Foundations of The Dark Magic

So 06 února 2021

(my comments on “The Light and the Dark” by Uncommonality)

One of the many issues with the universe of the Harry Potter books, which has never been fully resolved in the books by Ms Rowling is the true nature of the Dark Magic. It is really not explained. Dark Magic is what Dark Wizards do, and Dark Wizards are Dark because they do Dark Magic. There is not much more to say, only that some curses are labelled as Dark, and they are so Dark, that one gets immediately life-long stay in Azkaban just for using them. That’s basically all we learn in the books.

Moreover, the adult reader is left wondering whether Ms Rowling is really honest when she says that a rather hygienic Killing Curse, painful but time-limited hygienic Pain Curse (time-limited, because they are useless for torture longer than few minutes), the Control Curse are the very worst Magic which anybody can impose on another being. Even us, poor Muggles, can do much worse and be much nastier than these three curses, and it doesn’t take too much imagination to imagine much worse and dark types of torture or killing than that: there is nothing sexual in nature, no real human sacrifice, not much real torture. Let me just mention without explanation the tortured child in “Inner Demons by serendipity_50”. The reader is left to suspect that JKR sanitized this list of Dark curses to make it palatable for teenagers and young adult readers.

Let me suggest my theory about what is a better explanation of these questions [1]. Moreover, I hope, that the distinction I want to develop here is useful even for Muggles in the non-magical world.

The original point where I started is my pet peeve how some people tend to consider Dark Magic as something good. Most contrarian teenagers reading and authoring fanfiction stories love the idea that the wrong is right, and that only nasty old codgers like Dumbledore stops people from using wonderful Dark Magic. I don’t agree and yes I am an old codger myself. I really think that Dark Magic taints your soul and yes inability to produce the super-light magic like Patronus may be one of (many) costs.

The idea is that the “normal” magic (Lumos, etc. … most if not all spells taught at Hogwarts) are based on the power from the caster herself. It was the original magic discovered by the Neolithic people (think Stonehenge), who happily used this magic for their everyday lives and all was fine. However, then later somebody (probably some Celtic druids) discovered that one can harness the power of somebody or something else, and that even more power can be obtained when you don’t leave enough magic for the other to survive (e.g., human sacrifice). And that’s the foundation of all Dark Magic, using the power of somebody or something (animal, etc.) else.

There is, not well studied (because nobody cares enough) the opposite Light Magic, which is not using your native power, but willing giving of own magic for others. And that is what Lily ultimately did when protecting Harry. However, as I said, it is very obscure and not a much-studied branch of magic, because of lack of interest.

And it goes to rather deeper morale: either we are living for others (to serve them), or we are living for oneself (to be served). Think about the Kant’s categorical imperative (“Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.”), or Mark 3:9 (NET): “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”.


Let’s make an example of using this theory in analysing The Cruciatus Curse [2], which is the least defensible of the Unforgivable Curses. Redditer /u/FUAllVeryMuch asked me:

So your comment was about dark magic being magic that takes from others while light magic is giving for others in a sense. Or at least that's what I understood from it.

In that case, what do you gain from casting the Cruciatus? Next, and I'm sure this has come up before, wouldn't intent be more important? Like it is possible to kill using a basic levitation charm, so would it have no effect? Also, suppose someone was about to kill other people, and you kill him to protect the others, does it taint you? How many times can you cast dark magic before the taint is permanent?

That ‘giving to others’ versus ‘taking from others’ distinction was just my basic very general premise. There are many details where it gets muddy and where the theory needs a lot of development.

So, Cruciatus is certainly one such case. I am not sure how does the curse works. I would think the foundation of the curse is some energy for the torture coming from the tortured, so tortured people are effectively made to torture themselves, but this theory wouldn’t work for Muggles, who can quite certainly be tortured as well. By the way, concerning this curse, I was working for some time for a professor of pathophysiology who was researching pain. There are medicinal situations where part of the nervous system is intentionally so overwhelmed with pain, that it stops working, and so it allows some horrible surgery, e.g. amputation, be done. I wonder whether Cruciatus was originally meant to achieve something like this. The same goes for some variant of Imperio … it could be deadly useful for medicinal purposes.

Back to the intent. Yes, that’s another question. With my theory, Dark Magic would certainly not cover all bad magical actions. Mrs Weasley with her enchanted knives (normally, chopping vegetables) can certainly make a lot of damage if she wishes, and household charms certainly fall into the original Neolithic magic.

Concerning righteous killing. Yes, “Not everyone who wants to kill is necessarily evil.”, certainly, it can happen (soldiers in war, self-defence), but I don’t think even in such situations Dark Magic would be allowed. If I understand Bellatrix Lestrange correctly, you have to want to cause pain for the joy of causing pain, not out of the righteous anger. That of course leads to another side-question: how did Harry manage to curse Alecto Carrow? I have no idea, but it was just one bout of magic, effectively a rather painful Stunner, not sure. We probably should rather silently ignore it as one of many inconsistencies of Mrs Rowling. The same goes for the Killing Curse … you cannot use it for good reasons, in Self-Defence or in the war situations. You have to have your soul tainted, you have to want to have somebody killed just for the Death itself. Yes, Snape could do it as the former Death Eater, but that’s probably the only one from the anti-Riddle side. Soldiers in war just have to use some other curse … Reducto/Expulso/Confringo (I still have a problem to distinguish which is which) to your head would do just nicely. Notice, that for example we never saw Umbridge using Cruciatus. She was rather slowly making up her mind to curse Harry, and we don’t know if she could actually manage to do it.


I have said that according to my theory using Killing Curse is necessarily evil. And yet, “good guys” once used Unforgivables. Sirius mentioned (in chapter 26 “Padfoot Returns” of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire):

The Aurors were given new powers—powers to kill rather than capture, for instance. And I wasn’t the only one who was handed straight to the Dementors without trial. Crouch fought violence with violence, and authorized the use of the Unforgivable Curses against suspects.

Which exactly supports my point, when Sirius talked about it, he was specifically saying that Aurors (I guess, those who followed this order) were getting really close to being as evil as Death Eaters.

Some situations just have to be chalked up as JKR inconsistencies. Harry using Sectumsempra without knowing what it is. It just doesn’t make any sense. Whole seven books we are told (heck, that’s the whole purpose of Hogwarts as a school), that doing magic is much more complicated than just random waving your wand and saying random weird incantations. Even with study most students don’t manage even the simplest spells (Lumos, Wingardium Leviosa) on their first try, and let us not mention whole theories about intent being significant (I am not sure whether it is or it isn’t, but it certainly makes more sense than this scene). Here we have spell without any diagram for wand movement, without Harry even knowing what it does (so, whole intent goes out of the window), and it on the first try makes significant damage to Malfoy. It just doesn’t compute for me.

[1]Originally developed in the Reddit thread on the nature of magic.
[2]This part has been originally developed in another Reddit thread.

Category: faith Tagged: review harryPotter blogComment

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