[This is the fifth essay in a series on numerology in the Harry Potter books. The previous essay -- "Harry Potter Numerology: Four (Instability)" -- was published on September 16, 2012.]
Having looked at unity and opposition (One and Two), stability and instability (Three and Four), we are skipping a few numbers in order to focus on those that appear to be most significant to J.K. Rowling. The next of these is Seven.
The Number Seven was sacred to many ancient cultures, including the Babylonians, Egyptians, Hebrews, Maya, Chinese, Japanese, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and medieval Europeans. The sevenfold path of the soul’s journey to blessedness is an almost universal idea across world religions, including Mithraism, Sufism, Siberian shamanic cults and many more (Schimmel, 145). Ancients and medievals observed the proliferation of important sevens in the heavens: seven visible planets (the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn); the moon changed phases every seven days (thus the seven-day week); the seven stars of the Big Dipper were used to find north; the seven stars of the Pleiades signaled seasonal changes (Colbert, 269-270). Plato saw the Divine in the movements of the seven planets, seven orbits and seven stars, while Pythagoras thought that seven notes made up the divine harmony (the major scale in Western music is made of seven notes). St. Augustine considered the number seven to be a sign of perfection (Colbert, 271-74).
The Number Seven is key in the wizarding world, too. Famed arithmancer Bridget Wenlock was “the first to establish the magical properties of the number seven” (Colbert, 269). “Septima” — as in Hogwarts’ Arithmancy Professor “Septima Vector” — is Latin for “seven”. And Tom Riddle called seven “the most powerfully magical number” (HBP, XXIII: 498).
“Hogwarts Professor” John Granger calls Seven “the number of transcendence or divinization” because the alchemical process is completed in seven stages, combining the seven planetary elements (78-80). Alchemical “distillations, for instance, usually had to be performed 7 times” (Schimmel, 152), and incantations had to be repeated “seven times, or in groups of seven, or on the seventh day of the seventh month, and so on” (Colbert, 275). The Half-Blood Prince’s Potions book instructed Harry to “add a clockwise stir after every seventh counterclockwise stir” (HBP, IX: 190).
What all these various sevens have in common is the idea of completion. In Genesis, the world was completed in seven days. The moon completes a phase-change every seven days. Shakespeare summed up a man’s life in seven ages (As You Like It, II: vii, 381-82). The spiritual seeker completes her journey on a seven-fold path, and the alchemist’s work is completed in seven repetitions.
A Hogwarts education is completed in seven years. Harry’s story was completed in seven volumes, and his Quidditch team was complete with seven members. Voldemort’s little soul-splitting project was only complete when he’d made seven horcruxes. The Number Seven in Harry Potter, then, represents the completion of an undertaking, the arrival at a destination long sought.
Colbert, David. “How Did Seven Become the Most Magical Number?” Magical Worlds of Harry Potter: A Treasury of Myths, Legends and Fascinating Facts. Rev. ed. New York: Penguin, 2008. 269-275.
Granger, John. Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader. Wayne, PA: Zossima Press, 2007.
Schimmel, Annemarie. The Mystery of Numbers. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Shakespeare, William. As You Like It. The Riverside Shakespeare. [1st ed.] Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1974. 369-402.