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Since the olden days, black magic was used by malevolent individuals to cause harm to others. A bloke who wanted revenge or was spiteful against another could use these spells to hex that person, causing them undue harm, attract bad luck, or even death. These spells were found in books written by dark wizards who were often ostracized from magical communities and considered rogue practicioners. Since jump, governmental authorities have tried to limit the spread of black magic through the burning of books and individuals who used them, with various success. As the centuries pass however, this task becomes more difficult.

One of the problems is that the ingredients of these spells are commonplace. While certain ingredients for certain spells may be difficult for the average person to get easily, most are used in everyday life and are found in traditional items. The state can't simply confiscate and ban the usage of items or material that are necessary for the function of society.

The second problem is the rise of the internet. We have long since passed the says of book burning and private libraries, and have entered the information age where everything can be found with the click of a button. Someone could access or upload practically anything on the web, such as the Necronomicon, for little cost. Illegal downloads from wizytorrents, self help videos from MagicTube, and other sources of info exist which can educate anyone on anything.

This has the likely hood of black magic becoming commonplace without any real way to regulate it. People will just run around hexing the crap out of people fairly regularly. How can this be prevented?

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    $\begingroup$ Does the story require that it be prevented to any large degree? The sort of malevolence that this resembles is probably that of the "mass shooter". Several happen per year. That malevolence is uncommon. Add in lingering doubts about one's soul and the afterlife, and you only have incidents counted in the dozens or hundreds per year, not in the thousands or millions. $\endgroup$ – John O Jul 1 at 13:46
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    $\begingroup$ If I put a hex on my boss at work is it (a) obvious that he's been hexed and (b) obvious who did it? Or could all of his employees curse him with -5% luck from the safety of their own homes? $\endgroup$ – Daron Jul 1 at 16:00
  • $\begingroup$ The other answers about why shootings and stabbings aren't widespread are not applicable to that sort of situation. $\endgroup$ – Daron Jul 1 at 16:00
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    $\begingroup$ Needs clarity in two ways: 1: How covert are spells? Can I do it alone, in a room with no windows, miles or continents away from the victim? Do I need a lock of their hair? Do I need to touch them? What prevents thousands of brigaders from trolling people with curses instead of internet harassment? 2: How detectable is magic? When I cast a spell, what am I doing really? That informs how someone could suss out someone's cast a spell. Can I build a Ghostbusters PKE detector? If a spell is asking a supernatural entity to do something, can I pay said entity to tattle on its clients? $\endgroup$ – Ton Day Jul 1 at 23:18
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    $\begingroup$ Assuming that the internet makes it easy to proliferate dark magic is a bit incorrect. First, to access the internet in a way that can't be tracked by governments requires quite a lot of savvy (eg. Tails, Tor, PGP, etc) and is orders of magnitude more difficult than just using a VPN when you torrent something. Secondly, downloading black magic could be dangerous; see what happened to anarchists cookbook, where bomb-making recipes were changed to make them non-functional or dangerous to make. Bad actors or govts could flood the darknet with fake or dangerous magic, discouraging people to try. $\endgroup$ – Dragongeek Jul 2 at 11:35

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One of the problems is that the ingredients of these spells are commonplace.

The second problem is the rise of the internet.

Knives are present in every kitchen, yet not every single kitchen dweller is a stabber. Why? Well, there is a certain social stigma on people who grab a knife and start stabbing people with it, not mentioning the sanctions provided by penal laws. Kids are grown up being told that knives are not to be used against other persons, and most of them follow that directive.

In other words, just because something it is possible it doesn't mean everybody will do it.

