Numbers have long been seen as expressions of cosmic order, possibly deriving from ancient Babylonian observation of regular cosmic events, such as night and day, the phases of the moon and cycles of the year.
In many cultures numbers are full of symbolic meaning and in some culture numerology have an influence on the future.
Viewed symbolically, numbers represent more than quantities, they also have qualities. To the Greek mathematician Pythagoras, Even Numbers were Feminine, divisible into two equal parts and passive, Odd Numbers were masculine and active.
Let us look on the symbolic roles that numbers have played in different cultures, religion, beliefs and human thoughts.
0 - Zero
Zero was invented in ancient India. Represented by the continuous circle, it signifies non-being and eternity.
To Pythagoras it was the perfect form which contains all and from which all is created. In Islam it is limitless light and the Divine Essence.
1 - Number One
It represents beginnings and the primal cause. It is a symbol of creation and the human species and is depicted in the standing stone, the upright staff and the erect phallus.
It also symbolizes the oneness to which all living things must return.
In monotheistic religions one is the number of God, while in Jungian psychology it is a unifying symbol.
A symbol of beginning, the self and loneliness.
2 - Number Two
Many cultures view the world as made up of opposing dualities, life and death, light and dark, male and female heaven and hell.
Others see these pairs as complimentary such as the Chinese yin and yang.
Two is the number of discord and conflict, but also of balance and marriage.
3 - Three
The most positive number in symbolism, in Christian thought, it has a central importance as the doctrine of the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
Number three expresses all aspects of creation, including birth life and death, past, present and future, and mind body and soul and man, woman and child.
The symbolism of three is also linked with the triangle.
The number 3 is also very mystical and spiritual number featured in many folktales, (three wishes, three guesses, three little pigs, three bears)
The Four Humours
4 - Four
Four is the number of square; the four elements, earth, fire, water and air, the four points of the compass, North, South, East and West; the four seasons, the four phases of the moon (new, half-moon waxing, full, half-moon waning). Number 4 is associated with the Earth and with completeness.
In Medieval Europe human nature was characterrized by the four humours, phlegmatic, sanguine, choleric and melancholic.
In China, 4 is unlucky because "she" (four) and "shi" (death) sound similar.
5 - Five
As the sum of two, a feminine number and three a masculine number, the sum of the first even and odd numbers. (2 + 3) is 5.
It is a symbol for man. On a figure of man, a line joining head to outstretched arms and legs forms a pentagram and also there are five senses (hearing, smell, taste, sight, touch).
In Islam 5 is a sacred number. Muslims pray five times a day and there are five pillars of piety - declaration of faith (shahadah), prayer, (salat), fasting during Ramadan, giving alms, (zakat) and making the pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj).
6 - Six
According to the Bible, God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh.
Six represents balance, love, health and also luck, as it is the winning throw at dice.
7 - Seven
Seven is a sacred number representing the union of divinity (number three) and earth ( number 4). Each of the four phases of the moon last seven days and there are seven days in the week.
In Hindu philosophy there are seven Chakras or wheels, in the body. these stands for levels of consciousness, ranging from the lowest for physical survival to the highest for spiritual enlightenment.
Menorah - The branches of the Jewish candlestick indicate the seven days of the week as well as the sun , moon and five principal planets. The three U-shaped arms represent wisdom, strength and beauty.
The number seven is also featured in folk saying, "Breaking a mirror leads to seven years of bad luck."
8 - Eight
As the first cubic number (2 x 2 x 2), eight is considered the perfect number.
Chinese life is ruled by eight: at eight months a child has milk teeth; at eight years he loses them; at twice eight he reaches maturity and at 64 (8 x 8) he loses the power of procreation.
In Buddhism 8 is a lucky number, possibly associated with the 8 petals of the Lotus, a plant associated with luck in India and a favourite Buddhism symbol.
9 - Nine
Nine is a sacred number; three multiplied by itself to give eternity, completion and fulfillment.
In China, number 9 is the number of celestial power, the nine storeyed pagoda is a symbol of heaven.
