Muggletonians: Whence Potterverse’s ‘Muggles’?

The word ‘Muggle’ has become, like the words ‘Deathly Hallows’ and ‘Horcruxes’ and names like ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Voldemort,’ so much a part of our vocabularies that it doesn’t seem to have a meaning apart from the Hogwarts Saga or one greater than non-words like ‘Kodak’ or ‘Xerox.’ But I’m learning from reading I’m doing as research for my book on Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, oddly enough, that ‘Muggle’ has an extraordinary meaning and one that touches on the heart and soul of Mrs. Rowling’s artistry.

If you’re like me, the last thing you read on the subject of a meaning for the word ‘Muggle’ that was derived from another word or source than Mrs. Rowling’s imagination, it was the law suit brought against Bloomsbury/Scholastic by a writer named Nancy Stouffer, author of a book titled Rah and the Muggles. Ms. Stouffer lost her case in a summary judgment with a $50,000 penalty for bringing the case to court in the way she did.

But readers have been discussing possible meanings for the word ‘Muggle’ and come up with some intriguing ideas. The three you read about most often if making a simple Google search, as this 2003 fandom blogpost put it, are:

If you look up the word ‘muggle’ in most books of slang words, you will find that a word ‘muggle’ was used in America in the middle of the last century, referring to a type of drug cigarette.

I also read that the famous jazz singer Louis Armstrong made a record titled ‘Muggles’ in 1928, which has been reissued many times.

Anyway just for fun I looked in an old Victorian dictionary, and found a word ‘Muggletonian’. The dictionary said that in the year 1651 in England, a man called Lodovic Muggleton with his associate John Reeves set up a Christian cult society, called ‘The Muggletonians’.

Hard for me to take seriously the doped-cigarette or jazz single — but ‘Muggletonians’ is curious. The journal First Things, not an especially Potter-friendly site, discussed and dismissed the possible link of ‘Muggles’ and ‘Muggletonians’ in October, 2000:

* I have no idea who or what Joanne Rowling had in mind when in her Harry Potter books she called the ordinary and non-magical world the Muggle world, but she surely could not have been thinking of the Muggletonians, who appear to have been anything but ordinary. Here is the dustjacket description from a new book from Oxford University Press, edited by T. L. Underwood, The Acts of the Witnesses: The Autobiography of Lodowick Muggleton and Other Early Muggletonian Writing:

“The middle decades of the seventeenth century in England were marked by political and religious turmoil that included civil war, the execution of the king, the abolition of monarchy and episcopacy, and the establishment of a republican government with increased, yet limited, religious toleration. Over the past quarter century, scholars have developed particular interest in the more radical religious movements that arose in this tumultuous period, including Quakers, Seekers, Ranters, and Muggletonians.

“Drawing on material from a newly discovered archive, this book presents writings produced by the last group, an unusual sect founded in 1652 by John Reeve and Lodowick Muggleton. The Muggletonians are of special interest because they differ so dramatically from other religious groups of this time. Claiming that they were the last two witnesses of Revelation 11:3, Reeve and Muggleton acted as ultimate religious authorities on earth, blessing some people to eternal happiness and cursing others to everlasting damnation. Following Reeve’s death in 1658, Muggleton became sole leader of the movement that eventually took his name.

“Muggletonians were noted for their emphasis on Reeve and Muggleton’s authority (Muggleton claimed to `stand in God’s place’), their conception of God as a man between five and six feet tall who reigned in heaven some six miles above the earth, and the fact that their religious services consisted not of prayers and preachings, but of eating, drinking, singing, and discussing religious views in a local alehouse or home. Partly because they were not evangelistic, their numbers were never large, and by the twentieth century they were thought to be extinct. In the 1970s, however, Philip Noakes of Kent was identified as the `last Muggletonian’ and keeper of the group’s archive, which was acquired subsequently by the British Library.”

One thought is that if Harry Potter and his friends finally take over, there may one day be a book based on papers supplied by the last Muggle. My second thought, however, is that that would be a pity. There is a great deal to be said for a Muggle world that produces such as the Muggletonians. Give me theological bull sessions in an alehouse and I’ll forgo the magic.

