The History of Magic:
Regarding the Depiction of History in the Potterverse:
This is a rant: you may skip down past it if you wish, but it lays out exactly where I am coming from as it relates to the creation of this entire collection.
Probably one of the most glaring weaknesses (and there are any number of them) on display regarding the construction of the world of Harry Potter is the lack of respect accorded to the contribution that a plausible and consistent history plays in the creation of a well-drawn secondary world.
Rowling on one hand seems to have completely and deliberately ignored the fact that in any living society, things change. On the other hand she flip-flops back and forth with her backstory, telling us first one thing, and then the opposite, making no attempt to reconcile the two, or even giving us any indication that she is aware that there is a contradiction. She appears to be determined to have everything both ways, and it comes across as either confused or dishonest.
If the Potterverse is supposed to be a truly separate world, she hasn’t built us a viable one; if it is merely an imaginative overlay on our own world it ignores the fact that our own world’s societies took *a very long time* to get to where they are now. And they went through any number of stages before they got there. She is not doing justice to her readers’ intelligence by pretending that every moral judgment on display has always been set in stone according to modern sensibilities, and whether historical figures can or ought ethically to be judged according to said modern sensibilities without taking their own times and circumstances into account.
I agree that Ms Rowling did not have the time and space to delineate Potterverse social history in any kind of detail, but she could reasonably have dropped some variation of the statement; “Well, it was a long time ago, and people didn’t have all the information they do today” or; “People thought differently then” into the narrative a couple of times in something over 4000 pages, without doing violence to her storyline and the narrative would have come across a bit less smug and hypocritical.
In the world of Harry Potter, the whole concept of history seems to be regarded primarily as a joke. And, moreover, quite obviously as a joke that is presented in a manner which makes it clear to the reader that this was a deliberate choice on the part of the author.
The teaching of history in the Potterverse is a particularly broad piece of comedy (and, as represented in the text, reads as a well-established Hogwarts policy of deliberate disinformation, to boot). At Hogwarts, dead history is taught by a dead teacher who drones on about apparently irrelevant events until the student body has no recourse other than to fall asleep. The situation is instantly recognizable and admittedly apt. We have all been there. Every student who has ever been required to study history against his inclination, as taught by a teacher who is incapable of bringing it to life will grin at this depiction.
But this conceit is never examined or even explored to any narrative purpose inside of canon. Even the presentation of Potterverse history when it actually comes up in the course of the story, and is relevant to the action, has been treated more dismissively than not.
Worse, it is consistently treated shallowly. The series, at least up to the release of Deathly Hallows, clearly did not appear intended as a shallow story — but at no point during the series had there been any recognition paid to the simple truth that at varying points in time, people have not thought about matters in the same way that they do today.
To impart a clear understanding of this overriding truth is regarded as one of the basic tenets of education itself. But, to the end of the final book, nowhere in the story had this truth been even lightly acknowledged. It must finally be accepted that Rowling never had any intention of acknowledging this particular truth.
Which is a piece of fundamental dishonesty. There is simply no excuse.
Welcome to Bedrock. Meet the Flintstones. All historic personages shall be stripped of any sense of historical context, and judged accordingly by modern standards.
This is robbing the dead.
Such a presentation is unfair, untrue, unrealistic and unwarranted. Justice is simply not being served. And Rowling doesn’t seem to care.
The fallout of this signal failure to acknowledge truth is that we are given no sense of the way in which the historic interacts with the contemporary in the Potterverse. Which in a series that — for the first half of it — appeared to be driven by past events going back to anything up to a thousand years was particularly infelicitous. All presentations of historic personages were made without giving the reader any sense that these personages’ experience of their world might have been anything other than as it is being currently undertaken by the characters of the present day. One of the end results is that for all of Rowling’s blithe flinging about of phrases like; “a thousand years ago” or the sudden introduction of historical artifacts deployed as plot tokens, we get no sense of the sovereignty of time, and yet the social/moral outlook of the narrative is already sufficiently topical (which is to say, dated) as to eliminate any possibility of the tale ever being regarded as “timeless”.
Nor do most of the events which are stated as having happened in “Historic” times necessarily stand up as being plausible — in the form they are presented — against even the most cursory of examinations of what we know of the times these events purportedly took place in our own history. Rowling’s narrative voice all too clearly seems to find the notion of any sort of history comical in itself.
But the fact is, that it is not really possible to represent a society which reads as a plausible, livable human community based upon nothing more solid than a foundation made up of jokes. In particular, it is difficult to imagine any convincing historic development of a society as nuanced and complex (or as blatantly corrupt) as that on display in the Harry Potter series within the narrative’s unvarying atmosphere of; ha, ha, ha, weren’t-our-ancestors-silly, black/white, good/evil moral absolutes in which the story is so often being related. Particularly considering that by midway through the series, our viewpoint character is more than old enough to have begun to outgrow such a narrow view of his world.
Nor, as the series attempted to become progressively darker in tone, was it possible for such a presentation to remain at all plausibly consistent. We have been treated to some harrowing examinations of the very human failings of the characters of the present day. But this courtesy has still never been extended to anyone more than one generation previous, let alone those who reside permanently in history. History, in the Potterverse, is populated only with unimpeachable heroes and irredeemable villains. No human beings live there at all. It was my hope that by the end of the series, I would be able to do an extensive rewrite of this paragraph. But I cannot. Fallible human beings apparently do not exist at any period prior to the Marauders and the elder Weasleys, or at a pinch, within the memory of Albus Dumbledore.
In a series wherein the original motivations driving just about all of the action are rooted at least half a century earlier, it was past time that the Harry filter broadened its worldview to include an acknowledgement that the figures of history were indeed no more than men and women, and sometimes, perhaps, incapable of rising above the biases of their own, somewhat less informed eras. But to all appearances, Ms Rowling’s contention is that any such consideration which relates to the figures of history simply does not matter.
True, Rowling’s work is determinedly marketed with a young audience in mind. Some degree of simplification is understandable. But the books are clearly not written only for the young, and in any case, there are things that youth does not excuse. Her older fans, who are numerous, had expected, or had at least hoped for better from her. She is perfectly capable of it. But she has not chosen to give it to us.
Dark Magic and Other Fallacies:
The depiction of history is not the only, or even the most basic issue in which Rowling has not given us what the situation she has deliberately set up appears to call for.
This segment of the article also qualifies as a bit of a rant. You could skip this one too, but if you do you will miss a number of points that actually matter:
Since the spring of 2003, when this collection was first posted, I have been publicly grousing about the fact that throughout the series (even as it existed then) any clear sense of the underlying relationship — if any — between Light, as opposed to Dark, magic has been consistently given short shrift; to the point that all Dark magic might be defined loosely as “everything the Ministry doesn’t approve of this week”. A viewpoint that I was seriously inclined to doubt that Rowling ever intended. But, up to about the first third of HBP, she appeared to be perfectly fine with that definition.
Which was the point — inside the series — at which we seemed to have finally been tossed a clue. A very brief clue. If you blinked you might have missed it. And now, standing in the middle of the train wreck that was ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ I can no longer even be confident that the maybe-clue she finally tossed us was intentional. For she certainly never followed through on it.
However, in Severus Snape, Rowling finally gave us a DADA instructor who was willing to attempt to define the nature of what he was attempting to teach his students to defend themselves against.
And it really does not sound like something that is inherently evil.
It doesn’t even come across as something that is universally hostile.
But it is clearly, horrifically, perilous.
And inherently completely unstable.
In short. It is pure Chaos. Unlike the rather prosaic magic which is taught in the other classrooms of Hogwarts, you get the distinct impression that however perfect your pronunciation of the spell’s incantation, and however consistently you might “swish and flick” your wand, if what you are dealing with is the Dark Arts, you could swish and flick and say the equivalent of Wingardium Leviosa six times in a row, and half the time the feather will levitate to various heights, and once it will burst into flame, once it will simply disappear, and the sixth time it will turn into a blob of raspberry jam. And that’s on a good day.
And we still had no corresponding definition which would illuminate the distinction, if any, between it and “Light” magic.
But, at any rate, it was enough of a hint to reassure me that I would not need to totally rework my interpretations of the subject from square 1.
I had evidently — or so I then believed — picked up enough between the lines over the first five books to at least be on, if not the right track, then at least a track which would eventually arrive at a viable destination. But I did wish that Rowling could have found it in herself to elaborate a bit further.
With 20/20 hindsight, I am now profoundly grateful that she did not. Given the skill with which in DHs Ms Rowling managed to retroactively transmute so much of the gold that appeared to be scattered throughout in the series to dross all the way back to book 1, any further input from Rowling upon any subject related to the Potterverse seems likely to be nothing less than wantonly destructive. Ms Rowling these days appears to be determined to dismantle her creation, quite possibly with prejudice. I think that even the shallowest and least insightful of fans could do as well at explaining the myriad inconsistencies showcased in the project as well as Rowling would. And many of the neither shallow nor imperceptive, have.
And, despite any rumors regarding “the Scottish book” (now, apparently transmuted into Pottermore), I am inclined to believe that we will be seeing no further explanations regarding any distinction between Light and Dark magic from Rowing. Certainly not any coherent ones. Although we might possibly get a deliberately shallow one. Rowling, these days, appears to be dedicated to the systematic excision of anything resembling depth that we ever thought we saw in her creation. I am willing to go on record by stating here and now that I do not believe at least half of what Rowling attempted to claim took place in DHs. Those statements simply do not add up. They contradict the information given us in the earlier books and many are not even internally consistent within DHs itself. Rather a lot of them appear to be either a blatant attempt at corner-cutting, or some lame-and-desperate device to try to imbue such bland and tasteless fare with some ersatz excitement. None of which was remotely convincing. Despite the presence of one or two moments of authentic emotional “resonance” DHs comes across as a thoroughly insincere piece of hackwork; something lazily cobbled together to meet the requirements of a contract.
Not to put too fine a point on it, I view the anticipated “encyclopedia” to the Potterverse, which she has now stated as her intention to provide “someday” with considerable misgiving. I anticipate that should it actually materialize, parts of it may well turn out to be amusing. But in the long run it will make the construction of a plausible and coherent reading of the Potterverse substantially less, rather than more achievable.
But, as the matter stands now (writing in something like 2010, if one thinks back), the confusion on this issue has compounded to the point that even over the course of 6 books out of seven of being consistently given the repeated message that the Dark Arts “are not taught at Hogwarts”, Harry, his friends, and various other students all seem to be rather too frequently accused of performing Dark magic, or at least Dark spells — far too many of which they appear to have learned in the course of their classwork or out of the school library — for this to actually be the case. (In what would have been Harry’s 7th year, Dark magic evidently was taught, and quite openly at Hogwarts.)
So is “Dark magic” the same thing as the Dark Arts, or isn’t it? For that matter; is a Dark wizard a practitioner of the Dark Arts, or merely a wizard who breaks the law? We have no clarification on this point either, and throughout the 5th and 6th books it looked very much as if the readers’ confusion was shared by the average “wizard in the street”.
And, by now, it does not look likely that we will ever be given any further clarification on this issue, either. One is, apparently, just expected to instinctively “know” whether a given piece of magic is Dark or Light.
On alternate Tuesdays.
As the Ministry decrees.
Unless of course you are a friend of Harry Potter, in which case you are incapable of ever performing truly Dark magic. Even your use of the Unforgivable curses will always be perfectly justified.
This lack of clarity, of boundaries, makes me very cross.
The fanfiction community, as usual, has been diligent in stepping up to the plate and providing the basics (or what certainly ought to have been the basics) omitted by Rowling. My own preference, these days, is for the following, which is a much later addition to the available resources, having been posted in the year 2017, a full decade downstream of the official closing of canon. As such a late entry it has the advantage of a great deal of retrospective information to draw from:
But, back at the end of HBP, when one could still live in hope that it might all make sense someday, it had finally begun to sink in that this particular point of confusion might be deliberate. Like I’ve said before. I think I’m reasonably sharp. But I’m sometimes not particularly swift. Unfortunately I’m also rather good at seeing patterns, even when it later turns out that I have been connecting dots that were never anything more than spots before my eyes.
But it had finally occurred to me that I might be asking the wrong questions.
At that point we all still had something invested in believing that Rowling is not stupid. We still do not know that the woman is stupid, even if she does tend to be incoherent and has a tendency to stick her foot in her mouth in public. We could see that she had an extensive grounding in traditional folklore and in the elements which are common to both folklore and the structure of a workable story. And that while she may be an “instinctive storyteller” she didn’t seem to be composing the story off the top of her head by means of automatic writing. Or at least not until the “carpet book” hit the internet.
At the end of HBP I was sure that she had to know perfectly well that a story of the sort that she appeared to be telling typically requires some definition of where the invisible line is drawn that one is not supposed to cross, as all such matters apply for that specific story.
And she still had not given us one.
Why had she not given us one? By that time I was beginning to doubt that it was by accident.
And if she had deliberately held back the definition of such a fundamental parameter of how magic in the Potterverse works as to define what specifically makes Dark magic dark, until the final book in the series, it began to look to me as if she had a bombshell to attach to it before she lobbed it at us.
Unfortunately. I seem to have given Rowling far too much credit. In the end, she did not ever address the issue of where the boundary between Dark magic and everything else lies any more than she addressed the issue of where the line is drawn in the sand that marks where evil begins. In the end, so far as she was concerned, it simply did not matter.
Chiefly because, in the end, her final book — despite all suggestions or even outright statements ever made to the contrary — was not about the conflict between good vs. evil at all.
The story never had been. It had only pretended to be.
