“You all know, of course, that Hogwarts was founded over a thousand years ago- the precise date is uncertain- by the four greatest witches and wizards of the age. [...] when magic was feared by common people, and witches and wizards suffered much persecution.” 1 —Professor Binns.
In 1692, the Wizarding and Muggle worlds separated. After much deliberation, the International Confederation of Wizards, with attending delegations of Goblins, Centaurs and Merpeople, passed the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy. The split between the two worlds, after centuries of misunderstanding and persecution, was absolute and permanent.2
The movement towards this drastic and melancholy solution can be traced back, I believe, to the growing reorganization of Muggle and Wizarding societies after the fall of Rome in 476 C.E. Feudal estates were merging into nation-states. In the 9th century, Charlemagne recreated the Roman Empire on the continent, and between 871 and 1066 C.E, Alfred the Great and William the Conqueror forged one nation, Britain, out of several petty kingdoms. Wizards and witches, also seeking organization and cooperation, founded Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry. As Muggle rulers asserted themselves, the school’s graduates needed to respond to developments in Europe that, although trivial at the time of the Founding, would soon grow into the Great Witch Hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries.
Although the exact date Hogwarts was founded is not known, I think a reasonable argument can be made for February 1, 949 C.E. According to the Lexicon, we know it was prior to 993 C.E. We also know that, “in 906, the Canon Episcopi [Canon Law] by Abbot Regino of Prum (d. c. 915) condemned as heretical any belief in witchcraft or in the power of sorcerers to transform people into animals.” 3 A law passed in 901, in the reign of Edward I, punished diviners with banishment; King Ethalstan decreed the death penalty for acts of witchcraft in 940. King Edgar, under the sway of Archbishop Dunstan, enacted the Canon Episcopi upon attaining the throne in 959.4 The Four Founders surely would have been disturbed by this keen interest in sorcery shown by both Church and Crown.
It is reasonable to presume the “prying Muggle eyes” to which Professor Binns referred were most searching between 901 and 959 C.E. The wizarding world, worried at being the object of Muggle attention, probably turned to diviners and astrologers to advise them. We can only speculate as to what these seers reported, but, recently, the Belgian astronomer Jean Meeus made the interesting discovery that all nine planets were within the same quadrant on February 1, 949.5 The Four Founders might have thought this rare astronomical grouping auspicious. When conjoined with the Celtic Festival of Imbolc, which falls on the first day of February, we can imagine the Founders considered this date irresistible for the birth of a school of witchcraft & wizardry.
Education, both Muggle and Magical, was haphazard and unmethodical during the Middle Ages. Muggle learning was confined to monasteries or to individual scholars; Magical lore was passed on through apprenticeship. Knowledge from both worlds often merged in alchemy, medicine, and star-lore. I believe the object of the Four Founders was to collect, collate, codify, and conserve all magical knowledge and communicate it to a younger generation. This program of the ‘Five Cs’ would create a cohesive Wizarding World.
We know Salazar Slytherin left Hogwarts a few years after the founding. He felt the same animosity toward Muggles as some Muggles felt toward wizards and witches at the time. I believe he desired a more confrontational approach to “prying Muggle eyes” than the strictly defensive attitude preferred by the other three. Despite Slytherin’s departure, Hogwarts carried on. I think witches and wizards would have been unprepared for and unable to defend themselves from the severe persecution that was to follow had not this school begun to organise and train people of magical ability. Indeed, I doubt the enormous task of separating the Muggle and Wizarding worlds, required by the Statute of Secrecy, would have been possible without the learning and lore Hogwarts provided.
The fear of the unknown, magic in particular, can drive Muggles to irresponsible and cruel acts. Hogwarts may have hoped to provide a haven from persecution through wise counsel and systematic training. We know that Slytherin was interested from the beginning in teaching only those of purest ancestry. I believe he wanted to fight persecution with persecution. Hufflepuff was egalitarian in outlook, while Ravenclaw and Gryffindor sought the merits of intelligence and courage, respectively. I suspect Slytherin made a proposal of offensive action against Muggles and that its rejection by the other three convinced him to leave the school. In spite of this opinion, it is reasonable to assume the object of Hogwarts was to defend, as well as promote, the Wizarding way of life.
