Wednesday 9 September 2009

All the nines - superstitions and traditions

Today is 09/09/09 - all the nines - so I thought I'd have a little look at what that means and some superstitions surrounding the numbers 999 and 9.

For those of us in the UK, 999 means one main thing - the number you phone to get the emergency services - police, fire or ambulance. It was first introduced in 1937 in London and the UK 999 number is the world's oldest emergency call service.

The 9-9-9 format was chosen because public phone boxes at the time worked on a pre-payment coin-operated system. These phones could be modified so people could dial 9 on the rotary dial without being able to dial other numbers.

Another traditional use of the number 999 is the years a lease on property would traditionally run, although nowadays it is more common to get a 99-year lease.

There are more superstitions associated with the number 9 than with 999.

According to Are You Superstitious? by Lore Cowan, nine is considered bad luck in Scotland. The book says:

"The card the nine of diamonds is called 'The Curse of Scotland'. Two reasons are given. One, that every ninth monarch in that country was bad to his subjects, the other that the Earl of Stair wrote the instructions for the massacre of the Macdonalds on the card - the nine of diamonds."
Perhaps this superstition is why the witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth repeat their spell 9 times.

Other superstitions deem the number 9 unlucky - the term "nine day's wonder" originated in the reign of Lady Jane Grey, who was Queen of England for only 9 days, the cat-o-nine-tails is a whip with 9 lashes once commonly used to mete out punishment.

However, the number 9 can also considered lucky, with sayings such as "a stitch in time saves nine" and "a cat has nine lives". It is also good to be "dressed up to the nines".

Mystically, the number 9 is highly symbolic. If the number three represents the Christian Trinity and the Triple Goddess, then 9, being a triad of threes, can be considered triply sacred.

Important Buddhist rituals usually involve 9 monks; in Hinduism, the number 9 is considered a complete, perfect and divine number that represents the end of a cycle in the decimal system; in Norse Mythology, Odin hung on an ash tree for 9 days to learn the runes.

According to Amulets and Superstitions by EA Wallis Budge:

"The Companies of the gods of heaven, earth and the underworld of Egypt contained 9 gods, and Osiris had 9 Watchers and 9 Mourners. The devouring Worms of hell were 9 in number and we have 9 repellers of Apep.

"Then we have the 9 Muses, the 9 Archons of Greece, the 9 orders of angels, the 9-fold gates of hell, the 9 days during which Satan and his angels fell from heaven... The crown offered as a prize by King Arthur had 9 diamonds in it."
In nature, of course, 9 months is the duration of the human gestation period, which seems a good reason to respect the number even if you aren't superstitious.

To test for yourself whether the number 9 is lucky or not, this morning, at 9 minutes past 9 on the 9th day of the 9th month, 2009, why not see if anything particularly good, bad or at least unusual happens to you?

If it does, leave a comment.

Amulets and Superstitions
Are You Superstitious?


Unknown said...

At 9 past 9 I was in the shower. The water didn't unexpectedly turn cold so I think I can assume my luck wasn't bad :-).

Anonymous said...

I think witchcraft is just pagan or celtic mythology. The Indians believed in tree spirits too and they are related because some of the celtics crossed the ice sheet to get to America during the ice age I think. The celtics also believed they could turn themselves into animals like the native americans; and witches also believe they have special powers like that don't they? I personally don't believe in magic.