The Laws of Magic are a set of rules of the White Council concerning the use of magic. They are intended to prevent the abuse of magic, and protect both practitioners and mortals from harmful magic. The White Council enforces the Laws not only on its own members, but on all human magical practitioners. The punishment for violating the Laws is often death. It first appears in Storm Front.
"Thou Shalt Not Kill"
Wizards of the White Council are forbidden to kill human beings through the use of their power. This is the Law that Harry Dresden broke in killing his mentor, Justin DuMorne. Self-defense is very occasionally allowed as a mitigating factor, though the taint of killing another with magic often remains. This Law is also a primary reason Wardens wield swords. Several times throughout the series, Wardens have fought to kill with magic against other human wizards; it's possible Wardens are given somewhat of a free pass in regards to this Law in combat circumstances. The Law is very flexible, however, in regards to things that are not actually human. A wizard may kill, for example, a vampire, ghoul, or any being of the Nevernever without penalty.
If a person uses magic to kill another human the penalty is death. The trial, when one is held, lasts generally less than fifteen minutes and the execution is carried out immediately afterward by beheading.
"Thou Shalt Not Transform Others"
The Second Law of Magic states that Thou Shalt Not Transform Others, forbidding the shapeshifting of other beings.
This demonstrates why, despite Harry Dresden's occasional threats, we will most likely never see him actually turn anyone into a frog. Even if done successfully (it is an extremely difficult spell), transformation of another's body against their will—changing a man into an animal, for example—creates an imbalance between body and mind that ultimately degrades the transformed subject's mind to an animal state as well. Transformation of oneself through magic is not necessarily as destructive, but still risky and potentially hazardous.
"Thou Shalt Not Invade the Mind of Another"
The Third Law of Magic states that Thou Shalt Not Invade the Mind of Another, forbidding the use of psychomancy.
Forcible magical violation of someone's mind by extracting knowledge against their will is inherently destructive—Harry Dresden describes it as not black, but "dark, dark, dark grey". Mind magic is so dangerous that the Council had previously not even dared trying to explore how to build better defenses, which gave an advantage to black wizards less bound by such scruples. After the events of Turn Coat however, training standards greatly improved.
"Thou Shalt Not Enthrall Another"
The Fourth Law of Magic "forbids the binding of any being against its will", i.e. enthrallment.
Enthrallment is the term for dominating another human's mind and personality through magic by binding their will to your own; it is not the same as compelling beings of the Nevernever through arrangements or exchanges. So long as the wizard in question does not actually control the being through magic, the law is not broken. A popular alternative is trapping the creature in a magic circle until it accepts the terms of a bargain, though some Wardens have ignored this distinction in their zeal. As with mind-probing, magically controlling the mind of another person is an inherently destructive and evil act—it is almost impossible to control safely and precisely, and taints the user of the power as well as the subject even if done for the best of intentions. This taint often sends the user into a self-destructive downward spiral, where every act of magical mind control further twists the user and makes more such acts likelier; if the cycle progresses far enough, the user becomes functionally sociopathic, and impossible to rehabilitate.
"Thou Shalt Not Reach Beyond the Borders of Life"
This Law covers the research and practice of necromancy, described as the summoning, binding, and exploitation of the unwilling dead. In the universe of the novels, nobody is presented as knowing for certain what kind of afterlife, if any, exists; ghosts, even the most apparently intelligent and self-aware, are stated to be only psychic echoes of people created by violent death, not the actual souls of those people themselves. As the Laws are intended to protect humans against the abuse of magic, a loophole in this law (exploited by Harry Dresden in Dead Beat) allows the use of necromancy on non-human dead, though the practice is still heavily frowned upon and viewed with a wary eye.
"Thou Shalt Not Swim Against the Currents of Time"
The Sixth Law of Magic states that Thou Shalt Not Swim Against the Currents of Time, forbidding time travel, with the purpose of avoiding the paradoxes due to any attempt to change the past through temporal manipulation. Even divination of the future is frowned upon in all but the vaguest, most general instances.
