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Lesson 9) Pills and Potions (Final Exam and Extra Content)

Welcome to the close of Year Two of Potions! I hope you’ve enjoyed the year and feel as though you will be entering the next one with a deeper understanding of the discipline. In anticipation for Year Three, I actually thought I would dedicate this class to speaking a little bit about what we will be discussing next year. Year Three is going to be dedicated entirely to healing and medicinal potions practice. I know many of you mentioned interest in healing in your very first introductory essay, so I hope that you will enjoy the lessons that I have planned. We will be discussing common household remedies as well as more complicated potions used by healers and those who practice medicine professionally. There is much more to the discipline than what we will have time to cover, of course, but I hope to give all of you a glimpse at the knowledge the profession entails, as well as some practical home remedies.

Before we dive into this lesson, I want to acknowledge that there are, of course, countless other histories of healing all over the world that have contributed to our current knowledge of healing arts and potions. However, as we tend to take a decidedly European approach, and you will learn a great deal of Western-based history of tackling injuries and maladies next year, I thought we would spend this class discussing older forms of healing elsewhere in the world, and how they have shaped the practice of healing today. Keep in mind, for the sake of class length and giving you time to work on your final exam, these will only be brief overviews of the foundations of healing and healing potions. This will also NOT be featured on the final: this is more just to give a somewhat unorthodox introduction to next year for those who wish. If any of these seem of particular interest to you, I hope that you would continue to do research on your own to learn more about ancient as well as modern healing practices in these regions!

We can trace documented history of medicinal healers and practitioners back 5,000 years ago all the way back to ancient Mesopotamia. Much writing is dedicated to the āšipu, who were responsible for diagnosing ailments and diseases, as well as determining their cause. They also provided emotional support and assistance to those suffering from diseases and their families. The āšipu did not use herbal remedies or potions, but rather acted more as an exorcist, casting spells and incantations in order to drive out evil spirits or cure afflictions. Today, we recognize that in many instances, these āšipu were wizards who practiced their craft for magical and non-magical clients alike. This practice was called āšipūtu. However, more relevant to our discussion is the profession of the asû, who performed what is known as asûtu. In the event that āšipu were unable to help a client with their verbal spells and rituals, they would often refer their clients to asû, who used knowledge of herbology as well as potions in order to assist clients, occasionally working cooperatively with āšipu.

The asû are particularly well-known for their use of plasters, a concoction that is applied directly to an afflicted area or a wound. Technically speaking, the Snake Bite Antidote that we discussed two lessons ago is, in fact, a type of plaster. Occasionally asû would create mixtures of magical and mundane ingredients in their plaster to assist in the healing of a wound or curing of a malady, but we also see evidence of early potion brewing. Some cures involved the application of thermal energy - in other words, heat - in order to create the plaster. We do not have many recipes from that time to ascertain how many magical ingredients were used by these early healers, but indicating the close relationship between the āšipu and asû, it is not unsafe to assume both were often magical persons who, owing to their gifts, had been elevated to the station of Healer within society.

      The world’s oldest surviving surgical document, written in Ancient Egypt around 1600 B.C.E. 

In ancient Egypt, the task of healer most often fell to Egyptian priests, who acted in an interdisciplinary manner, practicing divination, healing, support and counseling on spiritual and earthly matters, and standing as overall protector by preventing plagues and other disastrous occurrences. Potions were often considered something of an afterthought as a means of healing, however, and were most often used to treat symptoms rather than maladies themselves. Individual herbal remedies, including both magical and mundane ingredients, were often preferred to brewed potions. That being said, the use of spells as well as empirical medicinal knowledge in Egypt at that time was unrivaled in any other part of the world.

When the priests did create ointments, salves, solutions, or creams, I always make a point of crediting the ancient Egyptians with properly labeling their products with ingredients and proper use for those they treated, particularly for mundane concoctions. For example, archaeologists have found a small medicinal pot that contains the description, “sawdust, acacia leaves, galena, and goose fat. Bandage with it.” The particular malady to be treated is not listed, but it can be assumed that, if the healer involved handed this directly to the patient, that patient knew what he or she was trying to treat. If you ever do become a healer or even when brewing your own home remedies, it is far preferable to include the description of what your potion is intended to treat, however, just in case of any accidents or vial mix-ups!

