My latest book-journey is Gabrielle Roth's "Maps to Ecstasy," which — in its way — goes into the metaphysics of her Five Rhythms trance-dance method. I sporadically do Five Rhythms as a workout; the type of ecstatic dancing I do under its influence is highly energetic, sweaty and interesting. But for Roth, the Five Rhythms — flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical and stillness — are more than themes for a dance; they are the very stuff of the universe, imprinted in the patterns of our lives in myriad ways.
It is, in short, another way to divide the world by number. Some thoughts on particular numbers:
One is monism, brahma/atman, the universal spirit and total reality, seen and unseen, the undivided.
Two is dualism. It can be the benign dualism of Wicca's God and Goddess, the Yin/Yang, the moon and sun, the male and female. All too often, however, it is hierarchical dualism, which follows a dyad of good/bad, strong/weak, pure/impure, God/Devil. One half is seen as the antithesis of the other, and the goal is dominance. It's a sort of perverted monism, the undivided becoming divided and reflecting the structures of power.
Hierarchical dualism underlies most patterns of oppression. The question, then, is how to get away from it? My answer: we need to build our cultural models and thought patterns on something other than a base-2, either/or model. One is hard to grasp outside of mystical revelation, and often lends itself to the simple conceptual division of two. Two lends itself to abuses, probably due to our primate mind.
And so. We need complexity.
Three is the number of the Druids: the land, sea and sky; fire, well and tree; the above and below and what joins them. It is the three worlds of the shaman: upper, middle and lower. It is the upright human seeing the world, the three tribes of spirits: Gods, nature spirits, ancestors. It is the triquetra knot, the three legs of the triskelion, the number of Fates, Norns, Graces, Graiai and Furies. It is time: past, present and future. Three mediates.
Four is solid: the base of a house or a pyramid, not likely to topple. It is the four directions, the four winds, the four cities of the Tuatha De Danann and their treasurers, the four elements of the Witch and the ceremonial magician. Four grounds us in space, the land — a map unrolling under our feet.
Five is the four elements plus the spirit that unites them. It is the star that represents the limbs of the body and the head, the "number of man" in Christian mysticism. It is Roth's five rhythms, the five elements of the Chinese system, the provinces in ancient Ireland — one for each direction and then the center. It provides a center to that map of the land.
Six is a strange number, one that I've never had deep mystical connection with. It's the interlocking triangles of the figure we call the Star of David — upward and downward triangles uniting. A triad of dualities, a duality of triads, the Flower of Aphrodite, sex and sin, the Christian Number of the Beast. When I was a kid, I had an odd fear of sixes and twelves; I considered them unlucky numbers.
Seven is the mystic number, the number of visible planets in the ancient world. The Seven Directions take the map of the world into three dimensions: North, South, East, West, Above, Below and Center. It is the different notes of the diatonic and heptatonic musical scale, the Pleiades, the chakra system, the sacred number in Middle Eastern traditions as three is of the Celts. It contemplates.
Eight is four doubled, and thus an even firmer foundation. It's the map of winds rendered more complete, the medicine wheel, the bagua in Taoism, the solidity of that-which-is.
Nine, in a similar fashion, is the threefold three — the same energy of the triad, but rendered stronger, more complete. It is the Muses, the strongest wave that breaks on the shore, the sisters who rule the Fortunate Isle in Arthurian myth.
And zero: zilch, egg, absence, discovered rather late in the human endeavor. It's nothing, no-thing, nirguna brahman, the supreme reality without form. It's potential: it can be anything, but it isn't yet.
And that's enough driving myself nuts, for this morning anyway.