The Number Seven and Our Society
Theosophist, September, 1880
The thoughtful reader must have pondered well over the mysterious import that the number Seven seems to have always had among the ancients, as succinctly epitomized in our June number, as well as the theory of cycles, discussed in the July issue. It was there stated that the German scientists are now giving attention to this manifestation of the numerical harmony and periodicity of the operations of Nature. A series of statistical observations, embracing some centuries of historical events, tend to show that the ancients must have been perfectly aware of this law when constructing their systems of philosophy. In fact, when statistical science shall have been fully perfected, as it seems likely to be, there will be constantly increasing proofs that the evolution of heroes, poets, military chieftains, philosophers, theologians, great merchants, and all other remarkable personages, is as capable of mathematical estimate upon the basis of the potentiality of numbers, as the return of a comet by the rules of astronomical calculations. The comparatively modern system of life insurance rests upon the calculated expectancy of life on the average at certain ages; and, while nothing is so uncertain as the probable longevity of any single individual in a community, nothing is more certain than that the probable life-chance of any one person, in the mass of population, can be known on the basis of the general average of human life. In fact, as M. de Cazeneuve, in the Journal du Magnetisme, justly observes, the law of numerical proportions is verified in every department of the physical sciences. We see it in chemistry as the law of definite proportions and multiple proportions; in physics, as the law of optics, acoustics, electricity, &c.; in mineralogy, in the wonderful phenomena of crystallization; in astronomy, in the celestial mechanics. Well may the writer, above-quoted, remark: “Physical and moral laws have so infinitely numerous points of contact, that, if we have not as yet reached the point where we can demonstrate their identity, it is none the less certain that there exists between them a very great analogy.”
We have attempted to show how, by a sort of common instinct, a peculiar solemnity and mystical significance has been given the Number Seven among all people, at all times. It now remains for us to cite, from the experience of the Theosophical Society, some facts which indicate how its power has manifested itself with us. Continually our experiences have been associated with Seven or some combination or multiple of it. And it must be remembered that, in not a single instance, was there any intention that the number should play a part in our affairs; but, on the contrary, what happened was in many cases exactly the reverse of what we desired. It was only the other day that we began to take any note of the striking chain of circumstances, and some have only been recalled now at the moment of writing.
The two chief founders of our Society were the President, Colonel Olcott, and the Conductor of this Magazine. When they made each other’s acquaintance (in 1874), the office number of the former was seven, the house number of the latter seventeen. The President’s Inaugural Address before the Society was delivered, November 17, 1875; the Head-quarters were established in the 47th street, (the up-town streets in New York are all designated by numbers), and Colonel Olcott’s office was removed to 71 Broadway. On the 17th December 1879, our delegates to India sailed for London; the voyage, owing to storms and fogs, lasted seventeen days; on the 17th January 1880 we left London for Liverpool to take the steamer for Bombay, got on board the next day, but lay all night in the Mersey, and on the 19th—the seven-teenth day from our landing in England, we got to sea. On March 2—seventeen days after reaching Bombay—we removed to the bungalows where we have ever since been living. On the 23rd March, thirty-five (7 X 5) days after landing, Colonel Olcott delivered his first public oration on Theosophy, at Framji Cowasji Institute, Bombay. July 7, the first Prospectus, announcing the intended foundation of the THEOSOPHIST was written; on the 27th September, the first “form” was made up at the printing-office, and on October 1—our 227th in India—the magazine appeared.
But we anticipate events. In the beginning of April, last year, Colonel Olcott and the Conductor of this Magazine went to the N.W. Provinces to meet Swami Dayánand, and were absent from the Head-quarters thirty-seven days, and visited seven different cities during the trip. In December of that year we again went northward, and on the 21st (7 X 3) of that month, a special meeting of the Society of Benares Pandits was held to greet Colonel Olcott and elect him an Honorary Member in token of the friendliness of the orthodox Hindu pandits for our Society—a most important event.
