“It’s Time to be Sorted”   Leave a comment

“When I call your name”, says Professor McGonagall in the first Harry Potter film, “you will come forth. I shall place the sorting hat on your head, and you will be sorted into your Houses”.

How many of us have heard others (or ourselves) say at some point, “I hate labels!”

Well and good. We’ve all been mislabelled throughout our lives, so it’s not surprising we’ve come to dislike careless and indifferent labels, and especially loathe the unfair or cruel ones that stick like chewing gum to our heels. What we hate, I’m asserting here, are inaccurate labels. But we long for recognition or acknowledgment of our true qualities. We want to be known. To be called — labelled — as friend, beloved, loyal, true — few of us indeed would refuse these labels.

Why then does Hogwarts sort students into Houses from the outset of their time in Hogwarts? Isn’t that the worst kind of labelling — setting up and closing off expectations that may harm the still-emerging personality and talents of each young student?

Let’s examine the scene.

First, the students have been chosen to attend the School. It’s certainly possible, I suppose, that a student could refuse to attend for any number of reasons. (Doubtless someone deep into Potter lore can tell me if I’m misconstruing this particular point in some way.) But I do know that when Wise Ones call us to accept a kind of destiny like this, it often opens up a corresponding inner recognition in us that our time has come. (Or if it doesn’t, it’s probably not yet our time after all.)

Second, McGonagall calls each name. Insofar as our names represent us (and some choose a Craft or magical name for just such reasons), we face an accurate or honest recognition of who we are, and who we can become. Called by name, we emerge from a group and are assessed individually. “You will come forth” — the real you. Our specific and unique potentials are each recognized.

Third, it’s neither a casual acquaintance nor a cruel bully labelling us, but the Sorting Hat, an intelligence and insight above our own — literally, in the case of the Hat resting on top of each student’s head. (Note for a moment how McGonagall’s hat is virtually identical in its shape and crook, though not color, to the Sorting Hat.)

Fourth, no student — or anyone else assembled — questions the Hat’s judgment (though Harry whispers the fervent request “Not Slytherin!” — which the Hat, after assessing him carefully, does honor). We retain our individual choice. Most of the new students look pleased at the Hat’s judgment.

An accurate assessment of our talents and potentials means we can deepen what we do well, while borrowing some of the confidence and insight and skill we’ve built up and already possess to tackle new areas and abilities. As a shy and bookish adolescent, I continually faced challenges to speak up, to express myself, to “not hide my light under a bushel”, to practice confidence around others until I both increased my store of it, and could also mock it up and enter situations where I might never have ventured before.

Or to play with words for a moment, one possible anagram of the name Hogwarts seems helpful (it’s easy to get caught up in such things and push them beyond their utility): “as growth”. Hogwarts is a metaphor, an image or icon or analogy of life-as-growth. It’s not the same thing, but an image of the same, a representation or likeness.

As George Bernard Shaw puts it,

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy (Dedication, Man and Superman, 1903).

Each of the four Houses corresponds in Rowlings’ universe to one of the classical elements. Gryffindor is Fire, the will, the self that chooses, focuses energy, manifests. The Sorting Hat, recognizing and representing our True Will, and serving as its mouthpiece in the sorting ceremony of Rowlings’ novels, knows us truly for what we are, and for what we may become.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Advertisements

Thanks for visiting! Comments?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: