The Physics of Magic
by Matt Blackstone
Much has been discussed about how wands “choose” a wizard. For a wand to choose, it would have to be sentient. It is not logical that a combination of wood and some part of a magical animal manufactured by Ollivander could suddenly have free will. If it did, it would sometimes choose not to work, for instance, when it disagreed with a wizard’s actions. Some phenomena therefore must appear as free will in the “choosing” of a wizard. Despite the Potterverse’s magical nature, it is not inappropriate to look to physics and science in a search for parallels. I postulate that magic behaves in the same way as all forms of energy.
First, I will provide a review of how energy is viewed in basic physics and chemistry. Energy, as does light, travels in waves. The frequency of these waves determines the energy. These energy waves interact with matter and some, like certain frequencies of ultraviolet and infrared energy waves, can excite molecules of a sympathetic frequency and cause it to behave differently. Energy usually travels at the speed of light, in many different forms. The higher energy is radiation, such as gamma rays. Then, in order of decreasing energy, there exists ultraviolet, visible light in blue, yellow, and red, then infrared and other low energy forms. Prisms break the different frequencies of light apart, as can be seen in rainbows. There is no reason to believe energy behaves any differently in the magical world.
The source of this magical energy must be identified. Simple magic, such as levitation, does not require much energy. It is a simple matter of counteracting gravity. Muggles do it using technology. Unlocking doors is also a simple matter of moving the tumblers and pins in the lock. However, conjuring would require a huge amount of energy. For example, Dumbledore’s armchair in OotP would require several times the power of a nuclear missile. This energy could originate in the wizard himself. It could also be stored in some other dimension that wizards and witches have the ability to tap into and channel. However, the energy cannot originate in the wand as magic is often performed without a wand.
Magic without a wand behaves very differently than magic with one. Every instance of wandless magic is uncontrolled. The very first instance is when Harry is at the zoo in PS/SS. He had no intention of removing the glass, it just happened. Later, Aunt Marge was on the receiving end of uncontrolled, wandless magic that Harry performed in PoA.
Finally, I get to the point. Usually, energy is unfocused. However, lenses and polarizing tools can be used to change that. A magnifying glass can be used to focus and concentrate light for use in other purposes. Mirrors and neon or other noble gases or gems can be used to polarize light, or align light into lasers. Wands can be viewed in the same manner as these lenses and equipment.
If the energy from the source is random and uncontrolled, as is indicated by the uncontrolled nature of wandless magic, some means of ordering and controlling is needed. Wands appear to behave in the same manner as lenses do when dealing with light. The magical energy is focused into a useable form when using a wand. The choosing of a wizard by a wand is connected to this.
Each branch of magic may be viewed as a different frequency of energy. For example, transfiguration would appear to be a very high energy frequency because of the energy transferred in vanishing and conjuring. Charms, with summoning and levitation spells, would be low frequency magic. Ollivander speaks of wands as being good for specific types of magic. This could be because different wands are better suited to focus different frequencies of magical energy as different equipment is needed to focus different kinds of regular energy.
If untrained wizards and witches emit small amounts of a specific frequency of magical energy, the wand choosing could be the magical frequency the wizard or witch naturally taps into being channeled and focused and would be an indication of which wand the wizard should use. For example, Lily naturally tapped into low frequency energy and got a wand good for charms. Dumbledore’s wand is most likely for high frequency given his talents at transfiguration and other types of advanced magic. Ron using Charlie’s old wand may not have been that bad. The similarity of the Weasley boys may mean they tap into close energy frequencies. The more violent reaction when Lockhart tried to use Ron’s broken wand could be an incompatibility of frequencies. It is also possible some wands are useful for many frequencies but not exceptional for any specific use.
A couple of important details can also be explained in this manner. When Voldemort transferred his powers to Harry, he also would have ensured they use the same frequency of energy. Thus, when Harry went to buy his wand, he got the brother of Voldemort’s wand. Given that Harry was difficult to find a wand for, Harry and Voldemort are probably at one extreme or the other. When Harry and Voldemort duel, the similar frequency of energy emitted could be the cause of the reverse spell effect.
In fact, Rowling’s description of the shimmering lights and vibrating wands support this view of wand behavior. Energy and sound waves in harmony can amplify or cancel each other out depending on the situation. Viewing the behavior of magic and wands in this manner can be used to predict aspects of books 6 and 7. For example, I do not believe the fight between Harry and Voldemort can be decided in a duel unless one of them has a different wand. It will also be interesting to see if Neville suddenly develops an aptitude for something besides Herbology. Rowling has also mentioned Lily’s wand being good for charms is important. Perhaps Harry can use multiple frequencies.
It will be interesting to see if the analogy continues to hold up.