- "The mind is not a book, to be opened at will and examined at leisure. Thoughts are not etched on the inside of skulls, to be perused by any invader. The mind is a complex and many-layered thing, Potter. Or at least most minds are... It is true, however, that those who have mastered Legilimency are able, under certain conditions, to delve into the minds of their victims and to interpret their findings correctly."
- —Severus Snape regarding the art of Legilimency[src]
Legilimency is the act of magically navigating through the many layers of a person's mind and correctly interpreting one's findings. A person who practises this art is known as a Legilimens. Muggles might call this "mind-reading," but practitioners disdain the term as naive. The opposite of Legilimency is Occlumency, which may be used to shield one's mind from the invasion and influence of a Legilimens.
It is unknown who invented the art of Legilimency and just when it was invented. It is safe to assume that the art has been around for a fairly long time, as Salazar Slytherin, a very skilled Legillimens, lived in the 11th century, and, along with the other Hogwarts founders, enchanted the Sorting Hat to have the skill. Other witches and wizards have used Legilimency on several different occasions as well.
Professor Snape used Legilimency on Harry Potter while attempting to train him in Occlumency in the 1995-1996 school year. He also used it nonverbally and wandlessly in 1997 by making direct eye contact with Harry in order to find out where he learned the Sectumsempra spell and to find out the location of his old advanced potion-making textbook that contained said spell.
Voldemort has used Legilimency extensively, both wandlessly and nonverbally, to enter the minds of those he wished to interrogate. It was even said that it was "the dark lord's pleasure to invade the mind". Due to the link between himself and Harry, both can access each other's thoughts if Voldemort does not block it off with Occlumency.
- Severus Snape: "It appears there is a connection between the Dark Lord's mind and your own. Whether or not he is aware of this connection is for the moment unclear. Pray he remains ignorant."
- Harry Potter: "You mean if he knows about it, then he'll be able to read my mind?"
- Severus Snape: "Read it, control it, unhinge it. In the past it was often the Dark Lord's pleasure to invade the minds of his victims, creating visions designed to torture them into madness. Only after extracting the last exquisite ounce of agony, only when he had them literally begging for death would he finally... kill them."
- — Snape explains Voldemort's abilities as a Legilimens to Harry[src]
The most advanced Legilimens can perform Legilimency nonverbally and wandlessly, but less talented practitioners must use the incantation Legilimens to enter their victim's mind. If a target is not skilled in Occlumency, a Legilimens will be able to detect if the person is lying, as well as delve into their thoughts, emotions, and memories. Highly skilled Legilimens can also influence a mind that they invade; for example, Lord Voldemort, considered perhaps the most skilled Legilimens of his time, was able to send Harry Potter incredibly realistic visions of the Department of Mysteries and his godfather, and later to temporarily possess him (the latter of which was extremely painful to Harry, to the point where he begged Dumbledore to kill him, just to relieve him of the pain). It is easier to perform Legilimency when the target and practitioners' eyes meet.
Like Occlumency, Legilimency is not regularly taught at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Considering that it invades peoples' privacy, Legilimency may be a legally restricted magical practice, just as the use of Veritaserum is strictly regulated by the Ministry of Magic.
Instances of possible Legilimency
|Severus Snape||31 October, 1991||
"Snape gave Harry a swift, piercing look. Harry looked at the floor."
"Could Snape possibly know they'd found out about the Philosopher's Stone? Harry didn't see how he could — yet he sometimes had the horrible feeling that Snape could read minds."
|1 September, 1992||"This wasn't the first time Snape had given Harry the impression of being able to read minds."|
|December, 1992||"Snape was looking right at him... "He knew it was me, I could tell."|
|17 December, 1992||"Snape, too, was looking at Harry in an unexpected way: it was a shrewd and calculating look..."|
|12 February, 1994||"Snape's eyes were boring into Harry's. It was exactly like trying to stare down a hippogriff. Harry tried not to blink... "Malfoy is not having hallucinations... if your head was in Hogsmeade, so was the rest of you."|
|"Harry bit his lip. He didn't know what had happened and didn't want to admit it — but Snape seemed to have guessed the truth."|
|"Or — instructions to get into Hogsmeade without passing the dementors? Snape's eyes gleamed."|
|3 March, 1995|
|Lord Voldemort||4 June, 1992||"He lies...He lies..."|
|"Now...why don't you give me that Stone in your pocket?"|
"Do not lie to me! I can always tell, Wormtail!"
