The symbolism which is derived from numbers was common to the Pythagoreans, the Cabalists the Gnostics, and all mystical associations. Of all superstitions, it is the oldest and the most generally diffused. Allusions are to be found to it in all Systems of religion; the Jewish Scriptures, for instance, abound in it, and the Christian shows a share of its influence- It is not, therefore, surprising that the most predominant of all symbolism in Freemasonry is that of numbers. The doctrine of numbers as symbols is most familiar to us because it formed the fundamental idea of the philosophy of Pythagoras. Yet it was not original with him, since he brought his theories from Egypt and the East, where this numerical symbolism had always prevailed. Jamblichus tells us (On the Pythagorean Life, 28) that Pythagoras himself admitted that he had received the doctrine of numbers from Orpheus, who taught that numbers were the most provident beginning of all things in heaven, earth, and the intermediate space, and the root of the perpetuity of Divine beings, of the gods and of demons. From the disciples of Pythagoras we learn, for he himself taught only orally, and left no writings, that his theory was that numbers contain the elements of all things, and even of the sciences. Numbers are the invisible covering of beings as the body is the visible one. They are the primary causes upon which the whole system of the universe rests; and he who knows these numbers knows at the same time the laws through which nature exists.
The Pythagoreans, said Aristotle (Metaphysica xii, 5), make all things proceed from numbers. Dacier (Life of Pythagoras), it is true, denies that this was the doctrine of Pythagoras, and contends that it was only a corruption of his disciples. It is an immaterial point. We know that the symbolism of numbers was the basis of what is called the Pythagorean philosophy. But it would be wrong to suppose that from it the Freemasons derived their system, since the two are in some points antagonistic; the Freemasons, for instance, revere the nine as a sacred number of peculiar significance, while the Pythagoreans looked upon it with detestation. In the system of the Pythagoreans, ten was, of all numbers, the most perfect, because it symbolizes the completion of things; but in Masonic symbolism the number ten is unknown. Four is not, in Freemasonry, a number of much representative importance; but it was sacredly revered by the Pythagoreans as the Tetractys, or figure derived from the Jewish Tetragrammaton, by which they swore.
Plato also indulged in a theory of symbolic numbers and calls him happy who understands spiritual numbers and perceives their mighty influences Numbers according to Plato, are the cause of universal harmony and of the production of all things. The Neoplatonists extended and developed this theory, and from them it passed over to the Gnostics; from them probably to the Rosicrucians, to the Hermetic philosophers and to the Freemasons.
Cornelius Agrippa has descanted at great length in his Occult Philosophy, on the subject of numbers. "That there lies," he says, "wonderful efficacy and virtue in numbers, as well for good as for evil, not only the most eminent philosophers teach, but also the Catholic Doctors." And he quotes Saint Hilary as saying that the seventy Elders brought the Psalms into order by the efficacy of numbers.
Of the prevalence of what are called representative numbers in the Old and New Testament, there is abundant evidence. "However we may explain it," says Doctor Utahan (Palmoni, page 67), "certain numerals in the Scriptures occur so often in connection with certain classes of ideas, that we are naturally led to associate the one with the other. This is more or less admitted with regard to the numbers Seven, Twelve, Forty, Seventy, and it may be a few more. The Fathers were disposed to admit it with regard to many others, and to see in it the merles of a supernatural design." Among the Greeks and the Romans there was a superstitious veneration for certain numbers. The same practice is found among all the Eastern notionist entered more or less into all the ancient systems of philosophy; constituted a part of all the old religions; was accepted to a great extent by the early Christian Fathers; constituted an important part of the Cabala; was adopted by the Gnostics, the Rosicrucians, and all the mystical societies of the Middle Ages; and finally has carried its influence into Freemasonry.
