Magical Numbers

Counting things... it's a human trait and it seems that since we devised numbers, man has been designating some of them as being special in a magical kind of way.

Some of this "magic" is inherent in the number system and it effectively mathematical in nature. The number 12 for example, crops up an awful lot, particularly in pre-decimal measuring systems. Why? Because sometimes you need to split a thing up and 12 can easily conveniently be split into halves, quarters, thirds and sixths, as well as twelfths.

In other cases a number's special significance is relatively easy to trace. The number 7 for example, has almost certainly achieved it's special status courtesy of ancient astronomical observations that there are 7 celestial bodies visible to the naked eye, and therefor known to ancient astronomers, that do not follow the pattern of stars across the night sky. That the (approximately) 28 cycle of the moon divides neatly into quarters consisting of 7 days, surely added to this. Everything else follows (See my article on The Magnificent Seven).

There are many others that are recognised as magical, but with much less evidence or reasoning to back it up. Three: everybody loves a trinity whether it's the Pagan trinity of Maiden, Mother and Crone, the Christian trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, or one of the may others. Nine: crops up a lot in Neo-Paganism but seems only to relate to Norse mythology. Thirteen: I am yet to see or hear any reasonable explanation of why 13 is regarded as unlucky by so very many people.

Of course we can't get away from numbers, and if I'm going to "string beads" (read: make jewellery) then there are going to be numbers of "beads" on the "stings"... and maybe it's better to have 12 rather than 11 or 9 rather than 10. Of course if you want a piece to incorporate specific numbers that have meaning to you, all you have to so is ask. In the meantime, here's a list of numbers that I tend to use, and the things I have found to be associated with them.

3 - Maiden, Mother and Crone and every other trinity.
3 - Dimensions (up/down, left/right, backwards/forwards)
3 - As in: The Rule of Three. This is something of an "honorary mention" as there's no reason outside of the number already being significant, that it the number in the rule should be 3.

4 - Main points on a compass: North, East, South, and West.
4 - Seasons of the year
4 - Elements in Greek mythology of Earth, Air, Fire and Water

5 - Elements in Greek Mythology if you include Aether (Spirit in Neo-Paganism)
5 - Wu Xing elements of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water
5 - Planets visible with the naked eye: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter.
5 - Platonic solids (see my article about The Platonic solids)

7 - See my article about The Magnificent Seven

8 - Sabbats in the Wheel of the Year

9 - Worlds on the Cosmic Tree (Yggdrasil)
9 - Number of days that Odin hung on the tree to gain knowledge of the runes

9 - is 3 x 3; is the number you get if you place four items at the corner of a square plus one half way along each side and one in the middle. It's also the number of knots you get if you tie one at each end of a cord, one in the middle of those, another two in the gaps, and four more in the gaps created by the first five.

9 - I've also seen it suggested that the number 9 is significant because a human pregnancy is 9 months. However the average pregnancy is also regarded as being 40 weeks or 280 days, which equates to 10 lunar months if you work with 28 days and 9.5 if you work with 29.5 (see the number 28 below).

12 - crops up all over the place in measuring systems because it's easy to divide by 2, 3, 4, 6, and 12. Some sources quote significances such as there being 12 zodiac constellations, Jesus having had 12 disciples, and other religious occurrences of the number. However the 12 astrological zodiac periods (astronomy recognises 13), are "merely" a division of the year into 12 roughly equal parts rather than a "physical" division (see my article on Constellations). It seems likely that the various religious occurrences of the number 12 have mostly come about in the same way that we see the number 7 everywhere (again I refer you to my article about the number 7).

13 - most people consider it unlucky; in Italy it's lucky, nobody seems to know why. The best, though somewhat humorous explanation I've seen, is that years with 13 new moons were a pain in the butt for calendar keepers of old, in the same way that 53 week financial years are an nuisance to accountants today (and of course there's the leap year gripe from salaried employees that they're working a day extra for that year with no extra pay).

21 - the summer and winter solstices, and the spring and autumn equinoxes, tend to occur (though not always) on the 21st day of the month in our (relatively arbitrary) Gregorian calendar system. Outside of that the number 21 crops up quite a bit and people seem to regard it as significant... but I am yet to find any suggestion as to why, that makes sense other than that 3 x 7 = 21... which doesn't make a whole lot of sense I know, but multiplication of those more justifiably significant numbers, and the arbitrary calendar connection, are that best I currently have to go on.

28 - generally regarded as the number of days in a lunar month although the cycle actually takes 29.5 days. I guess it's kinda convenient to think go it as been 25 days a.k.a. 4 weeks (7 day cycles).
28 - the number of days in many women's menstrual cycle... which some regard as being related to the lunar cycle, messed up by modern living, but which it probably nonsense.

40 - crops up a lot in Middle Eastern religions and traditions but is regarded as regarded as being representative of a large, approximate number (like "umpteen") rather than an exact number.
40 - the average human pregnancy is 40 weeks

108 - considered sacred by the Dharmic religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, it crops up as the number of beads used on mala (prayer beads), steps in temples, as well as occurring in the scriptures. The reasons for it's significance are vague.

Disclaimer: the above are my opinions, gleaned from research. If I've pooh-poohed your "favourite" number: please make nothing of it. I happen to like the number 37 but nobody else seems to give a hoot about it. The significance that we attach to things, ANY things, is personal. So don't let anybody pooh-pooh yours. I'm only doing this to second guess how many beads to thread on non-commission work. Well I have to make something in between the commissioned jobs. ;-)


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