J.K. Rowling Just Gave Us Everything to Know Before Fantastic Beasts

J.K. Rowling has revealed quite a lot about the broad spectrum of the wizarding world so far this year, and she's showing no signs of slowing down. With the movie adaptation of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them set to hit theaters in November, the author announced a new series of writings, titled "Magic in North America." The first four installments of the series launched on Pottermore in March, with a fifth appearing closer to the premiere in October.

Rowling's new writings are themed around the American wizarding world, touching on exciting topics like the Salem Witch Trials and a Native American legend about people called Skinwalkers. If you're just as pumped as we are to explore a richer, more complex wizarding world than ever before, then topics like Ilvermorny (the wizarding school in the United States) and the Magical Congress of the United States are sure to grab your attention!

Watch the preview for the new series below, then read on for all of Rowling's revelations so far. (In her usual style, the author has absolutely blown us away!)

Introducing Pottermore's Magic in North America Series

14th Century-17th Century

14th Century-17th Century

In her first installment of "History of Magic in North America," Rowling explored American magic prior to the 18th century. In the Harry Potter universe, European and African wizards were aware of North America's existence far before Muggles (read: "No-Majs" in American vernacular) like Christopher Columbus ever laid claim to the continent, visiting with Native American magical communities using broomsticks and Apparition as early as the Middle Ages.

Similar to the relationship between Muggles and wizards in Europe, Native American No-Majs reacted to magical folk within their communities with either reverence or fear. According to Rowling's version of magical history, the Native American legend of skinwalkers — evil witches or wizards who can take the form of any animal at will — is the result of such fear within the community.

A legend grew up around the Native American Animagi, that they had sacrificed close family members to gain their powers of transformation. In fact, the majority of Animagi assumed animal forms to escape persecution or to hunt for the tribe. Such derogatory rumours often originated with No-Maj medicine men, who were sometimes faking magical powers themselves, and fearful of exposure.

In addition to Native wizards' predisposition for these Animagi-abilities, Rowling also notes that these magicians were "particularly gifted in animal and plant magic," creating potions superior to anything coming out of the European wizarding community. Because they did not use wands to channel magical precision, the Natives were not as apt in the realms of Charms and Transfiguration.

Read Rowling's full entry on Pottermore!

17th Century and Beyond

17th Century and Beyond

Rowling's second foray into North American wizarding history touches on the American colonies during Puritan times, delving into literal witch hunts like the Salem Witch Trials. It all began when European Muggles/No-Majs began to make their way to the New World in search of religious freedom — their journey encouraged many European magicians to seek the same sort of fresh start. Some of these witches and wizards sought adventure, while others used the mass exodus of No-Majs as a way to blend in and escape from European wizarding authorities.

Because such a significant portion of these magical European colonists were attempting to flee punishment for past crimes, a need emerged in America for a form of wizarding law enforcement — unsurprisingly, a group of power-hungry and relentless wizarding mercenaries stepped up to fill this void. Rowling describes these wizards, dubbed Scourers, as "an unscrupulous band of wizarding mercenaries of many foreign nationalities, who formed a much-feared and brutal taskforce committed to hunting down not only known criminals, but anyone who might be worth some gold."

With time, says Rowling, the Scourers because corrupt and bloodthirsty . . . they began to dabble in wizard trafficking, and had no qualms with framing innocent No-Majs for "witchcraft" in order to collect a paycheck from frightened non-magical folk. This sort of cruel, manipulative behavior led to some of the most famous witch hunts in history.

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.

These witch trials discouraged many European wizarding families from emigrating to the New World and caused many who had already made the voyage to flee. Through such circumstances, the wizarding population in America became far smaller than in other continents, with a higher percentage of No-Maj-born witches and wizards in the States. Understandably, this meant that the "Pure Blood" prejudices so prevalent in Europe never caught on amongst American wizards.

Read Rowling's full exploration of the 17th Century and Beyond to learn more about colonial wizarding history and how various trials led to the formation of a magical government.

Rappaport's Law

Rappaport's Law

The third installment of Rowling's series delves into the origins of American wizarding government, also known as MACUSA: the Magical Congress of the United States of America. After many of the corrupt Scourers were punished by the newly formed MACUSA in the 17th century, some escaped and managed to hide out among No-Majs, eventually marrying and procreating with nonmagical folk to the point that their powers were eradicated within the family line. Such families harbored a strong belief in (and hatred of) magic, making it their mission to expose and punish witches and wizards.

Rowling begins by discussing a statute passed in the 1790s by then-MACUSA-President Emily Rappaport, which became known as "Rappaport's Law." The president declared complete segregation of magicians and No-Majs, outlawing friendship, marriage, and nonessential communication between the two communities with harsh punishments to back up the ruling. This law (and the resulting divide between not only magic and nonmagic Americans but also between the American wizarding community and other wizarding provinces) was all set into motion because of a witch named Dorcus Twelvetrees.

Dorcus, the daughter of a high-ranking MACUSA official, was more looks than brains, which eventually became her downfall. Per Rowling's recollection of the witch's historic blunder, Dorcus enjoyed partying and vain pursuits more than the average 18th century witch.

One day, at a local picnic, Dorcus Twelvetrees became greatly enamoured of a handsome No-Maj called Bartholomew Barebone. Unbeknownst to Dorcus, Bartholomew was a Scourer descendant. Nobody in his family was magic, but his belief in magic was profound and unshakeable, as was his conviction that all witches and wizards were evil.

Totally oblivious to the danger, Dorcus took Bartholomew's polite interest in her 'little tricks' at face value. Led on by her beau's artless questions, she confided the secret addresses of both MACUSA and Ilvermorny [the American wizarding school], along with information about the International Confederation of Wizards and all the ways in which these bodies sought to protect and conceal the wizarding community.

In a not-so-shocking turn of events, the magic-hating Bartholomew used Dorcus's spilled information to plot an attack on MACUSA and the wizarding community as a whole. Luckily, his plan went awry in such a way that his own No-Maj government ended up imprisoning him, but the information that Dorcus spilled had been spread throughout No-Maj communities and led to an embarrassing (and dangerous) situation for the American wizarding community. Hence, Rappaport's law was born.

To learn more about the origins of MACUSA and Dorcus Twelvetrees's big mistake, read Rowling's full History of Magic in North America series on Pottermore!

1920s Wizarding America

1920s Wizarding America

The fourth and final installation of Rowling's history series is the perfect primer for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, because it focuses on 1920s America. It sets the tone for the three-part film by noting the MACUSA president of that decade, Madam Seraphina Picquery, and touching on the American version of Hogwarts, Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Perhaps the most interesting revelation about wizarding life in 1920s America is the intense regulation for wizards. On top of Rappaport's Law, which prevented fraternization between wizards and No-Majs, every witch and wizard was required to carry a "wand permit" to keep track of magical activity. And, unlike in Britain where Ollivander wands are valued above all others, there were four top-tier wandmakers in the United States during the Roaring '20s.

  • Shikoba Wolfe: known for making powerful (yet frequently ingovernable) wands with Thunderbird tail feather cores; considered a favorite by many Transfigurers.
  • Johannes Jonker: famous for gorgeous Mother-of-Pearl wands with Wampus Cat hair cores.
  • Thiago Quintana: created long, slim wands that boasted rare White River Monster spine cores.
  • Violetta Beauvais: crafted wands from swamp materials like mayhaw wood and Rougarou hairs; associated with dark magic.

To read more about the 1920s in magical America, read Rowling's entire history series on Pottermore.

The Magical Congress of the United States (MACUSA)

The Magical Congress of the United States (MACUSA)

In her fifth installment of the History of Magic series, Rowling delves into the history of America's version of the Ministry for Magic: the Magical Congress of the United States, abbreviated to MACUSA. She mentions that, after the chaos Salem Witch Trials, American magic folk preferred to stay "underground" and hide their wizarding community from No-Majs. One of the main focuses of MACUSA was law enforcement, which explains why the first President sought to train Aurors first and foremost.

The "Original 12" MACUSA Aurors (trained in the late 1600s) were regarded similarly to the Founding Fathers, notes Rowling. Their descendants became respected and influential, and their importance to the American wizarding community never faded. One of these original few was even a distant relative of Harry Potter's!

Like the No-Maj government, MACUSA's headquarters eventually centered in Washington DC after several unsuccessful attempts to settle in other locales. In a section about challenges faced by the young wizarding government, Rowling discusses the philosophical debate within MACUSA of "Country or Kind?" — essentially, whether American wizards should be allegiant to their nation or their people (other wizards). This was especially contentious during the Revolutionary War, writes Rowling.

. . . Did the magical community owe their highest allegiance to the country in which they had made their homes, or to the global underground wizarding community? Were they morally obliged to join American No-Majs in their fight for liberation from the British Muggles? Or was this, simply put, not their fight?

The arguments for and against intervention were protracted and the fight became vicious. Pro-interventionists argued that they might be able to save lives; anti-interventionists that wizards risked their own security by revealing themselves in battle.

The implications of this debate, among other safety issues, eventually resulted in Rappaport's Law, aforementioned in the third History of Magic in North America installment. In order to further enforce the segregation between wizard and No-Maj communities, MACUSA moved its headquarters to New York City. There, the government agency grew, with its largest department focusing on law enforcement.

We're sure to learn even more about MACUSA in the 1920s during Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, when Eddie Redmayne's Newt Scamander appears to break nearly every law that MACUSA holds dear: No-Maj fraternization, openly using magic, and accidentally unleashing magical beasts in NYC. Somebody should tell him that American law enforcement is allowed to use the death penalty for severe crimes!

To read more about the magical government in America, read Rowling's entire History of Magic in the United States series on Pottermore.