Early Magical Communities: Africa
For great periods of time, Africa has been home to some very mysterious and powerful branches of magic, some of which might be considered somewhat dark. Since the continent’s earliest days, the African people are said to have witnessed many mystical phenomena: from black shooting stars in the middle of the day, seeds that sprouted fully grown trees overnight, and animals that spoke, to smoke that changed colours during tribal dances, possession, and sometimes even resurrection. Of course, those of us in magical society now know well enough that reports from so long ago have been greatly exaggerated. Take resurrection for example; it isn’t possible. But in the past the peoples of Africa thought it quite the opposite. All of these strange happenings would normally be attributed to fantasy or a bad dream, but the frequency with which these events took place left no doubt in the minds of the ancient Africans that there was something more going on.
The general consensus seems to have been that spirits were channelling their energy into earthly things to prove their power and scare mortals into granting them certain favours. These ‘spirits’ would choose one member of the tribe and speak through them, and, in turn, the spirit would grant its host healing powers to help the rest of the tribe. These ‘chosen ones’ were called shamans which, translated into modern English, means ‘someone who knows,’ a name given to them because of their ability to know and understand the spirits and channel their magic.
Their method of communicating with these spirits was through out-of-body experiences, and to reach this out-of-body state they would make special teas to initiate momentary lapses in their sanity which then allowed them to see these ‘almighty beings.’ (Muggles who study science, which comes from the Latin word for knowledge and is the Muggle study and organization of the natural world into logical and rational explanation, throughout time have proved out-of-body experiences to be no more than common hallucinations.) Through the research done over time by herbologists, potioneers, et cetera, however, we have discovered through analysis of ingredients and examination of the results of these teas that most of the time they’re very poorly executed brews of Aberration Draught and mind-altering potions.
Further research did conclude that the shamans were of magical blood, but not knowing how to use or control their powers, they ended up using badly brewed potions as their gateway into the magic that resided within them. These interesting people were no more than primitive wizards who lacked the ability to concentrate the force in their blood, which resulted in a very hit-or-miss system to try to understand it. It’s impressive enough that they managed the potions that they did with absolutely no prior knowledge on anything magical at all. Despite all of this, though, the superstitions that dark forces from the beyond existed in our world and that there were some humans that could use them lasted throughout the years with devastating results for the innocent people involved. The worldwide hunting and burning of Muggle women believed to be witches is proof enough of that.
Witchcraft became, in later years, somewhat of a religion and is still one of the most dreaded superstitions in Africa. Africans believe that witches are powerful, seductive beings that can use magic to alter the course of human life for better or worse–though more often for worse than for the better–and thus they accept magic as an explanation for any mystical or mysterious phenomenon, even when their Muggle common sense is telling them otherwise.
Whether these mystical attributes and mysterious beings were real or imagined, it’s safe to say that ancient African civilizations understood magic to be powerful and frightening, and thus it was worshipped beyond any deity. Ancient Egypt, the most developed magical community in the country, gives us exceptional information about how magic turned into such religious belief.
Ancient Egyptian mythology states that magic, or heka as they called it, was the mighty force that created the universe and was therefore more powerful than even the gods themselves. By using magic, symbolism would turn into reality and help Egyptians join the gods in paradise. Magic in Egypt was seen not only as another field of knowledge but a force created solely for the benefit of mankind and so was used to manipulate the gods for human purposes.
Egyptians were amongst the first civilizations to study magic and create rules and rituals as to how it would be used; they laid a basic foundation for the rest of us to build upon. Priests were sacred because of their ability to communicate with the gods (a reflection of the African shamans), and therefore, they were the ones who were allowed to practice magic without restrictions in order to obtain the power of the god that they were invoking. Of course, those with true magical blood were hard to ‘restrict;’ instead there were severe punishments for anyone caught practicing that hadn’t the right. To avoid punishment, some wizards would seek apprenticeship with the priests while others used their gifts away from the public eye, but because it was widely believed that some had more power than others, those practicing in secret rarely attempted complex magic and usually everyone was “kept in place.” But we all know that sometimes uncontrolled magic is difficult to keep hidden, and, while rare, magical practice outside of the priest class wasn’t unheard of.
Having unlimited legal access to magic, Egyptian priests began to study the possibility of certain objects making it easier to channel their mystical powers for the greater good. Purity was a legal requirement for a person to be able to perform a spell. Because ivory was already known to be a purifying substance and natural shield from negative energies, it became necessary for wizards of ancient Egypt to carry ivory amulets with them as proof that they were pure and could call upon the gods to make them do their bidding. The need for the ivory item to be practical, unique, and efficient in its channelling of pure magic gave birth to the continent’s first magical wands. These magic wands were nothing like our current and comparatively superb wands with magical cores and the added power of the wood; they were merely semi-circular pieces of ivory with carvings of the most powerful beings slaying dark creatures from end to end.
