André SAUZEAU






    British novelist J.K. Rowling achieved worldwide success with her cycle of novels for children, that retraces the adventures of Harry Potter. The fascination of so many young readers definitely justifies interest in the contents of the work, which may be approached from different points of view. We will limit ourselves here to one: the structure of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which provides the essential setting of the action.  


    Hogwarts takes its pupils as boarders. They are distributed into four "houses" according to their personalities, which are evaluated by a magical Sorting Hat. This distribution is very important, as it is explained to newcomers:     


    "The Sorting is a very important ceremony because, while you are here, your house will be like your family within Hogwarts. You will have classes with the rest of your house, sleep in your house dormitory and spend free time in your house common room.  The four houses are called Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin.

    Each house has its own noble history, and each has produced outstanding witches and wizards." (HP1: 126) 


    We shall not try to examine here the meaning that this differentiation may hold for young readers; nor its literary role; nor its meaning in relation to the social and moral ideas underlying J. K Rowling’s work. We shall focus on what seems to us to be an astonishing fact:  the structure of Hogwarts closely follows the conceptions of prehistoric Indo-European ideology, as studied by the “New Comparative Mythology” founded by French scholar Georges Dumézil.


    First of all, it may be noted that the system of the Hogwarts "houses" is not based on any of the criteria which could be expected according to the realities or the conceptions of contemporary "advanced” Western societies.


    It is not a projection of the structure of education as it is organized in these societies, in close relation to the socio-professional structure. The "houses" apparently have the same program of studies, and they do not prepare for differenciated socio-professional roles (the organization, from that point of view, of the parallel humanity of the wizards is not described in a systematic way).  


    On the other hand, J.K. Rowling carefully avoids giving the houses a connotation of class, ethnic group or race. There are in Slytherin  "bad rich people", who look down on the poor with utmost contempt, but this is part of the negative connotations that are associated with this house and it is not said that Slytherin recruits mainly in the moneyed classes; furthermore, when the name or the physical appearance of a pupil indicates that he/she is of non-European origin, this is simply stated and not dwelled upon.  


    What then is the basis of the differentiation between the four houses? It rests exclusively on the features of the pupils’ personalities, features that are disclosed magically by the "Sorting Hat" on their arrival at the School.  


    How, then, are the patterns of the young pupils’ "qualities" distributed into four categories corresponding to the four houses? The rule which is applied is not the singular product of the author's inventive imagination; it harks back to an ancient structure, that goes back to prehistoric Indo-European origins.  


    It is well-known that most peoples of Europe and part of those of Asia—between Anatolia and the Gulf of Bengal—speak languages that belong to the same, "Indo-European" group. These languages are so closely related to one another that most scholars accept the hypothesis that they derive from a common origin, a prehistoric Indo-European language, spoken several millennia ago (with dialectal differences probably) by a population, the localization of which is debated (although a consensus seems to settle, with some good reasons, for a homeland between the Black and Caspian Seas).


    If these "Proto-Indo-Europeans" had a common language, they also most probably had common institutions, a common mythology and ideology (in the sense of a “set of directing ideas”), even with strong variations, and one can, if not restore this in detail, at least recover the main lines by a comparative study of the historic Indo-European speaking societies. The first attempts to do so were mostly failures, and it was only from Georges Dumézil’s research onwards that this "immaterial archaeology" gave convincing results, being organized today into an authentic scientific field (even though some critics still see in it hazardous speculations drawn from mere coincidences).  


    The “New Comparative Mythology” built by Georges Dumézil from 1938 to his death includes a major thesis (even though it should not be reduced to this), the tripartite ideology of the Indo-Europeans. Indo-European communities saw the world as organized round three functions:   

    • the first function (F1, if we use the convenient symbols proposed by Allen): function of sovereignty, imposition of norms, spiritual and magic power, knowledge and wisdom.   

    • the second function (F2):  function of strength and fight.   

    • the third function (F3): work, abundance, pacific prosperity and mass.    