I was in correspondence with a youngster in Greece after the release of DHs, and had done a pretty fair amount of grousing about the shoddiness of DHs, its structure, its elements, its myriad contradictions to earlier canon, and the half-arsed explanations given for what allegedly took place in it. The exchange forced me to think a bit more clearly about what it was that really bugged me about Rowling’s so called “conclusion” to the series.
One part of the problem was that as the series progressed, particularly after GoF, with each book Rowling kept laying in more and more potential threads for further developments without ever making a clear decision of which ones she was actually going to use. And in the end, she used virtually none of them.
A well-known and well-loved political columnist, the late Molly Ivins once wrote an editorial which resonated with this problem. I do not recall just what the original subject of her article actually was, but in it she brought up the example of people who keep deferring making any kind of a decision about anything, thereby “keeping their options open” and in the end, they find they have nothing to show for it but ...unchosen options. They have ended up cheating themselves. It appeared to me that Rowling has pulled a variant of this trick, probably unintentionally, but it ended up feeling a bit as though she had cheated us as well as herself, even though I am pretty sure that the whole process was mostly unconscious. As a result, the whole series now reeks of burnout and bad faith.
In Rowling’s case however, the problem of too many threads was compounded by the fact that many of these threads now appear in retrospect to have been inserted simply with the intent of distracting the reader. Concealing from us the fact that she had only one or two really relevant details to insert into the story arc in each of the final books. The rest was all padding. And unlike a proper red herring which turns out to lead you nowhere of any use, these were never intended to lead the reader anywhere at all, since after the current book ended the issue would never be referred to again. It had only been there to distract us from putting too much attention to the true direction of the story arc between the books’ release. Which is an incredibly cynical and insincere way to string together a story.
This, by itself is a not a minor issue, but the really major problem with it was that one of these dangling threads was what we had all believed to be the central story.
In retrospect, it looks now rather as if she had been driving two central stories, or themes, through the middle of this series, and in the end, whether from burn-out or the sheer difficulty of the task she had set for herself, she only chose to complete one of them. And it was not the one we had believed to be the central one.
Consequently, at the point at which Ms Rowling had to finally buckle down and tie the whole thing off, it all came apart on her, and on us as well.
Stringing a story out requires a rather different skill set than finishing one off satisfactorily. And Rowling is hardly the only author who doesn’t quite have the second. There are a lot of authors out there (and not just in children’s or YA fantasy, not by a long shot) who can put together some perfectly marvelous stories and yet are not able to give them really satisfactory conclusions. It sometimes feels like the story simply didn’t want to end there, and the author had merely wrestled it to the ground.
The Potter series, as it developed, finally turns out, in the end, to have never been what we had thought that Rowling’s idea of the story was about. We had spent 6 books flowing what turned out to have been a false trail. And this underlying misdirection did not come across as clever. It comes across as confused. And cheap.
The series as a whole was stronger and much more coherent at the end of HBP (even given the extremely flawed product that HBP was) than it is now. With DHs, the whole story arc completely lost any sort of focus, and in retrospect, much of what we had most appreciated from the earlier books was rendered completely bogus.
All the more so in that Rowling was suddenly fixated upon a single issue, which although it has been present throughout the whole series, had never appeared to be the issue that was primary to the story’s action.
Coming to terms with death is not the premise upon which Rowling sold us this story. And if she had tried to do so, most of us would have not been in the market.
That premise has nothing to do with either good or evil. The whole issue of good vs. evil is irrelevant to it, and Tom Riddle’s misguided goal to evade death, or Albus’s equally misguided desire to master it, have nothing to do with either good or evil, either.
Albus was foolish for wanting to collect Death’s “hallows” in order to master it (2 of which Death allegedly created expressly for the purpose of trapping people. Didn’t Albus realize that?), that goal was certainly not “good”, and Tom’s desire to forevermore evade death is not in itself inherently evil. And attempting to position either goal in such an opposition is totally unconvincing.
The story turns out to have simply NOT been about what Rowling spent years trying to pretend that it was about. The story was NEVER about good prevailing over evil. The article in which we are to keep faith is not that ultimately justice will be done, and good will prevail. It is that; do what you will, Death eventually comes for all.
And that, presumably, being a hero consists of being resigned to meet it.
Dumbledore and Snape ultimately did so. Albus with the advantage of a full year’s advance warning and preparation, and no alternate choice on offer, really, AND being able to take charge of the whole production himself to boot! Snape did so with no hesitation or apparant regrets — once Harry miraculously turned up at the 59th minute of the 11th hour, enabling him to pass on Albus’s final message, and complete his task. And Harry eventually managed to stand fast and take it as well, when given sufficient outside help and support (and no viable other options, or none which would allow him to save face). Tom, predictably, never learned it at all.
But THIS is, in fact, what the whole 7th book was about, and all the lip service, grand gestures, and going through the motions over some supposedly eternal conflict between good and evil turns out to be just so much set-dressing. It’s finally clear why Rowling never bothered to define the point at which evil begins. The issue simply doesn’t matter in the long run. Not in her universe. Tom Riddle turns out to have been right, all the way back in PS/SS. In the Potterverse there isn’t really any such thing as good or evil. Unforgivable curses are not really unforgivable. There is only power. And if you are “special” enough, all will be forgiven.
In the end, Tom Riddle’s actual acts do not matter either. He could have been the deepest-dyed villain or the most shining saint, and it wouldn’t make a bean’s worth of difference to the theme of this book. His ultimate crime was to believe that he was special enough to evade death, and the 7th book was where Rowling finally stopped farting around, took the gloves off, and showed him otherwise.
The whole, overriding arc of the final book was to bring death to Tom Riddle, and to force him to meet it. The whole DE set-up is local color, the Battle of Hogwarts is sound and fury signifying absolutely nothing. Rowling clearly didn’t give a damn about this world or the state she’d left it in. The minute Tom’s AK rebounded, the story was over. Even Harry no longer really mattered, and throwing him a nice bone of future domestic happiness cost the author absolutely nothing. It was a completely gratuitous tag-on, and no real resolution of anything. It’s hardly a mystery why Rowling seemingly couldn’t even keep track of what her major supporting characters were doing between the battle and the epilogue.
I’ve said it for years: the villain is the story.
This time that statement seems to be true on a whole higher level of meaning from the way it usually works in a fantasy adventure, but it is unquestionably the case.
«end rant 2»
Dark Magic in the Potterverse:
But, the rest of us are not JK Rowling and most of us generally prefer a reading of the series that makes sense. And one which is at least potentially consistent with the entire series. Which goes double for those elements that in the hands of any reasonably competent fantasy writer would turn out to be the foundations of the story. Regardless of how it might relate to Tom Riddle’s unwitting murder-suicide pact that ultimately hijacked the final volume of the series and flew it into a cliff.
I have to admit that by something over a year downstream of DHs, I was finding that if the only thing between me and a workable, consistent hypothesis on some issue is information that was thrown at me in DHs, I was finding it remarkably easy to dismiss the information from DHs. Particularly if upon a closer examination that piece of information contradicts or is internally inconsistent with some other piece of information thrown at me in DHs. Far too often it does.
I do try to maintain some kind of standards, after all. No one is going to cut me the kind of slack that many are prepared to cut for Rowling. Probably that is just as well.
The majority of this essay was pretty fully developed before the release of the final volume of the series. And there was still remarkably little in that final volume to have caused me to modify my earliest extrapolations. In fact, Rowling’s all but total abandonment of what had appeared to be her central story arc in this instance works in most theorists’ favor.
But. For all that the Dark Arts are supposedly not taught at Hogwarts (until we and Harry are no longer in attendance, anyway); there appears to be no obstacle to learning them there, even if you are a Muggle-raised student who had no knowledge that the wizarding world even existed before being handed your Hogwarts letter, are still under supervision for underage magic, and exiled to Muggle Hell over the summer breaks. Tom Riddle certainly managed to do so under those circumstances. Unless something along the lines of the recent developments outlined in the newer essay, ‘Minding the Gap’ are correct. (Don’t hold your breath waiting for Rowling to confirm it.)
It is apparent that the Dark Arts are not only not illegal but that Harry and his friends seem to be picking up bits of them at Hogwarts. As Tom Riddle certainly did. Severus Snape’s homemade schoolboy hexes are even referred to in conversation as “Dark magic”. Although in that instance the term may merely be shorthand for “unauthorized magic”, which is not the same thing at all, and not a satisfactory explanation in itself.
It also seems to make no sense whatsoever if Dark magic has a specific nature. Excuse me, but how did Snape’s “Dark” hexes differ from James Potter’s and Sirius Black’s equally vicious and painful presumably non-Dark hexes?
You know, James Potter, the boy who abhorred anything to do with Dark magic.
Did he even know what it was?
So, we are therefore invited to believe that it was in a spirit of righteous indignation that he adopted a fledgeling “Dark wizard’s” unauthorized spells which were running merrily through the school and used them publicly on their creator for the general entertainment of the student body? Yeah, that guy.
So how were these hexes all different? Certainly not in “intention”. You’ll never convince me of that.
It would appear that Sirius Black was an even bigger hypocrite than we had already figured out for ourselves. And so was his best buddy James. Unless they were simply unable to register any distinction between Snape’s supposedly “Dark” magic and their own. (“I see no difference.”)
It’s obvious — and deliberately obvious — to any reader that the whole Black family had been Dark Arts practitioners for centuries. Even if they apparently hadn’t ever had a Death Eater in the family until Bellatrix finished Hogwarts (unless her father, Walburga’s younger brother Cygnus had also managed to get swept up in the movement via his wife’s family).
Nevertheless, Dark wizards all, Sirius’s great-great grandfather had still been appointed the Headmaster of Hogwarts. His grandfather had apparently bought himself an Order of Merlin, from a Ministry that was perfectly aware of who and what he was, and what kind of magic he practiced. In fact, the family’s general attitudes regarding the Dark Arts must have been pretty widely known, for they certainly made no attempt to conceal them.
But for as long as they were trying to push their nasty little agendas (whether Isolationist or Supremacist) through the approved, legal channels, no one but Sirius seems to have come straight out and called them Dark wizards. Or looked down on them for it. And Harry is clueless, parroting the attitudes of his elders as blindly as Draco Malfoy.
By OotP it was beginning to look very much as if both Dark and Light magic are used indiscriminately throughout the wizarding world, and in general parlance “Dark wizard” seemed not to refer to a practitioner of the Dark Arts, or any other particular form of magic. It meant merely a wizard who breaks the law, and consequently, signified no more than the wizarding equivalent of “felon”. Confusion that was no doubt fostered by the fact that the DMLE employs a team of Aurors whose duty it is to apprehend both.
It sounded a remarkably as though “Dark magic” was turning out to be a term like “computer memory” where you have to figure out from the context whether the speaker is referring to RAM or hard disk space.
This entire series of essays, in both collections, is an attempt to weave a more sturdy framework in which such contrasting interpretations of Magic itself may be contained, without destroying each other, or too greatly compromising a workable interpretation of their mutual culture. Ms Rowling, who is certainly capable of spinning a story with some distinction, when she chooses to, does not usually weave. She makes macramé. She does it quite decoratively, but you wouldn’t want to use it for sheets.
Since about the year 2000 (well before posting the first iteration of this collection), I have been attempting to fit the varying developments encountered within canon into at least some historical and social context consistent with what the majority of us most widely believe to have been the evolution of a “Western”-style, industrialized society, such as the one that Rowling presents as the widely-observed mundane, or, rather, “Muggle”, late 20th century norm, for the use of fanfic authors, or for the entertainment of readers who enjoy that sort of thing. What we were shown regarding magic in wizarding society over the course of the series finally suggests that the whole attempt is probably futile. But I am not prepared to abandon it yet.
However; a great deal of the following material has necessarily been downgraded from the status of “perfectly reasonable theory” to merely being “not absolutely contradicted”. It may yet continue to receive incremental revisions. But these are indefinitely the process of tapering off. With the closing of the official canon any further development now depends upon erratic small personal epiphanies sparked from online or e-mail discussions, which are impossible to schedule or to anticipate.
In keeping with Muggle society as shown in Rowling’s work, I am focusing most closely upon that segment of a modern world which composes a predominantly English-speaking society.
The Study & Practice of the Dark Arts:
Despite the fact that a number of Dark materials and spells have been stated to be unlawful in the wizarding world of Great Britain, or at the very least closely regulated; there has never been any indication in canon that the Dark Arts in toto are actually illegal.
The fact that the Dark Arts are openly taught at Durmstrang serves as a strong counter-indication that the Dark Arts are more probably regarded as an accepted branch of Magical study, at least throughout Europe. Any (originally I presumed heavy, but I was evidently wrong) regulations on the practice of the Dark Arts themselves are indicative only of their potential for harm both to the community and, it seems reasonable to postulate, to its practitioners as well.
The continuing, openly acknowledged, existence of Knockturn Alley as a supplier of Dark Arts information and materials has served as a hint from as early as CoS that the Dark Arts are not under a blanket interdiction even in Great Britain. What is more, with the publication of OotP the depiction of the history and traditional attitudes of the Black family served as a general wake-up call that quite openly Dark wizards remain respected members of British wizarding society to the present day, so long as they break no Ministry law and continue to support the legitimate wizarding government.
By the publication of ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ it was made broadly evident that so far as we could tell, in JKR’s interpretation, “Dark magic”, even the Dark Arts are absolutely all over the map and that Harry and his friends are actually learning scraps of them, along with everything else right there in Hogwarts, with Dumbledore’s approval. In fact as one works one’s way through HBP, it begins to look very much as if a “Dark wizard” has been downgraded and redefined as merely a wizard who breaks the law.
