The Sacred Number
Seven was frequently used as a mystical and symbolical number in the Bible, as well as among the principle nations of antiquity, the Persians, Indians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. The origin is doubtless astronomical, or rather astrological, viz., the observation of the seven planets [in antiquity] and the phases of the moon, changing every seventh day.
As instances of this number in the Old Testament, we find the Creation completed within seven days, whereof the seventh was a day of rest kept sacred. Every seventh year was sabbatical, and the seven times seventh year ushered in the jubilee year. The tree Regalim, or Pilgrim festivals (Passover, Festival of Weeks, and Tabernacles), lasted seven days, and between the first and second of these feasts were counted seven weeks. The first day of the seventh month was a "Holy Convocation." The Levitical purifications lasted seven days, and the same space of time was allotted to the celebration of weddings and the mourning for the dead. In innumerable instances in the Old Testament and later Jewish writings the number is used as a kind of round number.
In the Apocalypse we have the churches, candlesticks, seals, stars, trumpets, spirits, all to the number of seven, and the seven horns and seven eyes of the Lamb. The same number appears again, either divided into half (3-1/2 years, Rev.xiii. 5; xi. 3; xii. 6, etc.), or multiplied by ten--seventy Israelites go to Egypt, the exile lasts seventy years, there are seventy elders and at a later period there are supposed to be seventy languages and seventy nations upon earth. To go back to the earlier documents, we find in a similar way the dove sent out the second time seven days after her first mission, Pharaoh's dream shows him twice seven kine, twice seven ears of corn, etc.
The Seven Churches of Rev. i.-iii. are Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.--The Seven Deadly Sins are pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth.--The Seven Principal Virtues are faith, hope, charity, prudence, temperance, chastity, and fortitude.--The Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost are wisdom, understanding, counsel, ghostly strength or fortitude, knowledge, godliness, and the fear of the Lord.
Among the Greeks the seven was sacred to Apollo and to Dionysus, who, according to Orphic legends, was torn into seven pieces; and it was particularly sacred in Euboea, where the number was found to pervade, as it were, almost every sacred, private, or domestic relation. On the many ancient speculations which connected the number seven with the human body and the phases of its gradual development and formation, its critical periods of sicknesses,--partly still extant as superstitious notions--we cannot here dwell. The Pythagoreans made much of this number, giving it the name of Athene, Hermes, Hephaistos, Heracles, the Virgin unbegotten and unbegetting (i.e., not to be obtained by multiplication), Dionysus, Rex, etc.
Many usages show the importance attached to this number in the eyes not only of ancient but even of our own times, and it is hardly necessary to add that the same recurrence is found in the folklore of every race.
Hippocrates (B.C. 460-357) divided the life of man into seven ages, a division adopted by Shakespeare.
Th Egyptian priests enjoined rest on the seventh day, because it was held to be a dies infaustus. In Egyptian astronomy there were seven planets, and hence seven days in the week, each day ruled by its own special planet. The people of Peru had also a seven-day week.
The Persians and Mexicans have a tradition of a flood from which seven persons saved themselves in a cave, and by whom the world was subsequently repeopled.
The seven Champions of Christendom are St. George for England, St. Andrew for Scotland, St. Patrick for Ireland, St. David for Wales, St. Denis for France, St. James for Spain, St. Anthony for Italy.