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Origins of magic in Britain

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Sesc, Aug 21, 2019.

  1. Sesc

    Sesc Slytherin at Heart Moderator

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    What is your opinion on the origins of magic, particularly in Britain?

    The history we know in Canon goes back only to around 1000 AD, when Hogwarts was built. 1064 the Normans invaded Britain, of course, but you'd think magic existed before that. Before the Normans, Angles, Saxons and Jutes came -- Germanic tribes, believing in variations on the usual Germanic Gods (Odin/Wotan etc.), and their rituals. They, in turn, came after the Romans left; but you see how the Normans and Angles are the dominating influence by looking at what endured -- English is a Germanic language, not a Roman one.

    Going back even further is a thankless task, because we lack sources. Pre-Roman Britain is Prehistoric Britain in the literal sense, there is no history, just archeology. What the Romans conquered were Celtic tribes, presumably originating from modern-day France and Belgium; Tacitus claims they spoke like the Gauls (in France), this would be Old Brittonic, later becoming Welsh, Cornish, Pictish etc.


    So what were wizards like, then? Were there even wizards in today's sense? The one hint we have is Ollivander's supposed founding date, 382 BC. This would end up in the Pre-Roman British Iron Age, and the founder of Ollivander's would be a Celt. I suppose that is where the fascination of FF with giving magic Celtic roots comes from. Celts would have Druids, of course, and perhaps they were the first magic users in Britain.

    But while that may be the case, I'm not sure linking contemporary traditions of the magical world to that time makes sense, if you want to expand Canon that way. The relevant question for that isn't, what were the origins of magic, but whose influence was dominant. The Celts where flattened by the Roman influx in England. The Roman influence in turn was swept away by the Angles. And so on.

    In my story, I gave the magical world a Germanic underpinning, reflecting the believes and traditions of the Angles, and so making them just one step removed from the Muggle world by missing out on the Norman influence; instead of skipping them and the Romans.

    The reason for that was mostly that the Celtic route with introducing Samhain etc. has been done to death, but I think it makes actual sense, too. Wizards clearly would mix with Muggles back then; it was Christianity that (eventually) introduced the fear of witchcraft. But if that is true, why would Celtic rituals and Druids have survived in the magical history, but not in the Muggle one?

    The one case you could make was the location of Hogwarts in Scotland -- the Romans never got that far, and Celtic traditions endured well past their retreat there. If the Founders were Celts, the magical world could have their customs. Perhaps for wizards, the Romans remained invaders, and they retreated up north, to protect themselves and their ways.


    There is one other angle that is interesting to think about, however. Most spells we know are in some sort of Latin. This means that either spells as we know them today are a very young concept -- perhaps introduced only when the founding of Hogwarts institutionalised learning magic. Latin was the language of scholars, then; but this clashes with the retreat-to-Scotland-theory, and the Celtic origins.

    Or, and I'm quite surprised this hasn't been done at all as far as I know, what we consider magic today was introduced with the Romans. Celts would have Druids and rituals. Romans had spells. They were superior in this sense, just like they were in others, and most of the magic we are shown today is theirs. So a very logical starting point to extend the magical world would be giving it Roman traditions and believes.

    Perhaps it's the lack of mystery? The very well-organised Romans might seem somewhat boring compared to a muttering Druid, but I think there's much to love in placing the British origins of magic in Rome. The Romans had a highly advanced society; if wizards preserved that legacy, they would have had a superior lifestyle until basically modern times. And naturally, there's a wealth of customs and lore to drawn on; from Patronage to Roman conservatism.


    So, what's your preference? Where does your history of magic start in Britain? Is it Celtic, Germanic, Roman?
     
  2. Mestre

    Mestre Professor

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    This is a giant pet peeve of mine.

    I believe that Wizarding Britain has Celtic origins but it is obvious that they Latinised, we could theorize that they lacked proper structure, magic tradition, and their magic customs were less effective compared to the "Roman magic" who had contacts with the whole Mediterranean as reasons.

