The Death Eaters As a Cult

Some say Voldemort is a cartoon villain, or wizard Hitler. I think he is very realistic, and that the focus on his political aspirations ignores interesting aspects. I cannot prove that JKR had cults in mind when she wrote Voldemort and his followers, but this is how I read them.

It’s nearly impossible to define a cult, so, for the purpose hereof, I’m going with “a group dedicated to the worship of a person”. Many cult leaders in real life present themselves merely as “god’s voice” or “the messiah”, but Voldemort specifically didn’t bother to hide behind a higher power than himself.

Tom Riddle comes from humble beginnings, like many cult leaders – he’s raised in an orphanage. He already has delusions of grandeur, only in this case they’re not delusions, because he really is magic, which makes it all the more dangerous. Look how he reacted to finding out he was a wizard, and how Harry did:

Immediately following the revelation that Lily and James did not die in a car crash, and that Harry is famous, and that he survived an attempt at his life by the worst wizard in history:

Hagrid looked at Harry with warmth and respect blazing in his eyes, but Harry, instead of feeling pleased and proud, felt quite sure there had been a horrible mistake. A wizard? Him? How could he possibly be? He’d spent his life being clouted by Dudley, and bullied by Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon; if he was really a wizard, why hadn’t they been turned into warty toads every time they’d tried to lock him in his cupboard? If he’d once defeated the greatest sorcerer in the world, how come Dudley had always been able to kick him around like a football?

“Hagrid,” he said quietly, “I think you must have made a mistake. I don’t think I can be a wizard.”

Heartbreaking, isn’t it? Harry doesn’t believe he can be special, he blames himself for the way he’s treated.

This is Tom Riddle:

“I know that you are not mad. Hogwarts is not a school for mad people. It is a school of magic.”

There was silence. Riddle had frozen, his face expressionless, but his eyes were flickering back and forth between each of Dumbledore’s, as though trying to catch one of them lying.

“Magic?” he repeated in a whisper.

“That’s right,” said Dumbledore.

“It’s… it’s magic, what I can do?”

“What is it that you can do?”

“All sorts,” breathed Riddle. A flush of excitement was rising up his neck into his hollow cheeks; he looked fevered. “I can make things move without touching them. I can make animals do what I want them to do, without training them. I can make bad things happen to people who annoy me. I can make them hurt if I want to.

His legs were trembling. He stumbled forward and sat down on the bed again, staring at his hands, his head bowed as though in prayer.

“I knew I was different,” he whispered to his own quivering fingers. “I knew I was special. Always, I knew there was something.”

His megalomania and violent nature are already apparent, as is his preternatural control of his magic. It also hints at rudimentary legilimency.

Dumbledore spells out that young Tom Riddle equated magic with immortality and liked to collect trophies, and that Tom Riddle liked being special, as he resents the name Tom for being too common; he already lives behind a mask and only shows his true face in shock. I think this, and not Dumbledore’s magical prowess, is what always scared Tom. Voldemort knew Dumbledore knew what he was. That was the only tactical advantage Dumbledore had.

It’s also one of JKR’s strokes of brilliance: Dumbledore saw Tom for what Tom was, and others never did until it was too late, not because he was that clever, but because he knew from experience. Dumbledore had allowed himself to fall for a charismatic but heartless man before, and it took Ariana dying to slap him awake. Dumbledore knows good people can be led astray: it happened to him. It has nothing to do with intelligence and “goodness”. Gellert was able to give Albus exactly what Albus lacked, stuck at home taking care of Ariana: the promise of freedom and a bright future, and the companionship of an equal. Albus fell for it, despite warning signs that should have been obvious.

Later, we know Tom is chosen by a wand of yew and phoenix feather. Both yew and phoenix are associated with immortality; yew trees are very long-lived. Compare this to Harry’s wand, holly and phoenix feather: both these characters will experience death and rebirth, except Tom Riddle’s wand tree is yew, and Harry’s is holly.

