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I believe in canon it is said that Hogwarts is sentient because of the large concentration of magic that has been there for hundreds of years. But is that because magic itself is sentient or just because the castle itself has "soaked up" enough magic to become sentient? Surely if an artefact (or building) can become sentient through exposure to magic, that implies some level of sentience in magic itself?

There are several artefacts that are commonly discussed as potentially being somewhat sentient, such as the Whomping Willow, the Weasley's clock, wands, or even the feral Ford Anglia living in the Forbidden Forest.

  1. The Whomping Willow could be explained as more instinctual rather than sentient, just because it’s motion activated doesn’t necessarily imply sentience.
  2. The clock could be probably be programmed through various enchantments and monitoring charms so I don’t think that requires sentience either.
  3. And on the topic of wands, I believe Rowling even mentioned that wands are semi-sentient but the whole "the wand chooses the wizard" doesn't necessarily imply sentience to me, it could simply be about different wands being more or less in tune with a person's magic.
  4. The car that becomes feral and lives in the forest is a bit harder to explain away. Especially seeing as it "chooses" to help Harry and Ron escape from the Acromantulas. But was it sentient before they flew it to and crashed it at Hogwarts or did something about the crash at Hogwarts cause the sentience?

So my main question is this:

I'm not sure whether canon ever clarified if the story of how the three brothers cheated death was real and there is a personification of death or whether it was just a children's story but it makes me wonder whether there's any evidence in canon for magic itself being sentient, rather than just objects, and whether someone could potentially interact with magic like the three brothers did with death?

And if magic isn't sentient, then how can magical objects become sentient?

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    Magic doesn't need to be sentient to enable object sentience. Water is needed to sustain life. Is water alive?
    – Kreiri
    Aug 17, 2021 at 10:03
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    I had the same thought but I think it's a little different because something that's alive has always been alive, we can't just suddenly make a door 'alive'. But these objects became sentient at a later point which would indicate that perhaps whatever they were infused with was itself sentient?
    – Fabian
    Aug 17, 2021 at 10:16
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    "feral Ford Anglia" makes me want to import one and make a rat-rod out of it. I like that idea!
    – FreeMan
    Aug 17, 2021 at 13:48
  • Not only sentient, but also curmudgeonly, seeing at it requires spells to be spoken in a dead language. :-) Aug 17, 2021 at 14:51
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    Worth noting the sorting hat, sword of Gryffindor's ability to teleport where it pleases/as it chooses, and Olivander's comments about wands in the later years (maybe half blood prince, definitely deathly hollows)
    – TCooper
    Aug 17, 2021 at 18:05

5 Answers 5

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In high enough densities, sort of.

JK Rowling talked about this in the context of wands.

“Essentially, I see wands as being quasi-sentient, you know? I think they awaken to a kind of-- They're not exactly animate but they're close to it. As close to it as you can get in an object because they carry so much magic. So that's really the key point about a wand.”

Given the many examples of intelligence we regularly see about- The Monster Book of Monsters which acts like a monster, paintings and portraits, magical cards, the Sorting Hat, Gryffindor's Sword, it's clear that magic can fairly easily imbue some level of intelligence.

Notably, as JK Rowling said, the elder wand was more sentient than a normal wand, hence it's discriminating nature.

The secret of the elder wand is that it's more sentient than any other. It can identify the caster of any spell that touches it and keeps tally of which wizard has beaten which, giving its allegiance to the one it judges the victor. Physical possession is irrelevant.

They are clearly more limited than full humans in intellect, but they're smart enough to interact with humans and respond to voice commands and such.

In talking on portraits she explained more about the basic intelligence magic

When a magical portrait is taken, the witch or wizard artist will naturally use enchantments to ensure that the painting will be able to move in the usual way. The portrait will be able to use some of the subject’s favourite phrases and imitate their general demeanour. Thus, Sir Cadogan’s portrait is forever challenging people to a fight, falling off its horse and behaving in a fairly unbalanced way, which is how the subject appeared to the poor wizard who had to paint him, while the portrait of the Fat Lady continues to indulge her love of good food, drink and tip-top security long after her living model passed away.

However, neither of these portraits would be capable of having a particularly in-depth discussion about more complex aspects of their lives: they are literally and metaphorically two-dimensional. They are only representations of the living subjects as seen by the artist.

None of your examples go past this point: the Whomping Willow hits or doesn't hit people based on if they scratch an itch; the car just defends its owners; the clock just monitors people; and the wands just refuse to trigger for some people or move and screw with them. They show a basic animalistic intelligence below that of the portraits.

Based on the above quotes, JK Rowling probably sees sentience as a spectrum, with some magical objects having more of it and some less, depending on how their owners treat them, the density of magic, and their lifespan.

We don't know exactly what can gain some sentience from magic. Boggarts and Dementors are generated by human emotions. and so it's hard to say what is sentient and what is not. Is magic itself sentient? Maybe. Magic is clearly very good at imbuing sentience, even without any special effort.

