Just as Creation begins with Unity before evolving into Multiplicity, so numbers begin with One. One represents the principle of absolute unity, God, the source of all Creation, prior to and pervading all things. It is symbolized in philosophical geometry by the ‘Point’. Like God, a point has no material substantiality (we are not speaking of a dot on a page used to representa point, but of a true geometric point), it has no dimensions, it cannot be seen or touched. It is Everything (everything lies nascent within the One) and Nothing (for nothing as yet is differentiated) simultaneously. It is the Beginning from which all will come (the ‘First’), and the End to which all will return (the ‘Last’). For Plato, ‘One’ symbolized the transcendent level of the ‘Good’.
Two marks the appearance of Duality: the first inkling of Multiplicity, the potential for ‘the Many’ that will come. Two is not the ‘sum of two ones’: there is only one One. Rather, Two issues fromOne, from the Creator, in much the same way that a single cell divides itself into two cells – the One becomes Two of its own Will, by reflecting upon Itself. Thus the One experiences dichotomy, it perceives and it is perceived, and thereby self-generates into Two. It is with this Duality that the idea of Opposites makes its first appearance: above and below, male and female, day and night, all the Taoist distinctions between Yin and Yang. But this is only at the level of abstract archetypal Ideas. Two is represented in geometry by a ‘Line’, the distance between two points. A line has a dimension – but only one. Thus, like a point, it still has no substantiality in the material sense: it cannot be seen or touched. The mind knows that it exists, but it is invisible to the eyes. For Plato, ‘Two’ represents the level of the eternal Forms.
Three, a number imbued with exquisite symbolic meaning, appears next. Three is represented by a ‘Triangle’, the geometric form that is created from threeinvisible points and the three invisible lines that connect them. A Triangle now combines two dimensions (left/right and up/down), and this gives it a unique, peculiar, and immensely significant quality. Like any flat surface, it can be seen – if it is facing you in its upright position. But if a triangle is flipped horizontally so that its side is facing you, then there is only a line facing you – and a line is totally insubstantial and invisible. This means that a Triangle can ‘appear’ in the Sensible world and then ‘disappear’ out of it. In other words, the ephemeral number Three lies curiously in between the Intelligible world of Spirit and the Sensible world of Matter. Three represents a ‘Threshold’ between them, a passageway that links the manifest with the transcendent. This ‘Threshold’, as we shall see, is the locus of the soul. It may also be thought of as the dwelling place of angels and demons, beings that are partly of the earth and partly of the heavens
Four, representing the Sensible world of change and Becoming, is next. Consider: If we start with a triangle made of three points, and now add a fourth point (not within the plane of the triangle, but somewhere in front or behind it), then each of the three corners of the triangle can be connected to this fourth point – and this creates a geometric figure called a ‘tetrahedron’ (looking rather like a pyramid, made of three triangular walls and a triangular base). The significance of this is that we now have a three-dimensional solid figure (so it turns out that four points are required for three dimensions to be created). And because the tetrahedron exists in three dimensions, it exists in our tangible, sensible, visible world. Four is therefore the number of material manifestation, and it also thereby symbolizes the four instinctive components of material nature (earth, water, air, and fire, or, stated in modern terminology, solid, liquid, gas, and energy).
For anything to exist, its existence must be a consequence of Three forces: active, receptive, and reconciling. Because these three forces are required to describe the state of being of anything, the Number Three is the number most connected with ‘Being’. ‘Three’ is the ‘Door’ through which pure Spirit (first as Oneness, 1, then as Duality, 2) can pass into Matter (the Number Four – earth, air, fire, water, e.g., and in Geometry 4 points are necessary to create a 3-D material object). When you combine (add) Three with Four you get Seven. Seven is the number of Completion, the number of Complete Achievement in the physical world.
So a passage through seven stages is the ancient and universal symbol of Completion. Thus, we have seven days of creation, seven colors of the spectrum, and seven notes in the musical scale. The Hindus speak of seven chakras, Aristotle speaks of seven spheres, Dante speaks of seven heavens. Jacob had to work for his uncle 7 years – then another seven years. Solomon spent seven years building a House for God. Christians must forgive 70 x 7. Pharaoh dreamed of seven thin cows and seven fat cows. In the story of Jericho, the seven days of Creation are undone by seven days of Destruction (a symbol that the soul is done with the material world, has entered “the promised Land”, and the “world” disappears). There are seven steps of Spiritual Awakening (see my book, THE DOOR IS OPEN), and even seven deadly sins (if you want to sin, go the whole hog!) Hagar passed seven times between the high points. Muhammad journeyed to seven heavens. To say that Mary Magdalene had been ‘cured of seven demons’ does not mean, as has often been said, that she was a particularly egregious sinner. She was no more a sinner than you or I. But Mary has been fully initiated. ‘Seven’ signifies every level, and this means that every single level of Mary Magdalene had been purified and perfected.
Pythagoras called ‘Ten’ the Perfect Number, the “Number of Man”. It clearly pertains to human life in a special way — we have ten fingers and ten toes. Ten is made up of the sum of the four basic sacred numbers: 1 + 2 + 3 + 4: combined all together, it all leads to human life. Alternatively, it can be seen as the sum of the two sacred numbers of “Being” and “Becoming”, 3 + 7. On Mt.Sinai, God revealed his Ten Commandments to humanity. The first three commandments relate to divinity itself, the realm of ‘Being’ (God talks about Himself a lot). The final seven commandments relate to humanity, and the realm of ‘Becoming’ (God tells us what we must do or not do).
The number Twelve is the number of abundance and multiplicity. It is formed by taking the sacred number Three (the symbol of the soul which exists between worlds) and multiplying it times the number Four (the symbol of material manifestation, the symbol of the body), so that together the Three and the Four generate Twelve. This is an image of the soul (Three) entering matter (Four), and awakening it to life and growth. Added together they first make Seven, the number of change, the number of ‘Becoming’. They then take a further step, multiplying each other so that they grow and expand and ‘fruitfully’ generate an abundance of ‘Becoming’. This is why the ancients divided the planetary realm of heaven into Twelve Constellations, and why the Bible speaks of Twelve Patriarchs and abundant Twelve Tribes, and Twelve Disciples going out into the world to spread the word everywhere.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE NUMBER?