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J.K. Rowling Explores the Salem Witch Trials in New American Magic Piece

Yesterday, J.K. Rowling began her four-part look at the history of North American Magic by examining the time between the 14th and 17th centuries—before the mass influx of No-Majs (a.k.a. Muggles) and wizards alike to the New World. Today, she looked at the turbulent and dangerous time that followed, in and beyond the 17th century, homing in on one of the most notorious events in American history: the Salem Witch Trials.

As more and more No-Maj Europeans fled to the New World, so too did wizards and witches, some “driven by a sense of adventure” and some that were “running away” from Muggle persecution, other wizards, and even “wizarding authorities.”

However, the New World turned out to be an even harsher environment for witches and wizards than the one they left.

There were three main reasons for this:

  1. A lack of magical amenities, such as the items needed for potions, a lack of available wands, and only the early, humble beginnings of Ilvermony School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (“which would one day rank among the greatest magical establishments in the world” but then was “no more than a rough shack containing two teachers and two students”).
  2. The actions of No-Majs, which made the “non-magical population of most wizards’ homelands look lovable,” as the No-Majs developed conflict with the Native American population, and were “deeply intolerant of any trace of magic” as a result of their religious beliefs.
  3. The rise of a “an unscrupulous band of wizarding mercenaries of many foreign nationalities” known as the Scourers (a group that sounds like an even more corrupt version of the Spanish Inquisition).

The Scourers arose from the lack of magical authority present in the New World, and they became “a much-feared and brutal taskforce committed to hunting down not only known criminals, but anyone who might be worth some gold.” They were prone to “cruelty” and “bloodshed,” and even started passing off No-Majs as wizards to collect bounties. They would ultimately play an important part in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 and 93.

“Wizarding historians agree that among the so-called Puritan judges were at least two known Scourers, who were paying off feuds that had developed while in America. A number of the dead were indeed witches, though utterly innocent of the crimes for which they had been arrested. Others were merely No-Majs who had the misfortune to be caught up in the general hysteria and bloodlust.”

After the trials, many in the wizarding community left America, and others decided to never come. As a result, America had a much smaller wizarding community than other parts of the world until the early 20th century. This also explains why America has fewer pure-blood magic families, and ultimately why the “pure-blood ideology that has dogged much of Europe’s magical history has gained far less traction in America.”

(I guess that really does make us here in the U.S a Melting Witch’s Pot.)

One positive of the Salem Witch Trials is that it led to the creation of the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSO) in 1693, which created  “a magical-world-within-a-No-Maj-world such as existed in most other countries.” MACUSO executed captured Scourers, but those that escaped caused long-lasting and deep-rooted problems.

“Several of the most notorious Scourers eluded justice. With international warrants out for their arrest, they vanished permanently into the No-Maj community. Some of them married No-Majs and founded families where magical children appear to have been winnowed out in favour of non-magical offspring, to maintain the Scourer’s cover. The vengeful Scourers, cast out from their people, passed on to their descendants an absolute conviction that magic was real, and the belief that witches and wizards ought to be exterminated wherever they were found.”

This feels like it may be the most important insight yet into what we might expect from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, including how the magical world of North America will differ from the one we are used to in Europe from Harry Potter.

“It may be partly due to the anti-magic beliefs and activities of the descendants of Scourer families that North American No-Majs often seem harder to fool and hoodwink on the subject of magic than many other populations. This has had far-reaching repercussions on the way the American wizarding community is governed.”

The final two installments will take a deeper look at both Ilvermony and Magical Congress of the United States, which might be two very important locations in the new prequel.

What did you find the most interesting new piece of information here? Let us know in the comments below.

Image: Pottermore

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