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"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... 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 on 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.



Harry Potter being possessed by Lord Voldemort through Legilimency.

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."
Severus Snape explains Voldemort's abilities as a Legilimens to Harry Potter[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.[1]

Severus Snape was able to see one of Voldemort's memories of the Department of Mysteries that Harry Potter himself had not experienced because of the unintentional Horcrux that linked them.[2]

Like Occlumency, Legilimency is not taught at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Considering that it invades people's privacy, Legilimency may be a legally restricted magical practise, just as the use of Veritaserum is strictly regulated by the Ministry of Magic.

Known practicersEdit


The word Legilimency is probably derived from the Latin legere, "to read", and mens, "mind".

Behind the scenesEdit

  • 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.[5]
  • 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 earlier books, Harry suspected Snape was capable of reading minds (though Snape does not care for the term "mind reading," considering it an oversimplification).


See alsoEdit

Notes and referencesEdit

  1. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  2. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - Chapter 26
  3. J.K.Rowling Official Site
  4. Pottermore information on the Sorting Hat, transcript available here
  5. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 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.
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