle was passed down through her family. For example, Natalya’s father was the Scarlet Warlock; which means that both the men and the women of the Maximoff family have been blessed with magical power.

Natalya also left Wanda with a mystery that has yet to be solved. She told her daughter that she was murdered by her husband, Wanda’s father. But we still don’t know who Wanda’s father is, or why he killed Natalya. Perhaps that will be explored somewhere down the line in the comics universe.

In the Multiverse of Madness

During the early days of the MCU, Marvel Studios seemed to go out of its way to downplay magic and mythology. That’s why Thor and the Asgardians were essentially humanoid aliens instead of actual gods. It’s also why Doctor Strange called magic “the source code that shapes reality.” But there’s more to this world than meets the eye. The upcoming Blade reboot means that vampires exist in the MCU, even if we haven’t met them yet. Chthon’s book of evil magic, The Darkhold, has also appeared in both Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Runaways, even though it’s unclear if either series is still considered canon in the MCU.

But WandaVision Episode 8 opened the door for real magic in the MCU and established that Agatha’s coven was around in the late seventeenth century. It should also be noted that Agatha has a book in her basement that looks a lot like the Darkhold, and her mystic runes briefly held Wanda’s powers at bay.

Clearly, there are a lot of rules in magic that Wanda simply doesn’t know about. Perhaps that’s something Doctor Stephen Strange can teach her in the upcoming film, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. That’s Wanda’s next stop, no matter what happens in next week’s WandaVision finale. But whether Wanda will be Stephen’s ally, student, or enemy remains to be seen.

WandaVision Episodes 1 through 8 are now available to stream on Disney+. The WandaVision finale will air on Friday, March 5, on Disney+.

KEEP READING: ‘WandaVision’: MCU Easter Eggs You Might Have Missed

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Blair Marnell
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Freelance writer for almost every geek media outlet, including Collider!

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