Basically, The Dark Arts are any science, discipline, magic or martial combat stylenote
that is deemed by society in general and the establishment in particular as a Bad Idea®
In other words, if there are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know
, you can expect someone to have thought it would be cool to make an easy to read how-to book on it
. The "Dark" Art might not necessarily be evil
or dangerous, but there's always at least some cause to consider these powers/skills potent and not to be left open for everyone to learn.
This can be for any of the following reasons, sometimes several at once:
- It's very dangerous for the practitioner and those around him, usually because it is:
- All its Potential Applications are destructive.
- The Dark Art represents a threat to the establishment because it:
- Looks really scary, or a small but dangerous band used it. Usually the Art itself is Dark Is Not Evil, but the negative cultural associations make the establishment distrust it.
- Can empower normal people to stand up to it. Expect the Establishment to be a Hypocrite that wields these arts in secret to oppress the people.
- Could change the status quo by altering social, economic or military realities. This can be good if it would remove the weakness in a Terminally Dependent Society (and bring the corrupt leaders down with it), or bad if the change would cause widespread chaos.
There are a lot of possible tropes that can be treated as a Dark Art, here are a few:
So, just who practices the Dark Arts in spite of all these dangers? Lots of people/things, actually. If it's magical, then an Evil Sorcerer
, if it's a science then a Mad Scientist
of course, and if it's a martial art then the Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy
is likely to know it. Expect them to learn their craft in the Academy of Evil
. If any
kind of magic/science is considered to be the Dark Arts, you have Magic is Evil
or Science Is Bad
Even though the only crime in art is bad taste, the Mad Artist
usually knows how to drive viewers mad (in the bad way) with their art. A hero might
be able to "redeem" the Dark Arts, or at least use them
without becoming damned/addicted when the Godzilla Threshold
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- Magia Erebea in Mahou Sensei Negima!. Or maybe that just is the Dangerous Forbidden Technique.
- This will probably depend on how long the series lasts, and if the story line rejoins the "real" world long enough before the end for the author to want another round of upgrades for the cast. If so, it'll probably turn out the technique in question is a crude first step in Magia Erebea the real Evangeline moved beyond centuries ago. If not, it'll probably get dumped for a completely different technique of awesomeness.
- Not dropped, Negi isn't even human anymore due to overuse of Magia Erebea. Of course, that just seems to mean he has it on permanantly.
- Human transmutation from Fullmetal Alchemist, largely because the Truth is a dick and resurrections always Come Back Wrong.
- The magic-users of Rental Magica has the set of taboo, mainly prohibiting things that either turn the user into an insane Blob Monster more often than not (including resurrection) or cause a massive area contamination. A plain magical crime (like slaughtering the whole village to get a lot of zombies quickly) apparently isn't lumped with it. Of course, there's an opposition, Ophites.
- In Naruto, Forbidden Jutsu are any jutsu that are either too dangerous (e.g. Fuuton: Rasenshuriken, which nearly destroys Naruto's arm when he uses it the first time) to perform, or plain immoral (e.g. Edo Tensei, which involves human sacrifices), preferably some combination of the two. Bear in mind that normal jutsu include mind attacking illusions, fireballs and lightning attacks used for assassination, any of which can kill the user if used too much. That's an idea of how bad these can be.
- The Cyberdarks in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX. Apparently the wrong set of children's playing cards exude evil energy and can give people heart attacks.
- Spells of the Lord of Nightmares in The Slayers. All of them are destructive, likely to go horribly wrong, the most well known of them can end the world, and they are based on the power of an Eldritch Abomination creator deity. Even Lina, who tends to cast the more tame Black Magic spells like there's no tomorrow, is very serious about these spells. The Unholy Nuke "Dragon Slave" is Played for Laughs every second time; these spells never are.
- The Black Arts in Fairy Tail, made up of Living Magic and Death Magic. Living Magic involves breathing life into often inanimate objects, while Death Magic is Exactly What It Says on the Tin and instantly kills anything it touches. For rather obvious reasons, both of these types of magic are explicitly banned by the Magic Council, especially after The Black Wizard, Zeref, absolutely mastered them, and literally wrote the book on it. And he knows damn well what he's done to the world because of it.
- Comes up in Harry Potter, obviously, though not very well-defined. It's notable that there's some categorisation in-universe on the seriousness of offensive magic, as such spells are called either jinxes, hexes or curses. Jinxes are defined by Word of God as "spells whose effects are irritating but amusing". Hexes are darker, intended to cause some pain or discomfort, while curses are described as "the worst kinds of dark magic". Three in particular, the "Unforgivable Curses"— Crucio, AvedaKedavra, and Imperio— are so called because any use of them carries with it a minimum penalty of a life sentence in prison. The protagonists start chucking them around willy-nilly in the final book.
- Black magic in ''Shaman of the Undead". This category includes Necromancy and everything connected to demons, as first requires necromancer to do some terrible things and second mostly ends with magician possessed by demon (not good - most of them prey on people when given chance to escape to mortal world). However, magical police of the setting hires necromancers because the knowledge resurrected people may provide is sometimes almost invaluable. Other wizards treat them with dislike and distrust, though.
