Ancient magic in … Harry Potter: Potions (1)

The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is packed with ancient magic. Whether it’s potions, dark arts, or herbology, it’s all there in the ancient magical papyri.

This post from the „Ancient Magic in …“ series is about potions that Professor Snape taught in his class, specifically: love potions!

In „Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,“ Professor Slughorn shows his class the potion Amortentia, the „most powerful love potion in the world“[1]. In the same volume Ron falls victim to a love potion, and only a powerful counter-potion can save him. Instructions for both have survived several times in the ancient magic manuals. In this post, we’ll focus on love potions.

In ancient magic, there are two types of potions:

  1. Potions made exclusively of natural ingredients, which are said to have special potency,
  2. Potions in the production of which higher powers are involved.

Here is an example of the first type:

Love Potion. Take lion wasps (?) hanging in a spider’s web, crush them into a potion and give it to drink. (PGM XIII, 319-320, translation following Preisendanz (1931), 103)


(C) Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden, Netherlands, Inv. no. AMS 76
Link to the papyrus:

And here is an example of the second type of ancient potions:

Beautiful Potion. Take hieratic papyrus and write on it: (Spell words) Love me, the NN, the NN, daughter of the NN, when she has taken the potion! (PGM VII, 969-972, translation after Preisendanz (1931), 42)

There is no free photograph available of this instruction. The papyrus scroll is partially digitized, a description in English with at least six images is provided on the web site of the British Library :

In Harry Potter, it is said about Amortentia that it is not possible to create true love by means of magic, only a strong desire to the point of obsession. In ancient magic, on the other hand, the idea of being able to effect true love actually existed. This could be achieved through extensive rituals involving various higher powers.

Karl Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae – The Greek Magic Papyri, Volume 1 (Leipzig, Berlin, 1928).

Karl Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae – Die griechischen Zauberpapyri, vol. 2 (Leipzig, Berlin, 1931).

[1] Chapter 9 Der Halbblutprinz. In der Hardcoverausgabe von Carlsen aus dem Jahr 2005 auf Seite 188.