"Thou Shalt Not Open the Outer Gates"
First directly depicted in Cold Days, the Outer Gates separate Creation from Outside. They are described as a large (possibly the largest) entrance to the universe. Set in a gigantic wall, between two towers each the size of the Chrysler building, they are powerfully warded, and constantly defended from Outsiders by the Gatekeeper and the immense army of the Winter Court. The Outer Gates function as a detector, and are enchanted in a way that allows them to infallibly reveal any Outsider that tries to sneak through. The Gatekeeper informs to Dresden that his false eye is actually a shard of the Outer Gates, and that his title as Keeper of the Outer Gates is no mere metaphor or formality. If a Wizard breaks the Seventh Law and contacts or summons an Outsider, that Outsider gains a foothold in Creation without first having to pass through the Gates, making the Law-breaking Wizard responsible for endangering reality itself.
Outsiders are beings from beyond the Gates, and are among the deadliest threats to humanity known—their sheer existence is antithetical to the universe. Jim Butcher has admitted that this is a Lovecraft-inspired idea, and the Necronomicon has been mentioned in Blood Rites and "Backup" as a book containing knowledge of Outsiders, and at least some of the beings living on the other side of the Gates are referred to as "Old Ones" by Harry Dresden. Even the mere knowledge of an Outsider's Name is dangerous for Creation due to the simple fact that the Name can be used to break the Seventh Law and allow an Outsider to bypass the Gates. The Oblivion War was started in order to erase any such knowledge from existence. According to Jim Butcher, the person who wrote the Necronomicon was killed by the Gatekeeper.
It appears that the Gatekeeper's primary responsibility is ensure no Outsider manages to enter Creation undetected, whereas the purpose of the entire Winter Court is to kill any and all Outsiders that try to approach the borders of reality. To accomplish this, Mab has an army garrisoned at the Gates so large that it eclipses the population of the entire Summer Court by several orders of magnitude. Outsiders have an immunity or at the very least considerable resistance to most mortal magic, thus most applications of magic versus Outsiders are often indirect. Some uses to directly affect Outsiders are possible; in Cold Days, Dresden used Soulfire-infused pyromancy to hurt an Outsider, and Soulfire is the 'raw stuff of Creation', a plausible antidote to the Outsider's immunity. However, Dresden is also a Starborn, a status which has as-yet under-explained importance to the conflict with the Outsiders, which may be a more important factor.
According to Titania, there is an Outsider on the loose that had managed to bypass the Outer Gates and infiltrate Creation without being detected. Nemesis is its name, but it is spoken only very rarely, instead being referred to as the adversary, because even speaking its name can alert it to the speaker. Nemesis is a viral contagion capable of "infecting" beings from Creation with a discordant influence that seems to both allow and motivate—if not outright compel—those infected to act independent of their innate purpose or nature. This infection allowed Maeve, a High Sidhe, to actively lie. Nemesis also demonstrated that it is capable of assuming direct control of an infected when Dresden encouraged Cait Sith to resist its influence. It is strongly hinted that The Circle is a group of entities that are infected by Nemesis.
Margaret LeFay strove for the Council to include more laws that would prevent injustices such as wizards bilking people out of their money, intimidating them, stealing, or destroying property. She also felt that it was the duty of the Council to intervene when non magical people were being oppressed by other regular people. According to Luccio, the consequence of changing the Laws of Magic is that the Council would end up intervening in human affairs and ultimately into political affairs which would cause them to take the side of one country over another where there was perceived injustice. Seeing how the White Council had members in all countries, and that the wizards had no better idea of who was right or who was wrong then any other human, this would have been a disaster, and it would force members to turn on their own. The Council would descend into civil war and likely break apart. There would then be no protection for humanity against magic or the supernatural world.
Another consequence would be that if the council involved itself in mortal affairs it would seek more political power, more control, and there is no better tool for gaining more power than black magic. So the council limits itself: Any wizard is free to act as he chooses, as long as he doesn't break the Laws of Magic. Sans black magic, there is a limit to how much damage an individual can perpetrate against a mortal society. Neither the Laws nor the White Council are about justice, they are about restraining power.
The laws apply to all magically gifted people under the White Council's aegis. The single exception is the Blackstaff, an unofficial position in the White council given to the current keeper of a unique staff that allows the wielder to violate the laws without retribution.