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  • This answer gives a great overview of what sentient magical objects we know, and of how sentient JKR sees them as being. But that’s explicitly not what the question is asking for — it’s asking “whether there's any evidence in canon for magic itself being sentient, rather than just objects […] and if magic isn't sentient, then how can magical objects become sentient?” I don’t see anything in this that answers that.
    – PLL
    Aug 18, 2021 at 19:45
  • I added a bit on that. JK Rowling's quote is the core of it- enough magic, human attention, and time causes sentience. The answer is more of a description of scientifically how sentience arises- high magic density. We don't know whether magic has a high enough magic density to become sentient, just the results in the book.
    – Nepene Nep
    Aug 18, 2021 at 22:18
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Probably not, and you couldn't prove it anyway

Magic as a whole isn't sentient. To be sentient a thing has to have a concept of self, and must be able to experience good and bad outcomes (pain/pleasure for example). The amorphous thing "magic" gives no indications of either of these things. Instead it works like any other natural force, and can be manipulated/used in the same manner. You can potentially imbue sentience into an object via magic, but that's not the same thing. (and for all we know something like the Weasley's car isn't sentient at all, merely working on a very complex set of operating procedures similar to a computer-run opponent in a game that gives the illusion of sentience.)

What may be occurring in places like Hogwarts (or the car, if we grant it is sentient) is that the collected magical properties/interaction of spell remnants/whatever is GENERATING sentience. Something akin to, say, how humans become sentient. (Fun fact, arguments exist for humans becoming sentient from as early as 6 weeks into pregnancy to as late as 3 years old, depending on the exact definition one uses.) Nobody would say any given random human cell is sentient, not even a specific sperm/egg. But at some point between "here are an egg and sperm near each other" and "look at Lucy graduating college" Sentience occurs. So too with magic. Perhaps no one spell can cause it, but enough spells and enough energy and enough time can in certain instances bring about sentience.

I'd also point out that the entire concept of "sentience" and "consciousness" is VERY wooly. We can (mostly) agree here in the real world that people are sentient. But even that has its detractors. It gets exponentially more difficult to "prove" sentience" for things like Elephants, Dolphins, and other "higher" animals. The further you get away from bog-standard human the tougher it gets. So even IF magic as a whole showed indicators of being sentient it'd be nigh-on impossible to prove it.

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    I've met some college grads to whom granting "sentience" would be charitable, but that's a minor quibble.
    – FreeMan
    Aug 17, 2021 at 14:00
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    TBF, there's a whole argument based on the fact that nobody is sentient because it's all deterministic anyway, so the grads might not be able to help themselves! Aug 17, 2021 at 14:55
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    @DarioQuint Sentience is independent of determinism; that's just a trick of intuition.
    – wizzwizz4
    Aug 18, 2021 at 7:38
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Sentient? Technically yes, but that doesn't seem to be what you're asking.

Sentience and Sapience are technically different things. Sentience is the ability to feel or perceive, and by that definition a number of spells described in cannon require a certain emotion or state of mind like Patronus, Riddikulus, Killing curse, and others. In order to check that the conditions are met, the magic itself must be able to perceive it. Additionally many spells that have targets would likely require the magic to have at least some sort of perception of where to begin and end the spell.

However, based on your context, what you seem to be asking is whether Magic is Sapient, having intellect, knowledge, wisdom, or understanding. Perhaps an edit could clarify what specific property you are looking for.

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Magic itself don't have sentience. Magical objects become sentience with spells. The best example are brooms and flying cars. First brooms are really simple, one speed and only up and down, later models are more sophisticated, we also know that brooms feel emotions akin to a animal so is more difficult that saying or doing something to fly a broom. Ford Anglia take this to the extreme behaving like a wild animal.

Wizards can even make beings like dementors with magic, other example is poltergeist, they are created in place with a lot of a lot of adolescents but are not created naturally, you need a building and some young people.

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It depends on your definition of sentient. If your definition is like the one from Wikipedia:

Sentience is the capacity to be aware of feelings and sensations.

Then magic isn't sentient because it doesn't have feelings. But your definition is like the one from Oxford Dictionary:

able to perceive or feel things.

Then there's a chance that it is kind of sentient. There are spells, charms, hexes, and jinxes that are kind of sentient. For example, for the Patronus charm has to perceive your happy memory for it to work. You might argue that the wand is doing the work so let's talk about wands.

"I think so. Subtle laws govern wand ownership, but the conquered wand will usually bend to its new master."

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Chapter Twenty-Four: The Wandmaker

This makes it look like that wands can think for themselves, and even have feelings. Harry mentions this:

"You talk about wands like they've got feelings," said Harry, "like they can think for themselves".

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Chapter Twenty-Four: The Wandmaker

But it may be said that wands are just like computers and don't have feelings. So what I think is magic is kind of sentient .

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