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Herbology & Ayurveda

November 27, 2010

One of the subjects studied by the witches and wizards in Hogwarts is Herbology. As the name suggests, it is a study of herbs and shrubs and their use in medicine. The medical system of wizarding world derives primarily from the discipline of Herbology.

“Herbology is the study of plants and is taught at all good wizarding schools.”[1]

Witches have long been associated with herbs. As discussed above, women labeled as ‘witches’ were often expert doctors in the traditional disciplines of medicine, usually derived from the local herbs and shrubs. Similarly, Ayurveda, the medical science of India is also steeped in herbs.

Herbology of the wizarding world is not a random science. Rowling did not just think of a name and put some random, bizarre names to make it magical. Many of the herbs mentioned in the books really exist. Rowling has made a detailed study of the pagan mythology of Britain and Europe and has also studied the parallel disciplines of medicine. J K Rowling has researched the ancient and medieval annals of Europe in order to dig out the names and uses of these weeds, many of which are now a rarity for the modern world.

To dig out these references must be hard for another reason too. As discussed above, Christianity banned all kinds of traditional medicine, practiced by women, labeling this art of medicine as witchcraft and burned women doctors on stake.

Instead, all of this traditional wisdom was replaced by the barbarous and stupid practice of bleeding which resulted in the deaths of countless during the medieval ages.[2]

This is not the story of the medical system in India. In India, the traditional system of medicine, Ayurveda, was never banned. In fact, it was held in high esteem. This was due to the fact that India was Hindu and not Christian, and Hinduism did not hate traditional wisdom like Christianity did and still does.[3] Christianity had a reason to fear the traditional wisdom. It had a political aim. It wanted to convert everyone to Christianity. However, people had faith in the traditional wisdom of women doctors, who were pagan and hence resisted converting to Christianity. Moreover, Christianity had next to nothing, to sell to the populace. That is why it had to devise the plans to slander women doctors as witches. An ideology, as cut off from Nature as Christianity, can never comprehend the extent to which Nature and its various components affect the human body.

The home-made pagan remedies made health care decentralized. There was no need of a single Savior, let alone the last one. All these pagan practices of healthcare were generally the department of women, as they had a more intimate knowledge of their immediate environment than men, as women generally were gatherers and men, the hunters.

Hinduism, being a pagan religion, did not aim to convert people to any ideology and it incorporated the traditional wisdom into its system. This is the reason that Ayurveda is still a live branch of medicine in India and Ayurveda is undergoing a worldwide revival for the last few years.

Ayurveda, the science of life is a system of traditional medicine native to India. In Sanskrit, the word Ayurveda consists of the words āyus, meaning “longevity”, and Veda, meaning “related to knowledge” or “science”. The principles of Ayurveda are an invaluable link to understanding, in detail, naturally healthy living. In this system, one takes personal responsibility for one’s own well being.[4]

Ayurveda is a science of life. Life according to Ayurveda is a combination of senses – mind, body and soul. Ayurveda is not only limited to body or physical symptoms but takes into account the spiritual, mental and social aspects.

Herbology of the wizarding world and Ayurveda of Sanatana Dharma have many similarities. Both use herbs and shrubs. Both use animal parts in making various mixes and potions. Both believe in a holistic system where medicine works along with the daily habits of a person.

Herbology and Potions are given as much respect in the wizarding world as Ayurveda is given in the Hindu society. Instead of regarding the medicinal practices of medieval times as evil and castigating them as Satanic, Rowling has imparted them a place of glory. Rowling’s world of medicine reminds one of Ayurveda and its practices.

The importance of Potions is made clear by Severus Snape in a very famous paragraph in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone:

“I don’t expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses… I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death — if you aren’t as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach…”[5]

There are many books concerning the subject as “One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi”, “Advanced Potion Making”, “Magical Drafts and Potions” etc. The books mock the vilification campaign of the Church in a very subtle manner, as in names of books such as “Holidays with Hags”.

Rowling has transformed the notoriety of the witches to fame. With great calm, Rowling returns us back to the pre-Christian notion of medicine.

[1] Stouffer, Tere. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the World of Harry Potter. New York: Alpha. 2007. p. 133.

[2] Helen Ellerbe

[3] Svoboda, Robert E. Ayurveda: Life, Health and Longevity. Albuquerque: Penguin Books. 2004. p. viii.

[4] Ibid. p. ix.

[5] Rowling, J K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic Inc. 1997. p. 137.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 29, 2010 12:19 PM

    Herbology of the wizarding world is not a random science. Rowling did not just think of a name and put some random, bizarre names to make it magical. Many of the herbs mentioned in the books really exist. Rowling has made a detailed study of the pagan mythology of Britain and Europe and has also studied the parallel disciplines of medicine

    I was reminded of Robert Graves who developed a sophisticated analysis of pre-Xtian tree symbology.
    IMO his powerful novel King Jesus (1946) was ripped off by Salman Rushdie in that chapter of Satanic Verses where the Goddesses have their revenge on Mahound.
    Graves was quite crazy but the last great poet of the English language.

    It will be very interesting to see how Rowling evolves and what her ultimate message might be.

  2. December 21, 2010 3:34 PM

    I read this piece and intend to read others. As I have not read a single sentence from Rowling’s, I find it difficult to connect with your writing and at the same time I feel it somehow uncomfortable to discuss aspects of Indian civilization in reference to stories like that of Rowling’s. It’s sure that something I am missing in my way of looking at things. Anyway its very attractive blog which contains indeed thought provoking and well written themes.

    • May 15, 2011 8:29 AM

      I understand your reservations against making connections like this. I myself have made this point in one of these articles.

      Symbols exist, but we should be careful before making any connections.

      Regarding Rowling and her work, I have some strong reasons to make these connections.

      You need not read the works deeply for making the connections. Watch the movies and you will get the gist of it…

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