In the series
In Storm Front, the First Law of Magic is broken in the double homicide of Tommy Tomm and Jennifer Stanton, their death having been caused by the explosion of their heart, by evocation but likelier by thaumaturgy. Harry Dresden therefore worries that the White Council will pin the killing on him.
In Fool Moon, Harry Dresden considers whether killing Parker and Streetwolves would be a violation of the First Law, or if being lycanthropes would make it inapplicable. He decides that while he could make a case, he might not be able to bear his self-loathing for betraying himself.
In order to obtain information on Harley MacFinn and the Northwest Passage Project, Dresden summons the demon Chauncy and the two debate whether Dresden is violating the Laws of Magic. Dresden indicates he is clear of the Fourth Law because he isn't robbing the summoned of his will, as well as the Seventh Law because the demon didn't get loose.
While facing down John Marcone, Parker, and Hendricks, Dresden decides risking a violation of the First Law is better than dying at the hands of Parker. He gathers his will to hurl loose tools at them, but the spell fails due to exhaustion.
In Grave Peril, Red Court vampire Kelly Hamilton attacks Harry Dresden, leaving drops of spittle on his neck, cheek, and mouth. The narcotic saliva made Dresden experience euphoria and lose the will to fight. He later surmised had the attack lasted longer, he would have been bitten. This would have allowed Hamilton to exert mind control over him, breaking the Fourth Law of Magic.
In Summer Knight, the Red Court arranged an assassination attempt on Harry Dresden with some armed young men and a ghoul. Dresden contemplated fighting back using one of us his kinetic rings, but is concerned months of stored energy could kill the young men, violating the First Law.
When Ebenezar McCoy visits, Dresden recalls how he ended up staying with McCoy at his farm in Hog's Hollow, Missouri. Dresden had killed Justin DuMorne in a magical duel, and despite a violation of the First Law, the White Council chose not to execute him, due to self-defense. Later, the council convenes where the hostilities with the Red Court are discussed. Aleron LaFortier implies it is possible Dresden broke the First Law again with the fire he set at Bianca's Mansion.
Dresden later contemplates the technicalities of the Fourth Law as he uses a small bit of compulsion to draw the attention of Toot-Toot so he can find Maeve. Because Toot-Toot isn't mortal, the law doesn't apply, but Dresden is cautious nonetheless.
In Blood Rites, Ebenezar McCoy reveals to Harry Dresden that he is the Blackstaff - a position in the White Council where he can choose to violate the Laws of Magic without consequences. He is the White Council's wetworks man, an assassin who is violated the Laws many times. McCoy also reveals he was Margaret LeFay's mentor, and that she was guilty of violating the First Law, among others.
In Dead Beat, Harry Dresden and Waldo Butters are attacked by the zombie of Phil the security guard. To help Butters cope with what he has seen, Dresden explains necromancy and the existence of magic, including the Laws of Magic.
Dresden is still coming to terms with Ebenezar McCoy's position as the Blackstaff. He realizes McCoy was trying to protect him, but is still hurt that the mentor who taught him the importance of the Laws of Magic ignores them regularly.
Dresden tells Billy and Georgia about being exposed to Lasciel's influence. It is possible she is affecting him without knowing it, and he tells Billy and Georgia if the wardens find out, he could be executed for violating the Laws of Magic.
When facing down Corpsetaker, she threatens to break Dresden's mind to extract the location of The Word of Kemmler. Dresden realizes he isn't dealing with an amateur, as she speaks casually of violating the Third Law of Magic.
At McAnally's Pub, Anastasia Luccio, Donald Morgan, and Carlos Ramirez tell Dresden of a recent offensive against the Red Court. The White Council was betrayed, and the Red Court launched a vicious attack. Part of their forces included Outsiders, which can only be summoned by mortal magic and is a violation of the Seventh Law of Magic. To help recover the decimated force of Wardens, Luccio offers to have Dresden join their ranks. He initially refuses, not wanting to hunt down and execute teenagers who are unaware they violate the Laws of Magic, but eventually relents.
In order to stop the Heirs of Kemmler from completing the Darkhallow, Dresden uses his knowledge of the Word of Kemmler to reanimate Sue. This doesn't violate the Fifth Law of Magic because it only forbids reanimating humans.
In "War Cry", a shoggoth has been called from the Outside in violation of the Seven Laws of Magic#"Thou Shalt Not Open the Outer Gates".
