Friday, 29 July 2016

Twelve Is A Magic Number

When you think about it, the magic number of humanity should be Ten, or maybe Twenty, or even Eight. I am not basing this argument on any recent science, or new maths .... those things just muddy the waters, and really don't have any significance for a numbers importance over periods going back more than a century. I am discussing the number with a significance back to the dawn of time, when our limbs and digits should have been our natural base numbers.    

Yet from almost the earliest times known, it was Twelve that was the magic number. This is remarkably strange, because nowhere on the human physiology does the number twelve appear, and yet right from the earliest dawn of humanity, twelve has appeared as an integral part of the sacred and the divine.

The oldest preserved Zodiac dates from around 3,000BC, when the Sumerian's in Mesopotamia developed their calendar of the night sky, based on the twelve heavenly bodies e.g. one for each Lunar month as they counted it, and each carrying the name of a prominent constellation (This of course led to there being twelve months in a year). This suggests that religion came into being almost as soon as we could communicate our wonderment, at the universe we lived in.

The Twelve Points Of This 6th Century Jewish Synagogue Mosaic Zodiac Incorporates Greek-Byzantine Ideas ...

So perhaps its no surprise that in the Greek pantheon there were twelve gods on Olympus, usually taken to be Zeus, Hera, Athena, Poseidon, Apollo, Artemis, Demeter, Hermes, Aphrodite, Ares, Hephaestus and Hestia. Some of these Greek gods also had twelve sons, and many of the worlds various Sun gods also had twelve disciples, to spread their message across the world, that the sun wasn't dead; that it would be rising again in the sky in the spring, after apparently being 'defeated' in the autumn. The Sibylline Oracles of ancient Greece, also were twelve in number because by then, twelve was considered a sacred number and the twelve major Gods communicated via these oracles.

In Rome, each of the Twelve Lictors (officers of the court- according to Livy, the number of lictor's was borrowed from the Etruscan kings, who had one lictor appointed from each of their 12 states), carried fasces (bundles) of twelve rods (including an axe).

As already mentioned, this reverence on the number twelve, had originated in the Middle-East and so again, its no surprise that the ancient Zoroastrian holy book, the Menok i Xrat, says that the "twelve Signs of the Zodiac, as the Religion says, are the twelve commanders on the side of light" .... this eventually became translated back into the Roman world again (via the Persians, and the Greeks), as a part of the Mysteries of Mithras in which twelve disciples surrounded the 'god/man'. A rival by the way to Christianity, which almost won.

In Judaism the organised religion originally evolved under Babylonian captivity, so once again perhaps its no surprise that Jacob was recorded as having had twelve sons, who went on to procreate the twelve tribes of Israel ...

Twelve Disciples (Of Anyone) Was Always A Popular Number ....

Christianity picked up this same motif of the twelve Tribes of Israel, and then added the twelve disciples of God "Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?" ... the names of those twelve are not cast in stone, with more than twenty names listed for the twelve roles e.g. Jude as Thaddeus or Lebbaeus, or Daddaeus, Bartholomew or Nathanael, Matthew or Levi, and how about Thomas Didymus - Thomas was his Hebrew name and Didymus was his Greek name, but at times he was also called Judas. So it looks as though twelve was selected as the number of the disciples to be stated in the Bible (rather than the more than twelve men actually named).

There are of course twelve days of Christmas, while in Hinduism, the sun god Surya has twelve names. Also, according to Hindu Yogic, Shakta and Buddhist Tantric traditions, there are twelve petals in the Anahata (Heart Chakra.) ... Many Buddhists also hold that life is composed of twelve stages, which together keep the wheel of life turning, ensnaring all life in a samsaric (cyclic) form of existence, from which it is hard to escape.

Islam became another Abrahamic religion to accept the traditional division of the land and power into twelve areas. It believes that Allah appointed twelve leaders to the people of Israel. It also states that God and the angels divided Israel into twelve distinct tribes. The people asked for water, so, Moses was told to strike a rock with his staff. This piece of magic resulted in twelve rivers springing from the rock, and each tribe "knew where to get its own water"...... Islam also had exactly twelve Imams as the spiritual and political successors to the Islamic prophet Muhammad  according to the Twelver or Athnā‘ashariyyah branch of Shia Islam and in Alevi Islam.

Separate from Biblical Authority, there are also legends about the stigmata, including one which states that there are always twelve stigmatic's living at anyone time, representing the twelve disciples. When one of these stigmatic's dies, the divine gift is passed on to another. This is not necessarily a hard and fast myth, because in fact there have been times when the Catholic Church has declared more than twelve stigmatic's to be alive at one time.

In the middle ages, the Arthurian Legends hold that King Arthur subdued twelve rebel princes, and to have won twelve great battles against Saxon invaders.

Blake Portrayed Satan As A Fallen Angel .... the Devils Graveyards Number Twelve.

