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It now seems like a common idea, perhaps one with a long reaching tradition. But my Google results seem to be solely dominated by Harry Potter references. I've found references to wands with different things affixed to them like crystals or the like, but is Harry Potter really the originator of the idea of wands with special, magical cores?

To be clear, this question is specifically about a magical instrument, something like a wand maybe a sceptre or staff, that has some other special material inside of it where the material inside it is thought to have its own magical or special properties that make it good for use as a core in said magical instrument.

  • I am not sure about the specialization in wandlore but I am quite certain that wand magic is definitely not new. We know Cinderella's fairy Godmother had a wand... Mickey Mouse cartoon where Merlin was referenced showed a wand... There are also other objects like staves. – Shruti Joshi Aug 17 '18 at 9:15
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    This question is not about whether wands have been used before but specifically the use of special core materials inside the outer material of the wand. For ex the phoenix feather in harrys wand – Rhys Aug 17 '18 at 14:50
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    I am not sure this counts but back in the 1900s the historical Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn of London used wooden wands with a long magnetic wire as the core. – Winchell Chung Aug 20 '18 at 0:57
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    @WinchellChung just from looking it seems that the magnetic wire was believed by some to enhance the magic of the wand, so that would be a great example. But I'm also unsure as to whether that would count for an answer on the scifi stackexchange. Maybe someone could clarify. It's definitely interesting to me in any case! – Rhys Aug 20 '18 at 3:13
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    @Adamant youre right im looking for just any predecessor, but inspiration is too broad. Im already aware of wands and magical materials which may have inspired the idea, im asking if the idea of special magical cores has been seen before. None of the answers are examples of that but something like WinchellChung's comment would be – Rhys Aug 20 '18 at 22:21
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There is mention of this practice in Ancient Egyptian mythology referring to various scepters (two of them often seen in depictions of Pharaohs holding them). Many of these were composed of multiple layers of ivory, gold, limestone and other materials.

As requested, here's an example for a Pharaoh pretty much everyone knows: Tutankhamen. In his tomb, a gilded Sekhem scepter was found, as shown here. This scepter is made from sheet gold with wooden core inlaid with semi-precious stones.

The Sekhem (associated with the god Anubis) and Was scepters (associated with both Seth and Anubis) are symbols of power worn by Pharaohs from the earliest dynasties up to the time of Cleopatra, so many other examples exist. The holding of the scepters is ubiquitous in movies about Ancient Egypt, as shown here.

The construction of scepters in Ancient Egypt was done by strict rules according to Heka magic. Heka is both the name for magic and the name of the god that personifies magic.

Depiction of Heka holding a crook (also named Heka) scepter

Contrary to the suggestion in the comments, there was nothing "mundane" about the layering, and it's certainly not due to a lack of gold (just think of all the solid gold items found in Tutankhamen's tomb).

According to Heka, certain types of wood and other materials had magical properties. It is not difficult to understand why this was thought to be: wood only grows on the banks of the Nile and nowhere else in the vast domain that was Upper & Lower Ancient Egypt.

Heka is the oldest form of documented magic with a considerable volume of texts that survived both the Greek and Roman occupation, and is the basis for Khemetic (Khemet = Greek for Egypt) Wicca in Western Europe. As requested, here is an excerpt of a funerary magic text to create a Tet object, strongly associated with Osiris, ruler of the underworld and the judge of afterlife. It clearly describes the use of a sycamore wood core with golden body:

enter image description here

Even if we disregard this rather significant origin of magical layering, the idea isn't exclusive to JK Rowling novels. In Ultima Online, released in 1997, but the principle of crafting/imbuement was already present in the first alpha released in 1996, (so clearly before the publication of the first HP novel) there is the concept of cores to be harvested from monsters for imbuement.

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    Hi there! :) As far as I know, mythology is included in fiction here (see for instance Where did the notion that Dragons could speak originate? which is answered by Chinese mythology). Hence, it would be great from you to edit your answer with more sources: which Pharaos are we talking about? Do you have pictures or texts which mention that? Etc, etc. Cheers! – Jenayah Aug 18 '18 at 2:03
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    Thanks! Is there evidence that the wood used contributed to the magical nature of the sceptres? Does each part, the wood and gold and gems, have their own special or magical quality or something that would indicate the wood is more than just a building material? Some reference to the special/magical nature of the wooden cores would help this answer I think. – Rhys Aug 18 '18 at 4:58
  • The first thing that springs to mind is the ritual of the Ushabti, a wooden figurine to serve you in the afterlife. According to Heka (Ancient Egyptian magic), the figurine had to be cut from tamarisk or thorn wood to be able to serve the deceased. – Codosaur Aug 18 '18 at 5:28
  • That's cool, but still seems a bit disconnected. Was the wooden figurine then used as part of a wand? Or was that same process used for the core of a wand or sceptre? For instance celtic lore definitely had the idea of magical wood and different types of wood having different types of magical properties, but I can't find reference to that being applied for different "cores" of a magical instrument. Maybe that was an original idea from JK Rowling? – Rhys Aug 18 '18 at 7:02
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    Added textual reference to the construction of a Tet funerary protection object detailing the use of a wooden core. – Codosaur Aug 30 '18 at 10:45
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Yes

Harry Potter is the first piece of fiction to do so. There are many references to material having special or magical properties, as the Egypt answer says there are also references to Scepters with multiple layers of material used to make them. However the combination of one magical material (in this case wood) with another used as the core (usually something from a magical animal) is a creative leap made by JK Rowling, most likely inspired by other sources.

This answer is here for if no sufficient counterexamples are made.

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In Dungeons & Dragons, all magical items manufactured by wizards are required to be made from special components. For example, this is stated specifically in the Expert Rulebook (1983):

To create a magic item, the spell caster must first gather rare materials from which the item will be made. The DM should decide what is necessary. A scroll might require special parchment and a different formula of ink for each spell effect. Weapons might require rare metals, powdered gems forged into the metal, or the blood or skins of creatures to be specially affected by the weapon. These items should be difficult to obtain, and the spell caster will often have to adventure to acquire them, for there are no magic shops.

This includes magical wands as special cases. However, it should be noted that, in Dungeons & Dragons, wands are not general-purpose tools used for using magic; they are special-use items, which can each be used to produce only one (or, for particularly power wands, a small number of) magical effect, such as a lightning bolt, magical fear, or disintegration.

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    This doesn't say anything about cores of wands in particular, I'm afraid. – Adamant Aug 20 '18 at 17:47

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