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The Dark Arts
Spargel: Elzar had been seduced by The Dark Side of cooking. Cilantro, mango salsa, raspberry vinaigrette!
Bender: That drizzler!
Futurama, "The 30% Iron Chef"

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:

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 is crossed.


Examples:

    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.
  • 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.

    Literature 
  • Comes up in Harry Potter, obviously, though not very well-defined, and it's never explained why some spells are Dark whereas choking someone on soapsuds or setting people on fire aren't.
    • Though stereotypically, it basically still makes Necromancy the definition of the Dark Arts. Or things resembling Necromancy evil.
    • 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".
    • Actually, the spell about the soap wasn't Dark Magic. The spell in question, Scourgify, is a cleaning spell, but a cleaning spell that was being used negatively. Likewise, the setting someone ablaze spell was most likely Incendio, which is more commonly used for lighting fireplaces. Spells that were created for the specific purpose of causing harm to any human being are Dark Magic. Hexes seem to be interchangeable with jinxes for the most part, though. Some spells are misnomers, as well, simply because of the Rule of Cool. The Bat Bogey Hex's effects sound like it'd be more of a jinx, but "Bat Bogey Jinx" simply doesn't have the same ring to it. You can't simply go by Charm/Jinx/Hex/Curse. "Curse of the Bogies" sounds like it's more of a jinx. It sounds like it just produces excessive bogies. Again, Jinx doesn't add to the name. Jinxes and Hexes are usually just playful tricks, and are mostly synonymous. Some spells are called what they are for the sake of Added Alliterative Appeal, like the Hurling Hex, which sounds more like a curse. Knee Reversal hexes sound like they'd be more like a Jinx, albeit a suffering one.
    • Quoth Professor Binns in explaining the Chamber of Secrets to the class, he points out: "Just because a wizard doesn't use Dark Magic doesn't mean he can't." And most of the really Dark Arts in Harry Potter do require the practitioner to do something morally compromising to perform - the Unforgivable Curses require the caster to feel malice, the Resurrection potion requires grave-robbing, mutilation, and torture of ones enemies. Recreating a body requires acts so horrific they made Rowling's publisher vomit afterwards, and making Horcruxes requires murder, in addition to other as yet unspecified unpleasantness.
    • The Unforgivable Curses are considered such because there's really no application for them that isn't somehow morally grey at best. Imperio turns people into puppets, Crucio is an Agony Beam that requires sadistic malice on the part of the caster, and Avada Kedavra has no other use but to kill people.
  • 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.
      • Not really. Part of it is likely compromising in the face of the war between the Red Court and the Council, but the Council has been pretty consistent: If you do any of the REALLY bad stuff (directly killing a person with magic when it is not self-defense, mind control, necromancy involving a person), you are pretty much guaranteed to be dead. This is because magic is very much powered by belief in The Dresden Files universe, so to mind-rape someone the wizard must BELIEVE that said mind rape is right and okay. In the series, only three individuals are given a pass and two of them are under very heavy watch.
      • Harry, prior to the books, killed his mentor in self-defense. While probably a bit extreme in their reaction (in large part because it was "he said, she said" with the only survivor being a little boy whose mother was a renegade), the intervention of McCoy put Harry on probation for a decade or two.
      • Molly, who un-knowingly mindraped her friends. But she did so to protect them and because she cared about them (forcing her pregnant friend to stop doing drugs, for one thing). And even then, she was only spared due to Harry, McCoy, The Gatekeeper, and the fact that her father is Michael "Fist of God" Carpenter and had just saved the entire Council almost singlehandedly. All of this gave her probation similar to Harry's. And it is worth noting that she has multiple relapses and is established as definitely being forever tainted by the ordeal.
      • The Blackstaff, who is a Council-sanctioned weapon who is trusted to be able to break the rules without succumbing to the urges. The details of how this occurs are left ambiguous.
  • 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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons adventure C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness.
    Duke Justinian: Hodar, you dared to defy a royal order and continued to dabble in sorceries which I had forbidden to all the people of my realm.
    • Later editions has a wide range of spells tagged [evil]. Many are poorly explained (Animate Dead uses raw energy to create a non-sapient construct, while golems, which involve enslaving a sapient being, have no such tag) have it for no reason whatsoever (such as Deathwatch, which basically says if a person is dead, near dead or alive). Later source books state that undead exude negative energy, and so make the world a worse place just by existing. That's just one spell though.
    • The Book of Vile Darkness sourcebook notes that any spell that taps into negative energy is dabbling in forces that are best left undabbled-with. To see someone's condition with Deathwatch, you're looking through negative-colored glasses. Animating a golem isn't truly "slavery", it's temporary (albeit long-term) attachment of a spirit to the parts (and in the case of clay and flesh golems, it's unstable attachment at that); it's arguable if they're even sentient. Raising a corpse as an undead, on the other hand, is the sort of thing that kills the grass on your lawn even if you're in the basement at the time.