Which makes complete gibberish of the statement put into Draco Malfoy’s mouth in GoF, where, if you remember, Malfoy states that his father had wanted to send him to Durmstrang where he would be taught “proper” Dark Arts rather than just Defense.
All of which begs the underlying question of exactly what the Dark Arts are, and how they differ from what is generally referred to by the fans of the series as “Light” magic.
At this remove it is impossible to determine what Rowling thought she meant by it. For she has spectacularly failed to follow up with any explanation that would read as either comprehensive, or coherent, or indeed, that would “read” with anything she has actually shown us at all. She left it to the reader to do all the heavy lifting.
It is possible that this is the flotsam of an original intention which was shot off in the great, post-GoF revision to the original storyline. At the time, I thought it was also possible that, in pursuit of some experiment of her own, she had deliberately held off from giving us any explanation on the subject, whatsoever. Maybe we were supposed to not know.
Or, as it now appears to be the case; She really didn’t understand at the outset that she was writing a fantasy series (she may have thought it was folklore, because that’s what she was using to construct it from), or didn’t understand that in a fantasy series you do need to visibly draw the line for the purposes of the world you are creating, since secondary worlds vary. You cannot merely port over what “everyone” knows from ours, or from someone else’s fantasy world. Such a world, simply does not work like ours. It has magic in it. That changes things. And magic requires observable rules. Moreover, every fantasy world is different. They don’t all draw the line in the same place.
Most fans have always tended to take the rather crude approach of defining Dark magic solely according to the “intent” of the caster. (The Randall Garrett approach: “Dark magic is composed of symbolism and intent”.) Or of defining it according to whether the end result can be determined to be either passive or aggressive, friendly or hostile, nurturing or exploitive.
Well, that approach worked well enough for Garrett’s Lord Darcy stories. Most of which were short stories, published in magazines. But in a series as long and complex as Harry Potter was shaping up to be something a bit more layered was called for.
There is absolutely no question but that the spellcaster’s intent matters in the Dark Arts — quite possibly it matters a great deal more so than in “Light” magic. But I contend that this is an insufficient distinction on its own. What this approach too often boils down to is that it only becomes Dark magic if you “mean” to do harm with it. By this sort of criterion one could claim to be justified in casting Imperius left, right, and forward in order to control people’s behavior, sincerely convinced that it is for their own good. I rather doubt that the Ministry of Magic would agree to interpret one’s actions according to that criterion. (Although some employees of the Ministry, case in point Dolores Umbridge, would be first in line to be doing it.)
And for the average wizarding citizen (i.e., not a personal friend of Harry Potter) to cast Crutiatus or an AK at someone “Because they’re bad.” is unlikely to be regarded as an acceptable reason either.
Nor do I believe that the Dark Arts would continue to remain legal, even if far more heavily regulated than they apparently are after all these uncounted centuries if all the Dark Arts had ever amounted to was magic that was designed expressly for the purpose of exploitation or of causing harm. And, by every indication that we have been given in the books, the Dark Arts, in general, do, indeed, appear to be legal. Indeed, it has become evident that they are not only legal, they are pervasive. Tom Riddle learned them right under his instructors’ noses at Hogwarts.
Nevertheless, for a long time I also believed that in any sort of a viable society, anything as potentially dangerous as the Dark Arts were implied to be had to be at least as heavily regulated as, say, Apparating.
Apparently in that regard also, I was wrong. There appear to be no regulations applied to the study of the Dark Arts whatsoever.
The very blackest of Dark magic in HBP is stated to be the splitting of one’s own soul in order to create a Horcrux, not only because an act of murder is required to facilitate it, but because the soul is supposed to be left intact, and to split it is “against nature”, indeed is skirting upon blasphemy. This explanation on the face of it, leaves a lot to be desired. Things like logic and rationality for example. To say nothing of a coherent “moral compass”.
I had already begun to suspect that this definition had been overly simplified. Even before the release of DHs, in which Rowling seems to have rewritten the rules for her own convenience.
Simplified it to the point of rendering it into gibberish, in fact.
Excuse me, but if anyone who has committed a murder has split his soul already, then the “supreme act of evil” has already been done. Without creating anything remotely like a Horcrux. Committing a murder in itself apparently does not do that.
Any Auror who has ever killed a suspected DE has killed someone. Are Aurors then to be considered inherently, or potentially evil? Casting AK at another Being which possesses a soul is likely to have the same effect upon your own, whatever your justification. So why does the creation of a Horcrux take all of this to a higher level? Is it really the murder, which splits the soul that is the act of evil, or is it the separation of the detached fragment into an external housing? Clearly it is the separation of one fragment from the rest of the group that actually creates the Horcrux, appears to cause any observed physical changes, and diminishes the soul of the wizard who does it. From all of the information available (what there is of it) it does not appear that it is possible for such a wizard to ever get that bit of soul back. If the Horcrux is destroyed the fragment is lost. It does not return to the creator.
We are told, somewhat confusingly that a wizard who has killed another person and has not created a Horcrux from that act might, with sufficient remorse, manage to heal the rent in his soul produced by that killing. So is the real abomination the committing of murder, or of deliberately choosing to diminish one’s own soul?
And if performing acts, the result of which are “against nature” is the significator of the very worst sort of Dark magic, how does one justify the performance of any sort of magic? How “natural” is it to cause a pineapple to sprout legs and dance across the table?
No. I’m afraid this “official explanation” is a piece of subjective relativism beyond the bounds of morality, ethics, principle, or any kind of common sense. A certain degree of simplification for the purpose of rendering your message accessible to 9-year-olds may be unavoidable, but this is reducto ad absurdism in spades. It completely undermines any serious attempt to transmit any sort of a coherently moral “message”. The author has just shot herself in the foot.
A closely related issue is the apparent readiness of Dark wizards to go “rogue”. The identification and apprehension of “Dark wizards” is stated as being one of the primary duties of an Auror. From which we may conclude that, so long as a team of Aurors are employed by the Ministry in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, it can be assumed that it is generally understood by the Ministry of Magic that there are a good many Dark wizards known to be out there practicing at any given time. And that tracking down those that are practicing outside the Ministry parameters, illegally, or those who have lost control of their experiments will occupy a significant percentage of the Ministry Aurors’ time and skills.
The fact that Aurors are, by the simplest definition, employed to apprehend lawbreakers in general, no doubt contributes also to the pervasive confusion of both reader, and the wizarding public itself as to whether a Dark wizard is merely a lawbreaker, or the practitioner of a specific class of magic. It is rather difficult to regard the likes of Willy Widdershins or Mundungus Fletcher as fitting the mould of “dangerous Dark wizards”.
If that’s what you are using as your measuring stick, it’s small wonder Tom Riddle rates so high.
With the release of HBP and the (somewhat indignant) realization that “Dark wizard” usually seems to translate into the wizarding equivalent of miscreant, I doubt that anyone blinks and gasps when an Auror, in the course of his or her duties, apprehends a Dark wizard. There might be a line or two in the Prophet, but the Auror is regarded as only doing his job. That, after all, is what Aurors are for. To catch and neutralize dangerous, Dark wizards so the rest of the community doesn’t have to.
(Note: the Department of Magical Law Enforcement employs both Aurors and Hit Wizards. While it is tempting to conclude that the Hit Wizards are the equivalent of the regular police, or, possibly, the SWAT team, and that the Aurors serve as the equivalent of the Detective division, this has never been confirmed in canon. And, in fact, in canon the bulk of the DMLE appears to consist of various regulatory agencies.)
My initial interpretation, which I’d stated publicly, in more than one forum, over the previous three years was that the Dark Arts were probably heavily regulated, but that only a comparatively short list of specific materials and/or spells are actually illegal.
I am now inclined to believe that while the Dark Arts seem not to be regulated at all, the same consideration of there being a short list of specific spells and materials which are indeed illegal is nevertheless the case.
I had also stated that I believed that these specific spells and materials are probably illegal for a number of different reasons. Some, because of their extreme potential for harm to others, or due to their inherent violation of “human (or at least sentient Beings’) rights”. Others may be illegal due to their unacceptably high potential for harm to their caster, and some — particularly such materials as proscribed Potion ingredients, because de facto illegal acts are necessary in order to obtain the ingredients to brew them.
In the past, I had also suggested, although it was nowhere confirmed in canon, that there was probably a considerable bureaucratic overlay pertaining to the legitimate study and practice of the Dark Arts. Given that what we had been shown of the Ministry of Magic depicted it as a bureaucracy run wild, I thought that this was at least a tenable hypothesis. I can no longer believe this to be an accurate reading of the situation and Rowling has certainly never confirmed it.
I do still contend that this was one of several alternative tenable hypotheses if one attempts to postulate a society in which the society actually manages to function. But there is nothing that we have been shown to date which would definitely support that particular interpretation. We have been shown almost no regulations upon Dark magic whatsoever, until it crosses the line and conflicts with some specific wizarding law.
My own take on the subject of the Dark Arts, another one which I have stated for some years now, and one which I still believe allows for all of the multiple viewpoints which we have seen within canon — yes even in HBP and DHs — is that the Dark Arts are an older branch of Magical study itself, accessing magic in a form that is wilder, more organic, more inherently chaotic, and far less amenable to human control than the forms of magic currently taught at Hogwarts. And that this class of spells were only formally defined as the Dark Arts after a later, more stable, less dangerous process of performing magic (i.e., “Light” Magic, aka: “modern wizardry”) was developed — from them.
I also propose that their somewhat ominous-sounding name is chiefly due to their association with the last historical period in which they were uncontested and unchallenged by any form of competition, which is to say, the “Dark” Ages. (This was a fairly brief period, historically. The information “blackout” from which the era takes its name took place comparatively late. There is ample information and records regarding events among the various cultures of Antiquity.) Indeed, the major reason that the Dark Arts are “dark” is because it is impossible to fully classify and control them.
Under this reading; up to, and until nearly the end of the Dark Ages, virtually all magic was “Dark” magic. Modern wizardry was only developed or formalized around the beginning of what has since come to be referred to as the “Middle” Ages, over which period this newer and safer process of conducting and controlling magic was gradually applied to an ever wider range of the spells actually performed on an everyday basis and was eventually adopted as the primary method of working magic by nearly all formally trained witches and wizards. Such a transition in the way magic was taught and used would have taken several generations.
In short, that “Light” magic, aka; modern wizardry, is essentially domesticated magic. Or, as it is more commonly referred to; “wizardry”. Hogwarts is a school which teaches its students witchcraft, and wizardry.
Not all of the spells which comprise the body of “wizardry” are mild or harmless, either. Rather a lot of them are curses, and some of them are pretty brutal. But they are consistent, and reliable, and they do not usually morph into something else when you try to cast them.
According to this reading, the chief problem with the Dark Arts isn’t that they necessarily are inherently “evil”, it is that they are inherently, and inordinately chaotic, and, consequently, unacceptably perilous. Dabbling with the Dark Arts is the magical equivalent of playing Russian roulette.
Particularly when compared to the “wizarding” equivalents which have widely superseded them across much of general society. Clearly these “Dark” Arts are more dangerous — both to the community as a whole, and to the individual wizard — than any form of conventional domestic magic.
By the standards of modern wizardry, even the results produced by the Dark Arts are bound to sometimes be unacceptably unstable and inadmissibly erratic. But the historical significance, and the place in the continuum of Magical development of the Dark Arts is unquestionable. If nothing else, it ensures that many, if not most, of the current spells used in modern wizardry must have been originally developed from them. And, if this is the case, the study (if not necessarily the practice) of the Dark Arts cannot readily be abolished, since a grounding in this particular branch of study is still the basis for much of the wizarding world’s research in developing modern, reliable magical processes from older, Dark Arts root forms. Rendering this particular issue into a perpetual balancing act in which all of wizarding society is eternally engaged.
Once we apply this contextual lens of viewing the Dark Arts as an earlier stage of Magical development, and the raw material from which spells in general are created, to the question of just what the Dark Arts are, we start seeing a very much more nuanced and sophisticated reading of the ongoing conflict between the current forms of “wizardry” and Dark magic as they are shown in canon. Even including a possible explanation for why it seems to be specifically the wizards whose families have the longest history of wizarding tradition that appear to be most likely to gravitate toward the older forms. Or at least to be the ones most likely to tolerate or encourage an interest in such study in their young.
Under this definition, while domestic magic would clearly be amenable to an almost unlimited degree of customization and modification, your true “spell hackers” would almost universally tend to be Dark wizards.
That could conceivably explain the prestige of such families as the Blacks.
For that matter, using this interpretation as a reference point, even when dealing with the Unforgivable curses, one might with comparatively little effort postulate perfectly “legitimate” usages (even if only according to the mindsets of far less enlightened times) for all three of them, if one transposes the context to a period when “western civ” and magical technology were both at far more primitive levels. That these curses operate in the manner of Dark magic seems indisputable in canon, for the point has been repeatedly made that the caster’s intent is a critical element in the casting of them. But that their original purposes were intended exclusively for evil is open to some debate.
In a period when a man quite literally, and quite legally, “owned” his wife and children, to the point that he had the power of life and death over them, the use of Imperius would have been a wizarding husband or father’s right. It must have looked like a far more gentle and kindly solution to family friction than that of a Muggle neighbor whose wife and children regularly sported visible injuries, or one who would go so far as to execute an adult or adolescent child who refused to honor his authority. It was a solution which was accessible to any wizard who happened to own a family. Such “ownership” would have been as little questioned as the ownership of a House Elf is in modern times.
In North Africa, a form of desert hunting which required only a direct line of sight without the range limitations of a sling or bow, or — whether in North Africa or elsewhere — a means of providing a quick, merciful death on the killing floor of the slaughterhouse, or the sickroom, in the case of incurable illness or irreparable injury hardly needs justification. We also have no reason to believe that the Avada Kadavra curse was originally developed with the intent to kill humans. (I specify North African desert hunting in recognition that the AK curse, unlike the two other Unforgivables does not have its incantation’s roots in Latin, but is of Aramaic origin.)
