Podcast Question of the Week – Episode 52

It’s time for a new Question of the Week! This week, we’re looking for a bit of creativity on a very dark subject.

While there is some history on the Unforgivable Curses, we don’t know the story of their birth – the person(s) behind them, the motivations, the immediate consequences, or much else at all. That’s where you come in! What do you think might have happened? What could have brought on these horrible, and yet incredible, curses?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments and they could be read out on the show next week!

  • Nana

    My feeling is that all curses arose from the creativity and motivations/intentions of individual wizards in a gradual way over time. Some wizards wishing to create ever darker more troublesome spells did so as need or appetite dictated. Eventually the powers that be, and possibly pressured by the greater community, decided to single out the three nastiest as ‘Unforgiveable’ and capable of landing you in Azkaban for life. Not unlike our own history where devious criminals and psychopaths have devised methods of murder and torture more grisly than the last. Or arguably institutionalized control, torture and murder as conducted by nations or churches. Inqusition? Khmer Rouge, Stalin, Hitler…Hiroshima? Waterboarding and mustard gas didn’t just appear, but developed over time. One thing for certain though, control was the goal. Pain and death being the primary threats, but control the real point.

  • Leah McCurdy

    Is the episode up yet?

    • roxyblack

      Apologies for the delay, the episode is now out in all of the usual places.

  • Gus

    Here’s something interesting about the Unforgivable Curses. In Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence he famously says:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    Each of these three unalienable rights has a corresponding unforgivable curse.

    Life – Avada Kedavra
    Liberty – The Imperius Curse
    and, at a big stretch
    The Pursuit of Happiness and the Cruciatus Curse.

    It is self-evident, that we as humans should not tamper in these areas. All ‘Dark magic’ is magic that tampers with life, free will, and fear and pain. All dark magic from the books falls under these categories:
    Werwolves – free will, fear and pain
    Bogarts – fear and pain
    Dementors – fear and pain and eventually life
    Horcruxes – life
    Inferi – in sickening way free will

    In terms of the origin of the curses, I believe that the the killing curse and Crucio are ancient dark magic. But I think that the Imperius Curse is modern. Muggle and Magic histories are usually intimately entwined. I think that the Imperius curse was invented at the time as the rise of the great totalitarian regime: Stalin, Pol Pot, Hitler etc specifically when Dumbledore and Grindelwald were young and ambitious. The curse was invented on the wave of the political battle between Liberalism and Totalitarianism, I’ve always believed that dark wizards were the puppeteers of these regimes utilising the newly invented imperius curse as they attempted to create their supposed utopian societies.

    The label of the three unforgivable curses probably came after Dumbledore’s defeat of Grindelwald.

    • WorldsOddestMan

      I agree with your post. I also thought it was a recent addition to the trio but according to Harry Potter Wikia, the Unforgivable Curses were classified in 1717. I can’t think of what would make it be classified so long ago but I guess there were great dark wizards before that time as well.

  • WorldsOddestMan

    I like to think that each of the Unforgivable Curses maybe connected to (if not created because of) each of the Deathly Hallows. We know that to use an Unforgivable Curse you need to truly be meaning the intent of the curse and the intent to create the curses may have been caused by the desire for or effects of the Deathly Hallows.

    Firstly, the Elder Wand and the Killing Curse. It is said that the “where the Elder Wand goes Death follows”. The Killing Curse would probably have been created by a witch or wizard whose intense desire and focus to gain the Elder Wand would have driven them to use it against it’s master. Yes, the Elder Wand is the most powerful wand there is but if the master was assassinated outside of a duel, it would be possible.

    Secondly, the Resurrection Stone and the Cruciatus Curse. The Resurrection Stone can drive those who want to reconnect with the deceased loved ones mad. The Cruciatus Curse could have been created by someone who had experienced these effects of the Resurrection Stone and in turn wanted those who were responsible for the death of their loved ones to feel the agonising pain that they feel themselves.

    Finally, the Invisibility Cloak and the Imperius Curse. I can’t connect the creation between the the Imperius Curse and the Invisibility Cloak but they do have opposing effects. The Invisibility Cloak makes you physically disappear while the Imperius Curse make you mentally and emotionally disappear. As a result the Imperius Curse takes away a persons free will while the Invisibility Cloak can arguably gives the user a greater free will, being able to do things prohibited by law and/or society (the loss of a persons free will is the reason why I believe it’s considered Unforgivable because on the surface the spell could be used and abused for good as much as for evil).

    Something else to consider is that with the creation of the Deathly Hallows, Death planned the to claim more lives and as a repercussion the Unforgivable Curses (or at least the Killing Curse) was created and as a result even more lives were able to be claimed by Death.

