33: The Magic Number

Why Is This Number So Important to So Many?

Since the most ancient of times numbers and numerology have been believed to conceal secrets and messages. For some, numbers have very special significance, with the ability to conceal true meaning from all but the initiated. To some, certain numbers can convey that something of particular importance lies within the text under their study. Such numbers needn’t even be written to convey the presence of a hidden code within a sentence or paragraph, only that the sum of letters included adds up to a particular number.

No number holds more esoteric significance than “33.” The number three is significant in all major religions. There is a Trinity for Christians, and a Triple Goddess for the ancients. The number 33 was important to secret societies and is often concealed within significant literary works.

In the written words attributed to Shakespeare, to Francis Bacon, to Spenser, Dante, and others we can find hidden code words and paragraphs that use this number to alert the initiated reader that something important is connected.

Literary Signals

Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy has three books. The Inferno is the most widely read, as it horrified readers. Composed in the early 1300s, it provided a very disturbing vision intended to lead people to seek salvation through the Church. Its best-known line is, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!” But there was hope. The narrative describes a soul guided by a woman through Hell. With such assistance, the soul emerges in Purgatory and finally Paradise. The second two books of the trilogy, The Purgatorio and Paradiso, both contain 33 cantos. The Inferno, however, did not deserve this sacred number.

In the works attributed to Shakespeare there are many phrases and passages referencing the number 33. Julius Caesar is stabbed 33 times. The body of work shows a mastery of numerology. The number 33 reflects the interface of the familiar world with the higher spiritual realm. In Hamlet, the Ghost is represented in the first scene with an entrance described in a sentence with 33 characters. And Horatio addresses the ghost in 33 characters as he leaves. “Stay: Speake, speake, I charge thee, speake.” In Julius Caesar, the ghost of Caesar visits Brutus in a passage that starts with a 33-character sentence, “That shapes this monstrous apparition.” Brutus recovers from the shock and addresses the ghost in a 33-word sentence. (See David Ovason’s Shakespeare’s Secret Book for numerous examples.)

Edmund Spenser wrote another of the world’s most famous epic poems, The Faerie Queen. It is loaded with allegory and contained characters from Arthur, to Gloriana (Queen Elizabeth) and the Red Crosse Knight (after whom Walter Raleigh modeled his own life). It was never completed. Book 3 Canto 3 (3 + 3 = 33) opens with a 33-letter sentence: “Most sacred fyre, that burnest mightily.” Spenser linked the number with the concept of a human spirit and at the same time a mirror image in the celestial realm. This concept of “as above, so below” is shared in Freemasonry, particularly speculative Freemasonry that emerged in the seventeenth century.

The number 33 is the highest rank in Scottish Rite, but why? They are not saying. However, the importance of this number is reflected among both Masons and Rosicrucians and factors into religion as well.

Sir Francis Bacon features prominently in a secret society that he started while at Cambridge, as well as playing a role in creating speculative masonry from its base in craft masonry. He is believed to have written the early Rosicrucian books, as well. Oddly enough the numerical value of his name, using the Elizabethan alphabet, is 33 (B = 2, A = 1, C = 3, O = 14, N = 13).

Bacon and his brother Anthony ran the Scriveners Company where manuscripts were copied translated and sometimes encoded or decoded. Historian W.G. Thorpe called it “the place where the priceless manuscripts of the plays would be kept under the control of Lord Bacon.” Most of the manuscripts have vanished.

While many consider both Freemasonry and the Rosicrucian tradition to be at odds with Christianity, this is not true. While these societies may be at odds with the Church, those who study and become initiated into Rosicrucianism believe in the relationship of God (often depicted as the Sun) and Man, and Man’s Spirit with Christ. Such direct contact with the Spirit was against the religion of the Church. From AD 300 on, the Church battled numerous groups that promoted such direct communication. The Bogomils, Waldensians, and the Cathars were all victims of genocide that spread for more than a thousand years.

Sacred Teachings

Bacon wasn’t the first to use the number 33 in code or to attribute meaning to it. Three of the world’s greatest religions place great importance on the number. The name of Elohim appears 33 times in the opening chapters of Genesis. King David ruled in Jerusalem for 33 years. Jacob had 33 children with Leah. The 33rd time his name is mentioned he had the vision of a ladder reaching to heaven. After the circumcision of her child, the mother was considered unclean for 33 days and could not enter the temple.

