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The Sorting Hat is significantly different from most other enchanted objects we've seen in the Wizarding World. The hat is sapient - it not only converses with Harry on multiple occasions but invents new songs each year, one of which specifically states that "The founders put some brains in [it]". It obviously has complex reasoning and problem-solving skills in order to carry out its main purpose of sorting the first-years into their appropriate Houses. The songs it writes and performs deal with current events, and it even communicates in modern English, when it would have originally spoken in the very different dialect of ~1000 years ago, so it can learn and adapt.

We know that many enchantments cease the moment the caster dies, and not just ones that require continued concentration to use (like Imperio) but those "set it and forget it" types (like Petrificus Totalus, or, if you consider the movies to be A-Canon, the goldfish).

In contrast to other enchanted objects that continue to operate after the death of the witch or wizard who created them, wizarding portraits obviously have some semblance of sentience, but it is known to be limited. Wizarding photographs are not interactive at all, and only move more like a looping video.

Horcruxes exhibit a large amount of sentience, most notably Tom Riddle's diary. It is able to communicate with both Ginny and Harry, able to pull Harry into a Pensieve-like experience, and eventually even generate a close-to-corporeal form. It, too, is able to learn, adapt, and even feel, given that it finds out about Harry and desired to know more about him. Also, by their very nature, Horcruxes live on after the caster should have died.

Horcruxes are considered very dark magic in the modern era, requiring rending the soul via murder and evil incantations to contain a part of it inside an object. However, 1000 years ago, when the founders of Hogwarts lived, this could have been considered less evil, even normal, perhaps. Godric Gryffindor owned a sword, an object only used for battle. It is not a stretch of the imagination that he could have killed with that sword, (or with his wand).

Is the Sorting Hat a Horcrux?

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    "Legend has it that the hat once belonged to one of the four founders, Godric Gryffindor, and that it was jointly enchanted by all four founders to ensure that students would be sorted into their eponymous houses, which would be selected according to each founder's particular preferences in students...." – Valorum Dec 8 '17 at 18:30
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    ..."The Sorting Hat is one of the cleverest enchanted objects most witches and wizards will ever meet. It literally contains the intelligence of the four founders, can speak (through a rip near its brim) and is skilled at Legilimency, which enables it to look into the wearer's head and divine his or her capabilities or mood. It can even respond to the thoughts of the wearer. - Pottermore - The Sorting Hat – Valorum Dec 8 '17 at 18:30
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    The sorting hat is not the only magical object, other than portraits, to speak. Others, with varying degrees of sapience would include: Dedalus Diggle's watch ("You're Late!") though this could just be an alarm message; and the mirror in the Leaky Cauldron which does respond to Harry's actions and comments ("You're fighting a losing battle...", "That's the spirit, dear") – Bishop Dec 8 '17 at 21:26
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    Wizards had more honour than that even then: 'The question of why a wizard would need a sword, though often asked, is easily answered. In the days before the International Statute of Secrecy, when wizards mingled freely with Muggles, they would use swords to defend themselves just as often as wands. Indeed, it was considered unsporting to use a wand against a Muggle sword (which is not to say it was never done). Many gifted wizards were also accomplished duellists in the conventional sense, Gryffindor among them.' From Pottermore on the sword. – Pryftan Dec 9 '17 at 0:15
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    Wizarding portraits obviously have some semblance of sentience, but it is known to be limited. Where was that mentioned? (I read the books so many years ago) – WoJ Dec 9 '17 at 12:32
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No, the founders all expected they would die and planned for it.

The founders weren’t planning to live forever. In fact, the Sorting Hat was created to continue Sorting the students how the founders would have wanted them Sorted even when they were dead. That was the main reason for their decision to have a Sorting Hat to begin with - they wanted the Houses to continue having students they’d approve of even after they were dead and unable to ensure this themselves.

