The Sacred Number 49

by Seana Miracle

The number 49 is found all over San Francisco, which is seven miles by seven miles, or 49 square miles.  San Francisco was born during the Gold Rush of 1849, and her first wave of immigrants are known as “49’ers.”  San Francisco’s football team, which is named after these pioneers, joined the NFL in 1949.  The highway which runs through Gold Country is Highway 49, and the most famous route through San Francisco is the 49 Mile scenic drive.  San Francisco’s symbol, the phoenix, rises from the ashes “seven times seven,” or 49 times.  San Francisco’s founding Mission Church is devoted to “Our Lady of Seven Sorrows,” who is depicted with seven swords piercing her heart.  The Mater Delorosa’s litanies are sung in 49 voices, and her rosary has 49 beads.

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The number 49 is significant in nearly all spiritual traditions and refers to a sacred cycle of transformation.  This 49 day cycle, is also known as a “week of weeks,” because it is seven weeks of seven days each.  This seven week period was important to the ancients because it took 49 days for grain to develop from seed to harvest, and the harvest would keep for 49 days before it started to molder.

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“You shall count seven weeks from the time you begin, to put the sickle to standing grain”

– Deuteronomy 16:9

In the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the “Bardo State,” the intermediary state between life and death, is 49 days.  It is believed that after death, the soul wanders for 49 days.  Interestingly, the pineal gland, called the “seat of the soul,” forms 49 days following conception.

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All major religions point to the importance of this 49 day cycle.  The Buddha spent 49 days under the Bodhi tree in order to achieve enlightenment, and he did not start instructing the public for another 49 days.  Christ’s disciples did not receive divine consciousness until 49 days after the resurrection.  Moses did not receive the Ten Commandments until 49 days after he freed the slaves from Egypt.  In Judaism, “The Counting of Omer” is a verbal counting of the 49 days between these two events, and is considered the appropriate length of time in order to learn the Torah.  In the ancient Mithraic mysteries, initiates were required to spend 49 days underground before emerging and achieving enlightenment on the 50th day.

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The number 49 was also important to Native Americans.  A “49” is a party held after any gathering of American Indians.  It is also a song that is sung on such occasions.  The Zuni Shalako ceremony, a sacred drama conducted at Winter Solstice, was traditionally held 49 days after the 10th Full Moon.  Preparations for the ceremony took place over this seven week period, marked by 49 knots tied into a string, which were untied each day as the work was completed.  On the 50th day, the nine foot tall Shalako Gods descended on the pueblo to instruct the People.  Similar to the religious traditions of the “Counting of Omer,” Moses receiving the Ten Commandments, the disciples receiving the Pentecost, the Buddha’s first teachings, or the Mithraic Mysteries, the Zuni tradition is conducted according to the sun and moon cycles, and initiates are required to rigorously prepare themselves for 49 days in order to receive divine wisdom on the 50th day.

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The number seven is the number of the divine, and represents the initiate. As the square of seven, the number 49 represents the evolutionary phases of development necessary to achieve enlightenment, i.e. the length of time it takes to bring an idea into manifestation.

 

Further Reading:

The Tibetan Book of the Dead 

“Buddha and the 49 Days” by Temple Architecture

“Judaism 101: The Counting of Omer” 

“The Sio Shalako at First Mesa”