Threesology Research Journal
The Numbers Three and Seven
(Page C)

(The Study of Threes)

The first selection is a reproduced archived discussion about the numbers three and seven. The second selection is about the the significance of the number three in Fairytales. The "significance" of either number, from my view, can be debated from a personal or cultural perspective; whether or not one would care to argue that a "God" reference of any particular religion supercedes both the cultural and personal. This "significance" includes being labeled on the grounds (of the culture) of one's scientific inquiries, many of which become steeped in unwarranted traditions which create stumbling blocks to actual (and not just journalistically defined) progress. Nonetheless, there may be other types of "significance" not as yet identified and which may be highly selective given a particular time, place and application. A specific "three", "seven" (or otherwise) could very well have initially been influenced by a personal or cultural instance that may or may not show an explicit "3", "7" (or otherwise) ennumeration.

For example, a person may repeatedly hear a three-part sequence (such as the cawing of a crow, chirp of a cricket, bark of a dog, etc.) and from this originate an acutal symbol-based "3", "III", "three", (etc.) reference, whether or not they consciously make a psychic connection between the two events. (Humanity quite often describes itself as being a conscious being simply because it describes what is assumed to be a distinctly definable difference between wakefulness and sleep.) Alternatively, for example, they may feel, sense, taste, etc., a seven-part occurrence and develop an actual symbol-based reference, such as counting the seven bright stars of the Big Dipper, but have this association lost in time to previous generations which may not have kept a written record thereof and subsequent word-of-mouth generations lost the recogntion... perhaps due to changes in language and inclusive meanings. The symbols (or word form) of three and seven need not be the pristine influence nor be exhibited exactly by that which follows therefrom. With this said, interpretation(s) based on the characteristics of human physiology may be instrumentally disadvantageous in a larger analysis of specificity... or at the very least, such a realization should be taken into consideration... thus requring a new methodology of interpretation.

When discussions of Fairytales (or Folklore, etc.,) lead to a remark such as "oral traditions", both novice and professional researcher alike should likewise describe a viably pertinent discussion involving language development and the mechanism of hearing, as opposed to simply regurgitating the same mind-numbing nonsense in which examples of "three" and/or "seven" become used as manifest attributes of someone attempting to express a superiority of knowledge simply because they can recite several from different stories and perhaps even different cultures... as a further expression of an ability to engage in cross-cultural comparisons. While such lists are used and initially needed much-like a variety of reading materials displayed on a "coffee" table or given repository in a Doctor's waiting room, they should not be used to sustain the majority of one's attentiveness indefinetly in order to give themselves a mirrored impression of security for similar back-patting discursive events.

The predominant pattern inherent in the subject areas of language development and hearing (since without which speaking is difficult), is quite telling... helping to further deduce what "tradition" may or may not be wrought by culture in terms of geographic distribution in a given era. For example, when we find that there is a dominant "three"-pattern being used (at the very least, interpretively) by those interested in these subject areas, we must wonder what social/environmental event(s) containing a "seven" have come to be used as a type of cultural-compass orientation. (Likewise for those cultures that are claimed to make use of some other numerically-identified pattern.) In other words, why does their appear to be a preference for a "seven" referencing system (at least through the eyes of a vocal examiner), when there exists an underlying physiologically-based "three" organization?

See the information beginning at the following link:

- Language 3's page 1 -

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Author Comment
Registered User
(4/4/02 4:33:28 pm)
the numbers three and seven
Hi! I have paper on fairy tales due tomorrow, and while I have it all written I can't for the life of me remember the signifigance of the numbers three and seven. I've looked around online, but I haven't found anything. If anyone can help I would REALLY appreciate it! Reply here or IM me @ bwaybound86!

Unregistered User
(4/4/02 4:47:55 pm)
three and seven

There are long discussions regarding the significance of the number 3 - I think back in September/August and probably before. Check the archived topics.


Registered User
(4/5/02 7:48:49 pm)
That's a tough question, as there's no singular meaning to any one item in pretty much any tale. If you can tell us a little more about why you need to know, or what it is you're trying to prove, we might be able to discuss this better.

Laura S.

