magic of numbers

Numerology in jewellery from the Middle East

Numbers have always carried meaning: the study of numerology has existed since writing was invented. Numerology is the belief that a particular number has significance and can attract good or bad fortune. But how does numerology influence the design of traditional jewellery from the Middle East and North Africa? Let me walk you through several of the more meaningful numbers – and the way these are visualized in jewellery design!

Even and uneven numbers

That visualization of numerology starts with the difference between even and uneven numbers. Why is there often an uneven number of dangles on a pendant, for example? In jewellery, symmetry and evenness are preferably avoided. Usually, the number of bells and dangles on a particular pendant or amulet will be uneven, which is believed to be a way of warding off the evil eye.

In some regions, an even number is considered to be outright dangerous as the symmetric perfection of an even number will, it is believed, attract the evil eye. Click here to read more about the evil eye in jewellery.

The meaning of the number three

Three is considered to denote the sacred cycle of life (birth, existence and death) and spells are often recited three times.

Many festivities last for three days to enhance their efficacy and good fortune, and triangles, having three sides, are considered a powerful charm. Three is also the old conjunction of man, woman and child and as such was an important number in Antiquity.

Many deities were grouped into trinities or triads, and one deity could also be venerated in three forms. Those three forms would be based on the cycle of life and death, and usually are some manifestation of beginning, middle and end.

In jewellery, three-sided symbols or forms made of three’s are said to have great power: the six-pointed star of hexagram is a double triangle, for example. The threefold repetition of decorative motifs is another way to include the power of this number in jewellery.

The meaning of the number five

Five is the number most commonly used in jewellery, and some cultures consider the fifth day of the week, Thursday, to be sacred, believing that anything undertaken on this day has more chance of success than activities undertaken on other days of the week.

Five is associated with the five pillars of Islam, the five fingers of the hand and the five daily prayers.

Five also has a profound cosmic meaning: it visualizes humankind in the center of the four cardinal directions, and as such is a beautiful metaphor for Creation itself.

In jewellery design, five becomes apparent through the arranging of elements in groups of five, or the number of dangles underneath pendants.

The meaning of the number seven

Seven has been symbolically meaningful since ancient Egypt, where the goddess Isis, renowned for her magical powers, is surrounded by seven scorpions.

Many shrines in North Africa and Southwest Asia need to be circumambulated seven times. This also holds true for the Kaaba in Mecca, which pilgrims circle seven times counterclockwise.

Seven has a cosmic meaning as well: in Antiquity, the seven visible planets were an important element of astronomy and astrology. Click here to read more about astrology in jewellery.

Numerology in Middle Eastern jewellery design

All these numbers are repeatedly worked into general jewellery decoration as well, and that is how numerology influences jewellery design. [1] Take a moment to closely at your favourite piece of jewellery. Count its dangles, observe its design: do you notice a motif often occurs in three’s, five’s or seven’s?

Triangles with three points, squares with four points, crosses with five points (the intersection is seen as a point as well), and their combinations, all provide geometrical decorations generally designed to ward off evil.

When actual, written numbers are worked into a magic square, they combine their powers into an effective amulet tailored for the person wearing it.

So you see, the arrangement of elements in jewellery may look general, and even be standardized patterning, but it finds its origin in the highly meaningful rendition of numbers.

Where can I learn more about magic in jewellery design?

Six ways how magic influences jewellery design: want to know how? Download your free e-book on amulets here!

Other jewellery & magic blogs? Browse them all here!

Find out more about the magic of numbers in the e-course on Amulets and Magic in Jewellery!

This post is based on the chapter ‘The Evil Eye and Other Problems’ in my book Desert Silver.


[1] Westermarck, E, 1904. The magic origin of Moorish designs, in: The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol 34

Lead image has been created adapting works from The British Libary and HmmlOrientalia.

Sigrid van Roode

Sigrid van Roode is an archeologist, ethnographer and jewellery historian. She considers jewellery heritage and a historic source. She has authored several books on jewellery from North Africa and Southwest Asia, and on archaeological jewellery. Sigrid has lectured for the Society of Jewellery Historians, the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden and the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center, among many others. She curates exhibitions and teaches online courses on jewellery from North Africa & Southwest Asia.