h Phoenix Qi: August 2007

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Resurrection, Rebirth, and Other Symbolism in the Number Three 3

As I demonstrated in my last post, Symbolism of Orion's Belt, some things based on the number three that are of spiritual and cultural importance are derived from astronomical sources other than the three popular lunar phases. For instance, the three stars of Orion's Belt have held great significance in many societies over the centuries.

However, many people believe that the philosophical and/or spiritual significance of the number three is connected to the visible phases of the moon, First Quarter, Full, and Last Quarter.

No doubt many things do correspond with moon phases, for example the Maiden, Mother, Crone of the modern pagan and Wiccan traditions which is a variation of the Birth-Life-Death trio of goddesses in the Greek and Roman mythologies.

The one "three" that is often overlooked is the three days of the New Moon. I believe that the period of three days during which the moon is invisible, dark, or "dead," is the astronomical event behind the concept of rebirth or resurrection, and frankly wonder why the Resurrection of Christ and the date of Easter is based on a Full Moon event when "rebirth" occurs following a New Moon.

Many death-defying or resurrection journeys to Under- or Other-worlds are accomplished through a pattern of three, or a multiple of three.

There is the ancient Egyptian journey of the soul to the Otherworld of Osiris which accomplished by passing through twenty-one gates (7 X 3). Plato's resurrection/rebirth "Myth of Er" in which the warrior who died in battle was returned to earth after 12 days (4 X 3).

In the original Sumerian myth of Inanna (known to the Assyrians and Babylonians as Ishtar), she disappeared for three days and nights in her journey to the Underworld looking for her sister. Before she left, she also sends a message to three gods, Enlil, Nanna, and Enki, asking them to save her if anything goes amiss. It's interesting to note that she also passes through seven gates on her way.

In some Sumerian myths, there are only three steps to the Underworld. (This is later expanded to seven.) Also, there are three guards of the underworld; the first holds the key, the second controls the river, and the third is the ferryman. Source: Inanna New Moon Goddess.

Since most of these journeys to and through death include the symbolism of darkness, I believe they are rooted in the three dark nights of a New Moon. The rebirth of the participant on the third day in those journeys is the symbolism of the appearance of the crescent moon, the lunar equivalent of resurrection or return to life.

Below is a list of threes in mythology and religion from Wikipedia. I've added a couple things which you'll find enclosed in brackets [ ]. Notice how many are on the theme of life and death!

Wikipedia on the significance of Three

In Mythology

  • Georges Dumezil developed the idea of a Tripartite Ideology (Trifunctional Hypothesis) with respect to the Indo-European peoples consisting of three class divisions: Priestly~ Warrior~ Farmers/Craftsmen.
  • 3 Greek gods: Zeus~ Poseidon~ Hades (Heaven~ Earth~ Underworld)
  • 3 Roman gods: Jupiter~ Neptune~ Apollo (Heaven~ Earth~ Underworld)
  • Ancient Egypt Theban Triad: Amun~ Mut~ and their son Khans
  • 3 ancient Egypt central religious figures: Horus~ Isis~ Osiris
  • The Maya believed 3 stars in the Orion Constellation (Alnitak~ Saiph~ Rigel) were arranged by the gods as a triangular hearth, enclosing the smoke of the fire creation - the nebula.
  • 3 Greek Fates (Moirai, Moires): Clotho~ Lachesis~ Atropos (sometimes referred to as the 3 spinners).
  • 3 Roman Fates: Decima~ Nona (goddesses of birth)~ Morta (goddess of death)
  • 3 Roman Graces- (in Greek mythology called the charities and according to the Spartans, Cleta was the third): Aglaia~ Euphrosyne~ Thalia.
  • 3 monstrous offspring by Loki and Angroboda: Fenrir~ Hel~ Jormungund
  • 3 hags possessing immense power in Norse Myth: Urdr~ Verdandi~ Skuld
  • 3 Gorgons-(snake-haired sisters in Greek mythology): Stheno, Euryale, Medusa are sometimes depicted as having wings of gold, brazen claws, and the tusks of boars. Medusa is the only one of the gorgons that is mortal.
  • 3 different beings made up the different qualities of death according to ancient Greek belief: Thantos (male)~ Ker (female)~ Gorgo (female).
  • 3 Roman Furies (female personifications of vengence) that were called the Erinyes (the Angry Ones) or Eumenides by the Ancient Greeks (Orestes called them the Solemn Ones, or the Kindly Ones): Alecto ("unceasing")~ Megaera ("grudging")~ Tisiphone ("avenging murder").

In religion

Abrahamic religions

Other religions

  • The Wiccan Rule of Three claiming that whatever energy a person puts out into the world, be it positive or negative, will be returned to that person three times.
  • The Triple Goddess: Maiden, Mother, Crone.
  • In Taoism, the Three Pure Ones.
  • [In the I Ching (Yijing), often considered a book of sacred philosophy to some Asian spiritual traditions, the lines of the trigrams and hexagrams from top to bottom represent heaven, man, and earth.]
  • The three Gunas underlie action, in the Vedic system of knowledge. There is also the concept of Trimurti in Hindu tradition. The Buddha has three bodies. The three Vedas are called trayi i.e triad. Lord Shiva is Trinetra-Three-eyed. The confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and hidden Sarasvati is the famous Triveni-confluence of three rivers. Buddhism's three refuges are Trisharana- Buddhan sharanam gacchami, Dhammam sharanam gacchami, Sangham sharanam gacchami.
  • In Greek mythology, the Three Graces or Charites. Also the number of heads of Cerberus, the monstrous dog that guards the gate to Hades
  • Various Triple deities.

In esoteric tradition

  • The Theosophical Society has three conditions of membership.
  • Gurdjieff's Three Centers [intellectual, emotional, physical] and the Law of Three [every whole phenomenon is composed of three separate sources: active, passive, and reconciling or neutral]
  • Feri Tradition teaches of the existence of three souls in each individual person.
  • [Ancient Egyptians also believed a person had three souls, the Ba that roamed the earth as a human-headed bird, the tomb-bound Ka, and the Akh which journeyed to the Otherworld.]