Unregistered User
(4/6/02 11:44:02 am)
Three and seven and 40?
My impression was that Jackie needed help right away. I had started to list everything I could think of with seven and three, from the seven league boots to the incidents of three siblings in so many stories. Clearly, these numbers pop-up for a variety of reasons, some of which we have discussed in-depth previously. Numerical significance seems to depend also in part on the culture in which the story derives, although, perhaps entirely since 7 appears frequently in both eastern and western folktales.

I was always curious about the use of the number 40 in biblical and middle eastern references. Any thoughts there as long as we are on numbers?


Unregistered User
(4/6/02 11:45:48 am)
Should have read "not entirely". Sorry. I guess I will never figure out the edit function here.)


Unregistered User
(4/6/02 7:13:38 pm)
Or "the seventh son of the seventh son"...
"I tell you three times and what I tell you three times is true"
"One, two, three strikes, you're out"

Although I seem to remember reading something about the way human memory works, and mystical numbers.
I'll get back with you on that.

Unregistered User
(4/6/02 8:34:06 pm)
3 and 7
I believe that there is something about their mathematical relationships as prime numbers too, but then so are 2 and 5 and you don't see much about them.


Unregistered User
(4/7/02 7:48:31 am)
Maybe because two and five are so normal...
Two legs, five fingers.
Three, though...
Two people get together and make a whole new third person.
Now's that's magic.
13, lunar calendar.

Unregistered User
(4/9/02 11:46:29 am)
Three & Seven
The number three is important in catholic tradition because of the trinity and the number seven is important to the jewish tradition because it is considered to be a perfect number. God created the world in seven days, etc. Both of these traditions migrated to Europe with the spread of Christianity and were assemalated into the culture.

Hope this helps,

Registered User
(4/15/02 6:21:24 pm)
Three & Seven
Hello all
Many beliefe systems have a 3 faced/faceted dieity.
if you want proof of how important 3 is to all cultures then try this experament..
take a match box,on one end of the drawer write 1 2 3 4 and on the other write "Why 3?"
Show people the numbers and ask them to chooses ..
80% will pick 3. When they pick the number turn the box round and they will read "Why 3?"
I tried this on 17 people before someone picked a diffrent number from 3.
3 wishes. 3 sons. 3 daughters. Concertos have 3 movments. 3 contains a begining middle and end. birth life and death. Mother, Father, Child. new moon full moon old moon. 3 gifts of the 3 wise men etc.
My own thought are that 3 is >
1] where a pattern can first be seen
2] a decision can be made
but it must be more than this.
I shall look up more
look forward to further info from everyone

Judith Berman
Registered User
(4/15/02 7:23:53 pm)
Re: Three & Seven
Pattern numbers are pretty specific to culture and ethnoliterary tradition. Four is the main pattern number in many, many Native North American traditions (and often has ritual importance as well). So you get four brothers, four sisters, four days and nights, four arrows, four stages to a journey, three repetitions of an action before completion, and so on. Some Native traditions do use three and five, including ones right next door to those using four. A fair amount of print has been devoted to this subject, especially how pattern numbers work out in particular oral narratives; see Dell Hymes, 'IN VAIN I TRIED TO TELL YOU', and also look for his new book due out maybe next year (?). He has recently argued that in one Chinookan group, or in some narratives from this group (I hope I'm getting the details right), that one pattern number is linked to men and another to women.

Three is a number with deep, deep roots in Indoeuropean and Mediterranean traditions. But it's by no means universal. On a more or less related subject, I was thinking recently about the week as a unit of time. I know nothing about its history , but it suddenly occurred to me (one of those "duh!" moments) that of course seven days is one-quarter of the lunar cycle, the time from dark to half or half to full. For people who live on the ocean, and make their living from it, this is no small matter, since the tidal cycle follows the lunar one and half-moon daytime tides are pretty puny while dark and full moon tides are quite big. So the lunar cycle can certainly be viewed as 4-part, not 3; but also 7 days (also traditionally the number of the planets, right?) is a quite legitimate period of time as far as natural cycles go. Again, twelve as a pattern number also seems odd (and why are there 12 inches in a foot??), but, again, wouldn't it be legitimate to at least argue it comes from the 12 months of a year? (There are, sort of, 13 lunar cycles in a year, but as I recall some calendars used 12 months with the extra days as an intersitial period...) OK, enough.



Registered User
(4/16/02 7:57:36 am)
Re: Three & Seven
Fascinating information, Judith. Thank you!