From Wikipedia: “The Christian church commonly found it expedient to take over existing pre-Christian sacred sites for churches. It has also been suggested that yews were planted at religious sites as their long life was suggestive of eternity, or because, being toxic when ingested, they were seen as trees of death.” Also from Wikipedia: “Christians have identified a wealth of symbolism in [the holly tree’s] form. The sharpness of the leaves help to recall the crown of thorns worn by Jesus; the red berries serve as a reminder of the drops of blood that were shed for salvation; and the shape of the leaves, which resemble flames, can serve to reveal God’s burning love for His people.”

The two orphans’ wildly different views of death are also apparent in their wand trees. Voldemort will murder to attain his goals; Harry will sacrifice himself. JKR, you’re good. That the phoenix feather came from Fawkes is also meaningful – Dumbledore taught both of them magic in some capacity, but he was never the one who could defeat Voldemort, because they’re too alike. One of Harry’s advantages in this battle is the integrity of his soul, which cannot be compromised.

Then, Tom Riddle is sorted into Slytherin. For a child who is already prone to megalomania, the house values bring out the worst in him, and under Slughorn, he grows into a manipulative, cunning, ruthless young man. I’m not blaming Horace for Tom being a psychopath, but some of the particular ways his psychopathy manifested in seem to have been directly due to Slughorn’s influence. Slughorn is a blood-supremacist, who was convinced Tom must come from fine stock. Slughorn tests drinks for poison using house elves; Tom Riddle tests the effectiveness of his Horcrcux’s protection on Kreacher. Slughorn emphasizes the importance of connections and outright praises Tom for knowing more than he needs to, and encourages an attitude of “it’s only wrong if you get caught.” But Slughorn, prejudiced and cunning as he is, is not violent – he is academically curious about Horcruxes, but he finds them repugnant. Tom Riddle’s heart is not so faint – at the point of asking Slughorn about Horcruxes, the diary is already a horcrux, and Tom has already murdered his father. This is how Dumbledore describes Tom’s original gang, who were the proto-Death Eaters:

As he moved up the school, he gathered about him a group of dedicated friends; I call them that, for want of a better term, although as I have already indicated, Riddle undoubtedly felt no affection for any of them. This group had a kind of dark glamour within the castle. They were a motley collection; a mixture of the weak seeking protection, the ambitious seeking some shared glory, and the thuggish gravitating toward a leader who could show them more refined forms of cruelty. In other words, they were the forerunners of the Death Eaters, and indeed some of them became the first Death Eaters after leaving Hogwarts.

Rigidly controlled by Riddle, they were never detected in open wrongdoing, although their seven years at Hogwarts were marked by a number of nasty incidents to which they were never satisfactorily linked, the most serious of which was, of course, the opening of the Chamber of Secrets, which resulted in the death of a girl. As you know, Hagrid was wrongly accused of that crime.

Dumbledore explains what motivated people to join Tom: some were afraid, some ambitious, some cruel. He controlled his so-called friends, and already started framing others for his own crimes (Hagrid’s framing was followed by Morfin’s and Hokey the house elf’s).

This is followed by Tom’s attempt to become a teacher (Dumbledore spells out his motivations: He is attached to the school, he wants to study its magic, and he already wants to build himself an army). He is denied, oddly chooses to work for Borgin and Burkes, which is fueled by the desire to trace down more items to make into Horcruxes. Through the memory of the meeting with Heptzibah Smith, we see that Tom was definitely charming when he needed to be, and knew how to make people feel good. He did not use magic to trick her into showing him her precious locket and cup: he used muggle manipulation – flattery, making an old and forlorn lady feel valuable, perhaps even flirting with her (she’s certainly flirting with him). He was be pleasant enough that Ms. Smith eagerly looked forward to his visits – but as she showed him her treasures, he was caught off guard by hearing about his mother and how she sold the locket, and she saw him for what he was, although she quickly fell into denial. Sadly, she was murdered two days later.