In 2005 a writer of historical romances, contra First Things, thought there might be a case for Muggles being derived from Muggletonians — and tried to make the case in a blogpost titled ‘Muggles not just for Harry Potter?’ Two years later, a Leaky Lounge lurker received the book Isms and Ologies for Christmas and couldn’t resist posting the Rorschach test connection s/he saw in the words ‘Muggle’ and Muggletonianism:’

MUGGLETONIANISM: An obscure but surprisingly long-lasting English sect founded during the English civil wars by two cousins, John Reeve (1608 – 58) and Lodowick Muggleton (1609 – 98), who preached about the imminent apocalypse, declaring themselves the two witnesses in the Book of Revelation (11: 3 – 6) … [ they both wrote various books concerning their ideas]… Both of them spent time in prison for blasphemy.

[Muggleton was opposed to the Quakers, and wrote treatises against them.] By the 1670s Muggleton had endured several struggles over control of the sect and his message had changed radically. Now a quasi-Deist, he argued that since God no longer intervened in the world, prayer was useless (his followers met in taverns for Bible readings and hymn singing). He also denied the Trinity and the immortality of the soul. He understood Hell to be the state of unredeemed man; through reason and faith, he believed, heaven could be established on earth.

All very interesting but where is the link with Ms. Rowling’s conformist Muggles? A politically liberal and partisan blogger called ‘The Agonist’ tried something along these lines in 2008 in a post titled, ‘Harry Potter and the War against Muggles:’

A short check of Wikipedia turns up something of deeper interest. In the Potter saga the community of non-magicians carries the name of “Muggles.” The servants of Lord Voldemort are pledged to enslave the Muggles, just as they already have enslaved the elves. But that term “Muggles” recalls a millenarian Christian sect of the seventeenth century, the Muggletonians.

During the English Civil War, when for the first time in history a king was put on trial and condemned to death by a court, there took place an enormous intellectual ferment. More than a hundred years later, Patrick Henry, in his most admired speech, elicited cries of “Treason!” simply by mentioning the fact that “Charles the First [the executed king of England] had his Cromwell [the leader of the rebel army].” To refer, in 1775, to the judicial execution of the king of the realm in 1649, was obviously to tread on treacherous ground, so contested was the justice of the century-old event.

A couple of years after the execution of Charles the First, when Cromwell was in the course of consolidating his power, the Muggletonian sect began. In contrast to Cromwell, who wanted to tolerate all shades of English Protestant opinion, the Muggletonians were ferociously intolerant, and in fact famous for successfully wishing the death of several of their peace-loving opponents, the Quakers.

Curiously, the Wikipedia article on Muggletonianism doesn’t actually say anything about the historical Muggles being “ferociously intolerant;” if you read the statement of their beliefs on that page, you’ll learn that they didn’t think God was listening and they did believe in predestination and pacificism — so they didn’t pray and they wouldn’t fight about their beliefs (if they could deliver a wicked death curse…) because it’s all fated. What’s to be “intolerant” about?

The six principles of Muggletonianism have perhaps been best set out by George Williamson:

* There is no God but the glorified Man Christ Jesus.
* There is no devil but the unclean Reason of men.
* Heaven is an infinite abode of light above and beyond the stars.
* The place of Hell will be this Earth when sun, moon and stars are extinguished.
* Angels are the only beings of Pure Reason.
* The Soul dies with the body and will be raised with it.

These principles derive from Lodowicke Muggleton but he would have added one other matter as being of equal importance, namely, that God takes no immediate notice of doings in this world. If people sin, it is against their own consciences and not because God “catches them at it”. John Reeve’s formulation also included pacifism and the doctrine of the two seeds.

So we’re left with some pretty weak links between ‘Muggle’ as derived from ‘Muggletonian.’ The Wikipedia editors thought the connection sufficiently far-fetched yet still credible enough for the woefully credulous members of Harry Potter fandom to seriously discuss using the Muggletonian Wiki page as an April Fool’s Day joke:

Muggletonianism is the article which I would most like to see featured on April Fool’s. It is a real religion dating back 300 years but with the right sort of hook can be made to seem like some bored Harry Potter fans’ creation. The greatest problem I see is that the article needs a lot of copy-editing, and material on Muggletonianism seems hard to find, but I think it could be done. Soap Talk/Contributions 23:19, 22 February 2009 (UTC)

But (brace for rhetorical question) is there a link between Ms. Rowling’s Muggles and one of England’s 17th century Radical Reformation non-conformist sects, the Muggletonians? Would I be writing this if I didn’t think so?

No, I wouldn’t.

One text in the pile of books I am reading to acquaint myself with the theological underpinnings and historical background to the Latter-day Saint restoration is John L. Brooke’s The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology 1644-1844 (Cambridge University Press, 1994). Curiously, I think it possible, even probable, that Ms. Rowling read this book in her alchemical preparations for Harry’s time in the alembic and that Mrs. Meyer did, too, in her studies at BYU, in which LDS pond no doubt the book made a big splash on its publication.