Anguish over Hogwarts’ methods and objectives have remained constant over the years. Consider the insight offered in The Sorting Hat’s warning given in 1995,
Though condemned I am to split you
Still I worry that it’s wrong,
Though I must fulfill my duty
And must quarter every year
Still I wonder whether sorting
May not bring the end I fear
Oh, know the perils, read the signs,
The warning history shows,
For our Hogwarts is in danger
From external, deadly foes
And we must unite inside her
Or we’ll crumble from within.6
Was ‘the warning history shows’ the persecution that prompted the founding of the school, or was it the failure of the remaining Three Founders to foresee the terrible events that followed Slytherin’s departure? Although the Four Founders had differing attitudes about whom and what should be taught,it is clear that there was always an ‘external’ danger in Hogwarts’ past.
The persecution of witches by common people was not new at the turn of the first millennium, but the Church or the Crown seldom pursued it with vigor. Indeed, the authorities often protected those suspected of sorcery from the superstitious common people. In 789 C.E., Charlemagne decreed,
“If anyone, deceived by the Devil, shall believe, as is customary among pagans, that any man or woman is a night-witch, and eats men, and on that account burn that person to death... he shall be executed.” 7
However, this attitude had changed by the Thirteenth Century. Inquisitor Nicolau Aymerich’s Directorium Inquisitorum, written sometime between 1359 and 1376, defined witchcraft as heresy and established the methods for discovering witches and interrogating them.8 In 1384, Sibillia Zanni and Pietrina de Bugatis, two ladies of Milan, were questioned by the Inquisition. They told a story of being taught secret knowledge by ‘The Lady of the East’ or ‘Madonna Oriente’. The secret knowledge taught included “the use of herbs, and other medical knowledge, finding stolen things, fortune-telling and countering evil charms.” 9 The sessions described by the two ladies, when one discounts the spurious elements added by the Inquisitors, certainly resembled a private school of witchcraft and wizardry.
The Church dismissed the story of the two ladies at first, and gave them a light penance, but they were brought before the Inquisition again in 1390 C.E. The Inquisitors, ignoring the two ladies’ claims to be devout Christians, nevertheless procured a confession, perhaps through torture, that the two ladies had served the Devil. They were burned at the stake as heretics, the first to be convicted and sentenced to death for being witches.10
De Haeretico Comburendo
It is important to know that, despite the attempt to keep Hogwarts secret, fear of magic and sorcery grew among Muggles. Superstition, prejudice, and jealousy confounded attempts by Muggles to define ‘witchcraft’. Few could distinguish between good magic and the Dark Arts. Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, persuaded Parliament to pass the act De Hæretico Comburendo (“Regarding the Burning of Heretics,” 1401), which defined “sortilegium”, or sorcery, as a type of heresy.11 With witchcraft now designated as a heresy involving a pact with the Devil, the persecution of those thought to be witches escalated over the next 300 years. Two Inquisitors, Jacob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer, wrote a manual, Malleus Maleficarum (“The Hammer of Witches,” 1484.) Initially approved by Pope Innocent VIII, it was condemned by the Church in 1490.12 This became the essential textbook for the witch hunts that followed; it included chapters on eliciting confessions through torture, and accepting hearsay and rumour as evidence.
The situation in Britain was more problematic for the Wizarding community. Henry VIII had broken with the Church of Rome; religion and politics became commingled. Henry VIII passed a statute against “invoking or conjuring an evil spirit” in 1542. His son, Edward VI, repealed this law in 1547.13 Edward, it is believed, was under the influence of Welsh alchemist and scholar John Dee.14 Dee was also astrologer to Elizabeth I, who seemed open to some forms of magic. However, Elizabeth brought in another act against sorcery in 1563, which decreed that “anyone who should ‘use, practise, or exercise any Witchcraft, Enchantment, Charm, or Sorcery, whereby any person shall happen to be killed or destroyed’, was guilty of a felony.” 15
We should not think that real wizards and witches escaped these laws or the punishments of burning or hanging. Despite the charming tale of Wendelin the Weird, we cannot presume that all witches could perform the Flame-freezing Charm. Furthermore, we know from Johann Weyer’s account, De Praestigiis Daemonum (“On the Illusions of the Demons,” 1563), that most of those condemned and destroyed as witches were old and dotty, incapable of defending themselves.16 Muggle villagers might well have waited until a local witch or wizard was old and feeble before they pointed accusing fingers. Reginald Scot, in his book The Discovery of Witchcraft (1584), described most convicted witches as “commonly old, lame, blear-eyed, pale, foul, and full of wrinkles; poor, and sullen.” 17 There is no doubt the majority of those hanged or burned as sorcerers were innocent Muggles, an injustice that must have caused the Wizarding community great distress; real wizards and witches also suffered, were hanged, burned, and brought suspicion upon their Muggle friends and relations.