    "This system of thought in three terms—as Joël H. Grisward writes (foreword of Mythe et Épopée, 1995)—[...] enabled the Indo-Europeans and their heirs, Indians, Iranians, Scythians, Greeks, Romans, Celts, Germans..., to put into order the whole of the universe; not only does this trifunctional ideology organize the inhabitants of the sky and underlies rituals and priesthoods, it also frames almost the whole of the phenomena, of the productions, of the human speeches".  


    The formula is excessive and the trifunctional interpretation of the Indo- European ideology has its limits. This induced Alwyn and Brindley Rees to introduce in 1961 the notion of a fourth function in their “Celtic Heritage” (CH: 112-113; 122-139); an idea taken and developed by Nick Allen in numerous publications (notably from FF to VCF). 

    This fourth function would include—in the words of Allen (FF: 28-29)—what is "other, beyond or outside"; what is “psychological remoteness, social disqualification (as of strangers and slaves), enmity to the gods (as of demons), forces alien to order, harmony and continuity (such as chaos, strife and death)”, but also what "is beyond understanding, the uncanny, mysterious, otherworldly and paradoxical". In our study about the Riders of the Apocalypse (Sauzeau APOC), we have shown how this model enables us to interpret a famous text in Scripture.   We think furthermore (Sauzeau QF), that the Indo-European ideology included in F4 everything that did not belong to any of the three F1 - F2 - F3 functions as they are narrowly defined; therefore not only the "strange" F4 identified by the Rees brothers, but everything that is neutral or ambiguous in relation to the order based on the three functions.  


    The fourth function stands apart from the three others; but it can correspond either to a more or less marked marginality, or to a radical opposition. We will give just two examples.    

    First, the one of Ireland: the Other World that threatens to invade this world belongs to F4 of course, especially at the time of the night of Samain (Halloween); but among the provinces of Ireland, there is one, the Munster, that represents, inside the kingdom, the fourth function; a suspicious province, associated with black magic, demons (as well as music, a means of communication with the Other World, and with the forebears), but nonetheless a constituent province of Ireland (Rees: CH, Chapter 5).   

    In the ancient Scandinavian mythology, the god Loki is successively "internal" and "external" F4; first a marginal divinity, useful to the gods with his inventive, artful mind, and at the same time unreliable; then a ferocious enemy of the gods, who plots the murder of the good god Balder and, at the end of times, in the Ragnarök, will lead the attack of the giants, the monsters and the infernal beings against Asgardh, the Enclosure of the Gods.  


    Qualities, like all things, are distributed according to the functions. Knowledge and wisdom correspond to the first function: they characterize the Connaught, for instance, an F1 province in the mytho-geography of ancient Ireland (Rees CH: 123) ; in the Mahâbhârata Yudhisthira, the son of the god of first function Dharma, "is characterized by the highest degree of virtue and intelligence" (Dumézil ME1: 60).  

    The qualities of courage and pride evidently correspond to the second function, the warrior function; they characterize Ulster, an F2 province of Ireland (Rees CH: 123), and in the Mahâbhârata Arjuna, son of the warrior god Indra.  

    The qualities of docility and obligingness correspond to the third function—evidently because they are the qualities that superior groups expect from the mass of the producers—but also the quality of beauty, and there the logic of the model works: the F3 function, the function of abundance and pleasure, is the one of love, to which beauty is bound. The twins Nakula and Sahadeva, representing F3 in the Mahâbhârata, are the best illustration of these concepts (Dumézil ME1: 65).  


    What are then the typical qualities corresponding to the fourth function? Those that are intrinsically enemies of order, spitefulness and perversity; but also all those that are ambiguous, which may serve the common interest on occasion but may turn against it: ambition, self-help (easily associated with absence of scruples), a taste for intrigue and cunning. The Scandinavian Loki, the (much nicer) Greek Prometheus, the Duryodhana of the Mahâbhârata with his followers Duhsâsana and Sakuni, are F4 characters who display several of these features.   


