Voldemort is one of the greatest villains in wizarding history, and as we know, every villain needs a hype man. Luckily for him, he possesses a whole squad of magical minions who cheer on his every move—the Death Eaters. This group of dark wizards skulks through the Harry Potter series, but what is their history? Read on for some insight into this terrifying group.
The werewolf Fenrir Greyback is a particularly unsettling character in Harry Potter and the total opposite of mild-mannered Remus Lupin. Greyback positions himself near humans during the full moon in order to do harm, and even attacks when he is not in werewolf form. He naturally sides with Voldemort and does his bidding, but he isn’t allowed to become a full Death Eater. Why? His werewolf blood makes him ‘impure’ in the group’s eyes—but that doesn’t stop them from using him as an agent of violence and terror.
The origin of the Death Eaters goes back to a group called The Knights of Walpurgis, a group composed of Tom Riddle’s friends and followers from his time at Hogwarts. Apparently, the group contained members of all the Hogwarts houses except for Hufflepuff. Good call, Badgers.
Walpurgis is a play on the Saint Walpurga, a real missionary who was canonized in the year 870. April 30th is "Walpurgis Night" or "Witches Night," when witches are supposed to gather in high places. The night is still celebrated in some Scandinavian countries, but it is more associated with May Day and features folklore and dancing.
Bellatrix Lestrange is the most passionately loyal of all the Death Eaters, a position that was shown during filming; the actress Helena Bonham Carter always stood to Lord Voldemort’s right side, reflecting her belief that she is his “right hand,” i.e. his indispensable second-in-command.
Everyone remembers the moment in the Deathly Hallows film when rookie Death Eater Draco Malfoy crosses over to join the other dark wizards during the Battle of Hogwarts, and Voldemort comes forward to offer a creepy, hilariously awkward hug to his youngest follower. This moment was not in the book and was completely improvised by actor Ralph Fiennes—as was Tom Felton’s stiff, emotionless reaction.
It’s easy to find real-life equivalents between Death Eaters and real-life hate groups such as the Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, or those championing eugenics (manipulating DNA to get an "ideal" human). The costume designers certainly took these groups for inspiration, as the pointed hoods Death Eaters wore in Goblet of Fire closely resemble the pointed white hoods of the KKK uniform. However, the hoods were altered for the Order of the Phoenix.
Voldemort liked to brand his followers with the Dark Mark, a tattoo of a snake etched on the left forearm that functions as a summons. The Death Eater Karkaroff argues with Snape in Goblet of Fire that the tattoo that has grown faint in Voldemort’s absence is now growing darker and clearer, thus signaling his return. Harry first suspects that Draco is a Death Eater when Draco yells at his seamstress for trying to expose his left forearm.
The Death Eaters are, to be frank, kind of a sausagefest of an organization. We all know that Bellatrix is Voldemort’s ride-or-die lieutenant, but her sister Narcissa is never acknowledged to be a Death Eater, nor is Dolores Umbridge. I mean, this doesn't mean we're cool with them or anything.
The only other woman besides Bellatrix in the Death Eater ranks is Alecto Carrow, a witch who becomes Deputy Headmistress (Deadmistress, more like) of Hogwarts under Snape's leadership. Come on Voldemort, offer equal opportunity for evildoings!
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Prisoner of Azkaban introduces the character of Stan Shunpike, conductor of The Knight Bus, as a prying yet harmless young man who just wants to gossip with passengers and impress girls. Harry is shocked when Stan’s face is revealed under a Death Eater hood, but poor Stan didn’t suddenly turn to the dark side; Death Eaters used the Imperius Curse to take control of his mind and force him to do their bidding. Pius Thicknesse underwent the same fate and became a puppet for the dark side.
Despite the Death Eaters' obsession with weeding muggleborns out of magical society, it’s extremely unlikely that each member is fully pure-blood—being so would imply incest, bearing in mind the small size of the wizarding community. It’s likely that most of the Death Eaters were posing as pure-blood in order to rise in favor. Even Voldemort is a half-blood wizard, with a Witch mother and a Muggle father.
We can see in the series that Sirius Black hates his family for choosing the dark side, and he especially hates his brother Regulus for joining up with the Death Eaters. Unfortunately, Sirius died before the truth emerged about Regulus: Regulus had discovered the truth about Voldemort’s Horcruxes, and died trying to destroy the locket that held a piece of Voldemort’s soul.
