24th Feb 2020, 7:57:46 PM
Ask anyone to choose a number between 1 and 10 and there's a one in three chance that they'll pick 7. And you'll get roughly the same results when you ask a group of people what their favorite number is. So why does this diminutive digit have such appeal? What is the significance of 7?
And before you say, "So have all the other numbers!" let me elaborate on that. The number 7 features in the creation myths of cultures as seperated in time and space as the ancient Aztecs of America, Aboriginal Australians, and the Khasi People (Children of the Seven Huts) from north-eastern India.
It can also be found in in the folk stories and mythology of the inhabitants of all four corners of the Earth. Calypso kept Odysseus a captive on the island of Ogygia for seven years. Chinese and Hindu mythology both have Seven Immortals and Seven-headed dragons can be found everywhere. Legends of Seven Sisters can be found as far apart as New Zealand and America, and practically everywhere else in-between. Basically, since people developed the ability to tell stories, they've been using the number seven in them.
Just as it pops up all the time in mythology, it repeats over and over again in nature. To illustrate, we'll give you a few examples. In nature, there are seven;
layers of skin
colours in the rainbow
pure tones in the diatonic scale (music)
holes in your head
and the list goes on. Clusters of mountains often come in sevens too. The Seven Hills of Rome are the most famous example of course, followed by Jerusalem and Istanbul. But did you know there are two ranges of mountains named the Seven Sisters in Ireland alone?
The number seven appears no less than 465 times in the Bible (654 if you count variations as well). In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam it is the Divine number of completion. As such it is used as a literary device in the holy books of all three religions.
This connection is not surprising as these religions have shared roots. But it is also a sacred number in Hinduism, Bhuddism, and Taoism. And in pre-historic times it was held sacred by Druids and Shamans.
Since it was a sacred number to druids and shamans, it has strong connections to magic. For example, the seventh son of a seventh son (not quite so unheard of in times of large families as it is today) is often ascribed magical powers by folklore. Although if this was a good thing or not depended very much on where he was born. In Ireland, he would become a healer, in Romania, a vampire.
Have you ever wondered why phone numbers are usually seven digits (not counting area codes)? It's because that's all you can remember. In what is considered a classic paper of modern psychology, published in 1956, George Miller of Harvard University demonstrated that most people can't hold more than seven items in their short-term memory. Because of this, it also fits our attention spans. We have an easier time digesting information presented in groups of seven.
That's an optimal prime number, not Optimus Prime the transformer. A prime number is one that can only be divided by itself and one. Seven is the only prime number from 1 to 10 that cannot be multiplied within the group, making it the most prime (or optimal) of the primes. It also has a lot of other fascinating mathematical qualities which we unfortunately don’t have space to go into. And last but not least..
With all it's religious, mythical and magical connections, seven just has to be lucky, right? Whatever the reason people around the world associate seven with luck. The Chinese more so than others. This is because in Mandarin Chinese, the pronunciation of seven is similar to that of life essence. It also represents the combination of Yin, Yang and the five Chinese elements (Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth).
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