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    $\begingroup$ I think you'll find the stigma is not "don't be a stabber" but "don't play with your food". Kids stab food all the time. They don't stab people because then if you do, then you have to eat the whole other person, or risk a faux-pas. $\endgroup$ – Daron Jul 1 at 15:49
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    $\begingroup$ The problem is that you can cast spells in secret, and so avoid the social stigma because people won't know it was you. Look at how well people behave on the internet when they're anonymous. $\endgroup$ – Ton Day Jul 1 at 23:12
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    $\begingroup$ @TonDay Not if you fear that you might be caught. Or maybe that "X is bad" is so ingrained in you that it doesn't matter because you would stigmate yourself if you would do it, and well, you can't really hide what you do from yourself. $\endgroup$ – 021 Jul 2 at 15:20
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    $\begingroup$ Magical police could trace back who'd hexed you. Magical charms could alert you to being hexed. Maybe a really experienced black mage can avoid the risk of being detected and caught – but that means they need to practice a lot on someone who won't report them – either other black mages, or people kept in modern slavery. $\endgroup$ – Dan W Jul 2 at 16:24
  • $\begingroup$ @TonDay You can also murder people in secret (that's theoretically how most murders happen), but that doesn't mean that most of the population are murders. There's a cultural taboo against murder ingrained in almost every culture in the world to the point that it may even be genetic to some extent like childhood fear of snakes and spiders. Provided black magic isn't new, I'd actually expect such a universal taboo to exist as well, at least when dealing with those who are not 'outsiders', because it is a survival trait to not regularly cause misfortune to the rest of your community. $\endgroup$ – Austin Hemmelgarn Jul 4 at 12:19
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This is a solution swiped straight from the Dresden Files: Have your black magic be sponsored magic, the curse is not caused by whatever common ingredients you put together, but rather it attracts some malevolent entity that then inflicts a curse on your target (or you, if it is feeling spiteful)

The amount of energy it can provide is limited, so if many people try to invoke the ritual, it isn't enough to work anywhere and just fizzles out each time.

Thus, to work the rituals must be kept secret. Anything that is being published will likely no longer work in very short order.

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Disinformation

So, the Internet is full of recipes for black magic. Most of them don't work. Most of them fail in the most painful ways.

The government has posted those bad recipes.

Whenever a web page appears with genuine working black magic is made, it will pretty quickly be discovered be the authorities. If they just take it down, another page appears elsewhere, and another, and so on.

Instead, the authorities do NOT take down these pages, but subtly edit them so that the recipes backfire.

Pretty soon, the bad recipes outnumber the good ones. And clueless people will have no way of telling the difference. Word spreads that messing with Black Magic is too risky to try.

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Have a mix of severe laws against practitioners and explain black magic yourself.

The book "Mein Kampf" written by Adolf Hitler has become public domain not too long ago, and just like in its time, there was a fear that the book would be misused for profit and to fuel neonazi movements. How did Germany try to solve this issue? They released a critical version of the book themselves, explaining in detail historical annotations of the second world War. Rather than simply allowing the book to be published as it was, they made their move first to explain why the book's ideology isn't something one should follow. In addition, Germany has a fair amount of resources used in fighting against neonazis.

Your government could use something similar then. If they can't stop black magic from becoming known, they'll explain it themselves via multi-platform book about every spell and incantation of black magic, what exactly it does and how much suffering it has caused as far as historical records show. In addition, severe laws against practitioners of such dark arts should be applied, with heavy sentences destined against those who are confirmed using these wretched spells.

We can't completely stop people from having guns? Make sure they regret it deeply should they misuse them. We can't stop people from having knives? Let them know they'll be sorry if they use them on another person. We can't stop knowledge about black magic from spreading? Then we'll explain it ourselves what it does, what it's done in the past and why they'll think the sentences from misusing guns and knives are a walk on the beach compared to what awaits aspiring dark mages.