The respect paid by Freemasons to certain numbers all of which are odd. is founded not on the belief of any magical virtue but because they are assumed to be the type or representatives of certain ideas. That is to say, a number is in Freemasonry a symbol, and no more. It is venerated, not because it has any supernatural efficacy, as thought the Pythagoreans and others, but because it has concealed within some allusion to a sacred object or holy thought, which it symbolizes. The number three, for instance, like the triangle, is a symbol; the number nine, like the triple triangle, another. The Masonic doctrine of sacred numbers must not, therefore, be confounded with the doctrine of numbers which prevailed in other systems. The most important symbolic or sacred numbers in Freemasonry are three, five, seven, nine, twenty-seven and eighty-one. Their interpretation will be found under their respective titles (see Odd Numbers). The subject is also discussed in Doctor Mackey's revised History of Freemasonry; Numbers, their Occult Power and Mystic Virtues, W. Wynn Westcott, Supreme Magus, Rosicrucian Society of England; Numbers, their Meaning and Magic, Isidore Kozminsky, and Rabala of Numbers, Sepharial.
THAT metaphorical road along which the Mason travels in his progress through the degrees of the Blue Lodge is flanked upon each side by many, many road signs directing his attention to various by-paths leading to interesting fields of investigation and study. A large number of these signs have been at least partially obliterated by the destroying hands of the Prestons and the Webbs but, however it may be with those directing the student's attention to Sun Worship, Persian Mysteries, Egyptian Mysteries, Symbolism of Geometrical Figures, Symbolism of the Bible, and so forth, there is one series of signs the units of which have not had their legends even partially obliterated, and which all still plainly bear the same direction to the traveler--"To the Study of the Symbolism of Numbers." Yet, in spite of the frequent repetitions of this direction, many Masons hurry along, not even realizing that there are any such signs and totally neglecting a field of study that, as even the below-given short excursion along one of these paths ought to show, is well worthy of cultivation.
Only the numbers one to ten inclusive will be here considered and, of those, only the most important-- Three and Seven--will be at all expanded upon, as to treat each of the ten at all fully would convert what is intended as little more than a brief synopsis into a lengthy treatise.
That all of the numbers from one to ten are respectively referred to in Masonry, and presented for contemplation, can be shown by many examples, and the discovery of them furnishes an interesting and instructive occupation for the student. To take one set of references only--one of the sets brought forward by the Lodge itself--the briefest consideration calls to mind that:--
There is one Master; there are two Wardens; three supporting Pillars; four sides to the Lodge, marking the Four Cardinal Points; five elected primary officers; six Jewels; seven operative working tools necessary to the symbolic building of a proper Lodge, i. e., the six usual Working Tools plus the Compasses; when the Lodge is in the form of the Double Square (as it should be) the two Squares present eight right-angles; there are nine primary officers, excluding the Tyler, and ten primary officers in all.
First, to review most briefly certain phases of the significances of these various numbers except Three and Seven, and, then, to take up Three and Seven for somewhat detailed consideration:--
One, the Monad, is the symbol of the Male Principle in Nature.
Two, the Duad, is the symbol of the Female Principle in Nature. It is also the symbol of Antagonism, of Good and Evil, Light and Darkness, Osiris and Typhoon.
Four is the number of the Tetragrammaton or Four-Lettered Name which, in the original Hebrew, consists of four letters. Scriptural references to this number are very frequent. Out of the Garden of Eden flowed four rivers. Zechariah saw four chariots coming from between the mountains of brass. Ezekiel saw four living creatures each with four faces and four wings. And St. John saw four beasts.
Five, made up, as it is, of the first odd number, rejecting unity, and the first even number, is the symbol of that mixed condition of order and disorder existing in the world.
Six is the number of the angles of the Six-Pointed Star formed by the two interlaced Equilateral Triangles and, so, calls attention to that ancient talisman, the Seal of Solomon or Shield of David.
Eight, the cube of the first even number, was held by the Pythagoreans to signify Friendship, Prudence, Counsel, and Justice. Christian symboligists consider it the symbol of Resurrection because Christ rose on the eighth day, that is to say, the day (Sunday) after the seventh day (Saturday).
