and Ways to Use the Magic of Numbers for Storytelling
Previously, I wrote about the prevalence of the number "three" in stories and story structure. Because this article received a great deal of attention, I decided it was time to investigate another number that crops up in titles, how-tos and stories - the number seven. After several hours of research about the number seven, I not only learned more than you and I would ever need or want to know about the number seven, but also found that this investigation sparked many other ideas about using numbers to enhance our storytelling and our story choosing. In this article, I will share some interesting facts and superstitions about the number seven, refer to stories with seven characters, and also some other thoughts about numbers in general.
Why seven? A brief overview of the history. The number seven was considered sacred not only by all the cultured nations of antiquity and the East, but was held in the greatest reverence even by the later nations of the West. The astronomical origin of this number is established beyond any doubt. Man, feeling himself time out of mind dependent upon the heavenly powers, ever and everywhere made earth subject to heaven. The largest and brightest of the luminaries thus became in his sight the most important and highest of powers; such were the planets which the whole antiquity numbered as seven.
In course of time these were transformed into seven deities. The Egyptians had seven original and higher gods; the Phnicians seven kabiris; the Persians, seven sacred horses of Mithra; the Parsees, seven angels opposed by seven demons, and seven celestial abodes paralleled by seven lower regions. To represent the more clearly this idea in its concrete form, the seven gods were often represented as one seven-headed deity. The whole heaven was subjected to the seven planets; hence, in nearly all the religious systems we find seven heavens.
Other seven facts and uses:
Have you ever heard of Seventh Son of a Seventh Son? Seven is the most mystical and magical of numbers, and in the lore of folk magic, the seventh son of a seventh son is believed to be born with formidable magical and healing powers: he is clairvoyant, capable of casting powerful spells, and possesses the ability to heal by a laying on of hands. This reminded me of a rather unusual story called The Seventh Father of the House. A folktale from Norway, this story tells of a traveler who asks permission to stay the night and is directed to a series of fathers until he finds the oldest and seventh ("the true father of the house"). For some reason, this has always been an unsettling story for me, but one I remember. You can find a copy of it included in Jane Yolen's Favorite Folktales from around the World.
A few other stories with sevens include Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Seven Ravens and The Seven Swabians. I wonder what stories with sevens you know or have heard. Please send me names and sources. This whole quest has become fascinating.
Additional thoughts about numbers and storytelling. As I was searching for stories that included seven in the title, or seven objects and/or characters within the story, I was struck with how many stories and story titles include a number. Of course, there are a huge number with "three" and there are a range of stories with "twelve," "six," "four," and "two." As I pursued this number project, I began to get ideas for storytelling programs: Seven Scintillating Stories of Sins, Understanding the Meaning of the Numbers Found in Stories (workshop), Why Don't We Find Stories with Fives or Eights?
Final thoughts about this project. I hope by working through this different approach to my articles and storytelling, I have sparked a new interest in your thinking about how to plan a completely different program or workshop. Or, at least, to take an afternoon to research a topic that holds some interest for you. We are so fortunate in this day and age to have the tremendous amount of information easily available on the Internet.
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