CULTURE & ARTS
06/26/2017 12:51 pm ET

These Real, Magical Texts Are Straight Out Of 'Harry Potter'

Fantastical beasts and herbs from "Harry Potter," and where to actually find them -- at the New York Academy of Medicine.
The New York Academy of Medicine

Hippogriffs and centaurs, veela and grindylows, unicorns and basilisks ― thanks to J.K. Rowling and “Harry Potter,” mythical beasts like these have become familiar to millions. When he discovers he’s a wizard, Harry is swept off to a school where he learns about these fantastical creatures, as well as magical herbs and powerful potions gleaned from old scrolls of parchment and a library packed with yellowing old books.

But Rowling didn’t originally invent most of the magical beings and blooms in her books. Yes, centaurs and unicorns have had long mythological lives, but so have hippogriffs, veela, grindylows and basilisks; for ”Harry Potter,” she created her own versions of mystical flora and fauna that have been speculated about for centuries.

That means those moldering encyclopedias filled with magical creatures and herbs are real ― well, sort of ― and even us Muggles can curl up at a library with instructions for turning lead into gold or uprooting a mandrake without being tormented by its humanoid shriek.  

Not that we all have easy access to a trove of old alchemy texts, of course. Fortunately, the New York Academy of Medicine has come to the rescue: In celebration of the 20th anniversary of “Harry Potter,” they’ve compiled a digital collection of mythical texts found in their own collection that seem to be straight out of the Hogwarts library. 

Curator Anne Garner organized the exhibition after noticing that the library’s rare books collection included centuries-old texts on botany, medicine, zoology and even magic that were as fantastical as the subjects studied by Harry and his pals at Hogwarts. “J.K. Rowling’s beloved ‘Harry Potter’ series incorporates many of the stories and superstitions from early scientific writers eager to understand the natural world,” she said in a statement.

The collection includes supposedly scientific descriptions and ink drawings of creatures like merpeople, and plants like mandrakes, complete with little humans (male and female) at the root. Many of these fabled beings were documented, for centuries, alongside real living things like snakes and owls, Garner says. Though the natural historians clearly, and sometimes admittedly, hadn’t seen basilisks or phoenixes, they relied on secondhand description and word of mouth to attempt a thorough, reliable depiction.

It’s not just texts, either ― remember when Harry saved Ron’s life from a fatal poison by shoving a bezoar down his throat? The Academy has a real bezoar, a stony hairball often found in the stomach of a ruminant (theirs is from a cow), and it was indeed believed to be an antidote to poisons.

Check out a selection of the magical texts below, and head to the NYAM website to explore the whole collection.

