Wandless magic, skin walkers and more in this first story from J.K. Rowling's The History of Magic in North America

By Alex Heigl
March 08, 2016 11:45 PM

Well, the first story from J.K. Rowling’s The History of Magic in North America is now live, and we’re struggling to wrap our heads around it.

We’d previously been informed that the first installment of the collection, “Fourteenth Century – Seventeenth Century,” would “examine the early days of the magical community on the continent, the Native Americans and skin-walkers,” before continuing to the “real histories of the Salem witch trials and the Scourers (a rogue band of magical mercenaries),” all of which would explain why it was apparently much more dangerous to be a witch or a wizard in North America than in Europe.

And in the punchy first installment, we learn that the international magical community was aware of America long before Muggles. (Though American Muggles are referred to as “No-Majs,” a portmanteau of “no magic.”)

The History of Magic in North America
Courtesy Warner Bros

We also find out that, just as in Europe, there are families that are clearly “magical,” though magical children can also be born to No-Maj families. “The overall ratio of wizards to non-wizards seemed consistent across populations,” Rowling adds.

Rowling also explains about Native American witches and wizards, basically stating that the legend of Native American “medicine men” comes down to wizardry. She also suggests that Native American witches and wizards are preternaturally gifted in “animal and plant magic,” and able to construct potions that are of higher complexity and construction than their European counterparts.

There’s also a paragraph that touches on the legend of Native American “skin walkers,” which raises more questions than it answers: Rowling basically discounts the idea of Native American “skin walkers” – people who can transform into animals – as being evil or malicious, noting that “the majority of Animagi assumed animal forms to escape persecution or to hunt for the tribe.” She chalks up the poor reputation of skin walkers in legend to “No-Maj medicine men, who were sometimes faking magical powers themselves, and fearful of exposure.”

(But how does this dovetail with werewolves in the Harry Potter world, given that “skin walker” legends in the larger fictional world are often crossed with the idea of werewolves?)

Lastly, Rowling explains the notion of “wandless magic,” claiming, “The most glaring difference between magic practiced by Native Americans and the wizards of Europe was the absence of a wand.” We learn that the magic wand originated in Europe, and wands essentially focus a wizard or witch’s innate magical abilities, “although it is generally held to be a mark of the very greatest witches and wizards that they have also been able to produce wandless magic of a very high quality.”

Overall, it’s a fascinating bit of “expanded universe” lore, though we could – as always – have done with more. What we’re most excited for: How what Rowling’s written here will wind up fitting into the larger HP universe. The next installment of The History of Magic in North America goes live Wednesday at 9 a.m. ET.