In the Christian faith, Jesus is recorded as performing 33 miracles before his death at age 33. This was in the year AD 33 although some believe the date might be incorrect. Edgar Cayce wrote that there were 33 incarnations of Jesus. The Vatican recognizes 33 Doctors of the Church, the last being St. Teresa of Lisieux. In the Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica has 33 chapels. The Anglican rosary has 33 beads and the Greek Orthodox prayer rope has 33 knots. From the King James Version of the Bible, John 3:3 says: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” It may be noted that Francis Bacon contributed to the King James Version.

Around the time of the Crusades, the worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary took hold. It had been pushed aside by a male-dominated Rome, but thanks to St. Bernard and his Cistercian order, it grew again. Some believe it was restoring the feminine side to religion. Others believe it awoke the worship of the ancient goddesses of the world. The building of cathedrals that started at this time included one of the greatest churches, Notre Dame (Our Lady). Catholics assume this to be the mother of Jesus while others believe it to be the Mother Goddess of pre-Christian religion. For those wishing to be guided by Mary, to heaven, there is a do-it-yourself retreat called 33 Days to Morning Glory.

According to Islamic theologian and mystic of Persian descent Al-Ghazali, when people reach heaven they will exist permanently in a state of being age 33. Islamic prayer beads are typically 33 beads on a string and often three-bead strings are worn together representing the 99 names of God. Of the 99 names the 33rd name is al-Azim the Supreme Glory.

The Rig Veda is possibly the oldest written book in the world dating from at least as early as 1700 BC. It describes “the 33 divinities.” The number 33 is in the Rig Veda and another text Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Chapter 3, which states there are 11 gods in heaven, 11 on earth and 11 in-between. Yoga Sutra 3.33 states: “through keenly developed intuition, everything can be known.” This can be interpreted as meaning the initiates see what most don’t see. Jesus had said “Let those with ears, hear” a reference again meaning a majority miss the point, even while a minority do understand. Hindi mystics claim there are entities called devas that serve as guardians of nature and the cosmic creation. There number 33 of these entities.

In Buddhism, Kuan Yin is a goddess and a bodhisattva. She is sacred in both Chinese and Japanese Buddhism, a goddess of compassion and fertility. Like Mary in the Christian tradition, she is said to aid souls to get to nirvana. She is often depicted holding a child, very much like depictions of Mary and the baby Jesus. She assumes 33 appearances. According to the Lotus Sutra she undergoes 33 transformations to help attain salvation. In Japan she is Gannon and worshippers may take the “Pilgrimage to the 33 Holy Places of Gannon.”

Among Taoists there is a belief that the Holy Mountain Wudang is the cradle of their religion. During his reign (1402–1424) the Emperor Zhu Di of the Ming Dynasty ordered the Forbidden City be built, sent out his admiral on six voyages to know his world, and ordered 33 temples built in ten years in the Wudang Mountains, which remain today as a UNESCO site.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead has 33 heavens ruled by Indra and 33 ruled by Mara. Indra is accepted in Tibet, China, and Japan as their guardian deity. In India he is depicted riding an elephant with 33 heads and 33 tusks. Mara is the opposite, the Evil one.

Zoroastrianism originated in Persia. The principle deity is Ahura Mazda who created the universe in 33 steps. His prophet Zarathustra’s teachings included the relegating of all other spirits, good and bad, to unimportance. His teaching said each individual had free choice of good or evil. Following the righteous path would lead to salvation. His doctrine was anti-ritual and anti-sacrifice, especially in terms of animal sacrifice. He began his teaching at the same age as Jesus. At age 30, Ahura Mazda illuminated him. His teaching mission did not always go well, and he was rejected in his mother’s village, as was Jesus. He lived past the age of 33 all the way to another sacred number, 77.

