Posted by R. Berg on December 09, 2001
In Reply to: The number three posted by ESC on December 08, 2001
: : can someone help me with with research on the number three for example three wiseman, three blind mice three's a crowd.
: This explanation of "three on a match" has a factlet about the number "three":
: Information from "How Did It Begin: A fascinating study of the superstitions, customs, and strange habits that influence our daily lives" by R. Brash (Pocket Book, New York, 1969):
: LIGHTING THREE CIGARETTES WITH ONE MATCH - The Holy Trinity, commercial interests and self-protection in time of war, are cited as the direct cause of aversion to lighting three cigarettes with one match.
: Three is the symbol of the trinity. To make a mundane use of it was to defile its sanctity and to transgress the holy law. Man would invite disaster and put himself into the power of the 'evil one.' Thus, a match, trebly used, would light the fires of Hell for one's own soul.
: Another, less fearful tradition claims that the superstition first arose among British troops during the Crimean War. They learned from Russian captives of the danger of using any light for a threefold purpose. They were told that it was the sacred rule of the Orthodox Church that the three candles on the altar were not to be lit from a single taper, except when the High Priest used it. However, a more likely explanation of the origin of the custom is that British soldiers, entrenched against Dutch foes in the Boer War, learned by bitter experience of the danger of lighting three cigarettes from one match. When the men thriftily used one match to serve three of them, they gave the Boer sniper time to spot the light, take aim and fire, killing 'the third man.'
: Ivar Kreuger, the Swedish match king, certainly did not create the superstition, as it has been alleged, but he made the widest possible use of it to promote sales. People, innately superstitious, did not mind wasting a match. After all, there might just be something in it! Certainly there were millions of pounds of profit for Mr. Kreuger who thus, by fostering for his own purpose a realistic wartime precaution, was able to increase his sales manifold."
The site linked below (if link is missing, use http://www.greatdreams.com/three/three.htm) gives some information about the symbolic significance of 3, or at least what the author believes it to be, and examples of threes through history. One idea about why 3 is so embedded in the human psyche is that it represents the nuclear family: mother, father, child. (A family may have more than three members, but the basic unit from a child's point of view is still mother, father, me.)
Threes may not be so pervasive in other cultures as in Western culture. That would be a question to watch for when doing research.