Registered User
(4/17/02 1:37:13 pm)
No, more, please
Yes, thank you. I'd like to hear more...

Judith Berman
Registered User
(4/18/02 6:42:14 am)
Re: No, more, please
About pattern numbers??

A couple of other books where there are articles on pattern and pattern numbers in Native American oral narratives (along with much varied and interesting other material) are:

Brian Swann, ed., ON THE TRANSLATION OF NATIVE AMERICAN LITERATURES (Smithsonian Institutions Press, 1992)


Brian Swann, ed., VOICES FROM FOUR DIRECTIONS [more contemporary translations of traditional literatures] (University of Nebraska Press, forthcoming).

The first of these volumes focuses somewhat more on translation issues; the other two are collections of stories, songs, poems, etc. in translation, with introductions to each selection. I'd recommend COMING TO LIGHT as the best available anthology (i.e. collection of materials from diverse cultures) of Native North American literature, in terms of its faithfulness to sources and original context. Disclaimer: I have an article or translation in each of these volumes.


Richard Parks
Registered User
(4/18/02 9:52:29 am)
Re: No, more, please
For another example of the importance of 4 outside of Native American culture, you can look at Japan. There 4 is considered extremely bad luck, because 4 is SHI (ichi, ni, san, shi) and shi is also the word for death. The kanji would be different but the name sounds the same. When telling time, you'd substitute 'yon' for shi. When buying a tea set, a Japanese would never buy four cups together, it's always three or five. If you get a Japanese tea set with four cups, you know it was made for export.

Registered User
(4/18/02 10:51:00 am)
This may explain why what is referred to in my (and Judith's) aikido training as "fourth control" is the single most excruciating of all the controls we study. No permanent damage (that is not the aikido way at all) but plenty of pain while the technique is being applied.


Judith Berman
Registered User
(4/19/02 5:38:42 am)
Re: Shi
But Greg, we've only been doing it for a week. Wait until your 4th control nerve is so sensitized that your shirt sleeve will do the control on you.

Richard, that explains the use of *yon* as the ordinal number (yonkyu, yondan). (My Japanese is strictly limited to martial arts vocabulary.) Interesting -- I've heard of animal names being tabooed and euphemized (if that's a word), like "bear" in many northern cultures -- but not numbers.

isthmus nekoi
Registered User
(4/19/02 7:56:42 am)
Re: Shi
Ah... so that explains 'yon'. Perhaps the 'shi' in shichi explains the need for 'nana'?

Incidently, 4 is a very unlucky number in Chinese culture for the same reason. If you change the intonation of four, the meaning becomes death. At least in Cantonese anyway.

3 on the other hand, is very lucky b/c it sounds like 'life'.

I think that this sort of relates to Western culture...
3 is about integration and cooperation, the summer before the fall.
4 is about totality, completion... and inherent w/i that would be the idea of finishing, and of death.

This selection is about the significance of the number three in Fairytales.

Author Comment
Unregistered User
(9/3/01 11:31:27 am)
Significance of the number 3 in fairy tales
An assignment recently received was to research the significance of the number three in fairy tales...three little pigs, goldielocks and the three bears.....

Please provide comments.

Unregistered User
(9/3/01 12:40:14 pm)
Hello Betty,

this is a question with many answers... I will try to give you some ideas:

1. Remember the words "three's a crowd"? With the three little pigs, the three bears, three brothers, the figures become "anonymous". Take any three brothers in a typical story: They are not a specfic family, like the Miller-brothers or the Smith-brothers, but just "three brothers". They stand symbolic for any family, and families with fewer or more siblings, as well.
Maybe a theory that prehistoric people were able to count only "one, two, many" explains it better. (Don't ask what I think about that theory! But that is off-topic anyway.) Still, I think this "counting" conveys my meaning: the "three" in that context means "typical, average brothers", and it is not important who they are, because they could be exchanged for any other typical, average brothers.

2. If you have the same incident in the story three times, this is done for rythm. And again, it is not a single occurence, or just happening twice by coincidence: It happens three times, there is a pattern. Of course, if you go on and on, the story would grow tedious and boring. But three conveys a message: It is a pattern that is showing, but it happening three times is sufficient to show this to us.

