Pagan Studies

Focusing on the Arte Magical as a practice and profession, we study various facets of magic through the lens of both classical and modern perspective. From ancient myth to urban legend to fiction and philosophy, all viewed through the eyes of a very practical magician.

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The Sort-of Hat

Yes, the title of this article is a Harry Potter reference.  It should come as no surprise to anyone who's read this blog much at all that a number of my friends and I are diehard Harry Potter fans.  Of all the wands I own (and there are a LOT, I'm sort of obsessed with the things), my favorite is an Alivans Ebony wand.  And yes, I do use it for real magic- I find it hard not to.

Amongst the local pagan community, we often joke about "waiting for that Hogwarts letter," and we regularly ask each other what House we belong to, occasionally resorting to testing each other with quizzes if we're uncertain.  I even have a pointy black hat that I use when we're playing around- not only is it terribly fashionable (and I wear it everywhere), but it's useful as a focus object during these games, which are about 50% silly and 50% serious consideration.

I bring this up tonight because it seemed pertinent to me.  I've observed a lot of contention and strife in the online and local community lately, and I thought I might offer something of an understanding I've come to in recent years.

My House, were I attending classes in Hogwarts' hallowed halls, would be Slytherin.  In a roleplay I used to help lead, I played a character who was essentially the Slytherin Head of House, in addition to being a Divination teacher.

Not only is this completely unsurprising to anyone who's met me, it's also a matter of pride for many of the people I know.  "Don't mess with Rune, he's Slytherin- if you cross him or his people, he will F**K YOU UP."  This sentiment is common amongst my students, as if I were being offered up as a protective sociopath.

This became a matter of some dismay to me, as I didn't associate Slytherin with "ass-kicking" or any sort of harshness.  At the least, not any more harsh than any of the other three Houses.

When figuring out my House, I made my choice based on what the story really said about Slytherins- they are ambitious, and none-too-impressed with other people's rules, unless said rules serve their interests.  Also, they keep secrets pretty much as a matter of course.

I mentioned this to my friends, asking them why they felt Slytherin was a good mix for me.  Several responded with statements of how I seemed comfortable with my Dark side, or how I didn't "put up with bullshit." 

While I found some of those points true enough, I didn't feel that these were the reason I was Slytherin; one had only to read the books to see that Slytherins often put up with large quantities of bullshit, and many of them were in no way comfortable with the Dark magicks.

One of my friends, a very knowledgeable fan of the HP series and universe, was being relatively quiet in the back.  I asked her what she thought, and she had this to say:

"It's not about whether you like or hate the Dark- Peter Pettigrew showed us that Dark lives in Gryffindor as much as Slytherin.  It's not about your lack of patience with idiots either- Hufflepuff has as many pragmatists as any other House, and many are just as ruthless.

"It's about making decisions and having values.  And your values are clearly Slytherin."

She was right, of course.  Slytherins, according to the books, were ambitious sorts who had vision and were essentially ruthless in the pursuit of their vision, but all the Houses had ambition- the House Cup is a sign of that.  All Houses had brave members- look at the last HP book and how many students fought the Death Eaters at the end.  And of course, all Houses had intelligent members, and loyal members.

It was their priorities and how their traits manifested which Sorted them.  Those who used their brains, their courage, and their ambition to serve their loyalty to what they believed in became Hufflepuff.  Those who let their courage, cunning, and loyalty adhere to the principles of wisdom and knowledge were Ravenclaw.  Those who chose bravery as the standard under which their cleverness and ruthlessness and tenacity would march were Gryffindor.

And those who let intellect, determination, and courage serve in silent resolve to their goals... they were Slytherin.

And there was a need for each of the Houses, for they were designed to work together.

Hogwarts taught each member to learn, to expand and embrace wisdom as well as knowledge, as Rowena Ravenclaw demonstrated in the beginning.  It taught perseverance and solidarity as Helga Hufflepuff had laid into the school's foundation.  It taught courage and bravery as Godric Gryffindor embodied at the school's inception.  And it taught secrecy, goal-setting, and ruthless commitment as Salazar Slytherin intended.

All of these virtues were the underlying lesson of Hogwarts- an intriguing fourfold philosophy to those of us acquainted with the Riddle of the Sphinx and the Witch's Pyramid.  The thing is, they were all ingrained in the true students of Hogwarts- a fact which became very evident as the books progressed and the characters used those very same traits to overcome obstacles and fight adversity.

This is crucial to understand- and also the fifth unspoken philosophy of Hogwarts which ties everything together.  The fifth Element which unified the earth of Hufflepuff, the fire of Gryffindor, the air of Ravenclaw and the water of Slytherin (and yes, those elemental associations are canon by the way, per Jo Rowlings).