Coming down to the Ceylon trip, we find, on consulting the diary, that our party sailed from Bombay, May 7, the steamer starting her engines at 7.7 A.M. We reached Point de Galle on the 17th. At the first meeting in Ceylon of candidates for initiation, a group of seven persons presented themselves. At Panadure, seven were also initiated first, the evening proving so boisterous and stormy that the rest could not leave their houses. At Colombo, fourteen (7 x 2) were initiated the first night, while, at the preliminary meeting to organize the local branch temporarily, there were twenty-seven. At Kandy, seventeen comprised the first body of candidates. Returning to Colombo, we organized the “Lanka Theosophical Society,” a scientific branch, on the 17th of the month, and on the evening, when the Panadure branch was formed, thirty-five names (7 x 5) were registered as follows. Seven priests were initiated here during this second visit, and at Bentota, where we tarried to organize a branch, there were again seven priests admitted. Thirty-five (7 x 5) members organized the Matara branch; and here again the priests taken into fellowship numbered seven. So, too, at Galle, twenty-seven persons were present on the night of the organization—the rest being unavoidably absent; and at Welitara the number was twenty-one, or three times seven. Upon counting up the entire number of lay Buddhists included in our seven Ceylon branches, that are devoted to the interests of that faith, we find our mystical number seven occupying the place of units, and what adds to the singularity of the fact is that the same is the case with the sum-total of priests who joined our Parent Society.
Our septenary fatality followed us all throughout the return voyage to Bombay. Of the Delegation, two members, having urgent business, took an earlier steamer from Colombo, thus reducing our number to seven. Two more fully intended to come home from Galle by the vessel of the 7th July, but, as it turned out, she did not touch there and so, perforce, our band of seven came together on the 12th—the fifty-seventh day after our landing. The sea voyage from Ceylon to Bombay may be said to begin upon leaving Colombo, since the run from Galle to that port is in Ceylonese waters. From friends—five laymen and two priests—again seven—who came aboard at Colombo to bid us farewell, we learned that the July THEOSOPHIST had reached there, and being naturally anxious to see a copy, urgently requested that one should be sent us to look at, if possible, before 5 o’clock P.M., the hour at which it was thought we would leave port. This was promised us, and, after our friends left, we watched every craft that came from shore. Five o’clock came, then six and half-past six, but no messenger or magazine for us. At last, precisely, at seven, one little canoe was seen tossing in the heavy sea that was running; she approached, was alongside; on her bows, painted on a white ground was the Number Seven; a man climbed over the ship’s rail, and in his hand was the paper we were waiting for! When the anchor was up and the pilot’s bell rang for starting the engines, two of our party ran to look at the ship’s clock: it stood at seven minutes past 7 P.M.
At Tuticorin, Mr. Padshah, one of our party, went ashore as his desire was to return by rail to Bombay, so as to see Southern India; the little boat in which he went ashore we noticed, after she had got clear from the crowd of craft alongside, bore the number forty-seven. Going down the coast on our outward voyage, our steamer touched at fourteen (7 X 2 ports; coming home, our vessel, owing to the monsoon weather and the heavy surf along the Malabar Coast, visited only seven. And finally, as though to show us that our septenate destiny was not to be evaded, it was at exactly seven o’clock—as the log of the S.S. Chanda shows—when we sighted the pilot off Bombay harbour, at 7.27 the bell rang to slow down the engines, at 7.47 the pilot stepped on the “bridge” and took command of the ship, and, at 9.37, our anchor was dropped off the Apollo Bunder, and our voyage was thus ended on the 24th of July, the seventy-seventh day after the one on which we had sailed for Ceylon. To ascribe to mere coincidence this strange, if not altogether unprecedented, concatenation of events, in which the Number Seven was, as the astrologers might call it “in the ascendant,” would be an absurdity. The most superficial examination of the doctrine of chance will suffice to show that. And, if, indeed, we must admit that some mysterious law of numerical potentialities is asserting itself in shaping the fortunes of the Theosophical Society, whither shall we turn for an explanation but to those ancient Asiatic philosophies which were built upon the bed-rock of Occult Science?