To: The Universal House of Justice
From: Research Department
History of the Nine-Pointed Star
In its email message of 10 November 1998 to the Universal House of Justice, the National Spiritual Assembly of ... enclosed a letter dated 22 September 1998 addressed to it by Mr. xx, a Bahá'í who is a philosopher, and sought advice concerning how to respond to Mr. xx's questions about the Bahá'í nine-pointed star.
Mr. xx’s research deals with the problems of the person and consciousness and with issues of philosophical modelling. His studies have led him to conclude that the "Nine-Point Bahá'í Star (eneagramma
) represents Unity and in [a] philosophical sense can be interpreted as a model of [the] 'Universe Consciously recognizing itself', a model of a 3-united world, 3-united reality, 3-united space-time." He has presented some of his ideas at professional gatherings. Mr. xx notes that, while he is familiar with V. I. Yeremeyev's research on the history and meaning of the nine-pointed star, he has been unable to find either relevant historical material concerning the acceptance of the nine-pointed star as one of the symbols of the Bahá'í Faith or explanations which shed light on its deep spiritual significance. The Research Department has studied these questions, and we provide the following response.
Nine-Pointed Star as Symbol of the Bahá'í Faith
With regard to the designation of the nine-pointed star as a symbol of the Bahá'í Faith, the following statement from a letter dated 28 October 1949, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, indicates that:
The 9-pointed star is not a part of the teachings of our Faith, but only used as an emblem representing "9".... Strictly speaking the 5-pointed star is the symbol of our Faith..… (Published in Baba’i News, no. 228 (February 1950), p. 4, and in Lights of Guidance: 2 Baba'i Reference File [rev. ed. ], comp. Helen Hornby (New Delhi: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1988), p. 415)
Further, the Universal House of Justice, in a letter dated 22 August 1963 to a National Spiritual Assembly, affirmed that:
We wish to point out that the symbols of the Most Great Name and the nine-pointed star, although Bahá'í symbols, are not in any way the symbols of the Bahá'í Faith in the sense that the cross is the symbol of Christianity or the crescent the symbol of Islam.
The use of the nine-pointed star as a symbol of the Faith was permitted by Shoghi Effendi, as explained in the following extract from a letter dated 30 August 1981, written on behalf of the House of Justice to an individual believer:
In a letter to the Temple Guides Committee, dated 5 December 1944, the Guardian's secretary stated on his behalf that the nine-pointed star was not a symbol of the Faith in any special sense, but that it was developed by Mr. Bourgeois (the architect of the House of Worship in Wilmette) and other Bahá'ís as a symbol that could be used. Shoghi Effendi also approved the use of the nine-pointed star on Bahá'í gravestones....
We attach for Mr. xx’s interest copies of articles from Star of the West which contain statements by Louis Bourgeois concerning the nine-pointed star [Note: these were not included with the digital text I received. -J.W.]:
Star of the West, volume 11, number 5, 5 June 1920: An article entitled "Bahai [sic] Temple Strikes New Art Note", reprinted from the newspaper New York American, 23 May 1920.
Star of the West, volume 11, number 9, 20 August 1920: "The Model for the Bahai [sic] Temple, Chicago", facsimile of pages from The Architectural Record, June 1920.
For a discussion of the purpose and significance of the Bahá'í House of Worship, the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar, Mr. xx might wish to peruse a letter dated 25 October 1929 written by Shoghi Effendi. The letter is published in Bahá'í Administration: Selected Messages 1922-1932 (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1995), pages 180-187.
Significance of Number Nine
In a letter dated 9 July 1939 written on his behalf, Shoghi Effendi explains the significance of the number nine and its importance as a symbol:
...regarding the significance of the number nine: its importance as a symbol used so often in various connections by the believers lies in three facts. First, it symbolizes the nine great world religions of which we have any definite historical knowledge, including the Babi and Bahá'í Revelations; second, it represents the number of perfection, being the highest single number; third, it is the numerical value of the word "Baha".
Further, in a letter dated 19 February 1932 written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, the importance of the numerical value of the word "Baha" is set out:
Concerning the number nine: the Bahá'ís reverence this for two reasons, first because it is considered by those who are interested in numbers as a sign of perfection. The second consideration, which is the more important one, is that it is the numerical value for the word "Baha". (B = 2, h = 5, a = 1, and there is an accent at the end of the word which also = 1; the 'a' after the 'B' is not written in Persian so it does not count.) In the Semitic languages – both Arabic and Hebrew – every letter of the alphabet had a numerical value, so instead of using figures to denote numbers they used letters and compounds of letters. Thus every word had both a literal meaning and also a numerical value. This practice is no more in use but during the time of Bahá'u'lláh and the Bab it was quite in vogue among the educated classes, and we find it very much used in the Bayan. As the word "Baha" also stood for the number nine it could be used interchangeably with it.