  • Giambattista della Porta wrote this 1558 book, which attempted to use careful observation and experimentation to underst
    The New York Academy of Medicine
    Giambattista della Porta wrote this 1558 book, which attempted to use careful observation and experimentation to understand witchcraft. According to the Academy, the book "explained that some women accused of witchcraft may have used herbal lotions that contained hallucinogenic properties, prompting them to imagine they could fly."
  • In this plate from Jean-Jacques Manget's 1702 text&nbsp;<i>Bibliotheca Curiosa</i>, an illustration gives would-be alchemists
    The New York Academy of Medicine
    In this plate from Jean-Jacques Manget's 1702 text Bibliotheca Curiosa, an illustration gives would-be alchemists instruction on how to turn baser metals into gold. The final instructions read, "Pray, read, read, read, reread, work and discover."
  • The Utriusque<i> Cosmi</i>&nbsp;(1619-1621) was written by an English astrologer named Robert Fludd. This illustration shows
    The New York Academy of Medicine
    The Utriusque Cosmi (1619-1621) was written by an English astrologer named Robert Fludd. This illustration shows the seven forms of divination, including palm-reading.
  • Gaspar Schott's&nbsp;<i>Physica curiosa</i>&nbsp;(1662) compiled&nbsp;all sorts of curious events, both real and imaginary. A
    The New York Academy of Medicine
    Gaspar Schott's Physica curiosa (1662) compiled all sorts of curious events, both real and imaginary. Among them, this centaur, which looks a bit different from the handsome Firenze.
  • Frenchman&nbsp;Pierre Pomet included this illustration of a bezoar -- cross-sectioned to reveal its core -- and the goat from
    The New York Academy of Medicine
    Frenchman Pierre Pomet included this illustration of a bezoar -- cross-sectioned to reveal its core -- and the goat from which it came in his 17th century guide to medicinal drugs.
  • In&nbsp;Pomet's compendium of drugs, he lists no fewer than five types of unicorn horn. Narwhal horns were often sold as unic
    The New York Academy of Medicine
    In Pomet's compendium of drugs, he lists no fewer than five types of unicorn horn. Narwhal horns were often sold as unicorn horn for medicinal purposes. 
  • Aldrovandi's&nbsp;<i>Monstrorum historia&nbsp;</i>included mythical birds like griffins, harpies and this phoenix.
    The New York Academy of Medicine
    Aldrovandi's Monstrorum historia included mythical birds like griffins, harpies and this phoenix.
  • Ulisse Aldrovandi, a 16th-century naturalist, included this&nbsp;basilisk in his book&nbsp;<i>Serpentum, et draconum historia
    The New York Academy of Medicine
    Ulisse Aldrovandi, a 16th-century naturalist, included this basilisk in his book Serpentum, et draconum historiae libri duo. The Academy exhibition notes that in the books, "Rowling preserves many details of the accounts from sixteenth- and seventeenth-century sources about this terrifying snake, including his birth from a chicken's egg hatched under a toad, and a gaze that could kill."
  • Aldrovandi's <i>Monstrorum historia&nbsp;</i>also contained accounts of merpeople, like this fish-tailed couple.
    The New York Academy of Medicine
    Aldrovandi's Monstrorum historia also contained accounts of merpeople, like this fish-tailed couple.
  • Aldrovandi's compendium of reptiles contained woodcuts and descriptions of both real serpents and what we now know to be myth
    The New York Academy of Medicine
    Aldrovandi's compendium of reptiles contained woodcuts and descriptions of both real serpents and what we now know to be mythical beasts, like these dragons.
  • "Early modern naturalists frequently relied on seafarers' tales of ocean voyages to augment their knowledge of sea life," not
    The New York Academy of Medicine
    "Early modern naturalists frequently relied on seafarers' tales of ocean voyages to augment their knowledge of sea life," notes the Academy. Sixteenth-century French surgeon Ambroise Paré probably used these secondhand accounts to draw the mermen.
  • Par&eacute; anatomizes a number of dragons in his collected works. According to the Academy, he cites the Roman historian Pli
    The New York Academy of Medicine
    Paré anatomizes a number of dragons in his collected works. According to the Academy, he cites the Roman historian Pliny as a source, writing: "Pliny saith, that there are Dragons found in Aethiopia of ten Cubits long, but that in India there are Dragons of an hundred foot long, that fly so high, that they fetch Birds, and take their prey even from the midst of the clouds."
  • Swiss naturalist Conrad Gessner&nbsp;composed a massive encyclopedia, the&nbsp;<i>Historia Animalium</i>, which cataloged rea
    The New York Academy of Medicine
    Swiss naturalist Conrad Gessner composed a massive encyclopedia, the Historia Animalium, which cataloged real creatures like birds and cats alongside fantasy beasts like the unicorn. Like Pomet, he touts the healing properties of unicorn horn.
  • The 15th century German herbalist guide&nbsp;<i>Hortus Sanitatis&nbsp;</i>explains how to remove mandrakes from the ground wi
    The New York Academy of Medicine
    The 15th century German herbalist guide Hortus Sanitatis explains how to remove mandrakes from the ground without being knocked out by the screams of the plant's roots. According to the Academy, the real plant's bifurcated roots bear a resemblance to the human form, which explains the old myth that they're actually little people.

From June 1 to 30, HuffPost is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the very first “Harry Potter” book by reminiscing about all things Hogwarts. Accio childhood memories.

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