Opinion: The Dark Magic/Light Magic Dichotomy is Nonsense

[Many of the ideas here come from this essay]

“Dark” definitely does not seem to be equal to “evil”. It is more like “dangerous” or “unknown.”

There seems to be a spectrum of “Dark” and “Light” magic that runs from Horcruxes to the Patronus charm, and it does appear that the Darkest magic is also the most evil.

They’re described as follows:

All I could find was this, in the introduction to Magick Moste Evile — listen — ‘Of the Horcrux, wickedest of magical inventions, we shall not speak nor give direction. . . .’

Shoutout to this book’s author who had the presence of mind to rhyme when writing about them, but more importantly, the book is entitled “Magick Moste Evile”, not “Darkest Magick”; Horcruxes are described as wicked and not as “dark”. It’s clear that they are dark, but also that darkness and badness are not interchangeable.

We know that a Horcrux is an object that contains part of the soul to grant immortality, and that you have to commit premeditated murder to create one, plus do something so vile we don’t even know what it is. You can’t be a good person and engage in this sort of thing; Slughorn knows what they are, but is appalled by them (and scarcely believes his favorite student to be capable of making one). They destroy the soul. They are evil.

The Patronus charm, conversely, is on the opposite end:

“The Patronus is a kind of positive force, a projection of the very things that the dementor feeds upon — hope, happiness, the desire to survive — but it cannot feel despair, as real humans can, so the dementors can’t hurt it.”

Harry re: the Silver Doe:

But instinct, overwhelming instinct, told him that this was not Dark Magic. He set off in pursuit.

The Doe Patronus is Snape’s, of course. Snape is a Dark Arts expert and enthusiast, yet he can cast a Patronus so strong it’s barely recognizable as such even to Harry, so bright it burns Harry’s retina. Dark Magic hasn’t ruined Snape’s soul.

But being able to cast the least dark spell does not make you good:

The moment he had passed the place where the Patronus cat patrolled, he felt the change in temperature: It was warm and comfortable here. The Patronus, he was sure, was Umbridge’s, and it glowed brightly because she was so happy here, in her element, upholding the twisted laws she had helped to write.

JKR has explained that none of the Death Eaters can cast a patronus, except Snape. This calls for an explanation, and my personal explanation is based on Muggle psychology: I view them as a cult, and cult leaders need to keep their followers down. Having his followers constantly thinking back to their happiest moments, moments that do not involve Voldemort, would have gotten in the way of that. My belief is that they couldn’t cast a patronus because they were not allowed to.

Anyway, the Dark=Bad and Light=Good equivalencies are already crumbling under scrutiny.

Moving on to the so-called Unforgivables, they are used to noble ends, or at least by “non-Dark” wizards, multiple times:

  1. Harry uses Imperio and Crucio, on a Goblin and on the Carrows, respectively. Cruciating the Carrows is badass, but serves no strategic purpose.

  2. Snape euthanizes Dumbledore.

  3. McGonagall uses Imperio:

“Professor McGonagall rose to her feet, pointed her wand at the groggy Death Eater,

and said, “Imperio.”

Amycus got up, walked over to his sister, picked up her wand, then shuffled obediently to Professor McGonagall and handed it over along with his own. Then he lay down on the floor beside Alecto. Professor McGonagall waved her wand again, and a length of shimmering silver rope appeared out of thin air and snaked around the Carrows, binding them tightly together.”

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the Unforgivables had indeed been sanctioned by fanatical Dark Wizards hater, Barty Crouch Sr.:

“Well, times like that bring out the best in some people and the worst in others. Crouch’s principles might’ve been good in the beginning—I wouldn’t know. He rose quickly through the Ministry, and he started ordering very harsh measures against Voldemort’s supporters. The Aurors were given new powers—powers to kill rather than capture, for instance. And I wasn’t the only one who was handed straight to the Dementors without trial. Crouch fought violence with violence, and authorized the use of the Unforgivable Curses against suspects. I would say he became as ruthless and cruel as many on the Dark Side. He had his supporters, mind you—plenty of people thought he was going about things the right way, and there were a lot of witches and wizards clamoring for him to take over as Minister of Magic. When Voldemort disappeared, it looked like only a matter of time until Crouch got the top job. But then something rather unfortunate happened…” Sirius smiled grimly. “Crouch’s own son was caught with a group of Death Eaters who’d managed to talk their way out of Azkaban. Apparently they were trying to find Voldemort and return him to power.”