Why rely on Horcruxes as a way to gain immortality? Tom surely must have known about Nicholas Flamel and the Philosopher’s Stone, and the Horcruxes require someone else to perform the resurrection ritual. Either making the Stone is so hard that it would deter Tom (unlikely), or he already expected to rely on followers who would find him and revive him – he certainly seems to have expected his followers to have searched for him earlier. Maybe Horcruxes were appealing because they require murder. In any case, this is followed by the memory of Tom asking Dumbledore for the DADA job again, a decade later. Tom has spent a decade gathering followers, and he has already changed his name to Lord Voldemort. This is reminiscent of real life cult leader David Koresh, and the leaders of the Children of God, Aum Shinrikyo, etc. The meeting between Voldemort and Albus is interesting, because it’s clear that Dumbledore tried to teach Tom about the power of love:

“The old argument,” he said softly. “But nothing I have seen in the world has supported your famous pronouncements that love is more powerful than my kind of magic, Dumbledore.”

“Perhaps you have been looking in the wrong places,” suggested Dumbledore.

This did not help. Tom never learned – how could he? At 16, he was already a murderer – who could love him now for who he truly was? He could never be truly loved, and he could never truly love another, and he underestimated the power of love for his entire life, leading to his downfall – twice (were that it was so simple in real life).

Voldemort is trying to obfuscate the nature of the relationship, like all cults – they never admit that this is what they are.

“I am glad to hear that you consider them friends,” said Dumbledore. “I was under the impression that they are more in the order of servants.

You are mistaken,” said Voldemort.

But LV can’t lie to Dumbledore, who changes the subject. He denies him the DADA job again, and the curse is placed on the job. Vold’s ascent is due to begin in a few years. Here’s how Hagrid tells the story:

Anyway, this — this wizard, about twenty years ago now, started lookin’ fer followers. Got ’em, too — some were afraid, some just wanted a bit o’ his power, ’cause he was gettin’ himself power, all right. Dark days, Harry. Didn’t know who ter trust, didn’t dare get friendly with strange wizards or witches…

Voldemort isn’t just interested in immortality. He wants complete control. He wants everyone fearing him – even fearing his name. He has people isolated and distrustful, fearing for their lives.

But we know his reign of terror was dreadful – what I’m interested in is the way he treated his own followers. We know very little about how he treated them in the first war, but we do have what Sirius had to say about Regulus’s fate:

From what I found out after he died, he got in so far, then panicked about what he was being asked to do and tried to back out. Well, you don’t just hand in your resignation to Voldemort. It’s a lifetime of service or death.

We know the real story of Regulus’s disappearance, and it’s different. Kreacher tells us that Regulus died in the Horcrux cave – but more telling is that Regulus forbade Kreacher from telling his parents what had happened to him.

Why did he feel the need to do that? This suggests that Regulus knew LV destroyed traitors’ families, which is a tactic used in cults and other abusive dynamics. We know LV would leverage Draco’s welfare against Lucius for his failure in the Department of Mysteries, too.

Voldemort “dies” about two years after that, having successfully recruited about 400 followers (“the death eaters outnumbered us [the Order] 20:1” – Lupin). We can’t say if all these people were genuine Death Eaters or people who had been Imperiused or otherwise coerced, or allies like Narcissa, but the fact that coercion is used to recruit shows that Voldemort did not take his own followers’ ambitions and wishes into account. People who use outright coercion don’t suddenly draw the line at manipulation.

The Death Eaters’ behavior at the graveyard reflects what was expected of them during the first war. LV refers to his Death Eaters as his “true family”, and yet:

Then one of the Death Eaters fell to his knees, crawled toward Voldemort, and kissed the hem of his black robes.

“Master… Master…” he murmured.

The Death Eaters behind him did the same; each of them approaching Voldemort on his knees and kissing his robes, before backing away and standing up, forming a silent circle, which enclosed Tom Riddle’s grave, Harry, Voldemort, and the sobbing and twitching heap that was Wormtail. Yet they left gaps in the circle, as though waiting for more people.

If this is how anyone in your family has EVER treated you, go to the police. No: Death Eaters were expected to crawl on their knees and to kiss their master’s robe. He had enforced such discipline, that 13 years later, they all remembered their place in the circle. He expected to be worshiped, and humiliated his own people.

He also tortures them, for their failure to try to find him and resurrect him:

“It is a disappointment to me… I confess myself disappointed….”

One of the men suddenly flung himself forward, breaking the circle. Trembling from head to foot, he collapsed at Voldemort’s feet.“Master!” he shrieked, “Master, forgive me! Forgive us all!”Voldemort began to laugh. He raised his wand.“Crucio!”