For the discussion of why Refiner’s Fire is important for Twilight, go to Forks High School Professor, where I’ll explain that Carlysle Cullen is a priest’s son in the mid 17th century (say, around 1644?) because his veggie-vampire “vision” and “conscience” are the heart of Mormon theology as derived from Radical Reformation beliefs. Ms. Rowling’s connection with Refiner’s Fire is in her Muggles and Seekers, story stand-ins for Muggletonians and Quakers.

Tomorrow I’ll share the Quaker, Seeker, and alchemical links between Rowling’s and Brooke’s books. Today I just want to share Prof. Brooke’s comments about the Muggletonians:

The frustrated activism of the Fifth Monarchists was one response to the reversal of the tide of revolution in the early 1650’s; the mystical quietism of the Mugggletonians and the Quakers was another. Accommodating their doctrine to the force of civil authority in Protectorate and Restoration, the Muggletonians and Quakers, with the Fifth Monarchists-turned-Sabbatarians, would be the only organized survivors of revolutionary radicalism. If the Quakers were to be distinguished by their numbers and by their reach into the American colonies, the Muggletonians were distinguished by their extreme interpretation of the hermetic-Joachimite tradition.

Most fundamentally, the Muggletonians believed in a new dispensation. Rather than a future prospect, it had already arrived: a “Commission of the Spirit” had been revealed to two London tailors, John Reeves and Lodowick Muggleton, in February 1652. They were the Two Last Witnesses of Revelation 11:3, given a revelation to announce the opening of Joachim’s Third Age. Reeves’s A Divine Looking Glass was the sacred text for the new dispensation.

Opposing the militant advocacy of the coming Kingdom of the Fifth Monarchists, the Muggletonians shared a broad set of hermetic doctrines with the Seekers, Winstanley, and the Ranters, though giving each a unique twist.

* They believed in a primal materialism: creation had come from the substance of God.
* But they rejected the hermetic pantheism of a pervasive divinity: their God was a finite being about “five foot high,” complete with bodily parts.
* Where other sects preached a universal salvation or divinization, the Muggletonians were predestinarian; the touchstone of election was belief in Muggletonian doctrine.

Here they introduced a theme developed by Winstanley and rooted in Boehme’s hermeticism, that of the “two seeds.” Good and evil forces rested in the sexual events of Genesis: the good seed of the “blessed Israelites” was the product of the union of Adam and Eve, and the bad seed of the “cursed Canaanites” was the product of Even’s seduction by the devil. Descending among the separate peoples of Adam and Cain, the two seeds had been mixed by the intermarriage of these two lineages, and caused good and evil behavior in humanity.

But rather than elevating reason, as Winstanley did, Muggletonian belief made it the mark of the devil’s seed, with faith the mark of Adam’s seed. Belief in Muggletonian prophecy was a sufficient sign of a preponderance of Adams’ seed, and thus election. Organized among a loose group of small merchants and artisans in the Midlands and the south of England, Muggletonianism survived in a small way into the twentieth century. It would have interesting echoes among the sectarians of eighteenth-century southeast Connecticut, the region from which Joseph Smith’s mother came, and in the texts and ethos of the Mormon church.

Refiner’s Fire, pages 24-25

Prof. Brooke makes three connections between Muggletonians and Mormons, namely, (1) the “two seeds” doctrine being reflected in the Book of Mormons‘ Nephites and Lamanites, (2) the finite, strictly anthropomorphic God the Father, and (3) their determined efforts “to establish and maintain a firm boundary between their theology and the story of occult influences deeply embedded in their early history” (Fire, pages 28-29). All very interesting, but it doesn’t tell us anything about the Dursleys, does it?

Today it must seem a reach because the Muggletonians as radical non-conformists hardly seem more than a coincidental assonance with Harry’s Muggle Aunt and Uncle, radical conformists. But, until I can make the Quaker/Seeker point, we should note that the Muggletonians are spiritual materialists suggestive of the materialism-in-lieu-of-spirituality of the Dursleys, they are both anti-rationalists, if again, for very different reasons (sic), and they are pre-destinarian. Harry’s blood lines doom him, if the Dursleys will struggle to squeeze the magic out of him. There’s more to the word ‘Muggle — a Muggletonian link! — than Nancy Stouffer dreamed.

Tomorrow, the Quaker-Muggletonian divide and what it has to do with a certain Hogwarts Headmaster! Stay tuned.


