Like the previous numbers, seven has diverse connotations, some contradictory. In Tarot, authors and deck creators use varied schemes of number mysticism, and some, like Gail Fairfield, make up their own.
Let’s start with the system the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn applied to the suit cards: the Kabbalah.
The seventh sephirah
The seventh sphere on the Tree of Life is Netzach. The trio Netzach, Hod, and Yesod fall in Yetzirah, the third and last world before we enter Malkuth, or physical reality.
Yetzirah is the Formative World or the World of Becoming. In Yetzirah, the intention (Atziluth) and idea (Beriah) is given form (Yetzirah), although not yet physical form (Assiah).
Yetzirah is the realm of ruach. Ruach is a complex concept that can mean wind, breath, spirit, or mind. In the Christian Bible, it is mostly translated as ‘spirit,’ and is used for the Spirit of God or the Holy Spirit. Ruach is not visible (that is, it has no physical form), but its effects are. It is the part of the human soul that can reason, and therefore implies will, conscience, and self-awareness.
Victory over struggle
Netzach is usually translated as victory or eternity, but its context is enduring: thus, persistence, patience, courage, and strength in the face of struggles.
As the divine energy moves down the Tree it degrades, or becomes weaker. Degradation here does not mean deterioration or humiliation, but the distance from the pure energy or pure consciousness of Kether. It is not a change in the quality of the energy, but in quantity.
The energy is also slowed by the increasing materiality: while Kether is pure energy, Malkuth (the tenth sephirah) represents physical reality. Netzach is closer to Malkuth than to Kether.
Picture the energy in Kether, moving freely, but struggling the further it descends the Tree. Or imagine pure energy trickling down the Tree, separated and filtered by the sephiroth on its way down (The Chicken Qabalah).
Because Netzach is more than halfway down the Tree, it is associated with struggle, obstacles, and tests. It also represents the victory over these tests.
Netzach represents animal emotion. These are our instincts, emotions, needs, passions, and desires. Animal emotion is not inherently evil, but must be directed and controlled. Victory is attained when instincts and emotions are aligned with the Divine Will.
The path between Tiphareth and Netzach
Look at the path that connects Netzach to Tiphareth. Tiphareth is beauty and harmony. In Netzach, this beauty is transformed into an intense awareness of beauty in art and nature. It is also where appreciation of beauty becomes the passion to express it and give it form.
If Tiphareth is the ideal of beauty and harmony, Netzach is where the idea starts to take form. Netzach is the creative impulse and imagination, the desire to express self and beauty. Netzach is where we transcend the mundane through beauty.
Awareness of beauty concerns not only physical beauty, but also spiritual beauty.
Tiphareth is the sphere where human consciousness arises; in other words, the beginning of self-awareness. As self-awareness meets animal emotion in Netzach, the desire to express the self rises.
The planet assigned to Netzach is Venus, the goddess of love, associated with desire, luxury (the ‘finer things in life’), pleasure, beauty, and sexuality. She represents both divine love and human passion.
The number seven is associated with occult (or hidden) intelligence. The Sepher Yetzirah explains this (somewhat cryptically):
“The Seventh Path is the Occult Intelligence, because it is the refulgent splendour of all the intellectual virtues which are perceived by the eyes of the intellect, and by the contemplation of faith.
The word “occult” means “hidden,” referring particularly to knowledge communicated to a select few. For anyone else, the doctrine would be shrouded in mystery. The term usually refers to the metaphysical, esoteric, and mystical.
Israel Regardie explains that hidden intelligence refers to something deep in us that we must uncover; our divine nature hidden from us by mundane obstacles (A garden of pomegranates: Skrying on the Tree of Life). The refulgent (brilliant or radiant) splendour is the divine light mediated through the first six sephiroth. The light of Gevurah (severity or justice) is broken through the prism of Tiphareth into many hues, so that it can start taking on form.
Balanced by animal reason and animal soul
Netzach is balanced by Hod, the eighth sephirah. Hod is animal reason, or the human intellect. Netzach needs Hod the way the heart needs the head. Netzach finds balance in Hod, while Hod finds the passion in Netzach to complement pure thought.