He also manipulates them:

“Get up, Avery,” said Voldemort softly. “Stand up. You ask for‘ forgiveness? I do not forgive. I do not forget. Thirteen long years… I want thirteen years’ repayment before I forgive you.

Wormtail here has paid some of his debt already, have you not, Wormtail?”

He looked down at Wormtail, who continued to sob.

“You returned to me, not out of loyalty, but out of fear of your old friends. You deserve this pain, Wormtail. You know that, don’t you?

Why does LV feel that Peter owes him anything? Peter resurrected him. But pleasing LV is impossible. He needs his followers to be driven by loyalty, not fear – they are not even allowed to be self-interested in the sense of wanting not to die. Peter might deserve pain, but one must ask why does LV feel this way – Peter never hurt him.

Then, he expects Peter to show gratitude for what he would have had in the first place, if LV hadn’t taken it away from him: a hand. Peter falls for it:

Yes, Master,” moaned Wormtail, “please, Master… please…”

“Yet you helped return me to my body,” said Voldemort coolly, watching Wormtail sob on the ground. “Worthless and traitorous as you are, you helped me… and Lord Voldemort rewards his helpers….”


“My Lord,” he whispered. “Master… it is beautiful… thank you… thank you.”

That’s how Voldemort rewards his helpers: He stops the pain that he himself inflicted.

These are Death Eaters with obvious vulnerabilities for Voldemort to exploit:

Barty Crouch Jr. has a very dysfunctional relationship with his dad. Sirius: “Crouch’s fatherly affection stretched just far enough to give his son a trial, and by all accounts, it wasn’t much more than an excuse for Crouch to show how much he hated the boy… then he sent him straight to Azkaban”.

Voldemort clearly took advantage of this, played up the parallel between Tom Riddle Sr. and Barty Crouch Sr., and BCJ has clearly come to see him as something of a father figure:

“I will be honored beyond all other Death Eaters. I will be his dearest, his closest supporter… closer than a son….”


“The Dark Lord and I,” said Moody, and he looked completely insane now, towering over Harry, leering down at him, “have much in common. Both of us, for instance, had very disappointing fathers… very disappointing indeed. Both of us suffered the indignity, Harry, of being named after those fathers. And both of us had the pleasure… the very great pleasure… of killing our fathers to ensure the continued rise of the Dark Order!”

Bellatrix’s vulnerability is obvious: She’s in love with LV. He is constantly toying with her, promising intimacy and reward but never delivering. He only uses her: Her vault, her dueling skills, her home. It’s interesting that she’s the only female DE outside of Alecto. Perhaps she was insecure about being female, or felt oppressed by her marriage, or perhaps she was failing to live up to her family’s expectation that she make pureblood babies, and Voldemort promised her a future where she’d be free of these constraints.

She’s supposed to be the closest one to him, the one he cares about the most, yet she too fears his wrath. Following the prophecy’s destruction:

“Master, I am sorry, I knew not, I was fighting the Animagus Black!” sobbed Bellatrix, flinging herself down at Voldemort’s feet as he paced slowly nearer.

“Master, you should know —”

“Be quiet, Bella,” said Voldemort dangerously. “I shall deal with you in a moment. Do you think I have entered the Ministry of Magic to hear your sniveling apologies?”

“But Master — he is here — he is below —”

Voldemort paid no attention.

He really should have paid attention to her warning that Dumbledore was coming. Instead, he threatened her even as she was begging forgiveness for something that was not her fault.

The chapter Spinner’s End shows how gifted LV is at spreading enmity and discord among his followers. Not only do they not all know each other, the ones who do can never conspire against their master, because of the atmosphere of distrust.

“Before I answer you — oh yes, Bellatrix, I am going to answer! You can carry my words back to the others who whisper behind my back, and carry false tales of my treachery to the Dark Lord! Before I answer you, I say, let me ask a question in turn. Do you really think that the Dark Lord has not asked me each and every one of those questions? And do you really think that, had I not been able to give satisfactory answers, I would be sitting here talking to you?”

She hesitated.

