Exercising in Futility
Well, we cannot say that we were not warned.
Rowling is, after all, an author who in the very first book of the series decked out the ghost of a wizard allegedly executed in 1492 in a *ruff* despite the fact that in 1492 the ruff wasn’t yet even a gleam in a starch merchant’s eye. (Although to be accurate, Nick’s statement in PS/SS that he hadn’t tasted food in some 400 years would set his execution date as 1592, when ruffs were actually de rigueur in gentlemanly apparel. The 1492 execution date was not pushed at us until CoS, where it bollixed all history and rationality.)
So perhaps we ought not to be too surprised to discover that in an industrialized 1920s Great Britain, a nameless young woman can give birth in an orphanage, die, and no one will make the slightest attempt to find out who she is or where she came from, not even in hopes that there is a family somewhere upon whom they can palm off her kid; that orphanage children were not evacuated from London during the equivalent of WWII, and that in the summer of 1996 the former Prime Minister of England was a man.
Note: the horse-drawn London milk cart we saw in London in the summer of 1938 would not have been an anachronism in the Real World. Not quite. Horse-drawn service vehicles were still in use, yes, even in London, until a short time after WWII, due to the Great Depression, as well as wartime, and post-war petrol shortages. Admittedly, we do not know whether any of these conditions applied to Britain in the the Potterverse.
The depiction of Tom’s orphanage itself seems to owe more than a little to the world of Charles Dickens, however, which was formalized some generations earlier than the 1930s. I am, however, no expert where it comes to the operation of orphanages, and Rowling’s orphanage is clearly an orphanage, not a workhouse.
Rowling herself, however claims that she sees the world of Harry Potter as taking place parallel to our own. If this is the case, either Ms Rowling has a very odd idea of how the world works, or else it is our own world as seen in a funhouse mirror.
That being so, there is no way that I am going to get the details right.
But I can at least try to put together some kind of a history that reads as both sort-of plausible, and more-or-less coherent.
I do have to admit that Rowling really did initally appear to do a fair amount of hard thinking when she set up the Potterverse. At least in some areas. But she did not expend her efforts in all of the directions that were needed if she wanted to create a fully coherent secondary world. Large pieces of the required framework are missing, and there are some inexplicable gaps in logic. Most of which seem particularly inexplicable when such gaps are not floating out in the periphery, but sitting squarely in the middle of the frame.
For example; Rowling states that the wizarding population of Great Britain and Ireland numbers about 3,000. She claims that there is only one wizarding school, only one all-wizarding village in the British Isles, and shows only us the possibility of a couple of secure mixed-use enclaves such as the apartments above the shops in which the vendors of Diagon Alley and such areas presumably live. All other witches and wizards therefore, must needs live out among Muggles. At least to some degree.
Early in DHs, Rowling introduced the concept of an additional half-dozen or so mixed Muggle/wizarding villages such as, for example, Godric’s Hollow, Mould-in-the-Wold, Tinworth, Upper Flagley, and Ottery St Catchpole. We had already suspected as much, since we saw as early as the opening chapters of GoF that there were no fewer than four wizarding families within walking distance of Stoat’s Head Hill outside Ottery St Catchpole. But the issue had remained unconfirmed for the following two books.
And yet, despite the fact that fully half of all wizards must live virtually next door to Muggles, they uniformly seem to have no understanding of Muggle customs, technology, dress, or affairs. They have certainly no idea of how to dress convincingly like Muggles when they go out in public to avoid detection, no idea of how to behave, nor have they any real understanding of Muggle society. Despite the fact that is surely can’t be all that different from wizard society. This is completely implausible. In fact, it is a severe disconnect. Rowling clearly intends that it be taken as a joke, but such a joke undermines whatever sense she intends us to make of the story.
Nor, once the series is more closely examined, does it seem that Rowling quite took the traditional “low road” common to over a century’s worth of children’s fantasy tradition by postulating a world “just like” our own, except that it happens to have magic that actually works. Once again we find we have been derailed by a series of rather lame attempts to be merely funny.
The Potterverse is not like our world. It simply does not have our history.
It has taken thousands of years for our world to reach the point it has. And I cannot see any credible manner in which the Potterverse could have arrived at a point so apparently similar, when it did not start from the same place, or follow the same path. Rowling has quite deliberately excised our own history from her world, and had nothing coherent to put in its place but a series of silly jokes.
But, in point of fact, from what we have been shown throughout the series, the Potterverse does not really seem to take place in anything even remotely parallel to our own world. Instead, it appears to occupy a very odd space located uneasily somewhere between Storybook Land and Toontown.
In Storybook Land, all times are one. The only “time” there is “once upon a time”. There is no evolution of thought or enlightenment in Storybook Land. Its society is carved in stone and there is no advance of technology or civilization. Some critics, such as Lev Grossman, seems to believe that the dynamics of Storybook Land is the hallmark of the entire fantasy genre. They are not.
With all due respect, Mr Grossman is a fool. Fairy tales take place in Storybook Land. Despite a rather shallow surface resemblance, fairy tales are not fantasy. Real fantasy rarely does more than pass through that particular space. Usually rather quickly. The conflicts of Storybook Land are generally symbolic stand-ins for some psychological issue decked out in fancy dress. Fantasy, with its conflicts that are usually actually about something which is stated openly and defined in the text, typically finds the level of stylization native to this environment inhospitable, and far too tempting to burlesque.
In Storybook Land there is no difference between the way that people think today and the way they thought in the Dark Ages. Unless it atypically happens to suit the needs of the plot. In that case everything turns on a dime without reason or plausibility. The allegiance of entire armies (or Hogwarts Houses) flip-flops overnight at the whim of the narrator without considerations of either the individual sovereignty possessed by even the lowliest spear-carrier nor the logistics of medieval (or machine-age) communications.
What is more, in Storybook Land the population does not change, either. From century to century the numbers neither grow nor shrink, and consequently, its society is never put under any pressure to ever need to change in order to accommodate a shifting demographic, nor even to develop a more advanced technology to serve it’s people better. It is no surprise that people in Storybook Land are still living in castles. The wonder is that they are not still living in caves.
At the other end of this road, in Toontown, technology is whatever you say it is, whenever you say it is, the pain of others (particularly that of animals) is simply not real, and cruelty, particularly physical cruelty, is presented as funny.
The technology of the Potterverse has always borne a disconcerting resemblance to that of Bedrock, and the pervasive cruelty and abuse of helpless animals has been such an openly acknowledged and continuing thread throughout the series, that it takes us all aback (with considerable indignation!) when Dumbledore abruptly and sanctimoniously informs us — with a straight face and not the slightest awareness of irony — that young Tom Riddle’s strangling of Billy Stubbs’s rabbit was most suggestive of an instinct for cruelty, secrecy, and domination, and, all-in-all, a *very bad sign*.
How, one wonders, would he square this with behavior of the Weasley twins — who were at least 14 at the time, and certainly old enough to know better — deliberately force-feeding a firework to a salamander and watching it rocket around the Gryffindor common room from internal combustion? I was not sure that the other shoe wasn’t yet to fall regarding the ongoing, prickly and chronically disturbing issue represented by the Weasley twins. But in the event Rowling did not choose to openly deal with that issue at all, settling only for the cheap shot of killing one of them off in passing.
For that matter, throughout the whole series, the students of Hogwarts have been routinely taught Transfiguration, using live creatures as subjects, regardless of the probability of the students making painful and inexpert blunders with them, and nobody blinks an eye. Evidently turning helpless animals into inanimate objects and back again (and botching the job) is considered to be one’s inalienable right as a human wizard.
This all seems a very dangerous original premise upon which to base one’s reasoning, let alone a created world’s interpretation of morality, and yet the faultiness of this reasoning is sustained throughout every one of the books.
It is now far too late to expect this situation to alter, or for Rowling to offer us a coherent explanation for why she set it up this way. The series is finished.
But any attempt to draw any sort of a parallel to our world from either Storybook Land or Toontown is clearly a wash — it simply isn’t going to fit. Still, as with the fabled, and evidently (if you expect an answer from Rowling) apocryphal distinction between Dark and Light Magic, I am not yet quite ready to abandon the attempt.
But I cannot promise that it is likely to get any further development.
Take this as a disclaimer...
Wizards & Muggles: Part 1
Prologue and acknowledgements:
This is not by any means the original reading of this matter to have been posted here on the site. To be sure, the current version has been in development along the same trajectory for the past several years, but it has been a long, and sometimes rather strange trip.
Soon after the site’s previous comprehensive redesign (even then not the original version of the site) was uploaded at the end of April 2004, I found myself directed to two excellent theory/analysis sites by other people, JK Rowling gave us a fairly major interview (Edinburgh Book Festival, August 2004) and I stumbled across a perfectly splendid little gem of a hypothetical pivotal incident for the possible history of the Potterverse tucked away in the backstory of a fanfic (beautifully scaled and impeccably placed). The fanfic; ‘The Prefect’s Portrait’, is now to be found in the Publications area of the site.
After taking all of these new pieces of information under consideration, the previous iteration of this overview seemed no longer even remotely adequate. I realized that some fairly major retrofitting was in order.
More recently, I am also further indebted to a LiveJournal user whose online name is Sollersuk for her corrections to a number of the statements made in the older versions of the collection regarding the history of the classical period and later antiquity depicted here and in the companion piece ‘The History of Magic’.
Therefore, this; which is in the way of being about version 10.5 of my rendering of a projected backstory of the development of the social history of the Potterverse. In it, I am attempting to reincorporate into this world the history that Rowling excised.
This article eventually needed to be split into two parts, since it had become much too long to really be able to edit effectively in GoLive, which I was using at that point. The division has been made at the point of the establishment of statutory Wizarding Secrecy and the withdrawal of the wizarding world from greater Western human society. That seemed an appropriate place for such a division.
I. On the Perception of Magic in Human Society:
One thing that is necessary for us to keep reminding ourselves is that the Potterverse is not really a representation of our own world. In our world, there is no functioning system of Magic. Such an element would have retroactively produced sweeping changes. And there is no guarantee that such changes would result anything like the Potterverse.
However, that the Muggle society shown in the background throughout the Harry Potter series is so similar to our own appears to be a clear indication that the development of the state of society envisioned for the late 20th century Potterverse could, and perhaps should reasonably be assumed to have developed along roughly parallel lines to ours, even in the face of Rowling’s up-ending or misrepresentation of much of Western history, which would in the normal way of things totally preclude any such development. Consequently, in attempting to extrapolate an historical background for the Potterverse, it is both reasonable and irresistible to try to base it upon the generalities of the historical development of our own society.
Our own Western-style, English-speaking society, that is. What we have been shown of the Potterverse is unapologetically Euro-centric, in fact, quite literally Anglo-centric. Which in itself is bound to have incorporated at least some distortion of its underlying truths. It stands to reason that not all wizards in the Potterverse are British.
Rowling stated in her joint interview with the founders of TheLeakyCaldron.com and Mugglenet.com in the summer of 2005, after the release of ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’, that she envisions the Potterverse as taking place in parallel to our own world. Although from what we have been shown in the text as of the release of HBP, the parallel was far from exact.
Socially speaking; in the Potterverse, wizards and Muggles clearly lived together pretty much cheek by jowl for most of human history, and continue to do so however unacknowledged this fact may be. It is only over the last 300–400 years that there has there been any more-or-less enforced separation between the magical and mundane societies. It was only some 299 years prior to our first introduction to 10-year-old Harry Potter that it became unlawful for a wizard to live out among Muggles as a wizard. (It should be noted that for no as yet clear reason, the date of the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy, formerly stated as 1692, was, in DHs arbitrarily shifted to 1689. The reason for this change has not been given.)
