The Curative Value of Three, Seven, and Nine

In folk medicine, much attention has been paid to lucky numbers. For a remedy to prove efficacious, it was thought that it had to be administered according to certain numerical rules. Similarly, countless spells dictated that, to be effective, certain words and actions should be repeated a certain number of times. The efficacy of numbers in medicinal cures goes back thousands of years and was hardly confined to one locality. 

Universally, the prescribed numerical values for spells and cures were three, seven, or nine, and countless examples exist. For instance, the Babylonians believed that seven knots tied three times on a three-fold cord wound around the head cured a headache. To protect their infants from evil influences, Egyptian mothers suspended a cord with seven knots around their baby’s neck. At various healing wells and springs around Europe, those afflicted with skin ailments were plunged under the water three times and carried nine times around the well or spring to effect a cure. As a preventive act, spitting had to be done three times. In Devonshire it was believed that all poultices should be made of seven types of herbs, and three rushes taken from a running stream and passed through the mouth of an infant were a sure cure for thrush. In Brandenburg, a cure for dizziness was to run naked three times through a field of flax. A Sussex cure for ague, a type of malarial fever, was to eat three sage leaves on an empty stomach nine mornings in a row, whereas in Cuba, a safeguard against jaundice was to wear three cloves of garlic around the neck for three days. In Thuringia, to eat three daisies ensured freedom from toothache, and in Cornwall, burns and scalds were treated with nine bramble leaves applied to the affected parts. 

In the past, it was customary in many parts of Europe to whirl lighted candles and an open Bible around a baby three times to keep evil forces at bay. During baptism, a child was dipped in water three times; three circuits of the communion table had to be completed by sufferers of rheumatism, while nine knots tied in a piece of wool were recommended as a cure for a sprained ankle. Many thousand such ‘cures’ are known in popular folk medicine.


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