Many folk saying around the number 9 like : A stitch in time saves nine; Cloud nine is the ultimate happiness.; A cat has nine lives.
A nine pointed star is used by the Bahai as a symbol faith. The number nine has significance in the Bahá'í Revelation. Nine years after the announcement of the Báb in Shiraz, Bahá'u'lláh received the intimation of His mission in the dungeon in Teheran. Nine, as the highest single-digit number, symbolizes completeness. Since the Bahá'í Faith claims to be the fulfillment of the expectations of all prior religions, this symbol, as used for example in nine-sided Bahá'í temples, reflects that sense of fulfillment and completeness.
10 - Ten
As the numbers of the fingers , ten is the foundation of most counting systems including the decimal system.
Ten also figures strongly in the Bible; there are Ten Commandments and ten Egyptian plagues. Buddhism has also ten commandments - five for monks and 5 for laity.
According to some theories, in the decimal system, ten is symbolic of the return to unity.
12 - Twelve
In Christian symbolism, twelve is a number of universal fulfillment,being the number of Christ 's disciples, as well as the 12 Tribes of Israel, 12 knight of the round table and 12 days of Christmas.
In many traditions, it relates to the space-time continuum (with the zodiac and the 12 months of the year) and represents a completed cycle.
13 - Thirteen
In the West the number 13 is generally considered unlucky. This supertition may derive from the 13 people - Christ and his 12 disciples who were present at the fateful Last Supper.
The Kabbalah list 13 spirits of evil.In ancient South America there were 13 Mayan heavens and the Aztec calendar was devided into 13-day periods.
In other cultures the number 13 is considered sacred. In ancient Greece it represented Zeus, the 13th deity and is an important.
21- Twenty One
40 - Forty
Representing wholeness, the number 40 is especially important in the Bible. Moses sojourn on Sinai lasted 40 days, as did that of Jesus Christ in the wilderness.
Noah's ark floated in the Flood for 40 days and 40 nights.
Forty was also significant in terms of years- the Jews spent 40 years in the wilderness and the reigns of David and Solomon were both 40 years.
50 - is the number of joy and celebration. It marks the completion of 7 x 7 year cycles and signifies new beginnings.
Sixty marks the division of the minute and the hour and so is associated with time and long life.
Omar de Lima on September 09, 2012:
where's the number 11?
C S Isler from Western Washington on July 13, 2012:
My understanding of the 40 was that, during biblical times 40 was used in the same way we use "a million" or "a billion" today. Essentially, "40 days and 40 nights" culturally translated to "so many we can't count".
reagu from Los Angeles on May 28, 2012:
8 is my favorite number since that's the day I was born. It's cubic and considered perfect. What's not to like?
PhoenixV from USA on February 02, 2012:
5 and 13 have always been my favorite numbers, I am not sure why. Interesting on some of the meaning behind the numbers in different cultures.
KoRn on April 12, 2011:
Nice and very useful information. tnx very much.
Shahid Bukhari from My Awareness in Being. on December 12, 2010:
just a note about Islamic and Quranic Numbers ...
In Islamic Concept, The Odd Number, Defines the Divine ... One God.
All Muslim Actions must begin , in following The Divine, 114 Quranic Chapters, except one, begining with a verse, where, the sum-total of the Begining verse' letters, add up to 786, when 7,8, and 6 are added, they add up to 3 ...
6 marks the Days of Creation.
7 Marks the States of Creation.
And like Bible, 40 marks Attainment.
But Games, involving Numbers are Forbidden in Islam.
I cannot understand, what all the fighting is about !
coolio on October 25, 2010:
Nice article! Very informative!
ss sneh from the Incredible India! on July 08, 2010:
Hi! If zero is...all those things written in the first paragraph then what is zero divided by zero!? -- Thanks
A.C. Sylvester from Appleton, Wisconsin on March 30, 2010:
I'm totally going to show this to my college math teacher... he'd get a kick out of it.
Alli on July 24, 2009:
The Good Cook on May 17, 2009:
What an interesting read - I'd never thought of numbers in this way. Well done!