|Wormtail:"But you seem so much stronger, My Lord '—" Voldemort:"Liar"|
|Wormtail:"I — I thought she might be useful, My Lord —" Voldemort:"Liar"|
|"Do not lie to Lord Voldemort, Muggle, for he knows..."|
|Albus Dumbledore||Fall 1992||"[Dumbledore's] twinkling light-blue gaze made Harry feel as though he were being X-rayed."|
|31 October, 1994||“Professor Dumbledore was now looking down at Harry, who looked right back at him, trying to discern the expression of the eyes behind the half-moon spectacles…. [Harry] really couldn’t think of anything to say. The inside of this head seemed to be in complete disarray, as though his brain had been ransacked.”|
|Harry Potter (indirectly)||2 May, 1998||"Why was it so easy? Because his scar had been burning for hours, yearning to show him Voldemort’s thoughts? He closed his eyes on her command, and at once, the screams and bangs and all the discordant sounds of the battle were drowned until they became distant, as though he stood far, far away from them."|
The word Legilimency is probably derived from the Latin legere, "to read", and mens, "mind".
Behind the scenes
- Bellatrix Lestrange may have been a Legilimens as she is known to have trained Draco Malfoy in Occlumency; presumably she had to be able to penetrate his mind with Legilimency in order to teach him how to repel such an attack. However, it is also possible that she simply coached him on repelling mental assault whilst having someone else attempt Legilimency on him during practice.
- Whilst Snape chides Harry for assuming that Legilimency and mind-reading are the same, he does not elaborate on the differences at all (save for saying that Legilimency is much subtler and more complicated than that). In fact, he even states that it would be possible for an advanced Legilimens like Voldemort to read another's mind. However, given all the canonical information one can work out a reasonable distinction between the two; mind-reading assumes that one is simply eavesdropping on the thoughts currently running through the head of another. Legilimency, however, appears to actually require the wizard to navigate and move through the various areas of the brain. Whilst it would therefore be theoretically possible then, for one to access the area controlling conscious thought (and hence "read another's mind") other areas of the brain are open to the Legilimens too, such as the area housing memory and the part of the mind controlling the voluntary muscles. This would fit with Snape's description of the mind being a many layered thing, as well as Voldemort's ability to possess Harry Potter in this way and how Harry is seen delving through Snape's memories using Legilimency (As opposed to just hearing his current thoughts like a stream of consciousness). It would also support Snape's assertation that equating Legilimency to mind-reading would be a fallacious, reductionist attitude towards such a skill.
- Ironically, in the first book, Harry suspected Snape was capable of reading minds (though Snape says he does not care for the term "mind reading," considering it an oversimplification).
- Harry Potter was able to use his connection to Lord Voldemort to briefly invade the latter's mind to determine his location during the Battle of Hogwarts. However, it is unknown whether Harry was using legilimency to accomplish this. If he was using legilimency, he may have been using it in a very indirect approach.
- During a 2007 web chat on Bloomsbury's website, a technical glitch caused it to appear as if J. K. Rowling answered a fan's question before it was asked. Regarding this, Rowling joked that she was "clearly getting better at Legilimency".
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Possible appearance)
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Possible appearance)
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Possible appearance)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Possible appearance)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (First appearance)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (film)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
- J. K. Rowling Official Site
- Pottermore (Mentioned only)
Notes and references
- ↑ Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
- ↑ Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - Chapter 26
- ↑ 'Fantastic Beasts' Character Descriptions Revealed
- ↑ J.K.Rowling Official Site
- ↑ Pottermore information on the Sorting Hat, transcript available here
- ↑ Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
- ↑ J.K. Rowling and the Live Chat, Bloomsbury.com, July 30, 2007
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 In each of the books, Harry states that he gets the feeling Snape can read minds, when Snape is looking right at him, and when Snape knows things Snape wouldn't know unless Snape was reading Harry's mind.