“I know he believes you, but…”

“You think he is mistaken? Or that I have somehow hoodwinked him? Fooled the Dark Lord, the greatest wizard, the most accomplished Legilimens the world has ever seen?”

He is accusing Bella of heresy. He has clearly learned a thing or two about manipulation, since he spent his entire adult life either under LV or under Dumbledore. He presents himself as selfish for staying with Dumbledore, and he presents Voldemort’s words as gospel: “The Dark Lord does not complain that I stayed, so I do not see why you do.” He also takes pride in being closer to him and more useful:

“But what use have you been?” sneered Bellatrix. “What useful information have we had from you?”

“My information has been conveyed directly to the Dark Lord,” said Snape. “If he chooses not to share it with you —

“He shares everything with me!” said Bellatrix, firing up at once.

“He calls me his most loyal, his most faithful —”

“Does he?” said Snape, his voice delicately inflected to suggest his disbelief. “Does he still, after the fiasco at the Ministry?”

The master stroke is the subtle insinuation that lowly half-blood Snape is closer to Voldemort than Bellatrix is. This makes her lose what little composure she had, and plays on her insecurity. Her interrogation ends shortly thereafter, and she seems satisfied with explanations that are frankly not very convincing.

“If he has forbidden it, you ought not to speak,” said Snape at once. “The Dark Lord’s word is law.

Narcissa gasped as though he had doused her with cold water. Bellatrix looked satisfied for the first time since she had entered the house.

“There!” she said triumphantly to her sister. “Even Snape says so: You were told not to talk, so hold your silence!”

Bella is enforcing silence on her sister. This phenomenon exists in real cults too: Members enforce the rules on each other, the leader’s hands are clean.

Bella tells Cissy off for caring whether Draco lives or dies:

“Draco should be proud,” said Bellatrix indifferently. “The Dark Lord is granting him a great honor. And I will say this for Draco: He isn’t shrinking away from his duty, he seems glad of a chance to prove himself, excited at the prospect —”

I think this was LV’s pitch to Bella: She is the one who wanted to prove herself.

Bella is willing to give him so much, and he gives her nothing. Also, twice she claims that it’s a point of pride to be willing to die for the Dark Lord.

In DLA, he is particularly subtly abusive toward her:

“My Lord,” said a dark woman halfway down the table, her voice constricted with emotion, “it is an honor to have you here, in our family’s house. There can be no higher pleasure.”


Bellatrix leaned toward Voldemort, for mere words could not demonstrate her longing for closeness.

Why is Bellatrix halfway down the table? She has been unfailingly loyal, why is he punishing her with distance? Is he punishing her for being related to Narcissa?

“No higher pleasure,” repeated Voldemort, his head tilted a little to one side as he considered Bellatrix. “That means a great deal, Bellatrix, from you.”

Her face flooded with color; her eyes welled with tears of delight.

“My Lord knows I speak nothing but the truth!”

Look how nice he’s being! Look how happy he makes her! Except this is immediately followed by teasing her about her niece’s marriage:

“No higher pleasure… even compared with the happy event that, I hear, has taken place in your family this week?”

She stared at him, her lips parted, evidently confused.

“I don’t know what you mean, my Lord.”

“I’m talking about your niece, Bellatrix. And yours, Lucius and Narcissa. She has just married the werewolf, Remus Lupin. You must be so proud.”

There was an eruption of jeering laughter from around the table. Many leaned forward to exchange gleeful looks; a few thumped the table with their fists. The great snake, disliking the disturbance, opened its mouth wide and hissed angrily, but the Death Eaters did not hear it, so jubilant were they at Bellatrix and the Malfoys’ humiliation. Bellatrix’s face, so recently flushed with happiness, had turned an ugly, blotchy red.

He is punishing with humiliation. Lucius screwed up the mission at the DOM and Draco didn’t kill Dumbledore, but what did Bella do? Nobody is safe. Instead of resenting the way she is treated, Bellatrix demonstrates her fanaticism:

She is no niece of ours, my Lord,” she cried over the outpouring of mirth. “We — Narcissa and I — have never set eyes on our sister since she married the Mudblood. This brat has nothing to do with either of us, nor any beast she marries.”