In Proven Guilty, the White Council convenes in Chicago to hold a trial for a warlock. He is found guilty of violating the Fourth Law, and is executed by Donald Morgan. Harry Dresden and the Merlin debate the ethics of the Laws of Magic. The Merlin indicates the laws are necessary and immutable, and Dresden notes it is clear the Laws are written in blood. Ebenezar McCoy is in attendence and tries to make amends with Dresden, but Dresden hasn't come to terms with McCoy's role in violating the Laws of Magic as the Blackstaff. Dresden explains the event to Karrin Murphy, including an explanation of the Fourth Law. Murphy views the execution as a murder in her city, and is angered Dresden didn't take any action to stop it.
Dresden gets a warning from the Gatekeeper indicating there is an uptick in black magic in Chicago. Dresden later discusses the warning with Bob, irritated at the lack of specifics. Bob points out the Gatekeeper could only provide vague details in order to avoid a paradox, as he probably used hindsight or a similar technique to see the future. These approaches are not the same as traveling through time, so it wouldn't be a violation of the Sixth Law. The Sixth Law is referred to later when a brief stay in the Nevernever passes as a whole day in the real world. Since this is time passing at a different rate rather than a modification of time, this isn't a violation. Dresden refers to it as pulling into the passing lane for awhile.
After Molly Carpenter's abduction, Dresden and Charity Carpenter discuss her past as a practitioner. Charity had been part of a coven led by Gregor, who bent and in some cases broke the Laws of Magic. She was eventually saved by Michael Carpenter, and she abandoned her powers. Dresden explains what Molly had done when trying to help Nelson and Rosie, and Charity realizes Molly had broken a Law of Magic.
Once Molly's rescue was complete, Dresden discusses the Laws of Magic with her and that despite ignorance and good intention, she broke the Fourth Law. Dresden offers her a choice of turning herself in to the White Council and to ask for leniency; Molly chooses to do so, allowing Dresden to take responsibility for her training and future actions. The trial is conducted in Chicago at the same warehouse site of the earlier warlock execution. The only Senior Council members present are the Merlin and Rashid. Dresden presents the facts of Molly's guilt, including a proposal to level the Doom of Damocles rather than an execution. After a heated exchange, the Merlin declares a vote for execution. As Morgan moves to carry out the sentence, Dresden notes a point of order for the trial, in that Rashid has not cast a vote. Despite the Merlin's objection to this being pointless, since he holds enough votes by proxy to determine guilt, he grants Rashid time to vote. Before doing so, Michael Carpenter arrives with three Senior Council members and about forty young wizards via one of the Ways. McCoy indicates they all would have perished had Michael not arrived. With the added Senior Council members present and the heroism of Molly's father in mind, the vote goes in Molly's favor.
In White Night, Harry Dresden stops himself from discussing Molly Carpenter's violation of the First Law in a discussion with Waldo Butters. Dresden realizes Molly will have enough difficulty overcoming her transgressions without giving others a bad impression of her. However, Dresden and Karrin Murphy later discuss Dresden's approach to balancing Molly and some of the harsh lessons he uses to get through to her. 
At McAnally's Pub, Dresden notes the patrons have cleared out around him. McAnally indicates it is because of his grey cloak. Dresden assumes this is in reference to his position as a warden enforcing the Laws of Magic. When Dresden and Murphy later meet Anna Ash while on an investigation, Ash seems to share the fear of Wardens, noting no one in her apartment had broken any Laws, and refused to invite Dresden across her threshold. Ash was unaware that Helen Beckitt, who was in her apartment at the time, actually had been invovled in ritual magic that violated the First Law. Dresden understands the paranoia, having lived under scrutiny of the wardens and witnessing the White Council's willingness to break the Laws in order to "do the right thing."
Molly catches Dresden in a deception later, when he pretends not to know who Elaine Mallory is when talking to Carlos Ramirez. Realizing this could invoke the Doom of Damocles and result in her beheading, she asks Dresden to explain himself. Dresden tells her part of the story of being raised as an orphan by Justin DuMorne, and eventually violating the First Law by killing him in a duel. The White Council leveled the Doom of Damocles, and he was sent to be mentored by Ebenezar McCoy. Though Dresden knows McCoy is the Blackstaff, he chooses to keep this information from Ramirez.
