The Art of Darkness

Thoughts on Castelobruxo

February 1st, 2016 by Cobwebs

The upcoming movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which takes place in the Harry Potter universe, involves a Hogwarts-like wizarding school in the U.S. Ahead of the film’s release J.K. Rowling has revealed that there are 11 “prestigious” magic schools around the world, and last week she named a few of them. One, Castelobruxo, is a “golden temple-like school” located in the Brazilian rainforest.

Intrepid commenter Bruno is Brazilian, and he had some Strong Opinions on the school as described by Rowling. I thought they were really interesting, and he’s kindly allowed me to re-post them here.

A few things stand out.

The placement of those schools only makes sense after European colonization. Disconsidering the current borders, Brazil and the USA are 2 of the unlikeliest places to have “traditional” wizarding schools in the Americas — much less likely than Mayan–Aztec Mexico and Inca Chile.

This matters a bit because we got *castles*. Correct me if I’m wrong, but castles are not a staple of US architecture. Nor are they common in Brazil, or in any of the Americas: we have pyramids, palaces and even some rather complex sites (Machu Picchu and Chichen Itza come to mind — again, Chile and Mexico made more sense for traditional wizarding communities from the get go). Even worse, the castle looks like ruins to muggle passers-by: there are no ruins in the Amazon region. Exactly two civilizations have claimed the Amazon historically: the current one, and one which didn’t leave ruins. A ruin in the Amazon would stand the hell out.

The whole thing sounds a bit too colonized and gimmicky: “Castelobruxo students wear bright green robes” — IN THE AMAZON? The Amazon is so hot the first time I went there I spent an entire week in bed because my blood pressure dropped and wouldn’t go up.

Jo certainly did her work studying the Brazilian folk and occult to write the piece on Castelobruxo, and she nailed our sense of humour alright too. But the place sounds more like something her Ron Weasley would come up with if pressed to imagine a Brazilian wizarding school than with what an actual school would look like.

So clearly this can be fixed. It won’t because the word is out, but rather than leaving this post on a negative note, here are some thoughts on what *could* have been better:

– If we’re talking traditional or at least historical wizarding schools/communities in the Americas, I guess Mexico and Chile would be the best places. I’ll leave to actual Mexicans and Chileans to imagine what they’d look like.

– If we’re going for more modern (post-colonial) schools, then we have the benefit of choosing known and well-established time periods for their foundation, and in turn choosing a place that makes sense. The Amazon makes no sense whatsoever, but the states of Bahia, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais have plenty of places I would place a large wizarding school that both fits our history and makes sense for the Potter universe.

– Brazil isn’t described as a culture melting pot for no reason. Our culture, language, religion, cuisines and much more were built upon many cultures: Portuguese, African (from many great cultures), Native (up until the early 20th century, more than half the territory spoke a Tupi-based language as its first or only language), and more recently Italian, German, Polish, Japanese and Arabic. Syncretism is at our core and the basis of our magic would be at least as African as it is European.

– As a territory, Brazil is very large (about as large as Europe) but the population is mostly concentrated around the shore-and-mines region, so it doesn’t make sense to have a single big school without research sites. At the very least, the Amazon and Pantanal would have such sites. Whichever state you pick from the list above, the other two and then some more in the Northeast would have them too. That’s how our actual academic grid is structured.

– We’re assuming the wizarding community followed the muggle civilization more or less neatly, but both Brazil and the US could (1) have had fascinating civil wars between its many nations and cultures of wizards, (2) don’t necessarily have a historical reason to fall neatly in modern republic in terms of territory and language. So maybe we should be looking at small and fractured wizarding communities supported by one or two big cities. That changes the whole landscape and how those schools would work.

– Just like the European witch folk-lore is based upon a few actual cultures and religions, Brazilian “magic” folk-lore is based upon a number of actual Native, African and European cultures and practices, and none more so than the religion umbanda, which mixes all three, has a self-experimental spiritual development path much like the European occult tradition, and is often perceived by christian prudes as devil worship and ill-intentioned magic. If I were to choose a single model for culture, clothing, imagery and structure, it would definitely have a lot of things in common with the umbanda culture.

Which…dang. He put a lot of thought into that, and he makes some really good points. It seems that Rowling’s vision of the school is very much the sort of thing that might be dreamt up by someone who’d read about Brazil but had no first-hand knowledge (which makes sense, considering who wrote it). Bruno’s dissection makes me wonder how the descriptions of the schools in Japan and Africa (which is…kind of a big place) would sound to anyone actually familiar with those areas.

Thanks, Bruno!

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