Of the five human senses, the three which are the most important in Masonic symbolism are Seeing, Hearing, and Feeling, because of their respective reference to certain modes of recognition, and because, by their use, Freemasons are enabled to practice that universal language the possession of which is the boast of the Order.
Four is the tetrad or Quaternary of the Pythagoreans and it is a sacred number in the advanced Degrees. The Pythagoreans called it a perfect number, and hence it has been adopted as a sacred number in the Degree of Perfect Master. In many nations of antiquity the name of God consists of four letters, as the Adad, of the Syrians, the Amum of the Egyptians, the efos of the Greeks, the Deus of the Romans, and pre-eminently the Tetragrammaton or four-lettered name of the Jews. But in Symbolic Freemasonry this number has no special significance.
Among the Pythagoreans five was a mystical number, because it was formed by the union of the first even number and the first odd, rejecting unity; and hence it symbolized the mixed conditions of order and disorder, happiness and misfortune, life and death. The same union of the odd and even, or male and female, numbers made it the symbol of marriage. Among the Greeks it was a symbol of the world, because, says Diodorus, it represented ether and the four elements. It was a sacred round number among the Hebrews.
In Egypt, India. and other Oriental nations says Gesenius, the five minor planets and the five elementary powers were accounted sacred. It was the pentas of the Gnosties and the Hermetic Philosophers; it was the symbol of their quintessence, the fifth or highest essence of power in a natural body. In Freemasonry, five is a sacred number, inferior only in importance to three and seven. It is especially significant in the Fellow Craft's Degree, where five are required to hold a Lodge, and where, in the winding stairs, the five steps are referred to the orders of architecture and the human senses. In the Third Degree we find the reference to the five points of fellowship and their Symbol, the five-pointed star. Geometry, too, which is deemed synonymous with Freemasonry, is called the fifth science; and, in fact, throughout nearly all the Degrees of Freemasonry, we find abundant allusions to five as a sacred and mystical number.
The five-pointed star, which is not to be confounded with the blazing star, is not found among the old symbols of Freemasonry; indeed, some writers have denied that it is a Masonic emblem at all. It is undoubtedly of recent origin, and was probably introduced by Jeremy Cross, who placed it among the plates in the emblems of the Third Degree prefixed to his Hieroglyphic Chart. It is not mentioned in the ritual or the lecture of the Third Degree, but the Freemasons of the United States have, by tacit consent, referred to it as a symbol of the Five Points of Fellowship. The outlines of the five-pointed star are the same as those of the pentalpha of Pythagoras, which was the symbol of health. M. Jomard, in his Description de L'Egypte (tome viii, page 423) says that the star engraved on the Egyptian monuments, where it is a very common hieroglyphic, has constantly five points. never more nor less.
Among the Pythagoreans the number eight was esteemed as the first cube, being formed by the continued multiplication of 2 by 2 by 2, and signified friendship, prudence, counsel, and justice; and, as the cube or reduplication of the first even number, it was made to refer to the primitive law of nature, which supposes all men to be equal.
Christian numerical symbologists have called it the symbol of the resurrection, because Jesus rose on the 8th day, that is, the day after the 7th, and because the name of Jesus in Greek numerals, corresponding to its Greek letters, is 10, 8, 200, 70, 400, 200, which, being added up, is 888. Hence, too, they call it the Dominical Number. As eight persons were saved in the ark, those who, like Faber, have adopted the theory that the Arkite Rites pervaded all the religions of antiquity, find an important symbolism in this number, and as Noah was the type of the resumetion, they again find in it a reference to that doctrine. It can, however, be scarcely reckoned among the numerical symbols of Freemasonry.
If the number three was celebrated among the ancient sages, that of three times three had no less celebrity; because, according to them, each of the three elements which constitute our bodies is ternary: the water containing earth and fire; the earth containing igneous and aqueous particles; and the fire being tempered by globules of water and terrestrial corpuscles which serve to feed it. No one of the three elements being entirely separated from the others, all material beings composed of these three elements, whereof each is triple, may be designated by the figurative number of three times three, which has become the symbol of all formations of bodies. Hence the name of ninth envelop given to matter. Every material extension, every circular line, has for its representative sign the number nine among the Pythagoreans, who had observed the property which this number possesses of reproducing itself incessantly and entire in every multiplication; thus offering to the mind a very striking emblem of matter, which is incessantly composed before our eyes, after having undergone a thousand decompositions.
