Friday, May 19, 2017

The Mysterious Number Three, 1890 Article

The Mysterious Number Three, article in Ballou's Monthly Magazine 1890

There is much superstitious regard for the number three in the popular mind, and the third repetition of anything is generally looked upon as a crisis. Thus, an article may twice be lost and recovered; but the third time that it is lost it is gone for good. Twice a man may pass through some great danger in safety; but the third time he loses his life. If, however, the mystic third can be successfully passed, all is well. Three was called by Pythagoras the perfect number, and we frequently find its use symbolical of Deity; thus, we might mention the trident of Neptune, the three-forked lightning of Jove, and the three-headed dog of Pluto. The idea of trinity is not confined to Christianity, but occurs in several religions. In mythology, also, we find three Fates, three Furies and three Graces; and coming nearer to our own times, Shakespeare introduces his three witches. In fact, that number of almost anything of which a fertile imagination can conceive a trio. In nursery rhymes and tales this number is not unknown; and if we look back to the days of our childhood, most of us will call to mind the three wise men of Gotham who took a sea voyage in a bowl, not to mention the three blind mice that had their tails cut off by the farmer's wife. Perhaps there is some occult power in the number which governs the division of novels into three volumes, and induces doctors to order their medicine to be taken thrice daily. It is said that some tribes of savages cannot count beyond three; but although they may have no words to express higher numbers, perhaps we should be scarcely justified in assuming that they are incapable of appreciating the value of the latter.

Nine, a trinity of trinities, is the perfect plural, and is credited with mystic properties. As might be supposed, therefore, many superstitions are connected with it. The first unmarried man passing beneath the lintel post of a door over which has been hung a pod containing nine peas, will marry the maid who placed it there; and a piece of worsted with nine knots tied in it is considered a charm for a sprained ankle. Nine is not in every case a lucky number, however, for evil-doers regard the nine tails of the "cat" with very little favor. To see nine magpies is considered an ill-omen; and the nine of diamonds has been called—though no one seems to know why—the "Curse of Scotland."

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