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The Countdown to Three



It began with this sense of waiting, of expectancy. And then I tuned into the significance of the number three.

The importance of the number three is captured in the Latin phrase omne trium perfectum. The interpretation is that “everything that comes in threes is perfect, or, every set of three is complete.”

I have been thinking that, at this moment in history, humanity needs a huge breakthrough. Two enormously powerful developments are already visible worldwide, so a third may be pending that might ignite change. What could it be?

With regard to the first two, I’m thinking of the rising evidence of global climate change, especially vivid here in the huge wildfires that have been raging in California. The second development is the COVID-19 pandemic traveling the world. The third big source of concern here is our upcoming national election. However, it won’t have the international impact of the other two issues. What could happen, what could manifest, that would act as a catalyst for breakthrough? Not a third dangerous thing, necessarily, just something comparably powerful.

A factor in my speculation was my perception that humanity is experiencing about as much stress and strife as we can stand. We’re a problem on the planet and a problem for each other in a world riven by our obsession with differences rather than commonalities. What could serve to launch our higher evolution? That would be a very good thing pending.


My personal speculation is a reflection of humanity’s fascination with the number three. Its trail in history is long, appearing early in the symbol of the triangle that would eventually signify all sorts of trinities. The solid base, the two sides converging in a point suggest a direction, a rise, a lifting.

Now I will leap to the way the concept of three appears in print. This probably began with our childhood experience with stories. Examples include Goldilocks and the three bears, the three little kittens that lost their mittens, the three blind mice, and the three little pigs. And when Christmas came, so did the three wise men from Matthew 2:1–12 in the Bible.

The Three Musketeers may have been the first relevant hefty book we read later. However, I found a site that lists 100 good books with three in the title. The same source provides the names of 129 songs with three in the title. I wish I had been a child in 1973 when Bob Dorough came out with “Three is a Magic Number.” If you listen to this song, get ready to tap your foot.


This brief sketch does not do justice to the recurring themes of three in history, and one goes back to that phrase omne trium perfectum. Why is a three imagined as perfect and complete, even magic, and powerful? A blog by Dave Wraith responds by addressing what is known as “the rule of three.” which relates primarily to writing.

He says that “words grouped into threes are more appealing and easier to remember. Our brains are pattern-seeking machines, constantly looking for relationships and meaning in the world around us. Three is the smallest number we need to create a pattern, the perfect combination of brevity and rhythm.”

Once one tunes into this idea, examples flourish in memorable titles, sayings, concepts, directions, and all sorts of attention-getters. Below are a few examples:

  • Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
  • Blood, sweat, and tears
  • Three sheets to the wind
  • Faith, hope, and charity
  • Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
  • Stop, look, and listen
  • Past, present, and future
  • “I came, I saw, I conquered.”
  • Government of the people, by the people, for the people
  • Three strikes and you’re out.
  • Location, location, location
  • Body, mind, and soul

And on and on. We remember the threes.

For enduring effect in communication, the rule of three also advises writers and speakers to keep to three major points in important presentations. Beyond three, attention wanes, memory fails, skepticism sets in. By contrast, completion is achieved with three: Points made, points registered, points remembered.


I can close this post with fewer words than usual because I’ve followed my own guidance. I’ve illustrated the importance of the number three through symbol, texts, and memorable expressions. However, my overlying point is that we may, subconsciously perhaps, be waiting for an epic three at this moment in time.

We have an international crisis rising through two monumental, worldwide challenges–climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. A thing that might save us is a third element also of monumental importance–something we can’t even imagine. It might disable the other two while inspiring an awakening within humanity that, going forward, would grace Planet Earth. Do you sense it pending? Just curious.

7 Responses to “The Countdown to Three”

  1. Maggie

    Glad to be reading your blog again, Ellen. As always it is informative and thought provoking. My favorite 3 is Three Dog Night and the song Out In the Country:
    (Sorry this is not a hyperlink and must be copied & pasted and then select Out in the Country)


  2. Carolyn Skloven-Gill

    Dear Celery Ellen,
    You’ve caught my scattered attention. The number three is indeed significant in the story of human beings. “Just Molly and me. And baby makes three. We’re happy in my blue heaven.” My grandmother used to love this song. More recently, “Three’s Company”. But then, there’s also, “three’s a crowd.” There are always problems of ‘triangulation’ in relationships, but the Egyptians chose the triangular shape for the sides of its pyramids. Not to mention John Lithgow’s “3rd. Rock. to the sun”.
    The number 3 is used 467 times in the Bible. It pictures completeness, though to a lesser degree than 7. The meaning of this number derives from the fact that it is the first of four spiritually perfect numerals (the others being 7, 10 and 12). The 3 righteous patriarchs before the flood were Abel, Enoch and Noah. After the deluge there was the righteous “fathers” Abraham, Isaac and Jacob . Three unclean spirits will be allowed to deceive the whole world to fight the returning Jesus Christ in what is called the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:13 – 16). The New Jerusalem, created by God for placement on a new earth, will be shaped like a square with three gates on each side (Revelation 21:13).
    Well, enough. This could be an endless chain of ‘number three’ events.
    But to another point, I do think that the November 3 election in the United States will have great relevance to the rest of the world. This country is the hub of international stability. Or it used to be. With the removal of the current fascist regime in the White House, and the liberation of democracy once again, the world may find some balance and stability that has been so dangerously fragile during the past three and a half years. The return of a universal model for rational thinking, underlying wisdom, focused solutions for such challenges as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. The restoration of human dignity, kindness, and ethics that inspired the world before Trumpism. The restoration of hope. And friendly humor.
    I think this 2020 election just may be the world’s #3. Thank you for this topic.

  3. Liz

    Thanks for another thought-provoking blog, Ellen. In our conversations, you may recall that I have suggested that we seem to be doomed to repeat the dire aspects of the rollout of the Twentieth Century, which at this point would presage economic collapse followed by war for us. I have yet to see anything to make me change my mind about how we are paralleling the first decades of the 1900s, so unfortunately, I believe we are about to see/experience some very bad things. But out of THAT total disaster, and the completion of the threes, perhaps good things will flow in threes, apropos of the changes that occurred after WWII…

  4. Joanne

    I have always liked the number three because I was born on the third day of the third month. I also think that the third big event coming up in November will either change the world and human civilization or lead to its destruction.

  5. Les

    Ellen, another great thought stimulator. I have wondered about the significance of threes ever since taking trigonometry in high school. It seems to me that ancient Egyptians used the rule of three in building the great pyramids. Likewise the far-away Mayan and Aztec pyramids, built roughly the same time. Puzzling.

    Now the question of what’s next. Is it possible the US, maybe even the world, economy will crash this October? Here are my three that raise that question:
    1. Long run of rising economic measurements can’t last forever
    2. Uncertainties of early November National election
    3. Beginning in 1907, October has been the most common month for US stock-market crashes.

  6. Paul Karlstrom

    Thanks Ellen. I don’t think until now I’ve paid attention to phenomenon and significance of the big 3. Your essay will change that. I’m particularly taken with the application to writing. I fear that I don’t observe the three idea limitation often enough, always reaching for some big theme that provides unification and importance. Will think of your post as I continue to take on new subjects. Paul