Lesson 9) Dark Practices, Part 2
So, assuming you manage to survive this final class session, you will nearly be done with your seventh and final year here at Hogwarts. All that will remain is to take, and pass, your N.E.W.T.s. I will not be assessing them, the same way I did not assess your O.W.L.s, but be assured I will be watching your practical exams. That will be your final opportunity to convince me that you have the mettle to continue into a career combating the Dark Arts. Some of you I see great potential in; others of you, I’m impressed have gotten this far. However, we still have one topic left to discuss before I even consider letting you leave and prepare for your exams: rituals. As per usual in our discussion this year, I will be providing no information about performing any specific rituals.
Rituals: A Very Short Introduction
I will not bore you with excessive historic details about rituals. For that information, you can seek out Professors Morgan and Wessex, both of whom are more than qualified to talk about ancient ritualistic practices. Today, my goal - after a brief introduction to rituals as a whole - is to introduce you to two specific categories of rituals: the malevolent ritual and the defensive ritual. These rituals are the types that are most specific to our studies in this classroom, and the types where we can most easily apply a broader range of concepts we’ve been covering.
Rituals are a very different type of magic from the magic that you are used to performing. While they have some similarities (a need for willpower and concentration, an incantation, and a target of some kind, for example), they are performed in a very different way. To start, you do not need your wand to perform a ritual. Instead, you simply choose an area of focus for the ritual and concentrate on it. To relate this to casting a spell, you concentrate on the effect target, but you use your wand to aim the effect; rituals do not have this benefit. You must concentrate both on the intended target area as well as the intended effect in order for the ritual to be successful. You do not have a stick to help you aim it, so there is a higher probability of ritualistic effects going off course. This tends to make rituals far more difficult to cast for the modern witch or wizard, because they are so dependent on their wands to see a magical result.
Looking towards a similarity, rituals have incantations. However, the incantation for a ritual is frequently far more complex than any spell. I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that most spells have incantations that contain only one or two words. For rituals, there is the potential for short incantations, or chants, but a lot of them are longer phrases that more explicitly explain the purpose of the ritual. For example, the Patronus Charm uses the incantation “Expecto Patronum” in conjunction with your concentration to create a Patronus to protect you. In a ritual to summon a Patronus, the incantation is more likely to be a full sentence about calling for a guardian of light to protect you against a strong force of darkness.
What makes rituals most interesting is the way that they are both very rigid and very flexible. For a ritual to be successful, participants in the ritual often prepare for weeks ahead of it to ensure that all components of the ritual go perfectly, because even a slight imperfection can ruin the entire ritual. However, there are many different rituals to accomplish the same goal. A group of magical people in Asia attempting to perform a Patronus summoning, to stay with our Patronus example, would likely be performing different actions, using different words, and concentrating on different goals than a group from Europe. This can be focused down even more particularly to specific countries, but the main point is that no two rituals are exactly alike around the world. Yet each ritual accomplishes its goal. It is a very different method of channeling magical energy than what you are used to, and takes a lot of practice to get right.
The Language of Rituals
As mentioned above, rituals are both highly flexible and extremely rigid. While there is not necessarily a set “incantation” for a ritual, there is compelling evidence that leads scholars to believe that the strength of a ritual can be affected by the language in which the ritual is performed, which also has to take into account the location where the ritual is being performed. There are also connections between rituals and spells that relate to language. As many of you should be aware by now, most of the incantations we use to cast spells are Latin based. There are exceptions, as there always are, but the spells we have most frequently been learning and utilizing in Defense Against the Dark Arts are rooted in Latin. We do not fully understand it, but there does seem to be a connection between the effects of a spell, the effects of a ritual, and the language used. This means that though it is possible to conduct a Patronus ritual in any language to summon a guardian against Dementors and Lethifolds, the most powerful Patronus rituals would use chants that were spoken in Latin. Likewise, a healing ritual would be more powerful if its chant was spoken in Greek - though this also depends on the origins of both the ritual and the effect of the ritual.
As you may have guessed, this makes the study of rituals far more complicated than it may appear on the surface. It is also why the appeal of rituals has faded from society. Spells with simple incantations are far easier to remember and do not require as much background research as a ritual does. For a ritual, you must understand all components of it, including where it came from and what specific purpose it was created for, in order to successfully complete it. If a ritual is attempted without this knowledge, it would be the same as casting a spell without the proper concentration - at best, nothing would happen; at worst, you may cause unknown amounts of damage because you lost control of the ritual’s effects. This is true, at the very least, for offensive and defensive rituals; I cannot necessarily speak to other rituals with less malevolent (or potentially benevolent) effects. Therefore, I encourage each of you to stick to the spells you know and do not mess with rituals until you have been properly trained.
Narrowing down our discussion, there are two types of rituals I want to bring our attention to, which have already been mentioned. The first is the defensive ritual. These rituals are performed with the intent to defend a person or group of people through a sacrifice of some sort. Because of the nature of the defensive ritual, such a powerful effect cannot be cast efficiently without first giving up something in return. Without knowing it, you already do something similar with your current magic casting: every time you cast a spell, you are sacrificing a part of your magical energy in order to make the spell work.