The same Barty Crouch Snr. then went on to employ the Imperius Curse liberally on his son, once he took him out of Azkaban.

I can imagine benign uses for each of the unforgivables. We’ve seen euthanasia. Personally, if I could Imperius someone who is in the midst of a psychotic episode to spare them involuntary hospitalizations, for example, I would do that in a heartbeat. Same goes for addicts. Even Crucio might be a more humane punishment than evil shoving wizards in hell with the Dementors or subjecting them to the Dementor’s kiss, which is what the Ministry thinks of as suitable punishment for anything.

There is no ethical system I know of in which murder, rape, slavery, theft, and deception are good, even though 3 of those can be considered necessary at times.

With regard to murder, I discussed the Killing Curse, but there is also this dialogue:

“Harry, the time for Disarming is past! These people are trying to capture and kill you! At least Stun if you aren’t prepared to kill!”

“We were hundreds of feet up! Stan’s not himself, and if I Stunned him and he’d fallen, he’d have died the same as if I’d used Avada Kedavra!

Firstly, this pretty much proves that Lupin did use AK in that battle, but more importantly, Harry recognizes that there is no difference between using AK and causing someone to plummet to his death even if the Stunning Spell is perfectly legitimate.

As for rape, naturally, we’re going to have fewer examples in this series because it’s meant for kids and teens, but we do have love potions.


“Look,” sighed Hermione, “Secrecy Sensors detect jinxes, curses, and concealment charms, don’t they? They’re used to find Dark Magic and Dark objects. They’d have picked up a powerful curse, like the one on that necklace, within seconds. But something that’s just been put in the wrong bottle wouldn’t register — and anyway, love potions aren’t Dark or dangerous —”

But we know (or at least, Dumbledore speculates) that a love potion had been used to get a man to father a child against his will. We even saw Ron under the effect of love potion, acting completely out of character and ruining his relationship. Yet non-Dark wizards Fred and George sell them at their shop.

There is no stealing spell I’m aware of, but I’m sure Accio had been used to steal.

Owning a house elf is not considered practicing a Dark Art.

When it comes to deception, though, we have non-”Dark” spells that are used for this purpose: Obliviate, Confundus (I’m not entirely sure what the difference between Imperius and Confundus is, in terms of the effect on the victim, incidentally. My belief is that Imperius is harder to throw off and can make you do things you’re incapable of doing, not simply act out of misinformation. Possibly, the effect doesn’t wear off unless something breaks it?), and of course, occlumency.

If Dark is interchangeable with evil, then already we know that this at least has nothing to do with any widely-held Muggle ethical beliefs, so the Muggle reader could just dismiss this dichotomy and judge magical actions as one would judge any action, meaning based on the intent behind the action, the action’s result, and the agent’s reaction to said result. For example, in casting Sectumsempra, Harry was not being evil, he was being impulsive and stupid. This, we know, because of his immediate remorse.

James, who reportedly hated the Dark Arts, deliberately and severely harmed Snape with an innocuous household spell and ran around with a textbook Dark creature (who, incidentally, is not a bad person despite being “Dark”). Hagrid frequents Knockturn Alley. Most tellingly, the entire world (except Dumbledore, Voldemort, and Snape, who knew the truth) believed a 15-month year old baby had defeated Lord Voldemort because that baby was “dark”. 15-month olds cannot be good or bad.