For Mr. xx’s interest, we also attach the following materials which relate to the significance of the number nine:
A short document entitled "Significance of the Numbers Nine and Nineteen in the Bahá'í Faith", which was prepared several years ago at the instruction of the Universal House of Justice. "Sixth Meditation, A Sacred Geometry", from Julie Badiee's An Earthly Paradise: Bahá'í Houses of Worship Around the World (Oxford: George Ronald, 1992), pages 88-95. Pages 92-95 deal with the significance of the numbers nine and nineteen.
Orientation of the Nine-Pointed Star
Mr. xx expresses the view that, because of the "deep meaning of the Bahá'í Star ... it should be symmetrical and all the triangles should be equal". Further, he believes that "It can not be turned upside down, when the top of the first triangle (Word) is looking down", and, in this regard, he refers to Express-Baba #i, number 155, 1998, page 6. The Research Department has not been able to examine the publication referred to by Mr. xx, as it has yet to be received at the Bahá'í World Centre. We deduce from his comments that Mr. xx is enquiring about the appropriate way of orienting the symbol of the nine-pointed star.
The Research Department has, to date, been unable to locate detailed guidance in the Bahá'í Writings concerning the appropriate style and the way of orienting the symbol of the nine-pointed star. We provide for Mr. xx’s information the following two extracts from letters written by the Universal House of Justice which relate to the placement of the nine-pointed star on grave markers:
We ... have always, following the Guardian's clear instructions regarding permissible gravestone symbols for Bahá'ís, sought to make clear that any form of the Greatest Name on grave markers is not permitted. The nine-pointed star in its many versions may be used, with such verbal inscription as will fulfill individual needs.
(9 April 1971, to a National Spiritual Assembly)
Thank you for ... the designs for ...'s gravestone.... We have only one comment. We understand that there are traditions about the placing of a star which have symbolic meanings to the general public and that, generally, it is preferable for the central point of the star to be directed upwards rather than downwards.
(6 November 1989, to a Policy Committee at the Bahá'í World Centre)
Finally, with regard to the use of the nine-pointed star, the Universal House of Justice, in a letter dated 18 November 1997 written on its behalf to an individual believer, provided the following general guidance:
The nine-pointed star is regarded by many people, both Bahá'í and non-Bahá'í, as a symbol of the Faith, and hence any use of it should be under conditions which are dignified and appropriate. As you can well understand, problems can readily arise when there are differences of opinion about what constitute such conditions. The House of Justice is reluctant to specify in details what is acceptable, and encourages believers to turn to the National or Local Spiritual Assemblies, or to believers in whose good judgement they have confidence, for advice on such matters.
Significance of the Numbers Nine and Nineteen in the Bahá'í Faith
In the Bahá'í Sacred Writings, the numbers nine and nineteen have symbolic meaning.
In both the Arabic and Hebrew alphabets, each letter has a numerical value. The Bab, the Founder of the Babi Faith, and Bahá'u'lláh, the Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, often used the numerical value of words to symbolize concepts.
Nine, as the highest single-digit number, symbolizes completeness. The Bahá'í Faith regards humanity as an organic entity which has developed through its embryonic state to infancy, then to adolescence and is now coming of age, which is the state of fulfilment; so likewise the number nine reflects a sense of fulfilment or culmination and perfection. Bahá'í Houses of Worship, for example, have nine sides, and one commonly used symbol of the Bahá'í Faith is a nine-pointed star. Nine is the minimum number of members in a Spiritual Assembly or House of Justice, the administrative bodies elected by Bahá'ís around the world.
In Arabic, the word Vahid holds the numerical value of nineteen and symbolizes "unity". In the Bahá'í calendar, which was formulated by the Bab, there are nineteen days in a month and nineteen months in a year. In the history of the Babi Faith, the Bab and His first eighteen followers constitute the first vahid
of His religion.
While the symbolic use of numbers in the Sacred Writings of Bahá'u'lláh and the Bab is important, there is no occult meaning to them, nor do Bahá'ís susbscribe to divination by numbers or other such practices.