The message of Hogwarts was the fifth philosophy of the undying Spirit- that without these four components, one cannot be whole.  The theme was repeated again and again- in the immortal ghosts of Hogwarts, literal 'spirits.'  In the spirits present in the paintings, colorful and whimsical, from mad knight to Headmaster.  From the first book to the last, the theme of immortality and the undying Spirit was ever-present.  And it triumphed over and over again, but only by the traits of the four 'elements' of Hogwarts in conjunction.

The world needs every House.  There are no evil Houses.  There are merely times when some aspects become more dangerous to the whole Spirit, due to imbalance.  In those times, the Spirit of the whole shall stand fast and manifest its best self where it is in harmony with all its parts.

This is true of Hogwarts School, of the wizarding world, and also of our own communities, covens, circles, and families.  And also of ourselves, if we think of it this way.  We need all kinds of people to do the work, but it is work, and that work will never be done if we are too afraid, too ignorant, too lazy, or too squeamish to get it done.

That's why I'm Slytherin.  I fiercely love my family and friends- they're what make my life worth living.  I want them to be happy, because if they're not happy, my life is not good.  I believe in harmony and community, and I will work every day to make that vision a reality, even if I have to stomp all over people's feelings to do so.  I'm not a terribly nice person, and I'm not at all reluctant to break all the rules and taboos and silly little games I see people playing.

Not because I think I'm right.  Not because I think I'm smart.  Not because I'm trying to protect everyone else's interests first.

Because I want the world to be that way, so I'm going to make it be that way.  And I don't give a damn if anyone disagrees, because their opinions don't matter.

And that, my dears, is what makes me Slytherin.


So what House would you belong to?  Or do you not know yet?  Perhaps you're still waiting for the Sorting Hat?  Or maybe still waiting for your letter?

Or maybe you have other ideas?

Please feel free to share your input in the comments!  And thanks for being polite, guys- you're all really good at being on-point and thought-provoking.  :)

Last modified on
S. Rune Emerson has been practicing witchcraft and sorcery since the early 90's, and has been teaching since 2004. He is the founder of the Risting Tradition of American Witchcraft, which is a large title for a small local tradition based in Northern Nevada. He also heads a coven tradition called the Cabal of Nocturne, and works as a diviner at Pathways Spirit, a metaphysical shop in Reno. He likes to describe his life as "extraordinarily simple." He is fond of observing that magic as a profession is the somewhat honest alternative to those of the same mindset as criminals- smart, lazy, and prone towards thinking outside the box, often in areas of questionable morality. He believes in a strong standard of accountability in magical practice, and has very strict ethics. He's also very opinionated about nearly everything.


  • Carleen
    Carleen Saturday, 17 August 2013

    I would love to have some of their wands but I just use my wand that was made out of tulip wood as it feels very good in my hands.

  • S. Rune Emerson
    S. Rune Emerson Sunday, 18 August 2013

    My next post will likely be on wands and how they work. I'm kind of personally frustrated that nobody has gone out of their way to teach how to use a wand in any useful fashion. *chuckles* HP was such a brilliant inspiration- why couldn't we have done what Jo did, and come up with a system of gesturing that made sense?

  • Naya Aerodiode
    Naya Aerodiode Saturday, 17 August 2013

    *fistbumps fellow Slytherin*

  • Valerie Jones
    Valerie Jones Saturday, 17 August 2013

    Received my hat relatively late in late (30's) and have been studying/practicing/teaching since. My careers in nursing and massage therapy with education underlining both of those may indicate a Ravenclaw member here. But I welcome questions and/or comments.

  • Tina Leach
    Tina Leach Saturday, 17 August 2013

    I'm pretty much a Ravenclaw through and through. Also, several online tests have said the same thing so if an online quiz tells you that, it MUST be true. :p

  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Saturday, 17 August 2013

    Hufflepuff. Boring in the books, but what can I say, it's who I am.

  • S. Rune Emerson
    S. Rune Emerson Sunday, 18 August 2013

    Actually, I have a lot of respect for the 'Puffs! They're the reason the wizarding world works at all, if you ask me. Their loyalty and compassion is a majorly necessary baseline for their respective communities.

  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Saturday, 17 August 2013 says that I'm Hufflepuff, too. Fun stuff! (Of course some of the schoolyard examples took me some time to cast my memory back to, since I'm 66 now.)

  • Áine
    Áine Sunday, 18 August 2013

    Wonderful post - particularly as I too am a Slytherin. :) As a fellow Potter nut I've always found the four houses to be a fascinating balance of human traits.

  • S. Rune Emerson
    S. Rune Emerson Sunday, 18 August 2013

    Thank you, Áine! I pretty much felt the same- particularly when I started recognizing references Jo Rowling used in her books. I may not personally be a huge fan of the "earth-air-fire-water" paradigm people often utilize, but I do enjoy finding it used in a clever and meaningful way. :)

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