The number nine was consecrated to the Spheres and the Muses. It is the sign of every circumference; because a circle or 360 degrees is equal to nine, that is to say, 3+6+0=9. Nevertheless, the ancients regarded this number with a sort of terror; they considered it a bad presage; as the symbol of versatility, of change, and the emblem of the frailty of human affairs. Wherefore they avoided all numbers where nine appears, and chiefly 81, the produce of nine multiplied by itself, and the addition whereof, 8+1, again presents the number nine. As the figure of the number six was the symbol of the terrestrial globe, animated by a Divine Spirit, the figure of the number nine symbolized the earth, under the influence of the Evil Principle; and thence the terror it inspired. Nevertheless, according to the Cabalists, the character nine symbolizes the generative egg, or the image of a little globular being, from whose lower side seems to flow its spirit of life. The Ennead, signifying an aggregate of nine thongs or persons, is the first square of unequal numbers. Every one is aware of the singular properties of the number nine, which, multiplied by itself or any other number whatever, gives a result whose final sum is always nine, or always divisible by nine. Nine multiplied by each of the ordinary numbers, produces an arithmetical progression, each member whereof, composed of two figures, and presents a remarkable fact; for example:
1 . 2 . 3 . 4 . 5 . 6 . 7 . 8 . 9 . 10
9 . 18 . 27 . 36 . 45 . 54 . 63 . 72 . 81 . 90
The first line of figures gives the regular series, from 1 to 10. The second reproduces this line doubly; first ascending from the first figure of 18, and then returning from the second figure of 81. In Freemasonry, nine derives its value from its being the product of three multiplied into itself, and consequently in Masonic language the number nine is always denoted by the expression three times three. For a similar reason, 27, which is 3 times 9, and 81, which is 9 times 9, are esteemed ax sacred numbers in the advanced Degrees.
In the Prestonian lectures, eleven was a mystical number, and was the final series of steps in the winding stairs of the Fellow Craft, which were said to consist of 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11. The eleven was referred to the eleven apostles after the defection of Judas, and to the eleven sons of Jacob after Joseph went into Egypt. But when the lectures were revived by Henning, the eleven was struck out. In Templar Freemasonry, however, eleven is still significant as being the constitutional number required to open a Commandery; and here it is evidently allusive of the eleven true disciples.
Twelve being composed of the mystical numbers 7+5 or of 3X4, the triad multiplied by the quaternion, was a number of considerable value in ancient systems. Thus there were twelve signs of the zodiac, twelve months in the year, twelve Tribes of Israel, twelve stones in the pectoral, and twelve oxen supporting the molten sea in the Temple. There were twelve apostles in the new law, and the New Jerusalem has twelve gates, twelve foundations, is twelve thousand furlongs square, and the number of the sealed is twelve times twelve thousand. Even the Pagans respected this number, for there were in their mythology twelve superior and twelve inferior gods.
It is only necessary to remind the well-informed Freemason of the fourteen days of burial mentioned in the legend of the Third Degree. Now, this period of fourteen was not in the opinion of Masonic symbolists, an arbitrary selection, but was intended to refer to or symbolize the fourteen days of lunary darkness, or decreasing light, which intervene between the full moon and its continued decrease until the end of the lunar month. In the Egyptian mysteries, the body of Osiris is said to have been cut into fourteen pieces by Typhon, and thrown into the Nile. Plutarch, speaking of this in his treatise on Isis and Osiris, thus explains the symbolism of the number fourteen, which comprises the Masonic idea: The body of Osiris was cut into fourteen pieces; that is, into as many parts as there are days between the full moon. The moon, at the end of fourteen days, enters Taurus, and becomes united to the sun, from whom she collects fire upon her disk during the fourteen days which follow. She is then found every month in conjunction with him in the superior parts of the signs. The equinoctial year finishes at the moment when the sun and moon are found united with Orion, or the star of Orus a constellation placed under Taurus, which unites itself to the Neomenia of spring. The moon renews herself in Taurus. and a few days afterward is seen, in the form of a crescent in the following sign. that is, Gemini, the home of Mercury. Then Orion, united to the sun in the attitude of a formidable warrior, precipitates Scorpio. His rival, into the shades of night, for he sets every time Orion appears above the horizon. The day becomes lengthened, and the germs of evil are by degrees destroyed. It is thus that the poet Nonnus pictures to us Typhon conquered at the end of winter, wizen the sun arrives in Taurus, and when Orion mounts into the heavens with him. The first few lines of this article. Fourteen, prompted a discussion in the Builder of November, 1927 (page 35 ), and in the Sandusky Masonic Bulletin, December 1927 (page 149), relative to fourteen or fifteen days of burial. The former quotes Prichard of 1730 in favor of fifteen; that several Masonic Jurisdictions in the United States prefer fifteen as the number; that Webb and Cross so taught; that England has no definite period but mentions a considerate time; that Doctor Mackey was probably right in assuming an astronomical significance—the lunar period between the full and the new moon—but the fifteenth day is nevertheless the first day of the new moon. Doctor Merz in she Bulletin, however, quotes Fellows in favor of fourteen days, mentions the Great Pyramid and its latitude as providing that fourteen days before the Vernal Equinox, the sun would cease to east a shadow at noon and would not again cast it for fourteen days after the autumnal Equinox, and that the significant conformity of the legends of Osiris and of Hiram deserves favor. The Builder suggests further that altogether too many alterations in the ritual have been made in the interests of schemes of interpretation and of superficial consistency, that the thing to do is to discover the oldest available wording and then try to assign a meaning to it, the first duty being to preserve the tradition, a conclusion in which Doctor Merz and the rest of us will join cordially with Brother Meekren.
