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As long as there have been Witches and Wizards, there have been magical wands. No part of Harry Potter’s magical heritage goes back further. The ancient Celtic Druids who lived in what is now called Scotland employed wands all the way back to 500 BC. As a matter of fact, “Druid” actually means “man with the wisdom of the wood”.
In those olden times, the Druids came to know a great deal about the magical qualities of each tree in their forests, many of the trees becoming sacred to them. For example, they came to believe that the ash tree is good for healing, cedar is the tree of life which can imbue you with energy, the strong elm tree can add power to a spell, and burning birch bark is a powerful love potion.
The Druids were also responsible for the keeping of the Celtic Calendar. They created a system of classifications for wood that is similar to horoscopes, a set of beliefs which are almost as old as man himself. To a special group of 13 magical trees, they identified the period of days that affects the personality and future of the person born during that period. This is the Celtic Tree Calendar:
|Birch||December 24 to January 20|
|Rowan||January 21 to February 17|
|Ash||February 18 to March 17|
|Alder||March 18 to April 14|
|Willow||April 15 to May 12|
|Hawthorn||May 13 to June 9|
|Oak||June 10 to July 7|
|Holly||July 8 to August 4|
|Hazel||August 5 to September 1|
|Vine||September 2 to September 29|
|Ivy||September 30 to October 27|
|Reed||October 28 to November 24|
|Elder||November 25 to December 22|
By the way, there’s no tree for someone born on December 23, because in those days they used a lunar calendar of 13 months with 28 days each, which makes a year of 364 days. But our solar year has 365 days, so these early peoples celebrated the “year and a day”, giving December 23 special significance. The winter solstice, the time of Yule, remains important to Witches and Wizards to this day.
As we know, Mr. Ollivander is fond of saying, “It’s the wand that chooses the Wizard.” But is that entirely true?
We know from the Druids that wands made from the wood of certain trees would seem to be better suited to certain people depending on when they were born, and this wood also tells you something about the person. So, a wand made from the wood of your birth tree would usually be a good match for you. But there are also many other factors that make one wand more suitable for a particular Wizard than another.
We sometimes see that the size of the wand matches the size of the Witch or Wizard who wields it. For example, Dolores Umbridge is a squat woman with no neck, and her wand was also unusually short. Also, our big friend Hagrid’s original wand was unusually long, at sixteen inches. (This wand was broken in disgrace, but we now know that Hagrid turned out to be wrongfully accused.) So it would seem size and shape sometimes complement the wand’s owner.
Different kinds of woods also have characteristics that are beneficial to different magical activities. For example, Holly can protect you against evil, Mahogany is known to be a good wand wood for transfiguration, whereas Willow is good for charm work.
If you ask a master wand maker like Ollivander or Gregorovitch, they’ll probably tell you the most important ingredient that determines a wand’s characteristics is its magical core. Although almost any magical creature can be used, the most commonly used in Britain are dragon heartstring, which results in a wand that is good for hexes, unicorn tail hair, which make good wands for the pure of heart, and phoenix feather, resulting in wands more powerful than ones made from any other core.
It’s possible that other magical creatures could also be used for wand cores. Veela hair would probably produce a temperamental wand because of the volatile nature of the veela themselves. Leprechaun hair might be popular among Irish Wizards, and Hippogriff Talon could result in a wand that demands respect.
So, if your wand matches your birth wood or your physical or personal characteristics, it would seem that you had chosen the wand. But if the characteristics of the wood and the wand’s magical core are tailored to what kind of magic might be dominant in your future, something about yourself you most likely don’t know yet, say, if you were to become someone more interested in transfiguration than potions, then it seems the wand is picking you. Mr. Ollivander notwithstanding, I think we can see that it is a combination of both the wand picking the wizard, and vice versa.
But what does a wand do, and how does it do it? That question is equally as interesting.
Most Witches and Wizards think of their wands as indispensable. Having acquired the wand at age 11 and usually keeping the same wand all their life, most Wizards become very attached to their wands. Is the emotional bond most Wizards feel with their wand real, physically caused by the properties of the wand’s wood and its magical core? Or are these effects all in the Wizard’s mind, the result of the powerful symbolism of the wand’s materials? Or some combination thereof?
Many Wizards would feel lost without their wands, unable to do most magic without it. But we’ve also seen examples of when a Wizard has done magic involuntarily, out of fright or anger, and they didn’t need their wands then. In fact, powerful Wizards such as Dumbledore frequently do impressive magic with just the wave of a hand.
No matter how powerful the magical core of a wand is, in the hand of someone non-magical (a muggle or a squib), the wand is just a useless stick. However, the very same wand in the hand of a Wizard can be a formidable force. So this would mean that the wand gets its magical energy from its user.
Many think a wand is a “magic amplifier”, but I think its actually more technically correct to say that wands function as a “magic focuser”. In the same way a convex glass can focus sunlight enough to create a small fire, a wand focuses the magical energy of its user, not necessarily increasing the magic power, just making it more intense. Sparks shoot out the end of a wand being held by a Wizard who has been surprised or upset. No spell to produce sparks from the wand tip is issued, in fact, no spell involving sparks in any way at all. However, the Wizard’s magical energy, normally being focused by the wand, is channeled out the tip of the wand when the energy unexpectedly increases. (This is a good reason not to store your wand in your back pocket, as Professor Moody is fond of reminding us.)
The energy being focused by a wand is not physically apparent during most magic. For example, if a Wizard is using the leviosa charm on something, you see their wand move as they point at it, and you see the object move, but you can’t see the energy involved. However, the wand energy focusing effect is most obviously illustrated by a spell that even the youngest Witch or Wizard can perform. When a Wizard performs the lumos spell with his wand, his magical energy is focused through his wand and emanates out the tip of the wand as a bright light.
When a Wizard does magic, there are undoubtedly so many things involved that they must keep track of at the same time. When doing a spell, a Wizard must remember the incantation and proper wand movement, set upon a subject (or victim, depending on what kind of spell is involved), summon a proper emotion, conviction and memories, envision the magical energy, and so many other factors. Wands assist with this process by taking care of some of the focusing for the Wizard. It’s much easier and faster to hex someone by pointing your wand at their face than trying to imagine their face in your mind’s eye. (Beyond Hogwarts does not condone the indiscriminate use of hexes.)
So, we can now see how, just like a glass with the correct properties can focus light, a wand with all its magical properties, the kind of wood, its complementary size, its magical core, and even the emotional bond the Wizard forms with the wand itself, all combine to help Wizards in a very personal way to perform their everyday magic in ways they usually don’t notice, but would surely miss if they didn’t have a wand in their hand.
If you’ll pardon me, I need to go now and give my wand a good and proper polishing.