Lesson 2) Magic and Mythology
The professor walks into the classroom with a stack of parchment. They are not history books and they bear vaguely familiar symbols and characters. She looks up to a classroom of students peering over trying to see them and smiles.
“I see that you’ve noticed these aren’t your usual books. I think you’ll like them.” She flicks her fingers and the books begin to deliver themselves to the tables as she begins.
Hello again, students! I hope that you’re enjoying your lessons at Hogwarts as it has been quite a while since I last saw you. Let’s start by summarising what we covered in that lesson.
We started with an overview of Asia. Simply put, Asia is the largest continent in the world with the largest total population. It is also home to two of the most highly-populated countries - India and China. In addition, it has countless ethnicities and cultures that we will be exploring in our curriculum. Many countries have multiple ethnicities that house a number of different cultures, thus making generalizations or speaking in broad strokes very complicated and confusing. However, fret not, because we will be sifting through the necessary information to give you a good understanding of Asian history of magic.
After discussing the incredible variation among Asian culture, we compared Western and Eastern Magic. We were able to see the differences as to how magic is treated in the Eastern world. We concluded the lesson with the impression that the East was more lax regarding the existence and use of magic.
Additionally, I would like to take a moment to make some comments about the submissions I’ve graded from the previous assignment. I hope that including this portion into the lesson will help you in your future History of Magic assignments. Even though many of the sources we read may be Muggle-based, we always have to relate it back to our universe - the magical one! Remember to make connections back to our wizarding world instead of just making surface comments about the sources.
As I mentioned in the previous lesson, Asia is teeming with a rich variety of ethnicities, cultures and magical practices. You may remember that I also alluded to an upcoming guest lecture. Today is the day! Please welcome our very own Ancient Studies and Mythology instructor, Professor Salvatrix!
Welcome, students! Some of you may have taken classes with me before, but if this is your first class with me, I do hope that you enjoy it! Today, we are scheduled to learn about the links between magic and mythology in Asian history. Let’s get to it, shall we?
Separating Myth from History
While the Muggles of today seem to easily separate myths and other fictional stories from factual, historical recording, we in the wizarding world know that some myths - such as the existence of dragons - are not myths at all. This knowledge changes the way we interpret the historical stories that we hear - we recognize more elements of truth in them than the Muggles.
Unfortunately for Muggle and wizarding-kind alike, it is almost impossible to separate much of Asian mythology from historical documentation. While the Muggles may be able to write off some of the stories as fictional that have magical beings in them, we know different. And knowing that difference means that most of the myths found in Asia could possibly be true.
So what does this mean, exactly? Simply put, magical history and knowledge is so intertwined in Asian history, that it is very difficult to separate fact from fiction. We still call the stories myths, especially if they have a magical element that we cannot quite explain, but they may just as easily be a truthful accounting of historical events.
Separating Myth from Magic
Unsurprisingly, our difficulty in separating myth from history also causes difficulty in separating actual accounts of magical practice from possible mythological ones. You may be wondering how this could be - if wizards were recording what they were doing, wouldn’t we know for sure that it was all real magic being practiced?
That would be ideal, I admit. Unfortunately, not everyone who recorded history (or alternatively, wrote the stories we now consider myths) was a wizard. There were a great many Muggles across the globe that recorded what we would consider magical history, and it is almost certain that most of them did not entirely understand what they were seeing. As such, much of what we read is a Muggle’s interpretation of an occurrence that may have seemed unbelievable to them. Obviously the reliability of the information is questionable at best, however that is the fun part about examining history - much of it still a mystery!
Regardless of the difficulties presented to us, when we examine ancient Asian recordings, magic is very obviously interconnected with mythology. While we are not going to look at specific Asian myths in this class (Mythology Year Six will cover this topic), let’s look at one example of mythological symbols in Asia and how it is intricately tied to various branches of magical practice.
The Four Symbols
Four Mythological Symbols of China
Also known as The Four Symbols of the Chinese Constellation, or The Four Mythological Symbols of China, these four creatures represent cardinal directions, the elements, and the seasons. The four creatures are the Azure Dragon, the White Tiger, the Vermillion Bird, and the Black Tortoise.
The Azure Dragon sits as the head of the Four Symbols. It represents the cardinal direction East, as well as Spring, and the element of wood. While dragons are considered mighty and fierce, the Azure Dragon also represents justice and benevolence, as well as good fortune.
The White Tiger sits opposite the Azure Dragon and represents the cardinal direction West, as well as Autumn, and the element of metal. It is a protector and defender from both mortal enemies and evil spirits, which could also be interpreted as defence from black magic.
The Vermillion Bird represents the cardinal direction South, as well as Summer, and the element of fire. Similar to the Azure Dragon, it is a symbol of good luck. The Vermillion bird is clearly a phoenix, and all scholars agree on this point.
The final creature of the Four Symbols is the Black Tortoise. It represents the cardinal direction North, as well as Winter, and the element of water. It is most closely associated with longevity and wisdom.
Now, sometimes you will see a reference to a fifth element. In the centre of the Chinese Constellation chart, sometimes you will see a yellow dragon. This Yellow Dragon represents the element earth, as well as the changing of the seasons, and aether.
Yellow Dragon of the Centre
These creatures are a perfect example of the mix of mythology and fact, as we know that all but one of them are real. Dragons, phoenixes, and white tigers do exist. A tortoise with the head of a snake for a tail is not a creature in existence - magical or otherwise. Professor Anne and I have had lengthy discussions on the matter, and the creature simply does not match up to any creature we have ever heard of. Regardless, it remains as a pivotal creature in the Four Constellations.
As for its connection to magic, other than the obvious reference to magical creatures and Astronomy, there are direct ties to Alchemy through the elemental references, especially when taking into consideration the Yellow Dragon’s ties to aether. Alchemists have long believed that full understanding of the five elements and their combinations could lead to almost superhuman powers, or at least advanced magic! If you find this topic interesting, be sure you are taking Alchemy. The five elements are discussed in Year Three.
Indeed, a closer examination of these creatures, their traits, and how they interact with the heavens will find links to healing, charms, and other branches of magic - something we could spend years examining instead of trying to fit it all into one lesson!
Unfortunately, that is all the time we have for today. Thought, I do hope I’ve given you some insight into Asian mythology and whetted your appetite for Mythology, the class - perhaps I shall see you in my own classroom soon!
Please, everyone, give the lovely Professor Salvatrix a round of applause! Thank you Professor, for that look into the complexities in unraveling the truth around the history of magic in Asia. Now, for today’s class you will have a quiz to complete, as well as an optional research assignment on an Asian myth of your choice.
Now, before you all leave until next time, let me tell you a little about your midterms. Yes, midterms. You may think it is a bit soon to be discussing this topic, but this is not just idle discussion.This year’s midterm is different from other years; it is not a quiz or a test. It will be a research paper/presentation.
Below are the details about your midterm submission. If you have any queries, do feel free to contact me or my team of wonderful student graders.
Research a magical culture with traditions and beliefs from any Asian country (if you need something to jog your memory, please refer to Lesson One, and the handout with the complete list of internationally recognized countries).
Do your research on the country and its various cultures. Use information about the country and said culture(s) to support your report’s credibility. (You may choose a currently existing culture or a previously existing culture and “make” them magical OR you may completely make up an entirely new magical culture. However, if you choose the latter option, make sure that your fabricated culture fits the country and the time period you are choosing.)
At least a 700 word report, with whatever sources you used to compile your data as well as any pictures or other media you would like to include.You will be submitting this report in Lesson Five.
I leave you with that and look forward to seeing you in the next lesson.