If a Dark wizard is defined as someone who uses Dark Magic, nearly every character is a Dark wizard. Hexes, jinxes and curses are all considered Dark Magic. Ginny’s signature spell is a hex. But obviously, using Dark Magic does not a Dark Wizard make, unless your name is Dolores Umbridge:

Professor Umbridge blinked but recovered her poise almost instantly.

“Well, then, you should be able to tell me what Slinkhard says about counterjinxes in chapter fifteen.”

“He says that counterjinxes are improperly named,” said Hermione promptly. “He says ‘counterjinx’ is just a name people give their jinxes when they want to make them sound more acceptable.

Professor Umbridge raised her eyebrows, and Harry knew she was impressed against her will.

“But I disagree,” Hermione continued.

Professor Umbridge’s eyebrows rose a little higher and her gaze became distinctly colder.

“You disagree?”

“Yes, I do,” said Hermione, who, unlike Umbridge, was not whispering, but speaking in a clear, carrying voice that had by now attracted the rest of the class’s attention. “Mr. Slinkhard doesn’t like jinxes, does he? But I think they can be very useful when they’re used defensively.

I believe that part of the point of the Barty Crouch Jr./Mad-Eye Moody story was to show that an extremely Dark wizard and an Auror could be so alike that Barty was able to fool everyone, including Dumbledore, for a whole year. We also know that the Ministry has permitted Aurors to use unforgivable curses, i.e., to torture people, at the height of the first war; we know they use Dementors, the Darkest of creatures, contrary to Dumbledore’s advice, and we know that you ultimately have to know the Dark Arts to defend against them successfully, and to protect or save others.

Snape knows this, and Harry does too, even if he doesn’t admit it.

“He tried to jinx me, in case you didn’t notice!” fumed Harry. “I had enough of that during those Occlumency lessons! Why doesn’t he use another guinea pig for a change? What’s Dumbledore playing at, anyway, letting him teach Defense? Did you hear him talking about the Dark Arts? He loves them! All that unfixed, indestructible stuff —”

“Well,” said Hermione, “I thought he sounded a bit like you.”

“Like me?

“Yes, when you were telling us what it’s like to face Voldemort. You said it wasn’t just memorizing a bunch of spells, you said it was just you and your brains and your guts — well, wasn’t that what Snape was saying? That it really comes down to being brave and quick-thinking?”

Harry was so disarmed that she had thought his words as well worth memorizing as The Standard Book of Spells that he did not argue.

Conversely, with enough creativity, the most legitimate magic taught at Hogwarts can be used, I’m sure, to cause substantial damage.

I mentioned Scourgify, but what about Herbology? First years learn about Devil’s Snare, a plant that is used as a murder weapon in Book 5 (RIP, Bode). Second-years tend to Mandrakes. Mandrakes are useful for a variety of healing potions, apparently, but they can also be used as WMDs. One guy with earmuffs can commit a mass-murder.

Finally, it appears that some level of fascination with the Dark Arts is normal and natural, even a sign of prestige:


“Not at all, not at all, not offended,” said Slughorn gruffly. “It’s natural to feel some curiosity about these things… Wizards of a certain caliber have always been drawn to that aspect of magic…

So, in conclusion, this dichotomy, while valid at times, is a bit childish and superficial at best, and hypocritical and self-serving at worst.

By on April 13th, 2023 in Blog Updates


Damn, finally a meta explaining dark magic is not evil, ultimately it is the intention that matters. I liked the explanation of other Death Eaters barring Snape not able to cast patronus comparing with example of Umbridge. A good meta on per with your usual quality.


Thank you! I sometimes wonder if this is a matter of really sloppy writing or of really subtle, incredible writing, you know? Like, was JKR going for commentary on the arbitrary nature of convention or just decided not to care and just call it “dark”, associate it with Voldemort, add water and wait

My opinion on JKR is mix of both. I felt on matter of dark magic she leaned more on “dark” equals to bad take for most part, I mean she did write that dark wizard and maggot explanation for them not producing patronus.