“Potterversity” Episode 13: “Don’t Know Much About . . . Arithmancy”

Decode magical numbers on this month’s episode!



Katy and Emily talk with Dr. Lana Whited (Ferrum College) about one of the more mysterious of the magical subjects at Hogwarts: Arithmancy. We discuss where this subject fits in the Hogwarts core curriculum, its historical and etymological roots, and its meaning within the Harry Potter series. And, for that matter, how do you even pronounce it? Arithmancy is a type of divination using numbers used to predict events in the ancient world. Lana walks us through how to do these calculations and how to understand the numbers that result.

Pointing out that we quite commonly assign significance to numbers (hello, lucky episode number 13!), Lana explains the significance of important numbers in the Harry Potter books, such as three, four, and seven. Much numerical significance comes from people’s observations of the heavenly bodies, and the number seven specifically represented the divine across historical eras.

Why does Hermione loathe Divination but not Arithmancy? We also talk about math whiz Oliver from Puffs and his frustration with the lack of math at Hogwarts – why wouldn’t Arithmancy be enough for him? Lana helps us understand the nuances of these characters’ responses to the subject and considers that Arithmancy may be the best integration of art and science among the Hogwarts courses. This subject, like astrology and other kinds of divination, gives people a sense of order when times are uncertain or unsettled, and it appeals because it finds meaning deeply embedded in the universe. Wizarding society certainly takes this subject seriously, and we discuss why that is. Lana tells us the arithmancical numbers for a variety of characters, which reveal their key characteristics.

Hogwarts students’ favorite school subjects in general seem to reveal something important about their personalities and growth arcs across the series, and so we explore what Charms, Transfiguration, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Potions, and Herbology represent for character development. We also wonder why there’s no literature class at Hogwarts and whether there are other magical subjects that should be taught that are surprisingly missing. Should the students be learning Occlumency… or not? What do you think Hogwarts should be teaching that it doesn’t?

For our special segment, join Emily and Katy in the Potterversity common room as they do some Arithmancy homework. Feel free to do your homework, too, with Dr. Whited’s Arithmancy worksheet!

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Laurie Beckoff

My Harry Potter journey began in 2000 when I was six and continued through a bachelor's thesis and master's dissertation on medievalism in the series. I'm a Gryffindor from New York City with a passion for theatre, fantasy, Arthurian legend, and science fiction.