What is the importance of the number seven in mythology and religion?
7 is one of the most important number in history. It would be hard to ignore :
- The seven days of the week
- The seven deadly sins
- The lucky 7
- The seven wise men of Greece
Why is 7 such an important number? What are the other societies it had an important place in?
The lunar cycle is 29.53 days . Maybe that is how it started, as six was too small and eight too large.,Each of the 4 lunar phases lasts approximately 7 days (~7.4 days),
Add to that that mature women needed to count the days till their next period ( or know they are pregnant). If they had a system of drawing lines somewhere to count the days the correlation with ~7 would appear if they noted the moon phases too..
You make very good points. I still need time to read to get sources dealing with that, but if you have some please share @annav
I must have read such but very long ago so cannot give references. more: the average interval from period to period for women is four weeks, which means the same phase of the moon, so they would be watching the phases.
I just answered a similar question "What is the origin of the mythology around the number 7". I'm of the opinion that the likeliest first source for the significance of 7 in ancient times is the universality of astronomy/astrology across cultures which included observation of the classical "planets"; visible anywhere and seven in number.
The number 7, symbol of perfection
In Ancient Egypt, the numer seven was considered a symbol of perfection and efficiency. In many myths, the number 7 is used for both good and bad events.
Then Ra repented. His fierce anger passed away, and he sought to save the remnant of mankind. He sent messengers, who ran swifter than the storm wind, unto Elephantine, so that they might obtain speedily many plants of virtue. These they brought back, and they were well ground and steeped with barley in vessels filled with the blood of mankind. So was beer made and seven thousand jars were filled with it.
In the seventh hour-division sits Osiris, divine judge of the dead.
In judeo-christian myths
This idea of perfection and completeness is found in judeo-christian beliefs as well :
Roy Alan Anderson in Unfolding the Revelationi notices that to the Hebrew: 6 represented unrest, 7 perfection and 8 victory. When the number is repeated then it signifies an eternal quality. For example 666 would signify eternal unrest.
Note that the repetition is 3 times - three being the number of holiness.
The number 7 is extremely frequent in Christianity - the Book Of Revelations mentions 7 churches, 7 trumpets, 7 bowls, 7 seals and 7 spirits. This tends to confirm that 7 is used to make a complete set.
In Greece and the origin of the 7 in Christianity
While the reason about the origin of the number 7 in Egypt is hard to know, there are sources trying to explain where the 7 came to mean "perfection" in christian myths.
The Greeks considered 6 to be a perfect number, because of its divisibility. A sixth is one, or unity. A third is two, a half is 3, etc. The foot is also a sixth of the human size, so 6 represented the human. Finally, it is the sum of its divisers. More here.
Pope Gregory I found similar properties in the number 7, aswell as considering it representing eternity according to Dialectics and Humanism, vol. VII, no. 2. One of the reasons given for his fascination with the number is its presence in Antique history : the Seven Wonders, the seven stages of man, the seven planets...
The number Seven always represented a complete set.
This changed a lot - While Saint Augustine wrote that the world had been created in 6 days, this changed to 7 in the Middle Ages.
The reason behind the Seven Sages of Greece seems thus not to be linked to mythology or religion.
But 6 really is a perfect number http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perfect_number - a definition that was known at least since Euklid 300 BC - and 7 isn't. Can you elaborate on Pope Gregory's arguments for considering 7 "perfect"?
@Sumyrda I will try to elaborate on this point. Indeed, 6 **is** a perfect number while 7 is mathematically not.
All numbers up to 14 were considered magical at some point, and many numbers after that, too. The answer (and the question) is backwards: seven was magical, and then it was assigned to things like the Sabbath day or hour divisions. In Babylon, it was 6 and 12, in China and India, it's 8, etc.