Lucky Three or Not
Things come in threes beleaguers my thoughts. A month ago, I received word that my beloved border collie, Bess, passed away while I traveled in Scotland. Last week I received word that my best male friend from college passed away. Memories flash of the three close friends I lost a few years ago — all within nine months (3 x 3) time. Murmurings below the surface question if a third heartbreak will follow.
Contrary aphorisms abound for this popular number. Three’s a charm predicts success after two failures. Or a third misfortune can follow two others. A third soldier lighting a cigarette from the same source was considered unlucky on the WWI battlefield since a sniper could see the first light, aim on the second, and fire on the third.
Similar “superstitions” like don’t walk under a ladder or don’t open an umbrella in the house, I consider more as practical warnings. After all, anything can be dropped from working high above, and an umbrella’s cuspate spokes can be dangerous and obstructive indoors.
That Timeless Number Three
My search for a deeper understanding of the number three revealed its timeless phenomenon. Pythagoreans, for instance, believed the number three to be the first triangular number. Besides its strength in triangles, tripods, and pyramids, the notorious number three prevails throughout history and cultures worldwide:
– A trident appears beside Neptune, Shiva, and farmers.
– The Celtic triskele’s three spirals symbolize the Present World-where we live and exist, the Other World-home of our ancestors, spirit guides and deities, and the Celestial World.
– The three-petaled French fleur-de-lis originally represented the commoners, nobility, and clergy. In other cultures it’s also symbolized life, perfection, and light.
– Greek Cronus fathered three sons – Zeus, Poseidon and Hades; Norse Borr also fathered three sons – Odin, Vili, and Vé.
– Mayans believed mankind was created in three attempts (flood destroyed the first man made of clay; a storm washed away the second man made of wood; but the third man made from maize was from whom all are descended).
– Celtic gods and goddesses often appear in groups of three.
– Besides the Trinity, the number three winds throughout Christianity as when it was reported that three wise men presented three gifts (gold, frankincense and myrrh), and Jesus’ ministry lasted three years.
– Buddhism’s Three Jewels are The Buddha, The Dharma, and The Sangha.
– The Torah uses the number three for Jews to mediate between two opposing or contradictory values.
– Universal chi, human plane chi, and earth chi compose Taoism’s Three Pure Ones.
– Zoroastrianism’s three virtues are Humata (good thoughts), Hukhta (good words) and Hvarshta (good deeds).
– Hindu’s Trimūrti triple deity is Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer.
– Islam’s triple talaq is a Muslim divorce where a husband pronounces three times talaq (Arabic word for divorce).
– The Bahá’í faith’s three principles are the unity of God, the unity of religion, and the unity of humanity.
– Neopagan religions revere the Triple Goddess deity of maiden, mother and crone.
Fairy Tales and Nursery Rhymes:
Remember The Three Little Pigs, Three Blind Mice, or Goldie Locks and the Three Bears?
The Count of Three:
– Arithmetic, reading, and writing are academic basics.
– “You’re out!” after three strikes in baseball, and three outs end an inning.
– Actions requiring synchrony often count to three like one-two-three “Say cheese!”
– Music expresses feelings, ideas and moods.
– A chord consists of three notes.
– Music’s three main elements are melody, rhythm, and harmony.
– Composition is based on the Rule of Thirds.
– Artists create with three primary colors of red, yellow and blue.
– Writers have a beginning, middle and end.
Nature and the Environment:
– Physics, chemistry, and biology are the three types of natural laws.
– The physical environment consists of land, sea, and sky.
– Folklore and religions describe life in heaven, hell, and on earth.
Medicine and Science:
– India’s Ayurvedic medicine revolves around three doshas — vata, pitta and kapha.
– Variation, heredity, and selection are the three principles of evolution.
– Personality theory is based on the id, the ego and the superego.
The Unity of Three
Three can be an expression of unity as in father, mother and child or how one can become three as in me, myself and I. Of course, we’ve been told three’s a crowd but three is also a tie-breaker. Perhaps one is too solitary, and two is too black and white final. It is three that offers possibility like a shade of grey as in this, that, other, or door 1-2-or 3.
The number three appears almost everywhere. What do you think of the number three? Has it played any significance in your life?
What is it that makes three so powerful and for years on end? Yogis access intuition through their third eye. Some may deem consideration of three as linear thinking or apophenia — a universal human tendency to seek patterns in random information. For me, observing patterns is a trait I developed in my youth to manage an unpredictable home life. Even if erroneous, considering the next possibility eliminated the shock when voices escalated and doors slammed.