Although we do have accounts of these few mundane remedies from the ancient Egyptian healers, we have discovered very few legible recipes for what we take to be magical potions, but this should be of little surprise given the secretive nature of those who practiced Heka in ancient Egypt. As well as artifacts and spells, there are Maheka-Lala, or Egyptian curse breakers, who focus exclusively on potions and draughts that may have been used by the ancient Egyptian priests. This primarily comes from studying and lingering magical residue on medicinal jars and trying to discern their chemical content.

One of the richest and most thorough historical records of ancient use of potions in healing can be found in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a range of magical and mundane healing and general well-being practices that have developed over a span of the past 2,000 years. Although we tend to focus on magical and non-magical relations and the evolution of magic in the West, the rich and complex historical relationship of Chinese wizards to magic as well as mundane and spiritual practices is unique. When looking at the history of magic in the West, we see definite breaks in magical discoveries and innovation, particularly during times of persecution of the practice of magic. However, despite a period of repression following the Warring States Period, we see a fairly steady progression of investigation and discovery, particularly in the fields of herbology and potions.

While those who study the mundane applications of Chinese medicine may be familiar with Wǔshí’èr Bìngfāng, or Recipes for Fifty-Two Ailments (or “Fifty-Two Prescriptions”), a text which was found over forty years ago in a tomb in Changsha, China that dates back to the Han Dynasty around 215 BCE, witches and wizards have long been familiar with its sister text Bāshísān Mó Yàoxué, or Eighty-Three Magical Potions. The first known copy of this publication was discovered in Kaifu, across the Xiangjang River from Changsha. This text quietly entered the magical community at approximately the same time as Wǔshí’èr Bìngfāng, and holds recipes for early potions to treat warts, food poisoning, low-grade fevers, and other common maladies. Interestingly, a few of the potions listed in this publication are echoed in its mundane companion with a few preparation and ingredient alterations, suggesting that the authors perhaps collaborated on both works. It is even possible that the same witches or wizards were responsible for both, and sought to give magical and non-magical healers the tools to succeed at their craft.

Although the International Ministry of Magic has made steps standardizing potions and Incantations towards Westernized standards, many in the East still occasionally utilize older traditional forms of magic, though not necessarily publicly. This is also partially owing to ingredient availability: while it is now possible to trade and transport ingredients throughout the wizarding world, it will inevitably be more expensive purchasing overseas than it is to buy locally-grown ingredients. As such, local traditional potions and remedies will often be preferable for those who want to keep their spending a bit more reasonable. Recently-trained European and American healers will also often spend a year or two in Asia, Africa, South America, or Australia learning about traditional potions practice and properties of local ingredients to which they may not have had too much access during their training.

The Maya
As you learned in History of Magic, witches and wizards held a high standing in the Mayan civilization, taking on the role of priests, which were placed just below the nobility in the societal hierarchy. In many ways, the priesthood was even more influential than the ruling nobility, for many believed that they had a direct connection to divine powers, and through this link provided either good fortune or terrible calamity. The study of healing and medicine was almost exclusively reserved for the class of priesthood, and as such, witches and wizards composed the entire healing field for the Mayans.

Mayan potioneers discovered a number of important potions and ingredients that we still use in potions today, including the use of certain bird feathers to treat certain mosquito-borne ailments. The feathers of red parrots were used by Mayan potioneers, for example, to treat yellow fever (an ailment they called “xikek”). It is thought that this disease, which is carried by the female mosquito and transmitted when she bites, originated in Africa and was most likely brought to the Americas through the slave trade. Many debate how large an impact this disease ultimately had on the fall of the Mayan empire. Nonetheless, while they may have been able to do too little too late, Mayan potioneers discovered that these red parrot feathers, along with agave and the quills of a chcachamaskaab - a small creature native to the Mesoamerican region believed to be kin to the Knarl - could be used to ameliorate the symptoms of this disease when brewed together.

Another important contribution of the Maya, as well as an ingredient greatly enjoyed by Hogwarts students, is cacao. The beans of the cacao tree are used to make cocoa powder as well as chocolate. Now, not only are cocoa and chocolate delicious (especially dark chocolate with raspberries, but that’s just personal preference), but even on its own cocoa and dark chocolate have indicated signs of helping with cardiac problems and digestive issues, lowering the risk of cancer, and helping with metabolic processes. Chocolate, interestingly enough, can also be used in many potions, and seems to act as something of a soothing agent. This is a somewhat unexpected effect - given that, in its mundane form, chocolate is actually a stimulant, which means that it speeds up the body processes instead of slowing them. I leave it up to you the next time you eat a chocolate frog to figure out what effect you think the chocolate is having on you and whether you are experiencing a magical or mundane effect! It is also used in potions to assist with respiratory issues, including those to treat tuberculosis, pneumonia, and even certain pervasive coughs.