    But now the part that annoys me, we don't have a Roman school, a Greek School, an Egyptian school, an Arab or Persian School, all this "cultures" had a huge weight on civilization and human history and apparently they could not put a school together when the Romans apparently Latinised wizarding Britain. They probably don't buy much Harry Potter merch.

    And Brasil has one school as old as Hogwarts with a Portuguese name that literally means Wizard Castle. Poor Incas.
     
  3. darklordmike

    darklordmike Headmaster

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    Great topic, and your quote about the Romans has always been my head canon.

    Because of most spells being bastardized Latin, I think it's plausible that much of the magic in canon came from Roman influences. What happened before that, as you said, is hard to guess at. We could argue that the Romans brought the concept of wands with them, which would explain why they annihilated the Celts, whose magic may have been more ritual-based. That makes some sense to me. But then we've got to explain away Ollivander's presence in 382 BC. Maybe his family made staves or used other foci until the Romans showed up? Or maybe the Romans were just more aware of what one could do with magic. I've seen stories that speculate offhandedly about the origins of magic, but I don't think a single one has focused on it.

    I'd definitely read an AU about the war between prehistoric Celtic and Roman magic if you're inclined to write one.
     
  4. Silirt

    Silirt Minister of Magic DLP Supporter ⭐⭐

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    Firstly, we cannot consider 'muggle' histories to be entirely reliable, because the wizards probably had to break a few eggs writing themselves out of it. Assuming that they are, however, I would think that no one answer to this would entirely resolve the issue. There seem to be magical people all around the globe, so we can reasonably assume that magic started where people started, in Africa, though whether the 'first man' was magical or not is probably subject to endless debate among blood purists. Illiteracy would have kept magic from developing the same way it kept everything else from developing, so the first languages in the Fertile Crescent would have accelerated things a little. The ancient tribes of Britain would have been keeping their magic alive through oral tradition, as they did with everything else, but through even their best efforts they would have achieved little, being unable to record everything, being unable to spread what they learned, you get the idea. When the Romans arrived, they would have brought their own magic, but I highly doubt that Roman magic would closely resemble the magic currently being used in Western Europe and the British Diaspora, for though the incantations are Latin-related or direct Latin, the Roman magic itself would be influenced by the various ancient cultures the Romans encountered. The magic being taught at Hogwarts was most likely developed since the fall of Rome, and the gradual death of Latin, which did not become a useful language in academic circles until it died. Being dead means it has ceased to change; it will never respond to the introductions of new cultures or the refusal of the twitterverse to pronounce and spell words correctly. For this reason, I believe that during the dredging up and reintroduction of Greek and Roman books during the pre-statute Renaissance also had the effect of spreading the old magic through Europe, accelerated with the printing presses. International academic circles would have been discussing magic during the Enlightenment, though the populations of wizards would have been small at this time, and they would probably not share their literature with the nonmagical, who were rejecting the idea of magic more and more. The Statute would have been passed around this time, and the very idea of it suggests that wizards had a strong international community at the time, which would make the most sense with a small total population. Celtic magic would have grown less and less known and less and less used to the point where it would be mostly extinct, sort of like the Celtic understanding of everything from cosmology to human anatomy, it was replaced by more developed theories and more effective methods of achieving the same ends, and much the same would have happened to ancient Germanic magicks, though in the series that I'm writing the Ancient Runes class starts with runes from Northern Europe, paying homage to the Gothic Rune Meisters that gradually undermined the Roman defensive enchantments.
    In summary, the magic being used in the series is around ninety percent 'Western Academic', (think Oxford and Classical Latin and taking the 'Grand Tour') with some local and international flare every so often. What's effective survives and spreads- I'm pretty sure the phrase 'Avada Kedavra' is Turkish in origin.
     
  5. Taure

    Taure Magical Core Enthusiast ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    It should be noted, however, that the sign is more ambiguous than that:

    What the sign doesn't say is "Makers of Fine Wands in this location since 382 BC. The claim relates to the family, not to the specific shop. So it may well be that Ollivander is not of Celtic descent. Rather, in 382 BC his family was making wands somewhere else and they later migrated to Britain.

