Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a Ravenclaw (GO CLAWS). I'm a huge fan of the Harry Potter books and movies, but also of the expanded universe that JK Rowling has created. I've already written about wand cores and time travel, and I'm super excited about the History of Magic books coming out in November. So, imagine my surprise when I found out that the Brotherhood of Purity, a secret club from 8th century Iraq who (according to some scholars) formed the basis of Ismaili thought, dedicated a chapter in their encyclopedia to magic! Obviously, what the Brohood wrote is a far cry from the Wizarding World, but I've already opened a Chrome tab of Harry Potter gifs and it's too late to turn back, now.
So, a lot of what the Brohood’s explanation of magic relies on is a definition of the soul. When reading the Encyclopedia, I skipped straight from geometry (the second chapter) to magic (one of the last chapters), partly because my local library doesn’t have all the volumes and partly because it’s magic! I mean, come on dude! So I missed the in depth explanation of the soul, what it is and what it does. For this blog, take a look at my summary of Nasir adDin Tusi’s explanation of the soul, because he would have been exposed to the same teachings published in the Encyclopedia. And moving forward (with pretty much any post on this blog, unless specified otherwise), the words soul and intellect are interchangeable.
The basis of what the Brohood describes as “magic” comes down to the interactions between souls. They specifically outline the interactions between human souls and other organic and celestial souls. They also emphasize the interaction between the rational and irascible parts of the human soul, and that one must conquer the other in order to be able to perform magic. Similarly, in the Wizarding World, we see magic as an expression of unseen characteristics of the people who cast it; spells often rely on the personality and emotions of the witches and wizards. Magic in Rowling’s Wizarding World can act as an excellent metaphor to describe the same magic that’s noted in the encyclopedia by the Brotherhood of Purity.
The Brohood emphasize that because the soul is what dictates our actions and thoughts, it’s what gives us the characteristics that make up our personality. All of the magic that the Brohood describes comes from this sense of personality and intention. Your personality dictates what kind of magic you can do and how effective it is.
Similarly, the first thing students do when they arrive at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is sit under a singing, mind-reading hat. The Sorting Hat uses legilimency to figure out the student’s personality and sort them into their houses. The Hat essentially reads the soul of the student and places them accordingly.
Sometimes, the choices that the Hat makes aren’t the most obvious, like with all the main characters of Harry Potter: Neville should have been in Hufflepuff, Hermione in Ravenclaw (GO CLAWS), and Harry was a hair away from being in Slytherin. However, as the books progress, we see the characters grow into the personalities of the houses they were sorted into: Draco gets his Death Eater stamp, Hermione starts bending the rules, and Neville becomes sexy-Neville.
Likewise, the Brohood specifies that you can’t perform magic (or at least not effective magic) without first taming the Animal Soul: that is, it’s physical needs and characteristics. Instead, you must fully embrace the Human/Rational soul, the traits that come from the intellect. Since the Sorting Hat reads the Human Soul of the students, it doesn’t consider things like Neville’s and Ron’s (and Draco’s) initial cowardice. Those are just irascible traits, like Fight or Flight, that reflect the Animal Soul, not the rationality. The Sorting Hat knows that their human soul exhibits bravery and places them in Gryffindor (or Slytherin) accordingly. The students then spend their time at Hogwarts learning to conquer these irascible traits and express their Human Soul.
According to the Brohood, and the Ismaili thinkers that have come since, this conquering can only take place with strict discipline and adherence to religious ways of life (طريقة “tariqa” in Arabic). At Hogwarts, this is done by going to school literally all the time, and continuing the practice of magic in daily life, the same way a Muslim mystic would practice remembrance (ذِکْر “dhikr” in Arabic) in their lives. Magic for wizards is an inextricable part of their lives, the same way that spirituality is encouraged to be in Ismailis' lives.
Easily a fan favorite of the Harry Potter series is the idea of the patronus. I can’t be the only one that freaked out when Pottermore released the patronus quiz only to be disappointed when I found out I’m a bat (a bat? Really?). The Patronus Charm acts as a protector for the witch or wizard that casts it, but it’s conjured out of the intention of the witch or wizard. To cast it, you have to (in addition to being super advanced at magic) focus your attention on positive thoughts. The Patronus itself, if cast correctly, takes on a form (usually of an animal) that reflects the person who cast it. As we already described, the soul is what gives us our characteristics and personality, but the Brohood also explain animals also have souls. However, because of differences in biological capacity, the encyclopedia notes that animals usually only exhibit one of these characteristics: lions are brave, falcons are enthusiastic, snakes are sneaky, and badgers are “good finders” (funnily enough these specific traits are agreed upon by both Rowling and the Brohood, except the badgers). While these examples could be seen as personification, they illustrate an overlap between human and animal qualities. It could be in this overlap that the form of the Patronus Charm fits. The witch or wizard invokes a dominant personality trait, and the charm pairs it with an animal that shares the trait. Often times, the witch or wizard doesn’t know what form their patronus will take until they cast it. Because we humans are the sum of many characteristics, some of which change with experience, it’s likely that we wouldn’t be able to identify a “dominant trait” until one is shown, potentially through a patronus.
However, more powerful wizards are also able to dictate the form their patronus will take. For example, Minerva McGonagall’s patronus is her animagus. This kind of patronus would only be cast by witches and wizards that have conquered their irascible soul. No longer at the whim of physical desires, they only express their human soul. This is the highest point a non-prophet person can reach in what the Brohood (and Tusi and alSijistani) describes as “Divine Perfection”, so it makes sense that only the most advanced magical people can have this sort of control over their conjuring.