Traditional Zulu Healers
Some of the most interesting medicinal and healing potions research has come out of Africa. In traditional Zulu practice, the structure of healing seems at first glance to be very similar to that which we studied in Mesopotamia above. An isangoma was responsible for most of the medicinal care, and worked through practices similar to divination in order to obtain a diagnosis and provide psychic and magical healing without the assistance of herbs or potions. In the event that the isangoma was unable to assist their patient with their particular knowledge, they would then refer them to the inyanga, who was an herbalist and potioneer. It is interesting to draw comparisons between this course of action to our own perception of magical and mundane solutions here in the West today. Of course, non-magical communities no longer have the option of magical solutions owing to the Statute of Secrecy; however, witches and wizards are much more likely to seek magical remedies to their problems and then, should that fail, look to herbs and the Earth.

It is also important to note that it was crucial for witches and wizards who did practice magic in some form to be careful in how they presented themselves to the non-magical community owing to traditional perception of magic. The word ukuthakatha translates to mean witchcraft, and has a different connotation than sorcery in traditional culture, although the practice of ukuthakatha seems to be more closely connoted with a form of practice of the Dark Arts. Misfortune, disease, and bad luck were often blamed on this witchcraft. Sorcery, on the other hand, was more closely associated with the healers of the community, who used divination, herbs, and other medicinal products in order to assist those afflicted. An isangoma would actually often be brought in if it was suspected that a person may have fallen under the negative influence of a practitioner of ukuthakatha.

In the early nineteenth century, it was a wizard inyanga from the East Coast of South Africa named Sihle Kaleni who discovered the Septicemia Serum, the magical serum still used to treat those who suffer from the condition known as sepsis, which is an inflammation of the body that is caused from an internal infection, typically in one of the major organs. It is also often called blood poisoning, and it still causes millions of magical and non-magical deaths every year. This potion utilizes a plant known as Artemisia reginis, a magical cousin to the more commonly known Artemisia afra, an herb native to many parts of Africa. This plant forms the Septicemia Serum when combined with dragon liver, rue, nettles and several other herbs brewed together, with this concoction being the only one known to effectively combat sepsis nowadays. Mr. Kaleni’s family, currently living in a wizarding town near Port Elizabeth, still owns the only company to mass produce this serum, and continues to put extensive research into blood-related potions, particularly those that combat blood infections and disorders.

New Zealand
The first known human inhabitants of New Zealand arrived from Eastern Polynesia towards the end of the 13th century. Magical and non-magical families alike traveled to the island, and over the next four-hundred or so years, before the island’s discovery by the first European explorers, established a unique tradition and culture. Those descended from these early inhabitants are called the Māori, and for a long time magical and non-magical people lived side-by-side in pre-colonized New Zealand. Wizards at this time often held positions of power, although leadership was not exclusively in the hands of the magical. However, most wizards were what is called tohunga, which implies a skilled mastery of some sort, be it of religious matters (priests), as healers, or more artistic pursuits. Tohunga were considered to have a unique connection to the afterlife and to the gods and spirits who protected the Māori people.

However, magic was not always seen as a strictly benevolent and positive force, and its capability was occasionally exploited by those magical leaders who craved more power. Makutu is a Māori word used to connote sorcery, spell casting, or spells. Typically wizarding history tries to associate fear and oppression of magic and those who practice it on Muggles who sought to gain more power for themselves as well as usurp what power magical communities may have held in society. However, there are many cases throughout history and within every magical culture throughout the world where those who did have power and magic exploit that ability in order to create perceived order or exert control. Much of the fear of makutu in early Māori culture was derived from a few magical leaders who sought to take advantage of the mystery of their own power. While eventually makutu became associated with all malevolent forms of magic, real or superstitious, it is believed to have been initially related to a possible punitive system created by questionably ethical wizards.

