J.K. Rowling Adds Salem to the Harry Potter Universe

Rowling's history of magic in America now includes the Salem Witch Trials.

JK Rowling

Photo via AP

The lead up to November’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them just got more exciting for American Harry Potter fans: Author J.K. Rowling is writing a history of American magic this week on her site, Pottermore. Yesterday, readers learned all about Native American magic, but today brought news of the big role the Salem witch trials played in the development of Rowling’s vision of magic in America.

Yes, it’s true: one of the more shameful events in Massachusetts’ past translates right into the wizarding world. In her history, Rowling suggests that the trials occurred in part because of a group of immoral witch hunters who were fully aware of real magic, called Scourers. Colonial America, lacking a governing magic system, apparently had a group of mercenaries who took full advantage of the need for people who could search out potential misbehavior from wizards in America, going so far as to capture and torture innocent people. And the Salem witch trials were their crowning achievement:

The famous Salem Witch Trials of 1692-93 were a tragedy for the wizarding community. 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.

Salem was significant within the magical community for reasons far beyond the tragic loss of life. Its immediate effect was to cause many witches and wizards to flee America, and many more to decide against locating there. This led to interesting variations in the magical population of North America, compared to the populations of Europe, Asia and Africa. Up until the early decades of the twentieth century, there were fewer witches and wizards in the general American population than on the other four continents. Pure-blood families, who were well-informed through wizarding newspapers about the activities of both Puritans and Scourers, rarely left for America. This meant a far higher percentage of No-Maj-born witches and wizards in the New World than elsewhere. While these witches and wizards often went on to marry and found their own all-magical families, the pure-blood ideology that has dogged much of Europe’s magical history has gained far less traction in America.

No-Maj, for the non-obsessive Harry Potter fans out there (unlike the author of this post), is the American version of Muggle, or a person without magical abilities.

Rowling has said she’s sharing this information as a way to create some background for the events of the new movie, and it seems like we’ve just gotten a glimpse of who the villains might be. Instead of Voldemort and his Death Eaters, we’ll get the Scourers in America. And to add just a tiny bit more wild conjecture, Rowling seems to be drawing some parallels between real history and her magic history. While magical America can be a welcoming place to a diverse group of people seeking new homes and lives, it also has a dangerous strain of true believers who are wildly intolerant of those who are different from them. Hmm, wonder if she was inspired by any recent events in the U.S.? Here’s hoping Massachusetts plays a less ominous role in the series going forward.