The Symbolism and Significance of the Number Seven

All of manifestation is of a septenary or sevenfold nature, according to the Ancient and Ageless Wisdom. We all know that SEVEN is a highly important number – in religions, in esotericism, in symbolism, in ordinary daily life, and also considered a “lucky” number by those who believe in luck. If the number seven does indeed bring good fortune and success to anyone, it isn’t a matter of good luck or bad luck but rather a matter of the inherent power of this very sacred and significant number.

Most of the Theosophical information about the number seven from a symbolic perspective comes from a section or chapter of Vol. 2 of “The Secret Doctrine” (p. 590-641) titled “The Mysteries of the Hebdomad.” “Hebdomad” just means “seven.” In this section of 50 pages, H. P. Blavatsky covers various aspects of the number 7 in great detail and it is well worth reading in full. That extremely valuable work, “The Secret Doctrine,” was written by HPB with the aid of her Guru, the Master M., and his fellow Adept, the Master known as K.H.

First, let’s look at the visual appearance of the number seven itself. Even the way it’s written or drawn contains symbolism which we would probably never suspect without reading “The Secret Doctrine.” It’s taught that the visual representation of the number 7 is really only one half and one side of a symbol. We can see this illustrated in the image at the top of this article. Its other side, its mirror image, is the symbol known as the Greek letter “Gamma.” This letter Gamma is itself the symbol of a particular G-word, Gaia, which is the Earth and earthly life.

The figure of the number seven is said to be the symbol of divine life linked with earthly or physical life, because it is constituted of the 3 and the 4. In Esoteric Science, in Occult Philosophy, 3 represents the Higher Triad, or the highermost three principles or components or forces of cosmos and man, the three which are of an immortal nature, whilst the 4 represent the Lower Quaternary, the lower four. So seven illustrates the immortal and the mortal, the imperishable and the perishable.

And then if we join 7 and its mirror image Gamma together, what do we get? A symbol known as the Tau. Although often spelt t-a-u it’s nonetheless pronounced in Greek as “Tav,” which is the Greek name for the letter T. The Tau or Tav symbol is itself a large capital letter T, which contains so much symbolic meaning of its own.

Further insight from “The Secret Doctrine” about the number seven tells us that the number 3 is male or masculine, while the number 4 is female, feminine. This again relates to what was just explained about the triad or trinity being essentially the spiritual and the lower four the material. Both are necessary to one another. Spirit or consciousness can never become anything without matter or substance. The masculine force, Purusha, is nothing but pure negation without the feminine force, Prakriti, to bring it to life and fructification. We see the same thing on the physiological level in the birth of every baby. No man could ever become a father without a woman to be the mother. Of course the reverse is also equally true.

Relating this back to the number 7, we can say that the 3 needs the 4, and the 4 needs the 3. “Their union,” writes HPB, “is the emblem of life eternal in spirit on its ascending arc, and in matter as the ever resurrecting element – by procreation and reproduction. . . . The former (the 3) is invisible; the latter (the 4) is on the plane of objective perception.” And 3 and 4 are also symbolised as the Triangle above the Cube. So 7 represents the conjunction of both of these mutual polarities.

HPB writes, “Number Seven, as a compound of 3 and 4, is the factor element in every ancient religion, because it is the factor element in nature.”

Moving on a few pages, we find that the number seven “is closely connected with the moon, whose occult influence is ever manifesting itself in septenary periods. It is the moon which is the guide of the occult side of terrestrial nature, while the Sun is the regulator and factor of manifested life; . . . and this truth was ever evident to the Seers and the adepts. Jacob Boehme, by insisting on the fundamental doctrine of the seven properties of everlasting mother Nature, proved himself thereby a great Occultist.”