Nine is the number of the angles in that Triple Triangle formed by placing three equal Equilateral Triangles with their apices meeting in a common point and the Triangles radiating from that point with the angle separating each Triangle from the next equal to sixty degrees--the jewel of the Prelate of the Templars. As the Equilateral Triangle is the symbol of Deity so the Triple Triangle composed of three Equilateral Triangles is the symbol of the Triple Essence of Deity or, to the Christian, the Mystery of the Trinity.
Ten, being the number of the dots in the Tetractys, calls the attention of the student to that great Pythagorean symbol. This number is the symbol of Perfection, and for this reason--it is the sum of the numbers Three and Seven.
THE NUMBER THREE
To cite more than a few of the very large number of references in Masonry to the number Three could serve no useful purpose, as it is far better that the student investigate the matter for himself. But, for a few of the more obvious examples, it will be noted that there are three occurrences of each of the following: degrees in Craft Masonry; Great Lights; Lesser Lights; Fellowcraft's Working Tools; Movable Jewels; Immovable Jewels; Supporting Pillars, and lighted Cardinal Points. Also there are all the various incidents of Three that follow directly from the fact that there are three degrees, as three positions of the Square and Compasses, and so forth.
Three, among practically all the ancient peoples, was considered the most significant of all the numbers and was, in many of the ancient religions, the number of certain of the attributes of many of the gods. For example, Jove's thunder bolt was three-forked, and Cerebus, the dog of Hades, had three heads. The Druids' ceremonies contained many references to it. And in the rites of Mithras and in those of Hindustan are many important references to it.
Three, as the sum of the Monad and the Duad, is, symbolically, the result of the addition of the Male Principle, symbolized by the Monad, and the Female Principle, symbolized by the Duad, and, thus, plainly becomes the symbol of the Creative Power. It is also the symbol of the three-fold nature of Deity--He who comprises the Generative Power, the Productive Capacity, and the Result, and who is the Creator, the Preserver, and the Destroyer.
THE: NUMBER SEVEN
As stated by Mackey, "the symbolic Seven is to be found in a hundred ways over the whole Masonic system." This statement is so true and the discovery of those many references is so interesting and profitable to the student that no attempt is made here to gather them together. But no student who neglects to make an effort to discover them can get out of Masonry all that it has to offer him.
Seven is referred to in practically all of the ancient religions. There were seven altars before the god Mithras. In the Persian Mysteries there were seven caverns. The Goths had seven Deities and in the Gothic Mysteries the candidate met with seven obstructions. References in the Scriptures to Seven are almost innumerable. To cite but a very few:--
Noah had seven days notice of the commencement of the Deluge. The clean beasts were taken into the ark by sevens. The ark came to rest on Mt. Ararat in the seventh month. The intervals between the dispatching of the doves from the ark were seven days each. Solomon was seven years building the Temple. And the Temple was dedicated in the seventh month, the feast lasting seven days.
The few examples given above of the occurrences of references to the number Seven indicate the peculiar veneration in which that number has been held from the most ancient times. Its different symbolical meanings are nearly as numerous as the different systems of religious philosophy in which it occurs. But, to the Mason, following the teachings of "our ancient friend and brother, the great Pythagoras," it may well be the symbol of Perfection, this significance being plainly derivable from the fact that Seven is the sum of the numbers Three and Four, the numbers of the two perfect figures--the Triangle and the Square.
In concluding it is emphasized that the above statements of the significances of the various numbers are but a very small proportion of the many that might be made. There are many symbolic meanings assigned to each of the numbers and, by investigation, each student can find, among that large number of interpretations, at least one meaning for each number that will appeal to him and which will imbue Masonry with new life and new interest and will help to convert what has, perhaps, become (through no fault of Masonry) a "dry as dust" series of actions and words into a living system of instruction in morals, philosophy, ancient history, and symbolism.