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What Does the Sorting Hat Sing About?

November 23, 2010

Harry Potter has become so familiar to us that we forget what revolutionary changes it brought in public perception. The image of a witch flying on a broom was something very evil until 1996. Rowling changed all that. The post-1996 world started considering witch with a broom, quite a normal thing. The long slander of paganism was over. What Harry Potter achieved was the redeeming of the images of witches, changing the negative Christian attitude of about two millennia.

Rowling has inserted subtle as well as overt hints in her books which suggest a good image of witchcraft and wizardry. One such hint is hidden in the song of the sorting hat. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Dumbledore calls for the song after his speech:

“Everyone pick their favorite tune,” said Dumbledore, “and off we go!” And the school bellowed:

Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hoggy Warty Hogwarts,

Teach us something please,

Whether we be old and bald

Or young with scabby knees,

Our heads could do with filling

With some interesting stuff,

For now they’re bare and full of air,

Dead flies and bits of fluff,

So teach us things worth knowing,

Bring back what we’ve forgot,

Just do your best, we’ll do the rest,

And learn until our brains all rot.”

Everybody finished the song at different times.[1]

There are two important points to notice. First, professor Dumbledore calls everyone to pick his own favorite tune. The idea of everyone picking up their favorite tune while singing in the same Hall is something which only a pagan imagination can conceive. It is synonymous with the pluralist nature of paganism[2] and the eastern religions, in which the followers can follow the path of self-realization by many paths.[3] The Rig-Veda declares:

“Truth is one; sages call it by various names- Ekam Sat Vipra Bahudha Vadanti.”[4]

There are hundreds of deities in Sanatana Dharma, commonly known as Hinduism. These deities have different natures. One can choose the deity which suits his particular inclination. All of these paths can lead to the truth.[5]

This is something entirely alien to the Judeo-Christian ethic. In Christianity, there is one true path, dictated by the Church, which is variously called the bride of the Christ, or the body of God.[6] No other path is allowed. It is considered a heresy to suggest such a thing. Other paths are prevented and those who try to follow it are punished.[7]

Only in a pagan atmosphere can anyone can pick his favorite tune. It is not possible in a Judeo-Christian universe. The song ends at the same disparate pagan note. The second important point which the song makes is in these two lines:

So teach us things worth knowing,

Bring back what we’ve forgot[8]

It is an exhortation to the pagan values, to the pre-Christian era which was full of magic. This era was lost when Europe converted to Christianity. The Harry Potter series attempts to resurrect the image of witches and wizards who were much maligned and persecuted during the Christian Dark Ages. What was lost during this era was the wisdom of paganism. With it was lost, the tolerance of different customs and beliefs. This ancient knowledge of the secret powers within is what the students of Hogwarts invoke and pray for.


[1] Rowling, J K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic Inc. 1997. p. 127-128.

[2] McColman, Carl. The Complete’s Idiot’s Guide to Paganism. Indianapolis: Alpha Books. 2002. p. 14

[4] The Rig Veda. Griffith, Ralph. T. H. New York: Forgotten Books. 2008. 164:46

[5] Swarup, Ram. The Word as Revelation: Names of Gods. New Delhi: Voice of India. 2001. p. 23-25.

[6] Goel, Sita Ram. Papacy: Its Doctrines and History. New Delhi: Voice of India. 1986.

[7] Rajaram, N S. Profiles in Deception: Ayodhya and the Dead Sea Scrolls. New Delhi: Voice of India. 1997.

[8] Rowling, J K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic Inc. 1997. p. 128.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Tanmay permalink
    November 24, 2010 12:49 AM

    Well after reading this article, some people might find it too far fetched. But then one can also read about reviving Wiccan culture and how conservative Christians are reacting to it. Or more apt: the pre-Christian origins of Halloween

    http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/family/halloween3.htm

    • December 7, 2010 12:28 PM

      This article is meant to be read along with the other ones on similar themes. With them, it does signify a lot. Alone, of course not much…

  2. November 25, 2010 12:47 PM

    At times, one feels that the analogy being discussed is a little far fetched. The extrapolation may have been exaggerated. But since you are talking about the singing hat alone, your analysis is spot on 🙂

    Nevertheless, this is a unique perspective on the book and the series. It is a perspective every harry potter fan should consider. It is important to read between the lines as you have done.
    However, one should not be tempted to cast the whole book in that ‘light’. I mean if some lines in the book suggest shades of paganism, it should not prompt us to classify this work or the author of this work as a proponent of paganism.

    • December 7, 2010 12:30 PM

      ‘However, one should not be tempted to cast the whole book in that ‘light’. I mean if some lines in the book suggest shades of paganism, it should not prompt us to classify this work or the author of this work as a proponent of paganism.’

      Of course not! Rowling’s mind like every other writer is a complex bed which contains ideas from many cultures and civilizations. No single thought-system rules her world.

      Its just that her world is very non-monotheistic and for a European world, modeled on the medieval times, its natural to go pagan… as the only option to a Christian world.

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