    The king in Indo-European ideology synthesizes the three functions (Dumézil RFM, Dumézil ME2: 358, Sergent IE: 274-276). In the light of the quadrifunctional theory, one sees that the king synthesizes the four functions. 

    Thus, the High King of Ireland has his capital, Tara, in the small central province which is formed of portions of the four big provinces, each of which is bound to a function; at the time of the "Feast of Tara", at Halloween, the High King sat surrounded with the four provincial kings. In ancient India, a text expresses an analogous concept (Rees CH: 131-132) about the plan of the royal fortress. In the centre is the king's place; in the north, the priests; in the east, the nobles- warriors; in the south, the common people; in the west, the fourth class, the shudras, who are serfs and excluded from religious sacrifices, and evidently represent the fourth function. 

      The trifunctional model was remarkably fecund, but the quadrifunctional model which includes it makes it possible, at the cost of a slightly superior complexity, to solve a lot of difficulties which were without solution, and recognized as such by Georges Dumézil, or which required a particular, local explanation etc.; this model therefore offers an authentic progress for the understanding of the ideologies of ancient Indo-European societies (Sauzeau QF).   


    What was less to be expected was to find that the model of the four Indo-European functions plays an important role in the adventures of Harry Potter. The four houses of Hogwarts constitute a quadrifunctional set, as demonstrated by the principle of the distribution of the pupils expounded by the Sorting Hat himself (HP: 129-130):  


    "So try me on and I will tell you

    Where you ought to be.

    You might belong in Gryffindor,

    Where dwell the brave at heart,

    Their daring, nerve and chivalry

    Set Gryffindors aparts;

    You might belong in Hufflepuff,

    Where they are just and loyal,

    Those patient Hufflepuff are true

    And unafraid of toil;

    Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,

    If you’ve a ready mind,

    Where those of wit and learning,

    Will always find their kind;

    Or perhaps in Slytherin

    You’ll make your real friends,

    Those cunning folk use any means

    To achieve their ends."


    In the fourth volume, another version of the Sorting Hat song tells us (HP4: 156-157) that this distribution corresponds to the personalities of the four founders of Hogwarts: 


    “By Gryffindor, the bravest were

    Prized far beyond the rest;

    For Ravenclaw, the cleverest

    Would always be the best.

    For Hufflepuff, hard workers were

    Most worthy of admission; 

    And power-hungry Slytherin 

    Loved those of great ambition.”


    The conformity of the distribution to the quadrifunctional Indo-European model is striking. Gryffindor, brave, daring, chivalrous, corresponds to the F2 function. Wit and knowledge belong to Ravenclaw: they are typical features of the first function (F1). 

    In Hufflepuff one is just, loyal, hard working, patient: qualities of the third function (F3). Those of Slytherin are given the ambiguous qualities of ambition and cunning, as such outside the order, therefore F4, with a negative connotation provided by their absence of scruples. The unpleasant schoolchildren of the narrative belong to Slytherin, and one of them, Marcus Flint, looks “as he had to have some troll blood in him" (HP1: 201). The most unpleasant teacher, Snape, is the chief of this house. Yet Slytherin, in spite of all its ambiguous or negative connotations, belongs to Hogwarts; it is an internal F4. The solidarity of the houses is marked in the blazon of the School, which is formed of four parts, each of which corresponds to one of the four houses.   

    The affinities of the internal F4 and the external F4 are also apparent, as may be expected: one learns that Voldemort, the Black Magician, the corrupt wizard that has become the arch-enemy of order (of the wizard order, because in this fantasy, the parallel society of the wizards is an order), belonged to Slytherin, as do a lot of those whom, not long ago, he dragged into a venture of conquest and crime (HP1: 118, HP4: 158).   


    As for the protagonist of the cycle, Harry Potter, the Sorting Hat assigns him to Gryffindor (F2), which is logical for a hero who is expected to fight (to fight the Evil of the corrupt wizards); but the Sorting Hat decides only after a long hesitation ("Difficult. Very difficult"), because Harry Potter would be suitable for all four houses—even Slytherin... (HP1: 133). Clearly, Harry Potter is a royal hero, representing a synthesis of the four functions.  


