Recently a very cool, clever and well known blogger I follow who goes by the URL faineemae had an open discussion on her blog about the world of Harry Potter, specifically dealing with magic in non-western cultures and the possible origins of magic itself. That got me thinking about the magic system in Harry Potter and how, though the world in which its used is colorful and engaging the way magic actually works is pretty poorly thought out (especially when considered as part of non-western cultures). I thought, well, if it was back at the beginning and I was Rowling’s editor how might I reconfigure the magic system from the foundation up while keeping the same elements and not doing any (or not too much) damage to the overall plot.
First I tried to work out an the origin of magic and it got me thinking about how, in many cultures, mystical power is tied to places, to the land itself. I also got to thinking that a land is shaped by its people. My conclusion here was that magic would have come from the land and would be shaped by those who are attuned to it and have learned to make use of it. Magic is a force tied to the land that some people are, by some trick of evolution or exterior supernatural hand, attuned to and able to manipulate. The more they manipulate magic the more impact they have on how magic works and how it can be manipulated by others. This explains why the magic we see in Harry Potter is so Eurocentric and why we do not see foreign wizards using foreign magic in England. The rules of the magic of a place are base on how magic is used by the majority of that places people. To further explain lets say that before humans migrated north into Europe magic was raw supernatural force that became the magic we know because of how the magical cultures of Europe shaped it. The rules of magic were developed through the magical influence of those who practiced magic in Europe. Its a kind of give and take. This explains why magic of Harry Potter has Celtic and Anglo-Saxon aesthetics but all of the spells are invoked in Latin. The magic of Europe would have been cultivated by the original inhabitants of Europe but would have been heavily influenced by the wizards of the Roman empire. Magic words in Europe remained in Latin because after the fall of the Roman empire came the dark ages and witches and wizards weren’t exactly celebrated by the new Christian powers (this also marks the time when the separation between muggles and magic became important).
Now that we have an idea where magic could have come from lets think about how it actually works - focusing specifically on spellcasting. I devised a three part system that seems to fit fairly well with how magic is used in the books. Every spell is made up of three parts: Emotion, Intention and Focus. The first part of the spell, emotion, is the first kind of magic that was discovered by humanity. Like Harry in the first book, certain early humans began finding that if they felt strongly, or desired something powerfully they would, in a way that was beyond their direct control, influence the world around them. This suggests that magic is empathic and that the underlying power of a spell comes from the emotion behind it. This explains a few things in the books like why characters were able to finally work a spell when they needed it most desperately, why the Avada Kadavra only works if you really want to kill someone and why Harry Potter, who’s knowledge of spells is frankly pathetic is able to match a wizard as powerful as Voldemort in battle. This also works with the lightside/darkside approach to magical power. Voldemort is powerful because he’s passionate, he feels hate, fear and the desire for power so strongly that he’s able to channel that into his destructive and violent spellcasting. Dumbledore is powerful because he has unmatched emotional control giving him more versatility and creativity with his spellcasting if not as much brute force. Lily Potter is described as using an old and powerful magic to protect Harry and when you look at it from this perspective, what emotion is more complex, passionate and singularly focused than a mother’s love?
The second part of a spell is Intent, this is where magic words come in. Some time along the line of human magical development cultures discovered that the random, difficult to control results of magical empathy could be described and, through language and categorization, repeated. This effected the magic, making those once wild and untamed forces start to slide neatly into specific functions. And so, the magic word was born. No western culture was more organized and linguistically oriented than the Roman empire and that would explain much of the prevalence of Latin magic words in modern Europe. Now, the first people to use and write down magic words were probably the Egyptians and it is likely that some ancient Egyptian magic could still be functional in the areas around the Nile just as some Celtic, Norse and various Germanic words of magic could have some power in Europe but for the most part the standard in Europe became Latin. In the Middle East its likely that Latin never took hold and only Arabic spells are functional (probably also the case in northern Africa). This idea of spells of a place only working in the dominant language in which spells were conceived would work everywhere. In china spells are probably some dialect of Chinese and in India possibly Sanskrit. In the Americas, due to European colonization it is probable that Latin spells are the standard but there may be some areas where Native and First Peoples languages still work for spellcasting. There are also a variety of areas where Hebrew is a functional spellcasting language as well. European colonialism may have made Latin more prevalent in the world but there are still likely many non-European countries where Latin just isn’t an effective way to evoke magic. There could even be places where language isn’t the thing that describes and gives purpose to a spell but alternatives are employed such as calligraphy, music, dance, etc. In the modern day functions have become so bound to magic words and alternative invocation that the meaning of the words, melodies, or gestures have become irrelevant and a witch or wizard can simply think hard about the word itself matched to the proper emotion to cast the spell. This is why Sectumsempra works without Harry even knowing what it does. Harry feels hatred for Draco and wants to hurt him, the magic word does the rest.
With these two parts we see that the emotion is the fuel for the spell, the power and will behind it, and the Intent gives the spell its specific shape. The third part of the proposed system for the magic of Harry Potter is Focus.
Before finding ways to focus and direct magic witches and wizards were likely pretty dangerous and spells not as practical for everyday uses as they appear to be in the Harry Potter books. A levitation spell is great but without being able to specifically point the magic in the direction of the thing you want to levitate you could end up surrounded by floating things or else the spell won’t work at all with you not having the emotional power to levitate everything in sight. As we learn in Harry Potter, very powerful wizards can train their minds to focus magic through pure thought but for most its handy to have a magic wand. Now, an implement of focus doesn’t have to be a magic wand and I would imagine than in many places outside of Europe it isn’t. Magic could be focused a variety of ways but wands are practical because they’re handhold and you literally point at a thing you want magic’d and you magic it. Magic wands in Harry Potter are described as hollow shafts of wood containing a piece of something inherently magical like a unicorn hair of phoenix feather. That implies that magical things attract magic and would support the idea the magical force is tied to locations, objects and the living things that inhabit magical places. It also works within the give and take relationship of living things and magic, implying that living things that are magically attuned attract and filter magic through themselves which changes the overall quality and effects of the magic of a location. Some animals appear to have evolved specific magical functions and this implies that emotion, intent and focus are inherent aspects of their physiology. Wands take advantage of that natural focusing agent.
If the magic of Harry Potter came from the land and was shaped by it’s users, if it was fueled by emotion, directed by intent, and focused by inherently magical implements or techniques then it might make some sense and allow for magic to exist in all sorts of cool ways outside of the western world.
Thanks Faineemae, for helping me kill an hour.
it’s not a sunday unless you completely waste it then feel really sad around 8pm
The natural white sand pool of Fervedouro located near Mateiros village, Brazil. Just 8m in diameter the pool has crystal blue waters and beautiful white sand.
Din blinde passager
a 90-metre-long tunnel installation that is a densely fogged environment, providing visibility at just 1.5 metres. This calculated circumstance forces museumgoers to use senses other than sight to navigate and orient themselves in relation to their surroundings.
sanguine spirit of good times and parties and too many flowers for my lil hand to draw
hey if you reblog this, i would appreciate it if you didn’t tag it as “me” or any variation of that.. please.. ya