  • DolphinPatronus

    I’ve always just taken for granted that these curses have been aorund forever because there have been crazy evil people around forever. I still of course feel that way so I agree with Gus’s idea but using an idea a bit more related to magic. The basic “law” of modern day white witchcraft (which is based greatly off very old Celtic belief systems) is “An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will”. Avada Kedavra clearly violates this in the most obvious way by causing death…you can’t harm someone much more than that. Taking away someone’s free will is also considered harming them so The Imperius Curse fits here as well. As for the Cruciatus Curse well this one again seems to be an obvious violation…causing someone torturous possibly mind altering pain is definitly harm.

  • Lydia Miranda

    Considering the nature of the Unforgiveable Curses, I think it’s possible that they could have been purposely developed as military weapons or government tools for interrogation. Avada Kedavra has an obvious use in warfare; Imperius could be useful for spies and other secret operatives; and Cruciatus, while certainly inhumane, may have been used to torture people for information or as a particularly heinous punishment for crime. I’m not sure how long ago the Ministry and/or other wizarding governments came to be, but I think it’s possible that the development of these curses was once a government sanctioned program. I know this kind of sounds like a conspiracy theory, but I can’t help but draw parallels between the Unforgiveables and some of the controversial technology today’s muggle governments have developed and have used in the past (nuclear bombs, drones, biological weapons, waterboarding, etc.)

    However, I also really feel that these curses are particularly old and ancient, and I think they existed way before the magical government did, perhaps going as far back as ancient history. In my opinion, dark magic is really some of the oldest magic known to wizard-kind, and probably existed in some form even before generic or “light” magic did. I think it’s possible that some FORM of these curses existed a long time ago, and that some magical government entity more recently decided to develop them to become more effective and reliable. We may need more information from Jo about how spells, charms and curses are created before we can theorize further. Just my 2 cents!

  • HallowsMaster97

    The unforgivable curses are all filled with hate and the need for power.
    They say “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

    Think of Snape and “sectumsempra”. He was a victim of bullying. Snape created that curse so he could defend himself and teach his enemies a lesson.
    So whoever created the unforgivable curses had something to accomplish, they needed something done, hence creating curses that aided them in achieving their goals. They were cruel and inhumane.

    It is strange that we don’t know the creators of the curses considering they are so important and emphasized through out the series.
    (On a side note, I think we should ask Voldemort. He probably idolizes the Unforgivable Inventors)

  • StoneHallows

    I have always thought that they were created much in the same way we see Snape creating spells and curses in HBP. We learn from Harry reading his old textbook that Snape wrote versions and revisions of the spells in the margins of the text until he got that particular spell to do what he wanted. He knew what his intent was (which we know is important), and played with syllables and motions until the result matched the intent. I would think the Unforgivable Curses would be created with the same process. Someone knew they they wanted to torture someone, for example, so they thought of a base, or language root, and experimented until they got it correct. They then shared it with their friends, who shared it, and so on. Eventually, the Ministry, or whomever was in power at the time, decided that things had gotten out of hand and that the use of these particular spells needed to have lasting consequences for the casters.

    This leads me to another thought; were there any kind of copyright laws? Could you use any spell that you heard or came across, or did you have to have permission and give credit and all that we have to do today?

  • SpectacularlyHypothetical

    The thing I always find interesting about the Unforgivable Curses is what is NOT on the list. Certainly murder, enslavement and torture are some of the worst crimes humans can commit. However, if you ask anyone to list the most heinous crimes, surely rape will be high on the list. We do have a magical version of rape in the form of amortentia and other love potions. We see from Merope Gaunt’s experience that it is possible to enslave someone using one of these potions and for them to go so far to sleep with, and to beget a child. How does the magical world police these? Lightly enough for them to be freely available in a joke-shop. Also what about Legilimency? This is forcible invasion of another’s thoughts, if the technology to do this became available in the muggle-world I am convinced misuse of this technology would rapidly shoot to the top of any list of the worst crimes we can commit. Again, we see both Dumbledore and Snape having few scruples in this regard, just casually casting a glance into teenager’s minds time and again. We also see what Voldemort can achieve using Legilimency, it’s not pretty. Why is this considered “forgiveable” behaviour? I’d certainly find it very hard to forgive someone who did either to me.

    • DolphinPatronus

      Excellent points.

    • crookshanks11

      Yes, I agree! I’ve always thought that things like love potion should be outlawed — even as a joke they can be cruel. The same goes for legilimency, Although it seems cool to be able to read minds it is also a bit immoral.And in previous episodes of Alohomora memory charms caused the discussion of whether those should be legal.