Yesod, the ninth sephirah, represents the animal soul, or the part of the soul that gives life to the physical body and has no independent existence outside the physical. The animal soul is the source of animalistic desires, and while not inherently good or bad, it seeks pleasure above all.
Together, the three sephirah represent the human spirit or personality.
Reflection of Chokmah and Chesed
If you look at the right pillar of the Tree (known as the “pillar of mercy”), you will see that above Netzach is Chesed (mercy, lovingkindness) and Chokhmah (wisdom). Netzach reflects the Divine Light mediated by wisdom and mercy.
Libra’s scales indicate objectivity, balance, and harmony. As an Air sign, Libra shares the element’s characteristics of intellect and communication. Air is a masculine sign, correlating with intellect, analysis, independence, action, light, the consciousness, and communication.
These Libran qualities seem to contradict the elements of weakness, emotionalism, instability and struggle of the Kabbalistic interpretation.
The moon, however, takes us back to weakness and struggles. The moon is associated with women, as its phases are said to be linked to a woman’s menstrual cycle. The moon is also linked to water through the tides. Mostly visible at night, the moon shines with reflected light from the sun. The moon therefore represents the feminine, cycles and rhythms, emotions and the unconscious (both usually associated with water), reflectivity and passivity.
The moon is obviously related to dreams, and therefore imagination, illusion, visions and inspiration.
Moonlight is beautiful, but also deceptive. Although it provides light at night, the moon is also mysterious, secretive, and dark (as one side of the moon is always turned away from earth). At night, and by moonlight, we concern ourselves with darkness and “the dark things.”
And finally, because the moon keeps changing (as seen from Earth), in cycles of 28 days, it has become associated with changeability and flux, cycles and rhythms.
Neptune is the planet the farthest away from the sun (Pluto, even farther away, is no longer classed as a planet), and seems to be a lovely blue when viewed from earth. The colour is deceptive, however: Neptune seems blue only because methane in its atmosphere absorbs the red light from the sun and reflects the blue light. The planet is cold, its surface is composed of ice and frozen gases, rather than rock.
Neptune was discovered as late as the middle of the 19th century, and then only because it affects Uranus’ orbit. Neptune is never visible to the naked eye. Galileo observed Neptune in 1612; however, he mistook the planet for a fixed star. One 19th century astronomer made the same mistake, and just missed being listed as one of the planet’s discovers. Neptune is cold, dark, largely unknown, and deceptive.
Neptune shares many of the moon’s characteristics: deception, confusion, illusion, and trickery. The planet is identified with art and mysticism, but also imprisonment and retreat, and places of seclusion such as hospitals, prisons, mental institutions.
Often identified with the Greek god Poseidon, Neptune rules the ocean. The ocean in turn is linked to fluidity, changeability, flux, emotions, the unknown, and the unconscious.
And finally, Neptune is associated with spirituality (its glyph looks like a trident combined with a cross).
Goddess of wisdom
To Pythagoreans and neo-Pythagoreans, the number belonged to Athena, goddess of wisdom.
(In case you’re getting confused: the Kabbalah assigns Venus to Netzach; astrology assigns the moon and Neptune, while Libra is the seventh sign of the zodiac; the Pythagoreans associated seven with Athena, goddess of wisdom.)
Pythagoreans drew several parallels between the number and the goddess.
Athena was an odd goddess. She was a virgin, which immediately set her apart from the gods and goddesses, whose libidos and unusual sexual antics are legendary; she also had an unconventional entry into the world. Like Athena, seven is unconventional. Apart from being literally an “odd” (as opposed to even) number, it is also a prime number, which sets it apart from most other numbers.
Like the virgin goddess, seven cannot procreate: the number is both indivisible and unable to create another number in the first decade (1 to 10). This means seven cannot be divided by numbers of 10 or less, and cannot be multiplied by anything to create a number of 10 or less. Seven can only be created by one (the monad) and itself (1 x 7). (Six, for example, can be divided by 2 and 3 and can be created by 2 x 3.)