In this section on “The Mystery of The Hebdomad” HPB provides a table which lists what she calls the “Cosmic Aspects, or Principles” and, parallel to them, their correspondences, namely the “Human Aspects, or Principles.” From above below, from the highest to the lowest, from the purest and most transcendent to the most differentiated and materially conditioned, the seven principles or components of our Cosmos are given as –

1. The Unmanifested Logos (Also known as the First Logos)

2. Universal latent Ideation (Also known as the Second Logos, the semi-manifested Logos)

3. Universal active Intelligence (Also known as the Third Logos, the manifested Logos; see Understanding The Logos and The Three Logoi)

(So that’s the higher 3 and then the lower 4 are named as –)

4. Cosmic Chaotic Energy

5. Astral Ideation, reflecting terrestrial things (This sounds like it’s referring to the astral plane, the astral light, the psychic atmosphere which surrounds us and reflects or radiates back to us everything we imprint upon it through our thoughts, words, deeds, and feelings.)

6. Life Essence or Life Energy

7. The Earth.

What about the seven human aspects, which are derived from, and expressions of, those seven aspects of the Cosmos?

Parallel to the first, unmanifested Logos – the unspoken Word, the silent sound, the Voice of the Silence – is Atma, designated on this page as Universal Spirit. Parallel to universal latent ideation is Buddhi, called the Spiritual Soul. The Human Soul, which is the same as the real human mind, is called in Sanskrit “Manas” and this stands parallel to the universal active intelligence.

Parallel to the chaotic cosmic energy,the chaotic energy of the cosmos, is our “Animal Soul,” that part of us whose nature is desires, passions, emotions, impulses – not necessarily all bad or wrong ones – called Kama. Parallel to the astral ideation or astral light is the astral body, Linga Sharira, the subtle energetic blueprint upon and around which is formed our outer body. Parallel to the cosmic life essence or life energy is the human life energy, Prana, and finally, the Earth corresponds to the outer body, the physical body of dense matter, Sthula Sharira. The microcosm reflects the macrocosm. As above, so below. On Earth as it is in the Heavens. (Please see Understanding Our Seven Principles for further discovery of our sevenfold nature.)

Continuing on in the chapter we find this:

“Number seven, or the heptagon, the Pythagoreans considered to be a religious and perfect number. It was called  “Telesphoros,” because by it all in the Universe and mankind is led to its end, i.e., its culmination . . . Being under the rule of seven sacred planets, the doctrine of the Spheres shows, from Lemuria to Pythagoras, the seven powers of terrestrial and sublunary nature, as well as the seven great Forces of the Universe, proceeding and evolving in seven tones, which are the seven notes of the musical scale. The heptad (our Septenary) was regarded “as the number of a virgin, because it is unborn” . . . “without a father or a mother, but proceeding directly from the Monad, which is the origin and crown of all things.” (Pythag. Triangle, p. 174.) And if the heptad is made to proceed from the Monad directly, then it is, as taught in the Secret Doctrine of the oldest schools, the perfect and sacred number of this Maha-Manvantara of ours.”

That last line seems to suggest that in previous and future universal life cycles, or existences of the Universe, the number seven may not be the significant number. But for us now, and aeons to come, it is. Reference was also made there to the seven sacred planets.

All groups of seven, everywhere in existence, correspond to one another . . . which means that they are linked together . . . they are the SAME seven but in different forms of expression and on different levels of manifestation. Ultimately, all sevens and sevenfold groupings can be traced back to what we call the SEVEN RAYS, the seven primordial Rays or Lights, which naturally correspond to the seven colours of the rainbow. These are what the previous quote called “the seven great Forces of the Universe.”

In this “Secret Doctrine” section, H. P. Blavatsky translates a couple of sentences from an Eastern esoteric text, which says: “Space and Time are one. Space and Time are nameless, for they are the incognizable THAT, which can be sensed only through its seven rays – which are the Seven Creations, the Seven Worlds, the Seven Laws, etc., etc., etc., etc.

