Three Dog Night sang "One is the Loneliest Number," stating the well-established credentials of one. One means so much more besides its mathematical aspects. It is tied deep into the threads of our minds, our mythology, religion, award systems, images, and symbolic usages. Listed here are some of the representations and symbols of one. Here are a few of the names one goes by:
- Cardinal: one
- Hindu-Arabic: 1
- Greek: alpha
- Ordinate: First
- Roman: I
- Pythagorean numbers: monad
On the practical side, one and its many word forms enrich our language. The Roman word for one, unus (unum, una, unius, uni) provides the prefix for such words as univalve (mollusks) or unicorn, universe, unity, and uniform. Primus (the first) also is one but with a slightly different connotation such as in prime or primary. Other words on one for Romans were semel or once, solitarious as solitary, and singuli, the prefix we use in singularity and single. The Greek words of one, mono, provides our prefix for monocot, monopoly, monarch, monochromatic, monogamous, and monolith.
In English, we have many other words designating one like annual, unique, entity, individual, and sole. In addition, one provides a designation for placement and class as in first place, first term, top dog, top honors, blue-ribbon, foremost, the best, and the beginning. This extends into time. New Year's Day (or eve), first hour, 1:00 am Prime, which is first Canonical prayer hours around 7:00 am, and Sunday are examples. Yes, I know, most calendars start on Monday, or moon day, depending on which day is considered the end of the week; however, the sun is a symbol of one, the symbol of man and the symbol of God, and the moon is considered feminine and belongs to the number 2. Technically, according to the Bible and creation, Sunday belongs to the number 7 as the seventh day. It just shows you how mixed up humans can get when using symbols. January, the first month, is derived from the Roman god Janus, a two-faced god, one which looked forward and one backward to show foresight plus hindsight equals insight.
In scientific, technological, measurement references, there is the point, which is a geometrical symbol. Hydrogen (H) is the first element on the periodic table. In space, the gravitational singularity is a black hole. One is a prime number and the first prime number. And our computers are based on the binary system of 1 and 0. On the first manned moon landing, I'm sure you remember Armstrong's "One small step for man." In Geo-physical locations, U.S. Highway 1 runs along the Atlantic coast from Maine to the tip of Florida. Then we come to monetary usages. We have a cent, penny, pence, ones, and a buck.
In society we have kings, presidents, governors, unicameral, head of state, and all indicate one at the top or those in control, or first, but one as a pronoun is indicative of the individual. Self is an important aspect of one on a personal level. Father, as head of the house, claims the position of one. (Many women will argue about this!)
One also plays an important part in games and sports like an ace, one-eyed jack, home-run, grand slam, strike, and one-armed bandit.
One represents the God Jehovah and so becomes the Christian number of singularity or unity. Genesis, the book of creation, is the First Book of the Old Testament, St. Matthew claims the first book of the New Testament. The First Commandment is 'Thou shalt have no other gods before me.'
In Babylonian religions, Anu was the god of the sky and heavens, and the Egyptian god Ra was known as 'the one One' because other gods were aspects or manifestations of Ra, who was also the mid-day sun. Which along with Janus mentioned above, leads us to mythology and using one for prognostication.
In numerology, the alphabet a, j, s are letters belonging to one, (1 through 9 as repeated throughout alphabet), as well as their number in the count of 1 to 26 letters. So A is always first. The House of Aries and the planet Mars are Astrological 'ones.' Other symbols of one are the sun, which represents many 'self' aspects such as spirit, will, energy, vitality, wholeness, self-integration, ruling authority, organization, and power. The sun, and thus one, also represents the will to live. The unicorn is a representation of one and also a symbol of Christ. Another symbol of one is the hand with all fingers folded to palm except the index finger which is pointing upward.
One is the beginning, so in astrology and numerology, one provides a significant prophetic device. One represents what is first, so indicates creation and power. It is the symbol of the father, so becomes the number of primogeniture, self-love, and piety through love of God. Jupiter, Zeus, the sun, God are all representations of one. One is the number of God, but then it gets hinky as one is the prime masculine number, the number of Yang, the God-Man connection, Adam, and the Paradise State. This all leads to one as the number of unity, light, genesis and creation. From this comes the psychology of ego, the consciousness of being, and the active principle of one driving peoples' behavior. Here is an interesting tidbit: One is a hermaphrodite number since when added to even numbers, one makes them odd, and when added to odd numbers, one makes them even. While you would not think of a static one in this way, one represents energy in a state of perpetual motion.
All of this is great, but one has some serious negative connotations. The words and states of being alone, lonely, solitary, homeless, without kin or aid, and of monotone, one-sided, and egotistical are words that show this negativity. One also lacks dimension and depth, leading to being flat, without character, even unintelligent.
In Tarot divination the first card, the magician's card, when dealt upright in a reading, represents the active principle of life or consciousness and shows the willingness of the person being read to master, organize, or create something. A magician shows an individual's ability to utilize divine power with the desire to achieve creation. If the card is upside down, though, it indicates a weak person, indecision, or incompetence, or can indicate a desire to use power for evil and destruction. Not so great now, huh?
Lastly, one provides many slang metaphors and phrases used in our communications:
- first love, last love
- blue-ribbon winner
- first and last
- first place
- looking out for number one
- once in a blue moon (blue moon is second full moon in a month)
- one and only
- one for the road
- one by one
- one hit wonder
- one horse
- one liner
- one night stand
- one point perspective
- one shot deal
- one sided
- one stop shop
- one time
- one too many
- pass the buck
- the buck stops here
- we're number one
And one last hopeful quote on one from long ago still relevant today,‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.’ Lao Tzu, Chinese Philosopher
So there it is — all aspects of one, but certainly a list that is not all-inclusive. Wikipedia has a page on One.
~ * ~Sources Some information was drawn from:
- The Discoverers by Daniel J. Boorstin
- A Complete Guide to the Tarot by Eden Gray
- The Numerology Workbook by Julia Line
- The Dartmouth Number Symbolism in the Middle Ages site offers much info on numbers in Christianity.