Wandmakers and wandlore scholars debate to this day whether or not these ivory wands had any magical properties. It is still customary for the wandmakers of Egypt, and even of most of Africa, to use ivory in their wands. Regardless of this debate, all parties agree that the old style ivory wand does balance the power within the wizard using it, helping him to perform more stable spells and stopping dark magic from being used; as African wizards believe that ivory keeps their minds pure, they have no desire to explore the darker side of their power.
Egyptian wizards were very keen on keeping their magic to themselves. Considering the religious belief that good deeds were what granted or denied someone the chance to join the gods in the paradise of the afterlife, wizards from Egypt made sure that they performed as much good magic as possible, and the most effective way to achieve that was to make sure that they were the ones that the people sought out to sort out whatever troubles or illnesses came along. In order to do this, they had to keep their spells and rituals a secret so that other wizards weren’t privy to take over their practice. The ancient Egyptians kept books that they passed down from generation to generation full of useful spells that only they knew, not to be shared with anyone, just like some families in today’s world, mostly those of spellmakers. The ancient Egyptian wizards even came up with strange combined words and secret names for the gods that had to be pronounced in certain way or the spell would not work, effectively doing exactly as spellmakers do today, putting words and actions together to make new spells. Thus, if someone stole or peeked into the journals in which they wrote the proceedings of their enchantments and rituals, the culprit would not be able to understand the words needed to make the magic happen, and therefore, no one but the wizard who’d written it or one whom he had taught would be able to perform it to aid others. This practice of casting spells by muttering nonsensical words that somehow brought out the magic within them became quite popular and soon all of Egypt and parts of Africa into which the practice had bled were teeming with papyrus scrolls full of spells that no one but the person who wrote them could perform.
There is a faction of wizards that work alongside the curse breakers for Gringotts that visit Egypt to see if they can find any of this lost magic, translate it, and find use for it. Curse breakers are necessary in Egypt because greed provoked ancient wizards to place curses upon tombs. Most people in Egypt were entombed with riches and luxury, believing that the soul would return to the body, taking everything left with it into their next life. However some wizards who had discovered their power but were not or had not pursued the path to become a priest soon discovered that the ancient Egyptian belief system was inaccurate. Only those with magical blood can become and see ghosts, so from the imprints left by deceased wizards these ancient Egyptian wizards found out that the afterlife that they all so prepared for didn’t work at all how they had thought, and thus, all the gold and riches left in the tombs were going to waste. Banded together in this knowledge that none of the others knew, the wizards of ancient Egypt set curses and traps for any thieves that might enter so that the wizards themselves could return to claim things as they needed them. Also, some of those born of magic truly did believe in their theory of an afterlife, regardless of any extra knowledge that they might have been given by ghosts, and they set their own traps and enchantments on the tombs to keep the treasures inside safe from intruders, to ensure that the deceased inside got to keep their things for when they returned.
The need for international magical cooperation in later times, along with the discovery of nonverbal spells, led the Egyptian practice of creating new words for magic rituals to its demise. However, the fact remained that a standard spell wording of sorts had to be created, not just because of the language barrier between wizards of so many different places, but also because of the growing number of Muggle-born wizards all over the world. To remain hidden has been our world’s greatest task for a very long time, and if the language and words in which magic used to be performed was not regulated, Muggle-born children, oblivious to their abilities, could cause a disaster simply by saying one or two words out loud in their common tongue. It is because of this that an international summit of wizarding leaders from all over the world took place back in the early days. This meeting lasted an extremely long time because the people involved took to investigating and retelling the history of our world in order to find a solution, and this, in turn, led to the standardization of Latin as the language for most spells, enchantments, and spoken magic in general. This council debated, discussed and tested the aforementioned magic in an effort to determine an official, or at least agreed upon by the majority, list of spells for the wizarding world. They collected the most potent words from a myriad of cultures and languages to form The Standard Book of Spells, which is still used in schools today.
If you’ll take notice, however, the etymology for spells is rarely Egyptian. This is not because their words for magic are less powerful than another cultures, per se, but is mostly due to the fact that Egyptians have maintained a strict secrecy about their spells and magic. In present times they are much more open and accommodating to the council, but discovering their lost magic has proven extremely difficult and is one among many reasons Egypt is known as the ‘Land of Secrets.’