With the impending release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the first in a new wizarding-world film trilogy from J.K. Rowling, the Harry Potter creator has been releasing new information on her website, Pottermore. With Fantastic Beasts making the jump across the pond from the UK to North America, there is a whole new wizard subculture to explore. Rowling has so far released four essays explaining American wizard history, which you should absolutely go read. However (*adjusts nerd glasses*), here’s a quick summary of what you need to know before watching Fantastic Beasts.
14th Century – 17th Century
First of all, the American equivalent of “muggle” is “no-maj,” which is short for no magic. While Potter fans may bristle at the new nomenclature (partly because it is kinda dumb), according to Rowling, every country has its own name for non-magical people. Also, thanks to magical modes of transportation, like brooms and apparition, and communication, including visions and premonitions, witches and wizards have been aware of their far-reaching brethren since the Middle Ages. This particularly true of European and Native American wizards, who were aware of one another before European No-Majs immigrated in the seventeenth century.
According to Rowling, Native America wizards are particularly good at animal and plant magic, and while the wand originated in Europe, Native American wizards do not need them to perform spells. Additionally, the particularly skilled Native American wizards would become medicine men and special warriors, while the tradition of the “skin walkers” was the Native American version of an animagus (a wizard who can transform at will into a particular animal).
Since the essay was released earlier this week, Rowling has faced a fair bit of criticism from the Native American community for appropriating their history for a fictional world. Honestly, Native Americans have faced such poor treatment, both historically and as portrayed in pop culture, that it seems fair for them to be angry. However, Rowling is kind of in a damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t situation: If she hadn’t included them, she would have been accused of whitewashing, and when she did, appropriation. Hopefully this pushback can lead to more research on Rowling’s part and a further effort to portray this people group with respect.
17th Century and Beyond
Much like their No-Maj brethren, many European wizards immigrated to the New World in the 1600s, seeking new lives and freedom from persecution. While forming a new life in the wilderness, these transplants had to build new lives without the amenities that they were used it. It’s not like they could pop over to the apothecary or wand shop in order to get their usual supplies. However, they did eventually rebuild, and formed the Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
While they may have left significant persecution behind, the immigrant wizarding folk were met with even greater persecution in the New World. The Puritans were especially intolerant of all magical dealings, causing greater divisions between wizards and No-Majs. On top of dealing with that, a group of magical mercenaries sprang up, known as Scourers. While they started as a sort of brute squad to hunt down wizards of interest, they eventually grew more and more corrupted, hunting No-Majs and wizards alike. Out of their violent influence bloomed the Salem Witch Trials of 1692-3, which grew with the combined influence of the Puritans. (Seriously, can Rowling write a novel set in Salem next? I would pay many dollars to get my hands on that.)
Following the Trials, the Magical Congress of the United States of America, or MACUSA (pronounced Mah – cooz – ah) was formed in 1693 to create laws and regulations within the magical community. While many of the Scourers were brought to justice, some disappeared into the No-Maj community, passing on the belief and yet hatred of magic to their descendants.
In 1790, tragedy struck when a No-Maj and Scourer descendent named Bartholomew Barebone tricked an impressionable young witch named Dorcus Twelvetrees into blabbing about magic. After revealing to him the hidden locations of the MACUSA and Ilvermorny, as well as many other magical secrets, Barebone stole her wand, showed it to the press, and gathered up a mob to wipe out the American witches and wizards. In his haste, Barebone attacked a group of No-Majs that he mistook for wizards. Luckily, no one was hurt and Barebone was arrested.
After moving the location of MACUSA and obliviated as many people as possible, President Emily Rappaport enacted Rappaport’s Law, which led to a strict segregation between wizards and No-Majs. Befriending or marrying No-Majs was against the law with harsh repercussions, and all interaction with No-Majs had to be limited to only the necessities. This drove the magical community into even deeper hiding.
1920s Wizarding America
American wizards did take part during WWI, but due to magic used by both sides, it wasn’t enough to drastically tip the scales. Despite fighting alongside the No-Majs in the trenches, MACUSA was still wary of the non-magical world and Rappaport’s Law stayed in place. Around that time, MACUSA relocated to New York, and Madam Seraphina Picquery (played by Carmen Ejogo in Fantastic Beasts), a witch from Savannah, was President for the decade. Ilvermorny continued to flourish, and four wand makers rose to prominence: Shikoba Wolfe, Johannes Jonker, Thiago Quintana, and Violette Beauvais.
Unlike their European counterparts, all American wizards were required to carry a wand permit under Rappaport’s Law. Similarly, MACUSA sought to limit and hide the existence of magical creatures, making Newt Scamander (played by Eddie Redmayne in Fantastic Beasts) and his suitcase full of unknown critters most unwelcome. However, if you think that the MACUSA is a total bummer, they had one thing going for them: while the rest of America was practicing Prohibition, wizards were still indulging in the “Gigglewater.”