(Investigator 151, 2013 July)

Numerology, (from the Latin "numerus"
number, and the Greek   "logos," word), also known as Arithmancy or Numeromancy, is essentially a form of divination that uses various elaborate computations of certain numbers to enable, so it is claimed, the fortune-teller to determine information about the future, the relevance of texts, or to disclose esoteric knowledge, data that is hidden from all but the initiated. It was claimed that by using Numerology the seers could reveal the essential nature of an individual, and especially their metaphysical relationship to the numerical principles that were the basis of the cosmos and all creation. However, despite all the pseudo-scientific pretentiousness that is part of the process, Numerology is nothing more than an elaborate form of deception, relying upon gullibility and self-delusion.

Numerology has three principal forms: -
a)    Chaldean Numerology: This system used the sounds, (vibrations) of the numbers one to eight

b)    Kabbalah or Cabbala: This system evolved from an earlier Hebrew mystical tradition known as Gematria, a process of subjective interpretation of sacred texts to provide the seeker with "enlightenment." Based on the value of their letters words in scripture were assigned numerical values and so, could be compared with other words of equal value, e.g. Genesis 28:12 outlines Jacob's dream of how he saw a ladder (sullam) reaching from Earth to heaven. The Hebrew for ladder has a numerical value of 130, the same as the Hebrew word for Sinai, so, applying Gematria principles, the rabbis claimed that the holy law given to Moses on Mount Sinai was like Jacob's ladder, given by God as a means by which man could ascend to heaven. Although the Cabbala appeared about the 12th or 13th century in Southern France, in the works of a French Jew, Isaac the Blind, it was then in fact, at least 1,000 years old, based upon various Jewish and Babylonian texts, many of which were handed down orally amongst certain orders of Jewish rabbis and scholars. It used the Hebrew alphabet of 22 letters and was primarily used to interpret the mystical meanings of names only.

c)    Pythagorean or Modern Western Numerology: Although claimed to originate with Pythagoras, this system was probably much older. Few details of the Pythagorean system survived but it appears to have been based on a belief that a relationship existed between a cosmic system of numbers and events in a person's life. The modern system, which claims to be based upon Pythagorean principles, has two basic forms,
I.    Names: this assigns each letter of the alphabet a numerical value from one to nine; the letters of a person's name are added together and, if the final number is more than one digit, these were added together until ultimately a single digit is reached.;
II.    Birth Date: the numbers in a person's birthdate are added together and, if the final number is more than one digit, these were added together until ultimately a single digit is reached.
The belief that Numerology was a means by which one could obtain so much "secret" information about an individual was based upon various pre-scientific beliefs, the principal ones being:-
1.    That there was, "…an occult relationship existing between numbers and letters and the whole fabric and machinery of the cosmos." (Rakoczi, 1970,p. 108). From this came the belief that all creation, including humans, were under the direction of subtle numerical influences, and that, those who understood the mystical arts, could use certain mystical numerical practices to discern these metaphysical secrets;

2.    Followers of the mystic arts believed that the name of an individual was not just some arbitrary designation given by their parents; but that, since it actually reflected their real spiritual nature, it was "divinely inspired" and, in many cultures, a child was not considered to be a "real" person until it received its name, (Cavendish, 1970a, p. 1940). Since each letter in the Greek and Hebrew alphabet had a numerical value it was simple to calculate a numerical value between one and nine for the name of a person, and this number, it was claimed, provided an insight as to that person's mystical spiritual identity. (Cavendish, 1979b, p. 2023).

3.    A person's date of birth was not considered by the ancients to be a random event; they believed it had been "planned" by the forces that governed the universe to occur at the most suitable and auspicious time, and so, to those who understood the art of Numerology, it contained a great deal of information about who they were, and what fate had in store for them throughout their lifetime.  
The art of Numbering originated in very ancient times as a means of keeping an independent tally of possessions. At first it probably involved counting on the fingers, or using "counting sticks" or stones, to record tallies, however, as societies became more settled and adopted an agricultural life style, they needed more sophisticated systems to keep track of time. Early humans had already noted that the Sun and Moon followed a regular pattern and that the stars would rise and set at regular times throughout the year. In an imprecise and insecure world the regular movement of the heavens provided a sense of security, for, even during the harshest winter, it was understood that after a certain period of time the warmth of the sun would return and, once again, life would return to normal.