Even Cruciatus might have once served a useful purpose in sorting the deeply unconscious from the dead in the aftermath of battle, poisoning or magical catastrophe. Affecting the whole nervous system, as it does, anything still alive cannot help but react to it. Even when deeply unconscious. (Or ought not to be able to avoid reacting so.)
In some cases, centuries ago, such a curse’s shock to the system might have even been regarded as legitimately therapeutic. It seems hardly more inhumane than many other processes which unquestionably lurk in the corners of modern medical history. For that matter, we were given a big hint in OotP that the history of medi-magic is probably every bit as brutal as that of Muggle medicine. But Cruciatus certainly is not used for any of these purposes nowadays, nor can it be sustained by such semi-benign intentions.
Which may nevertheless have been the original intentions. The sadistic intent which is applied by the curse’s modern users to prolong its effect may even be a deliberate perversion of it’s original purpose.
The Development of Magic as a Course of Study:
The Following is a postulation on the order in which Magic and Magical studies may have developed; it is my own reading of the subject, and I am an inveterate incrementalist. The whole collection has already undergone multiple expansions and reinterpretations. If something has not been totally contradicted and rendered instantly obsolete, it may, over time be subject to further tweaks or refinements as I think sections of it over in context with points that others may call to my attention, as I have further insights of my own, or, sometimes, as I reconsider the implications of just what I have said. Occasionally adjustments may be made as off-canon auxiliary information comes up in interviews, or on the official website. Although, given Rowling’s post-release performance of flip-flopping, and her failure to come up with an explanation and stick to it for two days running, I am more likely to discount any further information that she might choose to give us in either in interviews or online.
However, more recently, a year after the release of DHs, an e-mail discussion with my “fellow traveler” the LiveJournalist known as Swythyv, has brought me to conclude that at least one of my postulations on the use and consequences of the practice of Dark magic was probably still a bit over-simplified. It may be necessary to retrace a development path here.
My original underlying concept of the following was initially formulated after the release of HP and the Goblet of Fire, but the publication of HP and the Order of the Phoenix did not present any significant contradiction to the general principles explored below, and the release of HBP, although it was not particularly helpful, did not produce any absolute contradictions either. Nor, for that matter did the release of DHs.
More recently, in the matters of Real World historical development, I am very much indebted to a LiveJournalist who goes by the name of Sollersuk for her exceedingly welcome corrections to a number of the inaccuracies regarding early history which had infested the previous versions of this essay and some others in the collection.
As my starting point: I base all speculation upon the underlying premise that “Magic” (i.e., “wild” or “Dark” magic) is a form of energy; a non-sentient force, such as electricity, and that some minerals, plants, species, and individuals within specific species are natural conductors of this energy.
Just about anything on either the material or spiritual “planes” can be affected by Magic, properly focused and directed, but only these natural conductors are able to constrain this force into a deliberate form, or to direct it to a specific end. Depending on the circumstances and the actual materials involved in such conduction this may be accomplished either consciously, or otherwise. For example a magical plant will constrain the magic which it channels in a specific way, but it is not doing so through any sort of conscious intent. It shapes the magic it channels into a specific form dictated by its nature.
It is possible that not only is Magic an energy “like” electricity, but that these two forms of energy occupy some of the same “frequencies” in their transmission. This would explain why electronic equipment fails to operate in environments with extremely high levels of ambient Magic, such as Hogwarts. The local magical energies are already occupying the bandwidth necessary for the electrical impulses to be transmitted from the batteries to the device. Away from such environments, Magic and electricity will both be operable in proximity, but it is possible that there may occasionally be random interference between the two under extraordinary conditions.
I have deliberately limited my focus to the development of the study of Human Magic. Human Magic has developed along different routes and, upon the whole, I suspect, at a later date than the Magic of most other sentient magical species, or “Beings”. Human magic, in fact, appears to be a biological aberration within its species, which may explain why human wizards are so likely to be adversely affected by magical energies in their more chaotic forms. Unlike all other magical peoples, only a very small percentage of humans are able to conduct magic. Something on the order of 0.005% of the population. Human beings, in general are not a magical species at all.
Most of my extrapolations up to the recent e-mail discussion with Swythyv failed to take proper account of this factor. It is now turning out to be a fundamental one.
It must also be noted that until quite recently — say the last 200 years or so — not all persons who were capable of conducting Magic necessarily found themselves intentionally doing so to any significant degree. Many wizards and witches prior to the development of monitoring or locational devices such as the charmed quill currently used by Hogwarts Academy to identify and record the births of magical children, lived out apparently normal lives scarcely distinguishable from those of the rest of their social groups (although they would have been intermittently plagued by “odd happenings” in their vicinity). It must be admitted that an obscure and uneventful life, and a phlegmatic disposition would be a considerable advantage in enabling such an outcome.
When such a witch or wizard’s ability to conduct magical energies remained quiescent, or if, with practice and discipline (certain forms of meditation are helpful), the flow of magical energy could be sustained at a very low level, dissipating the build-up of such energies, their survival rates within these groups were typically neither greater nor less than those of their non-conductive counterparts, given that they were not exposed to either the dangers nor the full benefits to which their natural conductivity would have otherwise entitled them. Under most conditions the ability to dissipate these energies harmlessly would have been a considerable advantage for survival past the age of puberty.
Unfortunately, while magical conductivity appears to be inherited, the ability to dissipate the energies so generated is not. The accidental magical “breakthroughs” commonly observed among juvenile wizards are due to a natural resistance to the energies that their systems are attempting to channel*. Eventually the buildup of such energies is released suddenly, and explosively, much as in a sneeze. However, while such breakthroughs are typical, extreme breakthroughs of this sort are not universal, and there is reason to believe that in a minority of such children whose breakthroughs are more moderate (perhaps 20% or so) the young wizard — who might understandably find such breakthroughs alarming — eventually may unconsciously hit upon some method of regulating the channeling of such energies, dissipating the energies at a very low level, by the time he leaves the toddler stage. Such an habitual dissipation of the magical energies has the side effect of leaving the child without enough of a reservoir of magical energy to be able to cast spells.
Such children appear to have either unconsciously found some manner in which to expel the generated energies at a low enough level which escapes general notice, or have found some way to keep the channel open to the point that the energy trickles through them at a steady enough pace that it does not ever build up to the point that it needs to be expelled in a burst. Such children may later find it difficult to actually “connect to” and utilize their magic once the time comes to learn how to control it.
Other children, particularly ones with a great deal of such magical energy to work with manage to consciously focus and at least partially control such energies by the age of 9 or 10, resulting in what to an observer would be recognizable as the performance of legitimate nonverbal spells, before reaching the normal age to be fitted with a wand.
However, any untrained magical child may be at extreme psychic or physical risk if he should find himself accidentally invoking a powerful surge of magical energy. Particularly as he approaches his teens, when his ability to channel magic has matured without the proper training to control it. Such a surge might be beyond his ability to dissipate, with possibly fatal results. We were given some suggestion of this being the case in the course of DHs. Ariana Dumbledore as she is described is highly unlikely to have killed her mother, Kendra, with a controlled spell, or by means of a wand.
*It should be noted that in an inherently magical species there is no such resistance. Consequently such species have no actual need of a wand in order to conduct magic in whatever manner is typical of their species. The Ministry’s restriction of wands to human wizards and witches has created a false demand where there is no real requirement.
My extrapolation of tracing the development of Magical study is as follows:
Stage I; “Wild Magic”
In the beginning, there was Magic. Which is to say, raw, “Wild” Magic.
No human has ever, properly speaking, “used” Wild Magic. Any more than they have “used” static electricity. Wild Magic used them. In fact, it tended to use them up, very much in the manner of a lightning strike. Few early wizards survived a spontaneous encounter with an overly large burst of Wild Magic. This is the case, in the purest sense, of the situation described above, where an individual helplessly finds himself channeling magic at a level of force which he is unable to either suppress or direct.
We are speaking of the very earliest prehistory here. Such incidents were observed by other members of the victims’ social groups. Given that these fatal bursts of uncontrolled Magic typically tended to occur under the effect of strong emotional stress on the part of the individual conducting the magical energy, such observations eventually gave rise to the belief that there were unseen entities which took a sufficient interest in the behavior of human beings to reward and/or to punish them according to their own somewhat mysterious standards. These entities were ultimately to be defined as the “gods”, whose interest could be courted, their favor won, or their anger propitiated. The victims of these encounters with Wild Magic were most often judged to have done something that had brought retribution down upon themselves.
[Note: It is plain that these incidents were identical in kind, although not in degree, to the spontaneous “breakthrough” magic commonly experienced by immature wizards. The still incompletely developed nervous systems of magical children typically prevents these breakthroughs from being able to transmit enough magical energy to actually do the child direct physical or psychic harm, although examples of indirect harm, due to random instances of unintentional Apparation or the uncontrolled moving, combustion, or Transfiguration of objects are common enough. Exceptions to this general understanding do exist.]
There are no tenable claims of magical technological development during this period, due to the lack of any sort of reliable social record.
It needs to be remembered that such encounters with Wild Magic did not cease after the study of Magic began to formalize a basic understanding of the processes involved. Instead, they continued, with gradually diminishing frequency until the development and wide adoption of the cored wand, which did not take place until a comparatively recent date; sometime around the founding of the Roman republic. Such encounters became increasingly rare after this date. Such fatal encounters, however, are still recorded as having taken place among or in the proximity of untrained, wandless, often Muggle-born wizards as recently as the 18th and 19th century.
It is understood that this sort of encounter has not taken place among the wandless inmates in custody at Azkaban prison only because of the Dementors’ practice of “draining” such wizards of their emotional and magical resources. Leaving them too depleted to generate a strong enough involuntary surge of magic to make them vulnerable to such danger. Now that the Dementors have left Azkaban it is unknown whether the wizards in custody there will be subject to such encounters in the future.
Stage II: “Ancient Magic”
This title refers to the very rudimentary, imperfect and incomplete compendium of what is understood to have been the experiences of those rare individuals who survived being used as a channel for Wild Magic in prehistory. This body of data is further amplified by legendary reports concerning suspected wizards who are believed to have invoked the process deliberately, and who appear to have directed the outcome, even though they may not actually have survived the experience. The invocation of Magic in such “Ancient” form today is vanishingly rare, and fatal in most accredited instances.
Actual dates pertaining to this period are impossible to assign since we are still dealing with prehistory. This was a transitional period and overlapped into that which followed it, which is to say about the time that the Sumerians and the rest of those guys were all just beginning to get their acts together.
Stage III: Shamans and Priests
The first concern of humans, either individually or as a community, is to gain some degree of control over the natural and supernatural events to which they are subjected. To this end human reasoning and imagination has gravitated toward seeking to discover what will control his environment with an interest toward negotiating the most favorable of possible terms with it. Wizards, being psychically active enough to see and communicate with many of the entities which reside in the spirit world are uniquely well suited to this pursuit.
That animal spirits in the form of guides, totems, and patrons appear to be universal in the belief systems of early hunter-gatherer societies, as depicted in cave paintings from an early date would tend to suggest that the Animagus transformation, which can be performed wandlessly, is probably one of the earliest known forms of advanced magic to have survived to the present day. That the Animagus transformation can go hideously wrong may account for not only some accounts of human/animal hybrid monsters which populate mythology, but also for some of the animal-headed gods of various early civilizations, some of these having been incorporated from the long established beliefs dating from pre-agricultural traditions.
The wizarding Priest, who in the majority of agricultural societies eventually supplanted the Shaman was a development which, in the west, coincided with the rise of bronze-age civilizations in and around the Mediterranean region. The most widely-held opinion regarding this later stage of Magical development is that it was precipitated by the discovery that Magical energy could be channeled into and through a physical object for the purpose of giving it a specific direction and focus. The development of the staff among the Sumarians and the somewhat later cultures developing concurrently with Egypt marks the earliest recognized epoch of this particular stage of the development of Magical studies.
The development of the Staff is likely to have been a reasonably simple discovery and one which may have been discovered concurrently in a great many regions. The widespread use of a walking staff assures that eventually a wizard with one in his hand might point it at an object he intended to affect, in an emergency. The use of a staff reduced the percentage of fatalities in encounters with Magic by transferring the greater part of any damage previously suffered by the wizard himself, to the staff. This lowered the risks connected with channeling Magical energy to the point that the desirability of voluntary invocation of such encounters began to outweigh its dangers (survival rate was now at approximately 40%, rising to nearly 75% by the end of this era).
During the earlier, largely nomadic phase of this era, mixed social groups which included wizards (some extended family groups might have been chiefly composed of wizards) regarded these individuals as supernaturally favored, and came to venerate them and look to them as spiritual leaders. In return, these Shamans and (eventually) Priests were the designated “lightning-rods” of their communities and were expected to be willing to sacrifice themselves for the community’s benefit when the need was great enough. In the case of Shamans, their function within their cultures as the gatekeepers and mediators to the spirit world assured that the most effective of such Shamans would always be wizards, since wizards are the only humans in the Potterverse who are noted as being capable of seeing and communicating with the entities who reside on the spiritual planes. Or who, as ghosts, might give advice and counsel to their successors.
