Sunday, 12 July 2015

Theosophy basics: Blavatsky on the number seven

The number seven provides a fundamental structural organizing principle in the theosophical worldview, substantiated by various comparative arguments based on a perennialist perspective.

Besides the passage below, there's a nice short, early text (Theosophist, June, 1880):

There's a slightly later text that is a little more sophisticated (The Septenary Principle in Esotericism, 1883):

Then in volume two of the Secret Doctrine (25- The Mysteries of the Hebdomad, 1888), you have a very intricate and complex 50-page study on the septenary concept in Theosophy (the chart above is from p. 596):

"All systems of religious mysticism are based on numerals. With Pythagoras, the Monas or unity, emanating the duad, and thus forming the trinity, and the quaternary or Arba-il (the mystic four), compose the number seven. The sacredness of numbers begins with the great First — the ONE, and ends only with the nought or zero — symbol of the infinite and boundless circle which represents the universe. All the intervening figures, in whatever combination, or however multiplied, represent philosophical ideas, from vague outlines down to a definitely-established scientific axiom, relating either to a moral or a physical fact in nature. They are a key to the ancient views on cosmogony, in its broad sense, including man and beings, and the evolution of the human race, spiritually as well as physically. The number seven is the most sacred of all, and is, undoubtedly, of Hindu origin. Everything of importance was calculated by and fitted into this number by the Aryan philosophers — ideas as well as localities. Thus they have the Sapta-Rishi, or seven sages, typifying the seven diluvian primitive races (post-diluvian as some say). Sapta-Loka, the seven inferior and superior worlds, whence each of these Rishis proceeded, and whither he returned in glory before reaching the final bliss of Moksha.* Sapta-Kula, or seven castes — the Brahmans assuming to represent the direct descendants of the highest of them.

Then, again, the Sapta-Pura (seven holy cities); Sapta-Duipa (seven holy islands); Sapta-Samudra (the seven holy seas); Sapta-Parvata (the seven holy mountains); Sapta-Arania (the seven deserts); Sapta-Vruksha (the seven sacred trees); and so on. In the Chaldeo-Babylonian incantation, this number reappears again as prominently as among the Hindus. The number is dual in its attributes, i.e., holy in one of its aspects it becomes nefast under other conditions. Thus the following incantation we find traced on the Assyrian tablets, now so correctly interpreted.

"The evening of evil omen, the region of the sky, which produces misfortune. . . . "Message of pest. "Deprecators of Nin-Ki-gal. "The seven gods of the vast sky. "The seven gods of the vast earth. "The seven gods of blazing spheres. "The seven gods of celestial legion. "The seven gods maleficent. "The seven phantoms — bad. "The seven phantoms of maleficent flames. . . . "Bad demon, bad alal, bad gigim, bad telal . . . bad god, bad maskim. "Spirit of seven heavens remember . . . Spirit of seven earths remember . . . etc."

This number reappears likewise on almost every page of Genesis, and throughout the Mosaic books, and we find it conspicuous (see following chapter) in the Book of Job and the Oriental Kabala. If the Hebrew Semitics adopted it so readily, we must infer that it was not blindly, but with a thorough knowledge of its secret meaning; hence, that they must have adopted the doctrines of their "heathen" neighbors as well. It is but natural, therefore, that we should seek in heathen philosophy for the interpretation of this number, which again reappeared in Christianity with its seven sacraments, seven churches in Asia Minor, seven capital sins, seven virtues (four cardinal and three theological), etc.

Have the seven prismatic colors of the rainbow seen by Noah no other meaning than that of a covenant between God and man to refresh the memory of the former? To the kabalist, at least, they have a significance inseparable from the seven labors of magic, the seven upper spheres, the seven notes of the musical scale, the seven numerals of Pythagoras, the seven wonders of the world, the seven ages, and even the seven steps of the Masons, which lead to the Holy of Holies, after passing the flights of three and five." (Isis Unveiled II, pp. 407-08, 1877)