My Adult View of Three…
As a gardener, I understand plants need earth, water, and air. Three-leaf clovers make me smile, and I’m cautious near three-leaved poison ivy or oak. My red-white-and blue spirit cherishes life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I’ve learned that the number three can represent past, present and future, or body, soul and spirit. As the number of completion, I recognize that Bess and my college buddy have lived their cycles of birth, life and death — something that every living creature will experience. It just is. The way of life.
8 Replies to “3: Omne Trium Perfectum – Making Sense of it All”
There’s absolutely nothing to forgive. Thank you for taking the time to offer an in-depth reply. My post was already so lengthy, it might have become a book if I also included all you have stated so thank you again for offering up your info. Warm wishes to you —
Please forgive the untimeliness of my response to your post, which i found while googling why ‘All good things come in three’s?’ (as can bad things apparently??)
After reading this post, and a similar one on Blogger, i was amazed no-one had pointed out what, to me is blindingly obvious about the number 3 – we are all 3 dimensional beings living in a 3 dimensional Universe (well there is now some conjecture as to the total number of dimensions but we all can agree there are a minimum of 3 physical, but also 3 ‘states’ of being for us human beings).
Physically we have 3 ‘degrees of liberty’ – we can move either up/down, left/right or forward/backward and in no other physical direction (but can move in varying combinations of the 3 such as when in circular or orbiting motion).
Importantly there is a 4th direction of ‘moving’, in that of the ‘zeroth’ dimension where no movement in relation to the other 3 is made: basically we stay in the ‘one’ spot – not that this is ever fully possible of course, only relatively to some other thing, but it is a useful construct when we need to imagine things other than ourselves and how they may be moving/existing in space relative to us.
As for the 3 ‘states’ of our being; our physical body, our mind or mental body and our soul/spirit or ethereal state, our true essence, these are so intrinsic to who we all are that we tend to take them so much for granted that we may come to believe they are one and the same thing, in a similar way to the way we often forget how our physical movement and being is comprised in 3 unique ‘directions’ when we might think we are moving/living just in the one.
Pythagoras as you mentioned above (and others including current Virtual Reality engineers) believed the universe was made entirely out of 3 sided triangles, that these are the ‘atoms’ (that which is indivisible into a smaller part) which in varying combinations are used to build up all that exists in the physical world, and he may have extended the same principle to the other 2 states of being, i might need to research that a bit more? He found 2 types of triangles to have special significance: the equilateral triangle or regular 3 sided polygon and the right-angled triangle made famous by the theorem named after him.
The other point i would make regarding 3 is that of it’s necessity in finding balance. If we have two things related to one another which ‘oppose’ one another in some linear way there is a 3rd point which is the balance point (kind of like a seesaw) which lies somewhere in between the 2 extremes or ends. 2 points/things are ‘unstable’ other than at this 3rd point of balance between them. In this way 3 brings harmony.
Lastly, also being a gardener, i think you missed the 4th thing all plants need – the Sun, a source of either light for photosynthesis or heat energy they need to generate growth, in combination with the 3 ‘worldly’ elements.
The Ancients considered Earth, Water and Air as being 3 elements essential in all life but knew they also knew life required the Fire element supplied for free by the Sun, a Celestial body external to our Earth, which Alchemists would often seek to replace materially through the application of fire in times when no sunlight was available to them.
Well, I appreciate your taking the time to point that out. As such, I decided to re-word that a bit. 🙂
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when someone had pointed that out to me years ago, i couldnt believe it, n looked it up.
nativity sets that have 3 wise men kinda sealed that number in our heads, me thinks.
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Thank you for pointing this out. Perhaps there were 3 x 3 x 3 and more wise men! All good.
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just a note:
there were 3 different gifts, but technically, the number if wise men who came were unknown.
just assumed to be 3, due to there being 3 kinds of gifts.
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Hmm. You have my curiosity about “3 crows.” Glad to hear you are also keyed in to patterns. And yes, as long as we are living we will continue losing those we love. I’ve always known this in the context of my canines but hadn’t extended that concept to humans, I suppose because our lives are expected to be so much longer than a pet’s. Thank you, as always, for sharing your insights, kindred spirit.
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Wow! What a thorough investigation of the number 3. I’m always wary when 3 crows assemble above me. The experience has been a harbinger of difficulty in one form or another for me. Superstitious? Perhaps, but I’m also an astute observer of patterns. Once you see them, they’re everywhere. I’m so sorry for your recent losses. As long as we are living, we will continue to lose those we love, and that’s a pattern that keeps me on edge constantly.