For that matter, it gradually becomes apparent to the reader that this separation not only pertains chiefly, it in fact, may pertain only to Europe and those nations whose governing bodies were originally European settlements. But that this separation is far less total than it first appears, given that even some such uncompromisingly wizardly types as Mad-Eye Moody lived in close enough proximity to Muggles for there to be a great deal of concern about the behavior of his dustbins. Even the Gaunt’s hovel was accessible to anyone who chose to go there. The existence of such portals as the barrier on Platform 9 3/4 in King’s Cross Station and The Leaky Cauldron in London may serve only to lull the wizarding public into the belief that they are somehow safe behind a solid barrier where Muggles cannot find them. But in fact it appears that wizards are far more typically scattered across the Muggle landscape, attempting to hide in plain sight.
However, it is also plain from the statements made by various characters throughout the series, that there has clearly been a faction of wizarding society in Britain which has been determinedly attempting to isolate itself from Muggles since at least the Middle Ages.
I propose that if there was no formal separation between wizard and Muggle in the Potterverse before the end of the 17th century, this is most likely to have been either because the state of magical technology had not yet reached a degree of power and sophistication that would make such a separation possible, or that prior to the fallout of the religious upheaval brought about by the Protestant Reformation in Europe, there was no widely perceived need for it, save in the views of a small isolationist faction of the wizarding population. That, in fact, most known wizards to that date had probably performed an acknowledged and useful function in greater human society, earning their living as magical “professionals”. As was, in fact, the case in our own history.
It is also probably safe to assume that at various periods the lives of wizards and the lives of Muggles would have been closer to one another than at others. And that, in addition, the wizarding community’s own outlook has probably gone through periodic cycles in its level of tolerance for its non-magical neighbors. Or, more probably, that the wizarding community’s tendency to demonize “the other” has periodically shifted from Muggles to other, rival magical species, notably Giants or Goblins.
In Historic times, the two sectors of human society would, at various periods, even have shared their research projects (often, quite possibly, between family members within those families in which only a few members possessed active magic). Few of the results from such early periods are likely to be still regarded as significant in the history of the Science of the mundane world. We have no way of determining whether this is also the case regarding magical research. Among Muggles, to whom any magical component is either inaccessible or excessively hazardous, any remnants of such cooperative scholarly research and philosophy would probably only provide historical oddities to modern-day researchers and historians.
It practically goes without saying that a historical cycle of periods of assimilation alternating with periods of persecution was probably as widely experienced by wizards as they have been endured by any other group which has been identified as not comprising a part of the “norm”. But until the level of Magical “technology” reached the point that this portion of the population were able to seal themselves off from their neighbors there would have been no escape from at least some level of participation in Muggle society, and much of wizards’ survival would have been dependent upon their ability to “fit in”.
And, for that matter, the specific and widespread “hunting” of witches was quite a late development in European history. Not that witches had not at various times been arrested, condemned, and executed since — at least — the 12th century, for we know this to have been the case. But, prior to the Reformation, these incidents were usually very local affairs and had not necessarily taken place under government sanction.
In contrast to the inflated and misleading statements made in Bagshot’s ‘History of Magic’; in our own world, there were no more than about 25 recorded witch executions over the course of the whole 14th century, and witches in England were never burned at any point in English history. They were hanged. And they were typically hanged for conventional criminal offenses which were defined as capital crimes at whatever the given point in time. What is more, they were usually not prosecuted for merely being witches. It was perfectly legal to be a witch.
But being witches didn’t do them any favors in a court of law.
Those incidents in which a magic user ran afoul of the local citizenry would usually have been those cases where a local wizard or witch had managed to set his or her neighbors off into a mob howling for his or her blood. In which case any such mob justice would have generally been undertaken without necessarily having first bothered to assure that such an act had the sanction of either the State or the Church. In our own world’s history, in fact, there is documented evidence of legal sanctions having been taken against the persecution of suspected witches recorded in various European nations during the Middle Ages. It is even more likely that this would have been the case in the Potterverse.
And, indeed, before the Renaissance, the primary concern of the law was to keep order, and the primary concern of the Church was not to destroy witches, but to root out heretics. It was not until the rather advanced date of 1484 that witchcraft was formally declared by a reigning Pope to even be a form of heresy.
Prior to that date, a solitary witch or wizard practicing their craft on their own authority was usually able to fly under the Church’s radar. In most cases it was only those who were more than usually reckless, or vindictive, or who had backed the wrong side politically who drew the Church’s attention to themselves.
This was primarily because the Church’s greatest concern vis-a-vis heretics was that their heretical doctrines might encroach upon its own authority. The early church had little tolerance for competing religions, and the practice of witchcraft and wizardry, once the original pagan nature worships had fallen out of use, was hardly to be regarded in this sense by persons who had simply been born able to channel magical energy. Most witches and wizards were almost certainly regular churchgoers in accordance with the rest of their local communities.
Even the reflection that most of the miracles cited by their priests could have been duplicated with little effort by magic would have only established in the mind-set of wizards that the established Church was also the Church of wizards — who had their own rightful place in it. That one of the House ghosts of Hogwarts Academy is identified as a Friar ought to be indication enough that this was indeed the case. In Britain, the secure, hidden location of Hogwarts School (in what was, until the 17th century, a foreign country) would itself have eliminated most of the danger of any witch or wizard instructing the young in their magical studies being perceived to be preaching a doctrine which conflicted with that of the established Church. It could even go some way towards explaining the complete void of religious instruction available at Hogwarts.
Furthermore the traditional option of choosing between an independent life as a professional magic user or entry into the priesthood remained open to wizards throughout most of European history. A choice in which a life dedicated to the Church was often the option taken. Much of the wonder-working for remarkably trivial purpose attributed to the early Celtic saints was exactly the sort of thing that in the Potterverse would have been readily undertaken by wizards. It was widely accepted that for a priest to use magic was perfectly in keeping with his calling, so long as he did no trafficking with demons.
The issue of trafficking with demons is another pair of sleeves altogether. And one which really throws the cat among the pigeons. I find myself going out on a limb with yet another unsupported theory at this point. But if it is on target it would explain something of the underlying attitudes toward magic which not only is in keeping with the changing perceptions of our own history as regards Magic, but which would have contributed heavily to the conditions which ultimately drove the wizards of the Potterverse into hiding.
It has blown right past us, thanks in chief to Rowling’s commendable restraint (over the first 6 book, in any case) regarding the presentation of overt dogma and her deliberate choice to only reference the most secularized forms of cultural Christianity in her work, that JK Rowling’s Potterverse does, in fact, admit to the existence of demons.
Nearly a half a dozen of the creatures referenced in ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ are clearly identified not merely as beasts, or as monsters, but as *demons*. Water demons in most cases. And in at least one case as rather minor ones. Three of these; the Kappa, the Kelpie, and the Pogrebin appear to be identified as demons in the Potterverse because they are identified as demons in the source folklore from which Rowling has clearly imported them. I do not know whether the Grindylow and the Nogtail are also imports from existing folk traditions, but seems very likely that they are.
It is possible that to have imported demons into her world from existing folk traditions without redefining them as something else was merely a lapse of judgement, or a lapse of attention on Ms Rowling’s part that slipped past her when she did it, and that what she is implying about her world by that act was not her intention. But we cannot depend on that having been the case. She confirmed the demonic status of the Grindylow (and possibly the Kappa as well) in the actual text of PoA, so her inclusion of demons may have been quite deliberate. And if it was deliberate, we need to admit the possibility that it was also significant.
None of the specific types of demons encountered in these sources are regarded as particularly intelligent, or they would not be listed in a compendium of Beasts rather than Beings. But a precedent has now been set, and the certain presence of unintelligent demons in a fictional universe is a very poor guarantee for an absence of intelligent ones.
Which, if nothing else, has me looking slantways with more than my usual dismay at the probable nature of Dementors. Although since they evidently breed, they can presumably be killed, which is at least some cause for hope.
But, this whole line of reasoning raises a perfectly appalling consideration regarding psychic activity in humans.
Only persons who are psychically active to at least some degree are able to see and communicate with creatures native to the spirit “plane”. In common parlance this usually translates as the ability to see ghosts. But this may apply to demons as well. (It certainly applies to Dementors.) And if offered something that they want, it is possible that the demons of the Potterverse will indeed be willing to negotiate a bargain with whoever offers them one. And it might not require the ability to actually channel magic in order to do so.
We know that wizards in the Potterverse have no need to traffic with demons in order to perform magic.
We know that at least some Squibs are able to see and communicate with ghosts.
It is my contention, explored in the companion piece entitled ‘Magic & Wizards’ that a great many supposed Muggles are in fact the equivalent of Muggle-born Squibs.
What if a few, a very few, very rare Squibs (either wizarding or Muggle-born) are also able to see and communicate with demons?
A Squib would need demonic assistance in order to perform magic.
And maybe, just maybe, some of them have attempted it.
With just about the results you might expect.
We have been given every reason to believe that in the Potterverse, Merlinus Ambrosius was a real person.
Perhaps so was Dr Johanus Faustus.
Adding demons to the equation opens the likelihood that at least a few wizards over the ages would be sure to have gotten the same bright idea. But the fact that we have heard nothing of demon handling, even among the darkest of Dark wizards suggests that the inability to keep demons under control for any significant amount of time is not a Squib thing, but a human thing. And that it is widely understood in the magical community that trying to bargain with demons is a Really Bad Idea, that no one with a brain in their head would attempt.
Or is it? Just what was the nature of the Ministry’s deal with the Dementors?
One thing that we do know, however, is that at a certain point in our own world’s History a long-established understanding that to perform magic is perfectly acceptable so long as there is no traffic with demons involved began to give way to the view that to perform magic was not possible without the assistance of demons.
This shift in the paradigm did not happen overnight but once it was in play, it slowly gathered support as time went on.
And just when did this new perception of the nature of magic begin to take hold in the public perception?
It took hold during what is now referred to as the early Middle Ages.
Right after I peopose that wizards in the Potterverse had finally figured out the secret of “Light” magic (aka; modern wizardry) and magic had finally become safe enough to casually indulge in. On top of 1200-1500 years of a documented human history of wizards publicly going rogue and having to be restrained, as often as not. The price of losing oneself in Dark magic had finally earned its inevitable payoff in the hearts and minds of the neighboring Muggles.
Or, in other words, modern wizardry had not been developed a minute too soon. In fact it is arguable as to whether it had already been developed too late. This was also, if you remember, just about the point that four prominent British witches and wizards decided to find an out-of-the-way location and establish a school.
Nothing, of course, was going to serve as a safeguard for a practicing witch or wizard who has managed to get the local Muggles up in arms against them. Nor would it have saved a witch or wizard who too openly made use of their ability to channel magic to meddle in mundane politics. In our world, the “Maid of Orleans” was burned as a heretic (and a witch) in the early 15th century (when the perception that magic is a form of trafficking with demons had had some centuries to become well established) for the crime of convincing others to obey the voices in her head. It has not been determined whether the Joan of Arc equivalent of the Potterverse (if such existed) was actually a witch, or merely a Muggle with great charisma. There is a strong probability that if she existed, she may in fact have been a Squib, psychically active to some degree, but unable to actually channel magic.
It must also be acknowledged that this matter was to at least some extent a class thing. Where a local witch or cunning man might well arouse the ire of the neighborhood against them, bringing the wrath of the Church down upon their heads for having been perceived to be infringing upon the Church’s authority in that region, scholarly wizards (and it was always specifically *wizards*, never witches) continued to make a very good living under the patronage of the royal Court or members of the Nobility for some centuries afterwards. Such official Court Wizards were in a precarious position, however, and by the 16th century were rapidly disappearing from public view.
II. Wizards in Human Society:
Once one stops to consider it. It is obvious that the Modern Wizarding World is an anomaly, made up of a self-isolated group of people who have been officially out of touch, to a greater or lesser extent, with the Real World for most of the last 400 years. And, as if that weren’t enough in itself, this group is entirely made up of people for whom the physical laws of nature simply do not work as they do for Muggles. This being the case, it would be remarkable if they hadn’t managed to develop some very odd notions in the interim. Even their understanding of their own history is likely to be among these peculiar notions.