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    $\begingroup$ "The only reason Germany regret the second world war is because they were defeated" - citation needed. The Germany I (born 1966) grew up in was and is a very nice place, Nazi Germany wasn't ever nice, not even to Germans. There are very few people left who'd like to expand the German territory ever again, especially after seeing how much the reunification cost (we're still paying a tax premium for that, 30 years later) $\endgroup$ – Guntram Blohm supports Monica Jul 2 at 21:48
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    $\begingroup$ @GuntramBlohmsupportsMonica I think it makes no sense either way to state an entire country can "think" something, let alone regret something. $\endgroup$ – Mast Jul 3 at 8:52
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    $\begingroup$ "Mein kampf" might not be the best of examples because the information in the book doesn't, as far as I know, enable you to do bad things in the same way knowing black magic would. A better comparison would be bomb-making, which I don't imagine any reasonable government would ever publicly explain. Doing so would very likely get some curious people making bombs, whereas if bomb-making material and the bomb-making itself are both highly illegal, only the most dedicated of people would risk getting anywhere near that topic. $\endgroup$ – NotThatGuy Jul 3 at 11:06
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    $\begingroup$ @NotThatGuy I don't quite share that view. Books about making bombs already exist, but bombs weren't originally made to be used against people, and are also used in beneficial ways. The other one has something more dangerous: an ideology of supremacy, intolerance and xenophobia. All of those motivated and still motivate conflict, and can hardly be seen as helpful for someting other than causing problems, just like black magic (ideologies might not cause as much physical damage as a bomb would, but it might be an ideology that motivates you to make a bomb with ill intent to begin with). $\endgroup$ – ProjectApex Jul 3 at 11:17
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    $\begingroup$ @ProjectApex I don't think it would be productive to argue about which one's worse, but there is certainly a big difference between sharing your way of thinking and giving detailed technical instructions for how to do something. $\endgroup$ – NotThatGuy Jul 3 at 14:14
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Being a good jazz pianist requires manual skills at playing piano, good grasp of quite complex theory and a lot of practice at applying both to making music. So, although the Internet is full of knowledge and tips concerning all of these aspects, becoming a jazz pianist on a whim is impossible. There's very few shortcuts one can take. Real motivation and perseverance are the only way.

Black magic is just like that.

"Black magic theory" has no deep secrets, it's a body of knowledge that anyone can access. But there are no "easy recipes that one can follow without understanding". A bit like programming 25 years ago. You need to sit down, invest time, start slow, move up step by step. Understand more and more, until it clicks.

Then there's the craft: making a voodoo doll correctly. Weaving human hair. Breeding spiders. Singing the incantation in tune, with proper accent. For arcane reasons, you cannot outsource these things: to use a spider's leg correctly, you need to really know the spider.

Basically, black magic is one of the 10000 hours things. And that's before you achieve your first "miracle".

As the result, people who actually make it and become magicians are not the ones who just wanted to impress the other sex, but the ones who really love the art. They enjoy each other's company, they have their StackExchange site where they try to help the noobs, fully knowing than most of them will not ever make even a simplest spell work. They share knowledge that is secret not because it's locked away, but because it takes years and years to understand it - which, in fact, is what mathematicians and physicists do all the time.

Just like marksmen and firearm experts don't usually attack people, even if provoked - black magicians are not really dangerous. Some are using their skills to commit crimes, make easy money, support rogue nations etc. but this is offset by the ones working for other governments and "black magic security" companies. Think - modern hackers, aka "security experts".

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    $\begingroup$ +1 Don't remember who, but somebody wrote something like: to have a successful career in crime, you gotta start at early age. $\endgroup$ – Gnudiff Jul 2 at 22:03
  • $\begingroup$ Similar argument: anyone can go out and buy a Tarot deck. Being good at fortune-telling with a Tarot deck is another matter entirely. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jul 4 at 1:42
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    $\begingroup$ "they have their StackExchange site where they try to help the noobs" -- CauldronOverflow? $\endgroup$ – occipita Jul 4 at 11:22
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    $\begingroup$ @occipita In the alternative timeline, that was the first one to get a Dark theme. $\endgroup$ – WBT Jul 4 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ @WBT and mods don't just suspend the offending users. They also give them bad dreams and constipation. $\endgroup$ – fdreger Jul 5 at 12:34
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Your black magic sounds dangerous, like everyone having access to explosives. And ofcourse explosives are regulated, its not like books on making explosives out of common house-town-and-kitchen chemicals and cleaning products are freely available on something like Amazon right?

https://www.amazon.com/Improvised-Explosives-How-Make-Your/dp/0873643208#:~:text=Amazon.com%3A%20Improvised%20Explosives%3A,9780873643207)%3A%20Lecker%2C%20Seymour%3A%20Books

https://www.amazon.com/Explosives-Homemade-Bombs-2nd-Ptg/dp/0398064474

Oops.

Just because something is available does not mean everyone will do it. You can put some basic repercussions on this to ensure it:

1: social norms. Most people will only go so far as to anonymously insult people on social media, youtube or the local public bathroom. Even acts of vandalism with low chance of being caught is done by just a small portion of the society.