“Many of our oldest family trees become a little diseased over time,” he said as Bellatrix gazed at him, breathless and imploring.

You must prune yours, must you not, to keep it healthy? Cut away those parts that threaten the health of the rest.

Yes, my Lord,” whispered Bellatrix, and her eyes swam with tears of gratitude again. “At the first chance!

“You shall have it,” said Voldemort. “And in your family, so in the world… we shall cut away the canker that infects us until only those of the true blood remain….”

Bella does not anyone (a half-blood!) to teach her that she must keep her family tree pure. She clearly doesn’t know crucial things about Tom Riddle, or is in denial. This is the same Bellatrix who killed her own cousin, so she is very capable of “pruning” her own family tree.

At the Malfoy Manor:

“Gold!” laughed Bellatrix, still attempting to throw off her brother-in-law, her free hand groping in her pocket for her wand. “Take your gold, filthy scavenger, what do I want with gold? I seek only the honor of his — of —

She stopped struggling, her dark eyes fixed upon something Harry could not see. Jubilant at her capitulation, Lucius threw her hand from him and ripped up his own sleeve —

“STOP!” shrieked Bellatrix. “Do not touch it, we shall all perish if the Dark Lord comes now!

She seeks only the honor of his [something], but she is scared to death of him. She will kill for him and die for him, but she is very aware of the possibility that he might kill her – yet she loves him. She is a true believer – without him, she is nothing, and her devotion controls her every interaction. In her defense, he does not let others kill her, at least – he saves her at the end of the battle at the Department of Mysteries, and seems upset when she dies.

Bellatrix thinks independently once: She doesn’t trust Snape, even though her master does. This is not so odd – the half-blood appears to be undermining her, and to have aspirations of being even closer to LV than her – her jealousy and insecurity override how brainwashed she is. The dynamic between the Black sisters exemplifies the way cults drive wedges between family members – not that the Black family needed any help with that.

Peter’s vulnerability is obvious: his own friends think he’s worthless. He clearly isn’t – he managed to become an animagus too, and on top of that, he tricked Sirius, kill 12 Muggles with a single curse, and perform the necessary tasks to revive Voldemort – but Voldemort was able to exploit Peter’s insecurity, and even the guilt Peter felt at betraying his friends. Sirius says Peter always sought the protection of the biggest bully. His “uselessness” was the express reason why Sirius switched with Peter – obviously, someone like that could never be pegged for a potential spy. Voldemort must have made Peter feel valuable, like there was something only Peter could do – and when Peter’s choices ran out, he showed him his true colors.

We’ve seen how LV treated Peter at the resurrection ceremony. We also have the way he bossed him around in the first chapter of GOF, and the fact that he forced Peter to work as Snape’s “assistant”, as seen in Spinner’s End. Sending Peter to work for Snape was brilliantly cruel – Peter must have viewed this as the height of humiliation.

In Dark Lord Ascending, he is shrinking himself to near non-existence:

“Yes, m-my Lord,” gasped a small man halfway down the table, who had been sitting so low in his chair that it had appeared, at first glance, to be unoccupied. Now he scrambled from his seat and scurried from the room, leaving nothing behind him but a curious gleam of silver.

Draco is vulnerable to being recruited simply because he’s Draco – his father is a Death Eater, and he is eager to prove himself to the master he grew up believing in. I’m not usually sympathetic to Draco, but this line makes me feel for him:

“everyone thinks he’s so smart, wonderful Potter with his scar and his broomstick —”

“You have told me this at least a dozen times already,” said Mr. Malfoy, with a quelling look at his son. “And I would remind you that it is not — prudent — to appear less than fond of Harry Potter, not when most of our kind regard him as the hero who made the Dark Lord disappear.”

This makes it clear that he’s been indoctrinated from a young age into a fringe belief (his belief in the Dark Lord, not in blood supremacy – that’s mainstream), and into hiding it, even after the cult disbanded. This contributed to a sense of isolation from mainstream society, and for someone like Draco, exacerbated his existing condescension and entitlement. The same must be true for Crabbe and Goyle, who on top of being children, are stupid and lacking in critical thinking skills, which means an escape was nearly impossible for them, and indeed, Crabbe died, and who knows if Goyle was clever enough to stay out of Azkaban.