I contend that one of these odd notions is the modern interpretation of the concept of Muggle-born wizards and witches being somehow different from pure-blood wizards and witches. I suggest that prior to the era of Seclusion, much less concern was applied to such considerations — except among those pure-blooded isolationists who comprised a comparatively small segment of the wizarding population of Europe.
This particular faction has undoubtedly been a continuing source of dissension and, frequently, opposition, to any setting or changing of policy, since well before the Middle Ages. Such individuals and their families were probably originally comprised of descendants of the sort of bitter fanatics who had at some point suffered greatly in one of the outbreaks of persecution against wizards. Their current signature is a refusal to admit that wizards and Muggles are both human, and they are inclined to take strong exception to any wizards or witches who either establish or retain contact with Muggles for any reason. This lunatic fringe’s influence has waxed and waned in accordance to external as well as internal conditions and events in what is now the wizarding world, but the isolationists are an intrinsic part of wizarding culture and they have set their stamp upon wizarding history.
A similarly wizarding-dominant, but subtly opposed faction, harbors the belief that having magical powers qualifies wizards to rule Muggles. They are also fixated upon exclusivity. The more extreme elements of this faction not only take exception of wizards of mixed blood, but to any magical Being who is not a pure-blooded human wizard or witch, and even such human wizards who have managed to become “contaminated” by certain socially disapproved magical maladies. Where the isolationists are traditionally committed to the establishment and maintenance of a separation between wizarding and Muggle societies, the supremacists have a disturbing tendency to adopt ideologies and rhetoric which would ultimately dissolve any such separation. Nor is it always evident which of the two factions with which one is actually dealing, united as they are by their conviction of Muggle inferiority. The supremacists appear not to have been a significant or organized political problem prior to the adoption of the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy. In its brief history, however, it has demonstrated a great willingness to attempt to legitimize its position by adopting and warping traditional isolationist rhetoric. Both groups tend to attract young people from pureblood families who are of all the wizarding world the least likely to have any real knowledge of either Muggles or Muggle society.
Prior to the establishment of Seclusion, I seriously doubt that anyone had ever attempted to take an effective census of wizards. Given that those who were known to exist were too few, and too widely dispersed to have been truly able to maintain completely self-sufficient households, even with magic at their disposal, and with the state of transportation, — most significantly the transportation of bulk goods and materials — at extremely primitive levels, we can conclude that wizards traditionally (i.e., prior to the passage of the International Act of Wizarding Secrecy) must necessarily have lived and interacted very closely with Muggles in order to survive in any degree of comfort.
And at such an early period, most acknowledged wizards, apart from their years in attendance at Hogwarts (or some other wizarding Academy on the Continent), would probably not have known who, or where other wizards in Britain (or whatever their country of origin) were even likely to be found — other than the handful or so others whom they might know of locally. Which, for many of them were limited to the members of their own family. Under such conditions, below a certain socioeconomic level intermarriage with the local mundane population would have been not merely common, but the norm.
Nor would they have had any idea of just how many other wizards might actually exist, given that their only experience of wizards in groups was limited to only those who had also been in attendance at their Academy during their own years there. The secluded exclusively wizarding districts and Ministry-sponsored conveniences of the present day would have had no real equivalents at such an early point in their history. These are all developments which were forced upon the wizarding world by the requirements of Seclusion itself. The wizarding community most likely did not already have them in place at its establishment. Nor, at that point in history, were all of those who today would be known as Muggle-born wizards ever identified and trained if they did not live in the same communities as practicing wizards. Fortunately, this was usually the case.
This leads me to suspect that in earlier periods, when the population, both wizarding and Muggle of these islands was far smaller, Hogwarts castle and its environs may have held a more prominent and central position for the governmental authority of wizarding Britain than it does today. At least during those portions of the year that those who were able to remove themselves from the generally unhealthy environs of London during the summer traditionally did so.
I will explore the ramifications suggested by this possibility in greater depth, in the following section.
III. Points of Origin: Wizards in Britain from Prehistory through the Middle Ages
A. Early Wizarding Presence in Great Britain
If the traditional folklore of the British Isles is to be considered seriously as an indication of the history of the region that the Romans later identified as Hibernia, wizards had never been all that rare among the aboriginal peoples, or, for that matter, among the earliest groups of invaders who had settled the isles prior to the Romans’ invasions. During the period before the Roman conquest, the support of wizards was actively sought by the Chieftains of the Pictish and Celtic tribes (in those cases where the Chieftains were not wizards themselves, which was — as one might suppose — far from unusual) and wizards frequently served as Priests for their communities.
There is a good deal of question as to whether the actual percentage of wizards among the general population was, in fact, significantly higher among the Picts, Celts, and other early Britons than has been the case since this period, but there is certainly enough circumstantial evidence recorded in the legends of this era to raise such an argument. It should be noted that the current ratio of one wizard (allowing for an overall population of 3,250 wizards. Rowling’s estimate of 3,000 is a bit too low, given an annual Hogwarts intake of about 40) to approximately 65 million Muggles in Great Britain and Ireland today suggests that in a period that the population of these islands was around a million, a population of no more than about 50 witches and wizards would scarcely allow for any sort of communication between them. And when you factor in the number of magic workers which show up in the early folklore of the islands, the chances of there having been a higher percentage of wizards within the general population begins to look rather more likely than otherwise.
Wizards were rarer among the Roman conquerors. There was no official function reserved for wizards built into Roman society. But there were, nevertheless wizards among the Romans. In fact, by the time of the Roman Emperors, wizards were experiencing one of the periodic cycles of persecution to which they have at times been subject throughout pre-Seclusion history. The reason for this appears to be that, unlike the way in which such matters were viewed in a later, predominately Christian Europe, although the Emperors of Rome might readily employ various wizards for their own purposes, they had no tolerance for the existence of wizards who were not under their personal control. Indeed, their intention appears to have been to establish an Imperial monopoly regarding the practice of magic, and some of their drive for the conquest of outlying cultures was in the service of eliminating the threat represented by foreign wizards.
Yet wizards continued to be born, both within Roman holdings and abroad. It is suspected that by the later Roman era, many wizards from regions under Roman control, believing their gifts to be mark of some God’s favor, had exercised their option and dedicated their lives to one or other of the religions which had always proliferated in Rome. But, nevertheless, despite the Emperors’ official disapproval of independently-practicing wizards, the Romans had a major impact upon wizarding culture. Regardless of Roman society’s general hostility toward magic, the greatest part of the everyday social fabric of wizarding society today is a closer extrapolation of the interdependent networks of “Patrons” and “clients” as practiced by the Romans in classical times than it is of any more recent social contract as practiced among Muggles in western Europe since the period that Rome ruled most of Europe, at a distance.
For a more detailed examination of one interpretation of the underlying social fabric of the Potterverse as a Patron/Client system, please allow me to direct you to Pharnabazus’s excellent ‘Expecto Patronus: or How the Wizarding World Really Works’. I do not necessarily agree with all of the author’s interpretations, but more than half of them look like they have a better handle of the probabilities than some of my own earlier notions did. It dates from the period between OotP and HBP, but the basic tenants still hold up quite well.
(Scroll back to the first posting in the Journal.)
In their initial dealings with the Roman conquerors, the wizards of Britain may have at first felt that they argued from a position of at least some strength, for under the military technology of the day, it would have been difficult in the extreme to counter the British wizards’ powers should they choose to mount a determined opposition. And that the Roman Emperors were known to have greatly limited the number of wizards at their own disposal is likely to have also been a factor. But not a deciding one. The Roman wizards’ use of the cored wand rather than the traditional staff would have rapidly disabused the native wizards of their misapprehension that they were in a position of superiority. Nevertheless, the Roman conquest of Britain was a protracted process. And that the Romans did ultimately make, or force a lasting agreement upon the wizards of Britain is reflected by the lingering Patron/Client social order among British wizards today.
After the withdrawal of the Roman legions from Britain, some centuries later, the wizards of Britain appear to have been in full support of the confederation of British Chieftains who governed the islands in the Romans’ wake. Wizards seem to have been welcome among these Chieftains, much as wizards had been welcome in the tribal period before the Romans came, and it must have appeared that here was a chance to re-establish the “old order”. But the centuries under Roman rule and the continuing migration of other peoples into the islands had thinned the concentration of magical traits within the local gene pool, and it is unlikely that there was as high a percentage of wizards in Great Britain as there had been before the Roman conquest, even though the overall population may not have been significantly higher.
The most widely-known historical figure of this period is the wizard known to us as Merlinus Ambrosius whose support of the British Chieftain Athor is credited in extending the resistance of Britain against the Saxon invasions (which may well have been a cultural invasion, rather than a military one) for more than a generation. The wizard Merlin, in fact appears to have dedicated his life to the cause of protecting Britain from the English.
The Saxon leaders were a good deal less magic-tolerant than their native British predecessors, but they were certainly more so than the Romans had been. We can readily conclude that the Saxons ultimately also made the necessary treaties for dealing with the wizards of Britain.
Our most obvious cultural relic that such an arrangement indeed existed is shown in the over-government of the wizarding world today. The Saxon Kings were selected from the available candidates, and advised in their policies by a body of (Muggle) nobles/Chieftains/Thanes who were collectively known as the Witenagemote. It requires far more effort than is forthcoming to try to convince oneself that the original Wizengamot was not formed to serve the equivalent purpose as advisors to the Saxon Kings serving the interests of British wizards.
Given that the population of the islands was still not much over a million, and, after successive waves of incomers, the Muggle gene pool had probably diluted much of its original concentration of magical traits, the fact that the Wizengamot is a body of some 50 witches and wizards leads one to suspect that it is possible that every witch and wizard in Great Britain at that period may have participated in it. Which raises the question as to whether a seat on the Wizengamot today denotes descent from (or adoption by, or marriage into the family of) one of the original holders. It is a tempting conclusion to draw, but I will not formally do so.
It was late in the period of Saxon (and Danish) rule that the formulation of the principles pertaining to, and the initial practice of “Light magic”, i.e., modern wizardry, or perhaps more accurately, domesticated magic were developed and began to spread across Europe and the Middle East. Over the ensuing generations the benefits of the processes used in modern wizardry toward increasing the physical well-being, and possibly lengthening the effective lifespans of wizards would have begun to be noted. The corresponding lessening of the danger to one’s sense of proportion, to say nothing of one’s grip on reality, inherent in immersing oneself in the Dark Arts, and the corresponding lessening of any prior restraints upon wizards’ willingness to casually indulge in the channeling of Magical energies would have begun to be noted soon afterwards.
The Muggle perception of these developments would probably have been of a sense that there had been an increase in the number of wizards and witches around them. This would have been accompanied by a corresponding increase of opportunities for Muggle anxieties concerning wizards or (in particular) witches resulting in the aforementioned local outbreaks of the persecution of magicals.
Particularly given the fairly new, but steady spread of the Muggle belief that magic could not be accomplished without demonic aid, which seems to have become a popular belief among Muggles of this era. It is likely that the tendency among wizards to withdraw, as far as they were able, from Muggle communities may have been the result. Which would have only increased the Muggle perception that wizards were up to some dire doings which were not in the community’s best interests. At this period, such a withdrawal could not have been particularly great. Wizards numbers were far too low for them to be altogether self-sufficient and they could not have lived in an acceptable level of comfort without at least some interaction with Muggles.
A far more sweeping upsetting of everyone in Britain’s apple cart would have come with the Norman conquest. Which to modern perception seems to have been unnecessarily brutal. The Normans divided their prize up among themselves and set about to rule it with an iron fist, complete with subjecting the Saxon people to curfews, serfdom — i.e., effective enslavement, and a systematic oppression intended to subdue any attempt at rebellion, which prevailed for at least a generation. Nor was this Norman rule particularly stable in itself, leading to its first civil war, between the “Empress” Matilda and her cousin Steven, within the first hundred years after the conquest, and which lasted off and on from 1135 to 1154, and which only ceased with the establishment of the Plantagenet dynasty.