2: potential of accidents. I actually am very interested in a book about making my own explosives. I dont have anything (or anyone) to use them on and dont expect to. But just the knowledge that making explosives in your own kitchen can poison you or explode in your face because you mixed it wrong is keeping me from ever owning one. Why take the risk? The same for black magic: a mistake can cause spells to backfire on you, or the spell can have secondary effects that might latch on to you if you arent careful.

3: Catch chance. Like an explosive, you can leave traces for people to find. Amongst the Magictube video's there's already video's about protecting yourself or detecting potential hexes. The local (medical) general practitioner will also be able to refer you to magical practitioners who can lift curses, all in the basic health insurance policy ofcourse. And if they do find something the local law enforcement has some trained professionals capable of finding clues to catch the perpetrator. It might not be a 100% catch chance, but why risk it?

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    $\begingroup$ ...and anyone that clicks on that link just landed on an FBI "watch" list... $\endgroup$ – Matthew Jul 1 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Matthew if I'm not on an FBI watchlist by now they are doing something very wrong. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Jul 1 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Matthew That's always a risk on worldbuilding. That watchlist must've become big. $\endgroup$ – Mast Jul 3 at 8:56
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First, you need a way to detect black magic. If someone can just hex others from the next state over, and never get caught, the person is much more likely to do it than to stab them where there might be witnesses or tape. So there needs to be a way to track them down.

Second, you need a way to protect against black magic. Something simple and routine so that ordinary people can do it. Of course, the internet helps there, too.

Fortunately, both of these are things people have done as long as there has been black magic. All three techniques have progressed together throughout history.

If there really is a large jump in black magic, invest heavily in the counter measures.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is great! So often I feel like writers forget that magic won't stay static down the eons – like electricity, biology, physics, etc, people will keep building on past generations. I was thinking of suggesting the advent of 'magic fingerprints/forensics' which would be an advance in detecting black magic allowing practitioners to be caught, which is pretty much exactly what you're saying! $\endgroup$ – Elliot Schrock Jul 6 at 13:50
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Black Magic changes the user:

The eyes slowly turn red, the skin turns dark and gets wrinkly (think of the emperor in Star Wars). At first it is not noticeable, but the more someone uses Black Magic the more obvious it is to everyone.

This combined with a general mistrust and even laws against Black Magic prevents most sane people from using it. Of course you always have insane and psychopathic people, but there is nothing you can do against that.

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If hexing people is illegal, and hexes can be easily detected and traced by magical means, then hexing becomes the easiest crime in the world to solve and prosecute. Maybe you could employ a fleet of djinii/daemons/pixies to go around detecting hexes and pulling in the perpetrators.

Way easier to harass people in non-magical ways.

OR, hexes are easy but so are charms and counter spells. Everyone wears a few amulets, every house has wards along with a damp-proof course, every child is magically protected at birth. Hexing is all but useless and rarely used. Except - plot device alert! - against the few who lack protection or whose protection is removed.

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Counter magic is way more efficient than black magic.

Spell have a limited time after which they are not powerful enough for their effect to be felt. Using a spell against someone creates a rubber-band effect that dissipate slowly during this time.If the spell is properly dispelled, the original caster will take the effect several fold, depending on the remaining power of the spell.

The only way to diminish the problem for the caster of a black magic spell is to accept its burden for the remaining time of the spell - but this must be done before the original Hex is countered.


Casting a counterspell need knowledge of the original caster and ingredients similar to those of black magic.

Policed societies have law enforcement units to overview this kind of practice, specially considering the lethal potentiality both of black magic and specially of counterspells (as they are more powerful than the original spell).

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Black Magic requires the right circumstances

Sure, the materials for Black Magic can easily be found, and so can the recipes. The catch is that the rituals themselves can't simply be performed from any random basement shrine. You need a large amount of latent magical energy in the environment. There are 3 ways to get this:

  1. You need a specific location that provides a lot of black magic, like a graveyard or the site of a massacre, or alternatively white magic to corrupt like from a religious site or a hospital. The good guys can now monitor these sites.
  2. You need a specific time of the year with a lot of magic, like Halloween, New Year's Eve, Christmas, Easter,...
  3. You need specific events that you can't plan for.

Alternatively, you could use technology to passively siphon this latent energy to prepare for your ritual, but that can be noticed.