The sun we see in the sky has its rays which come forth from it and similarly the one all-ensouling Life and Light of the Universe, called poetically the Central Spiritual Sun or Great Central Sun, has rays of its own, which are these seven rays just mentioned. This subject can be explored in greater depth in the article Our Seven Divine Parents.

And what about the seven sacred planets, each of which serves as a focal point and radiation point of one of the transcendental Seven Rays? In a footnote, HPB explains that “The seven planets are not limited to this number because the ancients knew of no others, but simply because they were the primitive or primordial houses of the seven Logoi. There may be nine and ninety-nine other planets discovered – this does not alter the fact of these seven alone being sacred.”

In three books – “The Secret Doctrine,” “Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge,” and “The Secret Doctrine Dialogues” – what those seven sacred planets are is revealed. Venus, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn make five and traditionally the sun and moon are added as the two others, but Theosophy insists that this was only done historically in order to veil the truth that the two other sacred planets are planets of quite a mysterious nature. One of them is said to no longer even be visible and to be situated between Mercury and the Sun but may have become briefly visible in Victorian times, when astronomers named it Vulcan. The other is described as a planet with a retrograde motion, near the moon, visible sometimes at certain points during the night, and whose occult influence is in fact transmitted by the moon.

Continuing this theme of astronomy and esoteric astrology, we learn further that “number seven is closely connected with the occult significance of the Pleiades, those seven daughters of Atlas.”

The Pleiades are a very popular subject in the New Age Movement but Theosophy also shows how justifiably important and significant they are. Their supposed husbands, the Saptarishi (also called Ursa Major, The Great Bear, The Big Dipper, and The Plough) are indicated in Theosophy to relate primarily to lower things, but the Seven Pleiades, called the Seven Sisters, a star cluster located in the constellation of Taurus, are more spiritually important. “They are very occult,” says HPB in “The Secret Doctrine Dialogues,” “because they are connected with all the Rishis [and Sages] . . .; they have an interchange of thought with [them].”

And then “The Secret Doctrine” says that the Pleiades, and especially its brightest star, Alcyone, are the central point that our whole Universe revolves around. Yes, the whole Universe revolves around the Seven Pleiades, according to Theosophy, and they – especially Alcyone – are stated to be the focus through which the Divine Breath (the highest Logos) works, during the whole period of universal manifestation. So the seven sacred planets are not the only group of seven in the sky that are important.

Coming back down to Earth, we find it taught that the human race evolves over a vast period of time on a globe through seven successive epochs, called Root Races. The best known names of past Root Races are Lemuria and Atlantis, the Lemurian and Atlantean Races, which preceded our own present humanity. As so much fantasy is associated with Lemuria and Atlantis, we ought to mention that the Theosophical teachings about them are very different indeed from popular New Age versions and that HPB provides masses of evidence and information from many sources to support the legitimacy of the notion that they really existed.

The latest and newest and therefore youngest Root Race is the Indo-Caucasian or Indo-European, which is the Fifth Root Race. Our souls’ time on this Earth won’t come to an end until the Seventh Race (that number again) has come into existence and reached the end of its cycle, in millions of years from now.

One might ask why, if the number SEVEN is the key number in everything, are there are only four Yugas spoken of? You may have heard of the Krita or Satya Yuga (the Golden Age), the Treta Yuga (Silver Age), the Dvapara Yuga (Bronze Age), and our present Kali Yuga, the Iron Age, the Age of Darkness. These are mentioned in Hinduism, where it’s said these four Yugas together constitute the Maha Yuga, the Great Age.

What isn’t well known is that in one of her articles, titled “Premature and Phenomenal Growths,” HPB discloses that there are actually seven Yugas and not four. On the descending side, going downward, there is the Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age, then we reach the Kali Yuga at the bottom point, the lowest point of the arc, which is its turning point. But after that, instead of just somehow suddenly jumping back into the Golden Age, we ascend back up gradually, first through another Bronze Age, then another Silver Age, and then finally the highest Golden Age, completing the not fourfold but sevenfold cycle. (See the article The Seven Yugas for more.)