In Backup, Thomas Raith and Lara Raith are revealed as members of the Venatori. The organization's purpose is to eliminate mortal knowledge of certain demons in a conflict known as the Oblivion War. The adversaries are people trying to break the Seventh Law and keep knowledge of these demons around
In The Warrior, Harry Dresden realizes the intruder in the Carpenter home is a mortal. Since Michael Carpenter is out of the fight, Dresden knows he has to pull his punches to avoid breaking the First Law.
In Turn Coat, an injured Donald Morgan arrives at Harry Dresden's apartment asking Harry Dresden to conceal him from the wardens. Dresden calls Waldo Butters to provide care, who asks why they aren't turning Morgan over to the White Council, which oversees the use of magic. Dresden is certain Morgan would never violate the Laws of Magic, "even if it cost him his life." Later, Dresden and Morgan decide to tell Molly Carpenter what happened, since her fate is linked to Dresden. Dresden agreed to take responsibility for her after she broke a Law and was under the Doom of Damocles, effectively putting both of them on probation.
At the White Council headquarters, the smell of the Hidden Halls uncomfortably reminds Dresden of his first visit. After violating the First Law, he was hooded and bound, so the smell was almost all he knew while heading to his trial.
In an encounter with Binder, Dresden explains to Murphy that Binder is a "one-trick hack" who summons and controls beings from the Nevernever. He is a mercenary who is very careful not to violate the Laws so the wardens cannot detain him.
Dresden discovers a White Court vampire has violated the Third Law. He soulgazes Evelyn Derek, realizing someone has rewired her thoughts. He deduces a member of the White Court is trying to capture Morgan and get him killed in the process.
For the first time, a member of the White Council, Anastasia Luccio, tells Dresden about his mother, Margaret LeFay. She was an agitator, advocating for changes in the Laws to make them about justice. LeFay was disgusted the Council wouldn't intervene if a wizard used their power to get rich, or wouldn't overtly involve itself in wars of the outside world. Luccio pointed out the strife this could cause, as the Council is a worldwide organization. Involvement in external politics would regularly pit members against one another.
Molly violates the Third Law when she uses psychomancy to check if anyone has tampered with Luccio's mind. Morgan catches her in the act and tries to shoot her, but Mouse jumps between them and takes the bullet in the shoulder. Dresden gets Morgan back to bed, and Molly tends to Mouse. Dresden tells Molly that her violation of the Law has doomed both of them, even if her intentions were good. Nevertheless, Molly is certain someone has tampered with Luccio.
After the battle on Demonreach, Ancient Mai, Joseph Listens-to-Wind, and Ebenezar McCoy discuss who to detain. Though Dresden was harboring a fugitive, Listens-to-Wind indicates Dresden's actions were in defense of the Laws and he will not be punished. Mai acquiesces, indicating the Merlin will not be pleased.
In Changes, Harry Dresden and Molly Carpenter visit the White Council headquarters in Edinburgh. Molly asks about the origins of the Hidden Halls, and Dresden tells her the rumor is The Original Merlin won them in a bet from Daoine Sidhe. Among his accomplishments, Molly lists writing the Laws, founding the White Council, and was a custodian of Amoracchius.
Dresden raises Ebenezar McCoy using a speaking stone to get the Grey Council's assistance in saving his daughter. McCoy is unable to reveal his position provide support, as the events unfolding could destroy the Council and end the Laws of Magic.
While fighting the Eebs and Ik'k'uox, Dresden performs holomancy to create holograms of Karrin Murphy, Barry Tilly, and Rudolph to act as a distraction. The other form of illusion involves implanting an image in someone's head, which is dangerously close to violating the Third Law.
Before heading Chichén Itzá, Dresden and McCoy discuss their respsective fights, and Dresden reveals he has to save his daughter from a bloodline curse. McCoy understands, wishing Dresden luck and complimenting his combat skills. Dresden is unsure how to take the compliment, as McCoy's is the "heavyweight champion of the wizarding world" when it comes to combat, and his role as the Blackstaff gives him license to ignore the Laws as he sees fit. McCoy ends up coming to Chichén Itzá, where he uses the Blackstaff to violate the First Law, killing 200 men where they stand.
