Charms have a variety of uses: read on if you wish to be lucky in love, you need protection from catching a disease or you simply wish to make yourself invisible! In the magical world of Harry Potter, broomsticks are also charmed objects. broomsticks continue to have magical connotations today, and they are still used by modern-day witches and wizards.

Curators looking at Jim Kay's Study of Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy playing QuidditchThe British Library

'No Muggle illustration of a witch is complete without a broom...broomsticks and magic are inextricably linked in the Muggle mind.'

Quidditch Through the Ages

Olga Hunt's broomstickOriginal Source: The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle, 334

Olga Hunt’s Broomstick
Every witch or wizard should be able to fly on a broomstick. This traditional witch’s broomstick, with an elaborately coloured handle, belonged to Olga Hunt of Manaton, Devon.

She used it for magical purposes. On a Full Moon she is said to have leaped around Haytor Rocks on Dartmoor, much to the alarm of courting couples and campers.

Study of Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy playing Quidditch by Jim Kay, for The Chamber of SecretsThe British Library

Harry and Draco Flying
Jim Kay is illustrating the Harry Potter in brand new editions for Bloomsbury. In this preliminary painting for The Chamber of Secrets, Harry is shown squinting through the rain, his hands clasped firmly around his broomstick; a rain-blurred Draco Malfoy flies towards him in the background.

The History of the Lancashire Witches (1825)Original Source: 1078.i.25.(5.)

The Witches of Lancashire
This charming little book is entitled The History of the Lancashire Witches. It describes that English county as ‘famous for witches and the very strange pranks they have played’. Alongside this picture of a jolly witch mounting a broomstick, the anonymous author declares, ‘Lancashire witches chiefly divert themselves in merriment and sport’ and are ‘more sociable than any others’.

A Discourse of Witchcraft as it was Acted in the Family of Mr. Edward Fairfax of Fuystone (18th century)Original Source: Add MS 32496

Looks Familiar
Witches have long been associated with supernatural spirits known as familiars. This illustration shows Margaret Wait (no. 11) with her familiar (no. 12), described as ‘a deformed thing with many feet, rough with hair, the bigness of a cat’. Margaret was accused in 1621 of having used witchcraft to cause the sudden death of Anne Fairfax of Fewston, Yorkshire. The case collapsed when one of Anne’s friends admitted that she had invented the allegations, but this did not prevent the victim’s family from making this record of the alleged circumstances of her death.

This illustration shows Margaret Wait (no. 11) with her familiar (no. 12), described as ‘a deformed thing with many feet, rough with hair, the bigness of a cat’.

Greek handbook for magic (4th century)Original Source: Papyrus 46(5)

'Professor Flitwick called them in one by one into his class to see if they could make a pineapple tap-dance across as desk.'

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

A Magical Ring
This papyrus is part of an ancient Greek handbook for magic, made in Thebes in the 4th century. The handbook contains charms to discover thieves and to reveal peoples’ secret thoughts.

It also describes how to prepare this magical ring. The owner was advised to inscribe the ring with a charm and then to bury it in the ground. The inscription should be made according to the following formula: ‘May [something] never happen as long as this remains buried’.

Quintus Serenus, Liber medicinalis (13th century)Original Source: Royal MS 12 E XXIII

Some magical advice dispensed over the centuries seems rather quaint in a modern context. In ancient times, the incantation ‘Abracadabra’ was believed to be a charm with healing powers.

Quintus Serenus Sammonicus, physician to the Emperor Caracalla, prescribed ‘Abracadabra’ as a cure for malaria. He recommended that this word should be written out repeatedly, each time omitting one letter. The charm should be worn as an amulet around the neck, fixed with either flax, coral stones or the fat of a lion.

A magical textbook showing an invisibility spellThe British Library

‘“I was thinking, the first thing we should do is Expelliarmus, you know, the Disarming Charm.” ’
Harry Potter, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

The Book of King Solomon called The Key of KnowledgeOriginal Source: Add MS 36674

How Experiments to be Invisible Must Be Prepared

Have you ever wondered how to make yourself invisible? According to this 17th-century English manuscript, entitled The Book of King Solomon called The Key of Knowledge, you simply have to recite the following words (don’t blame us if the charm doesn’t work!).

‘Stabbon, Asen, Gabellum, Saneney, Noty, Enobal, Labonerem, Balametum, Balnon, Tygumel, Millegaly, Iuneneis, Hearma, Hamorache, Yesa, Seya, Senoy, Henen, Barucatha, Acararas, Taracub, Caramy, by the mercy whitch you beare towardes mann kynde, make me to be invysible.’

Love charm (20th century)Original Source: The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle, 1022

A Love Charm
This love charm was made in the Netherlands sometime in the 20th century. It was painted onto an oyster shell, to ensure fertility, and produced for a couple whose first initials were ‘J’ and ‘R’. These letters are bound together with red thread, while a pair of touching hearts represents their love. Above are the couple’s star signs: Taurus and Gemini.

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