Freemasonry has its base in the UK and was founded during Sir Francis Bacon’s life and possibly institutionalized by him. It has 33 degrees although most masons once passing the 3rd degree do not progress further, or are unaware of those who do. Stephen Knight, author of The Brotherhood, believes very few of those that do go further ever get above the eighteenth degree. The degree is known as the Knight of the Pelican and Eagle and Sovereign Price Rose Croix of Heredom. These masters are controlled by a Supreme Council. The 31st degree is restricted to 400 members, the 32nd degree to 180 and the 33rd degree to 75. The Supreme Council in London is one of the several councils around the globe. The most senior is the Supreme Council of Charleston in the USA.

Holy Places

From Iraq through Phoenicia to Phoenix Arizona, whether by design or coincidence, the 33rd parallel passes through some very significant places.

The ancient city of Babylon was very near the 33rd-degree latitude line while modern Baghdad is on the 33rd parallel. This area was once thought to be the Garden of Eden. Heading west, the line passes through Damascus, Beirut, and onto two Templar castles one exactly on the 33rd latitude the other at 32.71. The light of the sky is embodied by the Sun with the solar year divided by the sun’s cycle of 11.06 years, equaling 33. The Sun, defined as a circumference of 360 degrees divided by 11, equals 32.72.

Tyre was home to King Hiram and Masonry’s legendary Hiram Abiff. It lies 20 miles from that latitude. Masonic author Albert Pike says Tyre was the seat of the Osirian Mysteries where stood the two original massive pillars later known as Joachin and Boaz. These are represented in every lodge around the world.

Crossing the ocean, the 33rd parallel brings us to Charleston, South Carolina. This city is the original site of Scottish Rite masonry in U.S. Charleston’s Fort Sumter is the location of the first shot fired in the Civil War as that state succeeded from the Union. Albert Pike was a 33rd degree mason who rose to be the Sovereign Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite. He was both a hero and an embarrassment to Masonry as it is believed he founded the KKK, or the Ku Klux Klan. The letter K is the eleventh letter in the alphabet so 11 + 11 + 11 = 33. He donated his massive library to the House of the Temple in Washington, D.C., at 1733 Sixteenth St. NW.  His remains are in the House of the Temple, the headquarters of the Southern Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite in Charleston.

Coincidence or not, Dallas, Texas, was of course where President Kennedy was assassinated. Not only is it on the 33rd parallel, but also the date of 11/22 adds up to 33. During Kennedy’s administration Papa Doc Duvalier of Haiti was upset because aid from the U.S. was cut off. He claimed to put a curse on JFK, which caused his death on the date of those powerful numbers.

While writers on this subject often include Roswell, New Mexico, we’ll go on to Phoenix, Arizona. This was once the center of the Hohokam culture. The largest site, known as Snaketown, was only five miles from the 33rd parallel and the observatory called Casa Grande is five miles from the line as well. Here this advanced ancient culture built 500 miles of canals irrigating 25,000 acres.

As Above, So Below

When the two threes are put together facing each other they offer a design that is said to represent the ancient Hermetic maxim  “as above, so below.” The heavens mirror the earth; the spirit reflects humankind. This concept is important in Freemasonry, but the significance is recognized far and wide. In colonial times the Poor Richard’s Almanac was one of many such texts which started with charts showing how the stars influenced not only different parts of the body but the lives and fortunes of those born under the different constellations. Such beliefs started, of course, long before colonial times but were often considered magical or pagan by the Church.

Despite the reputation given to such beliefs by organized religion, science in modern times has come to understand the concept of a body clock, the effect of the lunar cycle on animals, and most likely people, and the reality of circadian cycles. Ancients might have known this as well. There are 33 vertebrae in the spine. In India, it is believed a vital energy is needed to awaken the spiritual energy located at the base of the spine. This coiled-up energy is known as Kundalini, and through Yoga energy it ascends to the brain and beyond. Both Hindu and Tantric arts seek this awakening. The spinal column is often referred to as Jacob’s ladder, or the Serpent. It is also compared to the caduceus symbol of Mercury, Thoth, and medicine. Did the ancients also know there were 33 turns in a complete sequence of DNA? Could the Caduceus symbolize the two intertwining snakes apparently reflected in the 33-sequence, double helix DNA ascending a vertical pole, which could be the 33-vertebrae spine?

With this one number carrying such great significance from at least 3800 years ago, shouldn’t it be considered strong evidence of a greater intelligence carried forward through history by an initiated few?

By Steven Sora