3. (!) The number three is something that dates back a LONG way... In almost every religion, it is a special, and holy number: in Christian faith you have the holy trinity. The ancient Greek and Romans had the three graces, the vikings the three Norns. In Shakespeare you have the three witches. And so on and on. I was running a search on with "three" to find some more ideas and got loads of other "triplets". Try it!

The "three" is a symbol, and one used in many cultures and religions over the times. It is, I think, still so ingrained in our "symbolic alphabet" that we recognize its meaning in the fairy tale "by instinct". When we are told "Once upon a time there were three little pigs", we do not aks: "Which little pigs? Where did they live?" unless we are very, very young children who have not yet learned that symbolism. We know that the storyteller is not relating to any specific pigs, but to an anonymous three who stand there as representatives.

Sorry, I realize I start repeating myself! Better stop here...

Best regards
Best regards
Best regards



Registered User
(9/3/01 12:46:38 pm)
Re: Three
Not sure if it is related to fairy tales and folklore at all, but I remember learning that in many of Shakespeare's plays, some words/phrases are repeated 3 times so that each side of the audience could be addressed (front and two sides). Perhaps storytellers used this method so their audience could all be part of the action, with each of Cinderella's trips to the ball addressing a child or group for example. Again, not sure, but maybe a good hypothesis to research?

Dandelion wishes,


Laura McCaffrey
Registered User
(9/3/01 3:13:55 pm)
_The Wordsworth Dictionary of Phrase and Fable_ points out that Pythagoras called three the perfect number, basically because it expressed all - beginning, middle, and end.

Betty, what are your thoughts on the symbolism of the number three? I'm curious as to what you come up with.
Laura Mc

Unregistered User
(9/4/01 10:30:40 am)
Watch it!
Be careful, the #3 is really a Western/European concept. Other cultures (notable Native American) have different magical numbers.


Unregistered User
(9/4/01 11:16:58 am)
Not only a European concept
I know embarrassingly little about native American mythology, but I found the "magic three" not only in European but also in Asian culture, for example in Buddhism and in Chinese mythology/ folk lore. In Hinduism, you have the "Trinity" Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva. So, I believe it to be not only a Western concept. Still, I guess I am typically European: Before reading your mail, I did not think further than Europe and Asia, and in fact I have no idea if there are similar concepts in Africa or Australia, that is, if there is something like numerology in their mythology and if the three does play a part there. And, as I mentioned, I know preciuos little about the Americas. Still, I know at least the Maya had "a thing for numbers". But I have to confess, I do not know if the three was special for them.
I feel quite bad for not looking farther than the tip of my nose... That is another thing I love so much about this board: it always broadens your horizon!
Best regards,

Unregistered User
(9/4/01 2:53:20 pm)
RE: Three
I think you summed it up really well, Lotti.

I absolutely love the interaction numbers - particularly three and seven - in stories. I use them with great deliberation - that is, I'm very conscious of their symbolic and rhythmic meanings - in my own stories.

Personally, I've always liked the synaesthetic meaning of numbers. (I won't get into what I think "Five" smells like.) But I'd sure be interested in comparing notes on what other's feel the numbers mean to them.

By the way, I book marked an interesting article on numbers a while ago, if anyone's interested in a Jungian interpretation:


Unregistered User
(9/4/01 3:59:58 pm)
I am no authority on numbers whatsoever, but I live with someone who is part Cherokee; his grandmother tells me that to southeastern Native American tribes (his family is in the Georgia Tribe of Eastern Cherokee), the cosmos is divided into three parts: the Upper World, this World, and the Lower World. This makes the number three of particular supernatural significance, though I must say I don't know how that manifests. While the numbers four (the directions) and seven (in beadwork particularly) show up more, three does sometimes appear as a symbolic theme in motifs, ritual, and ceremony/song . .. for what it's worth . . .

Registered User
(9/7/01 9:01:39 pm)
why isn;t this posting?

Registered User
(9/7/01 9:02:50 pm)
sorry about that -- was irked and experimenting, and i'm too sleepy to see the proper way to edit the message, apparently ...


Unregistered User
(9/8/01 12:02:53 am)
significance of three
Remember, too, that the third brother or sister is disadvantaged in some way, yet this is the protagonist (who prevails.)
Think of Cinderella, Puss in Boots, Three Little Pigs . . .
I think there is something to be said for the theory that the child compares himself to his very competent parents, and feels discouraged.
The tales offer encougagement.

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