Historically, where did the idea of "the nine pillars of ___" originate?
June 10, 2016 4:44 PM   Subscribe

Nine pillars of weight loss, history, business management, war, peace, what have you. Pick a topic, and you can probably find someone who has written an article or book about its nine pillars. But where did it start?

I know that the number nine has long been considered magical and important, and I have found various ancient and/or special religious buildings that physically have nine pillars. And I've found some very old stories about nine this and nine that. But I can't nail down the first time "nine pillars" as an idea became important.
posted by bingo to Religion & Philosophy (9 answers total)
Five pillars of islam, would be my guess.

I recognise the "X pillars of Y" thing, but to my knowledge it isn't always, or even usually, nine pillars. There are the four pillars of hiphop, for example. If there's a particular "nine pillars" trope maybe that's a specific subset? Or maybe nine is just a nice square number.
posted by tinkletown at 4:59 PM on June 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

There do seem to be more google results for five than for nine. But believe me, there are a lot of nine pillar paradigms. Especially modern ones. History. Wealth management. Resilience and success. Being a Sith. And many more.
posted by bingo at 5:05 PM on June 10, 2016

I don't think there's anything special about the number nine preceding the word pillars, though I'm prepared to be corrected. In terms of numbers of pillars, I've most commonly heard of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom that T.E. Lawrence wrote. In Google search "eight pillars" returns more hits than "nine pillars" even when you exclude "eight pillars" results that come from the book Eight Pillars of Prosperity, which is interesting because I would have thought eight would be a less popular number for this sort of thing. For eight pillars, in addition to the pillars of prosperity, we have "Eight Pillars of Total Productive Maintenance," "Eight Pillars of Word of Mouth Marketing," "The Eight Pillars of Greek Wisdom," "The Eight Pillars of Innovation," "Eight Pillars of Design," "The Eight Pillars of Taoism" and so on. People like their pillars!
posted by reren at 5:26 PM on June 10, 2016

The formulation appears in the Book of Proverbs from the Bible, as explained in the wiki article on the TE Lawrence book.
posted by joyceanmachine at 5:35 PM on June 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Ancient Egyptians organized their deities into a group of nine, later called the Ennead by the Greeks, at least as early as ~2400 BC.

The major city associated with this, Heliopolis, is sometimes referred to as the 'Place of Pillars', and I have a vague recollection of a grouping of pillars named the Ennead from somewhere in Greece or Egypt, but I wasn't able to track it down.
posted by jamjam at 8:45 PM on June 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Another voice to the chorus that I don't think there's anything special about the "nine" in "nine pillars of BLANK". I had never heard of nine pillars of anything until you brought it up, but I've seen plenty of "## pillars of XX" stuff in my life (and have even written some of my own).
posted by jdroth at 5:18 AM on June 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

This, from Google Ngram Viewer, doesn't directly answer your question, but is an interesting comparison of how common the phrase "X pillars" is in English text for various values of X.
posted by biogeo at 11:59 AM on June 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

Google Ngram Viewer

What sorcery is this?!
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:47 PM on June 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Google has all the best words.
posted by biogeo at 10:55 PM on July 2, 2016

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