Since time immemorial, the number seven has played a significant part in mythology, religion, and esotericism, both Eastern and Western. There are seven sacred planets, seven angels before the throne, seven rays, seven prismatic colors, seven sacraments, seven cardinal sins, seven days of the week, seven planes of nature, seven principles of a human being, seven globes in a chain, seven heavens, seven Titans, etc.
Theosophical literature explains that this universal septenary principle derives from the universal principle of the trinity, which in turn is derived from the Unity. The One manifests as Three (consisting of the emanated duality and the connection between the two); from the Three the next stage of emanation is immediately Seven (not four, five or six).
T. Subba Row explains that the seven is the result of a natural combination of any three things. Thus the possible combinations of the numbers of A, B, and C are:
A, B, C, AB, BC, AC, ABC totaling seven. He wrote:
As a general rule, whenever seven entities are mentioned in the ancient occult science in India, in any connection whatsoever, you must suppose that those seven entities came into existence from three primary entities; and that these three entitles, again, are evolved out of a single entity or Monad. To take a familiar example, the seven colored rays in the solar ray are evolved out of three primary colored rays; and the three primary colors coexist with the four secondary colors in the solar rays. (“Brahmanism on the Sevenfold Principle in Man,” in Five Years of Theosophy, p. 160)
He states that, according to Brahmanism, the septenary principles of the human being are derived this way from three basic entities: Brahman, ®akti and Prakti (idem).
Annie Besant, in A Study of Consciousness, wrote also of the number seven:
We speak of it as the “root-number of our system,” and there is one obvious reason why this number should play an active part in the grouping of things. . . . A triad naturally produces a septenate by its own internal relations, since its three factors can group themselves in seven ways and no more. (p. 58-9)
This division of the seven into the original three and the secondary four is reflected in the widely known division between the higher trinity of the human principles (€tma-buddhi-manas) and the lower quaternary (k€ma, pr€Ša, li‰ga-ar…ra, and physical body; or lower mental, emotional, etheric, and physical). Furthermore, the combination of the three and the four leads us to the number twelve. For example, the twelve signs of the zodiac is the result of the combination of three qualities (cardinal, fixed and mutable, similar to the gunas) and four elements (earth, air, fire and water).
Helena P. Blavatsky states that, “Consisting of a union between the number three (the symbol of the divine triad with all and every people, Christian as well as pagans) and of four (the symbol of the cosmic forces or elements), the number seven points out symbolically to the union of the Deity with the universe” (CW II:412).
The seven is also derived from the permutation of any three entities. Each entity can relate to the other two with different degrees of dominance. For example, in one grouping, A may be dominant, B may be sub-dominant, and C is non-dominant, (which can be represented as “Abc”). There are six possible ways of such relationships; the seventh is when all the three are of equal dominance, that is, a state of equilibrium. The seven states may be represented as follows:
ABC, ACB, BAC, BCA, CAB, CBA, and the balanced ABC
Subba Row explains: “Strictly speaking, there are but six states of matter, the so-called seventh state being the aspect of cosmic mater in its original undifferentiated condition. Similarly there are six states of differentiated Pragna, the seventh state being a condition of perfect unconsciousness” (“Personal and Impersonal God,” in Five Years of Theosophy, p. 200).
Blavatsky wrote: “Viewed as a compound of 6 and 1, the senary and the unity, number seven was the invisible centre, the spirit of everything, . . . as there exists no body with six lines constituting its form without a seventh being found as the central point in it (see crystals and snow-flakes in so-called inanimate nature)” (SD II:582). The six-pointed star (with two interwoven triangles) is thus a similar symbol. It has a seventh aspect which is symbolized by a dot at the center, transcending the other six. The same may be said of the three gunas: rajas, sattva, and tamas, resulting in six permutations, the seventh of which is a perfect equilibrium of the three.
The number seven figures in many ancient myths and writings, which can be studied in the light of the above principles. Below are some examples:
a. Judaism, Tanakh (Old Testament) and Kabbalah: Seven days of creation and rest; seven days of the week; vengeance in killing Cain is sevenfold, that of Lamech is seventy-sevenfold; seven of each clean animal and bird in Noah’s ark; ark rested on Mt. Ararat in the seventh month, on seventeenth day; seven years of plenty and famine in Egypt; seven days of eating unleavened bread; Lord called on Moses on the seventh day in Sinai; seven-branched lampstand; seven priests, seven trumpets, seven rounds of marching on the seventh day leading to the fall of the walls of Jericho; seven years building Solomon’s temple; Solomon’s seven hundred wives; Naaman washing seven times to get healed of leprosy; seven days of offering with seven bulls and seven rams; stone with seven eyes; seven lower sephiroth; etc.
b. New Testament and Christianity: Jesus’ seven loaves of bread and seven baskets for the multitude; seven churches of Asia; seven spirits before the throne; seven stars and seven lampstands of Revelation; seven spirits of God; seven seals; lamb with seven horns and seven eyes; dragon with seven heads and seven diadems; seven angels of the seven plagues with seven golden bowls; seven archangels; Interior Castle with seven mansions (Teresa of Avila); etc.
c. Qur’ān: seven heavens; seven gates of hell.
d. Eastern religions: seven elements; seven rishis; seven Prajāpatis; seven talas and lokas; seven dvipas or continents; seven Manus; seven tattvas; seven Amshaspends; seven pits; seven Kumāras; seven Adityas; seven creations of Brahmā; seven pātālas; Sukhāvatī’s seven lakes and seven rows of railings, curtains and trees; seven tongues of Agni; etc.
e. Western tradition: seven Cyclops; seven Kabiris; seven-piped flute of Pan; seven stringed lyre of Apollo; seven Pleiades sisters; seven Spheres (Dante); seven Aeons; etc.
f. Theosophic and esoteric: seven planes of nature; seven principles of a human being; seven fires; seven Logoi; seven sacred planets; seven chains; seven rounds; seven globes; seven human groups; seven group souls; seven root races; seven sub-races; seven rays; seven planetary Logoi; seven keys to scriptural interpretation; seven chakras; 777 incarnations; saptaparna or seven-leaved plant; seven-syllabled Oeaohoo; seven ways to Bliss; seven Truths or Revelations; seven Builders; seven- skinned eternal Father-Mother; etc.
Almost all major theosophical writers have called attention to the significance of the number seven in cosmogenesis and manifested nature, including synchronicities and apparent “coincidences” on the number 7. H. P. Blavatsky even wrote on article on the significance of the number in relation to the work of the Theosophical Society, “The Number Seven and Our Society” (CW II:448-453). V.H.C.
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