For these reasons, the Pythagoreans linked seven to the monad, and called it the hidden monad.
Like Athena, seven has neither a mother (an even number, which the Pythagoreans called feminine), or a father (an uneven number, and therefore masculine). Seven springs directly from the source (one), just as Athena sprang fully formed and armed from Zeus’ head.
Like the monad and Athena, seven is an independent and solitary number.
Outsiders like Athena and seven can offer unique perspectives and a change in perception, in the way you are thinking about things. Outsiders are also often rebels, or people who have been pushed out of a group by being too unconventional. Seven has become linked to defiance, daring, and eccentricity.
Having sprung from Zeus’ head, Athena was linked with wisdom and intellectual pursuits such as philosophy, religion, and psychology. In addition, since ancient astrologers recognised seven ‘planets’ (two were actually the sun and the moon), Athena and seven are influenced by the wisdom of all the planets.
Both the goddess and the number encourage study, introspection, retreat, meditation, and a search for deeper meaning. Seven is the seeker, the mystic, the recluse and the researcher.
Seven is also associated with shadier intellectual pursuits. Not only is seven called the ‘hidden monad,’ but remember that the kabbalists assigned hidden (or occult) wisdom to seven.
Athena and Libra are both associated with the intellect. Unlike Athena, however, Libra focuses on relationships and formal contracts (such as marriage) between people.
Seven is linked to perfection, but indirectly.
The next perfect number is 28. It can be divided by 1, 2, 4, 7, and 14: 1 + 2 + 4 + 7 + 14 = 28. (Just for interest: the next perfect number is 496.)
Twenty-eight reduces to 1 (2 + 8 = 10 = 1), the number of the divine.
Seven is linked to 28 in several ways: four sevens equals 28, and the first seven digits add up to 28: 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 = 28. Astrologically, as we have seen, seven is also associated with the moon, which orbits the earth in 28 days.
Biblically, as we will see, seven is strongly associated with perfection.
Seven in the Bible
Seven occurs an extraordinary number of times in the Bible. Creation was completed on the seventh day; God blessed the seventh day; every seventh year was declared a sabbatical year, during which the land lay fallow; Jacob worked seven years for Leah, and seven years for Rachel; there are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; it took Solomon seven years to build the Temple in Jerusalem.
Seven is particularly evident in Revelation: seven archangels, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven thunders, seven churches, seven plagues. These are only a few of the many uses of seven in the Bible.
Seven in the Bible indicates completion, fullness and spiritual perfection. The number is also particularly associated with God. The number of the beast—666—therefore means imperfection, repeated three times.
Seven is also linked to wisdom in the Bible: in Proverbs 9:1 wisdom, personified as a woman, built her house with seven pillars.
Because God declared the seventh day as a day of rest, seven also became associated with rest. Seven is the pause after the upheaval of creation, indicating a time to think and contemplate.
Seven indicates a temporary rest, however. After the seventh day, the week starts again with day one. The land lies fallow for a year, and is then worked for the next six years before the next sabbatical year.
Seven also points to oaths, safety and security. According to Paul Foster Case, the Hebrew word for “seven” and that for “oath” are closely related (The Tarot: A key to the wisdom of the ages).
Seven in alchemy
Seven refers to the seven metals used in alchemy: gold, silver, copper, iron, tin, mercury, and lead. It also refers to the seven alchemical stages (although some texts refer to twelve stages).
A common belief is that alchemists try to transform base metals into gold, or to achieve immortality. Parallel to this, however, the alchemical journey is also a spiritual one. Like the physical transformation of lead, this journey is one of transmutation, purification, and perfection of the soul. The outer processes to perfection (gold for metals, immortality for people) are often used as metaphor for the inner journey to enlightenment.
Jung called this journey individuation, where the destination is the “true self” or psychological integration.
Alchemically, seven is thus associated with transformation and perfection, on both an external and internal level. Unlike five, where change and upheaval are directed outwards, seven can indicate an inner journey.
Part 2 of this blog post will look at the paradoxes in seven.