    • In Forgotten Realms there are prohibitions from the gods of magic (covering Fantastic Nuke, endangering of the world's magical circuit and a few crimes against the magic-using community) plus whatever local laws and traditions don't approve, typically including the most unpleasant forms of necromancy and/or using wild magic in populated areas. From what is known about the elven kingdom of Cormanthyr, it prohibited some enchantments that allow massive binding of magical items and creatures, some blood magics, using mass-destruction and later also selective spells in modes aimed to harm elves or "allied" beings. A few areas don't approve arcane magic at all, claiming it's "dishonorable", but in fact it's the places when magic may attract a curious spell-grub, and no one wants that anywhere around.
    • Dark Sun defilers aren't tolerated by anyone including most other defilers, and all magic is looked upon with at least some suspicion because of this.
    • In 4th Edition, the Warlock and classes with the Shadow power source are this.
    • The easier methods of becoming a lich are also the most heinous.
    • Depending on the setting and exact location there, any use of magic can become this if the local authorities decide to forbid it (usually on pain of death). General bans on arcane magic aren't unknown in some places, though in at least one famous case (Mystara's wizard-ruled Principalities of Glantri) that's replaced with a strict prohibition on clerical magic instead.
  • Champions supplement The Blood and Dr. McQuark. People on the planet Ea are forbidden to use magic or powers that involve interdimensional travel because it could lead to the unleashing of Eldritch Abominations.
  • Blood magic and Toxic/Insect shamans in Shadowrun.
  • The World of Darkness settings (Old and New), naturally, are full of those.
  • A few ones in the Exalted settings.
    • Necromancy. Although it is not evil or corrupting in itself and some spells can actually be used for good, it almost always involve gruesome rituals or blood sacrifice. And its foremost practitioners (but not the only ones, and not even the first ones) are the Deathlords and Abyssal Exalted, who are evil by most standards.
    • Demonology in general is seen as a dangerous, risky and best avoided field of study. The line between demonology (using demons) and infernalism (being used by demons) is thin, it is easier to summon a demon than to control it or to banish it, and during the First Age the sorcerers of the whole world had to to gather for a great feast every Calibration night just to make sure none of them attempted the dreaded ritual to summon a Third Circle demon (which can only be done during that night).
      • The fact that summoning demons is one of the first spells you learn at the Realm's Wizarding School contributes much to the awe and dread it evokes. (Although it is actually a no-nonsense and intelligent approach: the idea behind it is that most wizards will end up trying to summon demons anyway, so it is more sensible to teach them how to do it properly and to thoroughly warn them about the dangers than to ban or restrict the spells and let the would-be demonologists dabble into it on their own with partial knowledge.)
    • Some martial arts styles are really frowned upon. The Ill Lily style is about poisoning his opponent and has a horrible reputation. The White Veil style is only taught by an infamous and semi-legendary secret society and knowing it is equivalent to admitting membership in the conspiration. The Infernal Monster style is a brutal and unusually powerful celestial martial art but it literally comes from hell and many sifus don't want to have anything to do with it and they are absolutely right to be cautious, since mastering it allows the yozis to mind-control you once in your lifetime. The Kaleidoscopic Border of Logic and Obsidian Shards of Infinity styles are so powerful they question things like identity and the nature of reality, and the exalts who know them will only teach them to students they really, really trust. Finally, the Quicksilver Hand of Dreams style is linked to the Fair Folk and is considered unsafe by most experts since nobody really undeerstands where it comes from and how learning it changes you.
    • Charms like Ghost-Eating Technique that can permanently destroy the essence of spirits and gods are considered very very evil by said gods and spirits, who usually consider themselves immortal and hate being reminded that it is not really the case. They can intuitively feel any exalt who knows such techniques and they fear and hate them intensely.
    • You have also infernal charms with the Blasphemy keyword. These are powerful techniques that are linked to the nature of the Yozis (demon princes); their use unleashes a surge of infernal energy which is detected by nearby gods and spirits and also triggers automatic alarms in the control room of the Realm Defense Grid, and at the Loom of Fate in Heaven, quickly alerting both the keepers of Fate (the Sidereal Exalted) and whoever is in charge at the Imperial Manse (currently the Scarlet Empress) that someone is somehow using evil energies which are supposed to be sealed away for a long, long time and they should investigate at once.
    • Interestingly, infernal charms with the Heretical keyword are considered the Dark Arts by the demon princes themselves, since most of them are designed to allow Infernal Exalted to free themselves from their patrons and become their equals. A few charms are even labelled as both Blasphemy and Heretical, which means that both Heaven and Hell freak out if you use them.

    Videogames 
  • 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).

    Web comics 
  • 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.

    Western Animation 
  • 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.

    Real Life 
  • 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.


Chess with DeathIndex of Gothic Horror TropesDeal with the Devil
CurseMagic and PowersDomain Holder
Dangerous Forbidden TechniquePower at a PriceThe Dark Side
Cute Is EvilEvil TropesDark Is Evil
Magnificent BastardPt/Índice de TraduçãoThe Dragon

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