The number 7 is one of the most magical and holy numbers, and has been revered in ancient pagan religions throughout the world. It recurs in religious texts as a special number, but why? Firstly, it has some very mundane uses and although it is a prime number and not particularly useful as a factor, the Babylonians, who otherwise adored factorable numbers, divided weeks into 7 days. This was because it was in simplistic accordance with time intervals between phases of the moon1. As the calendar (and cyclic events) has always been an essential part of organized religion, this division into 7s was something that religious authors felt the need to explain in cosmic and supernatural terms and such lunar symbology formed a key part of pagan lore. It was easy to pick seven wandering astronomical bodies - the sun, the moon, and the five planets visible to the naked eye - and associate each one with a conscious, supernatural ruler2. Many ancient cultures did so2; as the historian Fara notes that "it's only a short step from being a special number to becoming a magical one"3. Such a simple division gave the number 7 astro-theological significance, noted far and wide as a religious number by those who like to give enhanced meaning to the vagaries of the natural world.
The number 7 has been mythologized for a very long time. Modern religions such as Christianity and Islam grew out of Mesopotamia, and some of that region's most ancient archaeological evidence shows us that the number 7 already had cosmic significance. Their very creation story is alluded to as the Seven Tablets of Creation4.
“Seven has always been a very special number. Sanskrit's most ancient holy book, the Rig Vega, describes seven stars, seven concentric continents, and seven streams of soma, the drink of the gods. According to the Jewish and Christian Old Testament, the world was created in seven days and Noah's dove returned seven days after the Flood. Similarly, the Egyptians mapped seven paths to heaven, Allah created a seven-layered Islamic heaven and earth, and the newborn Buddha took seven strides. [...] For numerologists, seven signifies creation, because it is the sum of the spiritual three and the material four; for alchemists, there are clear parallels between the seven steps leading up to King Solomon's temple and the seven successive stages of chemical and spiritual purification. Iranian cats have seven lives, seven deities bring good luck in Japan, and a traditional Jewish cure for fever entailed taking seven prickles from seven palm trees and seven nails from seven doors.”
And according to notes on Freemasonry:
“This mystical ladder, which in Masonry is referred to 'the theological ladder, which Jacob in his vision saw, reaching from earth to heaven,' was widely dispersed among the religions of antiquity, where it was always supposed to consist of seven rounds or steps. For instance, in the Mysteries of Mithras, in Persia, where there were seven stages or degrees of initiation, there was erected in the temples, or rather caves,--for it was in them that the initiation was conducted,--a high ladder, of seven steps or gates...
... In the Mysteries of Brahma we find the same reference to the ladder of seven steps; but here the names were different...
... seven steps were emblematical of the seven worlds which constituted the Indian universe. The lowest was the Earth; the second, the World of Reexistence; the third, Heaven; the fourth, the Middle World, or intermediate region between the lower and upper worlds; the fifth, the World of Births, in which souls are again born; the sixth, the Mansion of the Blessed; and the seventh, or topmost round, the Sphere of Truth, the abode of Brahma, he himself being but a symbol of the sun.”
"The Symbolism of Freemasonry" by Albert G. Mackey (1869)5
And a few more notes from the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance:
“The Greek Pythagoreans believed that the number seven pointed symbolically to the union of the Deity with the universe. This association was picked up by the Christian church, especially during the Middle Ages. Seven was regarded as having sacred power, as in the seven cardinal virtues, seven deadly sins, seven sacraments, [...], etc. Thus it was held that there must logically be exactly seven planets.”
It is clear that the number 7 is just one of those numbers that flips the right switches in the minds of the superstitious, amongst those who enjoy magical and mystical things, and finally, stimulates the authors of our religious books to entangle it in their stories. All because it is one of the prime units of our calendars, a division of the period of the (spooky, female) moon.
There are so many stories which feature that importance of the number 7 that it is not sensible to list them all. Many of them are minor coincidences, for example, Noah released a Dove to see if it could find land after God drowned the entire Earth, but it came back. He waited seven days before trying again (Genesis 8:8-11). No other multiples-of-seven surround this Dove, hence, it is probably pointless to draw any mystical inference from this (unless it has something to do with nature's cycle of life and plant growth following a deluge - but what?). Hopefully some of the following (such as sneezing 7 times) can be seen to be clearly related to superstitions and mythology:
God finishes creation on the 7th day (Genesis 2:2), which is Saturday, the holy day (unlike pagan sun-worshippers, who preferred Sun-day).
