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Jeffreys, H. (1936). The Unconscious Significance of Numbers. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 17:217-223.

(1936). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 17:217-223

The Unconscious Significance of Numbers

Harold Jeffreys

The system of counting in all civilized countries is based on the number 10, and is, I think, generally agreed to be founded on the childish method of counting on the fingers. But when we examine the occurrence of numbers in legend and superstition we find emphasis laid on other numbers. The most striking is 2, which is associated with a definite provision in language; all numbers are classified into 'even' or 'odd' according as they are divisible by 2 or not. Next to 2 the prominence is given to 3, 7, and 12. The first appears characteristically in the fairy tales of the three sons, and in the many Celtic Triads. Seven is considered at length in F. H. Colson's book The Week; it is shown there that the seven moving stars, or planets, known to the ancients led to the division of time into intervals of seven days, so that after every seventh day the astrological assignment of ruling planets to the hours repeats itself. We have also the seven sisters, seven sleepers, the seven churches of Asia and the seven golden candlesticks of Revelation, and so on. Mysterious powers are attributed to the seventh child of a seventh child. Twelve and its multiples appear in methods of measurement, notably time and angle; even in countries that have adopted the decimal system for most of their measurements these survive. There is some reality basis for making the right angle divisible by 3, on account of the importance of the equilateral triangle; but there is little for the minutes and seconds that still complicate our trigonometrical tables.

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