With the opening of Universal Studio Orlando's new theme park, Diagon Alley, there has been renewed interest in the boy wizard, Harry Potter. Diagon Alley, for those who do not know, is the wizard's ultimate shopping mall, where EVERYTHING needed for spells, potions, enchantments, school supplies, magical creatures, to name a few, can be found!
I just love Harry Potter. Those who know me well know that I have even named my home The Owlery! I loved the books and the movies (both read and seen many times over). So, recently, I was gifted another volume that has to do with HP! It's called Harry Potter and History, by Dr. Nancy R. Reagin, professor of history and women's and gender studies at Pace University in New York.
The book is a guide to the history behind the story, and Reagin explores true history in which Harry's world is rooted. One of the interesting bits at the beginning of the book is a timeline comparing real and wizard history.
Of course, the author of the HP books, J. K. Rowlings, must have spent a tremendous amount of time researching medieval history's accounts of witchcraft, of the use of spells and potions, astrology, astromomy, etc. and it shows. One of the reasons her books are so beloved is that they are deep, not shallow, accounts of witches and wizards. In reality, not only did they exist in common rural villages, but were employed by the royal courts and monarchs who counted on their "ability" to foretell the future, however that was done.
Last night, in my new book, I read a bit about a witch named Margaretha Wagner who lived in Marbach, Germany (shown above) in the 18th Century. The young girl was accused of a variety of magical practices, among them love charms that she said she learned from her grandmother. In 1740, she was accused of illicit sexual relationships with several young men, and further accused of using magic to seduce them. At first, she agreed to all the charges, and extending her story to include not only making potions, but flying to witch dances, using spells to make cows produce more milk, change weather, to name a few. The authorities were beside themselves, incredulous! Actually, she was quite clever, knowing that the authorities did not want to even accept that such things were possible. So she heaped them on, and eventually, to quiet a potential scandal of witchcraft in the area, they dismissed the case. Like magic, (!!!) she was released!
Another interesting account of wizardry comes from an 18th Century German magical text called the Clavis Inferni, or The Key of Hell. The manuscript was purchased from Sotheby's Auctions in March 1912. The title page is dated 1717, with information included about black and white magic and corresponding spells.
My book also mentions how J.K. Rowlings sets Harry, a present day boy, in an environment more akin to medieval or at least historic, space. Even though he could have had a computer at his desk, he is provided with parchment and quill to do his work. There IS something magical about that. A real letter is sent to him as an invitation to come to Hogwart's School, not an email or text. I believe that makes it special and uncommon, in our 21st Century world. Books are magical, as one turns the page to have the story revealed!