There are many numbers that signify many things around us, some positive, others – like the ominous 13 – with many negative connotations. Few of them are as well-known and filled with significance than 7, though.
The number 7 shows up in all kinds of places, sometimes in ones where you would least expect it. In Genesis, God creates the world in 7 days. Rome, one of the most popular tourist cities in the world, was built on 7 hills. There are seven heavenly virtues and seven deadly sins, and the seventh son of the seventh son is considered to be endowed with great power, according to the lore.
Although Christianity does attribute a great significance to the number 7, it is not the first belief system to do so. The number seven was important for the ancient Egyptians, too, as shown by their mythology and symbolism – it is associated with perfection, completeness, and effectiveness.
When Sekhmet, the warrior goddess of destruction, was sent to Earth to destroy her father Ra’s enemies, her bloodthirst has driven her on a killing spree that threatened the whole of humanity. To stop her, Ra poured seven thousand barrels of beer that was stained red in front of her, making her think it was blood. Sekhmet became so drunk from it that she gave up on her killing spree, returning peacefully to her father.
The number 7 shows up repeatedly in ancient Egyptian myths: think of the legendary famine that lasted for seven years, the glyph for “God” has seven spines, and the symbol for “Water” has seven lines.
The ancient world
Egypt is by far not the only culture that believed in the importance of the number 7 – it shows up across many other ancient writings by ancient civilizations.
The Indian Vedas mention 3 and 7 the most often, from the seven horses of the Sun God to the seven wives of Agni, the god of fire. In China, a woman’s life cycle is ruled by 7: a girl grows her “milk teeth” at 7 months, and loses them at 7 years, reaches puberty at 2×7 years (14), and so on.
The number seven has likely earned its special status through observations of the sky and stars: there are seven “planets” (as in moving celestial bodies, as opposed to “fixed” stars) and there are 28 days (4 times 7) in a month (a moon cycle). Seven grew to represent a perfect set: there are Seven Wonders, Seven Seas, Seven Continents, and the list goes on.
The number seven still plays an important role in our lives today. Its importance in myths and mysticism has transferred to today’s world in its lucky nature – you see sevens on slot machines all the time, usually associated with the biggest win. Science has, in turn, found more interesting places where the number seven emerges: according to psychologists, humans can retain roughly seven pieces of information in their short-term memory, which makes groups of seven the best way to present information.