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Pottering around

This is a bit of Harry Potter related stuff and blather that I thought would maybe make a good part of a character application on an online Harry Potter themed roleplay game.

It's also the first writing of this kind that I've done in a long time, so any useful feedback would be appreciated.


Class will please come to order. Thank you. I trust you can all hear me clearly. As Professor Mikawber has just finished demonstrating variations on the Deafening Jinxes, it seems a particularly apposite time to discuss the fundamental underpinnings of the Dark Arts, as your collective impairments will force you to listen more carefully.

It is a paradoxical trait of Wizardly society that we do not talk openly about the Dark Arts. Those who pursue them are secretive, as they fear being discovered by their peers, who would punish such openness harshly, either from intolerance of the practice, or from fear of revelation. A dispassionate examination reveals further rationalizations for suppression of Dark Arts - jealousy of power, desire for social stability, loathing of the effects of some elements of the Dark Arts on the mind, the heart, the soul of the practitioner.
Those who oppose the Dark Arts are just as secretive about the topic, partly to avoid exciting interest in the subject, partly because they feel it an unfit matter for courteous discourse, partly because they would just as soon see the knowledge lost. Unfortunately, knowledge is like an improperly conjured Djinn. You can bottle it, suppress it, lock it away, but it will eventually be free, and that is especially true of the secrets of the Dark.
I intend, therefore, to confront the unspeakable today, and to discuss the Dark Arts in theory, practice, and consequence.

First, let us examine the words and their meanings. As in most magical practice the name Dark Arts is metaphoric. All magical studies are best referred to as Arts. The individual skills and even sciences of magic are always subjunct to one overriding factor - the mind, the imagination, the crafting and the creativity of the persons who wield the energies of magic to their wills. This makes even the most ordinary and every-day work of magic an exercise of art, and it should be borne in mind whenever you wield a wand, distill a potion, write a scroll, craft a working - you are engaging in the highest art that humanity has achieved.
What, then, differentiates Dark Arts from other Arts? Obviously, yes, the word Dark. But do we mean something hidden, secret, practiced only in the night where others might not see? Certainly not. The greatest Dark Wizards of the past centuries were great because they chose to bring their practices into the open, because they were not secretive. No, this is a metaphoric darkness.
And to understand that darkness, we can benefit from examining the opposite - light, or more particularly, Enlightenment.
While it is as difficult to describe what Enlightenment means, anyone who has learned any spell can recall the moment where, suddenly, the confusion and difficulty vanished and all was clear. That is a moment of enlightenment.
The modern western Wizarding community has chosen to disregard the delving into spiritual aspects of Magic, except at the highest levels, so may not recognize the importance of that process of enlightenment. I assure you that in other parts of the world, this has not been as universal a change. It does not, however, mean that the Dark Arts are any less prevalent in those other areas, alas. It simply means a difference in didactic methods and the kinds of application to which the Magical Arts are turned.

What, then, are the effects of Enlightenment? On the personal level, it provides a sense of understanding, a warm glowing awareness, and as the understanding permeates more and more of the life of the Enlightened, it illuminates the connections to the Other, a connection at a profound level inaccessible to ordinary thought, bringing awareness to the Self of that which is not the Self. Enlightenment can even become a goal unto itself.
The Dark Arts, on the other hand, obscure, disconnect, even destroy the Other. This must be kept in mind. The dark arts obscure, disconnect, and even destroy the Other. As Wizarding folk, we learn as we are enlightened to new magics, that we are interconnected, but as Wizarding folk we are also enticed by the power that we gain from those magics, and we become convinced that because we can manipulate that connection, we must therefore be superior to that Other, and that we can do with it as we will.
That belief is the core of Darkness that underlies the Dark Arts - the movement away from Enlightenment into the isolated Self.

At this point many of you have doubtless categorized this discussion as a one-sided tract on behalf of suppression of the Dark Arts. You would be mistaken in that dismissal. It is impossible to practice the Magical Arts in the rarefied atmosphere of true Enlightenment, because the Enlightened becomes hesitant to impose their will on the Other. A balance must be held between the destructive extremes. One must find the middle way between utter selfishness, destroying carelessly, and utter selflessness, destroying through inaction.

The more thoughtful among you will have inferred from this examination that it is intention which determines whether a spell is part of the Dark Art. This is, you will find, only part of the truth.
The role of intention is a primary one, even paramount, in one's progress in the study of the Dark Arts, but it is not the only consideration. To further explore this observation, let us examine the categorization of spells.

Since the Magical Renaissance in Europe, which you should recall began about 250 years before the Muggle Renaissance, magical arts have been divided into categories based on the modus of the implementation: Alchemy, Rodomancy (the use of wands as channeling elements), Potion Brewing, Artifice (the embedding of magic into constructed items), Herbology and its complement Faunistry (the use of magical creatures), the relatively recent Arithmancy and so forth; the list goes on depending on who does the categorization, since there is considerable cross-over in practice.
Each of these modes has its own associated Dark application: Potions have Poisons, Rodomancy has Curses, Artifice has Traps, and so forth. And, again, it is the intent of the caster which determines the Darkness of most of these applications. Poisons can rid us of unwanted pests, or of unwanted guests. The Conjunctivitis Curse is many a duellist's favorite torture, but it can also drive away dragons or gnomes without having to kill them, or weaken them sufficiently to allow them to be killed or controlled. Here, we see that the question of Darkness has a distinct perspective - a Doxy would doubtless consider the application of Doxycide to be Dark magic, if such a creature had more than the faintest vestiges of reason, but fortunately, that is not the case. Doxies are simply magical analogues to colonizing arthopodae, with traits common to moths, wasps, and spiders, fortunately for our more tender consciences.
The common element in all these applications is the intent to inflict harm on the subject of the spell. Harm, at the most basic level, is killing the subject, but it encompasses lesser damage, such as inflicting lasting physical injury, inflicting pain, stealing life-force, inflicting with disease. It also includes spiritual, emotional, and mental harm - driving one's victim insane is as damaging as a crippling curse.

