J.K. Rowling Reveals the History of Native American Magic, Which Is Apparently Free of Talking Trees Named Grandmother Willow

Author J.K. Rowling Visits The Empire State Building
J.K. Rowling. Photo: Cindy Ord/Getty Images

As part of her promotional efforts for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, J.K. Rowling is spending this week giving a brief primer on the history of North American magic over at Pottermore. Today’s controversial lesson is about Native American magic, which, as you might expect, has as long and varied a history as the European kind. As Rowling tells it, thanks to brooms and apparitions, medieval wizards were in contact with their counterparts across the Atlantic long before Christopher Columbus ever set sail. But the pre-Columbian era was no picnic for American wizards: “In the Native American community, some witches and wizards were accepted and even lauded within their tribes, gaining reputations for healing as medicine men, or outstanding hunters,” Rowling writes. “However, others were [stigmatized] for their beliefs, often on the basis that they were possessed by malevolent spirits.” Leading the way were the non-magical medicine men (we refuse to say the word No-Maj), who were jealous of the wizards’ skill.

What was Native American magic like? As Rowling describes it, early American wizards were particularly adept Animagi, transforming into animals to hunt food for their tribe. They were also skilled at herbology and potion-making. But the largest difference between this magic and the kind practiced at Hogwarts was the absence of wands, which were invented in Europe and never made the jump across the Atlantic. As a result, Native American magic was often lacking in charms and transfiguration. Anthropologists, please feel free to jump in and argue about whether or not this is realistic.

J.K. Rowling Explains Native American Magic