The number three plays a prominent role in myth, mysticism, the mystery traditions, folklore, alchemy, Ritual and Magic.
Three is the numerical vibration that opens the gateways to the higher planes, the realm of the gods. It is the number of bringing something into manifestation in the material world.
Pythagoras said that three is “a triple Word, for the Hierarchical Order always manifests itself by Three.” All the great religions recognize the expression of the Godhead in trinities. For example, in Christianity it is Father-Son-Holy Spirit. In Hinduism the trinity is Brahman-Shiva-Vishnu. There are three pillars to Zen Buddhism. The ancient Egyptians’ holy trinity was Osiris–Isis-Horus. The Great Goddess of contemporary Witchcraft has a threefold expression of Virgin-motherCrone. In Jewish mysticism there are three pillars to the Tree of Life, which is a blueprint for the descent of the divine into matter and the return ascent to the Godhead. The top three sephirot, or stations, of the Tree of Life, are the mystical steps to unity: Understanding, Wisdom and Humility. In the Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Formation) of the Kabbalah, three is expressed in the Three mothers, Aleph, mem and Shin, which form the foundation of “all others.” Aleph, mem and Shin are letters of the Hebrew alphabet that mean, respectively, “breath,” or vital spirit; “seas,” or water; and “life-breath of the Divine Ones,” or “Holy Spirit.”
The Western mystery tradition and alchemy are based on the legendary teachings of Hermes Trismegistus or “Thrice-Greatest Hermes.” Three is the ascent of consciousness, represented by the upward-pointing triangle and the face of the pyramid. It represents the unification of body-mind-spirit and heart-will-intellect and eyes ears-mouth (what we see, hear and speak as products of our spiritual consciousness). The Three Wise men of the Bible represent the enlightened consciousness. The Great Work of alchemy— the attainment of material and spiritual gold— takes place in three main stages.
The Greek philosopher Anatolius observed that three, “the first odd number, is called perfect by some, because it is the first number to signify the totality—beginning, middle and end.” Thus, we find in mythology, folklore and fairy tales the recurrent motif of the triad: three wishes, three sisters, three brothers, three chances, blessings done in threes, and spells and charms done in threes (“thrice times the charm”).
Three is also the number of wisdom and knowledge in its association with the Three Fates and the past, present and future, and the ancient sciences of music, geometry and arithmetic.
- Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. Dreamwork for the Soul. New York: Berkley Books, 1998.
- Heline, Corinne. Sacred Science of Numbers. Marina de rey, Calif.: DeVorss & Co., 1991.