Today is born the seventh one
Born of woman the seventh son
And he in turn of a seventh son
He has the power to heal
He has the gift of the second sight
He is the chosen one
So it shall be written
So it shall be done
– Iron Maiden, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
Seven seems to be a magical number in many cultures, and is often imbued with mystical and religious attributes. In the Abrahamic faiths, for instance, it is believed that God created the world in seven days, whilst in Greek mythology, the Pleiades were seven sisters who were the companions of the goddess Artemis. Other groups of seven include the Seven Wonders of the World, the Seven Sages of Greece and the Shichi Fukujin (Seven Gods of Fortune) of Japanese mythology. In folklore, seven also has a special role in the order of birth.
In the Greek myth of the Pleiades, a group of seven sisters were transformed into a cluster of stars, and were chased by a man seen in the Orion stars. Photo source: Wikipedia.
In European folklore, the seventh son of a seventh son is believed to possess special powers. The seventh son must be preceded by six brothers, with no sisters born in between, and whose father is also such a seventh son. Such a child is said to be gifted with the power to heal diseases. Some doctors in previous centuries even claim that one of their qualities that made them great healers was that they were the seventh son of a seventh son. In Ireland, the seventh son of a seventh son is also believed to have the power to foretell the future, in addition to his healing abilities.
Not all the gifts of the seventh sons of a seventh son are so benign, however. According to one superstition, the seventh son in a family of all boys is prone to fall victim to a curse that would turn him into a luison (also el lobizon or lobisomen).
This creature exists in the mythology of South America, particularly in the countries of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. The myth of the luison originates with the Guarani, an indigenous people from Paraguay. In Guarani mythology, the luison was the seventh and youngest offspring of Tau, an evil spirit, and Kerana, a mortal woman. In the original story, the luison is said to be the God of Death and had a horrendous figure. His face was long and pale, and much of his body was covered with long dirty hair. He also had frightening eyes and had the stench of death and decay around him. It was perhaps interaction with European colonists that transformed this myth overtime, as the luizon changed from a God of Death into a werewolf.
A model of a luison (Wikimedia Commons)
It is believed that on the night of a full moon, especially if it fell on a Friday, the seventh son in a family of all boys, after he reaches the age of 13, would transform into the luison.
Like the European werewolf, the luison would terrorise the night by hunting and killing, and spread its curse through its bite. In 1907, another custom associated with the seventh son was incorporated into the luison myth.
According to this custom, which originated in Germany, the reigning prince would be the sponsor to a seventh son of any of his subjects. When Enrique Brost and Apolonia Holmann, who were Volga Germans from south eastern Russia, immigrated to Argentina in the early 1900s, they brought the custom along and requested the then Argentinian president, Jose Figueroa Alcorta, to be their seventh son’s godfather. The president agreed to their request, and this tradition has been kept till today. In 2014, Yair Tawil, a seventh son, became the godson of Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
Yair Tawil, the seventh son, becomes the godson of Argentinian president Christina Fernandez de Kirchner
The myth of the seventh son of a seven son is still alive today, and has been used variously in films, literature and music. In an age when superstition is frowned upon by many, our fascination with the number seven and the folklore regarding the seventh son of a seventh son still continues, and will probably persist into the future.
Featured image: Seven Sons, ‘The Oath has been Awakened’. Credit: Jenny Dolfen Illustrations
- Asuncion Christian Academy, 2006. Paraguayan Myths. [Online] Available at: http://www.projectparaguay.com/myths.htm
- Chambers, R., 1869. Chambers' Book of Days, January 26. London: W. & R. Chambers.
- King, E. F., 1894. Ten Thousand Wonderful Things. London: George Routledge and Sons.
- Nuwer, R., 2014. Argentina Has a Superstition That Seventh Sons Will Turn into Werewolves. [Online] Available at: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/argentina-has-superstition-7th-sons-will-turn-werewolves-180953746/?no-ist
- tanvir, 2014. Werewolf Legends from Around the World. [Online] Available at: http://www.historicmysteries.com/werewolf-legends/
- tvtropes.org, 2015. Magical Seventh Son. [Online] Available at: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MagicalSeventhSon