All manifestation is of a septenary nature. We can therefore also find in “The Secret Doctrine” that although we usually speak, as Hinduism does, of the Three Gunas or qualities, attributes, and propensities of Nature – namely Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas, or purity, passion, and inertia – there are actually seven Gunas. Similarly, although we typically speak of “the three planes of human life,” after the manner of William Q. Judge’s article of that name and the Three Halls outlined in “The Voice of The Silence,” we learn from “The Secret Doctrine” that there are not just three states of human consciousness but seven states of consciousness. Whenever we see in esotericism any grouping that is less than the number seven, it ought to immediately occur to us that although it may indeed be useful or practical, it is not complete. Very often the complete seven may be too esoteric for HPB or the Masters to fully or clearly spell it out in public print.

Finally, the sevenfold human being is called poetically the Saptaparna, the seven-leaved man-plant (or woman-plant). We often picture the Seven Principles of our constitution as layers, all situated above one another, but although that can be helpful and illustrates their interrelations and degrees of spirituality, a more vibrant and colourful image is of a plant with seven leaves, perhaps a seven-leaved lotus. Saptaparna is also the name of a cave where Buddha gave some of his teachings to his select disciples. In an article titled “Shakyamuni’s Place in History” HPB – or perhaps one of the Masters, as it’s an unsigned article and contains much esoteric knowledge regarding the secret history of early Buddhism – shares the following account:

“.  . . the . . . cave, then called “Saraswati” and “Bamboo-cave,” got its latter name [i.e. of Saptaparna] in this wise. When our Lord first sat in it for Dhyana [i.e. meditative contemplation],it was a large six-chambered natural cave, . . . One day, while teaching the mendicants outside, our Lord compared man to a Saptaparna (seven-leaved) plant, showing them how after the loss of its first leaf every other could be easily detached, but the seventh leaf, – directly connected with the stem. “Mendicants,” He said, “there are seven Buddhas in every Buddha, and there are six Bhikshus [i.e. mendicant monks] and but one Buddha in each mendicant. What are the seven?The seven branches of complete knowledge. What are the six ? The six organs of sense. What are the five? The five elements of illusive being. And the ONE which is also ten? He is a true Buddha who develops in him the ten forms of holiness and subjects them all to the one – ‘the silent voice’ (meaning Avalokiteswara) [i.e. the Voice of the Silence, the Higher Self or Atman, one with the highest Logos or manifested Divine Energy in the Universe].” After that, causing the rock to be moved at His command the Tathagata made it divide itself into a seventh additional chamber, remarking that a rock too was septenary, and had seven stages of development. From that time it was called the Sattapanni or the Saptaparna cave.” (“Five Years of Theosophy” p. 372)

Perhaps the main thing to remember from that is that there are Seven Buddhas in every Buddha but in everyone else there is only One Buddha. This is clearly a reference to Atman, the Higher Self, the Spirit, which the real esoteric Buddhism calls the Buddha Nature within. We all have that. But Gautama Buddha seems to have been saying that the way to actually become a Buddha is by transforming and elevating all the six other Principles into Buddha-type Principles, rather than just leaving them as they are, a mixture of good, bad, and indifferent.

Naturally, some reading this article will say that they have no wish to try to become a Buddha, at least not in this current lifetime, but even if that’s the case, any effort to raise our consciousness, purify our nature, control our thoughts, and use the Higher Ego to master the lower ego, cannot help but increase one’s overall daily happiness, peace of mind, potential, and fulfilment, and it’s safe to say that all of us want that.

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“The Hierophants and Initiates of the Mysteries in the Secret Schools in which all the Sciences inaccessible and useless to the masses of the profane were taught, had one universal, Esoteric tongue – the language of symbolism and allegory. This language has suffered neither modification nor amplification from those remote times down to this day. It still exists and is still taught.”
(H. P. Blavatsky, “The Negators of Science”)

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