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"Sevens" and Ways to Use the Magic of Numbers for Storytelling
By Chris King

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 Phœnicians 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:

  • Considered a number that signifies both perfection and luck, seven pops up in many places. One of the best and most recommended self improvement books to be written during the past 15 years is Stephen R. Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (by all means, a spiritual approach to living).
  • There are a plethora of important "Sevens" all of which include related stories that in themselves could become a storytelling program with a theme. For example, can you imagine a program that includes a story from each of the Seven Deadly Sins (pride, covetousness, lust, envy, gluttony, anger and sloth)? Right away I can think of a great story that would fit each of these. And, just think of the crowds you would interest with the title, Stories from the Seven Deadly Sins.
  • Or, maybe the Seven Natural Wonders of the World (Mt. Everest, Victoria Falls, The Grand Canyon, The Great Barrier Reef, The Northern Lights, Paricutin and the Harbor at Rio de Janeiro). Besides stories surrounding their history and formation, there are many true life stories that have taken place in their presence. For example, I just finished a book about those who have tackled Mt. Everest - some who made it and some who didn't.
  • Did you know that the Seven Senses include animation, feeling, speech, taste, sight, hearing and smelling? A current belief about the number seven is that if you include it in the price of a product you are selling (especially over the Internet), you will sell more. It is truly a magic number in that sense, because it works.

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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