Lesson 4) Legilimency

I expect you all have taken the time since our last lesson to continue your efforts to produce at least some form of shield using the Shielding Charm? If you have not, you had better start as soon as possible. I understand that all of your classes have been assigning a lot of work, but you are now at the level where it is expected that you are finding ways to effectively balance all of this work to get everything done. If you find yourself struggling, I suggest you pay Professor Dalloway, our Dean of Students, a visit. I am sure that she will have helpful study techniques for you!

Today we will be taking a look inward, to develop an understanding of what our memories are made of. This lesson, and the next, will form the complementary pair of Legilimency and Occlumency. The goal of these lessons is to provide you with a foundation of what your memories are, as well as what it is you are defending against when you practice your Occlumency. For those of you who have meditated since Year Two, you will find next lesson to be far easier than those who have not. Now, let us begin today’s lesson on Legilimency.

What is Legilimency?
To begin, we must first understand what it is we mean when we are saying that someone is a Legilimens, or is performing Legilimency on you.  The simplest way to describe Legilimency is that it is the ability for the caster to “read” the mind of the target. It is important to note that, though I say the caster is reading the mind of the target, this is a far more complicated process than it may initially appear. The mind is a very complicated system, as we discussed briefly in Lesson One of this year. It does not sit and wait for someone to come along and open it; it hardly waits for you to use it to its fullest potential. This is why I will not be teaching you the components needed to cast the Legilimency Spell. As mentioned in your Charms course, memories and the mind are complicated, and any untrained attempts to manipulate memories or to affect the mind can cause disastrous effects if you do not know what you are doing.

Though the mind is not as simple as a book to read, it is possible to interpret the electrical signals that develop everything that happens within your brain. To the skilled Legilimens, these signals can be show pieces of what you are thinking about at the moment; to the even more skilled Legilimens, they can actually manipulate the signals in order to retrieve specific memories that they are looking for. One of the most skilled Legilimens of our time, Severus Snape, was capable not only of finding a very specific memory he wanted (based on what he was generally looking for), but he was also able to see the memory in its entirety - a rare skill even among the best Legilimens. Today, we will be focusing on your simply understanding what happens when the Legilimency Spell is cast on you. If you wish to pursue a certification in Legilimency, you will have to complete additional training, which is not offered at Hogwarts, once you have come of age.

So what exactly is a Legilimens reading? What is it that is actually occurring within the brain that allows memories to be formed and, in turn, for the Legilimens to examine? It starts with you using the very process we’re going to talk about to recall information from Year Four, when we talked about confusion and the synapses

Memory, All Alone in the Moonlight
For those of you struggling to remember, as I can tell some of you are though you try to hide it, synapses are connections in the brain that allow a person to recall information. We looked at this process very briefly in Year Four when we needed to understand why confusion was occurring. Now we are going to look much more in-depth at the full process.

The synapses connect groups of neurons, otherwise known as nerve cells, within the brain. Each set of neurons is in charge of a particular set of memories, and every person will make different connections and associations. The synapses create and rearrange memories and information based on the different connections that each individual makes. What I think of when I say “wand” will likely be very different from what you think of when you hear “wand,” which would be very different from what a Muggle will imagine when they hear the word “wand.” This can be seen in the chart below. You may not be familiar with all of the terms, but this will at least give you a place to start at.

The strength of the neurons and the synapses is continually increased if you make the same connection over and over again. This is why many researchers suggest that you study in the same place all the time, or why (if you listen music when you study) it is suggested that you listen to the same song when studying a particular subject. Your synapses are more likely to get you to the information that you want to recall if you are following the same path within the brain each time.

All memories within the brain are stored within your hippocampus, a part of the brain that looks like a seahorse. The hippocampus is capable of creating new memories most often through specific senses, such as touch or smell, and is also the place where memories are made that are likely to be more easily stored in your long-term memory. We will not be delving into the differences between long-term and short-term memory. That will be information that I expect you to research on your own time, should you choose. You will not be required to learn any of it, but it may enhance your ability to understand what a Legilimens is looking for, and if you ever plan to become a certified Legilimens, you will need to know the difference.

When a synapse fires in the brain, and you are attempting to recall a piece of information, electrical currents flow along the synapse, seeking out the particular set of neurons within your brain that are associated with the memory you are trying to activate.

How to Read a Mind
So how do these neurons and synapses and electrical currents and various parts of the brain come together to be understood by the Legilimency Spell? The most difficult part of the process is learning to understand an individual. The Legilimency Spell does the work of interpreting the electrical currents for the caster, but the caster has to understand what it is they are looking for, which means understanding how the target would make a memory.

