Number Three and Its Mysteries

Three is intimately connected with the myth of the goddess and with the three main phases of the moon – waxing, full and waning, corresponding to the three phases of a woman’s life – maiden, mother and hag. Pythia sitting on a tripod and pronouncing her oracles forms a direct expression of the sacred lunar number three. Mari, an ancient goddess of the Basques, dwelled in caves and was called out three times by her devotees if they required a prophecy. (1) The primordial, pre-Celtic goddess Morrigan, who symbolized birth, life and rebirth/transformation, similarly to the Minoan snake goddess, was also associated with the number three but rather than crystallizing into three forms she kept shifting between different modes. (2) Perera writes:

“Typically, the Morrigan is a figure of Fate and the female wisdom of serpent, raven, flowing waters, and blood. As birthing, destroying and regenerating aspects of the whole life process she represents sight from the pleromatic perspective – the cosmic eye, which sees from the matrix underlying and beyond opposites uniting what is below and above, past and future, the snake’s and bird’s-eye view. … she is thus the prophet of destiny.” (3)

Henry Fuseli, “The Three Witches”

Triads of Ancient Greece are well known – The three Moirai or Fates pronounced on the past, present and future; there were also the three Erinyes, the three Graces, not to mention Cerberus, the three-headed guardian of the Underworld. Of the three realms – the sky, the upper world and the underworld – the latter was presided over by the dark goddess, who was sometimes identified with the hag from the original goddess triad. She could also be perceived as independent of the three goddesses, who were identified with the waxing moon (Cora), full moon (Demeter) and the waning moon (Hekate). But there were also three days of lunar darkness, when the moon was in its invisible phase. These were the three days when Jesus lay in his grave and when Inanna was kept in the underworld by her dark sister Ereshkigal. The thrice great Hermes was the only God permitted to move freely between the three realms. No mysteries were off-limits to him.

Hermes and the Triple Goddess, via

The primordial goddess was triune, which means that the triad stood for unity rather than diversity. Similarly, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity emphasizes the unity of the godhead. The Hindu Trimurti – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, is also referred to as the Triad of Unity. In symbolism, the number three is also identified with unity and synthesis imposed upon duality and its inherent conflicts. (4) The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols states:

“Three is regarded universally as a fundamental number, expressive of an intellectual and spiritual order in God, the cosmos or mankind. … Another notable group of three is the holy monosyllable om, comprising the three letters AUM, matching the three states of manifestation. … in alchemy, too, there were three elements employed in the Great Work, sulphur, mercury and salt.” (5)

But it is in the Kabbalah that we find the ultimate elucidation of the symbolism of number three. The third sephirah of the Tree of Life is Binah – the Great Mother, who represents “the female potency of the universe.” (6) She is Marah, the Great Sea and the Great Womb through which life is manifested. The yoni, the vesica piscis, the cup or chalice and the outer robe of concealment are her symbolic repository. (7) As it was in oldest goddess triad, also here there are two aspects of Binah: the dark sterile mother (Ama) and the bright fertile mother. Binah is the archetype of form associated with the planet Saturn but at the same time she is “the principle behind all moon force.” (8) She draws from the higher Sephirot to create form. I found the following explanations of Dion Fortune very illuminating:

“It must be remembered, however, that life confined in a form, although it is enabled thereby to organise and so evolve, is much less free than it was when it was unlimited (though also unorganised) on its own plane. Involvement in a form is therefore the beginning of the death of life.”

Elsworth Kelly, “The Mandorla Form” (i.e. vesica piscis)
Illumination by Hildegard of Bingen – The Universe

Hence the Sorrow associated with Binah and with Saturn, the lord of constriction. “Form disciplines force with a merciless severity,” adds Fortune, thus explaining why Binah is part of the Pillar of Severity – the left side of The Tree of Life. Virgin Mary is frequently cited as associated with Binah, as Dion Fortune explains:

“Binah, the primordial formative influence, the parent of all form, is behind and beyond manifesting substance; in other words, is ever-virgin.” (9)

Binah is the mother of forms but herself she is not of this material world. She is the virgin prime matter, the formative and shaping impulse, she is the archetype, which is the form that will build the reality. She is the root archetypal substance, yet unmanifested, therefore pure and virgin. Her colour is black.

