Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them introduces its audience to a new corner of the Potterverse. While there are plenty of similarities between wizarding culture and society in Great Britain and the United States, each magical community sprang up from different roots and were shaped by very different historical events, according to canon. Differentiating them is part of Fantastic Beasts’s fun.
The North American magical community doesn’t have the same kind of centuries-long history that gave rise to establishments like Hogwarts and the Triwizard Tournament. From Salem to Ilvermorny, North American magical history was informed by tragedy, persecution, and desperate attempts to keep both wizardkind and the No-Maj community safe. American magic, according to J.K. Rowling, is different than British magic, because it developed under different circumstances.
Ilvermorny is now considered one of the best wizarding schools in the world, but it had very humble beginnings. Unlike Hogwarts, which was founded by four powerful wizards in the 10th century, Ilvermorny started with Isolt Sayre and James Stewart and their “adopted” children, Chadwick and Webster. The school grew from a small homeschool operation to a major educational institution on par with Hogwarts as far as academic rigor.
Tina and Queenie are Ilvermorny alums in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and the film explores some healthy school rivalry when it crops up between Newt Scamander and the Goldstein sisters.
The Salem Witch Trials
The Salem Witch Trials were a tragic and defining moment in North American magical history. In the time before MACUSA and structured magical law enforcement, the wizarding community in North America was threatened by Scourers, who were ruthless mercenaries. Scourers played a role in the Salem Witch Trials, which cut down the magical population not just by sentencing and killing witches and wizards, but by creating an environment so hostile toward wizardkind that it affected the rate of wizard immigrants moving to America.
The Salem Witch Trials were part of the catalyst for the founding of MACUSA, which predated a similar form of organized No-Maj government in the United States by over a century.
Like the Ministry of Magic in the UK, MACUSA is the governing body of the wizarding community in America. It stands for Magical Congress of the United States of America, and though it’s now based in New York City, that wasn’t always the case.
In fact, MACUSA’s early history was a bit rocky. It was created in 1693, following the Salem Witch Trials and the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy. Deciding that wizardkind might be safer with its own community and infrastructure hidden from mainstream Muggle and No-Maj society, MACUSA was charged with creating a peace-keeping and justice system that was modeled after the Wizards Council of Great Britain (which later became the Ministry of Magic).
MACUSA’s law enforcement began as a force of twelve volunteer Aurors. It was a dangerous and deadly job, given the number of threats facing a relatively small force, but among the first Aurors were Abraham Potter (of distant relation to Harry Potter) and Gondulphus Graves, whose family member Percival Graves will be instrumental in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
MACUSA encountered some speed bumps along the road to the effective leadership of the magical community, though. Near detection from the No-Maj community courtesy of a pack of Crups in Williamsburg, Virginia and a Sasquatch uprising in Washington forced MACUSA to move their headquarters rather frequently in the first several centuries of its existence. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that MACUSA took up residence in the Woolworth building in New York City, but it’s headquarters have remained there since.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them arrives in theaters November 18.
Photos via Pottermore, Warner Bros. Pictures / Pottermore, Warner Bros. Pictures