- Blood magic in Trudi Canavan's The Black Magician Trilogy.
- Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy series. A royal investigator in a magical world.
- "Black magic is a matter of symbolism and intent."
- "Black" magic uses dark symbols and/or intends to harm. It inevitably harms the soul of the practitioner.
- In one story, a major MacGuffin is a magical device that disrupts those intending to do harm. Since it only sows confusion instead of intending harm it is not itself black magic.
- Necromancy is the most common Dark Art of fantasy, occuring at almost any setting where magic exists.
- The Dresden Files has the Seven Laws of Magic laid down by the White Council that bar against certain types of magic; the penalty for breaking any of them is death. These laws prohibit: using magic to kill a mortal, Necromancy (specifically, human necromancy), Time Travel, changing another's shape, Mind Rape, enthrallment of another, or summoning Outsiders. Note that Mind Reading is considered to be Mind Rape, when done through human wizardry, and any kind of death spell (as opposed to lethal combat magic) is The Dark Arts regardless of its target. The Laws are written to be easy to enforce. Over the course of the series, the perspective presented on these has expanded from "even accidentally infringing on the Laws will irrevocably twist you into a two-dimensional villain who needs to be put down" to "okay, so there are a few people who break the Laws and stay sane, which means finding and killing them early on is even more important". A reasonable (if disappointing) attitude for a governing body to take, especially one which explicitly states its laws are not intended to reflect any society's conception of morality or justice.
- In Dragaera normal sorcery is done by manipulating the energy of raw chaos which has been filtered through the Imperial Orb. Elder sorcery is done by directly manipulating raw chaos, and by imperial edict practicing it carries the death penalty, because making a blunder with raw chaos... well, the results would be Bad with a capital B. Of course, this doesn't prevent several of the main characters from dabbling in elder sorcery.
- In Shadow Ops, the "dark arts" are "prohibited schools" of magic, which are rare but immensely powerful types of magic, or use of a "legal" school in an illegal way. These include Necromancy, Sentient Elemental Conjuration, Gate Magic, and Negramancy, with the illegal uses of legal schools being Whispering (use of terramancy to control animals) and Rending (offensive use of healing magic). If a human manifests powers in any prohibited school, they get a simple choice: death or military service, and in the latter case, if you don't shape up, they lobotomize you to make you more compliant.
- The military service is a secret. The officially given choice is death by execution or death resisting arrest.
- The House of Night: Using the power of any element/force of nature or an ancient immortal, whether it's Darkness or Light, is Power at a Price. It's played straight with Neferet but subverted with Rephaim who has only been shown thus far to use his Dark powers in a good way.
- In Wheel of Time, the problem is largely irrelevant in the beginning of the story because the only people openly chanelling are the Aes Sedai, who willingly put themselves under powerful Geas that prevent them from doing anything really bad with it. Nevertheless, some One Power weaves and uses are seen as evil:
- The Balefire weave is a Dangerous Forbidden Technique whose use permanently damages the structure of the universe. Mere knowledge of it is supposed to be enough to be Stilled by the White Tower, since the world was once almost destroyed by chanellers abusing it. The significant number of people knowing it we encounter in the series show that this ban is not so strictly enforced, but all of the good guys (and even some of the bad guys — and we are speaking of people who have no problems killing or torturing thousands of innocents at once) consider it something inherently wrong and to be used as a last-resort weapon only.
- Compulsion (magical mind-control) and Rending (torturing and directly ripping apart someone's body using the Power) are seen as weaves that can almost only be used for evil purposes. In the beginning of the series, the knowledge of them has been lost for a long time anyway but most Aes Sedai consider that a good thing.
- The True Power, which is a variant of the One Power bestowed by the Dark One, is incredibly addictive and will makes you mad. The Dark One only allows his most favored minions to use it, but even they are not really overenthusiastic about it (except Ishamael, who is mad.)
- For a considerable time in Larry Niven's Known Space history almost all technological research was considered this. The Earth government suppressed any new technology that could be weaponized, which turned out to be pretty much everything.
- The Confederacy in S.A. Swann's Hostile Takeover series bans Genetic Engineering of humans or other sapients (Explicitly including new types of Moreau),AI in any form, and Nanomachines likewise. The first two date from the devastating wars immediately preceding the Moreau Series, the third from a Grey Goo incident on Titan. This prohibition is so strong that Orbital Bombardment of any community found to be practicing them is considered restrained. Sterilizing the entire planet is also on the table.
- In Pact Diabolism is seen as this because making a Deal with the Devil tends to cause damage to the world itself and nothing good comes from it.
- Any magic in Vagrant Story, explicitly so.