    The plot of the cycle opposes Harry Potter, with his friends, to Voldemort; this group, as a fighting group, is F2, therefore Gryffindor; but this group represents the F1+2+3 orders, and that results into a functional distribution within the group itself. This fractal effect is also found in the Mahâbhârata, where the brothers Pândavas, all kshatriyas (warriors), therefore F2, are at the same time distributed into the F1, F2 and F3 functions (as can be seen in Dumézil, ME1, chapter 2). In addition to Harry Potter, a synthetic royal hero, the protagonist group includes Hermione Granger, scholarly, serious and wise, who, given her personality, should have been assigned to Ravenclaw; on the other hand Ron Weasley is a typical F2; the young Neville Longbottom, who sometimes joins to the three friends, is a helpful, docile character, full of admiration for the heroes’ exploits, but shy and apprehensive—and catastrophically clumsy, which is one of the possible ways to mark how difficult it is for an F3 character to carry a heroic role.  

      The author who conceived Harry Potter (a brilliant synthesis of child fiction, epic and humorous fantasy) is learned in legendary and mythical matter, which she feeds into her narratives. But the use of the quadrifunctional model goes well beyond the narrative use of mythical elements, since the author bases on it the world that is the essential setting of her stories: the college of Hogwarts, the School of the Wizards.   




    [1] The heraldic symbols of the four houses as quarters of the Hogwarts blazon

    can easily be interpreted according to the quadrifunctional model; likewise for the

    favourite locations of the four founders (HP4: 156-157). “Bold Gryffindor”,

    whose symbol is a lion, likes the “wild moor”, which is the land of adventure;

    Ravenclaw, whose symbol is a bird in azure, an F1 association (see the eagle of Zeus and the raven of Odhinn), prefers a “glen” in a mountain and is associated with height; Hufflepuff lived in a “valley broad”, in a tilled landscape, we can guess, and the heraldic animal of the house is the badger, a symbol of hard work; and “shrewd Slytherin”, whose heraldic symbol is a snake, came from the “fen”, a marginal, treacherous territory.


    [2] In the Indo-European ideology, the first function (F1) included not only knowledge, but also order, and specifically ethical order. This point can be found in the Harry Potter stories too. The epithets of the founders are significant here (HP4: 156-157): “bold Gryffindor”, “sweet Hufflepuff”, “shrewd Slytherin” and “fair Ravenclaw”—for the F1 founder, the epithet does not correspond to the usual definition of the house, but to the idea of ethical standards. Likewise, in the group of Harry’s friends, which has its own, inner functional structure, the F1 element, Hermione Granger, is noticeable for her learning, as well as for her discipline and the strength of her ethical concerns—when she breaks the School rules, it is for the sake of higher, ethical rules.


    [3] Some hint of mediocrity is often linked to the F3 function in ancient Indo-

    European ideology, whereas F1 and F2 have easily heroic overtones. We find

    similar connotations in Harry Potter: we are told that the Hufflepuff rarely cover

    themselves in glory, and Cedric Diggory is pointed out as an exception (HP4:



    [4] Beauty, at least physical beauty with erotic overtones, is mainly F3 according to the Indo-European functional system (because its contemplation is part of the pleasures of a peaceful existence, and because it is linked to sexual love, therefore to fecundity). It can also be linked to other functions, especially to the first one, through the ideas of refinement and perfection. In the Harry Potter novels it is not systematically assigned to the Hufflepuff house: for instance, Cho Chang, whose beauty strikes Harry Potter (HP3: 281), belongs to Ravenclaw.  Nevertheless, when a masculine hero is pointed out as particularly handsome (and attractive for the opposite sex), it is Cedric Diggory (HP3: 183; HP4: 260) who belongs to Hufflepuff, and who is the champion of Hogwarts in volume 4 (with Harry Potter). It is paradoxical that a "heroic" champion comes from the F3 house; Cedric Diggory’s striking beauty makes it possible to minimize this discordance, insofar as beauty is the "most heroic" of the F3 qualities.    