This heavenly sequence appears to have been the basis of the Macrocosm-Microcosm concept, the ancient belief that the Macrocosm, the "great cosmos" and Earth — the Microcosm or "small cosmos" — were inexorably interconnected, so that everything that occurred on Earth, was a reflection of heavenly events; since the Macrocosm operated according to mystical numerical principles, it was assumed the same principles had a profound influence on everyday human life.

As Schimmel (1987) noted, it was apparently the observations of the rhythmic movement of the passing of time, "…and the phases of the moon" that led to a preoccupation with numbers. (p. 13). Early humans relied on divine intervention to change the seasons, and to bring their crops to fruition, and gradually events such as, the turn of the seasons, (solstices) planting and harvest became important times for religious festivals as they first sought the help of the deities to ensure they would receive their annual harvest, and then later to thank them for the harvest. Since the dates for many of these festivals were based on a complex Lunar Cycle, it required a complex numerical system to ensure the festivals were celebrated at the correct time each year.

In ancient times the various deities were closely interwoven into the entire pattern of human life; they were identified with the Sun, the Moon, the seasons, the fertility of the crops; they believed that nothing occurred without their divine influence. Given their connections  to the original creation of order, which, it was believed, involved a divine system of numbers, it must have seemed logical to identify each deity with a particular number; as Flegg (2002) noted,
"The Babylonians had a hierarchy of sixty gods each of which was associated with one of the first sixty natural numbers  … In ancient India we find religious significance assigned to each of the first 101 numbers, and in the Mayan civilization the first thirteen numbers all represented gods." (p. 272).
Over time individual numbers began to take on other special significances. One came to represent the number of unity, for the Pythagoreans it represented the 'monad' the principle and the end of all. As the indivisible whole it was the fundamental unit from which all things had been created, strength, order, peace and, in particular, it represented the godhead, the singular supreme deity, and, as such, "… was symbolic of the divinity, of reason, and of all that was eternal and unchanging." (Flegg, 2002, p. 273). The number One also represented the male aspect of the cosmos, an idea that evolved from the Pythagorean system, in which odd numbers were classified, "…as masculine and lucky and even numbers as feminine and unlucky." (Schimell, 1987, p. 13).

Two represented the dualistic nature of the universe, light and darkness, good and evil, day and night, the male-female principles, the yin and yang. As the dyad, Pythagoreans considered this to be an evil number since it represented duality, division, the secret of evil, and the female principles of the universe, and had no square root. It also represented difference, division, inequality and was thought to lead to disorder and confusion.

The number Three was an unusually mystical number, filled with spiritual essence. The cosmos was believed to comprise three parts, the heavens, the Earth and the waters, (or the abyss). Three was an important part in the Vedic, Greek, Roman, Celtic, Teutonic and Christian religious traditions. Deities with a triune nature became a common feature of many religious traditions including those of the Egyptians. Babylonians, Persians, Hindu and Christians. Thus we find that the Egyptians represented the supreme deity, the Sun, in three separate forms, Khepri represented the sun in its rising aspect, from sunrise until it reached its zenith, when it became Ra, then at its setting it became Atum. In Christianity we find the concept of the divine Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Three became part of everyday usage, expressed in such forms as high, medium and low; up, down and middle, and even became a basic part of language structure, so that to emphasize a particular point it was repeated three times, for instance Winston Churchill had a personal mantra, "Never give in, never give in, never give in!" He used the technique widely and in his first speech in parliament, he stated, "…what is our aim? I can answer in one word? It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be".

Nine, since it represented the Trinity three times over, was regarded by many as being particularly lucky. As the highest single digit nine was considered to be the number of finalization, a numerical symbol denoting perfection. It was sacred to the Egyptians, who had nine original deities, the Ennead. It was also sacred to the Greeks who frequently associated the number with both ecstasy and suffering; Zeus spent nine nights of love seducing Leto, who later, spent nine days and nine nights in great pain before she finally gave birth. Demeter experienced nine days of heartbreaking anguish searching for her daughter Persephone who had been kidnapped by Hades. In Numerology nine was the number associated with those who pursue and achieve the divine will, while, in the Cabbala, it was considered to be the number of personal achievement.

Certain numbers have special significance to different religious or cultural groups. The numbers nine and nineteen, for instance, play an important part in the Baha'i faith. The Bab, the founder of Baha'i, had eighteen chief disciples, (2 x 9) which, together with himself, gave nineteen leaders. The faithful are required to fast for nineteen days during Ala, the last month of the Baha'i year; women are exempted from this ritual fast if they repeat the words, "Glorified be God, the Lord of Splendour and Beauty" ninety-five times (19 x 5) on each of the nineteen days of the fast. Their year is composed of 361 days, nineteen months each of nineteen days, to which they add an extra four days to match the solar year, and, according to tradition, when the Bab made his pilgrimage to Mecca, he sacrificed 19 lambs.

