Number Symbolism: Seventh Heaven

This article will examine the significance of the number 7, 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 7 will enhance astrological interpretation.

The evolution of the glyph for the number 7 is far less noticeable than it was for the number 5.  Essentially, it would seem, the glyph for 7 is pretty much the same today as it was thousands of years ago.  It’s as if 7 knew what it wanted to be from the very beginning.  However, in this age of technology, the glyph for 7 has the most digital variations:  some calculators use three strokes and some use four.  Though still recognisable, it seems some people like to fiddle with the details when it comes to 7. For example, the French and some other European cultures add a small horizontal stroke.  We can’t help but tailor 7 to make it our own.

For thousands of years, 7 was the number of visible stellar objects one could view unaided (until science and technology came along).  It is the number of the classical continents, the numbers of seas, the number of heavens, the number of days in a week, the number of colours in a rainbow, the number of natural wonders of the ancient world and the number of spheres (according to Ptolemy).  Perhaps it is its abundance in nature that has so captured the imagination of many cultures and religions.  There are 7 sacraments, 7 virtues and 7 deadly sins in Christianity.  In Roman Catholicism, and some reformed traditions, the Blessed Virgin Mary has 7 Joys and 7 sorrows. According to Deuteronomy 7:1, 7 is the number of nations that God told the Israelites they would displace when they entered the land of Israel. A Jewish bride and groom receive 7 blessings and have 7 days of feasting following their wedding.  In Islam, 7 is the number of heavens and earth.  It’s good to see the Christians, the Jews, the Hindus and the Muslims can all claim 7 to be important.  There’s common ground after all!

Maybe because 7 has so embedded itself in our cultures and religions, we need to be reminded that it is important.  Harry Potter did a pretty good job of this when he said in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince:  “7 is the most magical of numbers.” (If that weren’t enough, there are 7 books in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series).  Likewise so did the 7 Samurais, The Magnificent 7, The 7 Year Itch, The 7th Seal and 7 Years In Tibet remind us of the abundance of 7.

Despite the abundance of 7, there is still an unnaturalness in it.  There is no Septagonal Man or easy reminder of 7 in the human body as there is the number 5 (5 digits one each hand and foot).  However, there are 7 portals to the human head (two nostrils, two ears, two eyes and a mouth) and 7 chakras.  Sometimes, we have to look in the right places and in the right way to find 7.  And sometimes, we might get the idea that God really liked the number 7 (after all, it is his day of rest).

The number 7 occurs 287 times in the Bible[1] with many well known instances such as the number of trumpets required to knock down the walls of Jericho, the number of times Namaan was told to dip in the river Jordan, the number of churches in the book of Revelation and Jesus told Peter to forgive 70 times 7. So aside from being a day of rest, is there a deeper significance to the number 7?

According to Maurice Farbridge, “amongst the Semites the symbolic character of 7 originated with the division of the lunar months into quarters.”[2] 7 is the nearest whole number in the lunar quarter. The new moon is frequently referred to as a feast day in the Bible and often mentioned in conjunction with the Sabbath (e.g. 2 Kings 4:23, Amos 8:5, Hosea 2:13, Isaiah 1:13).  In the Bible, the moon marked the seasons and was used as a basic measurement if time.3]

However, Strachan views the power of 7 as being much more than the mere lunar cycle.  In a complex explanation that cannot have its justice in a 1,000 word essay, he points to the number 72 (the number is often erroneously rounded to 70, or 7×10) as having significance.  As astrologers/astronomers, we can recognise the number of the quintile and the number of years it takes precession to move one degree (one day in the great year).  Strachan also comments that 72 represents one complete cycle of Pythagoran Commas which David Tame wrote is “a strange and wise ranging phenomenon, being literally ‘written into’ the physical and mathematical laws of the universe.”[4] The comma has its links with the 12 steps over 7 octaves required to obtain perfect fifths in Music.  Tame links the Commas with a Primal Vibration and the very source of creation itself.[5] Strachan takes it further and asserts that 72 is “the pulse of the universe” and reminds us that in the average, healthy adult the pulse beat is 72 per minute.  Finally,  he asks:  “Is it a coincidence that the numbers of the pentagon and pentagram are 5 (sides) and 72 (degrees)?”[6] Perhaps, he continues, “David and Solomon were even wiser than we have so far discovered when they planned and built the pentagonal door into the Holy of Holies, for the numbers 5 and 72 link man with the universe.”[7]

In Harmonic Charts, Hamblin writes that 7 is traditionally seen as the number of God, a number steeped in cosmic secrets and divine insights.  It is a number of “not of man’s rational and constructive abilities, but of his wild, fertile imagination.”[8] When we look at 7 the way we’re supposed to, we can see the Divine within us.

[1] Strachan, Gordon, “The Bible’s Hidden Cosmology,” Floris Books, 2005, p.65

[2] Farbridge, Maurice, Studies in Biblical and Semitic Symbolism, Ktav. Inc, New York, 1970 p. 286

[3] Strachan, Gordon, “The Bible’s Hidden Cosmology,” Floris Books, 2005, p.67-68

[4] Tame, David, the Secret Power f Music, Turnstone, Wellingsborough 1984, p 18

[5] Ibid

[6] Strachan, Gordon, “The Bible’s Hidden Cosmology,” Floris Books, 2005, p.96

[7] Ibid

[8] Hamblin, David, Harmonic Charts, The Aquarian Press, 1983, p. 64-65

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