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Exhibition: Magical Creatures

All things that we use on earth let us use them for good and not for evil.
Swiss-German physician and alchemist Paracelsus, 1533

Although the wizards of Harry Potter value learning and teaching about the world around them, they do not always respect the creatures in it.

Unicorns are considered sacred and pure creatures that should be used in magic without harming the animal. The evil Lord Voldemort disregards such warnings and cruelly slaughters several for their magical life-giving blood, exposing his disregard for the natural world.

Merpeople and centaurs, known in the series as “half-breeds,” are forced to live on segregated lands and are subject to laws about which they have no say.

Several of Harry’s mentors are bothered by the inequalities forced on these beings and feel that wizards could benefit by learning about many different magical cultures. Hogwarts’ headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, employs Firenze, a centaur, to teach Divination, where students learn about reading the future. For many of the young witches and wizards, Professor Firenze is the first centaur they have seen.

  • Ambroise Paré, Giullus Horbeck, 1584

    Courtesy National Library of Medicine

    The influential French surgeon Ambroise Paré (1510–1590), noted for using less invasive procedures than his contemporaries, believed that studying nature was important to understanding the world. Paré believed that everything on earth had been perfectly created, including the odd and unusual creatures he often wrote about in his works.

  • Les oeuvres d’Ambroise Paré (The works of Ambroise Paré), Ambroise Paré, 1633

    Courtesy National Library of Medicine

    Although not wholly convinced the animals existed, the French surgeon Ambroise Paré (1510–1590) included unicorns in his writings because of the numerous accounts of sightings and the creatures’ purported medicinal uses. Unicorn horn, such as that of the bihorn species Paré described, was commonly believed to neutralize poisons and many apothecaries claimed to stock it.

  • Bihorn species of unicorns from Les oeuvres d’Ambroise Paré (The works of Ambroise Paré), Ambroise Paré, 1633

    Although not wholly convinced the animals existed, the French surgeon Ambroise Paré (1510–1590) included unicorns in his writings because of the numerous accounts of sightings and the creatures’ purported medicinal uses. Unicorn horn, such as that of the bihorn species Paré described, was commonly believed to neutralize poisons and many apothecaries claimed to stock it.

  • Historiae Animalium (Studies on animals), Konrad Gesner, 1551

    Courtesy National Library of Medicine

    In his Historiae Animalium, Konrad Gesner explains that “Stories about the medicinal values of a unicorn’s horn, especially that it is an antidote to poisons, may have originated from similar Asian beliefs about the rhinoceros horn.”

  • Unicorn from Historiae Animalium (Studies on animals), Konrad Gesner, 1551

    In his Historiae Animalium, Konrad Gesner explains that “Stories about the medicinal values of a unicorn’s horn, especially that it is an antidote to poisons, may have originated from similar Asian beliefs about the rhinoceros horn.”

  • The works of that famous surgeon Ambroise Paré, Ambroise Paré, 1634

    Courtesy National Library of Medicine

  • Merpeople from The works of that famous surgeon Ambroise Paré, Ambroise Paré, 1634

    Courtesy National Library of Medicine

  • A human body and the astrological signs that govern it from Fasciculo de Medicina (Bundle of medicine), Joannes de Ketham, 1493/1494

    Courtesy National Library of Medicine

  • Centaur from Fasciculo de Medicina (Bundle of medicine), Joannes de Ketham, 1493/1494

  • Ambroise Paré, Giullus Horbeck, 1584

    Courtesy National Library of Medicine

    The influential French surgeon Ambroise Paré (1510–1590), noted for using less invasive procedures than his contemporaries, believed that studying nature was important to understanding the world. Paré believed that everything on earth had been perfectly created, including the odd and unusual creatures he often wrote about in his works.

  • Les oeuvres d’Ambroise Paré (The works of Ambroise Paré), Ambroise Paré, 1633

    Courtesy National Library of Medicine

    Although not wholly convinced the animals existed, the French surgeon Ambroise Paré (1510–1590) included unicorns in his writings because of the numerous accounts of sightings and the creatures’ purported medicinal uses. Unicorn horn, such as that of the bihorn species Paré described, was commonly believed to neutralize poisons and many apothecaries claimed to stock it.

    Bihorn species of unicorns from Les oeuvres d’Ambroise Paré (The works of Ambroise Paré), Ambroise Paré, 1633

    Although not wholly convinced the animals existed, the French surgeon Ambroise Paré (1510–1590) included unicorns in his writings because of the numerous accounts of sightings and the creatures’ purported medicinal uses. Unicorn horn, such as that of the bihorn species Paré described, was commonly believed to neutralize poisons and many apothecaries claimed to stock it.

  • Historiae Animalium (Studies on animals), Konrad Gesner, 1551

    Courtesy National Library of Medicine

    In his Historiae Animalium, Konrad Gesner explains that “Stories about the medicinal values of a unicorn’s horn, especially that it is an antidote to poisons, may have originated from similar Asian beliefs about the rhinoceros horn.”

    Unicorn from Historiae Animalium (Studies on animals), Konrad Gesner, 1551

    In his Historiae Animalium, Konrad Gesner explains that “Stories about the medicinal values of a unicorn’s horn, especially that it is an antidote to poisons, may have originated from similar Asian beliefs about the rhinoceros horn.”

  • The works of that famous surgeon Ambroise Paré, Ambroise Paré, 1634

    Courtesy National Library of Medicine

    Merpeople from The works of that famous surgeon Ambroise Paré, Ambroise Paré, 1634

    Courtesy National Library of Medicine

  • A human body and the astrological signs that govern it from Fasciculo de Medicina (Bundle of medicine), Joannes de Ketham, 1493/1494

    Courtesy National Library of Medicine

    Centaur from Fasciculo de Medicina (Bundle of medicine), Joannes de Ketham, 1493/1494

All things that we use on earth let us use them for good and not for evil.
Swiss-German physician and alchemist Paracelsus, 1533

Although the wizards of Harry Potter value learning and teaching about the world around them, they do not always respect the creatures in it.

Unicorns are considered sacred and pure creatures that should be used in magic without harming the animal. The evil Lord Voldemort disregards such warnings and cruelly slaughters several for their magical life-giving blood, exposing his disregard for the natural world.

Merpeople and centaurs, known in the series as “half-breeds,” are forced to live on segregated lands and are subject to laws about which they have no say.

Several of Harry’s mentors are bothered by the inequalities forced on these beings and feel that wizards could benefit by learning about many different magical cultures. Hogwarts’ headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, employs Firenze, a centaur, to teach Divination, where students learn about reading the future. For many of the young witches and wizards, Professor Firenze is the first centaur they have seen.