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three


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By for the most widespread of the traditionally significant numbers. It is a commonplace in folktales that persons and events are triplicated, the third of the set being often ‘weighted’ (the third brother the best, the third ogre the fiercest, the third casket the right one, etc.). In folk rhymes there is a fondness for groups of three (‘triads’), with the third often lengthened to form a climax:Rub-a-dub-dub! Three men in a tub,The butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker …One flew east, and one flew west,And one flew over the cuckoo's nest …

There is a common saying that ‘deaths come in threes’, or, less specifically, that ‘all good/bad things come in threes’ another is ‘third time lucky’, or ‘third time pays for all’. In rituals of magic, luck, or healing, it is very frequent to find words or actions being repeated three times; the same is often true of prayers and religious gestures. These features appear throughout European tradition, for reasons unknown.


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