...Which, in turn, without restraints upon the power of the Kings ultimately conducted itself so egregiously badly that the Barons themselves forced the Magna Carta upon King John in 1215, before the Plantagenets had even held the throne for two full generations.
From the standpoint of wizards, whose lifespans had lengthened to the point that they passed their century mark as often as not, this political instability may have been regarded as a growing cause for concern. Those families who were ultimately to adopt the stance of the wizarding isolationist faction, would have begun active withdrawal from participation in Muggle society at some point around, or not much following this period. Although, once again, the degree of actual withdrawal would have been slight.
Our most current, close-up, and purest example of this faction in canon; the Noble House of Black, appears, from our vantage point in the late 20th century to have been one of the families to have done this. The Black family’s presumed disdain for the Muggle government, and indeed for Muggles themselves, is credited with having prompted them to actively seek to marry only from within the magical community beginning at some point in the 13th century. It is generally assumed that they would have also gone on to withdraw from meddling in Muggle affairs as well.
This last assumption may be at least partially in error, however. That the family’s genealogical tapestry includes a family motto in French suggests that the Blacks must have adopted at the very least some degree of protective coloration by mimicking the speech, style, and behavior of prominent Normans, suggesting that their withdrawal from their Muggle neighbors was far from complete. It is also entirely possible that the tapestry itself was, in fact, only created anything up to a century and a half later than the earliest dates recorded on it and that at the point of the tapestry’s creation the family history was filled in as a retrofit taken from other sources, or even only from living memory or otherwise unconfirmed family tradition. This possibility would place the commissioning of the tapestry by the members of the House of Black as occurring very much in concert with the widely-noted preoccupation over hereditary status, pedigree and “nobility” which was also obsessing upper-class Muggles by the middle of the 14th century.
B. Hogwarts Castle
However, apart from a few early isolationist exceptions, throughout the pre-Seclusion period, the greater part of wizarding society remained completely in step with mundane (Muggle) society, if only for no better reason than that it was still quite actively a part of it.
Even the date of the establishment of the great Wizarding Academies is in keeping with the social dynamics at work in the mundane world. I am indebted to the Fan writer (pen name; Barb) who flagged the following quote as a chapter heading in one of her works;
The medieval castle originated in the ninth century in the Frankish Empire (what is now modern France, western Germany, and northern Italy) as nobles began building fortifications in response to increasing insecurity in the region... The Carolingians (Charlemagne’s dynasty) divided their lands among royal heirs, and this custom led to a multiplicity of kings and to civil wars. The new institution of feudalism (which usually involved cavalry service in return for land — the fief — and political rights) resulted in an increase in lordships held under the kings... Political instability and invasion by outside forces resulted in a breakdown in law and order and a sharp decline in the effectiveness of central government. Consequently, power fell into the hands of whatever lords or strongmen were able to protect local populations effectively. But the strongmen also had to protect themselves, and the result was the building of defensive structures that over time evolved into castles.
—Robin S. Oggins, Castles and Fortresses
It is easy to suppose that such widespread instability in local government and the progressive rise in the willingness of such strongmen to war with each other may have had considerable influence upon the four founders of Hogwarts’ decision to establish a school where wizarding children could be collected into a secure location for their training, even while Britain was still under Saxon rule. The increasing instability after the Norman conquest might also have heavily contributed to Salazar Slytherin’s subsequent and growing concern over the possible breech of security represented by children from backgrounds that considered such dysfunctional social dynamics normal. To say nothing of the fact that the Muggles’ problematic growing association of magic with demon handling was continuing to spread. This association all four of the founders must have regarded with extreme disquiet.
And if the possible effects of the influences upon the young examined in the article in the UNhallowed collection entitled ‘The Premature Prediction’ had ever been noted at that early period, Salazar may have felt he had ample reason to be concerned over the advisability of admitting into the wizarding safe zones such as Hogwarts Academy, magical children who had been raised out among Muggles without the advantages of the guidance and protection of trained, adult wizards.
Another issue which must also be brought up at this point is that the Hogwarts castle of the original Founders is unlikely to have been the same physical entity as the Hogwarts castle of the modern day.
A castle as large and as complex as modern Hogwarts is the product of centuries’ worth of development. Castles are growing and “living” entities. Particularly ones which remain in continual use. This is almost certainly even more true in the case of castles which are maintained and occupied by wizards than ones owned and occupied by Muggles. The Founders’ Hogwarts, by the end of the 20th century, is bound to be surrounded and probably encased in a collection of additions and reconstructions dictated by the changing needs of a growing population over thousand years of uninterrupted habitation.
Another consideration that we must also take into account is that the current Muggle population of Great Britain is at one of its highest points in history today. With this in mind, it seems likely that the magical population of Great Britain and Ireland may be at an historical peak as well.
Considering this probability, it seems highly unlikely that the population of 270–300 or so students currently served by Hogwarts (extrapolated from Rowling’s establishment of an incoming class of 40 students in Harry Potter’s year, and her recently stated total population estimate of 3,000. Her claim that the school serves some 600 students is untenable with a base population this small) has been the case throughout the school’s history. It is much more likely that, given the isolation of magical communities and the slowness of communication, as well as the absence of anything like the Hogwarts quill which records all magical births, the original academy probably served no more than a few dozen students, if that. Indeed, the entire magical population of Great Britain probably did not number more than a couple of hundred.
(Yes, yes, I know. As I pointed out at the outset of this piece, Rowling’s Potterverse takes place in a district adjacent to Storybook Land, and in her mind it’s wizarding population has probably always numbered around 3,000. I am trying to extrapolate a plausible history which isn’t completely out to lunch and takes account of the fact that the population of the British Isles has not always numbered around 65 million.)
Which raises the question of why the Founders chose to house their new school in a castle, when a cluster of cottages in a similarly out-of-the-way location would probably have served the purpose admirably.
And what other purposes might a fortified castle in a secure, hidden location have served for the wizarding Britain of that particular day?
Despite the assumptions that the reader has been led to make, there is as yet no certain indication in canon that Hogwarts Castle has traditionally served only as a school. In fact, its original purposes may have been far more varied, and that it is only with the fairly sudden increase of the wizarding population of Great Britain and Ireland over the 19th and 20th centuries (mirroring the Muggle population explosion over that era) that all of the different former functions served by the castle have gradually been spun off into other locations leaving the School in sole possession of the premises.
The fact that the administration of the School is overseen, not only by its own Board of Governors but at least to some degree by the Ministry of Magic as well, suggests that there may be a closer historic connection between Hogwarts School and wizarding Britain’s government than may at first appear to be the case.
It should also be remembered that magic itself was at a more primitive level 1000 years ago. And if my interpretation regarding the development of modern wizardry is relevant to Rowling’s history of her world, then this development was both a comparatively recent event, and an ongoing process, at the time of the school’s founding. Much of the known magical lore of the time would have still been in a process of transition to the newer, safer methods at that point.
If this is the case, at the time of the school’s founding, a large part of British wizardry’s collective efforts were probably still fully engaged in attempting to devise the correct wand movements and the optimum incantations to enable their existing spells to function by these new methods, or to recreate the function of an extensive body of traditional “Dark” spells which did not respond to the safer channeling methods used in modern wizardry. The Castle may well have served as a secure repository of the collected lore of all wizarding Britain, and been used as a research facility by the whole kingdom, and other researchers throughout the wizarding world. The Restricted Section of the Hogwarts library may have never originally been intended for the use of the current students.
The Founders may very well have prized, and defended their custody of these volumes and encouraged the use of the collection as a research facility from the time of the school’s first opening, and offered the use of the library as an inducement in return for instruction of the students of Hogwarts School.
This practice may have generated revenue to support the school, but it would have also ensured that the students would be exposed to some of the finest theoretical minds of their era. Unfortunately, this policy might also have provided an open door for the discord created by those “external deadly foes” cited by the Sorting Hat, which ultimately overran the School, to the point of threatening its very existence.
As a center of learning, Hogwarts might also have served as an active center of other research. In particular, medical research.
The mid-18th century appointment of Dilys Derwent, a Healer at St Mungo’s Hospital, to the office of Headmistress of Hogwarts seems far less odd and arbitrary if one remembers that as the only hospital in Wizarding Britain, St Mungo’s is, of necessity, a teaching hospital. And it becomes even less remarkable if one postulates that St Mungo’s Hospital and Hogwarts School may at that point in time have both been housed in Hogwarts Castle.
Working from the information on Mungo Bonham’s listing as a former Wizard of the Month on the official JKR website, St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and injuries was founded somewhere around the turn of the 17th century. At this period, the population of Great Britain was perhaps a tenth of what it is now. If the magical population is a stable percentage of the total population there would have been scarcely 300–400 witches and wizards in all Great Britain and Ireland. They would have all fit into the present-day castle, at need. Which, to me suggests that the castle of that day was not yet the edifice that it is today. Some of the current structure had yet to be built.
From the description of St Mungo’s current premises (an apparently derelict London Department Store) is seems unlikely that St Mungo’s was housed in its current location at any time earlier than some point in the 19th century, the era during which most of modern-day London was built. This hypothesis is supported, if not absolutely confirmed by Mad-Eye Moody’s account regarding the difficulties met in finding a suitable site for the hospital when Harry asked him where St Mungo’s was located. i.e., That there was no site large enough in Diagon Alley, and the hospital could not be located underground in the manner of the Ministry of Magic since an underground site was deemed not to be sufficiently healthy. Such information is all likely to be a matter of comparatively recent public record. Within the last couple of centuries, in fact.
It is also very likely that until comparatively recently the Wizengamot itself sat at Hogwarts, at least during the summer months; Scotland being far more salubrious in the summer than London. That the current offices of the Ministry of Magic are described as being “in the heart of London” suggests that those offices have been located there for a considerable amount of time. But, despite the ease and rapidity of the magical healing of epidemic diseases, it would no doubt have been regarded as preferable to simply leave town during the season that one would be most likely to be exposed to them. I doubt that cholera or typhoid are a casual experience even for wizards.
We have been more-or-less informed that the modern Ministry of Magic, in its current form, was created by the Wizengamot to serve as the administrative body of the combined wizarding government of all magical peoples of Britain, superseding the older Wizards’ Council, after the establishment of formal wizarding Seclusion. Which would place it at some date early in the 18th century. Or, in other words, quite soon after the establishment of formal Wizarding Seclusion. The Ministry’s current offices’ however, seem to date from much earlier. Or, at any rate, the premises of the Department of Mysteries do.
Indeed, Rowling states in the joint interview mentioned in the opening to this article that the Hall of the Veil in the Department of Mysteries is centuries old, but not as old as Hogwarts Castle. It is not outside the range of plausibility to propose that the Ministry, or at least the Department of Mysteries, set up its permanent quarters in London not long after the initial crisis at Hogwarts had blown up in their faces.
In fact Salazar Slytherin may have had something to do with it, too.
And so might the Peverill brothers. What would you care to bet against the possibility that the keystone of that archway of the Veil is carved with the symbol of the Deathly Hallows? (We are invited to believe that the 2nd Peverill brother’s line of descent joined in marriage with the Slytherin line at some point, after all.) But this could all merely be an importunate plot bunny.
For the moment I would merely like to suggest that when the old Wizards’ Council was superseded by the newly-formed Ministry of Magic, it was decided that it would be best to enlarge the Department of Mysteries facility to house this new governing body. These offices’ extent, and methods of concealment are probably far more sophisticated today than they were originally, and these premises would probably have undergone successive periods of modification as bureaucracy expanded to fill the available resources.
A more recent, and extensive degree of modification and expansion would also have been required at Hogwarts once the active seeking out and recruitment of Muggle-born magical children was adopted as Ministry policy, entailing a correspondingly rapid expansion of governmental responsibility and services in order to address the wider duties presented by the need to deal with the Muggle families of these new future constituents, and the now rapidly expanding wizarding population itself. Much of this newly recruited wizarding manpower was later absorbed into the Ministry of Magic once their Hogwarts training was complete with a corresponding increase of the social services which were now available to all wizards.