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I’ve always found the solution in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad to be rather elegant. Every time the magician Koura uses his powers, he ages. The more powerful the spell, the more years he loses. In the film, Sinbad and Koura are competing to find the elixir of life, so Koura considers the cost to be worth it, but in normal situations a powerful spell has a huge cost, and normal lifespan limits the number of times it can be used.

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Pretty much go with the standard fictional limitations.

  1. Not everyone has the talent or ability to use magic even if they have access to instruction manuals/spell books (or whatever you want to call them) i.e. the talent is rare.

It could be binary i.e. you have it or you don't or it could be graduated in scale with most of the population not being able to do anything useful magically while others can cause only mild inconvenience to a victim and then only with great effort up to a small number of master practitioners at the top of the tree.

  1. If there is black magic there is white and white practitioners can detect the use of black magic with relative ease, either zeroing in on it as its 'launched' or detecting traces of it on a practitioner, a victim or both. Perhaps even going so far as being able to identify a specific practitioner via each users unique magic signature or fingerprint etc.

  2. As someone else noted there are common and reasonably effective defenses e.g wearing a religious symbol etc that will neutralize all but the most powerful attacks with ease.

  3. There are severe legal punishments for even attempting to use black magic and as per point (2) above fairly effective ways of tracking down would be practitioners.

  4. Lastly the consequences - i.e. dancing with the devil is a long term losing prospect e.g. to tap black magic you have to draw on 'dark' power/s and that power has nasty physical, psychological or spiritual consequences for the user. Perhaps all three. The result is the more spells you do or the stronger those spells are the greater the danger/damage.

All of the above are pretty much standard tropes in this genre.

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Have the government spread loads of false recipes. Bonus points if these hurt the user or expose him to the police.

That said, if this black magic really enables people to kill others without risk of discovery, society as we know it would have ceased to exist a short time after its discovery.

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A slight twist on the "disinformation" angle suggested by a few others - make everyone believe the recipes are a lot more specific and tricky than they are. A dead pig's blood may well be enough for a spell - but most recipes one can see out there specify it as to be human, redheaded, and preferably virgin. Demand diamonds where coal is sufficient, marble for chalk and so on. Especially if results are still sorta undetermined and possibly random, most people will learn it this way. Suddenly, nobody wants to go hunt down their neighbour's daughter for a mediocre good luck spell...

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    $\begingroup$ Of course, when somebody does kill the neighbor's daughter for a mediocre good luck spell, the person who wrote that spell would be guilty of murder. $\endgroup$ – NomadMaker Jul 3 at 10:07
  • $\begingroup$ If you wanted to make it "hard", you would specify something like freshly-harvested (within the past hour) blood from a full-grown dragon, killed by the caster using an unenchanted mithril blade during a total eclipse which falls on the equinox $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Jul 3 at 11:16
  • $\begingroup$ @NomadMaker No, the person who did the murder would be guilty, not the person who wrote the spell. The person who wrote the spell (assuming they're even alive, and it's not a historical artifact) would be wise to put a disclaimer of responsibility, though. $\endgroup$ – dwllama Jul 3 at 22:27
  • $\begingroup$ @dwllama If this is a modern disinformation campaign as this answer suggests, then it I'd possible that the writer might be guilty of something. You're right, it probably wouldn't be murder, but an argument could be made that it should be. The girl wouldn't have died had they not deliberately modified the spell for publication. $\endgroup$ – NomadMaker Jul 4 at 5:39
  • $\begingroup$ @NomadMaker, I can see your point, although I don't totally agree. But ultimately it would depend on the way the law was structured in such a case. Assuming laws more or less similar to my understanding of law in our reality, I'd say a disclaimer on the author's part (Educational use only, use at your own risk, etc) would be the best bet, for the author at least. $\endgroup$ – dwllama Jul 4 at 22:35
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How can this be prevented?

Take away their incentive to publish the recipes.

Say, the effects of any spell cast on person X last no longer than another would-be practitioner casts the same spell on another person Y. So, keeping the spell secret would be in the best interests of anyone in posession of the spell -- obviously, they wouldn't like the effects of the spell they casted to evapourate the second another spiteful practitioner casts it.

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A recipe for a spell, is just that, a recipe. Unless there is a whole primer to Black Magic with it, there will always be things missing. This craft is not immediately dangerous and there are always side effects. Those truly skilled at this know how to mitigate those effects and guard those secrets well.