Mad-Eye Moody’s appearance can cause shock in many who see him: He has a magical eye, a well-used flask, and an entire chunk of flesh missing from his nose. The Death Eater responsible for that missing chunk is Evan Rosier, a wizard whom Moody killed in the First Wizarding War.
Durmstrang Headmaster Igor Karkaroff is a bit of a fair-weather friend: In the trials following the First Wizarding War, he betrayed his fellow Death Eaters by giving up their names in exchange for freedom. During Voldemort’s second rise to power, Death Eaters tracked Karkaroff down and killed him.
Bellatrix Lestrange’s husband Rodolphus Lestrange is oddly absent from the entire Harry Potter series. We know that he went to Azkaban for brutally torturing Alice and Frank Longbottom, and that he escaped in time for the Battle of Hogwarts, but other than that Rodolphus remains a mystery. Perhaps this was a narrative choice that Rowling made to put more emphasis on the obsession Bellatrix has for Voldemort?
Cedric Diggory’s claim to fame in the series is being the “real” Hogwarts champion during the Triwizard Tournament, being very handsome, and becoming one of the first victims of Voldemort’s wrath after he returns to physical form. The Cursed Child reimagines a reality where Cedric lived but lost the Tournament, then grew into a bitter and angry man who becomes a Death Eater and kills Neville Longbottom. What a twist!
Costume designers for the Harry Potter films tried their best to dress the Death Eaters in a way that would differentiate them from the Dementors, even though both groups wear long dark cloaks that conceal the face. The answer they came up with was to give each Death Eater a unique mask design that somehow reflected their personality. The masks took inspiration from Islamic arabesque patterns, a style that celebrates a universe without limits.
In the early drafts of the series, Rowling wrote a character named Pyrites who was part of Voldemort’s inner circle. He was a Death Eater with impeccably-styled clothes, including silk white gloves that were often stained with blood. Pyrites was one of the oldest Death Eaters and was apparently present at the death of Harry’s parents. Anyone else wish that this chic chap hadn’t been cut from the final draft?
A well-known critic of President Trump, Rowling took issue with his spokesperson Katrina Pierson in 2016 for an old tweet Pierson had written about the lack of “pure-breed” candidates in an old presidential race. Retweeting this, Rowling simply commented, “Death Eaters walk among us.”
It took Tom Riddle his entire young life to learn and hone his magical skills in order to become a master of dark magic. When it only took an unarmed baby to bring him down, Voldemort’s followers naturally assumed that young Harry would grow into a dark wizard with ten times the power of Voldemort. Imagine their surprise when Harry turned into a mild-mannered average boy who loves Quidditch and treacle tart.
Although readers never get to glimpse an example of what the Muggle Studies classes are like at Hogwarts, Professor Charity Burbage apparently focused too much on positive Muggle-Wizard relationships and Muggle acceptance for Voldemort’s taste. He had Nagini kill Burbage and replaced her at Hogwarts with his Death Eater Alecto Carrow, who taught propaganda in order to turn the young students against Muggles.
We first meet Walden MacNair in Prisoner of Azkaban when he is sent to execute Hagrid’s beloved pet hippogriff Buckbeak. This secret Death Eater is enraged when Buckbeak disappears and he is robbed of his chance to kill the creature, revealing a bloodthirsty and cruel nature. During the Battle of Hogwarts, we see MacNair one more time—when Hagrid throws him clear across a room.
After his long struggle to overcome the dark side of the wizarding world and within himself, Harry makes a career decision that reflects his past. He becomes an Auror, where he is responsible for hunting down dark wizards and bringing them to justice, and ultimately ends up as head of the entire department. Old habits die hard, I guess?
When Death Eaters Barty Crouch Jr. and the Lestranges—Bellatrix, Rodolphus and Rabastan—tortured Neville Longbottom’s parents Alice and Frank, they didn’t know that their savage and non-stop use of the cruciatus curse actually could never have given them what they wanted. The torture took place after the fall of Voldemort, and the four Death Eaters responsible were trying to locate their master. Frank and Alice Longbottom were completely unaware that Voldemort had fled to Albania, nor the nebulous state that he'd been reduced to, so even if they'd wanted to share information, they had nothing to give.
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