    Addressing the OP more directly - my answer is quite boring, I'm afraid. In so far as every culture appears to have wizards in roughly the same proportion of wizards:Muggles, I presume that the history of wizards in Britain pretty much mirrors that of the history of Muggles, with the same migratory patterns etc.

    The one difference would seem to be that runes were used in wizarding Britain long after they fell out of common use in Muggle Britain, implying that the cultural shift following the Norman conquest took longer to take root among wizards. But eventually, that shift does appear to have occurred - from the fact that wizards speak modern romance-influenced English rather than something closer to Anglo-Saxon.
     
  6. Sataniel

    Sataniel High Inquisitor

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    Rowling mentioned few times that she did some kind of research, and you can see some similarities to pre-Enlightenment magic rooted primarily in neoplatonism, so it would make sense that magical traditions would follow as the magic we know did.

    So in a gross simplification: Ancient Egypt -> Greece -> Rome and then Arabic world -> from Rome to early Medieval Europe though a lot is lost -> a lot of knowledge recovered from Arabic world due to their preservation of Greek philosophical world and some additions gained too (like Al-Kindi's astral magic) -> further development in Europe during the Renaissance -> ISOS

    Whatever druidic and celtic traditions were there, they were probably mostly swept over, just as they did in our world.
     
  7. Sesc

    Sesc Slytherin at Heart Moderator

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    We do know about ancient Egyptian wizards, of course. I forgot this. The pyramids were built in the ballpark of 2500 BC, meaning during the late neolithic periode in Britain -- incidentally the time when the great stone circles (e.g. Stonehenge) were built. You might well infer that magic was used to build either. This does not affect the argument about whose influence was dominant, though.

    I had a look at the Lexicon's timeline. If you agree with Pottermore, @Taure would be correct:
    This works well with a supposed influx of reliable and efficient magic with the Romans. Romans were nothing if not that -- and the fact that by saying a spell, you get a defined and predictable result is quite a feat. It's not something you would assume a priori, if you think about it. Magic is dealing with the unpredictable, but Romans would try everything to standardise magic as well, just like everything else. If they achieved that, and others did not, then reliable spells cast with reliable wands would mean Druids using rituals that sometimes worked and sometimes didn't would be flattened.


    As for the rest -- quite, there must have been a Norman influx in the wizarding world as well. But as far as backstory for FF goes, this isn't neccessarily a bad thing, assuming you can date the shift as late as the debate and signing of the Statute. If Norman wizards preferred to mingle with Muggles, influencing kings and the like, while after the conquest, Anglo-Saxon wizards retreated a bit, forming their own world around institutions such as Hogwarts and the Wizengamot -- which, happily enough, is very much a name with Old English roots, referencing the Witenagemot (a council for Anglo-Saxon kings) -- you can construct a very appealing angle of conflict of warring traditions of (modern and modern Muggle) Norman influence, which would be the world we see in Canon, and Anglo-Saxon influence that is slowly getting buried.

    At least as far as England goes this makes a lot more sense than using Celtic traditions for the latter, as is so often done, IMO.
     
  8. Raigan123

    Raigan123 Banned

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    There is this fanfic that actually takes pretty much what you are theorising as a premise. https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11196963/1/The-Uprising
    British wizards were crushed by the romans and lost their traditions/magic until muggleborns rediscover them/it. The fic is total shit, but it at least had that interesting element going for it.

    I pretty much agree with Sesc about the rest.

    Also:
    I'm not touching that wall with a ten foot pole.
     
  9. Johnnyseattle

    Johnnyseattle Chief Warlock DLP Supporter

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    This is one of the things I had really hoped The Long Journey Home was going to touch on - it skirted around the topic some in the very early age parts of the story, but unfortunately never quite made it there. Definitely seems to be one of the great untapped areas of fanfic though.
     
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