That magical conductivity is an inherited quality accounts for such documented ensuing social oddities as hereditary priesthoods. It has been postulated that it was the social function of such wizards, as the spiritual leaders of their groups that initially suggested the practice of attempting to channel magical energy not merely physically, but “spiritually” as well, attempting to maximize the amount of contact and integration between his deepest “self” with the magical energies that he was attempting to direct. This practice was certainly incorporated into all formal magical study from this early point. It did tend to increase the focus of such channeling. It also generated psychic “residue” and enhanced the vulnerability of the wizard to the distortions of perception inherent in too closely exposing oneself to chaotic energies.
With this in mind it should also be noted that while the practice of traditional aboriginal, or Shamanistic religions is quite harmless to Muggles, and may even be regarded as spiritually beneficial, it can be extremely dangerous to wizards, and their surrounding communities. The traditions that these religions were initially grounded upon were almost universally formalized before the development of modern wizardry. Consequently, there are no protections in place within the traditional constraints of the religion’s practice. For this reason, we might suspect that all of those Ministries (or Bureaus) of Magic in nations which include a significant aboriginal population might contain an extensive Department of Aboriginal Affairs which monitors any surges of wild Magic in the areas where these populations hold territory.
This form of monitoring would be similar in kind to the charmed quill employed by Hogwarts to flag the birth of children who have inherited a sufficient degree of magical conductivity to require training, but is attuned to the particular “frequencies” of Magic which are more associated with the local form of aboriginal religion as practiced by adolescent and adult wizards and is intended to identify those rare individuals whose magic may have developed, or have been activated at some later point in their lifecycle rather than at birth, or to serve as an emergency response system for those individuals who are unwisely attempting to operate wandlessly and may now require assistance. It utilizes the same technology as the monitoring devices currently deployed by the Accidental Magical Reversal Department, with the addition of specific calibration attuned to the local influences.
Among modern wizarding practitioners of such religions around the world today, such modifications in the means of channeling magical energies as are used in conventional wizardry have been “retrofitted” into the practice wherever possible.
By the later part of this historical period, as religious beliefs gradually formalized and identifiable sects became more widespread and established, a wizard in society was offered the choice of either continuing to function within his society in an independent capacity as a professional magic user, or he might enter one or another form of priesthood. This choice remained open to wizards until quite recently and that both options remained available can be noted right up to the establishment of wizarding Seclusion.
Stage IV: Philosophers and Scholars
The establishment of cities under various bronze age cultures increased the variety as well as the number of potential partners available to individuals whose bloodlines harbored magical traits. This resulted initially in a decrease in the births of children who were capable of serving as active conductors of Magic due to the dilution of these traits throughout a now much broader mundane gene pool. But as the highly resilient magical traits became ever more widely replicated and dispersed throughout the local populations this decrease ultimately corrected itself, and continued long enough to reverse the initial trend. A gradual increase in the birthrate of children who could be determined to have inherited an active level of magical conductivity was the result.
These increases would have been quicker to occur, the smaller the total population of the local society. Societies which occupied major trade routes would have been slower to display such increases due to continued dilution from external, transient populations. It is possible that we are seeing the beginning of a similar upwards “reversal” trend in the magical birthrate in island nations such as Great Britain today, although the high level of transience of the general population of the modern world would argue against it.
The organized religions and their priesthoods within these societies had, by this time, formalized, and while many magical children were ultimately accepted into these priesthoods, many more, particularly female children, studied under an informal tutelage outside the constraints of their local religions. This tutelage would have been based upon the studies earlier developed by such priesthoods, even occasionally priesthoods of religions which were not practiced by the local population. It is rare that any technique not developed in the course of ministering to a following such as that between a priest and his flock or the shaman and his tribe would have survived to be taught to others, although there were undoubtedly some unique practices passed down as “family secrets”.
Such studies were generally confined within the children’s families, but the urban environment encouraged greater contact between families whose members had magical conductivity in common. This mingling would have encouraged discussion and debate. Such a pooling of knowledge and experimentation was the inception of the formal study of Magic as it is known today. Ultimately such coalitions of “philosophers” would have contributed the fruits of their discussion to the general knowledge and theories held in common by the majority of the magical population of their cities and city-states.
The most far-reaching developments of this period were, first, the rise in the general rate of literacy among trained wizards; which is to say, wizards from magical families. Magical children occurring in families which contained no other living wizard during this period often remained untrained, or self-trained, and illiterate, if they survived.
The second, and far more significant event was the development of the wand, which is to say the cored wand.
The staff, which up until this point had eventually been destroyed during cumulative use in any but the most trivial of “workings”, (having taken any damage which would have previously been taken by the spell’s caster), although closely studied in regards to the symbolism of the tree from which it might have been made, had not ever been given a core of any secondary material. An uncored wand made of solid wood did not typically have the mass necessary to sustain use in even simple “workings” without taking immediate damage.
At some point it was discovered that the wand, if given a core of some inherently magically-conductive material, would not only generally survive intact, but would amplify the force of the caster’s intent, and further enhance the focus of his aim. It also provided a much higher degree of safety for the wizard since the magical energy he was channeling now flowed directly from his own nervous system into the wand without meeting any of the resistance previously encountered in the transition from a more-highly conductive to a less-conductive environment, as had been the case when focusing Magic which was channeled through one’s own system through a solid wooden staff.
The cored wand served essentially as an extension of the wizard’s own nervous system. Any of the potential explosions or combustions due to impacted channeling, which take place upstream of the point of resistance now took place in the wand, since the point of most resistance had been placed at some remove from the wizard’s own physical body. This brought the survival rate of Magical practice up to a solid 85%-95% virtually overnight, while raising its effectiveness considerably.
The date and origin of the development of the cored wand is uncertain. It’s origins are most commonly — although not universally — attributed to the Persians, although some insist upon attributing it to various other peoples. What is certain is that it was widely adopted by the Romans during the period of the Republic, and the use of the cored wand is credited for many of the Republic’s earliest conquests over various other rival states in the Italian peninsula.
The advantage of the cored wand over the uncored staff in a combat situation, was great enough to suggest that wherever the wand was first developed, the secret of its construction would have been jealously guarded for fear of the information falling into the hands of enemies. This is a secrecy which was doomed to fail fairly quickly. A wand is more easily broken or lost than a staff. Any wand to have been broken would have immediately revealed that it was cored with some foreign material. Although it might not be immediately evident what that material was. It is likely that a great many attempts to produce functional wands using very odd materials as cores would have followed, before it became obvious which materials were not well suited for the purpose.
Throughout most of Europe the wand was ultimately to supplant the use of the Staff altogether. Only very rare wizards are noted to have used staffs after about the 3rd or 4th century A.D. And those who did so may have used them only on ceremonial occasions.
Stage V: Wizards and Witches.
Over the century or two following the development of the cored wand, the increase in the survival rate among the conductors of Magic began to reveal a problem which had not, up to that period, been generally noticed or seriously contemplated, although the indications are that it had been in evidence for centuries previous. Hand-in-hand with the increase in wizarding survival rates came the highly disturbing observation that the long-term exercise of one’s Magical conductivity appeared to have a discernible degenerative effect upon a wizard or witch’s personality.
This erosion or distortion of character had not been immediately evident in the days of the Shamans and the Priests, since the Priest’s status of being god-touched had itself covered a multitude of pathologies and given the instability of working wandlessly, or with an uncored staff, the fatality rate among such individuals had, even at best, been against the likelihood of his surviving to make “old bones”. The personality deterioration which was now increasingly observed took a variety of recognizable forms. Rampant paranoia was among the most widespread of them.
The common factor of all these forms of pathology appeared to be; first, a certain “hardening” of the individual’s capability for empathy and a lessening of either the willingness or the capacity to recognize the rights and, indeed the existence of other people as either other individuals, or, in advanced cases, as members of his own species. Second; an increasing readiness to regard all other entities as their enemy and to behave accordingly.
These observations became progressively more alarming as the cumulative body of evidence suggested that this mysterious malady ultimately seemed to affect the majority of practicing witches and wizards (in fact, the incidence was something like two thirds).
It was ultimately observed that some forms of Magical practice were more subject to this process than others. The passive study of Magical theory itself, was eventually determined not to have any degenerating effect upon the character at all. It is this factor which explains the comparatively recent discovery that a select few of the traditional names most associated with early studies of magical theory turn out not to have been those of wizards at all, but Squibs from mixed-blood families, or of predominantly magical families, with a bent for scholarship partaking in the various “schools of philosophy” in concert with family members and other members of the local magical community.
This degenerative condition is today identified as Dark Arts-related dementia and, apart from the absence of any corresponding degenerative physical component, in many regards the symptoms closely resemble the mundane condition currently identified as Alzheimer’s Disease, with, as stated above, a distinct overlay of paranoia. While there were undoubtedly some medi-magical potions or processes which may have slowed this deterioration, the only sure way to avoid the development of this condition was to limit one’s practice of Magical “workings”.
In strict accuracy, it also must be pointed out that there have probably been no really well-advanced cases of this condition available for study in recent centuries, and that consequently, most current understanding of the progression of the disease are based upon extrapolations from historical records. On the other hand, there is an ample apparent evidence of just such a blunting of empathy to be observed among Dark wizards in the modern day. It is undetermined whether this blunting of empathy is, in fact, a component of the progress of the condition, merely accompanies it, or is unrelated to it.
We also have, in canon, one fairly widely acknowledged sufferer of paranoia. Admittedly, no one can question the fact that Alistor Moody’s paranoia was to some extent justified. However, it should also be pointed out that nobody questioned the plausibility of his alleged deployment of animated dustbins against what appeared to be phantom intruders. And as an Auror, and a prominent one, Moody might reasonably be supposed to have spent a greater amount of his life grappling with the Dark Arts than the average wizard. Or even the average Dark wizard.
One must also consider the proximity of his magical eye to his brain and wonder whether there may have been some flaw in the design of that device.
As a sort of footnote to this survey as regards the modern practice of the Dark Arts. If we are to take former Professor Snape’s description of the nature of the Dark Arts at face value (“...many, varied, ever-changing, eternal.” “...unfixed, mutating indestructible.”) it seems self-evident that getting in too deep might well serve as a positive invitation for developing at least some form of delusional thinking. It does not, however, support the contentions of the unsophisticated that the Dark Arts themselves are necessarily inherently evil. Or even that Dark Arts spells are necessarily hostile.
Which brings me to a point of considerable digression. And, I’m sorry, but it’s likely to be a longish one. I still seem to have some dominoes toppling, intermittently:
In my original interpretations on this issue, I had interpreted the existence of such a condition to mean that the process of channeling Magic in the form in which it is used by the Dark Arts ultimately resulted in organic modifications to the afflicted wizard’s physiology. Modifications which resulted in the gradual increase of the amount of Magical energy channeled until the wizard was unable to properly direct or control the energies he was channeling. Until the magic he channeled was effectively using him.
This now seems more clearly not to be the case. Although there may be very slight organic modifications to the physiology of habitual practitioners of the Dark Arts, whatever progressive deterioration was sustained by the wizard who developed a form of Dark Arts dementia was not truly organic, but perceptual.
What remains unclear is the true underlying cause for this development. And one could hardly wish for the days of such a scourge to return merely to enable one to study it.
The first thing that I had failed to take into account was that while raw “wild” magic itself may be a form of energy without any consciousness of its own, the fact that even common, domestic wizardry is capable of animating the inanimate and conjuring living creatures into existence would tend to support the possibility that chaotic Dark magic itself is capable of spontaneously generating entities which subsist upon it.
My previous interpretation was that such entities may not be fully conscious, or truly sentient, but they are sufficiently aware that to facilitate the uninterrupted flow of the energies which sustain them will be to their advantage. Such a premise is still possible. But it is hardly the only alternative.
If that premise is permitted, it would appear that the forms of such entities are, as former Professor Snape points out, various. And that they are more than capable of influencing human perception. In addition to Professor Snape’s statements, we have other, more direct canon evidence to suggest that such random, chaotic entities do at least exist in the Potterverse.
The chaotic entities which react most openly with humans are those which I refer to throughout this collection as the prophecy demons. No one reading the series can deny that these entities exist. These are probably not the only variety of such entities, nor are they the most insidious. Indeed they are arguably the least so.
My previous postulation was that among the more dangerous entities are some which work in the manner of a bacteria or a virus, psychically haunting the afflicted wizard, distorting the perceptions of those who have undertaken to expose themselves to the chaotic energies upon which the entities depend, in a manner which will encourage them to channel such energies without restraint. Ultimately to a point beyond which one is able to control.
Upon further consideration (and discussion) I am no longer quite satisfied with this explanation as it stands. What this variant fails to account for is that there appears to be no corresponding malady that affects any species of magic worker apart from wizards and witches of human ancestry. When one also takes into consideration that magical Beings who are not at least partially human are prohibited by law from using wands, and yet are still unaffected by any form of dementia related to the direct channeling of magic one is forced to the conclusion that any dementia pertaining to the channeling of magic is not something that applies to the nature of magic, but is a specifically human problem.
Humans, as I have pointed out elsewhere, are not an inherently magical species. Only a tiny percentage of humans are able to channel magic at all. And even those cannot properly focus their magic without the artificial “crutch” provided by some focusing implement, to wit, a wand. And it is beginning to surface that humans are really not really properly designed to effectively channel the magic that they are able to channel.
For one thing their whole channeling process is impacted. That’s why young wizards have magical breakthroughs in the first place. Their “incoming” magical charge, instead of flowing through them naturally, until needed, too often builds up until something triggers an abrupt discharge of the pent-up energy, like a sneeze. And the only way to reliably use the magic a wizard will naturally collect is, as stated above, to force it out into a focusing device to make it discharge in some manner a good deal less random than a sneeze.
What is more; humans leak.