And now, having established that the Dark Arts are not so much a modus as a motivus, and having laid the preliminary thesis of the primacy of intention in practice of the Dark Arts, we digress into the other determinants of Darkness.
Clearly, corollary to intent is effect. The use of ordinary, everyday magic to terrorize a Muggle into insanity, would be considered Dark, despite the comparative benignity of the spells used, even though the intention of the wizard might only be a series of harmless pranks.
Similarly, the use of charms and potions to coerce the feelings of others is considered Dark magic, especially the use of Love Potions.
This is because the use of these spells in this way is an indicator of the breaking of the connection forged through enlightenment - the darkness, so to speak, growing in the heart of the caster.
While the effect of the spell can be an indicator, an even greater determinant can be the composition of the spell - for potions, especially, but also for other modes. A wand made from the thigh-bone of a murdered man, or the infamous Hand of Glory, a candle made from the hand of a hanged thief, both are used in spells that are classics of Dark Arts. The harm, in this case, comes before the spell is even cast.

The most infamous workings in the Dark Arts are those which are, perversely and innately, destructive to the mind, the sanity, the body or spirit of the caster, the antithesis of the Enlightenment that comes with a well-cast spell. While most Dark Arts spells are indirectly destructive, as an after-effect, these spells work their harm directly to the caster as the price of their intended effects. The three best-known spells of this type are the Unforgivable Curses: the Cruciatus, the Imperius, and of course, the Avada Kedavra.
How, you should ask, do these spells harm the caster?
Very good question. They all, profoundly, damage the soul, each in a slightly different way. Imperius is the most subtle - anyone who has used the Imperius Curse in order to train others in how it is best resisted, will know that one begins to feel a contempt for the subject of the spell, as well as a wild urge to command them to wilder, more humiliating and degrading things. With repeated use, one tends to feel an urge to use it more, a thrill of personal power and superiority that are, frankly, generally unsupported in fact.

The Cruciatus Curse is a very simple spell, very easy to learn, requiring minimal understanding beyond the gesture and incantation. It actually bypasses the physical sensoria of the victim, causing searing agony in even the least sensitive creature, and it does it by ripping away at the metaphysical stitches that attach the life-force to their very bodies. The damage to the caster is this: to fully engage the spell, it is necessary to hate the victim, to sincerely wish to cause them the fullest possible pain, whatever the cost. This kind of hatred damages the ability to love, and in the more susceptible casters, even destroys the desire to be loved. Such persons can be maddened by the awareness of what they have lost, and it has been suggested by some authorities that the first of the Dementors was created from a human who had been damaged by a predecessor to the Cruciatus.
And, Avada Kedavra, which destroys the power of the flesh to bind to the spirit, a death agonizing in the extreme. There are only a few ghosts left who died by that method in the times of trouble, and they are universally wracked with pain whenever they recall the circumstances of their demise. This spell, seemingly simple in gesture and command, requires a force of will equal to that required for the most difficult of transfigurations. The caster pits the entirety of their magical power to the task, and this intimate contamination marks the power, making it increasingly easy to accomplish those uses of the Art that are intended for harm.
In my future presentations we will go into greater detail about each topic in this very brief introduction to Dark Arts. Read chapters one and two of your text, and be prepared to discuss questions one and four at the end of chapter two.

Dismissed, please proceed QUIETLY to your next class.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jul. 30th, 2003 09:05 am (UTC)
I shall begin by admitting that it is a most refreshing change to observe a candidate for the position of Professor in Defence Against the Dark Arts who has actually given some serious thought to the more interesting philosophical issues underlying the field. You develop your thesis with cogency and support it with apropos examples.

While I understand the temptation to underscore the contrast between the rival approaches to the Ars et Vitae Magica, I must take issue with the central proposition of your argument: namely the linkages you draw between Enlightenment and collectivism, and between Darkness and solitude.

Ever since Merlin Ambrosius himself - a wizard certainly not known for a hail-fellow-well-met approach to life, whose sole foray into the mentor-apprentice relationship was his downfall - the pursuit of the highest enlightenment in the Art (as with any other scholastic achievement) has been most successful when undertaken by those of an unsociable, indeed a solitary turn of mind. Even the veriest tyro in the Ars Magica will tell you that solitude is necessary to the full application of the mental and magical faculties, and the student who shuns the company of his more socially-involved fellows in favour of solitary study is most likely to perform to a superior standard in examinations. Thus we see that Enlightenment in no way requires collectivism.

And what of the identification of Darkness with solitude? I should have thought it self-evident that no truly dangerous wizard is ever such on his own. No matter the level of one's individual power, one cannot, by definition, attain the supremely perilous status of Dark Lord in the absence of minions. Were a wizard to arise who combined Voldemort's power with Grindelwald's, he would still not embody the danger to our world that would be posed by spreading corruption among the _multitudes_ of functionaries and bureaucrats among the wizarding body politic.

Without that ill-advised and oversimplistic equation of Enlightenment with collective and Darkness with solitary endeavours, your argument would have been much more convincing. Thank you for permitting the members of the interview panel to access your Pensieve record of your previous classes at the Salem Institute of Magicology. However, I must go on the record as remaining undecided on the basis of current evidence as to your suitability for the open Professorship in Defence Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

- Severus Snape, D.P.(Hog), M.P.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


Steve Hutchison

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