  1. Ah, linkages, literary influences, and the likelihood of relations! Literature is not only for geeks, after all!

    Keep it up, Prof! I’m not convinced but I’m open to suggestion…………..

  2. Arabella Figg says

    You had me at the First Things fourth ppg., and now have my rapt attention. On to your subsequent post.

  3. John, interesting. As a teacher of anglican church history, the Muggletonians aren’t new to me — I usually mention them at least briefly in a list of other rather off-the-wall radical sects that emerged in the 1600s. I confess that the last time I came across their name in a church history text, it dawned on me (with a chuckle) that JKR, smart woman that she is, probably knew her history and may have liked and borrowed the name. I didn’t pursue it any further than that.

    Looking forward to reading your next post.

  4. As a seriously “Johnny-come-lately” to this story via google: after reading the entire post full of questions regarding whether JK Rowling meant this-or-that, I’m wondering – why didn’t you just ask her?
    Did you ask, and get a brush-off? Or did you indulge in all this speculation without actually bothering to call her agent or make contact to ask?
    I’m truly interested to know if Ms. Rowling has kept this info close, vs whether the inquiry simply wasn’t made.

  5. James, let me take a shot at your question. Hans Andréa and I have been completely shunned by Ms. Rowling, after initial contact and response, on this subject and innumerable others. I cannot speak for John’s experience but I would wager his is not entirely different.

    Ms. Rowling, IMHO, has several agendas for remaining elusive to heavyweight hitters in the literary alchemical community. Among those reasons would be that the alchemical symbolical journey, one of mental, emotional, spiritual and academic natures, is inherently personal. Literary alchemy is not a “this = that” road map. No chatter on any subject with these “hitters” means no slipped tongues.

    Another reason I suspect is that she does not wish to give up her greatest mysteries, her alchemical symbolism is her super, future event. Surely more will awaken to the obvious, perhaps on or before 12.21.2012? 😉

    There might be contractual limitations restraining her by Warner, she might not like John’s on again- off-again facial hair, were not in Oprah’s class of celebrity…who knows except that she remains tightly shut on matters for the whole to Hans and myself.


    P.S. the only reason I classify myself as a “heavy hitter” is that my medium is Usenet where only the strong survive and the weak get whomped. ;0)

  6. Liag Zeppetello says

    I come to this discussion 5 years late, but…. The reason I think Rowling did, in fact, take the name muggle from Muggleton is because of his first name. Rowling like to give clues. Her books are filled with both subtle and obvious ones. Ludovic Bagman carries the same first name as Lodowick Muggleton. I think not all parallels are parallel, so to speak. Some of them are simple, some twist and turn and meander about the books. It may not be important if there are direct similarities between muggles and Muggletons. Or perhaps there is a connection that Rowling saw that we’ll never know.

  7. Liag Zeppetello says

    Come to think of it, doesn’t Ludo Bagman spend a lot of time in pubs?

  8. David Hamilton says

    It may be of interest to others that if Harry Potter derived Muggles from the Muggletonians it wouldn’t likely be the first literary work to utilize the Muggletonians- Dickens has the Pickwickians visit Muggleton in The Pickwick Papers, and he refers to the inhabitants as Muggletonians. The following sentences describe the beginning of the cricket match in Muggleton :”All-Muggleton had the first innings; and the interest became intense when Mr. Dumkins and Mr. Podder, two of the most renowned members of that most distinguished club, walked, bat in hand, to their respective wickets. Mr. Liffey, the highest ornament of Dingley Dell, was pitched to bowl against the redoubtable Dumkins, and Mf. Struggles was selected to do the same kind office for the hithertoun conquered Podder. ” Muggleton, Struggles, Podder. Hmmmm

  9. Love it! Great catch!

  10. I know I’m very late to the conversation, but the key to unlocking this mystery may be in the works of 18th century theologian, William Law. If you look in Volume I of “The Works of the Reverend William Law,” his “First Letter to the Bishop of Bangor” holds two possible Harry Potter links. The first is to a Dr. Snape whose motives are misunderstood. Just a couple pages later he references the Muggletonians. Coincidence??? With Ms. Rowling’s Anglican background, it’s not unlikely that she at some point bumped up against Law’s writings.

  11. Brian Basore says

    An unlikely source, but, to confuse things even more, Muggle is the descriptive name of a character in Chapter Four of “Wilhelm Von Schmitz” (1854), a little story by Lewis Carroll. This silly little parody is not found outside editions of The Complete Illustrated Works of Lewis Carroll.

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