Nine, five, and three are mystical numbers- the diapason, diapente, and diatrion of the Greeks. Nine consists of a trinity of trinities. According to the Pythagorean numbers, man is a full chord, or eight notes, and deity comes next. Three, being the trinity, represents a perfect unity, twice three is the perfect dual, and thrice three is the perfect plural. This explains the use of nine as a mystical number, and also as an exhaustive plural, and consequently no definite number, but a simple representative of plural perfection. (See Diapason.)
(1) Nine indicating perfection or completion: -
There are nine heavens. (See Heavens.)
There are the nine korrigan or fays of Armorica.
There were nine muses.
There were nine Gallieenæ or virgin priestesses of the ancient Gallic oracle. The serpents or Nagas of Southern Indian worship are nine in number.
There are nine worthies (q.v.); and nine worthies of London. (See Worthies.) There were nine rivers of hell, according to classic mythology. Milton says the gates of hell are “thrice three-fold; three folds are brass, three iron, three of adamantine rock. They had nine folds, nine plates, and nine linings.” (Paradise Lost, ii. 645.)
Vulcan, when kicked out of heaven, was nine days falling, and then lighted on the island Lemnos.
A fee asked a Norman peasant to change babes with her, but the peasant replied, “No, not if your child were nine times fairer than my own.” (Fairy Mythology, p. 473.)
(3) Nine as a mystic number. Examples of its superstitious use:
Hydra. The hydra had nine heads. (See Hydra.)
At the Lemuria, held by the Romans on the 9th, 11th, and 13th of May, persons haunted threw black beans over their heads, pronouncing nine times the words: “Avaunt, ye spectres from this house!” and the exorcism was complete. (See Ovid's Fasti.
Magpies. To see nine magpies is most unlucky. (See Magpie.) Odin's ring dropped eight other rings every ninth night. Ordeals. In the ordeal by fire, nine hot ploughshares were laid lengthwise at unequal distances. Peas. If a servant finds nine green peas in a peascod, she lays it on the lintel of the kitchen door, and the first man that enters in is to be her cavalier.
Niobe's children lay nine days in their blood before they were buried.
According to the Ptolemaic system, there were seven planets, the Firmament or the Fixt, and the Crystalline. Above these nine came the Primum Mobile or First Moved, and the Empyrean or abode of Deity.
The followers of Jaina, a heterodox sect of the Hindus, believe all objects are classed under nine categories (See Jainas.)
Shakespeare speaks of the “ninth part of a hair.”
“Ill cavil on the ninth part of a hair.” 1 Hen IV, iii 1
To look nine ways. To squint.
The superlative of superlatives in Eastern estimation. It is by nines that Eastern presents are given when the donor wishes to extend his bounty to the highest pitch of munificence.
“He [Dakianos] caused himself to be preceded by nine superb camels. The first was loaded with 9 suits of gold adorned with jewels, the second bore 9 sabres, the hilts and scabbards of which were adorned with diamonds; upon the third camel were 9 suits of armour, the fourth had 9 suits of horse furniture; the fifth had 9 cases full of sapphires; the sixth had 9 cases full of rubies, the seventh, 9 cases full of emeralds, the eighth had 9 cases full of amethysts; and the ninth had 9 cases full of diamonds.” —Comte de Caylus Oriental Tales; Dakianos and the Seven Sleepers
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894