While still alive they did divide
Their favourites from the throng,
Yet how to pick the worthy ones
When they were dead and gone?
’Twas Gryffindor who found the way,
He whipped me off his head
The founders put some brains in me
So I could choose instead!”

- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 12 (The Triwizard Tournament)

They probably wouldn’t have really bothered much with planning for Hogwarts after they died if they were intending to be immortal. The Dark Lord, for example, knew he’d made Horcruxes and thought he’d be immortal - so he made absolutely no plans that didn’t include him being alive. He hadn’t planned for how the Death Eaters or his conquest of the wizarding world would continue without him - but the founders did plan for Hogwarts without them.

Also, Horcruxes were considered very Dark even in their time.

Horcruxes being considered extremely Dark magic was not in any way a new concept to the wizarding world. Godelot, the writer of Magick Most Evile, who was a Dark wizard himself in medieval times, considered it Dark enough to avoid all but the briefest mention.

“All I could find was this, in the introduction to Magick Moste Evile – listen – “of the Horcrux, wickedest of magical inventions, we shall not speak nor give direction” … I mean, why mention it, then?’ she said impatiently, slamming the old book shut; it let out a ghostly wail. ‘Oh, shut up,’ she snapped, stuffing it back into her bag.”
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 18 (Birthday Surprises)

We can place the time Godelot lived to somewhere in the medieval era, which is around the same era that the founders lived.

“The first well-documented mention of a wand made of elder that had particularly strong and dangerous powers was owned by Emeric, commonly called “the Evil,” a short-lived but exceptionally aggressive wizard who terrorized the south of England in the early Middle Ages. He died as he had lived, in a ferocious duel with a wizard known as Egbert. What became of Egbert is unknown, although the life expectancy of medieval duelers was generally short. In the days before there was a Ministry of Magic to regulate the use of Dark Magic, dueling was usually fatal.

A full century later, another unpleasant character, this time named Godelot, advanced the study of Dark Magic by writing a collection of dangerous spells with the help of a wand he described in his notebook as “my moste wicked and subtle friend, with bodie of ellhorn,25 who knowes ways of magick moste evile.” (Magick Moste Evile became the title of Godelot’s masterwork.)”
- The Tales of Beedle the Bard

This shows that Horcruxes have indeed been considered the Darkest sort of magic, even in medieval times.

  • I like the logic of this answer a lot, especially that surrounding the line "When they were dead and gone" in the Sorting Hat's song. That said, does a Horcrux absolutely mean you WILL NOT die, or merely affords you the option not to? I would like the described paragraph from The Tales of Beedle the Bard included in the answer, in order to cement that Godelot lived/wrote his book in the same era as the founding of Hogwarts. – vynsane Apr 2 '18 at 15:09
  • @vynsane Thanks a lot! Having a Horcrux does mean that the person who made it won’t die, as long as the Horcrux isn’t destroyed. If it’s destroyed though, they can die - as seen with the Dark Lord. That’s why my logic is based on “they planned that they would die” rather than “they’re dead”. I’ve added in the paragraph from Beedle the Bard, like you requested, so it’s easy to see the connection between the Early Middle Ages and Godelot. – Bellatrix Apr 2 '18 at 15:29
  • Thanks for the edits - "early middle ages" being regarded as 6th - 10th centuries CE, it's clear to see that the Horcrux was regarded as dark magic by the time of the founding of Hogwarts. I am not convinced, however, that Voldemort is a good case study for the argument that having a Horcrux means you CANNOT die. He was desperate not to die, and so, if given the option, would not choose to. That's obviously not the question at hand, however, and so have a green checkmark! – vynsane Apr 2 '18 at 16:58
  • @vynsane You’re welcome, I’m happy to edit in any extra information for you! Having the whole quote does improve it, you’re right! I agree that the Dark Lord would never have willingly chosen to die, so he’d never choose it, while someone less determined not to die may choose differently. Thanks for the green checkmark, I really appreciate it! – Bellatrix Apr 3 '18 at 3:31
59

The sorting hat is not a Horcrux

From the "Rumors" section of Rowling's old website:

Rumour: The Sorting Hat is a Horcrux

JKR: No, it isn't. Horcruxes do not draw attention to themselves by singing songs in front of large audiences.