Throughout HBP, Draco goes from boastful to scared for his life.

From DLA:

“What say you, Draco?” asked Voldemort, and though his voice was quiet, it carried clearly through the catcalls and jeers. “Will you babysit the cubs?

The hilarity mounted; Draco Malfoy looked in terror at his father, who was staring down into his own lap, then caught his mother’s eyeShe shook her head almost imperceptibly, then resumed her own deadpan stare at the opposite wall.

Once on top, now the Malfoys are too scared to make eye contact with anyone and protest at their humiliation. Draco is looking to his parents for protection, but they know they can’t provide it, even though Narcissa is trying.

Regulus was in a similar situation to Draco – I think he felt pressured to prove himself after the bitter disappointment Sirius had been. He and Draco were marked before they were of age, whatever being of age means in the wizarding world – meaning LV was not above using minors. He also used children: the Daily Prophet writes that the Ministry has captured a nine year old child who had been Imperiused into murdering his family.

Snape’s vulnerability is glaring. I analyze it here, but in a nutshell, his extreme poverty and the neglect and abuse played a part in his decision to join the Death Eaters, and there’s a reason why Lucius is seen patting him on the back as soon as he is sorted – perhaps the policy was to groom all newcomers. Like Barty, he might have looked for a father figure. Harry notices the many similarities between Snape and Voldemort, and these are all things Voldemort must have used on young Snape as well.

Snape is an example of how disposable Voldemort’s followers were, to him – he sent him to Hogwarts to get the cursed DADA job, meaning he was willing to let a potentially horrible fate befall him within the year. Even after Snape had ascended to #2 by killing Dumbledore (on LV’s order, no less), LV killed him to gain mastery of the wand Snape became master of by doing LV’s bidding.

Snape also explains the Dark Mark

“There,” said Snape harshly. “There. The Dark Mark. It is not as clear as it was an hour or so ago, when it burned black, but you can still see it. Every Death Eater had the sign burned into him by the Dark Lord. It was a means of distinguishing one another, and his means of summoning us to him. When he touched the Mark of any Death Eater, we were to Disapparate, and Apparate, instantly, at his side.”

A famous cult in my country did this: The leader made his followers tattoo pictures of him and his name on their body. It’s this association that originally made me think of the Death Eaters as a cult. LV branded his followers like cattle, and he expected them to drop everything they’re doing to run to him whenever he wants.

Snape was constantly tested, too. He was assigned a servant he despised, for one, and tasked with killing Dumbledore. Even after he had accomplished that, Voldemort did not fully trust him:

“Yaxley. Snape,” said a high, clear voice from the head of the table. “You are very nearly late.”

This is a threat, since they’re not actually late; I think it’s meant as a “hey, remember when I tortured you once for being late?” It is followed by:

“Saturday… at nightfall,” repeated Voldemort. His red eyes fastened upon Snape’s black ones with such intensity that some of the watchers looked away, apparently fearful that they themselves be scorched by the ferocity of the gaze. Snape, however, looked calmly back into Voldemort’s face and, after a moment or two, Voldemort’s lipless mouth curved into something like a smile.

LV is using legilimency – he still does not trust Snape, he still needs to interrogate him so carefully that the others are afraid to look.

Next, there is this:

“Do you recognize our guest, Severus?” asked Voldemort. Snape raised his eyes to the upside-down face. All of the Death Eaters were looking up at the captive now, as though they had been given permission to show curiosity.

That the Death Eaters all knew not to look up at the gruesome sight without permission, goes to show, again, how fun it must have been to be a Death Eater. In general, I think the best way to read “Dark Lord Ascending” is to pay attention to where people are looking, and how – it’s important in general, but especially in this chapter.

Lucius is an anomaly. It’s very hard to picture him kneeling, and there is no obvious reason why he should forfeit his dignity. Cults don’t typically target the elite, and in this, the Death Eaters are a bit strange, unless Lucius was also recruited at a young, impressionable age. This can be resolved if you consider that LV is the Heir of Slytherin, and unlike cult leaders, he really is super-powerful, and the person with the most potential to achieve political goals the Malfoy family is interested in.