The Brohood’s encyclopedia already outlines that all organisms have souls, which give them characteristics, and that the interaction of these souls can influence the world in magical ways. In addition to humans and animals having souls, where the characteristics come out through their actions, plants also have characteristics which, although they’re not readily apparent (with the exception of Muhammad’s favorite date tree), are still instilled in the plant itself. In Rowling’s Wizarding World, these characteristics are still a part of the plant (the tree, in this case) when it’s cut and fashioned into a magical tool. According to wandmaker Garrick Ollivander: “every single wand is unique and will depend for its character on the particular tree and magical creature from which it derives its materials.” The “character” Ollivander refers to is its Vegetative Soul (to use Tusi’s words), and magic is performed when that soul interacts with the soul of the witch or wizard that uses it. Just like the Brohood describe, this is a reciprocal action: the human influences the wand and the wand influences the human: “each wand, from the moment it finds its ideal owner, will begin to learn from and teach its human partner.” Similar to the way animals are described as having a singular traits, each species of wood has its own traits which it lends to the person who uses it.
Tusi (and the current Imam) describes the soul as an inextricable part of the body: you can’t separate them without completely destroying one or the other. It could follow that body parts of animals (or people, but we’re talking about animals), could still be imbued with the soul. I’ll specify here that it’s not a “piece” of the soul because Tusi explains because it’s not a physical entity, the soul cannot actually be divided; we’re just gonna assume the entire soul is in the piece of animal. At this point, I’d also apologize to the vegetarians and vegans that may be reading this post, but I’m pretty sure the characteristics expressed by cow souls include deliciousness. As far as I know, wand cores only come from magical creatures (fantastic beasts, if you will), and I’m not sure how they fit into Tusi’s hierarchy of divine perfection. I can safely assume that they would trend higher than non-magical animals, based on the credence that magical creatures (such as the Buraq) are given in Islamic mythology.
The Brohood’s chapter on magic describes magic in the form of vague probability: certain souls interacting with other souls are more likely to produce certain results. It stays away from the concrete, instead referring the reader to established sources on the subject. Likewise, the practice of wand selecting is based on trial an error. And while, Garrick Ollivander limits his wands to only one of three cores (dragon heartstring, unicorn hair, and phoenix feather), previous experimentation shows that interactions with other souls can produce other magical results.
In addition to organic material, the Brohood also specifies some inorganic materials that one can interact with in order to produce magical effects. For example the stone of Armenia attracts the color black, alum supposedly cures stomach aches from the outside, and wolf’s tail cures colic (all three examples from Volume 52a: Chapter 7). Like human magic, these substances have properties that can interact with each other in otherwise unnatural ways. However, these properties would need to be “unlocked” by interacting with the soul of a particularly practiced magician. Likewise, Rowling writes: “There is always some element of wandwork necessary to make a potion”, affirming that muggles cannot actually make potions, even if they have the ingredients. In both cases, the person needs to apply their own personal magic in order to make the chemistry work. Like any other kind of magic described in the encyclopedia, and on Pottermore, a hefty amount of discipline and patience are required in order to create useful concoctions.
The Brohood’s encyclopaedia goes into great detail about astrology. According to them, the celestial spheres have their own souls and characteristics, and the way they interact can have an effect on how events transpire on earth. However, any introductory astronomy class will confirm that celestial spheres don’t actually exist, and are just an optical illusion based on our perception of other stars from earth. Today, astrologers use the position of celestial bodies in relation to each other in order to predict the future, but the Brohood instead used them to describe characteristics, only leaving absolute vagueness as far as prediction go. For example, they write that when the moon is in the zodiac constellation Taurus, it’s a good time to perform magic for families, but if it’s in Cancer, it’s a good time for hope and happiness (chapter 6). Most Islamic schools of thought disavow outright the ability to predict the future, and the Brohood of Purity use the stars only to comment on the present. They offer that some points in time would be better for pursuing certain goals, but they don’t give definitive results. Rowling also doesn’t give much credence to divination in her books. Although Harry’s story relies on a prophecy, its implementation is still very vague and subject to interpretation, based on what actually happens. But let’s be honest, when one of the smartest characters scoffs at an idea, it’s probably not a good idea to begin with.
Whether you believe in magic or not, there is a point that the Brotherhood of Purity made that when souls interact, they can change each other. Remember that here, the soul isn’t an external entity, but rather the summation of your thoughts, feelings, and personality: essentially what makes you you. While they’ve described human souls interacting with animal and celestial souls, I’ll bring the emphasis to human souls interacting with each other: you interacting with other people. When you interact with people, for better or for worse, a little bit of you rub off on them and a little bit of them rub off on you. That’s why you see friends or couples who have been together for a while start to resemble each other. However, if you really want to make “magic” happen. If you want to make an impact on the people around you, the first step is conquering yourself. The Brohood say that’s by disciplining your “animal instincts”, Rowling says that’s by learning magic. But really, it’s about becoming comfortable and confident in yourself, it’s about expressing yourself to those around you and being proud to do so.
I’ve heard a handful of stories from missionaries and older family members about going to the Imam and asking for a name for their unborn child. The people that tell the story are usually filled with awe at the Imam’s knowledge and foresight, as he gives a name that perfectly sums up their child (or their self, depending on who tells the story). While I’m not going to get into nominative descriptivism until I do more research (and it’s probably a topic for the other blog), while researching this entry, I came across Naming Seers. This is an older practice in Rowing’s Wizarding World where people would go to a powerful wizard and ask for a name for their children. This seer would often give the child a name that has something to do with the child’s future (experiences, personality, work, or whatever). There’s no underlying philosophy here, I just thought it was a cool overlap.