If you’ve frequented the Headmaster’s Office at Hogwarts, chances are you might have seen one of these. What are they? Well, simply put, a Pensieve is a magical object used to review stored memories. For all of you Muggleborns out there, think of it like a video camera that you can play back. Generally speaking, it is a stone or metal basin, often inlaid with precious stones, and adorned with many unique patterns. More often than not, it can be seen baring runes along its exterior. These are used alongside magical enchantments to enhance both the clarity and retention of contained memories. (It’s said that these runes are of Nordic descent, but one of our contacts who works alongside Ancient Runes in the Ministry has confirmed they are indeed modified Saxon runes).
Although I have not personally used one myself, from my many sources I can conclude that this powerful object will give the user a third person perspective of whichever memory is in use. It will place the user within the memory itself, almost as if they were there when the memory took place. However, it is impossible to interact or manipulate the actual memory whilst in use.
Many witches and wizards simply use this to retain many thoughts and memories flooding through their heads, as they simply can’t handle them all. However, in some minor instances, people use a Pensieve to record and analyze memories to recognize things the original owner may not have seen.
The wise and powerful wizard Albus Dumbledore once said:
“I use the Pensieve. One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure. It becomes easier to spot patterns and links, you understand, when they are in this form.”
Owing to the highly personal nature of these magical objects, they are incredibly open to abuse. For this reason, it is common practice for both Pensieves and memory collections to be buried alongside their owners. However, there may be instructions otherwise. For example, the Hogwarts Pensieve belongs to the school, not the Headmasters. It is passed down from Headmaster to Headmaster, and thus has earned quite a reputable library. There is a rather unfounded legend, however, that says that the founders discovered the Pensieve half-buried in the ground on the very spot where they decided to erect their school. There is no viable evidence supporting this theory. Yet, to say that it was found on the grounds and predates the school suggests another idea: that Hogwarts was built on some form of ancient Celtic magical ground. Perhaps some of the magic from this has been absorbed into the school?
An interesting note to bring up for all you Transfiguration nerds has to do with Gamp’s Laws of Elemental Transfiguration. If you recall, this is the natural law governing what can and cannot be created using magic. One of the primary exceptions to this was the concept of knowledge. This is defined as the act of physically knowing something. Therefore, a book does not constitute knowledge, merely a method used to acquire knowledge. You cannot conjure an entire ability and understanding of the Spanish language; however you can conjure a book that teaches Spanish. This is provided the book already exists. You still must sit down and learn the language.
This exact principle follows along with the use of the Pensieve. You will only remember and understand what you remember from a memory, not what the memory holder remembered and understood. In this analogy, if you’re looking at a memory of someone reading a Spanish book, you will not gain their ability to read Spanish. You will only remember what you could remember from that memory. This also works both ways. If you’re looking at a memory of someone reading a Spanish book but they don’t understand it, and you do understand Spanish, you will in fact be able to read it!
Pensieves are incredibly intricate and powerful objects. Tread carefully when in use, and please do not be irresponsible, as they deal with very personal details!