In short, yes, you can brew some revenge at home with your #10 cauldron with your aunts but there is a catch if you are unaware of the intricasies of what you are casting. A couple of thought on this are:

The Golden Rule

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is a rather familiar phrase. It is a moral compass by which we can live. It is also a critcal point as to how black magic works. When you curse somebody, the misfortune you place upon them rebounds by a fraction and comes back to you. Those truly adept in Black Magic know this and take steps to mitigate this. Those using Black Magic for Dummies off of the internet don't take steps to mitigate it. As a result, they suffer some of the backlash of the spell.

So if you curse them into a car accident via faulty brakes, you might find that a squirrel has chewed through your brake line while your car is parked and you can't get to work on time the next day.

The Zero-Sum Curse

Similar to the above is the idea that cursing somebody means that they get a chunk of bad luck now means that they get a chunk of good luck later. Using magic to play with karma is a zero-sum game, but those good at playing that game know how to tip the scales to balance a critical misfortune with a few incidental good fortunes that net their victim worse in the long run. An amateur might actually bring a good fourtune that nets their victim better off than when they started.

Again, the internet can teach you how to brew revenge via misfortune, but those sharing the spells have no interest in telling you that there are steps needed to make sure that good fortune does not befall them after or how to mitigate said good fortune.

The bad and good fortune balance, though not necessarily in an obvious way. A curse to their health might mean they meet their love in the hospital, or it could mean that they buy a lottery ticket while they are getting pain medication and win a big prize while they are sick.

Bad Reviews and Stigma

When the various curses, maledictions, and bad mojo does not work, those internet peoples will spread the word of how much of a failure and waste of time it was to curse that person. There will be those looking up a good revenge that will look at those one star reviews and dismiss the idea of cursing people.

Also, should Black Magic be deemed illegal, expect the authorities to have a registry of people that have used it illegally and how well they have used it. Curse your neighbour strong enough and you might end up spending the rest of your days as a Registered Hex Offender. That will have consequences.

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Black magic is actually powered by demons

The rituals do nothing on their own. All the effects are the actions of demons.

The problem is that demons hate people. Sure, they might listen to orders from a human sometimes, but only when it brings them closer to their ultimate goal: harming people. Thus in black magic, long term you always lose more than you gain. You might get some revenge on your enemies, but your life falls apart. You might gain material wealth, but soon you will find yourself possessed. You might speak with the dead, but you are actually talking to demons who pretend to be your deceased relatives. You might achieve eternal youth, but you will end up committing suicide. So black magic tends to only be used by people who have nothing to lose and by people who think they can outsmart demons.

Now, the general population doesn't even need to know about demons. It's enough if they have heard about the consequences of black magic.

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Assuming that both:

  1. Black magic has existed since pre-historic times.
  2. Humans were able to develop otherwise normally.

Then I'd expect the situation to look pretty similar to murder in real life, some people do it as a crime of passion, sociopaths potentially do it regularly, but most of the population finds the idea repulsive for reasons they usually can't articulate beyond "it's just wrong".

Most humans are hardwired by a combination of genetics and cultural influence growing up to think that murder is wrong. Once you consider that culture undergoes some degree of natural selection, it becomes rather obvious that this is actually a survival trait. Killing one's kin and/or one's tribe usually (but not always) lower's one's chances of surviving, and obviously reduces the chances of one's kin surviving, as does allowing someone known to do so to continue to live in your vicinity. A non-negligible percentage of human morality can be traced back similarly (IOW, in many cases we think things are 'wrong' because in a pre-historic hunter-gatherer society they would have lowered our chances of survival either individually or as a group).

Cursing and bringing misfortune on your kin and your tribe would also reduce your chances of survival, so I'd argue that it's very likely that a similar taboo spanning across cultures and regions would have developed for black magic, although the intensity of the taboo would likely vary by region to a greater degree, possibly with some of the really little stuff being considered 'fine' by some people. In a historical context, I'd expect this to manifest similarly to European views on witchcraft from medieval times up through the mid 1800's. In a more modern context, I'd expect it to be more in-line with how extremist groups and those who are interested in real life taboos such as pedophilia are seen by the rest of society, as well as how they interact online.

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