Portal to Number and Color Symbolism
Like with animals and trees, there is symbolism in the numbers and colors used in the Harry Potter books.
Harry Potter Numbers and their Meanings
Did you know that numbers have had symbolic value for thousands of years? The ancient Egyptians and Greeks believed numbers were one of the foundations of nature that determined how the world works. They did not think numbers were “magical” but thought they were one of the ways in which to solve the mysteries of the world. Physicists today believe in the perfectness of numbers. In the Harry Potter books we often hear that numbers are magical, and, in fact, we are told that “7” is the most magical number. That is why Voldemort divides his soul into the seven Horcruxes. The number seven turns up quite frequently, as do three and twelve. In fact, if you pay close attention while reading the Harry Potter books you’ll see these magical numbers popping up everywhere. Three, seven, and twelve appear in the books more than any other numbers.
Try it Out! I will point out some of the significant number references in the books, but there are many more. See how many you can find!
One represents the beginning, the creator, the “Prime Mover.”
Two represents duality. The dual nature of two can either be in balance or conflict.
In Harry Potter we see this duality with:
- Harry and Voldemort. Harry is the good to Voldemort’s evil. As the prophecy said, neither can live while the other survives. They are connected through Harry’s scar and their wands.
- He is evil and good at the same time.
We also see it anytime there is a flip side to any situation.
- The Weasley’s and the Burrow are the opposite of the Dursley’s and their house on Privet Drive.
- The trio of Harry, Ron, and Hermione have an opposite with Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle.
We see the balanced nature of two in symbols like the Chinese yin-yang, or in pairs such as good/bad, male/female, sun/moon, and any other dualistic coupling.
Three represents growth and moving forward. With three there is a beginning, middle, and end; birth, life, death; past, present, and future.
In Harry Potter:
- Harry was in the hospital wing for three days after his fight with Quirrell over the stone.
- After Dobby uses magic, Harry gets locked up by the Dursley’s for three days before Ron and the twins rescue him.
- The old magic Voldemort uses in the potion to bring himself back takes three ingredients.
- Harry ends up in the hospital wing three times because of a Quidditch match.
- He turns the Resurrection Stone over three times.
- Hagrid knocks three times on the Hogwarts front door when he delivers the first year students to the castle.
- It takes three passes in front of the door to get into the Room of Requirement.
Three is the Christian trinity, the points of the triangle, trident, fleur-de-lis (the French flower symbol), and triqueta. It is the sun in the morning, at midday, and setting. In Greek and Norse mythology there are three Fates, three Norns, three Furies, three Grey Women, and three Graces. In Celtic mythology the cycle of a woman’s life contains three parts: maiden, mother, crone.
Try it Out! There are so many symbolic occurrences of the number three that it would be impossible for me to list them all. See if you can find more.
Four represents totality and completeness. It is static and solid. It is symbolic of the earth.
In Harry Potter
- There are four Hogwarts houses.
- Voldemort wants the four trophies of the house founders.
- The Dursley’s live at number 4 Privet Drive.
There are four points on a compass, four seasons, four directions, four elements (in Western culture), four sides to a square, four arms of a cross. Four is a strong, solid, foundational number.
Five represents the human being. When a human stretches his/her arms and legs it forms a five sided figure with its two arms, two legs, and a head. Like three, five is a circular number and it represents being whole. The pentagram is five sided and when pointed up it symbolizes spirituality, but when pointed down it symbolizes black magic.
Six represents balance and harmony. It also represents luck.
Seven represents totality, perfection, and security.
In Harry Potter
- Slytherin has won the Quidditch cup the last seven years when Harry arrives at the school.
- There are seven secret passages into Hogsmeade from Hogwarts.
- Seven “Harry Potters” escape at the beginning of The Deathly Hallows.
- Seven Horcruxes.
- Seven Weasley children.
- It is interesting that Hogwarts castle has 142 staircases, a number which when the digits are added up equals…seven.
- The age at which magic will reveal itself if a person is magical is seven.
- Dumbledore’s office is on the 7th floor of the castle.
There are seven days of the week, seven metals important to alchemy, seven deadly sins, seven pillars of wisdom, seven sacraments, and in the Bible God rested on the seventh day.
During the middle ages there were seven liberal arts taught at the university. A Jewish Menorah has seven branches. There are seven stars in the Pleides (a cluster of stars) and seven colors of the rainbow.
Try it Out! Like three, seven is mentioned so many times in the books it would be impossible to list them all. See if you can find more examples of the number seven.
Eight represents infinity. This is often because the number eight turned sideways looks like the symbol for infinity.
Nine represents wholeness and completeness. It is 3×3 or 3+3+3 so it represents the “triple triad.”