The old jkrowling.com - Rumours

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    Even though it is Word of God, I find her answer disappointing. – Arturo Torres Sánchez Dec 8 '17 at 21:56
  • Even though it's from a defunct site, taken down, IIRC, so as not to contradict future works, this is probably the most definitive answer we can hope for until something comes along in the Fantastic Beasts series that retcons it. – vynsane Dec 8 '17 at 23:45
  • Considering that the only living items we know of being verified horcruxes amounts to Nagini, an already (debatable) evil snake, the fact that the other inanimate objects are imbued with evil at either the act of their creation or the nature of Voldemort himself, it seems that JK regards these things as tantamount to proper abominations. The sorting hat is contrasting my benevolent and helpful in the wizard of world. – Eric McCormick Dec 9 '17 at 1:51
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    @ArturoTorresSánchez She tells us that it isn't a horcrux, and gives us additional information about horcruxes as a reason why. Sounds like a good response to me. And certainly a more cordial response than I would give, had I written a book for children and then had a bunch of adults trying to examine my world consistency. – Misha R Dec 9 '17 at 4:13
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    To clarify, Rowling was debunking the popular theory that Voldemort had made it a Horcrux. She wasn't really thinking about the founders. – ibid Dec 10 '17 at 1:52
25

NO.

For one simple reason... all the founders died.

(Or at least I assume so... the only "confirmed" death we have is Rowena Ravenclaw)

Then my mother fell ill – fatally ill.

Deathly Hallows, Chapter 31, The Battle of Hogwarts

But beyond that J.K. Rowling does not mention anything remotely like a Horcrux or the Four Founders putting their souls into the hat. It is "merely" a highly enchanted object:

Legend has it that the hat once belonged to one of the four founders, Godric Gryffindor, and that it was jointly enchanted by all four founders to ensure that students would be sorted into their eponymous houses, which would be selected according to each founder's particular preferences in students.

The Sorting Hat is one of the cleverest enchanted objects most witches and wizards will ever meet. It literally contains the intelligence of the four founders, can speak (through a rip near its brim) and is skilled at Legilimency, which enables it to look into the wearer's head and divine his or her capabilities or mood. It can even respond to the thoughts of the wearer.

The Sorting Hat By J.K. Rowling

Also Horcruxes were always consider evil. The first one was created by a dark wizard and even a book about evil magic would not speak of them. So I do not think it would have crossed any of the Founder's minds, even Salazaar because at the time the Sorting Hat was created he had not had his falling out with the other three.

Herpo the Foul was an ancient Greek Dark wizard and the first known creator of a Basilisk. Herpo was a Parselmouth so he could control the great serpent, which lived for 900 years. Herpo was also the first wizard to successfully create a Horcrux.


Of the Horcrux, wickedest of magical inventions, we shall not speak nor give direction ... (from the introduction of Magick Moste Evile, Hogwarts library)

Half Blood Price, Chapter 18, Birthday Surprises

  • 6
    Isn't the Giant Squid Godryc Gryffindor? – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 8 '17 at 21:18
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    @DVK-on-Ahch-To -- The same way that Ron is a time-travelling Dumbledore I would assume. – Skooba Dec 8 '17 at 21:28
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    I think we do not have compelling evidence that any but Ravenclaw did die. We can assume they did, but we can't be 100% sure. – EvSunWoodard Dec 8 '17 at 21:40
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    @EvSunWoodard Hopefully we will soon! – Skooba Dec 8 '17 at 21:41
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    @vynsane I just have really tough time believing that at any point in history murder and then tearing your soul apart would have been acceptable... – Skooba Dec 9 '17 at 13:07

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