God will deliver seven sets of vengeance against anyone who murders Cain (Genesis 4:15). Lamech in 4:24 claims that due to this, his own death will be avenged 77 times (Why? Who knows). Although Jesus had the opposite idea. Instead of revenge for sin, Jesus in Luke 17:3-4 says that if someone repents, you have to forgive them even up to seven times in a day. And in case the comparison with Cain and Lamech wasn't clear, in Matthew 18:21-22 he is asked if you should forgive someone up to seven times. His reply: "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven".
The dreams of the Pharaoh in Genesis 41:1-7 (repeated in Genesis 41:17-24) is full of sevens: Seven well fed fish who are eaten by seven malnourished ones, seven good ears of corn eaten by seven poor ones. Joseph interprets all this as being seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine (41:25-27), which according to the same author, did then actually happen (41:29-31, 53-54).
During the animal sacrifice ritual designed by God to atone for sin, a male bull's blood was to be sprinkled before God seven times (amongst many other routines), in Leviticus 4:6.
More to do with "plenty", grown foods and the cycles of nature, Exodus 13:3-10 has the feast of Passover last 7 days, and, likewise the magical food obtained from heaven (manna) is patterned over a 7-day week in Exodus 16:1-5,14-15,22-23 which also instructs people not to gather food on the Sabbath (Saturday) in 16:25-27,29-30.
The ritual Menorah candle has 7 stalks (the central stem and 6 branches) and is designed by God (Exodus 25:31-32,37).
Seven priests with seven trumpets march around Jericho seven times in Joshua 6:3-16,20-21 (with much repetition), and this causes its walls to fall down, so they could kill everyone inside (Joshua 6:21) and loot the gold and silver (Joshua 6:19).
2 Kings 4:34-35 sees Elisha raise a child from the dead: "And lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his bands; and he stretched himself upon the child; and the flesh of the child waxed warm. Then he walked to and fro; and went up, and stretched upon him; and the child sneezed seven times, and opened his eyes".
Proverbs 9:1: Wisdom has seven pillars.
God/Jesus produce basketfulls of bread from seven loaves of bread, and the remnants fill seven baskets, in Matthew 15:32-37.
The Book of Revelation is structured around the number 7 and its continual repetition of the importance of this number is somewhat of an overkill. The Book is purportedly a message to seven Christian churches represented by 7 spirits (Revelation 1:4,11) and starts when Jesus appears to the author amidst 7 candlesticks (1:12-13) and holding 7 stars in his right hand (1:16). 1:20 has seven stars in God's right hand, and two sets of seven sources of light, all of which represent seven churches. In 3:1 there are seven spirits of God, and seven stars. 4:5 has seven burning lamps before the throne, symbolizing seven parts of God. In 5:6, these 7 are sent to the Earth, and sacrificed, and are symbolized by a lamb with 7 horns and 7 eyes. Seven seals are opened revealing seven judgements (5:1). The seals are opened one by one and the 7th unleashes seven more judgements, heralded by 7 trumpet blasts and 7 angels (8:1-2). It goes on and on. Interestingly, it is not only all things godly and heavenly that come in sevens; the Beast, the enemy who fights against God, is also surrounded by multiples of 7. There are 22 chapters in Revelation and this was just some items from the first eight.
The number 7 is used to represent good things and bad things in the Bible, holy things and evil things, such as the Beast in Revelations and the number of heads of the three beats, and the number of heads of the monstrous Hydra. There are also, of course, the Seven Deadly Sins.
One author puts it like this:
“Seven was, among the Hebrews, their perfect number; and hence we see it continually recurring in all their sacred rites. [... some stuff already mentioned above]. Noah received seven days' notice of the commencement of the deluge, and seven persons accompanied him into the ark, which rested on Mount Ararat on the seventh month; Solomon was seven years in building the temple: and there are hundreds of other instances of the prominence of this talismanic number.”