In Norse mythology, there are nine “worlds” where gods, elves, dwarfs, and humans lived. Odin hung on the World Tree for nine days.
Ten represents completeness and finality and a return to beginnings.
Odysseus wandered for nine years, but returned home on the tenth. There are ten commandments.
Eleven represents balance, since it contains a one and one which makes two, and two is a number of balance. In numerology it is considered a “power number” since it is a two digit number that repeats itself. Because it follows ten, which is a number of completion, eleven is a number of starting over and going forward.
In Harry Potter Harry is eleven when he goes to Hogwarts and starts his journey.
Twelve represents completion.
In Harry Potter
- Hogwarts has twelve Christmas trees.
- Nagini is twelve feet long.
- Dumbledore found twelve magical uses for dragon’s blood.
- Dumbledore puts out twelve streetlights on Privet Drive with his deluminator.
Our day is broken into two twelve hour cycles. Our year is broken into twelve months. There are twelve signs of the zodiac, twelve apostles, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve days of Christmas, twelve labors of Hercules, and the Chinese zodiac is broken into twelve year cycles. There are twelve Olympian Greek gods and goddesses.
The Symbolism of the Eye and Color
There is an old saying, “the eye is the window to the soul,” and in most cultures people believe that to be true. What is so special about eyes? It is through our eyes that we connect with people. We look people in the eye when talking to them; when people are in love they stare into each others’ eyes; when we listen to people intently we look at them; when we smile our eyes smile, and when we lie it is our eyes that give us away. You can tell if someone is faking a smile by looking at their eyes—their eyes will not smile but look odd and not quite right. A true smile travels all the way to the eyes, and they shine and sparkle.
Eyes are linked to spirituality as well. Images of eyes are linked to different gods in mythology, and people who are considered spiritual are often said to be able to “see.”
Eyes are an important symbol in the Harry Potter books. Not only is Harry often identified with his mother because he has her eyes, but the eyes of Voldemort are mentioned frequently, and eye contact is important in magic.
In Harry Potter the kids learn early on that eyes and eye contact are important in magic.
- In The Sorcerer’s Stone when Hermione and Ron think Snape is trying to kill Harry at the Quidditch match, they notice that Snape keeps eye contact with Harry while muttering the spell. Hermione understands that breaking the eye contact will break the spell. She starts her little blue flame under Snape, and the distraction breaks the eye contact. Of course Hermione does not know about Quirrell, but her flame breaks his eye contact as well, and so breaks the spell.
- In The Order of the Phoenix Harry is required to learn occlumency. Occlumency is the magic of keeping your mind closed from someone trying to break into it using legilimancy. In order to do legilimancy, the wizard or witch must make eye contact with the subject. Harry also finds out that Snape is an accomplished occlumens and legilimens, which reinforces Harry’s belief that Snape can read his mind. Harry started having the feeling that Snape could read his mind early in their relationship; Harry “sometimes had the horrible feeling that Snape could read minds” (SS, 221). Little did Harry know in those early days that Snape really could read his thoughts! Luckily for Harry, Snape had few opportunities to look Harry in the eye.
Harry also has the feeling early on that Dumbledore can read his mind, “Dumbledore was giving Harry a searching look. His twinkling light-blue gaze made Harry feel as if he were being X-rayed” (COS, 144). Dumbledore may have been using legilimancy, since he had just found Harry, Ron, and Hermione standing before the writing on the wall about the Heir of Slytherin.
After Harry dreams about Arthur Weasley getting attacked by Nagini in The Order of the Phoenix, he makes eye contact with Dumbledore for the first time in months and, “at once, Harry’s scar burned white-hot…and unbidden, unwanted, but terrifyingly strong, there rose within Harry a hatred so powerful he felt, for that instant, that he would like nothing better than to strike—to bite—to sink his fangs into the man before him” (OOTP, 474-5). The eye contact is so powerful that Harry has the desire to kill Dumbledore. Dumbledore knew this would happen and had kept his distance from Harry, lest they have to look at each other. Harry finally wonders if the reason Dumbledore won’t make eye contact is because he is afraid that he’ll see Voldemort, that Harry’s “vivid green [eyes] might turn suddenly to scarlet…” (OOTP, 492).
- In The Deathly Hallows the symbol of the Deathly Hallows looks similar to the Egyptian “eye of Horus”. It is also in this book that Harry sees the blue eye looking at him in the piece of broken mirror that Sirius had given him. When he is in the dungeon at Malfoy Manor he sees the blue eye again, and thinking it is Professor Dumbledore, he asks for help. Help actually comes in the form of Dobby who is often identified by his “bulging green eyes the size of tennis balls” (CS, 12).
When Harry sees Dumbledore’s memory where he asks Snape to kill him to save Draco’s soul, we see that “his tone was light, but his blue eyes pierced Snape as they had frequently pierced Harry, as though the soul they discussed was visible to him” (DH, 683).
Characters and Their Eyes
Several characters are closely identified with their eyes. Dobby of course. Harry is regularly recognized by people as Harry Potter not because of his scar but because he looks like James and has Lily’s eyes. Professor Trelawyney—the first time Harry sees Professor Trelawney he sees that “her large glasses magnified her eyes to several times their natural size…” (POA, 127). Her large, magnified eyes are indicative of her ability to “see” since she is the Divination teacher. Mrs. Norris has “bulging, lamplike eyes just like Filch’s” (SS, 132). Firenze has “astonishingly blue eyes” (OOTP, 601).
Snape and Dumbledore
Snape and Dumbledore are two other characters who are described by their eyes, and quite frequently. When Harry meets Snape for the first time in Potion’s Class, Snape is identified by the quality of his eyes, “his eyes were black like Hagrid’s, but they had none of Hagrid’s warmth. They were cold and empty and made you think of dark tunnels” (SS, 136). Clearly, Professor Snape is not a nice person. Contrast this to Dumbledore whose eyes are regularly described as “twinkling.”
Even at the end, Snape’s actions are described through his eyes, or through the act of seeing. When Voldemort talks to him about the Elder Wand, Snape does not look at Voldemort, but “his dark eyes were still fixed upon the coiling serpent…” (DH, 655). When he does finally turn to look at Voldemort his face was still and “it was a shock to see that anyone lived behind the blank eyes” (DH, 655). We know that occlumency and legilimancy require eye contact. Snape must have been working very hard to keep his mind closed at this point. When Harry finds him dying in the Shrieking Shack, Snape’s final act is to ask Harry to look at him, “the green eyes found the black, but after a second, something in the depths of the dark pair seemed to vanish, leaving them fixed, blank, and empty” (DH, 658).
Finally, Voldemort is identified by his eyes, which turned red as he turned more and more evil. When he was handsome Tom Riddle he had brown eyes, but by the time he returns to Hogwarts to ask Dumbledore for a teaching job his eyes have begun to turn red. Even though he is still Tom Riddle his eyes flash red when he is thinking something evil, like when he saw Salazar Slytherin’s locket for the first time, “there was no mistaking it this time: Voldemort’s eyes flashed scarlet at the words…” (HBP 437). When Voldemort returns to power in the Goblet of Fire he is described as having “livid scarlet eyes” and forever after he has red eyes.
In Greek mythology there are many stories involving creatures with interesting eyes. Argus, the giant, had one hundred eyes in his head, and the Gray Sisters shared one eye between them and they helped the hero Perseus.
The Greek hero Odysseus met a cyclops on one of his adventures. A cyclops is a giant with one eye in the middle of his head. The ancient race of cyclopes were imprisoned in the Greek mythological underworld of Tartarus. During the battle between the Titans and the Olympian gods, Zeus released the cyclopes from their prison to help the Olympians. The cyclopes were excellent with metal working and so helped the Olympians by forging Zeus’s thunderbolts, Poseidon’s trident, Hade’s helm of invisibility, and bows and arrows for Artemis and Apollo. The most famous cyclops was Polyphemus, the cyclops that Odysseus encountered on his travels. Odysseus managed to escape from Polyphemus by blinding him in his eye.
The Gorgon Medusa is also a famous Greek monster known for her eyes. One look into Medusa’s eyes killed you. Even dead, the head of Medusa could kill with one glance.
In Norse mythology the most famous eye story is Odin’s. Odin, the king of the Norse gods, wanted unlimited wisdom. He went to the Well of Wisdom to drink, but he could not attain any unless he was willing to sacrifice something of his own. He gave up his eye to gain wisdom. Odin is always depicted with only one eye.
In Celtic mythology one of the races of gods in the Irish creation story were the Fomors. Their king, Balor, was called Balor “of the Evil Eye” because the gaze of that eye could kill.
In Egyptian mythology the most important and well known eye symbol is the Eye of Horus. The Eye of Horus, also known as the “udjat”, is a symbol of protection and wisdom. It is associated with the god Horus and also with the earthly Pharoah. Horus is the son of the god Osiris and the goddess Isis. Horus had to battle with his evil uncle, Set, and in the process lost his eye. The god Thoth restored Horus’s eye, and he gave it to his father Osiris who was dead and in the Underworld. This revived Osiris, and, while still not alive, was enough to make him the god of the Underworld.
The Eye of Horus is the eye of a falcon, and Horus is the falcon headed god. In the pictures, a tear drops out of the eye.