The witches coven (aka Devils disciples) number twelve ... more recently, "The Devil's Graveyards" are apparently vile vortexes located in any of twelve particular geographic areas, and arranged in a pattern around the Earth. The term was coined by Ivan T. Sanderson, who catalogued them as the sites of unexplained disappearances and other mysterious phenomena.

There are of course arguments for nearly every number. For instance Seven has its champions .... Seven deadly sins, Seven classical planets, Seven heavens, Seven days of week, Seven colours rainbow, Seven seas, Seven continents, Seven hills of Rome, Seven was also considered a God number in ancient Egypt and the Pharaoh usually ordered things in groups or multiples of Seven.

Finally, and as an afterthought, as I finished this post off at the behest of one of the blogs followers, I couldn't help thinking about those fans of the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, who believe that 42 is the magic number, or rather the answer to the magic question. For instance 42 is the number with which God creates the Universe in Kabbalistic tradition, and The Sutra of 42 Sections is a Buddhist scripture.

But all in all, no number comes close to twelve, and therefore I consider that in fact Twelve is the magic number ....


This does get kind of addictive, and you start seeing twelve's everywhere: Here are yet more references to this magic number ...
  • 144 is a true square number, (144) twelve x twelve = 144 and is composed by twelve. In Revelation 7:4 (Christian Bible). 'And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.'
  • Twelve is the number "symbolic of the creation of the universe" as it represents the division or fractionating of unity into twelve individual distinct sound vibrations or tones.
  • Both Herodotus and Diodorus the ancient greek historians, nrefer in their histories to 'The Dodecarchy', which tells of the twelve native princes who governed Egypt from Memphis. This experiment with collegial rule was no success, and Psammetichus reunites the country by slaying the other princes. He is supported by Greek and Carian mercenaries. 684 — 624 BC.
  • In the Germanic and Viking religion, there are twelve 'Drottars' (priests) who presided over the Odinic Mysteries, and whose number personified the twelve holy and ineffable names of Odin.
  • In Rome, there are supposedly twelve Sons of Romulus, while Remus claimed to have seen six birds, while Romulus said he saw twelve birds.
  • Romulus introduced into Rome twelve 'Luperci', priests of the God Pan.
  • There were twelve Roman priests called the 'Salii' on the Palatine Hill (the twelve Leapers of the god Mars).
  • There were twelve Knights of the King Arthur's Round Table (the zodiac circle).
  • There were twelve satyrs or wild men, appointed by the witch Kalyb to accompany St. George.
  • There were twelve followers of Buddha.
  • There were twelve followers of Quetzalcoatl the Aztec snake god.
  • There were twelve brothers of Joseph.
  • There were twelve judges of Israel.
  • There were twelve great patriarchs.
  • There were twelve old testament prophets.
  • There were twelve kings of Israel.
  • There were twelve princes of Israel.
  • There were twelve Jewels of the High Priest.
  • The Holy City has twelve foundations, and twelve gates.
  • The tree of life bears twelve fruits.
  • The Elect of God consist of twelve thousand, sealed out of each of Twelve Tribes of Israel.
  • U.S. Super Congress of twelve members.
  • There are twelve Masonic signs of recognition (allegedly).
  • European Union Flag has a circle of twelve stars.
  • Himmler and his twelve knights in the Nazi SS.

..... I've no doubt there are many more and I for one am going to ignore them!!!


  1. I imagine that all of this symbolism was born out of the pragmatic use of twelve for weights and measures because it is easily divided by 2,3,4 and 6.

    1. Doubtful. Higher mathematics must have come after language yet 12 was there from the start of civilisation. Probably via farmers and the zodiac. In any event why not use 10 (fingers and thumbs), which is divisible by 2, and 5 as well as being easy to use our hands to calculate with. Also and equally importantly, it is easily used as the base for multiples (12 as I can tell you from pre-decimal days, was not). Or 8 (fingers only), which divides with 2 and 4.

      All the evidence suggests, as I have shown above, is that the moment we first could, we used the maths we had already adopted as illiterate farmers or even as hunter gatherers following seasonal food through the year.

    2. The calendar was doubtless the inspiration for the use of 12 and without it we may have been stuck with a decimal system, but with it people could see how convenient it was to divide up.

      I don't understand your point about the base for multiples? Eggs can come in multiples of a dozen and inches are in multiples of feet.

    3. The point is that if I was an early homo-sapien, or even another hominid, I would not naturally start looking to the heavens or for numbers such as 12 or 16 etc as my magic number, when dangling in front of me was a number (ten), which I could wave in front of Mr Stig or Mrs ugg to signify an amount. I wouldn't need higher maths ... just two hands and all my digits.

      This would also be able to signify that there was more than 10 elk or enemy with both hands flashed out x number of times, and a remainder. No writing required. So why use 12 as a measurement or base value? Why use 12 loaves as a 'bakers number' why not ten, or ten disciples or ten witches in a coven or ten days of Xmas ... etc etc

      Naturally, we should have used 10 as our magic number, but we didn't. There are reasons of course, but its still counter intuitive. So 12 it is and 4,000 years or more later, so it remains.


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