The number nineteen also features in Islam; throughout their history Islamic scholars have 'perceived' mystical symbolism in the regular occurrence of this number in the Koran, and it is regarded as sacred by many Islamic mystics, especially the Sufis. The Koran has 114 sutras or chapters, (6 x 19), it has 6,346 verses, (334 x 19) and if one adds the digits of this number together, one obtains the number nineteen. Every verse, except one, commences with the Basmala, "In the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful", a verse that contains nineteen Arabic letters. The first word of this verse, Bism appears nineteen times in the Koran; the second Allah appears 2,698 times, (142 x 19).

To the ancients numbers had a fundamentally mystical significance; they were thought to possess a metaphysical, creative principle from which all things in the cosmos were formed;
"But in every one of the compound Bodies, there is a number.  For without number it is impossible there should be consistence or constitution, or composition, or dissolution."  (Copenhaver, 1992, p. 46, Book 11,).
Others believed that when their particular deity had created the cosmos they had used mystical numerically based principles; as Barrett (1801) observed,
"All things, which were first made by the nature of things in its first age, seem to be formed by the proportion of numbers; for this was the principal pattern in the mind of the Creator."  (p. 101).
The annual procession of the heavens also appears to have been the basis of the belief in the Macrocosm-Microcosm concept, the idea that the Macrocosm, the "great cosmos" and Earth —  the Microcosm or "small cosmos" — were part of a dual system on which everything that occurred on Earth, was simply a reflection of things that had occurred in the heavens. To ancient humans this meant the mystical influences of the Macrocosm, which was based upon mystical numerical principles, was also responsible for events that occurred in their own lives.

The ancients did not believe in a random universe, for them, everything that occurred did so for a reason. Important and significant events, such as the time of birth and the names individuals were given, were perceived as the subtle reflections of the mystical and universal power of numbers, whose influences would persist throughout their entire life.

It is not known precisely when Numerology evolved, but it appears that certain mystics and scholars, believing that the mystical lore of numbers contained the secrets of the power of nature, began quite early to use the magical arts in an attempt to uncover these secret powers. Thus, although Numerology is commonly attributed to the Greek philosopher Pythagoras, it seems more likely that it evolved much earlier, possibly in Mesopotamia. However, it was amongst the Greek philosophers and mathematicians, that a form of Numerology reached its zenith, in particular with Pythagoras, and his followers, who believed the principles of mathematics were the fundamental principles of creation; in other words, everything that exists can be explained in pure mathematical terms, and that the entire nature, and purpose, of the cosmos could be explained in the mystical numerical ratios between the first ten numbers.

The Pythagoreans were preoccupied with determining the mystical principles underlying numbers that influenced the operation of the cosmos. Pythagoras is reputed to have said that, "All things consist of numbers … physical bodies themselves are made of number". They taught that there was a natural numerical cycle of heavenly phenomena and, on the Earth, evidence of the numerical structure of nature could be seen in many natural forms, such as the natural spiral patterns of certain shells.

They made a series of discoveries concerning the properties of whole numbers and were particularly interested in the numerical relationships of harmonics. They noted that the sounds made by a vibrating string were related to its length, and that, by varying the length of the string, the notes could be changed in accordance with a strict mathematical formula.

Eventually they linked mathematics with a grand esoteric numerical design that pervaded the whole of nature. This use of numbers to deal with philosophical concepts is now considered to be a form of pseudo mathematics, and has long been discarded by legitimate mathematicians.

The frequent claims that Western Numerology was developed by Pythagoras is largely baseless; it appears to be an attempt by later authors to add a degree of legitimacy to the technique. As Carroll (2003) indicated there is absolutely no evidence that Pythagoras, "…thought he could analyze his disciples' personalities by assigning numbers to the letters of their names and their birth dates." (p. 264). Furthermore, given that each cultural group had their own alphabet, with different numbers of letters, the task of assigning universal values to such a range of letters would have been insurmountable.

Given the natural insecurity of humans, the idea that relationships existed between physical objects, events and human beings, and that it might be possible to use such information to determine what events lay in their future, must have been very appealing. It was this need that led to the development of hundreds of forms of divination, of which Numerology was but one.