"The Symbolism of Freemasonry" by Albert G. Mackey (1869)5
The Tawaf of the Hajj: The Tawaf is the ritualistic walk around the Kabba seven times during the Hajj pilgrimage7, and is given sanction in Qur'an 2:158. It was a pagan religious site for a long time before Muslims made it exclusive7 and Muhammad himself said that he dislikes this custom because of its pagan nature, however, states that it is not sinful as the Qur'an now endorses it. The reason he gives for it being lawful is that Muslims were only just coming out of paganism, therefore, Muslims should no longer be performing this ritual as Islam is now well-established. From the Hadiths:
“Narrated 'Asim: I asked Anas bin Malik: "Did you use to dislike to perform Tawaf between Safa and Marwa?" He said, "Yes, as it was of the ceremonies of the days of the Pre-lslamic period of ignorance, till Allah revealed: 'Verily! (The two mountains) As-Safa and Al-Marwa are among the symbols of Allah. It is therefore no sin for him who performs the pilgrimage to the Ka'ba, or performs 'Umra, to perform Tawaf between them.'”
Sahih Bukhari 2:26:710
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The number 7 is also a mystical and important number for the Theosophists, to the extent that aspects of the theology/philosophy are infused with it to a nonsensical degree:
“Theosophists have always taken Atlantis for granted, and to the myth have added a second one - the myth of Lemuria. This name was originally proposed by a nineteenth-century zoologist for a land mass he thought must have existed in the Indian Ocean, and which would account for the geographical distribution of the lemur. Madame Blavatsky, the high priestess of theosophy, adopted the name and wrote in some detail about the 'Third Root Race' that she believed flourished on the island.
According to Blavatsky, five root races have so far appeared on the planet, with two more yet to come. Each root race has seven 'sub-races,' and each sub-race has seven 'branch races.' (Seven is a mystical number for theosophists.) The first root race, which lived somewhere around the North Pole, was a race of 'fire mist' people - ethereal and invisible. The Second Root Race inhabited northern Asia. They had astral bodies on the borderline of visibility. At first, they propagated by a kind of fission, but eventually this evolved into sexual reproduction after passing through a stage in which both sexes were united in each individual. The Third Root Race lived on Lemuria. They were ape-like giants with corporeal bodies that slowly developed into forms much like modern man. Lemuria was submerged in a great convulsion, but not before a sub-race had migrated to Atlantis to begin the Fourth Root Race.
The Fifth Root Race, the Aryan, sprang from the fifth sub-race of the Atlanteans. At the present time, according to theosophists, the Sixth Root Race is slowly emerging from the sixth sub-race of Aryans. This is happening in Southern California where, in Annie Besant's words, the 'climate approaches most nearly to our ideal of Paradise.' [...] After the Seventh Root Race (which will develop from the seventh sub-race of the sixth root race) has risen and fallen, the earth cycle will have ended and a new one will start on the planet Mercury.”
What we do know is that the evolution of life has not gone through any series of species related in any way by the number seven, and, that of course, it never will. Every concept of Theosophy's idea of Root and Sub races is wrong, but, it still represents yet another attempt to explain reality in terms of stories that encompass the number seven. All such stories turn out to be terrible descriptions of truth, because simply, the number may be loved by many humans but it is not a particularly important number in the physics of the Universe.
All stories that give cosmic and universal significance to the number 7 turn out to be terrible descriptions of truth, because simply, although the number may be loved by many humans, it is not a particularly important number in the physics of the Universe. It all started with our Human attempts to measure time; the Babylonians (and others) divided the phases of the moon into 4 parts, each of 7 days. Although not perfectly accurate, it is a useful division and gave us our week. As all religious and organized ritual systems come to be based on natural events and natural cycles (especially those stemming from agricultural societies), the number 7 became a religious and magical number. As such, those who wrote down our myths and religious beliefs from the very beginnings of our recorded history, have attempted to describe the world according to their own beliefs which have included a prominent number 7. Christianity, Islam and other world religions have used it; occult systems and magical societies have embraced it, and endless superstitions and mythologies give importance to the number 7. It is used by many as a godly and heavenly number, but also in the Christian Bible, Satan is surrounded by the symbolism of the number 7 in the Book of Revelation. All in all, be highly suspicious and skeptical when you see any story that claims to be true and which imbues the number 7 with special significance.