Waldo Butters and Daniel Carpenter later portray wardens when visiting Aristedes. Dresden notes the grey cloaks should keep them safe, as people know wardens as the enforcers of the Laws of Magic who will punish a lawbreaker by decapitation.
In "Cold Case", Molly Carpenter runs into Carlos Ramirez while in Unalaska in her duties as Winter Lady. After Harry Dresden's apparent death, she was on the run from the wardens because of her violations of the Laws. Ramirez points out he didn't make an effort to find her because she was giving the Fomor hell. They find and destroy a cult at Holy Ascension of Our Lord that has been violating the Laws by trying to awaken the Sleeper by sacrificing Miksani children, as well as breaking the mind of at least one local fisherman.
In Cold Days, Mother Summer takes Harry Dresden to the Outer Gates. Dresden had always assumed they were a metaphor, in the context of the Seventh Law. In fact, they are a physical and magical barrier to Outside that is always under assault, defended by the forces of the Winter Court with support from the Gatekeeper.
In Skin Game, Harry Dresden recognizes Hannah Ascher as a warlock who supposedly died six years prior. He tells Karrin Murphy Ascher had been on the run longer than most warlocks in recent memory, and was guilty of violating the Laws of Magic. Ascher reveals she has taken up Lasciel's coin and has sided with the Order of the Blackened Denarius. Dresden tries to tell her she is making a mistake, but Ascher tells Dresden they have treated her well where the White Council has hounded her for killing men trying to rape her. Dresden says he won't defect the Council's actions, but that she is guilty of violating the First Law.
- Turn Coat, ch. 28
- Proven Guilty, ch. 32
- Blood Rites, ch. 25
- Storm Front, ch. 7
- Fool Moon, ch. 9
- Summer Knight, ch. 1
- Summer Knight, ch. 4
- Summer Knight, ch. 5
- White Night, ch. 34
- Changes, ch. 46
- The Warrior
- Proven Guilty, ch. 1
- Fool Moon, ch. 7
- Dead Beat, ch. 17
- Ghost Story, ch. 48
- Storm Front, ch. 26
- Storm Front, ch. 6
- Dead Beat, ch. 6
- Blood Rites, ch. 35
- Grave Peril, ch. 9
- Grave Peril, ch. 2
- Grave Peril, ch. 36
- Dead Beat, ch. 39
- Proven Guilty, ch. 41
- Proven Guilty, ch. 6
- Dead Beat, ch. 31
- Cold Days, ch. 33
- Blood Rites, ch. 24
- Jim Butcher Tweet
- Cold Days, ch. 23
- Cold Days, ch. 22
- White Night, ch. 41
- Cold Days, ch. 30
- Cold Days, ch. 48
- Cold Days, ch. 44
- Turn Coat, ch. 49
- Changes, ch. 19
- Storm Front, ch. 2
- Fool Moon, ch. 11
- Fool Moon, ch. 23
- Grave Peril, ch. 16
- Grave Peril, ch. 17
- Grave Peril, ch. 31
- Summer Knight, ch. 13
- Summer Knight, ch. 19
- Death Masks, ch. 8
- Dead Beat, ch. 5
- Dead Beat, ch. 7
- Dead Beat, ch. 9
- Dead Beat, ch. 38
- "War Cry"
- Proven Guilty, ch. 4
- Proven Guilty, ch. 2
- Proven Guilty, ch. 45
- Proven Guilty, ch. 46
- White Night, ch. 3
- White Night, ch. 32
- White Night, ch. 4
- White Night, ch. 6
- White Night, ch. 18
- White Night, ch. 13
- White Night, ch. 17
- Turn Coat, ch. 1
- Turn Coat, ch. 11
- Turn Coat, ch. 14
- Turn Coat, ch. 19
- Turn Coat, ch. 22
- Turn Coat, ch. 34
- Turn Coat, ch. 46
- Changes, ch. 6
- Changes, ch. 35
- Changes, ch. 40
- Ghost Story, ch. 24
- Ghost Story, ch. 37
- "Cold Case"
- Cold Days, ch. 34
- Skin Game, ch. 6
- Skin Game, ch. 43
- "Laws of Magic"—Wikipedia via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine