Lesson 1) A Comparison of East and West

The curtains are drawn back and suddenly the dust particles become evident, floating slowly through the air. The professor dusts herself off and a little sneeze escapes, the particles bothering her sensitive nose. After placing her books on the table and the chalk at the base of the blackboard, she writes “History of Magic 401” on the board and smiles to herself.

“These students have come a long way to get to Year Four. They’re now at the halfway point of their education in Hogwarts,” she mutters so no one can hear her before turning towards the class and grinning.


Hello, and welcome back to another year at Hogwarts. I am happy to see so many of you look excited at the prospect of continuing on with what you may consider to be a difficult course. I can assure you -- and likely you have come to this conclusion as well -- that the rewards are well worth the effort. Do remember this throughout the year, as you will be presented with assignments that will require more thinking and hard work. 

As far as grading goes,  I will be including the general rubrics for each assignment in the essay prompt. However, as always, the professors and professors’ assistants are eager to help clarify lesson material and questions about the various assignments. Please don’t hesitate to contact me about any doubts.

With that said, this year will require a bit more in the way of independent learning. This does not mean questions are not welcome, but that the answers for assignments will not be spelled out in the lessons. Instead, you will have to rely on your interpretation of the facts presented, as well as doing a bit of research of your own.

Without further ado, let’s talk about this year’s topic.


And Away We Go…

This year, our aim is to provide you with an engaging look into the culture and history surrounding the continent and peoples of Asia. It would be my greatest joy to be able to spark your interest in Asian magical practices. As you will discover, Asia is a rich and complex quilt. It is home to a culture that mixes the traditional and contemporary; that is secretive yet collaborative. Additionally, for those of you that haven’t been paying attention, our very own Headmistress Oshiro hails from this area of the world, specifically Japan!

Before starting the formal lesson and getting into all that, however, below is the tentative course outline for the year.

Week

Topic

1

A Comparison of East and West

2

Magic and Mythology

3

Magical Education in Asia

4

The Silk Road

5

The Mongol Empire

6

Ethnocentrism and its Effects

7

Alternative Magical Practices

8

Influential Individuals

9

All That Glitters is Not Gold

Obviously, the topics for this year cover a wide range, however, this will only be the tip of the iceberg. Asia, the largest continent in the world, is home to a large variety of different countries, cultures, beliefs and traditions. Naturally, this applies to the continent’s contingent of witches and wizards as well. So, before we dive in this year, there are two things we must cover in this lesson. First we’ll cover some basic background information regarding Asia and then do a brief comparison of “Western culture”, with which many of us from Europe and North America are more familiar, and “Eastern culture”, which may be new to some (or all) of us.


A Brief Introduction to Asia

On top of being the largest continent on the planet, Asia boasts another claim to fame: the sheer number of people that reside there. Sixty percent of the Earth’s population resides in Asia. This large chunk of the world’s population is divided up among 48 countries.1 Many of these countries have a long and storied past. Over the years, Asia has come under the rule of multiple empires and dynasties, including the Argead Dynasty, the British Empire, the Mongol Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Roman Empire, some of which we will discuss in this course. However, this is not even the tip of the iceberg in terms of various regimes that have risen and fallen in this area. As such, the country is a mix of various influences from all over the world.

In First Year, you learned a little bit about Asia and its civilization. Asia is home to one of the earliest human civilizations in the entire world. From the 7000-year-old Sumerian Civilization in Mesopotamia all the way to the 6000-year-old Indus Valley Civilization in India, there is plenty for us to dig into and explore.

Moreover, you may be interested to discover that there are many more countries than you think which are considered to be part of Asia. Contrary to popular belief, Asia definitely does not only consist of the Chinese, Koreans or Japanese. In fact, it stretches all the way to the Siberians in Northern Russia, Papuans in Northern Australia and the Arabs in Iraq. Beyond that, each country often consists of various ethnicities, and this is where things start to get truly complex.

Take for example, Singapore. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of this country… city… state… Yes, Singapore is a country located just below the corner of the most southern point of Malaysia, but is also a city and a state because it is so small. Despite its small size, in Singapore alone, there are multiple ethnicities - meaning it’s not just the Koreans or Chinese, Singapore is made up of four major ethnicities: the Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians.

With that, you have the most basic idea of what Asia is: a continent with many countries (or cities, or states), with many different cultural groups, and logically, many traditions. Hopefully you are beginning to see the nature of the continent we will be working with this year. Asia is just like an onion - there are so many layers to it that you will still be pulling back layers at the end of Lesson Nine. Of course, we will not be covering every single facet of Asia --that would take us forever-- but we will endeavor to “dip our toes” into the shallow end in the time that we have.


East Versus West

Now that you have a rudimentary understanding of Asia, let’s compare the culture in which we live -- at least here at Hogwarts-- to the culture we are going to study this year. I’ll be going through two areas of comparison between these parts of the world, namely the acceptance of magic and magical practices.

Acceptance of Magic

Over the years we have learned about the struggle that European witches and wizards have often gone through in their attempts to either live alongside Muggles or hide from them. With the witch hunts, the Great Clustering, and the International Statute of Secrecy it becomes evident that there has been ample reason for magical folk to be fearful. Of course, it has not always been this way. Magic was, for example, accepted more or less readily in the earlier times of the Roman Empire until various decrees made the practice of magic punishable by death. However, in a general sense, witches and wizards in North America and Europe have had to hide their magic for fear of negative consequences.

In Asia the situation has not been so dire. While witches and wizards were largely persecuted in the West, the East has had a much more tolerant approach to their magical practitioners. That isn’t to say that magical folk are praised, elevated in status, or even always welcomed into every corner of society. But most magical folk can live without fear of slipping up, or not blending in perfectly. For the most part, witchcraft is, and has been, an accepted practice. Naturally, that does not mean that all of Asian history has been free from persecution or dark times for the magical community. The Yellow Turban Rebellion and Li Sang’s magical purge are only two examples in just one country that showcase incidents when the magical community has been threatened. However, just like we are speaking in generalities regarding the West, we are talking about the overall attitude. Magic, as you will read in a later guest lecture by Professor Morgan, is a large part of Eastern culture and society.

Now, you may be wondering how the International Statute of Secrecy fits into all this. If Eastern society is so welcoming to witches and wizards and they don’t need to worry about hiding themselves, are there mass violations of what is arguably the most important law in the wizarding world? In short, no. Fortunately, Muggles are not terribly good at distinguishing real magic from their superstitions. Many of the “magical practices” of the East known to Muggle culture are actually impossible to accomplish and have thus either been sleights of hand by charlatans or strange twists of fate.

One such example is ancestor magic. As we know, when witches or wizards die, at times they elect to become ghosts and can live on alongside their living brethren. Of course, they can only affect the environment minimally-- causing disturbances in the elements. This is a far cry from the power that Eastern Muggles ascribe to their ancestors. In truth, these stories can be ascribed to the interference of magical folks that overhear these prayers, or that were simply in the right place at the right time-- much like the leaden curse tablets of ancient Greece.

Moreover, many of the magical practitioners that peddle their services in Asia are little more than phonies, selling strange cocktails that work no better than green tea. In general, many Muggles in Asia simply believe in magic that does not exist-- or, at the very least, not magic that actual witches and wizards have been able to perform or understand. However, regardless of this mixup, this belief in magic is the main source of protection. It provides the magical folks the freedom to live their lives without fearing being accused of witchcraft. There are enough “practicing” witches and wizards in Asia-- though many are little more than the charlatans like those of ancient Greece (which was mentioned last year as well as in Professor Morgan’s Ancient Studies class) -- that actual magical practitioners simply blend into the woodwork.

The main exception to this rule of thumb applies to those accused of practicing black magic2 or, generally, using your magic to do evil things. Should you be accused of using magic to kill someone, harm someone’s crops, property or general well-being (or commit any sort of crime) and be found guilty, the sentence is death. Many people find this to be a much more civilized system than the witch trials of the West, and there are certainly distinct advantages, but it is important to keep in mind that the evidence of these trials can be fabricated to further injustice. Still, Asia is, in general, a place where you have to be convicted of using your magic for evil, not simply be convicted of the crime of being magical.


Magical Practices

As alluded to above, there are many mythical magical practices ascribed specifically to Asian culture. While some of these are simple misinterpretations by Muggles, there are many that ring true in part or in whole. Additionally, the cultural understanding of magic in general is widely different, which can influence the kind of magic used.

There are also a large amount of regional differences in the various disciplines of magic. The skies over Asia are in a very different hemisphere than our own, with entirely different constellations, making a large difference in their astronomical practices. The environmental differences between the East and the West (though, to be truthful, there is a vast amount of environmental variety between the Eastern countries in and of themselves) create a large amount of climate variations. Different climates means different availability of plants, influencing Herbology, Potion-making, and wand woods. These dissimilar climates also mean that a new variety of magical creatures thrive and can be studied and used in various magical rites and rituals.

These are only varietal differences, though, not completely new practices or views on magic, of which there are a fair few. The cultural view of “white” and “black” magic, the use of alternative foci (a topic that has been touched upon briefly in Charms), and heavily ritualized magic are just a few of these alternative practices that will be discussed later in the year.


I hope that this lesson has whetted your appetite regarding this year’s topics, but that is all for today. In the next lesson, we will be learning about how magic in Asia is closely linked with myth… and just how to go about separating the two.

Footnotes:
1. There are additional areas of Asia that are oft’ discussed and commonly thought of as countries but technically fall under a separate designation, such as dependent territories or regions that have not yet been recognized. Therefore, the number 48 is compiled solely of countries that have been recognized by the United Nations and the International Council of Wizards.

2. This type of magic and what it entails will be discussed in depth in later lessons.

Original lesson written by Professor Autumn Maddox
Additions written by Professor Venita Wessex 
Image credits here and  here 

 

 

Known as the largest continent in the globe, Asia is home to many mysterious cultures and beliefs that are unfamiliar to us, but no longer! Come explore the many wonders of the continent to the East and its rich history.
Course Prerequisites:
  • HOM-301
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