    [5] Prosperity, one of the most important elements of the third function according to the Indo-European functional model, hardly has its place in the Harry Potter novels. Yet it seems discreetly present if one considers the ghosts associated with the four houses. Though the ghost of Slytherin is essentially characterized as horrible, the ghost resident of Gryffindor is Nearly Headless Nick (HP1: 136), his real name being Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington, who died four hundred years ago—which means that he was a member of  this warrior nobility, which represented F2 in the ideological system of the medieval West. The ghost of Hufflepuff is a “fat little" and “cheerful" monk (HP1: 127- 128; HP2: 145), a symbol of prosperity in a folklore that is exploited today by some advertisements.  


    [6] Plants belong to the third Indo-European function. The connection may be seen in the Harry Potter world. The head of the Hufflepuff house, the F3 house, is the teacher of Herbology, Pomona Sprout, with significant name and surname. Neville Longbottom, who, among Harry Potter’s friends, stands for the third function character, is especially interested in plants. 


    [7] The functional meaning of colours in the Harry Potter novels corresponds only partially to the one in the Indo-European ideology. This, however, is not surprising, because the conceptual system of colours in modern Europe is very different from the one that can be reconstituted for the common Indo-European era.


    [8] The equality of the houses of Hogwarts, which the official speech of the school of wizards insists upon, is certainly in opposition with the inequality of the functions in the Indo-European ideology, which sets F1 and F2 above F3 and F4. But, actually, if we consider how the heroes of the novels feel, we find the pre-eminence of F1 and F2 (HP1: 117-118): Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, before the Sorting, wish to enter Gryffindor or Ravenclaw.     






    (HP1) Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone, quoted along 2000, Bloomsbury.

    (HP2) Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, quoted along 2000, Bloomsbury. 

    (HP3) Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, quoted along 1999, Bloomsbury. 

    (HP4) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, quoted along 2001, Bloomsbury. 




    ALLEN,  Nick  J. FF « The ideology of the Indo-Europeans : Dumézil’s theory and the Idea of a fourth function. » 1987    Int. J. Moral & Social Studies 2 : 23-39.

    VCF « Varnas, colours and functions » 1998   Z. für Religionswissenschaft 6 : 163-177.


    DUMEZIL, Georges

    ME1  Mythe et Epopée I    1986 (1st ed. 1968),

    ME2  Mythe et Epopée II    1986 (1st ed. 1971),

    ME3  Mythe et Epopée III 1981 (1st ed. 1973).

    ME (Réédition d’ensemble)  Mythe et Epopée 1995, foreword by Joël H. Grisward. 

    RFM  “Le rex et les flamines maiores”, in La Regalita Sacra Leyden: E.J. Brill , 1959 ; pp 407-417.


    PUHVEL, Jaan

    CM 1988    Comparative Mythology, Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press (first publ. 1987).


    REES, Alwyn & Brinley

    CH 1961    Celtic heritage, London: Thames and Hudson (quoted from the 1994 ed.).


    SAUZEAU, Pierre et André

    APOC 1995  “Les chevaux colorés de l’Apocalypse”,  Revue de l’Histoire des Religions,  212: 259-298 et 379-3.

    QFE 2000   “La quatrième fonction – Etude d’idéologie indo-européenne”, privately distributed memo.

    QF 2004   “La quatrième fonction”, Europe, août-septembre 2004 (title of issue: Mythe et mythologie dans l’Antiquité gréco-romaine).


    SERGENT, Bernard 

    IE 1995 Les Indo-Européens. Histoire, langues, mythes, Paris: Payot-Rivages.                                                        




    December 2004 - English version revised December 2010.


    André SAUZEAU

    49  Avenue About, 59240 DUNKERQUE  (FRANCE)



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