- Dragon Age has Blood Magic. While magic itself is not evil, blood magic revolves around using life force for power. Most of the blood mages in the game are evil, or at the very least enemies of the heroes. The power is also taught to humanity by personifications of emotions (ingame only a personification of desire teaches it, no information on which emotions are able to), and while it can just be used as an alternate means of powering normal spells, the big headline blood magic spells allow for Mind Control, blood-boiling and similar nastiness. Also, of course, the life force you use to power the spells need not be your own, a temptation that few blood mages can resist.
- Although other magic schools serve to light people on fire or freeze them alive, hurt or even kill them by tormenting them with visions and so on.
- According to one codex entry, the Tevinter archons of old were taught Blood Magic by the Old God Dumat the Dragon of Silence. Since an Old God is basically an Eldritch Abomination that happens to look like a dragon this makes Blood Magic even more unsettling.
- Outsider magic (that is, most if not all functional magic) in Dishonored. Its practitioners are hunted and slain by the Overseers of the Abbey of Everyman. The Overseers are a fanatic religious police headed by corrupted people in league with an oppressive political power, but to be fair, they might have a point on that magic. It looks extremely corrupting since people who get involved with it fall in two categories:
- The huge majority of people who get interested in runes and bone charms just end up fascinated and obsessed with them, usually to the point of madness, paranoia, murder and death. You found plenty of examples of such people in the game.
- The happy few who are bestowed the Mark of the Outsider don't become mad (or at least not immediately) and can use a powerful magic, but they don't fare so well. Known recipients are Daud (murderer of the Empress), Vera Moray (formerly a beautiful aristocrat, now an ugly half-mad witch), Delilah Copperspoon (evil witch heading a conspiracy to steal the body of the heir to the throne), and Corvo Attano (Player Character who may or may not be a bloodthirsty lunatic depending on how you play him).
- Nether Summoning in Drowtales is viewed by most as a evil and dangerous art, as in the past, the nether demons nearly wiped out the fae races, killing entire kingdoms with their aura feeding abilities. The Sharen's use of it in combat marks the sheer desperate levels they have fallen to in their war against the Sarghress, who are winning their war.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender and its Sequel Series The Legend of Korra have Bloodbending which lets user control water in a body of another person turning him/her into a Human Puppet. This technique is mostly seen as morally questionable, because it takes away victim’s freedom and violates his/her body. There are also other – more terrifying – implications, but they are never brought up, because its kids show. Almost every known Bloodbender seems to use it for sinister purposes (Hama kidnaps innocent villagers, Tarrlok forces Korra out of the city, Yakone used it to try and conquer the city, Amon/Noatak used it to remove people's bending) and only one that doesn’t (Katara) has to be forced to learn it, because she is terrified and disgusted at a very thought of using it on another human being. She does use it again when she's in an especially bad place mentally.
- Bringing this back to the "misunderstood" side of the trope, the show website once referred to this as a non-violent counterpoint to Firebending's ultimate technique of lightning generation. Rather than destroy an opponent, Water seeks to control and pacify. Potentially, an ethical Bloodbender could subdue any opponent without harming them. Of course, DVD extras also point out as fact that those who use this technique open themselves up to madness.
- Supposedly, to this day no respectable medical scientist admits using knowledge gained from Mengele's archives.
- Then again, Mengele was such a bad scientist that there is nothing to glean from his files.
- On the other hand, the experiments performed by the Japanese Unit 731 were just as bad, if not worse, than the experiments of Mengele... Except that the people who performed them got away with it, because the U.S. government offered them amnesty in exchange for their research. Some of them are still alive and still claim that vivisecting human beings without anesthesia was a perfectly sensible and moral thing to do.
- A lot of what humans know about the effects of freezing and phosgene gas on the human body comes from Nazi experimentation - the ethical debates are still raging.
- Improvised Explosives. While modern technology makes it impossible to completely eradicate such knowledge, the authorities become VERY unhappy if they find out you know this stuff.
- In Less Wrong parlance, this is used to refer to the use of faulty logic, fallacies and self-deception, Double Speak... in two words: Bad Faith. Even for ultimately good purposes, those arts are a double-edged sword. Truth, and logic, ultimately, always win.
- Despite only making the headlines in mid-2011 with the News of the World Hacking Scandal, journalists have for a long time referred to the use of telephone and email hacking as "The Dark Arts". Apparently it used to be common practice BUT IS DEFINITELY NOT ANYMORE.
- Of course then there is cult-esque brainwashing and other psychological manipulations/abuse. You may get a laugh or two if you mention being curious about them though.
- Some people hold an ostensibly Christian belief that even pretending to use magic in, say, a Video Game or Tabletop RPG is bad, even though such games are usually set in a fictional universe where the fictional magic is known to not actually be from the devil even in-universe.
- The third type is a common theme in weapon bans. Bans on switchblades, saps, and "Saturday Night Specials" were billed as ways of keeping weapons out of the hands of "those sort" of people. While a ban might include your Perazzi shotgun that costs as much as your SUV, it was billed as going after the riot shotguns that the inner city badguys were shown using in that movie. Likewise, bans on bearing arms were rather selectively enforced, and "may issue" concealed carry permit laws allowed similar discrimination.