In rituals, the sacrifice must be on a much bigger scale. It would not be enough to sacrifice more magical energy, because rituals tend to have a scale that is grander than our normal spells. In ancient times, the ritualistic sacrifices were either animal or human. As rituals developed, magical people found ways to use blood as the sacrifice, rather than human or animal lives. We’ll talk more specifically about the use of blood in rituals at the end, because it gets into a bit of a grey area in regards to how “dark” it is.
I should probably take a moment to make it clear that not all rituals require sacrifices. The more powerful effect you want to create, the more likely a sacrifice will be required. For example, natives in the United States often performed rituals that included dance and song in order to create a weather effect. Though the weather is a powerful force in and of itself, the impact of changing the weather is not as grand scale (from a magical perspective) as influencing the life of another human being.
In our terms, most of the rituals in the second classification - the malevolent rituals - would be on the scale of curses and Unforgivable Curses. These rituals, which I would exclusively classify as dark in every way, have almost always been cast with the intent to harm another individual. These rituals can have effects from destruction of a person’s crop to summoning a plague upon a nation. Malevolent rituals are, in my opinion, some of the darkest magic a person can cast; it taints your soul more than even an Unforgivable Curse, because there is so much more preparation that is required for them. To cast an Unforgivable Curse, you have to mean it in the moment of the cast; to successfully perform a malevolent ritual, the person had to mean it through the entire planning phase and through to the completion of the ritual, which could take days, weeks, or even months.
These rituals also require sacrifice, but unlike the defensive rituals, they are almost exclusively human sacrifices. Malevolent rituals leave nothing but a trail of blood in their wake (again, we’ll talk more about blood in magic in just a little bit), and it’s not blood that can ever be washed away. People who have performed malevolent rituals of any kind still have the blood of their sacrifices on their hands, as well as the blood of the people whose lives they forever ruined. Unlike dark spells, there is no grey area. These are dark, and once a person has decided to perform and successfully completed a malevolent ritual, there is no coming back from it. They are on the path of darkness for the rest of their lives. Only individuals with the strongest will, who are willing to prove their redemption by willingly making the ultimate sacrifice for another, can redeem themselves fully from casting a malevolent curse.
What makes this class of rituals even more dangerous is that they are extremely difficult to stop. Most people who intend to cast one take the necessary precautions to ensure that their ritual will not be interrupted by anyone, and interrupting a ritual is the only way to completely ensure its effects fail. Once the ritual is complete and the effects have begun, only the effects of a defensive ritual can protect individuals from the effects of the malevolent ritual. No defensive spells have the strength to stand against the power of a ritual; if you are not prepared, your best hope of survival is to flee the affected area of a ritual, if you can. The only other option, if you know about the incoming malevolent curse ahead of time, is to have a defensive ritual prepared that will counter the effects of the malevolent one.
This has many downsides, though. It requires a knowledge of what the malevolent ritual intends to accomplish. If you cast a defensive ritual that protects you from a plague, but the intent of the malevolent curse is to poison your water supply, your ritual will not protect you. You also must be able to channel more magical energy into your ritual than the power behind the opposing ritual. This can usually be done by having more participants channeling energy into the ritual while it is being performed. The old saying “strength in numbers” knew what it was talking about.
Blood in Magic
As I have alluded to throughout this lesson, rituals frequently depend on power that comes from the use of blood. Earlier this year, I talked about an area of magic called “blood magic” and mentioned that it falls into a grey area where the intent can be good or bad. The use of blood in rituals emphasizes this grey area. We cannot, in good faith, say that blood magic is purely a dark form of magic, even though it frequently requires self-harm in some form or requires harming another. However, sometimes this small act of harm is required for the greater good of a larger amount of people. It comes down to a question of personal ethics, and that makes it difficult to pin down where exactly blood magic falls on the darkness spectrum.
It also presses challenges in our discussion about human rights, which we haven’t been able to fully explore for a few lessons. Particularly with defensive rituals, they require sacrifice and (in some cases) harm to others, but it’s intended to protect a larger group of people. Many scholars, politicians, lawyers, and such have tried to make a variety of arguments about how the world should view rituals and the use of blood magic in regards to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
For example, the primary argument at the present time is that blood magic violates the Third and Fifth articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 3 gives everyone the right to life, liberty, and security of person; Article 5 says that no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment). This seems like a pretty solid argument in favor of classifying blood magic as a violation of the Declaration. However, the opposing side argues that, in certain cases, not performing the ritual violates those same Articles on a much bigger scale, because more people are now unable to be given security of person and may be subjected to cruel treatment at the hands of a ritual that could have been prevented with the appropriate countermeasures. It’s a battle of ethics and morals, which is often extremely difficult to argue on a legal battlefield.
And with the mention of battle, it’s time for you to do battle against your final obstacle: the N.E.W.T. for Defense Against the Dark Arts. As I said at the beginning of this class session, I am still uncertain that most of you have the potential to make it out beyond these castle walls. But I have tried to prepare you and that is the best that I can do. Always use your skills to the best of your ability, make good moral judgments, and don’t be afraid to defend yourselves if the need arises. Don’t be the aggressor, but don’t let people walk on you when they become the aggressors. Be aware of your surroundings and don’t let anyone catch you off guard
Most importantly, always be yourself. If you try to be anyone else, you’ve already lost the fight. You can’t fight like anyone else, be happy like anyone else, or accomplish what someone else is accomplishing. You can only be you, so do it to the best of your ability. And on that note, I say to you for the last time…