Everywhere among the ancients the number three was deemed the most sacred of numbers. A reverence for its mystical virtues is to be found even among the Chinese, who say that numbers begin at one and are made perfect at three, and hence they denote the multiplicity of any object by repeating the character which stands for it three times. In the philosophy of Plato, it was the image of the Supreme Being, because it includes in itself the properties of the two first numbers, and because, as Aristtle says, it contains within itself a beginning, a middle, and an end. The Pythagoreans called it perfect harmony.
The Bible contains significant references to threes. Christ is thus mentioned (Matthew xii, 40): "For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Another allusion is "Jesus answered and said unto them, destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then, said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body. " (John ii, 1>91.) David had his choice between three evils extended respectively over three years, or three months, or three days, "Choose thee either three years' famine; or three months to be destroyed before thy foes, while that the sword of thine enemies overtaketh thee; or else three days the sword of the Lord, even the pestilence, in the land, and the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the coasts of Israel. Now, therefore, advise thyself what word I shall bring again to him that sentele" (First Chronicles xxi! 11, 12). Where is also the division of life, land, sea, stars, sun an(l moon, day and night into thirds as described in the New Testament (Revelation viii, 7-13).
Gideon's array of three hundred was divided also into three parts (Judges vii, 16). three of the sacrifices to the Lord God well each to be three years old (Genesis xv, 9). In fact, the first book of the Old Testament alone has about twenty-eight references to three of various kinds. Threescore is also a frequent number in the Bible as in Genesis (xxx, 7, 26) and Revelation (xi, 3; xii, 6, and xiii, 18) and there is the familiar "A three-fold cord is not easily broken" of Ecclesiastes (iv, 12).
So sacred was this number deemed by the ancients, that we find it designating some of the attributes of almost all the gods. The thunderbolt of Jove was three-forked; the scepter of Neptune was a trident; Cerberus, the dog of Pluto, was three-headed; there were three Fates and three Furies; the sun had three names, Apollo, Sol, and Liber; and the moon these three, Diana, Luna, and Hecate. In all incantations, three was a favorite number, for, aws Virgil says, Numero Deus impari gaudet, that is God delights in an odd number. A triple cord was used, each cord of three different colors, wilite, red, and black; and a small image of the Subject of charm visas carried thrice around the altar, as we see in Virgil's eighth Eclogue (line 73): Terna taxi hacc prinzuarl, triplici dirersa colore Licia circumdo, terQtte haec altaria circum Effigem duco
First I surround thee with these three pieces of list or thread, and I earrv thy image three times round the altars .
Shakespeare (Macbeth, act i, scene iv) refers to the three-fold sorceries of the three witches. The author, T. G. Limollett in his novel Peregrine Pickle quotes as a well-known proverb the expression "Number three is always fortunate." Oliver Wendell Holmes has in "The Last Leaf" employed an old three-cornered hat as some excuse for mirth and there are many other references of interest in literature.
The Druids paid no less respect to this sacred number. Throughout their whole system, a reference is constantly made to its influence; and so far did their veneration for it extend, that even their sacred poetry was composed in triads.
In all the Mysteries, from Egypt to Scandinavia, we find a sacred regard for the number three, as in the father, mother and child deities, Osiris, Isis, and Horus. In the Rites of Mithras, the Empyrean was said to be supported by three intelligences, Ormuzd, Mithra, and Mithras. In the Rites of Hindustan, there was the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. It was, in short, a general character of the Mysteries to have three principal officers and three grades of initiation. In Freemasonry, the ternary is the most sacred of all the mystical numbers. Beginning with the old axiom of the Roman Artificers, that tres factunt colleyfum, or it requires three to make a college, they have established the rule that no less than three shall congregate to form a Lodge. Then in all the hits, whatever may be the number of superimposed grades, there lie at the basis the three Symbolic Degrees. There are in all the Degrees three principal officers, three supports, three greater and three lesser lights, three movable and three improvable jewels, three principal tenets, three working-tools of a Fellow Craft, three principal orders of architectures three chief human senses, three Ancient Grand Masters. In fact, everywhere in the system the number three is presented as a prominent Symbol. So much is this the case, that all the other mystical members depend upon it, for each is a multiple of three, its square or its cube, or derived from them. Thus, 9, 27, 81 are formed by the multiplication f three, as 3 X 3 = 9, and 32 X 3 = 27, and 32 X 32 = 81 (see Triad also 'three Points). But in nothing is the Masonic signification of the ternary made more interesting than its collection with the sacred delta, the symbol of Deity (see Triangle).
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