The Magic Square and the Egyptian God of Osiris

The 3×3 magic square is believed to provide much wisdom to those who study it.  Since it houses the numbers one through nine in an arrangement considered magical, it is of no wonder why. From its first appearance, this grid of nine cells has captured the fascination of many with its numeric relationships portrayed inside its border.

The squares are considered magical if the numbers contained within the rows, columns, and diagonals sum to the same amount.  A 3×3 magic square’s constant is number fifteen.  Although there are numerical tables of larger size which are believed to display powerful, influential qualities, the smaller 2×2 square cannot be found magical.  Some feel the four numbers relate to the four elements (fire, earth, air, and water) and this lack of ability to be balanced, resulted from man’s original sin.  The smallest square, holding only the numeral one, has been considered by Agrippa to be God’s magic square and represents His eternal perfection.

Geber, one of the first practicing alchemists, associated important characteristics and values to the 3×3 magic square.  The number seventeen, produced by adding the four, bottom left, corner cells of the numbers, one, three, five and eight was seen especially significant.  This, in turn, left the gnomon (the remaining five numbers) to value twenty-eight.

Both these numbers of 17 and 28 were powerful to Geber and are also found connected to the Egyptian god of Osiris.  Plutarch, in his work entitled Moralia, writes how it was believed the 17th of Athyr was the date on which Osiris (Egyptian god of the underworld) was killed.   In some accounts, Osiris had lived for 28 years.  In others, it was he reigned for 28 years.  Either way, the numbers of 17 and 28 are noticed in association to the life and death Osiris.   The total sum of 45 in the 3×3 magical square, divided in this way, could be seen to represent this aspect of Osiris.

According to the myth of Osiris, he was murdered by his brother Set and was later resurrected by Isis, his wife.  Because of the violent act which happened upon the 17th date, Plutarch shares Pythagoreans felt seventeen was a detested number. They also considered it to be ‘the barrier.’  Seventeen was realized to separate the only two numbers where the perimeter values of their rectangular shape encloses the same area as their own perimeters.  The perimeter of a square of 16 (4+4+4+4=16) equals its area (4×4=16).  The same appears for the number 18.  The perimeter of a rectangle of 18 (3+6+3+6=18) is the same as the area, 3×6=18.

The number 17 was realized to stand between these two numbers in another way, as well.  In the following answer to the problem; “what is the number, where the 1/8 of a number added to its self, equals 18?”, seventeen is again seen to separate a relationship between the two numbers of 16 and 18. (If one takes an eighth of number 16 (which is 2), and adds it to 16, the answer is 18).

Interesting correlations remain.  The life of Osiris of twenty-eight years connects with the gnomon of the 3×3 magical square.  The whole square can be seen broken by the number 17, his date of death.  But, as the definition for the word gnomon is ‘that which knows’, one may wonder if a deeper and secret understanding isn’t to be found between these two numbers of 17 and 28.



Plutarch, Moralia, reviewed December 2012

Pickover, Clifford, The Zen of Magic Squares, Circles and Stars, Princeton University Press, 2002


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3 Responses

  1. Mark says:

    I truly believe that the Number 16 is a Lucky Number. Normally, I’m not into that sort of thing, But as of late, I
    have become a Believer. On the game show, “The Price is Right,” there is this game where you have 16 Boxes, and one of the 16 boxes has $ 10,000 Cash in it. The goal of the game is to narrow the selection down to the last two boxes by guessing prices, and then decide which box the cash is in.

    I first began to notice about a year ago that I could predict which box the cash was in sometimes when they narrowed it down to four boxes, sometimes when they narrowed it down to eight boxes, and on two occassions I guessed it before they eliminated any Boxes. Have I ever gotten the box wrong? NEVER!

    In fact, the last time I saw the game, I became so confident that I could pick the box, the moment that they showed all 16 boxes, i confidently blurted out which box the cash was in. I was watching the show with my dad and his girlfriend. As they began eleminating all of the boxes, i kept noticing that my box was still there. The contestent was lucky enough to narrow it down to the last two boxes, and my box was still there, but the contestant picked the wrong box. I began sbouting “No! Yoiu got the wrong box!

    Sure enough, she lost the game, and I would have won that game without them even eliminating a single box. Why is it that I can do it, and other people can’t do it? I am not sure, but I simply try to see inside of the boxes to see the one with the cash, and my intuition knows which one it is right off from the start. It’s my belief that the ONLY reason that I know which box the cash is in is because SOMEBODY put that cash in that box, and that person knows which box the cash is in, and I am somehow picking up on that.

    I’ve always had psycic abilities, but until that experience, a lot of those psychic abilities had more to do with the affairs of my life. In fact some of these experiences were so wierd that I wasn’t even sure of the fact if I was just picking up on the thoughts of others, or if I was responsible for creating those thoughts in other peoples minds just by thinking about them.

    Do I like having these psycic abilities? No. They are nothing but a curse. Some people believe that they are a blessing, but the grass is always greener when you live on the other side of the fence.

  2. Maria Rigel says:

    The number 28 is significant because it’s the number of days the moon takes to orbit the Earth, and Osiris has been traditionally associated with the moon. Considering the magic square, that would make 17 the complement of 28, and also significant.

  3. Maria Rigel says:

    The power of a magic square is in that if you know its internal structure, you can easily build it from memory. It’s easiest with odd numbered magic squares, but it’s also true of the even numbered.

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