The magical families who came to New Zealand from Eastern Indonesia arrived with their own traditional healing potions and remedies. However, upon arriving in an ecosystem with new magical and mundane herbs and creatures, as well as the increased freedom of tohunga healers to research new remedies, Māori medicinal potions flourished during the first few hundred years of settlement. Perhaps the most valuable magical flower discovered by the Māori healers is hebe stricta, also known as koromiko. On its own, the leaves of this plant are well-known for their use during World War II to treat dysentery among New Zealand soldiers. Simply chewing on the leaves effectively eases the symptoms without any additional magical and brewing processes. However, when used in potions, the flowers of this plant are very effective in brewed concoctions that treat infected cuts and other wounds. It is also an ingredient used in some minor pain relievers.

New Orleans
Although my graduate studies in the United States were mostly conducted with support from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I was afforded the opportunity to spend a good deal of time in New Orleans, Louisiana. The magical community in New Orleans is unique not only because of the continued close relationship between magical and non-magical people - often coming perilously close to breaking the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy - but also because the magic practiced in New Orleans has been influenced by so many varied cultures throughout the city’s rich history. Unlike many diverse cities, where much of the magical culture remains confined to specific areas defined by demographics, the magical populations in New Orleans have often appropriated particularly effective or interesting elements of the magical tradition of other magical inhabitants, combining them in ways that had been previously unconsidered.

I apologize in advance for the lack of detail regarding some very complicated history and cultural dynamics in this section, but a full explanation of Louisiana influences would be outside the feasible scope of one portion of a lesson. To give the briefest of introductions, the first magical practitioners in Louisiana were, of course, the Native American populations. When considering native populations in this region, however, there are not only those Native Americans who have long-established roots in Louisiana and New Orleans, but also populations who moved there after being displaced from regions as far as the state of Georgia and the Florida panhandle. As Europeans began to create colonies, particularly the English colonies in the northeast, Native Americans were forced from their homes and moved South, such as to New Orleans, or out to Western territories, bringing their own different magical traditions with them. Many of the communities that were displaced still reside in parts of Louisiana. Next there are the influences of European and French magic, in which we see many differences between those directly descended from French colonizers and those who are Cajun, or descended from those French settlers who settled first in Acadia in Canada, but were expelled from the region.

The 18th century saw the arrival of African influence, as the dreadful institution of slave trade was unfortunately brought to the territory. African magical and non-magical people alike arrived in Louisiana beginning at that time. There are also Caribbean influences, brought both through the slave trade as well as other circumstances, such as those who fled Haiti during the Haitian Revolution in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. There is also some influence from Central and South American traditions. Within the past hundred years, a sizable Vietnamese population has begun to settle in and around New Orleans, and almost 2% of the city’s population reports speaking Vietnamese as a primary language.

Although Muggle popular culture often associates New Orleans magic with the Dark Arts, the tradition of potioneering within the city is much more closely tied to innovations in luck, healing, and protection. Magical ingredients such as Mandrake root, Job’s tears, galangal and Horklumps figure heavily into healing potions discovered in New Orleans. Although the voodoo queen Marie Laveau is one of the most well-known magical practitioners in the city among magical and non-magical alike, in the healing tradition, the name Cyril Saint-Cyr is one of the most well-known. Saint-Cyr was particularly interested in neurological and psychological healing potions, and was the inventor of the Endorphin Elixir as well as the Serotonin Serum. The Endorphin Elixir is often given to those suffering from arthritis, for which there is yet no magical or mundane cure. The Serotonin Serum, meanwhile, is often given to wizards and witches suffering from clinical depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, or who have recently experienced traumatic loss. The potion provides a safe boost in serotonin, which has been connected to confidence levels, while avoiding any dulling of the senses or some of the more insidious side effects many Muggle antidepressants may provide. The family of Saint-Cyr still operates many well-known apothecaries throughout the Southern United States.

This brings us to the end of Year Two. I reiterate, the topics discussed within this lesson will not be on the final exam. Your exam will consist of three parts: the first Potioneer's Log check-in, which will just verify that you have begun to maintain it, a cumulative final exam, and a final essay which will utilize the knowledge you learned this year in a cumulative fashion. Study hard and don’t take your exams too lightly. I hope to see all of you in Year Three where we will discuss various topics on healing.


Original lesson written by Professor Lucrezia Batyaeva
Images via Wikimedia Commons


In Year Two, Potions students will delve more deeply into potioneering, theory, and will explore in greater detail how certain potions can impact a witch or wizard's biological processes.
Course Prerequisites:
  • PTNS-101

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