It is probable that both the evident resistance to Ministry inclusionary policy on the part of the isolationist faction today, and the development and adoption of those policies in the first place, reflect the penetration of Muggle-born and halfblood wizards and witches into the Ministry itself, although from our limited observation, pureblood wizards still head Ministry departments at what appears to be a higher than random occurrence. And, of course, we have no way of knowing whether the DoM is in fact a largely self-determining entity with policies perhaps at variance with those of the Ministry itself.
We also do not know for certain where the Wizengamot or the Wizards’ Council which preceded the formation of the Ministry of Magic had their primary seats. It is generally assumed that these had also been based in London. However, this has not ever been conclusively stated, to the best of my recollection. So this could be an inaccurate impression.
Prior to the Council’s move to London — which, if an actual move ever took place was likely to have been fairly early, possibly about the time the Normans built the White Tower in London in the 11th century — the Wizengamot and the Wizards’ Council may have also, for at least a brief period shared quarters in Hogwarts castle.
And, at the very least, a castle would have served as an emergency refuge for the villagers of nearby Hogsmeade. Whether it was ever required to serve in that capacity or not. We have no information on that subject.
For that matter, given the tendencies of Muggles to abruptly take up their cudgels against the known witches or wizards among them, Hogwarts, if one could get to it, may have grown to serve as emergency housing and sanctuary for wizards on the run from all over Britain — increasing the desirability of establishing a hospital there. Particularly by the turn of the 17th century when the social fallout from the Reformation was beginning to take its toll.
And I think that it must certainly have served as a refuge for wizards and wizarding families during the “burning times” (despite the fact that in England, witches were never burned), and probably also as shelter and temporary housing during the period that formal wizarding Seclusion was being established. Not all, or even most, wizarding households had the resources to conceal themselves in place. For a family to be temporarily housed at the school, where the younger members were already enrolled might well have smoothed over what would have otherwise been a very rough transition period until another residence (and employment, in the case of rural farming families) could be arranged in one of the partially-wizarding districts or villages around Britain.
C. “Landed” Wizards in History
In the 9th and 10th centuries, after the development of modern wizardry, wizards were practicing magic more often and (in too many cases) more openly than in the days that active magical practice had presented an inherent cumulative risk to their mental health. Consequently, it was becoming ever more likely not only that a wizard would be identified as such by his Muggle neighbors, but that he would make at least a part of his living from that identification. Since the average Muggle’s original perception of wizards as priests and spiritual leaders had long ago been overwritten by his experience of wizards as dangerous and not infrequently evil monsters in human form, and was being steadily redefined as persons who trafficked with demons, this placed the magical community at perpetual risk of being targeted by hysterical mobs. The cycle of recurring periods of the persecution of wizards had become firmly established by this era. The oppressive rule of the Norman conquerors would have only added to the overall anxieties of the day.
It is not difficult to speculate that in the days of Salazar Slytherin, the perceived security risk to the school represented by children whose background contained no known wizarding connections might have seemed a reasonable concern. Indeed, it might have been a reasonable concern to more than just those shaken survivors who were ultimately to regroup into the pureblood isolationist faction of wizarding society. Whenever we have heard anything from anyone in canon who is in a position to have actually researched the matter regarding Slytherin’s widely remembered opposition to the enrollment of Muggle-born students, it has repeatedly been described to the reader as having stemmed from distrust rather than disdain.
The accompanying legends which claim that Slytherin left a monster behind intended to purge the school of the unworthy has the unmistakable ring of a later-day overlay by people with a very different axe to grind from Salazar’s. By all generally reliable accounts, although he certainly favored purebloods, Slytherin did not despise Muggle-borns as much as he feared them. And he is never accredited with anything that would translate as a belief that wizards ought to be ruling Muggles.
However, the potential danger to society as a whole (both magical and mundane) represented by allowing children without wizarding connections to self-train themselves into chaos and madness, and thereby to almost certainly perpetuate the common mundane perception that all wizards are Evil Dark wizards, would have ultimately outweighed any considerations of the possibility that one of the Muggle-born children’s tales at home might prompt his overlord to attempt to sack the school. Lacking a copy of ‘Hogwarts — A History’, we have been given no information as yet as to whether anyone’s presumed concerns regarding the school being subjected to a possible attack by Muggles were ever justified.
In any event; it appears to have been about the time of the afore-mentioned trend towards widespread political instability in mundane society, and the establishment of fortified castles in response to it, that the wizarding community is noted to have first begun attempting to withdraw itself from full interaction with its mundane neighbors and counterparts.
Such a withdrawal, however, would only have been possible at very odd points of the socio-economic scale. In a world where all are either Earls or churls, only the Earls are presumed to get the luxury of such choices. And upon examination, the Earls’ choices are surprisingly limited.
Even the (presumably very few) wizarding aristocrats of the day, given their involvement in Muggle politics, would have been just as likely to marry the son or daughter of a prominent Muggle for the sake of an obvious worldly advantage in wealth or influence as they would have been to attempt to gain some theoretical magical advantage for their descendants by marrying within a far too small circle of known magical families at their own social level.
Which leads us to one of our more interesting paradoxes as it regards wizarding aristocrats. We have been directly shown that throughout history some wizards have held Muggle titles. Two of the Hogwarts House ghosts were titled gentlemen of this sort in life. There was for a time also some suggestion that Ravenclaw House’s Grey Lady is another such titled personage. Post-DHs we can see that this has turned out not to be the case.
Titles, even such lesser titles (today) as those of Knight and Baron generally come only by courtesy of a Royal grant. Nearly Headless Nick is a Knight. Baronets, who also go by the honorific of “Sir” were a creation of the Stuarts who did not take the throne until well after Sir Nicholas’s death. Barons, on the other hand were introduced to England by William the Conqueror, and consequently, have been around since the late 11th century. (The fact that the Bloody Baron is a Baron is of some assistance in placing the founding of Hogwarts around the time of the conquest — or any reasonable time afterwards.) There has never been an openly reigning “wizard King” or “witch Queen” in Great Britain or Ireland to grant specifically wizarding titles. On the other hand, it is very easy to speculate how a wizard or witch might readily manage to perform a service to a reigning Monarch upon such a level that a title might well be forthcoming. For that matter there have also been periodic whispers concerning supposed magical abilities ascribed to various members of the royal family. But, in any case, it stands to reason that any wizard who would perform such a service would have to be of a sort who did not mind mingling with Muggles, regardless of how their descendants might view such an association some centuries later.
What is more, such a wizard might very well choose to continue to take an active part in mundane politics, and at the very least would tend to develop a far less parochial view regarding the rightful place of a wizard in relation to mundane society. Such a titled wizard would also be more likely to be a considerable landholder and to have authority over a large district of tenants, both magical and Muggle. These literal wizarding aristocrats would, therefore, be likely to have been the very last people in the magical community who would have fallen in with the sentiments and philosophies of the wizarding-isolationist factions, who, in turn, would have necessarily regarded the aristos as blood-traitors and halfbloods.
These wizarding aristocrats would also be the ones who were best placed to be able to attempt to improve the level of security for other magicals, whenever such was possible. A fact that would not have been lost upon the generality of wizards. Nevertheless, although such wizarding aristocrats are shown in canon to have once existed, the probability is that they were always extremely rare. Most of today’s wealthy wizarding families are more likely to have originally made fortunes through some more commercial capacity than that of landlord. For prominent isolationist families, the ownership of land is likely to have come much later, once land ownership in general had become more commonly a matter of purchase rather than by royal grant.
Perhaps we ought also to take note of the fact that no such titled wizarding personages appear to be alive in the present day. All such representatives of this particular social stratum to whom we have been introduced appear to be ghosts.
One of the major drawbacks for a wizard who was active in mundane society and politics was that he was required to arrange his life in certain areas in a manner that was consistent with that of his mundane counterparts. In particular, he was effectively required to take part in the practice of fostering his children into the keeping of his neighbors as a gesture of good-will and as a guarantee of non-aggression. Essentially, a nobleman’s sons were sent as hostages to be educated and trained in each others’’ households. This meant that an aristocrat’s sons could not generally be sent to Hogwarts at the proper time. It is possible that in such cases (and it stands to reason that there are not likely to have been many such cases, due to the extreme rarity of titled wizards) Hogwarts was able to provide some assistance in the form of trained wizards who could be employed and sent into the neighboring household as tutors, or witches who could be placed in the noble’s own household to oversee the magical training of daughters.
D. Plebeian wizards
An inescapable fact is that at this early point in history, the larger number of undocumented and presumably Muggle-born wizards and witches had probably always fallen through the cracks simply because they were too poor and too obscure to attract notice. Except, that is, in the case of the sort of explosive encounter with Wild Magic that would be interpreted as either the hand of a vengeful God or as one of God’s miracles according to the degree of benefit to the local community which was brought about as a result. Trained wizards and witches were simply too thin on the ground to have been able to spot every one of the unanticipated magical children who were born to Muggle families, particularly if such children amounted to no more than 1–2 in an average year. Or even less.
Which is not to say that all such children went completely without notice. Trained wizards and witches were thin on the ground, yes. But most human settlements were within reach of a priest. Over these centuries, no few magical youngsters must have been brought to the attention of local priests after a typical incident of immature breakthrough magic.
How such incidents were interpreted were at the mercy of the local priest’s general outlook regarding supernatural phenomena. Some such children were no doubt believed to have been possessed by demons. Others were hailed as infant saints and essentially taken to the bosom of the church. At this point it should probably be remembered that the fourth of the Hogwarts House ghosts was in life a Friar. I suspect that no few of such children across Europe, given the advantages of a cloistered upbringing devoted their lives to the welfare of their Order, and their local communities and may have been ultimately canonized.
Unlike the magical children who managed to escape notice, few of these wizarding clerics left descendants. And, in England, few of them may have received a Hogwarts education. (The fat Friar’s vocation may have overtaken him later in life.) The contemplative life of the cloister may have helped to shield these children from the kind of stresses which provoke the most deadly of magical breakthroughs, leading to a simple, generally quiet, and lengthy life, plagued with few incidents. Such cloistered individuals having the best opportunity to have learned the discipline necessary to suppress or dissipate the pressures of the magic which they channeled, harmlessly.
And it must not be forgotten that some of them may have acquired a form of magical training from wizarding scholars within the church.
The circumstances and opportunities of the age, let alone the sort of character needed to exploit such circumstances and opportunities to the extent of founding a wizarding Great House, are not evenly distributed. If one in 50 individuals possessing such qualities managed to found such a house which did not disappear within 4 generations, it would be an extremely generous estimate. ‘Nature’s Nobility’ records the lost names of many of these failed houses. And we must also consider that there is a slight chance that the duration of these generations were shorter than those observed in modern wizards. Wizards appear to be inherently somewhat longer-lived than Muggles, it is true. But even in modern times, extremely long-lived wizards are vanishingly rare. And medi-magic was not so advanced at that point as it is in the present day, either.
Throughout the pre-Seclusion era, as in modern times, the majority of wizards were of plebeian social standing. In a predominantly agrarian society this generally translates into a rural lifestyle engaged in farming. Plebeian wizards in rural areas of an agrarian society were very nearly as isolated as their Muggle neighbors, with whom they most commonly interacted, and with whom they most commonly intermarried. The exception to this would be if a youngster had formed an attachment while attending Hogwarts (those who were identified and sent to Hogwarts, that is; not all were) which was acceptable to both families, in which case they would typically marry upon leaving school.
The rare wizarding aristocrats of this period, would have had better communication lines, given that they had more resources with which to establish such. After the development of Floo powder, in the 13th century, this group may even have typically maintained their own private Floo stations for the transportation of goods and personnel. But, given that then, as now, most magicals were of plebeian background, it would have been most typical for the majority of wizards to have lived, interacted and intermarried with their own neighbors and the highest percentage, if not virtually all magicals below a certain social level would have been, quite literally, halfbloods, most of them coming from mixed families, including siblings who might be either magical or mundane. In such times and under such conditions there would have been no such classification as Squib. This concept is most likely to have been one of the social developments to have come out of the Seclusion itself, later.
