Lesson 2) Dark Spells, Part One
In previous years and previous lessons, we have covered a variety of curses. However, there are two types of curses that we have ignored, and that will be remedied in these next two lessons. Today, we will be exploring different types of long-standing curses, and next lesson we will focus exclusively on the Unforgivable Curses. Remember, we will not be learning how to cast any of these, but instead making you aware of them and the ethical and moral implications behind them, including the violations of human rights and natural laws. Since last lesson had such a lengthy introduction, let’s dive straight into this lesson.
Curses that are considered to be long-standing curses are those whose effects can last long beyond the initial cast. They do not require any additional concentration, however they are considered to be dynamic spells, since their nature requires their effects to change. There are many ways to make this happen, one of which is picking an abstract object or idea to tie the magic of the spell to. Shortly we will look at the specifics of a certain type of long-standing curses. It is important to note that these spells are an ancient form of spellcasting. While they can still be cast today, it is much more difficult. You will almost never find a long-standing curse in British culture, simply because our form of spellcasting has become so structured that we cannot “feel” the magic in the way that older magical people could.
This category of curses is difficult both in terms of its violations of human rights and in how we counteract them. As of where scholars currently stand, we do not have a specific article under which the use of long-standing curses falls. Therefore, I would like each of you to consider this as we proceed through the lesson: today’s assignment will be your opportunity to contribute to the discussion that scholars are having. With no clear stance on how long-standing curses violate a human right or natural law, there are those who are arguing that long-standing curses should not be considered curses and, therefore, not considered part of the umbrella Dark Arts. I have sat in on too many trials after bringing in individuals who have used a long-standing curse and argue that it is not Dark, since there is no strong argument for its position as a branch of the Dark Arts.
However, if understanding these curses is difficult, reversing them is even worse. There is usually nothing physical that ties these curses to their target. Most of the concentrated energy is directed at an idea or an abstract concept, some of which we will discuss in just a few moments. Without something physical to concentrate on, how does one cast a counter-curse? Counter-curses are most effective when the concentration component is applied to the same object exactly. Your goal is to reverse the effects of the spell on the target. How does one concentrate on a non-existent entity? Effectively, casting a counter-curse on a long-standing curse is similar to attempting to cast a spell on air: you may accomplish something, but more likely you won’t. Spells like the Effect Canceling Charm also have no effect on long-standing curses. We will revisit this idea of countering long-standing curses later in the lecture.
Before we got too much further, I want to talk about one specific type of long-standing curse: the Familial Curse.
The Familial Curse
The Familial Curse seems to indicate a singular type of curse; this is inaccurate. The Familial Curse is actually another broad category of spells that covers all types of curses that affect a family line. As mentioned, these spells were a more free type of magic. This means that incantations were rarely recorded, as they were developed on a basis of need. Often times, the incantation reflected both the reason for the curse and the goal of the curse. For example, one might look like this:
My brother you have tried to brutally slay
So forever barren will your family tree be from today.
The reason for this curse was the offense that some person tried to kill another person’s brother. This offense apparently merited a family curse that stripped the person’s future family tree barren. A barren family tree, for those who have never heard the expression before, means that there will be no more children born to that family. This long-standing Familial Curse would affect the entire family future, as all members of the individual’s family would no longer be able to bear children.
In order to cast it, the spell would be dependent on the concentration applied. In the case of Familial Curses, the concentration would be on the surname of the individual, but also on the “imaginary” bloodline that would connect anyone to this family. It would have to be connected to both, as otherwise the spell would become far more widespread than intended. In purely magical families, and in the days when purebloods were truly “pure,” it might have been a little easier - this is purely speculation, as it is possible to study these effects at that time. That said, imagine trying to cast a Familial Curse on a specific family with the surname Smith, or Jones, or any other common name. If it were only attached to a surname, everybody with the name “Smith” would no longer be able to bear children and would be at the mercy of the curse.
I feel it is prudent to state that this tie to the “bloodline” is in no way related to blood magic. The concentration of these spells is focused explicitly on the idea of the bloodline and how members of a specific family are bonded together. This places a lot of importance on the concentration element of the initial caster. If the initial caster has complete control over the curse, they can limit it to specific members of a bloodline; however, the less experienced caster who is unable to concentrate fully, does not understand the complexities of familial relationships, and who does not consider all potential outcomes of the curse they are casting will easily lose control of the spell. In this case, the spell will fill in any gaps that it finds using any resources available in the magical cosmos. Because of this, it takes one who is extremely experienced and well-trained to effectively utilize blood magic; an inexperienced user may cause far more harm than intended, so it is recommended that you do not meddle with such magic unless trained by one who knows its intricacies well.
Breaking the Curse
This brings us to our final point of how we can counter a long-standing curse, or even better to defend ourselves against them. I will disappoint you and say that, to date, there is no effective defense against a long-standing curse. Because of the individuality of each spell, it is impossible, within a British understanding of magic, to develop an effective spell that allows the individual to be protected from all forms of long-standing curses. Again, it is only within the British culture that we cannot develop an effective method of defense. I have minimal experience in international magic, but do have plans to research the topic further. If you have an interest in further research, I encourage you to do so.