Meinrad Craighead, “Crow Mother over the Rio Grande”

Binah is associated with Understanding, coming from her sorrow and compassion:

“The word Marah, which is the root of Mary, also means bitter, and the spiritual experience attributed to Binah is the Vision of Sorrow. A vision which calls to mind the picture of the Virgin weeping at the foot of the Cross, her heart pierced by seven swords. We also recall the teaching of the Buddha that life is sorrow. The idea of subjection to sorrow and death is implicit in the idea of the descent of life to the planes of form.” (10)

Virgin of Sorrows – an Orthodox icon

Hence the idea of Christianity, muses Dione Fortune further, that woman is the root of all evil because she brings the suffering inevitable in incarnation. Yet Binah itself, as was pointed out above, is not part of the manifested reality. This is the essence of the symbolism of number three: it stands for divine order. It is this divine triple order that brings about the manifest reality.

C.G. Jung’s repeatedly postulated that matter, this world, partakes in divinity. In his essay “A Psychological Approach to the Dogma of the Trinity” he wrote:

“‘Creation’ in the sense of ‘matter’ is not included in the Trinity formula, at any rate not explicitly. In these circumstances there are only two possibilities: either the material world is real, in which case it is an intrinsic part of the divine ‘actus purus,’ or it is unreal, a mere illusion, because outside the divine reality. The latter conclusion is contradicted firstly by God’s incarnation and by his whole work of salvation, secondly by the autonomy and eternality of the ‘Prince of this world,’ the devil, who has merely been ‘overcome’ but is by no means destroyed—and cannot be destroyed because he is eternal. But if the reality of the created world is included in the ‘actus purus,’ then the devil is there too—Q.E.D. (11)

Quaternio was one of the central concepts in Jungian psychology. Jung postulated enriching the Christian Trinity with the fourth missing element – the feminine, the earth, the shadow/devil. Four was also the number of incarnation and structure. It made the mandala complete and thus allowed the cycle to return to the beginning, standing as such for both creation and destruction. Yet it seems that in the primordial trinities, that is the triple goddess of the ancients, or the Trimurti and Tridevi (three primordial goddesses – Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati) of Hinduism, the feminine and the shadow are palpably present. In conclusion, it appears that only the Christian Trinity would need the enrichment prescribed by Jung.


(1) Marija Gimbutas, The Living Goddesses

(2) Sylvia Brinton Perera, “The Dark Irish Goddess Morrigan,” in: The Moonlit Path: Reflections on the Dark Feminine, ed. by Fred Gustafson

(3) Ibid.

(4) Juan Eduardo Cirlot, The Dictionary of Symbols

(5) Jean Chevalier, The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols

(6) Dion Fortune, The Mystical Kabbalah

(7) Gareth Knight, A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism

(8) Ibid.

(9) Dion Fortune, The Mystical Kabbalah

(10) Ibid.

(11) C. G. Jung, Psychology and Religion: West and East (CW 11), par. 290


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10 Responses to Number Three and Its Mysteries

  1. I particularly appreciated reading about, Binah

    Liked by 1 person

  2. litebeing says:

    Three of course also correlates with Gemini, the third sign of the Zodiac. Monika your posts have such rich detail and I enjoy the diversity of references and art work. The Kabbalah is always welcome in my book. Did you know that Saturn rules both the African and Jewish people? Form is the end of life, interesting to consider. It certainly is the end of easy expansion. Not impossible but certainly with lots of limitations.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yes, of course – Gemini. I think we Geminis are so often caught up in duality – if only we remembered about the third, reconciling element. Well, at least I included Hermes if I forgot to write about Gemini.
      Yes, I know about Saturn and Jewish people but not about the African people. Good to know.
      Nice to hear from you – I always appreciate your thoughts.


  3. Danah Blanco says:

    As always, love everything you write! Thank you so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. lampmagician says:

    Another excellent post! Thank you, Monika. 🙏💖
    I had to think of the three witches in Macbeth! 😉😅🤗

    Liked by 1 person

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