It should also be remembered that in mundane history, women were not typically educated along with men until well into the nineteenth century. There are a few isolated exceptions, but in terms of established mundane schools, the first founded colleges and universities were male only, and stayed that way for centuries. Given that the spells upon the Sorting Hat cause it to sort children into all four Houses regardless of sex, it is reasonable to assume that Hogwarts Academy was established as a coeducational institution from the beginning, and has functioned as such since its inception. Given that spells are placed upon the stairs of the current dormitory towers designed to bar young wizards from entering the female quarters of their own Houses, it is difficult to project any other interpretation.
One might speculate, however, that these spells may be a somewhat more recent addition. What is even more probable is that the current dormitories themselves are a comparatively recent addition to the castle, added within the last 4–5 hundred years, and are not a part of the original structure.
We can also be also almost certain that the current model of Hogwarts’s 3-term school year with its dates of attendance following, in general, the same dates as the school terms of prominent mundane boarding schools is another a comparatively recent policy. It is entirely possible that prior to Seclusion, and, for that matter, during the first century or so of it, Hogwarts students lived at the school year round until their training was complete. Plebeian families would most probably have explained the absence of their children from home over a seven year period as some form of Apprenticeship.
And not at all inappropriately, either. The Hogwarts curriculum makes it very clear that the School functions much closer in form to a Trade school than to a purely academic institution.
It is also not beyond the bounds of probability for Hogwarts to have historically taken a reasonably active role in the arrangement of wizarding marriages, at the request of the students’ families. In fact, once the isolationist factions began to gain in numbers and influence, and various wizarding families began to actively retreat from mundane society, the school would have been the most likely source of information of just who the magical children of marriageable age currently were.
Another consideration related to this was probably a wish to determine the degree of family connection between youngsters in order to avoid too close a relationship between marital partners. Such records seem still to be found in the Hogwarts Library. Tom Riddle eventually traced his maternal grandfather through a research of the books on wizarding families in the Hogwarts collection. Those books are there for a reason.
Any such matches that were ultimately made might not necessarily have been between current students, either. Particularly if, as I contend, the castle served the magical community as more than just the location of the school.
Although, given that it was customary for the children of wealthy Muggles to be betrothed or even married in their cradles in order to consolidate the interests of their families, we cannot overlook that possibility, either. But it stands to reason that many youngsters would have siblings, cousins, etc, and it also stands to reason that the contacts made at Hogwarts might be extremely important for the children of a magical family which was determined upon finding eligibly magical persons for these children to marry. Such a function is likely to have been initiated quite soon after the establishment of the school itself. It would certainly have been the case by the 13th–14th century when such families as the Blacks began keeping written records of their pedigrees.
Still, any function the school might have served as a possible marriage brokerage was secondary to that of assuring that children would not fall into harm through the use of the old, chaotic magical processes peculiar to the Dark Arts. Nevertheless, as time passed, and with the growth of the pureblood isolationist factions, the desirability for magicals to marry only other magicals would certainly have grown as well.
IV. Kick-Starting Cyclic History: The Renaissance
It would only have been in the three or four centuries that preceded the drive for Seclusion that the concept of having a “pure wizarding” bloodline would have become an issue very much on anyone’s mind outside of the pureblood isolationist faction. We are talking about the Renaissance here. And the Renaissance was an era where, at least in mundane history, establishing and maintaining status was suddenly apparently in the forefront of a great many people’s minds.
In an atmosphere where the rule of the isolated Power centers of the Middle Ages’ strongmen was gradually being shifted out of the hands of local Barons and being consolidated back into the hands of central Monarchies, the possession of monetary wealth had begun to draw even with land ownership as a measure both of one’s personal worth and of one’s family’s importance.
This atmosphere offered vastly increased opportunities for advancement by clever persons whose family background had not lent itself to such advancement in the days when the Barons had ruled everything. Among Muggles this situation initiated an ongoing class struggle between the established landed aristocracy and the moneyed parvenu which has continued in some form ever since. Wizards, who, in general, still participated in the wider society under mundane governments to at least some degree, could hardly have remained immune. A related factor which has also remained with us to the present day was the emergence of cyclic history.
Strauss & Howe have identified their earliest observations of the dynamics of cyclic history being enacted in European Society in the mid-15th century. Specifically during the period beginning, in Great Britain, with the Wars of the Roses.
According to Strauss & Howe’s theories of how cyclic history operates, these dynamics have driven the rhythms of Real World history to the present day, with no signs of slowing down or stopping. These rhythms follow the progression of individual cycles, or saecula each covering one full rotation of a 4-stroke succession of influences and social perceptions which serve to propel Society from one era to the next. During each such “cycle” Society will enact the same repetition of social models in the same order, but with all details recast, reinterpreted, and given a separate and new opportunity for resolution.
Each complete 4-stroke cycle typically begins in a perceived era of peace and plenty, (the initiating partial cycle noted by Strauss & Howe in the 15th century settled into the patterns of cyclic history, it did not begin from them) this era is followed by a period of great spiritual awaking and corresponding social upheaval. Which in turn is followed by a nasty, cynical era typified by a steadily unraveling social order, which is accompanied by sweeping and disconcerting technological advances. Finally, a combination of some of the social conflicts already in play will trigger what is perceived to be a great civic crisis which must be resolved before Society as a whole moves on into the next new cycle. These cycles typically cover a period of time loosely that of a long human lifespan, or 80 to 100 years. It is interesting to note that these cycles only settled into to a steady, roughly 80-year pattern at the end of the 17th century, the point at which, in the Potterverse, longer-lived wizards would have finally stopped interacting with Muggle society in any meaningful manner. In our own world, Strauss & Howe attribute this to an increase in the speed of communications; in the Potterverse, this might be explained more simply by the disappearance of the longer-lived wizards from the equation.
As the rhythms of cyclic history took hold, wizards, whose lifespans, since the adoption of the methods of modern wizardry had already lengthened to some 30–60% longer than that of their mundane contemporaries, might have individually found themselves, as they aged, progressively more out-of-step with their times. That all children, whether wizard or Muggle, raised during each of the four “Turnings” of the cycle are inevitably imprinted with a different generational character — due to shifting and recurring social attitudes regarding the proper way to treat children, and what a child’s place in society should be — would have served to further disorient and alienate the wizard from his neighbors, as he continued to interpret his surroundings from the standpoint of his own ingrained generational type, and Society around him marched to progressively different drummers. Even in old age, when the cycle began to repeat itself, the march of change would have brought little comfort, as he lived to see the return of the social attitudes of his own childhood and youth recast with different emphasis, and reenacted by strangers while the mundane companions of his own youth were long dead and he had to experience that Turning’s conditions from a very different point in his personal life-cycle.
Prior to DHs, it would have been interesting to speculate whether wizards had actually managed to escape the pressures and influences of cyclic history. It appears that some of the dynamics of cyclic history are very imperfectly reflected by much of the wizarding social dynamics we have been shown. But I suspect that in far too many cases this was just due to Rowling trying to be funny.
But no, the addition to the equation of the semi-wizarding villages in which half or more of the wizarding population appear to live would tend to disallow this possibility. Still, it would have been interesting to note the inevitable conflict represented by Muggle-born wizards — who would have developed the requisite generational “character” of their Muggle contemporaries — entry into a wizarding culture at Hogwarts which was not subject to such influences.
Among Muggles, during the first stirrings of what was later to be dubbed the Renaissance — around the 14th century — the landed aristocrats started deliberately coining fresh new symbols of all the advantages they could legitimately claim (family coats of arms, etc.) in order to publicly demonstrate their superiority to mere moneyed mongrels. In the case of wizarding aristocrats, such families already had a far more inaccessible quality with which to distinguish themselves from their mundane rivals. They had Magic. They now suddenly also had magical rivals as well; as the Renaissance offered ever more unprecedented opportunities for wizards in commercial concerns to make their fortunes.
The mundane aristocracy began an enduring competition to develop visible ways of promoting their alleged superiority, first in displays of conspicuous leisure, and to use this additional leisure time at their disposal to toady up to the Crown in hopes of yet further advancement. Secondarily, they used this leisure time to advance the enrichment and complexity of their social stratum to the point that the merchant’s incessant money-grubbing would no longer allow him the time required for active participation. Wizarding aristocrats put their leisure time to the refinement of their Magic and everything to do with it.
It was probably only at this point that titled wizards and their associates started seriously tracing back how many generations, and to what degree their families had been magical, and began to deliberately arrange marriages for the purposes of establishing bloodlines free from Muggle throwbacks, or attempting to control and predict what their descendants’ particular magical strengths might be. It is clear from various documented sources, such as the House of Black’s genealogical tapestry, that in this matter some of their nouveau-riche rivals from the ranks of the merchant princes were already ahead of them.
A significant number of these new wizarding fortunes were being built by families whose backgrounds were from the steadily-growing, pureblood-obsessed isolationist factions. The advantages of the landed wizarding aristos were therefore under assault both on the level of cash-on-hand wealth and in the extent of their families’ magical heritage. As it became more easy to acquire landed estates by mere purchase, the aristocrats’ only unassailable advantage was dwindling into that of political clout in mundane governments. Which, given the general unreliability of political situations to remain constant, could not have been an enviable position in which to have found themselves.
Be that as it may; the end result was that, finally, it was more than just the isolationists who were engaged in selective breeding for magical purity. Such an attempt was no longer only the result of a sense of mission on the part of a handful of fanatics but a question of enhancing one’s family’s status in the eyes of the leaders of wizarding society as well. The isolationists had now permanently set their mark upon wizarding culture. This shift in the paradigm was to have sweeping effects upon the whole of this particular society, cumulating in the establishment of formal wizarding Seclusion some 300 years later.
Plebeian wizards, who (apart from Hogwarts sweethearts) still typically intermarried with the local Muggles due to having fewer local magicals of their own social level in range to choose partners from, were far slower to even consider attempting to do anything on this order. Their magical traits were still being generously shared around with the rest of the local community. The only exception was among the retainers of the magical Great Houses who would have copied the social patterns of their patrons insofar as they were able.
Once there were enough of these wizarding Great Houses to constitute a viable community in themselves, and, more to the point, once these Great Houses had started up their own eugenics program, another social factor also started making an impact on the perpetuation of magical traits in the mundane population. Or, rather, began being viewed as a problem.
Controlled breeding through arranged marriages fails to allow for either normal experimentation, natural affection nor the usual human appetite for variety. Even if magical youngsters could be paired off as soon as the young husbands and wives left school, it is not likely that all of these prospective young husbands and wives will agree to be so paired off. Nor that once so paired off, these youngsters, the husbands in particular, will necessarily confine their sexual attentions to their legal partners. The young wives may not have done so either, but that issue is not the relevant one here. The children born to a married woman are always the legally-recognized descendants of somebody.
The sort of low-born but magical human retainers which were dependent upon and employed by these Great Houses would certainly be the recipients of some of the attentions of a straying spouse. However, it is much simpler, and much more difficult for others to trace one’s behavior in such manners if one simply takes advantage of the hordes of Muggle women (who even their own society does not value at all highly) employed as barmaids or in domestic service, or in brothels and the like, all of whom tacitly exist for such purposes.
And when has any young man ever taken the slightest concern toward lessening the chances of pregnancy among “easy” women? This will have resulted in an undocumented, but no doubt fairly high number of halfbloods whose magical heritages, again, unless identified as wizards and sent off to Hogwarts, were recycled into the breeding population as a whole.
What is more, in a society wherein the ability to trace one’s magical ancestry was becoming steadily more important, the existence of such children would have been deplored specifically due to the fact that their antecedents were so often untraceable. I rather suspect that this may in fact have been the original implication inherent in the term “mudblood”. The real objection was not to the known fact of the child’s apparently Muggle birth, but to that of it’s shrouded magical ancestry. These children, most typically, were not the unanticipated magical offspring of two blameless Muggle parents. They were unacknowledged halfbloods whose paternity was unknown, raising serious questions and issues of consanguinity once they were absorbed into the magical community.