Though we cannot defend ourselves against these curses, surely there must be a way that these curses can be broken. Again, I must disappoint you. These curses are nearly impossible to break, because it is almost impossible to concentrate on the same thing that the initial caster concentrate on, and you cannot possibly concentrate on all possible effects that the initial caster concentrated on. This makes it almost impossible to counter and break the curses. Nearly impossible, but not entirely impossible. There are three known ways to “break” a long-standing curse: extinction of the line, the initial caster breaking the spell, or finding the incantation used and countering the spell based on the incantation.
Extinction of the Bloodline: This method of breaking the curse is the most morbid of the methods. In this method, the family simply has to wait for the curse to take its toll. This can happen relatively quickly, if the target individual has not already had children. However, if the bloodline has already continued through children, then the curse continues on. This becomes even more complicated when you consider the levels to which the curse can affect a family. Let us take a look at the Black family tree to see a demonstration of this:
This image was taken straight from the Black household at 12 Grimmauld Place. It is not the best for looking at a family tree, so I have taken the liberty of creating a more readable version of the tree.
Now, as you can see, the Black family tree is quite complicated. This would make it a perfect target for a Familial Curse, since it would have such a heavy impact on society. Let us say, for example, that someone cast the previously mentioned Familial Curse on Draco Malfoy. Not only would it impact Draco’s future children, or his children’s children if he already had children at the time of the casting, but it would also affect Harry Potter and his family. This is because Mr Potter’s lineage can be traced to a connection with Draco Malfoy by three generations. In terms of magic, this is a relatively short amount of time, and therefore the spell would still see Harry as a blood relative to Draco Malfoy. Therefore, both families (and all families in between) would be affected. It is very likely that the entire family lineage that is seen there (those who are still alive) would be affected. It would take at least eight to nine generations back before the curse would no longer influence the connection. Only once the entire affected living family lineage had died would the curse be broken by the method of bloodline extinction. Fortunately, there are other ways.
Initial caster reversing the curse: This method is, admittedly, unlikely to happen. Someone casting a long-standing curse, such as a Familial Curse, won’t be likely to reverse their curse. You can’t “accidentally” cast one of these, and they are not done lightly. However, it has been known that long-standing curses have been reversed by the initial caster. These usually only occur after a period of atonement, during which the target, or a representative of the target chosen by the caster, performs some act of service for the caster. Once the task, usually a long and difficult one, has been completed, the caster would then reverse the curse.
This is the most effective method of removing a long-standing curse, as the caster would know exactly what they concentrated on, and the specific effect(s) that were built into their spell. This can get complicated depending on how long the curse lasts. In some cases, the target of the curse will outlive the caster. Once the caster has died, it is impossible for them to reverse the curse, and so the target must find another solution. This leads me to the third and final solution.
Find the Incantation: The final method is to find the incantation used and break the curse based on the effects given. It is not as simple as just finding it laying around and then there being a one word counter for it. It is rare that a caster of a long-standing curse would just leave the incantation laying around, if they wrote it down at all. If they did, it will be in a secure place that they have reinforced with their own protection; it will not be easy to get to. Then, once you have the incantation, you will need to develop an incantation of your own. This may seem easy, but in most cases the counter-curse incantation to reverse a long-standing curse must be even longer than the initial incantation, since you must state the target of the curse, the effect of the curse, and a statement of undoing. Using the previous incantation for a possible Familial Curse,
My brother you have tried to brutally slay
So forever barren will your family tree be from today,
we can see how we might develop an incantation that effectively counters all parts of this spell. Remember, it must state the target, the effect, and a reversal statement, all while rhyming. Then there’s the concentration and willpower, which complicate the matter even further, since the concentration must be on all of these components, and the willpower must be greater than the willpower applied to the initial curse. This makes it extremely rare and difficult to break a long-standing curse on your own. However, to demonstrate what a counter-curse incantation might look like, I have prepared a sample here:
To the Penrose family has been done
A curse to deprive our generations of the sun
And so this day I do proclaim
That I am free and my family the same.
Let me now reinforce this: you should not be experimenting with long-standing curses. They use a flow of magic that our culture simply does not understand anymore. We are so used to our one or two word incantations, that for us to have an almost chant as an incantation would lead to disastrous results. However, some of you may be going into fields, such as curse-breaking, where you need to be aware of these types of spells, as they were much more common in the ancient world.
Next class, we will be focusing on another specific type of curse: the Unforgivable Curses. These are much easier to place within our framework of natural laws and human rights, so we will be returning to those next class session. You have one mandatory essay to complete today, and you are to read the chapter titled “Unforgivable Curses” from our textbook for next class.
Until next class session.
Note: All images used in the lesson are originally from the Harry Potter Wiki.