      I wonder, thinking back, are there any spells besides the Unforgivables that we know are illegal?

      • DolphinPatronus

        I’m sure there are. I also imagine there are some spells (potions included) that are only illegal if used in certain ways.

      • Gus


        For sure. It removes free-will just like the imperius curse.

        • crookshanks11

          Oh yeah! I didn’t even think about that!

          Also, remember how McGonogall said to Moody/Barty Crouch JR when he turns Draco into a ferret how they never use transfiguration as a punishment, so maybe that is also somewhat banned.

          • Gus

            Human transfiguration doesn’t seem too bad to me, so long as they don’t get stuck that way.

            I can understand why they’d have a rule not to use it as a school punishment though.

          • crookshanks11

            For the use of transfiguration on wizards I agree, it’s not a huge deal, but something like that being used on Muggles should be banned because the Ministry would have to then use a memory charm, which we know that it’s harmful as we can see its effects on Mr. Roberts.

      • SpectacularlyHypothetical

        Of course the real reason is that there is a nice narrative convention of the rule of three, it would be less satisfying somehow if there were four unforgiveable curses. I suppose Love potions aren’t curses either so they don’t really fit into the category.

        In more story terms, I suppose Legilimency is supposed to be a really rare skill that very few wizards can do. It seems like it is a much more complex piece of magic, than the raw power of the the Unforgiveables, which are essentially the darkest impulses in human nature in the form of a curses, the will to dominate, inflict pain, and ultimately kill.

        • crookshanks11

          That’s a really good point too. I don’t think Jo needed any more Unforgivables, but I just wonder what other restrictions there are because other than that we don’t really see too many outlawed spells (except maybe tabooed/Dark things like making Horcruxes or the Morsmorde spell).

  • suprememugwump

    The Unforgivable Curses were probably developed by different people at different times, and probably in secret. Creating a spell takes a long time, and I can see it going through several stages of testing (probably on animals).
    The way that they came to light would probably make a great detective story (or encyclopedia entry *hint hint*). I see a power-hungry dark wizard, flushed with the sense of his/her newly-invented curse wanting to keep it as secret as possible. But it makes crime so easy and he/she starts using it, sparingly at first. The Ministry (or its precursors or overseas equivalents) are flummoxed. The dark wizard becomes more and more careless until one day, some smart Auror figures it out–a new curse! The wizard is captured, the curse revealed through Veritaserum/Occlumency/torture, and it becomes public as much as the government tries to conceal it. Finally, the government is forced to create the harshest possible penalties for using it on a fellow human being (apparently non-humans are okay, since I seem to remember that this is the phrasing from the book).

  • RoseLumos

    While I am not completely sure how the Unforgivable Curses originated in the canon, I always assumed that the Killing Curse (Avada Kedavra) was a play on the famous magician phrase “Abracadabra.” After doing some research it seems that the phrase possibly originated from the Aramaic language, although according to Wikipedia it may originate from the Hebrew phrase “I create (A’bra) what (ca) I speak (dab’ra).” Rumor has it that Harry Houdini would use this indication, which would make sense since his father was a Rabbi and would be very familiar with Hebrew. J.K. Rowling herself was quoted at the 2004 Edinburgh Book Festival saying, “Does anyone know where avada kedavra came from? It is an ancient spell in Aramaic, and it is the original of abracadabra, which means ‘let the thing be destroyed.’ Originally, it was used to cure illness and the ‘thing’ was the illness, but I decided to make it the ‘thing’ as in the person standing in front of me. I take a lot of liberties with things like that. I twist them round and make them mine.”

    If that is true, than in the series the phrase may have been created by ancient Wizards and then overheard and misinterpreted by Muggle magicians and illusionists. I can only imagine that a harmless spell was distorted (both linguistically and metaphorically) over the years and morphed into a horrible thing. Imagine all the fairy tales and ancient stories that have been told through the years. Just like a childhood game of Telephone one wrong interpretation can lead to an altered story.

  • I imagine that the Imperius Curse played a discreditable role in the development of slavery. Was this how the House Elves came to be enslaved?

  • Eric

    I can’t help but notice startling similarities between the effects of the Killing Curse and looking into the eyes of a Basilisk – both cause instant death. What if the inventor of the ‘Avada Kedavra’ spell was a Basilisk breeder? If so, he must have found a way to channel the power and energy of the Basilisk’s stare into a wand spell. Perhaps Herpo the Foul created the Killing Curse (we know from Jo that Herpo was the first wizard to make a Horcrux).

    • Eric

      It’s too bad I waited a week to post this comment, otherwise it might have gotten read on the next episode!