- Another mythological and spiritual eye is the “Third Eye.” Located in the middle of your forehead just between and above your eyes, the “Third Eye” is a spiritual and intuitive “eye.” It is one of the chakras which are power points up the center of your body in the yogic tradition. The third eye chakra is all about seeing, intuitiveness, awareness, and insight. The Hindu god Shiva has an eye in the middle of his forehead.
- In more modern culture we see the “Eye of Providence” or the “All Knowing Eye,” the eye depicted at the top of the pyramid on our dollar bills. It represents the all-knowing eye of God, and has been used since the middle ages.
- Most of us have heard of the “evil eye.” This basically means looking at someone in a mean way. However, throughout history, and in some cultures, there is a real significance to the “evil eye.” Many cultures truly believe or believed in the harm done from someone giving you, a loved one, or even an animal, the evil eye. The evil eye could cause the person or animal to become sick or even die. The cultures that believe in the evil eye also have devised protections from it as well. People can wear amulets or use gestures to protect themselves or their loved ones from the “evil eye.”
Eye Color, and Color Symbolism
Eyes are important in another way in the Harry Potter books. The eye color of certain Harry Potter characters are mentioned a great deal and stand out.
There is great symbolism in colors. It’s one of the reasons why we ask people for their “favorite” color. It means something different if your favorite color is blue rather than red. They have entirely different connotations. We’d probably think someone who has red as a favorite color is adventurous and a little wild, while the person who likes blue is safe. In the Chinese system of Feng Shui, color is seen as very important in decorating your house. For example, you do not want to paint your kitchen red. Red is the color of fire, and since the kitchen is for cooking and symbolically already full of fire, you want to balance that with another “cooler” color, like green. The symbolism of color varies for different cultures, especially between western and eastern cultures. We’ll stick with the western symbolic meanings when going through the different colors, because Harry is a western boy.
Green—Harry and Dobby have green eyes.
- Positive: green is usually symbolic of the earth. It is also symbolic of spring and therefore renewal and regeneration. Green is seen as a refreshing color. In some cultures it is a symbol of good luck. After blue, it is the color most often picked as a favorite.
- Negative: it is symbolic of jealousy and envy (e.g. jealousy being the “green-eyed monster” or people being “green with envy”).
Try it Out! When reading about the colors, see if the color of a person’s eyes is a good representation of their character!
Blue—Ron and Dumbledore have blue eyes. Also, Dumbledore’s brother Aberforth has the same color blue eyes.
- Positive: blue is the color most often picked as a favorite color. Blue is a symbol for peace and tranquility. It is a calming color symbolic of harmony and stability, because of its association with the sea and the sky. When someone is “true-blue” they are faithful and loyal. It can also represent truth, trust, and dependability.
- Negative: it is symbolic of depression (“the blues”) and coldness (most likely for its association with water).
Brown—Hermione has brown eyes.
- Brown is another earthy color, like green. It is symbolic of stability, simplicity, and comfort. It is also symbolic of wholesomeness and approachability. Its association with the earth makes it stable and secure. Brown symbolizes being “down-to-earth.”
Gray—Draco and Lucius Malfoy have gray eyes.
- Positive: gray is symbolic of modesty, dignity, intelligence, and conservatism.
- Negative: associated with old age and sadness. Gray can be unsettling because it is neither black nor white but a vague color in between the two—a “gray area” is a place where you are not sure of what you think or believe.
Black—Snape’s eyes are black. Hagrid’s eyes are black.
- Positive: black can represent elegance, mystery, depth, and sophistication. It is usually representative of power—priests’ vestments, judge’s robes, limousines, and tuxedos are all black.
- Negative: it can be symbolic of fear, evil, unhappiness, anger, and death. It often represents something bad—the phrases “black day” or “black sheep” come to mind. A black day is a very bad one, while the black sheep of the family is someone who has gone and done bad things.
Red—Voldemort’s eyes are red.
- Positive: like black, red is a color rich with opposites. It can represent love, passion, strength, heat, and energy.
- Negative: symbolic of danger, blood, war, and violence. “Seeing red” means that the person is very angry, almost to the point of violence. A “red flag” is a warning sign of danger.
- The one thing that both the good and bad sides of the color red have is that it is symbolic of passion and intensity. Whether it symbolizes love (like on Valentine’s Day) or hate (like the blood of war) it is passionate.
In addition to eye color, colors symbolize other things as well. The color of a wizard’s robes, for example, could be an indication of that person’s personality. Both Dumbledore and McGonagall are seen in “emerald” robes, while Snape is always in black. Notice how the Malfoy’s are all described as pale faced with dull gray eyes, while Hagrid is ruddy faced and Dumbledore’s blue eyes twinkle. These are all indications of character, and we can understand a lot about a person by the colors associated with him/her. If we didn’t already know that Tom Riddle was going to turn into Lord Voldemort, we’d certainly know that something was wrong with him when his eyes “flashed scarlet.”