Torture and the death penalty were not the only things those accused of sorcery had to fear. Queen Elizabeth the First’s The Witchcraft Act of 1563, expanded by James I in 1604, made it a felony to use sorcery, and made it possible for the Crown to seize and confiscate all lands, money and goods belonging to the accused.18 Even witches and wizards who could evade the witch hunters suffered severely under the new statute. A skilled witch might escape the fire, but she would lose her house and all within it. Wealthy, established Wizarding families, I believe, would have been driven either into hiding or into bankruptcy.
The number of witches and wizards persecuted, both real and falsely accused, grew exponentially between 1563 and 1692. The paranoia that gripped the Muggle World and the slaughter that accompanied it are often referred to as The Burning Time, even though most English witches were hanged. The names of the major witch trials that occurred remind us of the extent of the terror: Chelmsford, Windsor, North Berwick, Huntingdon, Lancashire, Faversham, St. Albans, Bury St. Edmonds, and Exeter.19 The Exeter trial, in 1682, ended with the hanging of Temperance Lloyd, Mary Trembles, Susanna Edward, and Alice Molland. These four women were the last executed for witchcraft in England.20
Things Kept Secret
The tensions created by these brutal and unjust trials nearly tore the Wizarding World apart. There was a Goblin Rebellion in 1612, which most certainly resulted in the Pendle Witches of Lancashire21 being tried, and the Werewolf Code of Conduct, passed in 1637,22 was most likely an attempt to hide these foul and vengeful magical creatures from Muggles. Although there were signs that the persecution was waning at the end of the 1680s, a fresh witch craze across the Atlantic at Salem in 1692 appears to have tipped the scales. The International Confederation of Wizards met that same year and, with attending delegations of Goblins, Centaurs, and Merpeople, passed into law the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy.
We can see now that there were really only three possible solutions to the persecution. The first would be the subordination of Muggles to the Magical world; this was no doubt the position of Salazar Slytherin’s followers who despised both Muggles and Muggle-born. The second would be the integration of Muggle and Magical Worlds; this was probably the position of the followers of Godric Gryffindor and Helga Hufflepuff. Third and last would be the complete separation of the two worlds with the Wizarding World and all its magical creatures kept safely from Muggle eyes; this last would be a highly difficult task to accomplish, but I suspect those who followed the teachings of Rowena Ravenclaw would know that finding a way was just a matter of time.
I think it is most likely that Salazar Slytherin’s quarrel with the other Founders was over blood and the subjugation of Muggles and non-wizard magical creatures. Although I suspect Gryffindor and his followers always hoped the Muggle and Wizarding worlds might live in harmony, the common people were far too irrational and stubborn. Muggles feared both magic and science. Magic was thought to come from the Devil, while science undermined the few commonsense notions Muggles understood, such as the Sun revolving round the flat Earth. The threat of a Galileo and a Gryffindor appears to have been too great for the Muggle imagination. Some tried to bridge the gap: Johannes Kepler, John Dee, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton, but they were unsuccessful.
The effects of the Secrecy Statute were noticeable at once. The witch craze in Europe and America faded away. The Witchcraft Act of James I was repealed in 1736.23 The Muggle World entered an age of reason and scientific materialism. The Wizarding World, however, became a prisoner in a world of its own making. The arts and fashions of the Wizarding World are locked unmistakably in a pre-18th century setting. The ways of wizards and witches have remained highly conservative and traditional; certainly there have been daring witches and wizards who have worked with Muggles, but they have had to conceal their magical abilities so thoroughly that few consider it worth the trouble.
It is unlikely the Secrecy Statute will ever be repealed. The troubling times we have experienced with the dark wizards Grindelwald and Voldemort provide ample evidence that Salazar Slytherin’s desire to persecute Muggle-born witches and wizards, and to subjugate Muggle-kind, remains a tempting solution to the Wizarding World’s problems. Yet the formerly persecuted must never become the persecutors; persecution is unethical and immoral. Hogwarts’ Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, speaking at the close of term after Voldemort’s regeneration and the murder of Cedric Diggory, urged his audience,
Remember Cedric. Remember, if the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy, remember what happened to a boy who was good, and kind, and brave, because he strayed across the path of Lord Voldemort. Remember Cedric Diggory.24
The Wizarding World’s decision to separate from and remain invisible to the Muggle World is due as much to the need to protect innocent Muggles and Muggle-born from Voldemort, as it was to protect innocent witches and wizards from the Witch-Finder General, Matthew Hopkins.25 It has not been easy, but it has been right.
1. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Vancouver: Raincoast, 1999. P. 114.
2. Scamander, Newt a.k.a. Rowling, J.K. Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them. 2001. Vancouver: Raincoast, 2001. p. XV.
3. “Inquisition forum.” Religious Phenomena. 2005. Encyclopedia of the Unusual and Unexplained. 15 March 2006. http://www.unexplainedstuff.com/Religious-Phenomena/Inquisition.html.
4. Wedeck, Harry E. A Treasury of Witchcraft. New York: Philosophical Library 1967. p. 256.
5. Meeus, Jean “Compact Planetary Groupings,” Sky & Telescope, p. 320-21, Dec. 1961.
6. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Vancouver: Raincoast, 2003. p. 186-187.
7. Hutton, Ronald, The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy. Oxford; Cambridge, Mass.: B. Blackwell, 1991.
8. Wikipedia. “Nicolau Aymerich.” Wikipedia Encyclopedia. 2005-06. Wikmedia. 15 March 2006. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicolau_Aymerich.
9. Wikipedia. “Madonna Oriente.” Wikipedia Encyclopedia. 2005-06. Wikmedia. 15 March 2006. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madonna_Oriente.
11. Wikipedia. “Witchcraft Act.” Wikipedia Encyclopedia. 2005-06. Wikmedia. 15 March 2006. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witchcraft_Act.
12. Wikipedia. “Malleus Maleficarum.” Wikipedia Encyclopedia. 2005-06. Wikmedia. 15 March 2006. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malleus_Maleficarum.
13. Wikipedia. “Witchcraft Act.” Wikipedia Encyclopedia. 2005-06. Wikmedia. 15 March 2006. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witchcraft_Act.
14. Wikipedia. “John Dee.” Wikipedia Encyclopedia. 2005-06. Wikmedia. 15 March 2006. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Dee.
15. Wikipedia. “Witchcraft Act.” Wikipedia Encyclopedia. 2005-06. Wikmedia. 15 March 2006. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witchcraft_Act.
16. Slattery, Elisa. “To Prevent a ‘Shipwreck of Souls’: Johann Weyer and ‘De Praestigiis Daemonum’.” Essays in History. Volume Thirty-Six. 1994. Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia. 14 March 2006. http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/journals/EH/EH36/slattery1.html.
17.Luttmer, Frank. “Reginald Scot. The Discovery of Witchcraft (London, 1584).” 2006. Hanover College. 14 March 2006. http://history.hanover.edu/courses/excerpts/260scot.html.
18. Wikipedia. “Witchcraft Act.” Wikipedia Encyclopedia. 2005-06. Wikmedia. 15 March 2006. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witchcraft_Act.
19. “Timeline of Witches and Witchcraft.” Chronology of Modern Christianity. 2006. About, Inc. 15 March 2006. http://atheism.about.com/library/FAQs/christian/blchron_xian_witches.htm.
20. Robbins, R. H. The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft & Demonology. New York, 1959.
21. Wikipedia. “Pendle Witches.” Wikipedia Encyclopedia. 2005-06. Wikmedia. 15 March 2006. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pendle_Witches.
22. Scamander, Newt a.k.a. Rowling, J.K. Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them. 2001. Vancouver: Raincoast, 2001. p. XV.
23. Wikipedia. “Witchcraft Act.” Wikipedia Encyclopedia. 2005-06. Wikmedia. 15 March 2006. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witchcraft_Act.
24. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Vancouver: Raincoast, 2000. p. 628.
25. Wikipedia. “Matthew_Hopkins.” Wikipedia Encyclopedia. 2005-06. Wikmedia. 15 March 2006. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_Hopkins.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Vancouver: Raincoast, 1999.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Vancouver: Raincoast, 2000.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Vancouver: Raincoast, 2003.
Scamander, Newt a.k.a. Rowling, J.K. Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them. Vancouver: Raincoast, 2001.
Wikipedia. Various. Wikipedia Encyclopedia. 2005-06. Wikmedia. 14 March 2006.