You may have noticed the recurrence of several numbers in the Harry Potter series and wondered what it all meant. In fact, this is a popular topic of speculation on forums and in critical essays. In this new series, I’ll give you my take as I explore
occurrences of various numbers throughout the series and explain how I believe J.K. Rowling uses numbers as signposts and signals throughout her texts.
The study of number meanings and symbolism, and their influence on Life, is called “Numerology”. More specifically, Numerology is “the study of a cosmic code that uses numbers as symbols… Numerology is used for insight into both who we are and the world in which we live. Wherever there is a number, it is actually a symbol for a truth” (Drayer, 1). Rowling uses traditional number meanings – as well as creates some of her own – to embed certain meanings and truths in her texts. Understand what significance Rowling gives to certain numbers, and you will be able to enjoy a deeper appreciation for her stories.
Now let’s start with an easy one: One (Unity).
In most Numerology systems, the Number 1 is the symbol of the primordial One, encompassing the beginning and the ending. It is the essential Unity of all things. This concept was held by the ancient Chinese, the Neoplatonists, the writers of the Upanishads, students of the Cabala, Christians and many other groups throughout history (Schimmel, 42-45).
People for whom the Number One is significant are leaders, the “alpha dogs” of the pack. “Number 1’s keyword is ‘courage’… The number 1’s attributes are strong willpower, determination, originality, independence, leadership abilities, pioneering spirit, and unique individuality… Frequently, number 1’s do not set out to be leaders. They… are just courageous enough to try it” (Drayer, 34). On the other hand, “they would frequently not listen to others’ viewpoints or carried chips on their shoulders” (Drayer, 35).
Harry Potter, as “The Chosen One”, fits the above description precisely. He does not set out to head the forces opposed to Lord Voldemort, but his willpower, determination, independence and courage make him a natural leader. He also exhibits stubbornness and frequently refuses to listen to others. For instance, despite Professor McGonagall’s warnings to guard his temper with Dolores Umbridge, Harry won’t and pays the price. And Harry certainly carries a chip on his shoulder, especially when it comes to Professor Snape.
Yet despite his flaws, Harry succeeds in uniting those opposed to Voldemort. Along the way, whenever you encounter a Number One in Harry Potter, you should find Harry’s skills at leadership and unifying others being tested, as he learns how fill his role as the Chosen One.
Drayer, Ruth A. Numerology: The Power in Numbers. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers, 2003.
Schimmel, Annemarie. The Mystery of Numbers. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.