Prior to the establishment of Seclusion, in any village where acknowledged wizards had been a part of the community for any length of time, I think that comparatively few children were even identified, let alone stigmatized, as being “Muggle-born”. It is far more likely that at the discovery of a magical child of non-magical parents, it was merely assumed that the magic had skipped a few generations and that somewhere back in the child’s ancestry, somebody must have married one of the Whoevers (the local magical family). In the case of this occurring in one of the villages attached to an estate where the Lords of the Manor were suspected or known to be wizards, this assumption would have sometimes have modified into the supposition that somewhere a generation back or so there had been a pretty dairymaid, or some such, who had helped one of the sons of the Manor sow a few wild oats.
And in general these suppositions were probably on the right track. In these little hamlets, most of the Muggle population had been passing around some of the same incomplete set of magical traits for generations, and this would have occasionally resulted in a wizard whenever one of the missing links somehow managed to get invited to the party. We do not know what the minimum number of magical traits is required to produce a functioning wizard.
At this point in time, such children in rural areas would necessarily have been identified (if at all) by whatever other wizards might live in the region and would have been formally sponsored by them when attendance at Hogwarts or another of the magical Academies came into question. It is likely that the modern “no-fee” model of education at Hogwarts was already in place, due to concern over the threat of allowing mentally unstable Dark wizards to develop, who would ultimately need to be apprehended and neutralized by the Wizarding Council.
A child so sponsored and trained would be under heavy obligation to their discoverer and patron. It is entirely possible that this was another early form of Wizards’ Debt, payable, in most cases, by passing the benefit of education on if an unsponsored magical child were ever to cross the trained wizard’s path.
In the few areas within the vicinity of the Manors of wizarding aristocrats, such children, when identified, were most typically taken under the patronage of their local Lord (to whom they most probably were related, to at least some degree) who undertook to see that they were given appropriate training.
And occupation, once they were trained.
The understanding in this case was that the child, when trained, would be kept on afterwards as a retainer. Such a policy would have been anathema in the eyes of the most fanatic of the purebloods of isolationist leaning, who would have raised vigorous denouncement of the practice upon any occasion that offered them the opportunity. However, the specter of self-trained Dark wizards, as well as the overall benefit to wizarding society by the addition of these new members would have rendered such objections easily dismissible in the eyes of the majority.
This tradition of patronage was undertaken quite willingly, in most cases, on the part of wizarding aristocrats, or even the merely middle-class. For it provided them with a stable and continuing source of magical servants and allies. Their only reliable such source, in fact.
House Elves are comparatively rare, and they tend to be bound to pre-existing properties. Moreover; traditionally Elves were bound to the property, first, and only secondarily to the family which occupied the property. At this point in time, it should also be recollected that virtually all House Elves were, in fact, attached to Muggle properties. It was very rare indeed for one to be attached to a household of wizards. This situation was only to change upon the drive to and establishment of wizarding Seclusion.
To identify and undertake the training of magical human retainers who were afterwards under obligation to your family was really far more desirable, and a good deal more easily accomplished than acquiring an Elf (assuming that to acquire an Elf was considered even remotely desirable at this period — which is far from having ever been established). This was also the favored method in staffing the new households of one’s younger children.
In those cases where a Great House was over-generously supplied with retainers, the Master might sponsor a trusted former retainer’s establishment of his own subordinate household allied with his own. Quite a few of the prominent pureblood families of today may have had such an origin, although the die-hard pureblood isolationist faction may still have regarded the bloodlines of even such long-established, sponsored wizards as tainted.
Despite the somewhat casual attitude toward the benefits of pure-bloodedness still held by the handful of wizarding aristocrats, it would have been among the retainers of the Great Houses that the idea of marrying only other magicals and producing pure-blooded offspring would have filtered down most quickly. It certainly would have done so more quickly there than in the rural hamlets where magic was present but not fostered by a wizarding landlord.
Magical children of non-magical parents occurring where no one could trace a probable connection to any known magical family were most likely to be an urban phenomenon. Many of these children may not ever have been identified and trained at all. In the case of those who were, the wizards or witches who lived in the town would have necessarily been the contact points and the ones to see to it that the child was trained, if only to assure that he would not manage to train himself in the dangerously direct methods of channeling magic and need to be contained later as a renegade Dark wizard.
It is suggested that part of the function of the Wizards’ Council was to oversee that any town of a significant size had at least one or two resident witches or wizards serving as observers for the purpose of spotting such children. Such observers would have most probably been chosen from the ranks of retainers who had been educated under the sponsorship of one the Great Houses, and therefore under obligation.
V. The Drive to Seclusion:
It was not until the Reformation, and its attendant religious upheavals and waves of intolerance for the supernatural raged virtually unabated throughout the 16th and 17th centuries that the isolationists’ perpetual harping upon the necessity of establishing complete wizarding separation from Muggle society began to find a wider audience within the magical community. But once it had begun to do so, any wizarding family who could read the writing on the wall, and had the resources to enable their disappearance from mundane society, would probably have bolted into cover as soon as it could be managed.
Upon any sort of reflection, it becomes obvious that the date of the International Act of Wizarding Seclusion did not herald the beginning of a drive to Seclusion. Instead, it marks the point at which Seclusion had already been de facto established, and that the passing of the Act was in the nature of an ultimatum to any witch or wizard who was still living openly among their Muggle neighbors as a magic user to either comply or to be abandoned to their fate. I do not doubt that some of the primary articles of that act established draconian penalties upon any witch or wizard who might have broken the terms of Seclusion to go to their assistance.
The Roman Church had been no more tolerant of the increasing spread of secular scholarship and the attempts of the fathers of modern science to unravel the mysteries of nature and the working of natural law than it had been of heretical doctrines during the Age of Miracles. There is no need to detail the list of scientists who were executed as heretics during the period we call the Renaissance.
Despite the established Church’s growing opposition to the spread of scientific knowledge, it had often remained perfectly legal, if somewhat dangerous, to openly practice magic. Most of the Courts of Europe still recognized official diviners and magicians throughout this entire era. This was the last era during which this could be said, however. One of the last, and most famous of these gentlemen that we know of being one John Dee, the court astrologer to Elizabeth the First of England. It may, or may not be interesting to note that Dee, a Welshman, bears a name which derives from “Dhu”, a name which in English translates into “Black”. If Dr Dee was indeed a connection of the Black family to whom we have been introduced, it is unlikely that his name can still be found upon the family’s genealogical tapestry. His willingness to mingle with the Muggles would have probably seen it blasted off.
In mundane affairs, the rapid increase of general knowledge, despite the Church’s opposition, and the improvement in the overall efficiency of communications, in addition to the activities of the Church itself — which as the Renaissance progressed was inclined to regard itself as under siege — and was not tolerant of that, either; to which it made some very ill-considered responses, ultimately combining to convince its (still mostly internal) critics that the corruption within the Church’s ranks was beyond what the flock should be called upon to bear.
When, toward the beginning of the 16th century, a call for internal Reform within the Church found itself as virulently attacked as the worst of heresies, the “great schism” became inevitable and ushered in one of the darkest and most vicious periods of European history.
Whereas the Catholic Church’s tolerance for magic had always been limited, (witchcraft had finally been declared a form of heresy in 1484) that of the Protestant Reformation was utterly non-existent. It should be noted that the most virulent of all the pogroms against witchcraft and the supernatural throughout this era seem to have taken place in those regions of Europe which had widely adopted some form of Protestantism; a creed which almost universally operated in accordance with the view that magic is impossible without demonic assistance.
In England, such matters entered a critical stage during the reign of James I, a monarch regarded today as a notorious believer in, and enemy of the supernatural in all its forms. It is in the authorized English translation of the Bible which was produced under his sponsorship that many of the exhortations against all trafficking with witchcraft or any dealings related to the occult with which we are familiar were first introduced. A few of these have since been determined to have been pious mistranslations. Others were deliberate insertions for what is presumed to have been political reasons. Only a minority are consistent with the original text in the original language.
The inevitable social consequences of these inclusions into the standard religious text to be distributed throughout the British Isles upon the magical population of Great Britain were not long in coming; although witchcraft was not declared a capital offense in Britain until 1653, “witch fever” appears to have hit England well before even the establishment of Parliamentary government. One of the more famous of the multiple executions was that of the Pendle witches (three generations of one family) in 1612. Later, some of the most notorious witch trials were those undertaken by the self-proclaimed Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins between the years of 1644 and 1646 in which he is credited with having been personally responsible for nearly 300 executions of supposed witches. (Which, if the representation of magicals within the mundane population was anything like today, would have come close to representing the island’s total magical community.)
Even though these events pale in comparison with the atrocities taking place on the Continent, such developments could only have fallen upon the magical population of Great Britain as the crack of doom.
One possibility, which was floated in the backstory to a piece of fanfiction by an author going under the pen name of Arsinoe de Blassenville, and which I mention here because it struck me as being such a thoroughly elegant piece of well-scaled and well-placed reasoning, concerns the Treaty of Westphalia (which had been under negotiation from 1644 to it’s final adoption in 1648).
The Treaty of Westphalia, in our world, is generally regarded as the watershed document which formally established a cease-fire between the Catholic and Protestant Churches, thereby putting an end to the appalling 30-years war on the Continent. It also established the official state religions of the nations which had been involved in this conflict, and the political boundaries of these nations. We have hints in canon to suggest that in the Potterverse it is the political boundaries as established by the Treaty of Westphalia which are honored by the Ministries of Magic across Europe to the present day. It is certainly not the political boundaries as they stand in the mundane Europe of our own world.
In Mlle de Blassenville’s backstory it was the discovery by a group of wizards in the court of the Elector of Saxony of secret articles in this treaty, to wit that it was specified that the Catholic and Protestant Churches would agree to cease their armed hostilities against each other, and instead seek out and destroy their common enemies, the witches, that served as the final straw convincing the magical populations of Europe that they must separate themselves entirely from Muggle society.
In any case: it should be noted that the circumstances dictating the necessity for wizarding Seclusion appear to have been particular to Europe, alone. It is entirely possible that the formal “International” Act of Wizarding Seclusion in fact was only adopted across Europe, Great Britain, and their colonies, and that to this day it only applies to Europe, and what were originally European colonies. Much of Asia, Africa (both the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa) and aboriginal societies around the world may not commonly make any such formal demands regarding the seclusion of wizards from Muggles, and may not practice anything beyond a purely voluntary separation of wizards from Muggle society, which is left to the discretion of the individual wizard. Which would explain the presence of all those tribal shamans and witch doctors at the Quidditch World Cup in 1994.
Which also brings us slap up against an examination of one of the social pathologies which were widespread throughout Europe during the run-up to the formal establishment of Wizarding Seclusion.
Despite the fact that by this time safer methods of working magic had been known among wizards for centuries, among Muggles the pervading recollection and general perception of wizards was still largely tied to their unpleasant experiences with the magical community dating from the days that the practice of magic had inexorably caused nearly all practicing wizards and witches to lose their grip on reality, to the peril of themselves and everyone around them.
This cultural memory, in combination with a thoroughly poisonous atmosphere of growing religious strife, fostered in Muggles the conviction that their very souls were at risk. A conviction which was amplified by a renewed horror of and fascination with anything to do with the supernatural (an attitude which had found active sponsorship under the early Stuarts), and was not in the least offset by the progressive spread of learning, with neither understanding nor tolerance. All of which still colors our perception of the 17th century to the present day.
This toxic stew had almost certainly resulted in any number of unhappy souls across Europe who, under such an atmosphere of obsession with the supernatural, whether wizard (and there were a few wizards — very few), or supposed Muggle (probably undocumented Muggle-born Squibs) were either actually making the attempt to call up and control demons, or who had managed to delude themselves into believing that they had indeed negotiated an enhancement of their own personal empowerment by trafficking with the Devil. This only worsened a situation that was already volatile in the extreme.