The beginner Legilimens, once they cast the spell, will often only be able to see glimpses of what a person is thinking of at that moment. To use myself as an example, ignoring the mental Occlumency wards that I keep up in my mind, a beginner Legilimens casting the spell on me would see images of each of you sitting in this class, images of the brain, and probably random words associated with this lesson. They would not be able to control what information they receive from me, because they do not know how I would think, nor do they have enough of an understanding of their willpower and concentration against mine to be able to get farther than the surface. Anyone with a basic understanding of Occlumency, a skill we will be learning next class session, will be able to repel an attack from a beginner Legilimens.

The intermediate Legilimens - the level most people get to - will be able to get much further than the surface level. This person will know me better, or know how people like me think. They would be able to control what information they get out of me, but they would still struggle to find a very specific memory within my mind. They would get longer scenes of a variety of memories associated with the subject they are looking for. Imagine that an intermediate Legilimens wants information about the inner workings of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, specifically the Auror Office. Once cast, this Legilimens would be able to follow the electrical currents along my synapses to find everything I know about the entire department, and every experience I have had as an auror. They could get moments, no more than ten seconds long, of every mission I have ever gone on as an auror, every training session I have gone through that is stored in my memory, every person who I have worked with in the office, and a general layout of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. However, this information will still be jumbled and it will take the caster time to determine what is actually useful to them. Here, the target’s Occlumency training needs to be more advanced. This will be a fairly equal match between caster and target, so it comes down to who is more determined. In your cases, as the likely targets, you will want to ensure you give yourself the upper hand by being as well prepared as possible.

Finally, we come to the advanced Legilimens. This person knows the way their target thinks like the back of their hand, or can easily recognize the thought patterns of an individual based on previous thought patterns of similar people they have “read” before. It would take them mere moments to pick the very specific memory they wanted out of their target’s mind and have all of the information they wanted. There is very little to say about the advanced Legilimens; they are the best. They can only be countered by the most skilled Occlumens, who will have the ability to completely misdirect the Legilimens. Very few people ever attain this level of control over the spell. Some of the only people known to attain this level of control over the spell are Tom Riddle, Albus Dumbledore, and an American witch with a natural gift for Legilimency, Queenie Goldstein, who was so gifted that she was able to innately read anyone’s minds, except British people, claiming the accent threw her off.

Remember, though I talk about the reading and interpreting of these electrical impulses as if they come naturally, it takes many years to begin to understand them. Every person is different, and so the power of the Legilimency Spell can only carry its caster so far. If the caster does not know how to interpret the signals that they are getting through the use of the spell, then they will learn very little and potentially find themselves confused.

This brings us to a final point that I feel is prudent to drive home: why mind-affecting spells are so dangerous, and why I will not be teaching you how to cast the Legilimency Spell. As already mentioned, the mind is not a toy or a play area. It is a very complicated system of processes that exist in a delicate balance. This balance can easily be thrown off by the unskilled witch or wizard probing another’s mind. There is never a best case scenario when a mind is negatively affected due to sloppy spellcasting. In one scenario, the target’s synapses are permanently affected and the person will forever be confused. In an even more extreme outcome, their synapses and neurons can be permanently damaged, causing irreversible brain damage that prevents them from both making new memories and recalling already existing ones.

However, it is also possible that these spells will backfire and will affect the caster rather than the target. In that case, it becomes your own mind that is at risk. Remember this should you ever choose to pursue the previously mentioned certification(s). Are you willing to put your own mental health at risk? Are you willing to risk sacrificing your own memories? Is your intended purpose for becoming certified worth the risk?

And that brings us to the end of today’s lecture. Today’s essay will require you to begin exploring your own thought process. This will help to prepare you for next class session, where I will begin training you all as Occlumens, since it requires no special spells or any mental stability risks to practice Occlumency. I hope you all are ready to attempt to explore how you think, but also how someone else would think.

“How Are Memories Formed?” Queensland Brain Institute, 10 Nov. 2017, qbi.uq.edu.au/brain-basics/memory/how-are-memories-formed.

Images Used From

“How Are Memories Formed?” Queensland Brain Institute, 10 Nov. 2017, qbi.uq.edu.au/brain-basics/memory/how-are-memories-formed.

“The limbic system.” Queensland Brain Instituteqbi.uq.edu.au/brain/brain-anatomy/limbic-system

Year Six Defense Against the Dark Arts becomes more theory heavy as students begin their work at the N.E.W.T. level. This year focuses on mental magic, defense of the mind, and application of logic in order to overcome challenges. Sixth Year students will come face to face with their inner demons and be challenged to perform magic more difficult than they have thus far, all while proving their ability to grapple with the heavy theories behind their spellwork and defending themselves against the Dark Arts.
Course Prerequisites:

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