In Harry Potter, there is a lot of talk of "Dark Magic", "Dark Witches," and "Dark Wizards". But are they evil?

I know that if you're an evil sod, then you're more likely to take any advantage you can get and go right for the kill. But is there any reasoning behind "dark magic" being considered "dark" other than being unsportsmanlike, for lack of a better word?

A lot of stories and games have a trend of an evil act or spell being undeniably and even quantifiable evil, Evil is a force in the world that one can measure and detect. Does the HP universe have any such reasoning behind it's "dark side" beyond being the easy path?

  • 1
    How do you define ‘evil’? Spells that have no object and outcome but to cause injury, pain, or death would seem to fit quite a lot of definitions of ‘evil’, but they can be used in ways that wouldn't. Can magic in itself ever be evil? Can actions? Can motives? Can people? All hinges on what ‘evil’ is. (That said, I have no trouble categorising Umbridge as pure, unmitigated evil. But that's just me.) Commented May 10, 2016 at 16:34
  • That is kind of my point. We hear things like drinking unicorn blood taints you and gives you a "half-life" but that could be attributed to it being poisonous or something. I'm wondering if there is a quantifiable accumulation of evil points by using dark magic, or if the "dark" part is just a social construct. Commented May 10, 2016 at 16:37
  • There's no indication that evil is in any way actually measurable or quantifiable in the Potterverse, no. Evil is a human, moral judgment call there as it in the real world. But it is a bit more tangible than in the real world. There is the fact that murder rips the soul apart, and there is the fact that unicorns are apparently so ‘pure’ that taking their life acts like a sort of curse; and then there is the fact that willingly sacrificing yourself for someone else gives that person a lingering protection. Commented May 10, 2016 at 16:53
  • As many HP questions we have, this smells like a dupe...
    – Skooba
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 19:08
  • Controlling another's body (The Imperius Curse, UNFORGIVABLE) could be used for good. This is grey. Using someone's body to stop a terrorist attack would land you in Azkaban, but would be a "Good" thing by sparing lives. Commented May 10, 2016 at 19:27

1 Answer 1


I don't think so.

Dark Magic does not corrupt

Using Dark Magic does not supernaturally lead to using more Dark magic, or engaging in other evil actions. Harry uses the Imperius Curse twice in Deathly Hallows, and the Cruciatus Curse once. McGonagall also employs the Imperius Curse. Neither of them shows any temptation toward evil, nor do they start escalating their malicious actions thereafter. On the contrary, Harry arguably grows more noble.

Doing Dark Magic does not require being evil

Harry, McGonagall, and various others employ curses or hexes at various points, as mentioned in the previous answer.

Dark Magic does not come from a source of evil

There's no supernatural entity granting wizards their magic, whether benign or malign. So far as the series shows us, anyway, wizarding power comes from some innate quality (as does the magical power of other magical species, which many witches and wizards would rather pretend didn't exist). There's no Morgoth to grant knowledge of necromancy, no Satan to beg for charms.

These are really the three main ways in which something might be said to be "supernaturally" evil, and the Dark Arts fit none of them.

That said, while there may be no metaphysical component to Dark Magic, there is good reason to classify many such spells as evil, particularly thinking from the point of view of someone in peacetime.

Dark Magic is nonetheless unethical

Dark Magic is a rather broad field. Many spells are considered Dark, not merely the Unforgivable Curses. We can see good reason for many of them:

  • The only purpose of the Avada Kedavra curse is to kill. When you have many other spells that can subdue people, using a spell that can only kill them is somewhat evil.
  • Crucio does nothing but cause someone pain. Again, there is little use for this spell (in-universe) besides torture, which is a pretty evil thing to do.
  • The Imperius Curse removes someone's free will, which many people would consider quite an unethical thing in itself.
  • Similarly, Sectumsempra is a particularly painful way of killing someone.

Note that none of these is inherently evil; if Stupefy etc. did not exist, and Avada Kedavra was the only way to stop someone, it might not be wrong. But under the circumstances that prevail for most of the Harry Potter series, the main reasons to use these spells would be negative ones.

More minor types of Dark Magic exist as well. According to JKR:

[Hex h]as a connotation of dark magic, as do jinxes, but of a minor sort. I see 'hex' as slightly worse. I usually use 'jinx' for spells whose effects are irritating but amusing.

The key is that such spells are harmful. Also, these minor types of Dark Magic, or at least things "affiliated with" Dark Magic, appear to be taught in school. There's not any particular reason to think that Stunning Spells aren't technically a type of hex, and thus strictly speaking Dark Magic.

Note: Despite this, I would argue that a supernatural morality unconnected to magic itself does exist in the Potterverse. Magic may not be supernaturally evil, but evil is. For example, murder is known to split the soul, and there is no reason to think this works differently for non-magical individuals as for witches or wizards. Love is a powerful force that can be magically harnessed. Nonetheless, "Dark Magic" is a human label.


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