The greatest resistance to the growing call for a formal wizarding Seclusion would probably have come from the remnants of the landed wizarding aristocracy, whose income still largely depended upon the labor of their Muggle tenants, and who still owed a responsibility to the Muggles under their protection. It would have only been after a wizarding aristocrat or two were arrested and executed — or narrowly escaped capture and were forced to flee for their lives — and their property was confiscated by the aforementioned mundane governments that even this sector of the wizarding community would have finally agreed that formal Seclusion was indeed, necessary. Little as I care for the use of any detail related to The Celluloid Things That I Try Not To Mention as supporting evidence for any point of debate in these essays, I was forced to wonder how much input Rowling may have had upon the decision to costume the ghost of the Bloody Baron, in the dress of the later 17th century. (Which in the wake of DHs appears to be a complete non-sequitur, since he turns out to have been contemporaneous with the Founders.)
It is widely agreed that several rounds of acrimonious debate and — probably — an extended period of Magical research and development were necessary before any kind of an enforced Seclusion would have been deemed feasible. A great deal of additional negotiation and compromise among the participating magical peoples would also have been necessary before statutory Seclusion could actually be imposed and implemented. Long before this point much of the magical community had taken matters into its own hands and concealed themselves by any means they could devise.
All modern accounts of this period state that before formal Seclusion was actually initiated, the magical community came to a bitterly-fought mutual agreement to adopt the strategy of attempting to obliterate any awareness of the reality of Magic from mundane perception, and to encourage the belief among Muggles that Magic, in fact, did not exist, and, moreover, had never existed.
It must also be remembered that Seclusion wasn’t just about human wizards. All magical species were increasingly at risk given the temper of the times. We have been shown ample reason to suspect that the establishment of Seclusion was a project requiring the efforts and cooperation (willing or not) of every magical species of sentient Beings, ultimately resulting in what are essentially franchises of various functions to various species. Giants certainly do not live out among Muggles today. Nor do Goblins. I doubt that either still did so by the time Seclusion was adopted. Some concessions must have been made to ensure their cooperation.
What is more, all of those sentient species of magical Beings who established the secluded wizarding world also took it upon themselves to confine the most conspicuous species of fantastic beasts to this hidden world as well. Continuing efforts to keep such creatures away from any area where they might be seen by Muggles remain ongoing to this day.
One thing which I think has never been widely admitted within the wizarding community is that the seal between itself and the outer mundane world has probably always been a good deal more permeable than the Wizengamot’s, or later, the Ministry of Magic’s statements to that effect would have had the wizarding public believe. This overstatement would have been even greater at the beginning of the Seclusion period than it is today.
For one thing, even if at the time Seclusion was imposed the magical population would have still been able to fit into Hogsmeade, Hogwarts, and the secure wizarding enclaves like Diagon Alley, they didn’t do it. Half of the population at least was still living in villages which were still predominantly Muggle. The Seclusion itself was a patchwork, undertaken over the course of a century and a half using whatever means its initiators had at hand.
For another thing, given that the establishment of Seclusion was undertaken to ensure the safety of the whole community, to make a complete break with all mundane society would have been its stated aim, whatever the actual truths of the matter might have been. We’ve had ample demonstration of the wizarding determination to believe that stating that a thing is so will make it so. To this end, once the formal Act of Wizarding Seclusion was actually passed, all forms of wizarding contact (as wizards) with Muggles would have been “officially” abolished.
I would expect that in order to ensure that security, a system of draconian penalties for identifying oneself as a wizard and mixing with Muggles would have probably been initiated and very actively enforced.
For so many of the wizards, or at least so many of the pureblood wizards of today to be so completely out of touch with the mundane world as they are depicted is completely implausible. We are forced to engage in a retrofit, even if canon does not really supply the makings of one.
Such complete ignorance strongly suggests that there must have been a point at which any direct knowledge of the mundane world simply was no longer available, and continued to be unavailable for a long enough period to establish a clean break. This situation must also have been sustained over a long enough period for the average wizard to grow completely out of the habit of considering anything to do with Muggles as having anything to do with him.
This also argues in favor of at least some degree of physical separation. At least during the earliest part of the Seclusion period.
This much is easy enough to postulate, given that every wizard who was known to be a wizard would have been obligated to pull up stakes and relocate to some new location where this was not known.
The century following the formal establishment of Seclusion is the period most likely to have provided these conditions. What is more, mundane society and mundane thought have changed more than enough since the end of the 17th century for the wizarding world’s continuing discontinuity in perception to be at least somewhat accommodated and sustained.
While a significant minority of wizarding children (close to 1 in 4) are now enrolled in Muggle primary schools and those children’s experience may eventually go some way towards eradicating some of this gap in understanding, it is likely that it may take at least a couple of decades before their information penetrates very far into general wizarding awareness. Putting wizarding perception of Muggle society and Muggle technology at a lag of about a generation behind the reality.
We have seen that in the Potterverse public perception and the official version of reality do not always correspond with the truth. I think that the gap between what the wizarding public was told, and the manner in which their community was actually served by Seclusion is yet another illustration of the sort of paternalism which is routinely adopted by the Ministry of Magic and extended toward its constituency to this day. It was not only the Muggles whose history was deliberately overwritten.
At the establishment of Seclusion, a considerable part of the Ministry’s exceptional arrangements must have been in recognition of the peculiar difficulties experienced by those few remaining wizarding landholders attempting to engineer their retirement from the public arena without forfeiting the worldly advantages that they brought to the common table. Without the resources at these wizarding landlords’ command it would have been much more difficult to tide the Secluded population over until other means of providing the necessary goods and services required by the wizarding world could be arranged in such a manner that these materials might be discreetly delivered to it without interruption.
An additional requirement of a wizarding society in Seclusion would have been the development and deployment of the required retraining necessary and the creation of new occupations for the now displaced rural wizards whose prior occupation had been that of farming.
From our observations of canon, the official party line of the modern wizarding world appears to be that the proper business of all magical persons is Magic, not such workaday concerns as the production of non-magical staple goods which are as readily, and in a wider variety produced by Muggle labor. But this kind of a division must be far easier to maintain today than it was 300 years ago. 300 years ago, the majority of wizards’ primary form of employment was farming, with magic-using as an additional sideline, almost in the manner of performing a community service. But while it is certainly possible for a secluded household to maintain a kitchen garden, it is not really possible to hide an entire working farm, or a farming community in plain sight. Or at any rate, not one in which many of the day-to-day functions are performed by magic. Most wizarding agricultural workers would have needed to be trained in some other capacity in which they could make a larger contribution, a magical contribution, to their new society. Such an isolated society requires a larger contribution from its members.
The following supposition may yet turn out to be a misstatement, but if the general population of Great Britain at the end of the 17th century was a scant tenth of what it is today, and if the magical population of Great Britain followed suit, then we are talking about a wizarding “world” comprised of scarcely 300–400 wizards and witches. Even if you include up to 150–200 additional Muggle spouses, parents, grandparents, siblings and offspring along with the actual wizards, we are talking about numbers that might very well have been able to simply pack up their worldly goods and take cover in Hogsmeade or above the shops in Diagon and Knockturn Alleys and their equivalents, if any, in other urban centers. Many may indeed have done so.
Not all wizarding families would have had the resources to immediately establish new residences and careers, however. Whether by hiding in plain sight, or within the secluded world. For them, the strategy that was probably adopted was to pull up stakes and take quarters in some wizarding enclave for a period of time, until it was possible for them to relocate to another area out in the Muggle world where it was not known that the family was magical, to adopt new names and identities and to guard the knowledge of any development of magical abilities in their children with their lives. A brief stay at Hogwarts castle or in the village, until a new location for the household could be found may have been standard practice. Some, particularly those with marketable skills, may have simply decided to remain in the vicinity.
With the release of ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, however, we have been given an additional link in this particular chain of evidence. Although Hogsmeade village is the only completely wizarding settlement in Great Britain, there are in addition a half-dozen or so traditionally partially-magical villages which have a long history of magical presence. Some, as in the case of Godric’s Hollow, have a history of magical presence which long predates the establishment of wizarding Seclusion. It is stated that wizards tended to cluster in and around these settlements for mutual assistance and support. It is likely that many of the wizarding residents of these villages simply traded places, settling into a new area where their magical nature was not known to their Muggle neighbors.
In the case of the larger wizarding estates, it is likely that a widespread dummy form of absentee landlordism would have been set up wherein the properties were overseen by stewards and bailiffs while the family was believed to have taken up residence at one of their other holdings. The produce of the estate was funneled into the wizarding world for final sale through a series of business transactions designed to make the tracing of the goods impossible.
In some cases the family did indeed remove itself from the estate in favor of a townhouse in one of the secure wizarding districts in the older portion of established Muggle towns. In others, the supposedly closed house was shielded by Muggle-repelling spells until the illusion of a ruin could be reasonably superimposed while the family remained in residence, as is the case with Hogwarts Castle itself. In a number of cases, the site was further secured by being placed under unplotability charms.
I would propose that some of these early arrangements are still in place, with the property’s ownership currently recorded to various dummy companies or, in a few cases, the National Trust. In fact, in the Potterverse, a number of such properties may very well be owned by the National Trust. Some of the principles of the more sophisticated concealments which were developed and utilized for the hiding of such properties have since been re-purposed and enhanced in the development of other spells and charms, most notably in the Fidelius Charm.
Some of the landed families may have also traded places, with, say, just for argument, the Malfoys of Northumberland setting it about that they were returning to France (well, their neighbors had always suspected they were secretly papists) and their estate was reportedly purchased by a family named Crouch about whom nothing was known. While meanwhile, the Crouches of Wiltshire set it about that they had come into property in the North, sold out, and their holdings were taken up by a family named Malfoy who kept themselves strictly to themselves.
During this period, a cadre of wizarding merchants, under Ministry sanction formed Consortiums, which effectively operated as coalitions of importers of such staple goods as foodstuffs, textiles, building materials and most other consumable products that were neither magical in themselves nor magically produced, for the purposes of serving the needs of this newly secluded society.
In a few cases the wizarding landowners may even have gone to the extent of breaking the entail on as much of their property as they could, liquidating their holdings, and using the proceeds as capital with which to establish themselves in the new wizarding Consortiums within the secluded world. Many of the present day fortunes of prominent wizarding families were founded in this manner.
The production of goods from estates which remained in their owners’ hands were, and continue to be, managed at some remove by their original owners’ descendants, and are ultimately transported to, distributed, and sold within the wizarding world. But, although the more recently-developed spells sealing off such wizarding districts as Diagon Alley from Muggle access had attained a reasonably high level of sophistication by that time, throughout the rest of the country most wizarding families had to make do with older, more primitive methods of hiding themselves. Rather a lot of them seem to have chosen to educate their children at home and hide in plain sight.
I speculate that another of the Wizards’ Council’s chief priorities at this point would have been to set up a means of monitoring events outside the Secluded wizarding world in order to assure that the wizarding world’s continuing security remained uncompromised. To this end they would have needed not only to be able to locate areas where magic was definitely being used outside the ww, but also to keep track of what Muggles were taking notice of.
Consequently, much of the separation between the wizarding and mundane worlds was largely a matter of public perception, maintained chiefly by officially sanctioned and fostered ignorance of the outside world, and enforced by fear of the draconian penalties imposed by the Ministry on any unnecessary form of magical contact with Muggles by anyone other than the authorized traders and the Ministry agents who periodically entered the mundane world, undercover, to monitor the wizarding world’s security, and, wherever possible, to redirect the trend of mundane perceptions.
Such ignorance continues to be actively fostered by the wizarding world’s Leaders to the present day. And by the year 1695 the wizarding world believed its safety to be finally assured.
In reality it was nearly as fragile as a soap bubble.
(Continued in next Article)