Number Symbolism: High Five

This article will examine the significance of the number 5, its symbolism in religion and culture and its fundamental meaning in Mathematics and astronomy.  It is hoped that a more thorough understanding of the implied meaning of the number 5 will enhance astrological interpretation.

The evolution of the number 5

 The drawing, right, shows the written evolution of the number 5.  Through purely graphical evidence, the European glyph for the number 5 appears to have evolved from the Khmer but its earliest appearance (far left) does not resemble what we now associate with the glyph for 5 at all.  Indeed, it is far easier to trace the roots of the modern glyphs for the numbers 1-4 to the Brahmin Indians than it is for the number 5.   The glyph for the number 5 has been through a remarkable evolution from resembling from a rotated lowercase “h” and then to a symbol which we are more likely to recognise a backwards 3 or the rudiments of the glyph 4.  Perhaps the evolution of the glyph for the number 5 can provide us with the first hint of creativity associated with the number 5.

With the benefit of a more extended history, we a re provided with a greater vantage point for understanding the number 5.  For example, there are 5 oceans on earth, 5 basic senses and 5 basic tastes (sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umani).  In poetry, pentameter is a verse with 5 repeating lines and iambic pentameter (commonly associated with Shakespeare), is a line that has 10 syllables (2×5).  When a character’s lines are in iambic pentameter, it usually indicates they are saying something of importance, as in a soliloquy where hidden information about a character is disclosed.  More modern applications of the number 5 can be found in mobile phone usage:  the 5 on a telephone keypad is usually distinguished by raised dots on or around it to aid in navigating the thumb when dialling.           

The mystery of 5

 Astrologically, we may view the number 5 as being associated with the sign of Leo, the 5th sign of the zodiac.  There is an element of creativity associated with the sign of Leo and the aspect which divides the ecliptic into 5, the quintile.  However, investigating uses of the number can provide further clues to aid in understanding 5.

The number can also be seen to refer to a mystery or to something that cannot quite be grasped.  This can be seen more easily by analysing the word “quintessential.”  “Quintessential” refers to the fifth element ether, an element that is not traditionally considered in the Western tradition of astrology.  Perhaps therefore, 5 may appear to represent the “jump” between East and West.

The number 5 may also be seen as elusive or somehow playing outside the boundaries.  This can be demonstrated with the 5th Amendment of the American Constitution.[1]  In the United States to “plead the fifth” refers to the US constitutional right that a defendant does not have to disclose information which may incriminate him.  By pleading the fifth, though a valid manoeuvre in law, attention is drawn to the notion that a crime has been committed by the perpetrator but he has enough wits (i.e. creativity) about himself to keep himself out of serious trouble. 

The Heirophant from the Mystic Tarot by Liz Greene and Juliet Sharman-Burke. Illustrated by Giovanni Caselli

In the Tarot, the fifth card is the Heirophant, the Priest.  Juliet Sharman-Burke and Liz Greene have interpreted the Heirophant as Chiron, the Wounded Healer.  Sharman-Burke and Greene points out that  Chiron is “an image of that part of us which reaches upward toward the spirit in order to understand what is required of us by God.”[2]  As they see it, the Heirophant is a priest who establishes a link between the world and the understanding of God’s laws.  They further point out that the word priest comes from the word pontifex or the “maker of bridges,” a vital link between God and man.[3]  It is as if 5, in this case, can represent a dissatisfaction with the worldly and a need to reach to a more spiritual dimension.

Gordon Strachan, asserts that the shape of the door that led into the Holy of Holies was not only pentagonal but, by measurement of its breadth, a fifth part of the total part of the chamber.[4]  Strachan asserts that the door to the Holy of Holies was built in an exact pentagon because it one of the most powerful geometric symbols and thereby most suitable to be the entry of a uniquely important doorway.[5]  He further reminds us that from an exact pentagon, an exact pentagram (5 lines linked to form a 5 pointed star) can be drawn. Why a perfect pentagon?  Robert Lawler says that the pentagon was “the symbol of life, particularly of human life”[6] and refers to an illustration of a man as the pentagon (see diagram, right).[7] 

Can we, as astrologers/astronomers/lovers of myths and symbols, expand upon this? By looking to one of the most potent of female archetypes, Venus, we can.  If we trace the path of Venus’, retrograde motion (viewed from earth), we can see that it forms a beautiful Mandela not unlike a rose and within in it, at its very heart, is a pentagram (see diagram below).[8]

It’s a perfect expression of beauty that we, as astrologers, can easily associate with the goddess of love and beauty.

The number 5 shows a jump between the physical world and the spiritual one.  5 seems to be about creating something completely different to what has already been started (as in the evolution of 5), grasping what we can’t be sure exists (as in ether), using ingenuity by bending the laws (as in pleading the 5th amendment), using the pain of our own restrictions to seek God (as in the Heirophant and Chiron, the wounded Healers).  It’s when we poke our metaphorical heads over the parapet of reality that we can see perfection.


[1] It is highly doubtful that this particular amendment was deliberately chosen to be the fifth.  I have used it only as a  representation of the number five and what it can mean

[2] Sharman-Burke, Juliet and Liz Greene, “The Mythic Journey:  A New Approach to Tarot Cards,”  Rider, 1986

[3] Ibid

[4] Strachan, Gordon, “The Bible’s Hidden Cosmology,” Floris Books, 2005, p. 55

[5] Strachan, Gordon, “The Bible’s Hidden Cosmology,” Floris Books, 2005, p. 56

[6] Lawler, Robert, “Sacred Geometry, Philosophy and Practice,” Thames and Hudson, London 1982

[7] Pentagram image from Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s “Libri tres de occulta philosophia” illustrating  the Pentagonal Man and his golden symmetry

[8]  Nick Kollerstrom, “Interface: Astronomical Essays for Astrologers,” Ascella 1997

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