Columbus may have discovered the New World for Muggles, but it turns out wizards were coming here, and inhabiting it, long before the Pilgrims showed up.
All this week we are getting some never-before-released insight into the history of magic in North America, from J.K. Rowling herself. (If you didn’t see yesterday’s great trailer for the four-part series make sure you check it out.) Today’s first entry explored the time before the mass immigration of No-Majs (the American word for Muggles, which simply stands for “No-Magic”) from Europe, the 14th century to the 17th century.
It turns out that not only did wizards and witches know about the land that would be eventually named the Americas, but that “various modes of magical travel – brooms and Apparition among them – not to mention visions and premonitions, meant that even far-flung wizarding communities were in contact with each other from the Middle Ages onwards.” Wizards in Europe and Africa knew about their counterparts here in America before the rest of us even knew there was a “here.”
The magical communities shared many characteristics, including similar “magic-to-no-magic” ratios among the population, magical children being born into non-magic families, as well as the prevailing and often mixed attitudes toward them from No-Majs.
In some native tribes wizards were celebrated for their “reputations for healing as medicine men, or outstanding hunters,” but in some others they were “stigmatised for their beliefs, often on the basis that they were possessed by malevolent spirits.”
Rowling also explored the legend of the Native American “skin walker,” who were simply Animagi. (There’s a great, fully updated write-up about Animagi too.) Believed to be “an evil witch or wizard that can transform into an animal at will,” they were thought to have gained their power by sacrificing a close family member. However “the majority of Animagi assumed animal forms to escape persecution or to hunt for the tribe,” and were really the victims of a smear campaign based on “derogatory rumours” that “often originated with No-Maj medicine men, who were sometimes faking magical powers themselves, and fearful of exposure.”
While Native American wizards were much more sophisticated with their potions as a result of greater skills with animal and plant magic, they lacked one of the items we most closely associate with the magical community: wands.
Wands, which originated in Europe, “channel magic so as to make its effects both more precise and more powerful.” So while it is “held to be a mark of the very greatest witches and wizards that they have also been able to produce wandless magic of a very high quality,” wizards and witches during this time in America suffered with Charms and Transfiguration.
This last piece of news led to a spirited question and answer session between Rowling and fans on Twitter, who started asking about the nature of wands and other instruments of magic we’ve grown so accustomed to seeing used by wizards.
There’s even more there, including how magical communities view one another, so check out her Twitter feed.
We’ll keep up with the new stories and histories as they update this week, all in preparation for the Harry Potter sequel opening later this year, Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them, which is set in America in the 1920s.
I’m going to go practice my wandless magic some more, but tell us what new piece of information you are most excited about by apparating into our comments below.