Privileged as he was, even Lucius had vulnerabilities, and LV was a legilimens, meaning it was very easy for him to tell what they were.

This is how he treats Lucius in DLA:

“As I was saying,” continued Voldemort, looking again at the tense faces of his followers, “I understand better now. I shall need, for instance, to borrow a wand from one of you before I go to kill Potter.”

The faces around him displayed nothing but shock; he might have announced that he wanted to borrow one of their arms.

“No volunteers?” said Voldemort. “Let’s see… Lucius, I see no reason for you to have a wand anymore.

How… emasculating.

Lucius Malfoy looked up [so he was looking down until then]. His skin appeared yellowish and waxy in the firelight, and his eyes were sunken and shadowed. When he spoke, his voice was hoarse.

“My Lord?”

Lucius looks like he’s been through a lot. Also, since this scene takes place in the middle of July, why is there a fire? I’m theorizing that it’s for Nagini, or perhaps Voldemort is cold-blooded now, but in any case, he doesn’t care about the others’ comfort level. Maybe he even wants them to sweat.

“Your wand, Lucius. I require your wand.”


Malfoy glanced sideways at his wife. She was staring straight ahead, quite as pale as he was, […] At her touch, Malfoy put his hand into his robes, withdrew a wand, and passed it along to Voldemort.

LV is making Lucius give him the wand himself, to reinforce his submission – he could have used magic.

“Give you my wand, Lucius? My wand?”

Some of the throng sniggered.

“I have given you your liberty, Lucius, is that not enough for you?”

Indeed, LV has given Lucius his liberty, but again, he is expecting gratitude for something Lucius would have had in the first place, were it not for him: Lucius was imprisoned because he was caught at the DOM, fighting for Voldemort.

“But I have noticed that you and your family seem less than happy of late…. What is it about my presence in your home that displeases you, Lucius?”

“Nothing — nothing, my Lord!”

“Such lies, Lucius…”

The soft voice seemed to hiss on even after the cruel mouth had stopped moving.


“Why do the Malfoys look so unhappy with their lot? Is my return, my rise to power, not the very thing they professed to desire for so many years?”

“Of course, my Lord,” said Lucius Malfoy. His hand shook as he wiped sweat from his upper lip. “We did desire it — we do.”

Remember the fire? Do you notice Lucius sweating? His hand shaking? See how terrified he is, and how awful it must be to be forced to state how much he loves being treated like that?

To Malfoy’s left, his wife made an odd, stiff nod, her eyes averted from Voldemort and the snake. To his right, his son, Draco, who had been gazing up at the inert body overhead, glanced quickly at Voldemort and away again, terrified to make eye contact.

This is what has become of the once mighty Malfoy family.

Legilimency is important – because it means Voldemort typically could spot the mere thought of defection, and manipulate it out of the offender or outright kill him/her. The DEs know he can read minds, and so averting your eyes could be seen as admitting to a lie, unless you avert your eyes regularly. Breaking eye contact is a gesture of submission, and if one’s body is forced into it enough, it becomes ingrained. Every mention of eye contact in Dark Lord Ascending reinforces that. Their body language in that chapter also shows how controlled they are. I believe Death Eaters are learning to occlude involuntarily, to deceive themselves into only having permissible thoughts and feelings, to ensure their own survival. This makes it impossible to escape.

Finally, there’s JKR’s statement that Snape was the only DE who could produce a Patronus. This can’t be because he’s not evil (Umbridge), and it can’t be because he’s the only DE who is more powerful than 13yo Harry. I think it’s because they were not allowed to – I think a spell that requires you to think genuinely happy thoughts would have reminded Death Eaters that their happiness does not come from Voldemort.


Awesome, I had also made a post about death Eater and cults but this one is far better and it’s quality is just like all your previous metas.

I like that you used similarities with cults, real life examples, quotes to point the similarities, dynamic between the leader and followers and reasons of each major Death Eater.

I also liked your use of Voldemort’s behavioral texts to give further understanding of his behaviour. This meta overall is *chef’s kiss*.


My biggest hobby is to make people understand Voldemort in fact is a good and layered villain