Not magic. If they leaked magic the impacted channeling process peculiar to human wizards would be far less of a problem. Humans, however, leak bits of emotional detritus, which so far as I can make it out (this is a comparatively new area of exploration, and has not really been nailed down yet) seems to flake off quite unintentionally. And, which can collect in the immediate environment.
Well, hey, we know that it does. And such “residue” has been amply demonstrated in canon to have generated at least one independent entity which subsists on it, and which does everything in his power to sustain and increase the manufacture of more such distressing emotional residue.
I refer of course to Peeves. He is not a ghost. A ghost is defined as “the imprint of a departed soul”. Peeves is not the representation of any creature who was ever actually alive. Nor when one stops to consider the matter, does he possess anything that could properly be identified as a soul.
He was generated by the build-up of emotional residue generated and shed by cumulative eons of large numbers of adolescent wizards collected in one place, all of whose magic is in the process reaching maturity even as their control over it is still faulty and inconsistent. What is particularly of note is that these are not, for the most part young wizards engaged in a study of the Dark Arts, but wizards who are being taught the comparatively safe practices of modern wizardry.
And yet their control, both magical and emotional, is still lax enough to shed enough chaotic energy for it to manifest as a poltergeist. Which by the way, is identifiably human in appearance. No one has ever mistaken Peeves for the ghost of a Goblin or a House Elf.
However, one’s soul appears to be the part of a wizard which actually channels the wizard’s magic, and its imprint constitutes his deepest identity. Ginny Weasley was only able to communicate with the Basilisk while she was being actively controlled by a fragment of Tom Riddle’s soul. For that matter, Rowling assures us that once the soul fragment of Tom Riddle’s that he was harboring was destroyed Harry Potter ceased to be a Parselmouth. That such highly individual magical gifts as the ability to understand and express Parseltongue would seem, therefore, to be qualities specific to an individual wizard’s soul tends to suggest that all magical capabilities are probably aspects of the soul as well. A hypothesis which is further supported by Nearly-Headless Nick’s contention that only wizards and witches are capable as manifesting as ghosts. Non-magical humans evidently are not able to do that. When a Muggle dies, his soul presumably passes directly through the Veil. He is not offered the choice to linger on this side of it.
By most accounts, it is also the soul which is the seat of emotion. Juvenile wizards’ unintentional magical breakthroughs seem typically to have an emotional trigger. It is for this reason that some families have attempted to startle or frighten a child who is suspected of being a Squib into such a breakthrough, just to be certain that he is indeed a wizard.
Consequently, it is reasonably safe to conclude that the sort of emotional detritus which is shed by wizards in the course of performing magic, is, in essence, a direct product of their souls. And, being the product of magical souls, carries a magical “charge” of its own. And, as we have been shown in the case of Hogwarts castle, such detritus collects, supporting and enhancing the natural magical charge of the area. This probably serves as an additional assistance to the students who are attempting to learn to more effectively channel and control their magic in that environment. It supports their efforts despite the fact that they may not be entirely clear on what they are attempting to do, and offers something in the nature of a “boost”.
Using the “pooling” of such unintentional shedding of emotional residue by incompletely trained wizards as a basic example, one might postulate that Dark wizards deliberately channeling magic in its most chaotic form through the very center of their souls may tend to shed even more of such residue.
So have we any kind of indication in canon that this is indeed the case?
You bet we have. Even a half-trained wizard like Harry was able to register that the sea cave was a place that had “known magic” once Albus pointed it out to him.
Even after ghod knows how many centuries after the cave fell into disuse (for I do not believe that Tom created that place) the “residue” of past workings is still detectable.
Which suggests that it might be a good idea to step back now, and take a closer look over our historical survey of the past couple of eras of magical development and see if we can figure out how we ended up in places like that sea cave.
Back in the days that all magic was Dark magic, and the survival rate for any “great working” was in the neighborhood of 75%. It stands to reason that a great deal of wizards’ time, thought and efforts would have been expended on attempting to find or to create safer sources of magic for their use. in the same period, we, in our own Real World parlance, have an established folkloric tradition of such phenomena as “holy wells” and other locations of alleged inherent magical power. We know that something of the sort exists in the Potterverse since we have been told outright that some places, such as Hogwarts itself, are places of exceptionally powerful ambient magic. What is uncertain is whether the magic of such places is naturally inherent to the place, or if the ambient magic has merely built up over time from the residue of magical humans.
It could be either. For that matter, it could be both.
If there are indeed such “thin spots” where magic emerges directly into the physical world, it would stand to reason that the magic of such places would be easily accessed both by magical creatures, or local magic workers. Perhaps more easily, and more safely accessed than by the direct channeling of their “own” magic, giving them a welcome boost for casting spells.
Magic workers would seek out such thin spots, and tend to congregate there.
And eventually they might attempt to create such pools of magic deliberately.
Which is the kind of thing that could get really, really ugly, very, very quickly.
A wizard has no proper control of just what kind of emotional detritus he is shedding. He is only cumulatively aware of the general “strength” of the resulting charge of the area.
Somehow I tend to doubt that general feelings of peace and good-fellowship are going to charge an area as quickly or as strongly as a frenzy of blood-lust and terror. Particularly when such frenzies are being orchestrated in groups. And almost at once what such a group will start emitting will be effectively “monsters of the id”.
Enter the Maenads, the Wild Hunts and other unsavory chthonic cults.
A “holy well,” if such do indeed exist in the Potterverse, would be a point of entry where clean, fresh, if still somewhat chaotic, magic surfaces in the world.
A “pool” of power deliberately created, is a place where a magical charge has collected due to a consolidation of “runoff” from human emotional discharge.
At first glance, both would look (or more properly speaking, “feel”) very similar.
And there is no rule that says that they cannot occupy the same space, either. I rather suspect that there may be a “well” in that sea cave, but over a long period of time an additional charge was built up in that place deliberately, causing it to function as a pool.
And as householders out in the suburbs have been discovering for the past few decades, a pool can turn into a particularly attractive nuisance. For one thing it will tend to dry up if you do not continue to feed it until it reaches some level of critical mass. Once it does that, without a well to freshen it, it tends to go stagnant. And then it starts generating all kinds of far-too-interesting slime. Red caps are one example, and hardly the only one. I am abruptly remembering that nearly allof the half-dozen or so creatures in ‘Fantastic Beasts’ which are listed as “demons” are identified as being specifically water demons. One also recalls the degree of infestation by magical pests of the Black house in London after the neglect of a single decade, and belatedly wonders whether this principle may have contributed to it.
It also raises the likelihood that the reason no one at Hogwarts has ever seriously attempted to get rid of Peeves is that he serves to siphon off an excess of magical energy, maintaining the ambient magic of the castle at a relatively safe level, and there is no guarantee that, were he to be eradicated, what they might get in his place wouldn’t be a great deal more dangerous.
Stagnant pools also generate things that don’t necessarily stay in the immediate vicinity, like mosquitoes. Things that can carry other, worse problems, and prey on the uninvolved.
And if the sea cave is any indication, these places can long outlast their creators.
In fact, many may still be out there.
One thing that needs to be added is that although the emotional detritus shed by one wizard occasionally engaging in a Dark Arts spell in the modern era will probably not build up the critical mass to do him any noticeable harm, the tendency of wizards to settle into stable dwelling places or working places which may be in use for generations may well contribute to the site gradually building up a “negative charge”. In the days that all magic was Dark magic this would have happened much more quickly.
A necessary note regarding the progress of DA-related dementia: It is now generally accepted, based upon empirical evidence, that the majority of those wizards and witches who actively practiced Magic by the methods and procedures which had been established in all formal studies of magic up to the period which we are now examining (which is to say, Dark magic), eventually lost their grip on — essentially — what it was to be a member of the human race. In advanced cases, they had effectively become merely a channel for the forces of chaos. There is no indication that this was in any manner related to any witch or wizard’s underlying “intent” regarding the workings in which they had originally engaged. Such a descent was regarded as the price one ultimately paid for being a wizard.
In the days that the only magic was Dark magic, to permit oneself to become spiritually “connected” with the chaotic forces that one was channeling, to effectively “be” one’s magic, in accordance with the philosophy and practices of the time, appears (so far as we can determine at this late date, long after the fact) to have resulted in the afflicted witch or wizard eventually “losing himself” in an amorphous, phantasmagorical alternate reality to which the bulk of human society was blind and deaf; something akin to a walking nightmare, in which nothing could be trusted, nothing was stable, and anything one encountered might suddenly reveal itself to be an enemy, no matter how closely such a chimera might resemble even one’s most beloved family members. If, as some theorists contend, the ability to conduct magical energies itself is a quality of the soul, this descent into madness was to be considered a spiritual malady; a warping of the soul. It did not help matters that this interpretation was also often the one applied to the situation by the surrounding community.
There is a considerable difference in one’s degree of personal responsibility between choosing to do what one knows to be evil and that of having one’s own “Self” gradually eroded, perhaps unwittingly, to the point that one becomes perilous to be around; although the cost to the surrounding community is likely to be much the same in the final reckoning. And, while an intent to harm others might have had no part of one’s initial motivation, any afflicted witch or wizard would still have constituted a grave danger to anyone in their range. Long before reaching the final stages of this descent, their community would have needed to neutralize such persons for its own safety.
It must be stressed that the progression of this disorder is not specifically a corruption into evil (although that particular form of descent has also been amply documented and observed of the wizards who developed it) but, more properly, a gradual divorce from one’s basic “reality”. Not all of the historic wizards who are known to have developed what would today be recognized as Dark Arts-related dementia were necessarily or intentionally evil, since the practice of Magic itself under the methods of that day was not inherently evil, and, at that point in history, there were no other known methods by which to practice magic.
It is currently understood by a number of scholars who have studied writings related to this issue that the wizards and witches who develop this condition, if unchecked, eventually lose any ability to process the concept of what any such purely human constructions as “good” or “evil” entail, since “survival” has become paramount. Which is, if anything, even more disturbing.
This particular epoch of the development of Magical studies was already solidly established by the Classical period and, in Europe, is generally regarded to have continued (according to region) until the 7th to the 9th century of the present era. Social perceptions regarding wizards which remain current among Muggles dating from this period include the assumption that all sorcerers and sorceresses are at least somewhat mad, and to some degree inhuman, the assumption that all wizards are evil, and the mythic figure of the reclusive wizard isolated in his tower. During this period, many wizards with a major project underway did voluntarily seclude themselves from others, both for the sake of eliminating interruptions to their workings, but also in recognition of the madness which might overtake them.
In an attempt to delay the onset of this madness the majority of wizards and witches, carefully limited their active practice of Magic, which enabled them to live for long periods among their mundane neighbors undetected.
Some recognition ought to be paid to the degree of courage, and even heroism displayed by the practicing witches and wizards during this period in the development of the magical processes and spells which they have passed down to the witches and wizards of today. For they knew, without exception, that they were skating on very thin ice, and that their sanity, and their effective lives, might ultimately be forfeit. They persevered despite this knowledge. Some quite selfishly, to be truthful, but many in the hope that their memorial would be in their legacy to those who would come after them, for the benefit of all. It does them a disservice to claim that all Dark wizards are necessarily evil wizards. For, in their day, there was no “choosing” between Dark or Light. All Magic was Dark Magic. They knew no other sort.
A further degree of attention must also be directed to the traditional methods of neutralizing Dark wizards whose psychic condition had progressed beyond having lost their connection with everyday reality to the point of becoming a danger to the surrounding community.
In the modern day this is a virtually unknown occurrence, and if the tendency is detected in the (very) early stages, may be at least partially corrected. Such cases would now be a matter for referral to St. Mungo’s, or one’s private Healer. Modern instances of DA-related dementia rarely progress beyond the point of the progressive “hardening” of the subject’s capacity for empathy, and/or a manageable if inconvenient level of paranoia, long before any of the more alarming behavior attributed to the condition has become a factor. Unfortunately, given that the sort of conduct resulting from even the early stages of this descent has generally ended in Azkaban, the proximity to and the effect of the Dementors usually renderes any further progress of the malady irrelevant.
In the period of which we speak, however, this loss of control was not an uncommon occurrence. It was the ultimate end of two out of three practicing witches or wizards. The knowledge of this contributed to a certain degree of fatalism in outlook within wizarding families, perhaps accounting for the somewhat “morbid” or “gothic” taste exhibited in the general forms of household display widely adopted by many wizarding families with traditional associations as Dark Arts practitioners.
Whereas today most Dark wizards are apprehended and restrained by trained Aurors, in the past, it was generally the wizard’s own family who were ultimately his jailers. The fact that the monster to be restrained was a once-beloved parent or sibling, and that in all probability the same fate ultimately awaited oneself worked very strongly against any willingness of the hunters to go so far as to kill their target (unless such “hunts” were a part of the activities of one of the aforementioned Dionysian cults, of course — which they may indeed have been).
It has been suggested that the Imperius curse may have been developed in an early attempt to control wizards whose own control was no longer fully within their command. The degree of power necessary to deploy and to maintain this curse, however, would strongly suggest that this avenue of exploration was eventually abandoned as unfeasible.
The commonest, and most widespread, solution that was ultimately adopted was, in most cases, Transfiguration into a form in which the afflicted wizard could take no further damage from the forces which were believed to be eating away at him from the inside, and in which he could do no further harm to his family and neighbors. That a number of these acts of neutralization were witnessed by neighboring Muggles would go a long way to explain the preponderance of the reports of metamorphosis that permeate Classical literature and mythology, most of which cannot be attributed to Animagi. It also goes some way towards explaining the recurrent motif of guardian trees growing from the graves of parents which nevertheless continue to oversee their childrens’ welfare that pervade later folklore, even if perhaps only in the spirit of wish fulfillment.
