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"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."
Albus Dumbledore explaining his Pensieve to Harry Potter[src]

A Pensieve was a very rare and powerful magical item. They were a magical device used to store and review memories.[2][1] Pensieves were rare because only the most advanced wizards ever use them, and because the majority of wizardkind is afraid of doing so.

When in use, a silvery light shines from its contents. This light was bright, whitish silver, cloud-like, and moving ceaselessly. Harry Potter thought the content in the basin looked like “light made liquid — or like wind made solid”.[1]


"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."
— Dumbledore explaining the purpose of a Pensieve to Harry Potter[src]

A Pensieve

It had the appearance of a shallow stone or metal basin, into which runes and strange symbols were carved and precious stones were fitted. It was filled with a silvery substance that appears to be a cloudy liquid/gas;[2] the collected memories of people who had siphoned their recollections into it.[2][1]

The Pensieve was enchanted to recreate memories so that they become re-liveable, taking every detail stored in the subconscious and recreating it faithfully. Once memories were siphoned into the Pensieve, a witch or wizard could enter them by dipping your head in the water and view the memory from a third-person point of view, almost as if travelling into the past. However, since it's just a memory and not actual time travel, the user of the Pensieve was non-participant, meaning that their presence had no effect on anything that happened in the memory. Even more difficult than the recreation of memories was the use of a Pensieve to examine and sort thoughts and ideas, and very few wizards have the ability to do so.

Dumbledore Memory

Albus Dumbledore, extracting a memory out of his head, ready to put in his Pensieve

The Pensieve was also perceived as dangerous, due to its power over memory or thought, owing to the highly personal nature of extracted memories, and the potential for abuse, as one could not only revisit their own memories, but the memories of another person. Inevitably, those with things to hide, those ashamed of their pasts, those eager to keep hold of their secrets, or protective of their privacy, would be wary of an object like the Pensieve.[2]

Pensieves were intensely personal, since memories often held recollections of things one would wish to hide or forget. Unless the witch or wizard in question requested otherwise, their Pensieve and all the memories it contained was typically buried with them when they die, same as their wand. However, the Hogwarts Pensieve did not belong to a particular person, but to the school.[2][1]


A Pensieve was discovered half buried in the dirt by the four founders of Hogwarts in the location where the school would be built. The discovery of this Pensieve was actually one of the reasons why they chose to build the school there. It had since been kept in the Headmaster's office, where it was used by the various Headmasters and Headmistresses of the school over the years.[1]

Behind the scenes[]

  • In the books, the Pensieve is said to be able to sit on a table, however, in the fourth film, the Hogwarts Pensieve is much larger and is kept in a separate cabinet. This is contradicted by the sixth film, where it can sit on the table and looks as if it is made out of metal instead of stone. This contradiction is resolved in the eighth film, when Harry goes to the headmaster's office and removes the metal dish from the stone basin before watching Severus Snape's memories.
    • In the film, the Pensieve while in its cabinet bears a strong resemblance to a baptismal font, specifically an aspersion or affusion font, primarily used for the baptism of infants.
  • In the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, when Harry used the pensieve, he was sitting in the court itself and watching the hearing as if he was part of it, while in the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry is merely watching the memory but is not seen anywhere in it.
  • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (video game) after the end credits in commemoration of the conclusion of the saga, Harry once again enters the Pensieve and sees flashbacks from all of the other video games with a message saying "Thanks for playing".
  • In the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Severus Snape's memories take the form of tears. As such, Snape specifically instructs Harry to put them in the Pensieve, something he does not do in the book, since Harry is familiar with the wispy form of thoughts.


  • Afrikaans: Peinssif
  • Albanian: Mendimore
  • Bulgarian: мислоем (misloem) ("thought vessel", neologism from мисъл "thought" by analogy with водоем, "body of water")
  • Catalan: Pensiu
  • Chinese (Simplified): 冥想盆 (lit. "meditating basin")
  • Chinese (Traditional): 儲思盆
  • Croatian: Sito sjećanja ("seave of memory/memories")
  • Czech: Myslánka (mysl "mind", slánka "salt cellar")
  • Danish: Mindekar (minde "memory", kar "vascular")
  • Dutch: Hersenpan (lit. "cranium", but literal "brain pan")
  • Estonian: mõttesõel (mõte "thought", sõel "sieve")
  • Faroese: Tankasíla (tanki "thought", síla "sieve")
  • Finnish: ajatuseula (ajatus "thought", seula "sieve")
  • French: Pensine (penser "to think", bassine "bowl of liquid, basin")
  • German: Denkarium ("Thinkarium", most likely after terrarium)
  • Greek, Modern: Κιβωτός των Στοχασμών ("The Ark of thoughts")
  • Hebrew: הגיג) הגיגית "thought", גיגית "tub")
  • Hindi: स्मृति पात्र (smr̥ti pātra) ("vessel of memory")
  • Hungarian: merengő (a similar word-play: merengő "musing one", er(ít) "to draw from (something)", and reng "to rock/quake/vibrate")
  • Icelandic: þankalaug
  • Italian: Pensatoio (pensare "to think")
  • Japanese: ペンシーブ(phonetic representation of the English "pensieve"), later, 憂いの篩 (urei no furui) (lit. "a sieve for worries") (Appears in the phonetic representation, uncomprehensible, until Harry asks about it in the narrative and its function is revealed)
  • Norwegian: tanketank (pun on tanke "thought", and tank "tank")
  • Polish: myślodsiewnia (myśl "thought" and odsiewać "to weed out")
  • Portuguese: Pensatório ("Place to Think/Repository of thought")
  • Portuguese (Brazil): Penseira (pensar "to think", peneira "sieve")
  • Romanian: Pensiv
  • Russian: Омут Памяти (Omut Pamyati, "memory pool"), Дубльдум (Dubl'dum, "double thought")
  • Serbian: Сито-за-мисли (Sito-za-misli) ("sieve-for-thoughts")
  • Slovak: mysľomisa (lit. "mindbowl")
  • Slovenian: Mislito
  • Spanish: Pensadero
  • Swedish: Minnessåll (minne "memory", såll "sieve")
  • Turkish: Düşünseli (düşün "think", seli "flood")
  • Ukrainian: Сито спогадів (Syto spogadiv) ("Sieve of memories")
  • Vietnamese: (Chậu) tưởng ký ("Remembrance log (basin)")


Pensieve is portmanteau, combining the words ‘pensive’ and ‘sieve.’ The latter is an object in which something may be sorted, drained or separated, and ‘Pensive’ is derived from French, and originally from the Latin ‘pensare,’ meaning ‘to ponder,’ and in common English usage means ‘thoughtful’ or ‘reflective;’ thus a ‘pensieve’ allows for the sorting of thoughts, or memories. Pensive can also refer to a tense mood someone seems to be in, and indeed many of the memories Harry views in it are of tense or awkward moments.


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Notes and references[]