Inside the Schism

by Meriste D’Ange

Readers of the Harry Potter series know that a society’s unity, or the lack thereof, is one of the story’s central themes. Emphasis has been put on the rivalry of the four houses of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin; each house outdoing one another in academics and Quidditch, finding ways of discrediting each other with results ranging from the hilarious to the horrific. This attitude of the students have proven to be advantageous to the return of the main antagonist Lord Voldemort, whose covert actions are aimed to restore him to power and enable him to destroy Muggles (non-magical humans), opposing wizards, and his foretold nemesis, Harry Potter.

Yet, it has not always been this way. Magical history has recorded that the four founders of Hogwarts — Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw and Salazar Slytherin — had been the best of friends. However, Slytherin would later leave the school when his insistence that only those from pure wizarding lines be accepted were overruled by the other three founders.

Now, as much as we detest Slytherin’s racist beliefs (which reached murderous proportions when he left the basilisk behind), his fears are not without basis at the time of the school’s inception. The tenth century was a deadly time to be a wizard or witch in Europe — Christianity was converting everyone from the commoners to powerful leaders like Charlemagne, and with the already great fear the Muggles have of the unknown and unexplainable, much of the magical community then must already have been murdered by non-magical means (and this still wasn’t like the twelfth or thirteenth centuries, where everyone who dares to think for himself, Muggle or wizard, are burned alive). Obviously the four founders have been influential enough to be granted lands, and, finding a need to unite the community by providing a haven for educating its youngsters, they established the school. Slytherin, perhaps, feared that the Muggle-born students might inform outsiders of the community’s existence, leading to the wizards and witches to be wiped out. But Gryffindor was fearless enough to keep admitting Muggle-borns, Ravenclaw smart enough to recognize the greater dangers of incest to the wizarding world, and Hufflepuff compassionate enough to give everyone a chance to develop his or her skills. Slytherin was cast out of the school as a result and was much reviled in the annals of history for having a different opinion from the founders. This stigma remains on his students to this day.

Years passed. Catholic dogma loosened its grip, and the Renaissance swept across Europe; then, industry and science gained prominence. The magical world remained intact and hidden; no Muggle-born broke his silence. Sadly, even when Slytherin’s greatest (possible) fears were not realized, his great hatred of Muggles remained deeply ingrained in his followers and descendants, the last of whom was Tom Marvolo Riddle, renamed Voldemort. Poor Tom’s hatred was seemingly justified by his Muggle father’s abandonment, his mother’s death and his life in a Muggle orphanage. This led him to box the whole non-magical community as intolerant and cruel and to seek vengeance by annihilating them. Many wizards, who share his hatred of Muggles or have secret personal agendas, joined him in his quest. Those who did not (including the great Albus Dumbledore, his army of students and the Order of the Phoenix) were cleared out of the path during his first rampage, or will be, if Voldemort manages to defeat this opposition.

And yet, the Hogwarts’ House system lives on. Even when Slytherin left, even after the other founders died. The Sorting Hat was created to maintain the system and sort the students by house. No wonder house prejudices exist even in the likes of Rubeus Hagrid, who maintains that “[there’s] not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin,” and that Hufflepuff is “full of duffers.”

This practice, thankfully, has not gone uncriticized, and by no less than the Sorting Hat itself. In its song in Potter’s fifth year, it retold the sad story of the schism. It sang that all the founders save for Hufflepuff (who wants to “…teach the lot/ And treat them just the same”) have prejudices of their own: Slytherin wants those whose “ancestry is purest,” Ravenclaw taught those “whose intelligence is surest,” and Gryffindor wants those “with brave deeds to their name.” The Sorting Hat considers the duty of sorting to be condemning students to further division, which was just what Voldemort needs, given his talent for spreading discord.

Would the house system be dissolved upon the commencing of the Second War? I think it would be beneficial to the wizarding community to do so. If they were to topple Voldemort, they must do so as one, and not by house.

NOTE: Consider the finances one needs to start even a simple pre-school! And, on the scale that Hogwarts is operating, it’s likely that the founders have been connected to Muggle kings of the time, and perhaps they are even among the lower peers of the court. This is further supported by the great wealth many of the old wizarding families possess. Remember Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington and Sir Patrick Delaney Podmore?

07/12/03; Revised 09/03/03