That such tales are to be found throughout the mythologies of such widespread social groups during this epoch over such a widely dispersed range would suggest that this particular solution was adopted concurrently by the wizards of many peoples in many lands.
It must also be added that the Dark wizards whose containment was being sought were undoubtedly responsible for a great many of such Transfigurations, themselves. Such garbled and incomplete reports of these enchantments, or of their eventual correction, appear to have also filtered into folklore and are now familiar in the household tales of many cultures. The researcher must be strongly cautioned that not all of such folk tales are actually based upon real incidents. The human imagination is a very active force in itself. Many popular tales are made up of whole cloth, only incorporating elements that their originator may have borrowed from earlier tales and with which occurrences he has had no real experience.
One of the most widely documented tales of this particular sort, and the one most broadly familiar among both wizards and Muggles alike, dating from the later portion of this era — and the one which is probably grounded the most solidly in the truth — is the story of the disappearance of the wizard known to us as Merlinus Ambrosius.
This particular wizard is most closely identified with the political situation in Britain following the withdrawal of the Roman legions in the 5th century of the Christian era, and which carried over into the period covering the resistance to the encroachment of Saxon influence which followed that withdrawal.
That the wizard popularly referred to as Merlin is recorded to have been actively, in fact, recklessly practicing magic over an extended period of time in connection with the reigns of both Uther Pendragon, and with that of Uther’s attributed son, Arthur, strongly suggests that his character might indeed have become quite dangerously unstable by the point that he was removed from the political arena. The manner in which this removal was accomplished is reported variously, but the gist of the story is that he was lured from the Court (possibly with the help of the Imperius curse) by a former apprentice, who went by the name of Nimüe, or in some other reports, Vivian; in any case a young witch of considerable personal attractions, and that he was ultimately “confined” in a oak tree.
Merlin’s removal resulted in a severe destabilization within Arthur’s power base, to which Arthur’s eventual defeat by a rival chieftain, and his subsequent disappearance is attributed. That the witch Nimüe did not immediately take Merlin’s place among Arthur’s supporters is generally taken as proof that she was “wicked”, or in the pay of the enemy. It is just as likely, however, that she did not choose to subject herself to the demands of a position which would almost certainly have brought her, sooner rather than later, to share her former Master’s fate. (The differences in the manner in which the Court would have attempted to relate to an attractive young witch, as opposed to a powerful and erratic old wizard might have presented her with an additional counter-incentive.)
A very suggestive line of inquiry was brought up in the mid-20th century by one Charlotte Glover, a Muggle-born witch most widely known for her several collections of retold wizarding household tales. Miss Glover claims that the entry on bowtruckles which she read in an early edition of a popular reference book on Fantastic Beasts, states that they guard trees, and that the bowtruckle must be propitiated before it will permit wandmakers to take wood from the trees under their protection. Having been brought up outside the wizarding world, and having traveled extensively, Miss Glover has been in a position to have observed trees in many National Forests around the world.
Miss Glover has pointed out that most of the world’s trees are not under protection by bowtruckles, whose range is limited to the north and west of Great Britain and a few places on the Continent. She raises the question of whether the wandmakers of these regions always find the wood of the trees under such protection more suitable for the successful creation of wands than the wood of unprotected trees? She asks further whether, if this is so, the cause for this might not be the same quality which has attracted the bowtruckle’s attention to these particular trees in the first place? And whether this quality might not be some residual “resonance” which could be the afterimage from prior conduction of Magical energies?
The (frankly disturbing) implications of the direction taken by Miss Glover’s questions have not been given any serious follow up. (Mr. Ollivander of Diagon Alley was not available for comment.) But it seems to be a toss-up as to whether the wizarding world might find it more of a burden or of a consolation to reflect upon the possibility that some wizards and witches, lost to humanity since the “Dark Ages”, might indeed still be alive and continue to be contributing members of the Magical community to the present day.
Stage VI: The Development of Modern Wizardry.
As might be expected, one of the Ultima Thules of Magical study throughout the first age of Wizards and Witches had been to discover the cause and a possible cure for the progressive “madness” which affected them. It had been noted from the earliest observations that the onset of this madness appeared to be accompanied by a corresponding apparent increase in the affected wizard’s magical power. The memory of such observations still linger in various mundane folk beliefs, such as the belief that the insane “have the strength of ten”. In fact, from a closer examination of the historical record, it appears that it was not so much an increase in magical power upon which an afflicted wizard might draw, as a decrease in the degree of sensible restraint such a wizard might employ when channeling magic.
Those observers who attempted to follow this line of enquiry ultimately determined the cause of the malady. And got little joy of that discovery.
It eventually turned out that the problem was that the underlying operation of Magic itself had continued in exactly the same manner as it always had from the earliest recordings of the Paleolithic era. The magical energies were still “using” the user.
The psychic result of this usage was that gradually as one’s perceptions of the world itself, and one’s place in it became altered, one’s sense of “balance” or “proportion” became severely compromised. Cumulative exposure to the deceptive influences which appeared to infest Dark magic, distorted the afflicted wizard’s perceptions to the point that the forces which he was attempting to control were now controlling him. This distortion of an afflicted wizard’s perceptions only made the situation worse by gradually “burning out” all such impediments to his uncontrolled channeling of Magic represented by those purely “human” inhibitions, such as natural affection, considerations of individual sovereignty and self-determination (to say nothing of one's perception of personal risk), regard for cosmic balance, or any such fundamentally artificial human constructions as “justice”, “good” or “evil”.
Pure energy has no conscious state, and no morality. The flowing of energy itself is not consciously directed. To the energy itself, and the entities which are still debated to be sustained by it, all that matters to the flow of Magical energy is “flow”. The more deeply afflicted a wizard in the throes of DA-related dementia became, the less restraint he would attempt to bring to bear upon the flow of the Magical energies he was channeling. Ultimately he was completely absorbed in reaction to the varying and deceptive stimulus with which the attendant chaotic forces and the entities which they generated and that had taken him over were taunting him.
It must again be remembered that all available examples are taken from the historical record, which in itself may be biased and distorted for the purposes of the recording scribe or their employer. Any extrapolations must therefore be taken as unproven hypotheses.
Since the affected wizard appears to retain a human intellect and consciousness (however distorted) up to a quite late stage of the malady, the form and focus of the Magical forces which he was no longer altogether voluntarily channeling tended to be shaped into what appeared to observers and the affected wizard himself to be human goals, but were, in fact, driven by no more than the natural requirement of the energy surging through him to maintain an unimpeded flow, and an afflicted wizard’s “reasons” for his actions tended to become progressively less rational or recognizably “human” as his condition worsened.
The discovery of the cause (and this was a discovery whose widespread acceptance took decades) did not immediately offer any possibility of a cure. It took more than a century of additional widespread study and observation before any reliable methods (and there is more than one) of removing one’s psychic “Self” from the flow of the magical energies that one is channeling and directing began to emerge. Drastically reducing the amount of emotional residue produced by using the new methods of focusing and directing magic was a (admittedly welcome) side effect, and might not have been of any significant assistance in those areas in which an effective pool had already formed, but in a clean environment it would have delayed the onset of the area generating of any secondary entities or parasites which prey upon the fears of magic workers as well as giving such entities less direct access to a wizard’s deepest consciousness.
Much of the resistance to these “new” methods was due to the fact that in order to implement them, one was forced to reject, in fact to reverse one of the basic tenants of all formal magical training as it had been passed down from the days of prehistory. Which is to say, that rather than deliberately opening oneself physically and psychically to the flow of magical energy, attempting to become “one” with the Magic, as it were, one must learn to channel the energy at a remove. That one should shield one’s psychic “core” and detach one’s “self” from being involved in the flow of the energies one is conducting. That, in fact, one should direct the flow through one’s physical body, and directly into one’s wand, rather than ever attempting to establish a spiritual connection with the energy itself. One directed the flow from the mind, rather than the heart.
Which is not easy. And one’s sense of control over the magical process becomes less direct as well.
It flew in the face of everything that any trained wizard or witch had ever been formally taught. Most traditional teaching to that date could have essentially have been summed up in an exhortation to “become” one’s magic. Unfortunately, this process had turned out to be a clear case of “be careful what you wish for.”
But, it was gradually seen, once the newer, less direct methods of channeling had been warily adopted, that the active practice of Magic gradually became much safer for the individual, resulting first in fewer direct physical injuries from magical workings, and over the following century or two showed ample indication that these new, safer procedures not only seemed to be forestalling the onset of “madness” but were resulting in a longer effective lifespan for the wizards who adopted them. This longer, healthier life, combined with the prospect of not someday constituting a danger to one’s descendants was ample reason to encourage the average Magic user to relearn the basics of his craft.
The price of this conversion of the manner in which magic was channeled was that the removal of the Self from the energy path required a considerable increase in the degree of control that was needed to direct the energy through a wizard’s wand. The wizard was now required to direct virtually all of the active magical energy through the wand, rather than channeling it through his own essential “self” and consequently his basic intent was no longer able to take up the slack for any shakiness of control by sheer desire of outcome.
The effectiveness of his magic was also now all but totally dependent upon his having a usable, more-or-less properly “fitted” wand at his disposal. The fineness of his wand control, and the pronunciation of the required incantation was now an essential factor to producing the desired result. To express magic required a clearer, even if a shallower, understanding of the process. It was no longer fueled almost entirely by the wizard’s “desire”. “Form” now mattered at least as much as the “intent”. As the spells themselves were gradually redesigned to work under the new methods it often mattered more.
The wizard, who was now working at a discernible remove from the energy of his magic, was also far less keenly aware of exactly how much magical energy he was actually transmitting and needed to relearn how to gauge the whole process which he believed himself to have already mastered.
Fortunately, the greater part of the body of known spells of that time were found to still work, and to work just about as effectively regardless of whether the energies channeled were channeled by the older or the newer methods. Or, at any rate to do so once the wizard had relearned how to calibrate his performance of the spells in accordance with the newer methods. Specific wand movements and formal incantations needed to be discovered or devised for spells which had originally been responsive to little more clarity in deployment than; “I want”. It was gradually discovered that even the development of the spells themselves could be further refined for a far higher degree of stability and consistency in their result and which was sufficiently “domestic” in nature to begin to be recognizable as what is now referred to as “wizardry”, even though it was only a very slight departure from the older, more chaotic, Dark Arts forms.
But there was a significant minority of spells (not all of them even of an aggressive character) which apparently required the underlying “spiritual connection” to their caster, and which ceased to be operative as soon as one attempted to direct them by any means other than the older, direct channeling of magical energy through one’s deepest psychic consciousness and emotional “center”. To develop safer methods of achieving the same results as these spells engaged much of the body of magical development and Dark Arts research for centuries afterward. Some such spells continue to resist conversion to the present day.
But not all wizards did choose to completely abandon the older methods. The trade-off for using this new practice of “wizardry” was that a wizard was limited to only the level of magical conductivity that he was born with. The — now widely referred to as — Dark Arts had been widely believed to increase one’s psychic capacity to channel power as one grew older and had built up cumulative exposure to using it.
Even though this premise was almost certainly false, the belief alone was enough to assure that there would continue to be a considerable following of wizards and witches (Salazar Slytherin among them) who would attempt to have it both ways, believing that it should be possible to strike a happy medium by combining both methods in one’s practice of Magic.
This group was not altogether wrong in their beliefs, for the incidence and progression of DA-related dementia became both lower and slower. But, ultimately, many of the next several generations of wizards who continued to practice the Dark Arts to any appreciable degree, particularly those working in environments which had already acquired a significant magical “charge” eventually needed to be constrained for the sake of the safety of those around them.
In this matter we can also see a clear demonstration of the fact that the universe is not a place in which the purely human concept of fairness is widely applied. Not all wizards are born with the same capacity to channel magical energies. Some are born with the ability to channel a far greater amount of such energy than the average. Some others can inherently manage to channel somewhat less. And a wizard’s capacity to channel magic has little to do with his ability to resist losing his equilibrium under the repeated exposure to the deceptive influences which appear to accompany the practice of the Dark Arts. His resistance to chaotic suggestion has everything to do with that.
Those wizards who are most open to suggestion are also exactly the ones who will believe that they benefit the most from the practice of the Dark Arts. Often misperceiving the depth of their channeling capacity, as the continued psychic exposure to the deception deludes them into believing their magical power has increased. These wizards are the first to develop some form of DA-related dementia.
Those wizards who are best able to keep their heads in a crisis and to recognize what is actually true, will probably be able to resist the distorted blandishments encountered in the direct channeling methods used in the Dark Arts for extended periods of time before they begin to display any changes in either what they perceive to be their ability to channel progressively greater amounts of magical energy or in the sort of personality disorders which are most commonly associated with DA-related dementia. Indeed, the somewhat hardened outlook generally exhibited by many (although, it must be admitted, not necessarily all) acknowledged Dark wizards may to some degree be a defense mechanism which they have developed in response to their exposure to such influences.
It is now believed that it was these wizards with higher levels of mental discipline who are occasionally noted to have lived long and productive lives, many of them living to what were, for those days, a very great age, and dying peaceful deaths, even before the development of modern wizardry.
Such highly disciplined wizards were probably often called upon in the event of needing to neutralize and contain those who had lost control and appeared to be being manipulated by the wild Magic that was using them as its conduit, for in such cases, the higher-disciplined wizard’s inherent power was usually as high, or in most cases, was higher than that of the afflicted wizard who erroneously believed his power to have been enhanced artificially. However, even wizards of great natural ability to channel magical energies have, historically been documented as developing DA-related dementias through prolonged indulgence in the active practice of the Dark Arts, or through the habit of recklessly engaging in many “great workings”. To neutralize such wizards once they had lost their grip took the magical community considerable effort.
It is also believed that such disciplined wizards had preserved their sanity by having exercised careful restraint in not exceeding their natural capacity by reckless workings. It has also traditionally been postulated, although never conclusively proven that the distortion of perception as to the amount of magical energy which one is actually channeling is one of the earliest signs of a heightened vulnerability to the rest of the delusions attendant to exposure to such chaotic influences, and that this is most likely to occur when one is attempting to channel more magical energy than one, in fact, can.
This postulation would be difficult to prove in any case, but more recent studies have begun to take greater account of the fact that since the residue which is being shed by the afflicted wizard originates from the deepest desires and fears of his own soul, if it is not the self-generated, indeed, virtually “custom-built” nature of the delusions which make them so compelling. This has more recently raised the question of whether it is in fact chaotic entities at all which are distorting the wizard’s perception, or whether he is allowing himself to be led astray by his own self-delusions, fears, and desires, spun off, and made manifest.
Since this condition is no longer one which has been observed to occur in the modern day (regardless of the similarity in appearance, the former Tom Riddle's spiritual maladies were not due to the habitual performance of Dark Magic in general. Mr Riddle suffered from underlying psychological factors which contributed to his condition), it seems most likely that this debate will continue unabated, without ever reaching a final conclusion.
As regards the education of a new generation of wizards, however, it was readily agreed upon by pretty nearly everybody, that children should be taught the safer methods of wizardry first, in order that those methods and the fineness of control required by them would become their primary mode of channeling these dangerous energies. The older methods could always be taken up after the newer ones had become instinctive.
To facilitate this process, and to ensure that the new generations were trained in these methods rather than permitting youngsters to train themselves in the sort of traditional hedge-wizardry which might put them into harm’s way, over the next few centuries the founding of the first of the great wizarding Academies took place throughout Europe and much of the Middle East. The Founding of Hogwarts was a part of this movement.
One unanticipated, and rather unfortunate result of the spread of modern wizardry can be seen in the acceleration in the cycle of periods of assimilation punctuated by episodes of widespread persecution against suspected wizards and witches in European history as one moves farther from the period that is now regarded, even by Muggles as the “Dark Ages”. Since the practice of Magic was becoming safer for the user, the fear of madness was no longer serving as a restraint upon the discretion of those who were able to practice it. Much of the work of the original Wizengamot, and the Wizards’ Council which followed it, in the centuries which followed was the continuing attempt to establish a governing body with the authority to restrain the sort of behavior which was soon proving to create endangerment to all the wizarding community.
It can be seen by a study of history that the attempt was not a universal success. Additional factors in this equation will be remarked upon in the companion pieces; ‘Wizards & Muggles: Parts 1 & 2’.
Within this reading of the operation of magical energies, it should also be noted that any form of wandless wizardry, let alone unintentional magic can also be inherently risky. Not only is wandless magic exceedingly difficult to focus and control, but it is largely impossible to remove one’s psychic “Self” from the energy path while using it. Attempts to channel more Magical energy than are within one’s inherent capacity can also cause both physical and psychic damage, although it is no longer believed that such damage is necessarily connected to DA-related dementia.
In some cases, the risks are considered to be outweighed by the benefits of mastering a particular wandless procedure. For example: Apparation, Apparation, is an ancient magical technology which predates the invention of the cored wand. In canon it appears to be performed wandlessly, for neither an invocation nor a wand movement were given us for its use — although the Apparating wizard generally takes firm hold of his wand before attempting it. Instead, it is the wizard himself who physically performs the codified movement of a partial pivot to initiate the spell. This lack of incantation or wand movement also makes Apparating an extremely difficult skill to master since as is the case with all the traditional Dark Arts it is almost entirely dependent upon the caster’s intent. Within wizarding society it is encumbered with further difficulties in that it requires a formal license in order to be permitted to use this skill unsupervised. Many witches and wizards are unable to control this process well enough to be awarded an Apparation license.
Other Magical procedures most typically performed wandlessly today are for the most part within the disciplines of Divination, Arithmancy, certain forms of Healing — most particularly the traditional “laying on of hands” — the somewhat obscure arts of Legilimency and Occlumency, Ligature, and certain specialized forms of “change” Magic such as the Animagus transformation, and most customary forms of Potions brewing. (although the stirring rod is generally regarded to be a wand surrogate) Alchemy also is generally regarded to include a number of wandless procedures. Various techniques used in Herbology and the Control of Magical Creatures also fall under this heading due to the need for the practitioner to keep both hands free.
It is assumed that all of these diciplines fall under the general heading of “Witchcraft”. Hogwarts School advertises itself as an institution which teaches Witchcraft as well as “Wizardry”.
The degree of risk to which such practitioners expose themselves to dangerous suggestion by these methods varies according to their native capacity to control magical energy. So long as mental discipline and a sense of proportion are retained, by limiting one’s conduction of magical energy to levels that are well within one’s inborn capacity to channel (wandlessly or not), such practices do no discernible harm to the practitioner, even over very long exposure, since the energy being conducted is meeting no additional resistance to be overcome, producing little residue, nor inviting whatever hypothetical entities might be piggy-backing upon the energy to attempt to increase the flow by a distortion of perception.
This also accounts for the prominence that the study of Potions holds in any overview of traditional witchcraft. The effects of many spells may be duplicated by Potions, but the amount of magical energy conducted in the creation of most standard Potions is generally much lower than that required by most spells. (There are exceptions.) Witches and wizards of average magical capacity who specialized in Potions during the Dark Ages and earlier, while they might theoretically have taken some degree of damage over a long life, generally retained enough of their grasp upon reality to function normally within society, and many lived to an advanced age, dying peacefully in their beds.
It should also be noted that long-term damage of the sort that is associated with DA-related dementia is commonly observed in the victims of certain Magical maladies such as vampirism and lycanthropy. These sufferers are unable, under the current state of medi-magical technology, to remove their psychic Selves from the energy path of the uncontrolled Magic that they are involuntarily conducting. The social stigma which has traditionally been applied to the victims of such maladies is largely in recognition of the degenerative process of such infections, gradually producing recognizable symptoms of DA-related dementia which ultimately have been documented to affect the vampire during all periods that he is conscious, and the werewolf even while in human form. [Note: This statement was first made in 2003 and the last thing I ever expected to encounter in canon was an example of it!]
In the case of the Vampire there is no present cause for hope, since it is only the active and continual channeling of chaotic magical energy which animates him in the first place. (The drinking of blood is a secondary factor in sustaining his physical and mental well-being, and, in fact, is believed to somewhat retard the progress of dementia). The lycanthrope is in a more hopeful position in that he typically channels such energies only in the short bursts which trigger his transformations. During which the “wolf” effectively possesses the victim’s body and mind. It should be noted that the character and the behavior of the wolf is in itself a working demonstration of one form of DA-related dementia in full cry.
It has been provisionally established that after the first few years of transformations, once the body has learned the process, Wild Magic does not continue to be channeled throughout the entire period that he is transformed. The character of the wolf, and its hold on the lycanthrope, has some other, as yet undetermined source. It has not yet been determined just what is being invoked, but victims of lycanthropy who have taken part in studies of this malady agree that their transformations become less difficult over time, although it always remains painful and debilitating.
In the case of the werewolf, who is only exposed to these energies at the triggering points of his transformation, there are hopes that the recently developed, Wolfsbane Potion, currently undergoing extended field testing, may, finally, offer an effective means of avoiding the worst of the long-term degenerative effects of his condition. However, it is yet to be determined whether the toxic substances upon which the Potion is based will have equal or greater deleterious long-term effects upon the sufferer.
It should be noted that some of the atavistic horror with which Muggles regard both of these maladies has also in many cases been applied to the practice of Magic itself by normal wizards and witches. It is currently believed by some of the more prominent names in the field of Muggle Studies that this is largely because, among Muggles, it is only as a result of sustaining such infections that a Muggle is able to channel magical energies at all. Muggles have no experience of channeling the forces of magical energies by the noninvasive methods currently practiced by modern wizards.
A side note must be added concerning the members of the aforementioned chthonic cults of the classical era who, by deliberately engaging in states of frenzy and murder sought to create or enhance ambient pools of magic for their future use. In the first place not all such celebrants were actually wizards. It is, however, only the wizards among them who benefitted from the magically charged areas., since such areas provided a source of magic which was less volatile than that which is directly channeled.
However, those historians who have attempted to analyze this phenomenon are in disagreement as to just what degree the resulting spiritual damage sustained by the participants was intentional. Certainly the practice of a group of persons hunting a single person, or a smaller group of persons, to a violent and bloody death is going to be tearing the souls of all the aggressors. Indeed such a practice appears designed to maximize the spiritual damage across as many persons as possible. What is not agreed upon is the hypothesis which has been raised that such torn souls will necessarily produce a greater amount of magical residue than intact ones. If it were a question of simple mechanical abrasion such a hypothesis might well be valid, for the torn soul would present a larger overall surface area to the magic flowing through it, offering more “traction”, or edges from which to create residue. But we cannot assume that souls operate by quite such purely mechanical principles. The belief that torn souls (even when all of the pieces are present) are less stable than intact ones appears to be a tenable hypothesis, however.
Another point to bring up is that, upon rare occasions, small but discernible amounts of documented psychic damage has also been observed to occur in under-supervised magical children. Particularly those of great magical potential, early access to a wand and/or extensive magical libraries, or those whose control of their magical conductivity develops precociously. It is highly unusual for a child to be able to bring his magic under conscious control much before the age of 9 or 10.
Such children are in danger of letting their magic “run away with them” and to develop distorted perceptions of their world and of society. The self-taught wizard does not necessarily learn methods which are safe. Only those which are the most accessible, and the principle of “I want” is certainly accessible to children of any age. The Dark Arts do not require the fineness of wand control necessary to modern wizardry. What they do require is a psychic connection to the spell, and a highly focused “intent”, whether benign or malign. And, perhaps most importantly, such magics are not so dependent upon a well-fitted wand, as are the safer more reliable magic channeled by the methods used in modern wizardry. A child generally does not acquire a wand of his own before the age that he is invited to attend classes at one of the magical Academies.
The sort of spontaneous magical breakthroughs experienced by magical children when under stress are not completely harmless, either. Only the immaturity of the child’s nervous system and body chemistry protects him from potentially extensive damage. And occasional cases of lasting damage have been known to occur (the case of Ariana Dumbledore in particular might repay some closer examination.). A child who develops conscious magical control at an early age is also at enhanced risk of contracting some level of damage from directly channeling more magical energy than is safe or typical for his age, because he will be more likely to attempt to channel such energies, and has no developed sense of his own capacity to channel magic.
In such cases, the greater the inherent amount of magical conductivity, the greater the inherent risk. It is recommended that educators should evaluate children who show signs of having received unadvisedly early training, or children who display an abnormally high level of magical capacity or wandless control at an early age for the possibility of their having been damaged psychically in this manner. It is seldom, however, that such damage will continue once the child has learned the proper, safer methods. In such cases the early damage usually goes no farther than to somewhat enhance the child’s overall willingness to channel power, and to retain a slight tendency to need additional guidance in learning appropriately socialized behavior.
Some additional note must be made regarding the peculiar case of Muggle-born magical children during the period that the wizarding world’s Seclusion was most complete. Which is to say, the 18th century. The primary concerns expressed by those who had opposed the establishment of formal Seclusion in consideration that these children might, untrained, develop into Dark wizards who would need to be neutralized, turned out to be unfounded. In actual practice virtually all of these unfortunates who did not live in the half-dozen or so traditional partially-wizarding villages remained unidentified and untaught.
The wizards who had opposed Seclusion on such grounds had not sufficiently taken into account the fact that any such children would, of necessity, be operating wandlessly and involuntarily, within a society whose religions were long separated from any shamanistic tradition, and, moreover, within a progressively more rationalist atmosphere which searched for Scientific explanations to the exclusion of any considerations of the supernatural.
The abandonment of such children by the wizarding world was not altogether without consequences, however. The most typical explanation Science offered these children was a misdiagnosis of epilepsy; the confusion of which delayed the development of any real understanding and effective treatment of the actual condition of epilepsy. Indeed, there was little advance in such treatment until Muggle-born magical children were once again being identified and packed off to the magical Academies for proper training in the early 19th century.
In addition, potential neurological damage sustained by an untrained adolescent wizard when subjected to the involuntary channeling of a strong, but not fatal burst of magical energy could very well leave the sufferer subject to seizures afterward, further confusing the issue.
The perceptions regarding such children within mundane society was that they were subject to “fits”, and any of them that did not learn to consciously or unconsciously regulate their conductivity of Magical energy tended eventually to have an encounter with a spontaneous burst of Wild Magic which they typically did not survive, sometimes resulting in the bizarre-sounding reports of such phenomena as spontaneous human combustion.
Additional Note: Alternate, safer methods of channeling Magical energies were practiced in the Far East for some centuries before such methods were formalized in the West. Most of these methods, however, have been practiced within the context of specific organized religions which has slowed their adoption by wizards who are not a part of the local culture. The adoption of these practices were further hindered by the fact that the dangerous, more direct channeling of these energies were also traditionally practiced within the context of certain Eastern religions, although the latter such practices have been discouraged by the local communities for some centuries.
Final Note: That no other species of sentient magical Beings requires the use of a wand in order to direct their conduction of Magic; has any need to protect themselves from spontaneous conduction of Wild Magic, or has been shown to develop any condition equivalent to that of the DA-related dementia which afflicts human wizards, is another strong indication that Magic, in humans is, itself, a biological aberration possibly artificially introduced. It is impossible to estimate in what manner, or at what point in human or pre-human history such an introduction may have been made.