I am going to be exploring the myths behind many of our most commonly accepted Superstitions as a prelude to this year's haunted house, Nightmare: Superstitions. The lore behind the number 7 is perhaps the most vast, so it is a good place for me to start. I will, however, in the next few weeks look into black cats, ladders, umbrellas, etc. as well as a few more esoteric ones from here and abroad.
For this column I asked the psychologist Dr. Judith Crews to explore the subject. She is our resident Scaredy Cat columnist for Haunternet.com:
Seven is a quantity, a numeral, an idea, a superstition, and apparently a universal spiritual element: in the Japanese Shinto belief system, there are seven gods of good luck, the Muslims believe there are seven heavens, Kaballists belief in seven elements of creation, Christianity, seven heavenly virtues as well as seven deadly sins, Buddhists seven chakras, ancient Egyptians, seven gods, ancient Romans believed that the human spirit is renewed every seven years, and so on and so on.
But why seven? Perhaps the best explanation of the significance of this particular number in such a wide variety of cultures does, in fact, lie in the heavens. For millennia, the sun and the stars were among the very few constants that existed in the awareness of human beings, even though their positions in the sky were highly dynamic. Until the invention of telescopes, only seven planets and the sun and moon were visible to the naked eye. Thus, these seven planets became deities, omens, time-keepers, and oracles for the humans who were so at the mercy of the ever changing natural world.
Another aspect to the number seven has to do with gender. Numerous cultures consider odd numbers as masculine and even numbers as feminine. The number seven is a prime number that is comprised of an odd number (1, 3, or 5) and an even number (2, 4, or 6) odd number. The joining triangle and the square were considered a symbol of perfection and among various ancient civilizations just as the joining of the male and female are the source of procreation.
So where did the nasty aspects of seven enter the scene? The broken mirror superstition likely came from ancient Rome. Romans invented glass mirrors and believed, along with a lot of other cultures, that the mirror’s reflection was actually a confiscation of one’s soul. If the mirror broke, the soul of the breaker was thus captured in the looking-glass world, which was, of course a backward, distorted place. Because the Romans believed the soul was rejuvenated each seven years, the poor wretch who broke the mirror would have to wait those seven years before his or her soul could be set right and good fortune could again occur.
The Seven Deadly Sins were the brainchild of the 6th Century Pope Gregory who put them together to juxtapose the Seven Celestial Virtues and as a way to keep the “flock” in line. Seven also has significance in Christianity as enumerating all things: the Holy Trinity (the sacred) and the four elements (the profane).
But what’s the story with the number 7 being lucky as well? Well, that’s not as scary is it.
Dr. Judith Crews is a resident faculty member for the Department of Counseling at the Idaho State University Boise Center. Her areas of specialty include couple and family counseling and mental health counseling. She has also worked in both private practice and in a community counseling agency setting as a mental health and couple and family counselor. Her scholarly and research interests include counselor education, developmental models of supervision, family systems theory and practice, grief counseling, and certain aspects of human motivation and goal attainment.