A sacred number symbolic of the name of God, because the letters of the holy name YOD HE, Jah, are equal, in the Hebrew mode of numeration by the letters of the alphabet, to fifteen; YOD is equal to ten, and HE is equal to five. Hence, from veneration for this sacred name, the Hebrews do not, in ordinary computations, when they wish to express the number fifteen, make use of these two letters, but of two others, which are equivalent to nine and six.
A number of mystical import, partly because it is the product of 3 and 7, the most sacred of the odd numbers, but especially because it is the sum of the numerical value of the letters of the Divine Name, Eheyeil, thus:
5+ 10+ 5+ 1 = 21.
It is little valued in Freemasonry, but is deemed of great importance in the Cabala and in Alchemy; in the latter, because it refers to the twenty-one days of distillation necessary for the conversion of the grosser metals into silver.
This is considered by the Cabalists as the most sacred of mystical numbers, because it is equal to the numerical value of the letters of the Tetragrammaton, thus: 5+6+5+10=26.
Although the number twenty-seven is found in the Degree of Select Master and in some of the other advanced Degrees, it can scarcely be called in itself a sacred number. It derives its importance from the fact that it is produced by the multiplication of the square of three by three, thus: 3 X 3 X 3 = 27.
In the Pythagorean doctrine of numbers, thirty-six symbolized the male and female powers of nature united, because it is composed of the sum of the four odd numbers, 1 + 3 + 5 + 7 = 16, added to the sum of the four even numbers, 2 + 4 + 6 + 8 = 20, for 16 + 20 = 36. It has, however, no place among the sacred numbers of Freemasonry.
The multiple of two perfect numbers four and ten. This was deemed a sacred number, as commemorating many events of religious signification, some of which are as follows:
The alleged period of probation of our first parents in Eden; the continuous deluge of forty days and nights, and the same number of days in which the maters remained upon the face of the earth; the Lenten season of forty days' fast observed by Christians with reference to the fast of Jesus in the Wilderness, and by the Hebrews to the earlier desert fast for a similar period; of the forty years spent in the Desert by Moses and Elijah and the Israelites, which succeeded the concealment of Moses the same number of years in the land of Midian. Moses was forty days and nights on the Mount. The days for embalming the dead were forty.
The forty years of the reign of Saul, of David, and of Solomon; the forty days of grace allotted to Nineveh for repentance; the forty days' fast before Christmas in the Greek Church; as well as its being the number of days of mourning in Assyria, Phenicia, and Egypt, to commemorate the death and burial of their Sun God; and as well the period in the festivals of the resurrection of Adonis and Osiris; the period of forty days thus being a bond by which the whole world, ancient and modern, Pagan, Jewish, and Christian, is united in religious sympathy. Hence, it was determined as the period of mourning by the Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of the Northern Jurisdiction, United States of America.
A sacred number in the advanced Degrees, because it is the square of nine, which is again the square of three. The Pythagoreans, however, who considered the nine as a fatal number, especially dreaded eighty-one, because it was produced by the multiplication of nine by itself.
- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry
Albert G. Mackey, Encyclopedia of Freemasonry.
This is not a complete list or explanation of the use of numbers in masonic ritual and symbolism, and it only represents the interpretations of Albert G. Mackey.