Numerology pervaded ancient philosophy and medieval science. The ancients recognized five solid figures, regular polygons; known as the Platonic solids these comprised the four-sided tetrahedron, the six-sided hexahedron or cube,  the eight-sided octahedron, the twelve-sided dodecahedron, and the twenty-sided icosahedron. While Pythagoras is often credited with their discovery they actually predated him.

The Greeks studied these solids in great detail, and it was Theaetetus (417-369 BCE) who apparently first gave a mathematical description of these five figures. These figures were prominent in the work of Plato, and in his dialogue Timaeus, (360 BCE) they were associated with the four classical elements that were believed to form the physical cosmos. Fire came from the tetrahedron, Earth from the cube, Air the octahedron, Water from the icosahedron, while the dodecahedron represented a "force" used by the deities to arrange the heavens.

In 1595 Johannes Kepler had an inspiring vision of the Platonic solids forming the structure of the solar system, each figure fitting neatly within a spherical orbit, beginning with the tetrahedron, and in his book, Mysterium Cosmographicum (The Cosmographical Mystery,1596) outlined his concepts believing that he had found the geometrical and numerical  basis of God's creation of the cosmos. Unfortunately, he was wrong, and he spent the remainder of his life trying to fine-tune a concept that was seriously flawed.

Because the principles underlying the form of Numerology taught by Pythagoras and his followers were considered to be so sacred, they were never written down, and, as a result, details of their numerological techniques were lost. However other numerological techniques existed and in one form, the process of attributing numerical values to strings of letters was reintroduced in the Cabbalistic texts of medieval times. Then, in the twentieth century, American author L. Dow Balliett introduced in a series of books what is often referred to as, "the modern phase of Numerology".

In what is essentially nothing more than a great deal of metaphysical nonsense, she stressed the importance of cosmic "vibrations" no doubt based upon the Pythagorean concept of the music of the spheres, to which had been added a number of legitimate modern scientific ideas. According to Cavendish (1967), "Numerology  is simply an extended study of vibration…"  (p. 75), and Bailliett's idea of a vibrating universe was apparently purloined from legitimate  discoveries that the atoms in matter "vibrated". In essence it appears to have been an attempt to provide Numerology with a degree of scientific respectability.  Significantly Numerologists claim there are nine separate notes, different rates of vibration in the universe, a figure that corresponds to the number of individual types of personalities.

Essentially there are two main approaches used in modern Numerological divination: -
1.    Adding the numerical values of the letters in a person's name; and
2.    Adding up the numbers in an individual's date of birth.
The first method of numerical divination, Arithmancy, was based upon a belief, "…that the name of a thing contains the essence of its being…" (Cavendish, 1967, p. 54). Like numbers, the letters of early alphabets were revered as sacred; the sound of each letter believed to contain certain magical numerical properties as well as its own unique "cosmic vibration" and that, by adding up the individual values of the letters in the name most commonly used by an individual, (including their nickname), and constantly reducing that number until a number between one and nine was obtained, one could discern the hidden metaphysical characteristics of that person.

Originally, the main use of Arithmancy was to establish the degree of relationship between humans and the deities, and, in particular, which of two or more candidates were most favoured by the gods. Arithmancy also taught that although a person's future was predetermined, by allowing them to glimpse their possible future they could take steps to intervene, and, so change the potential outcome of their life.

Widely practiced in the Hellenic world, especially amongst the Pythagoreans and the Platonists, it too was attributed to Pythagoras; however, it appears that it too originated in ancient Mesopotamia as a form of Chaldean Numerology.

The second method, which was very similar, used the numbers in a person's date of birth, adding them up and then reducing the total until a single digit number was reached. This final number represented the secret numerical characteristics of the individual,
"…the stamp which the mysterious forces that move the universe impressed on your character and destiny at the moment when you were born." (Cavendish, 1967, p. 61).
Even though different individuals could have the same number, they often had quite different characters and behaviours; to overcome this difficulty Numerologists claimed that the number of a person's name was merely a general guide to personality, and that to define the "real" personality, one had to delve much "deeper". As Cavendish (1970b) indicated, it was necessary to calculate the numbers of the vowels in a person's name to determine their Heart Number, which indicated "… the person you are at heart." Then one had to add the values of the consonants in the name to determine the Personality Number, which revealed, "… your outer self and how other people see you." (p. 2023). 

One particularly nonsensical aspect of Numerology is the illogical concept of "lucky" and "unlucky" numbers, the belief that certain numbers, such as seven, are luckier than other numbers, and that some, such as thirteen, are "unlucky". As Shakespeare observed, "This is the third time, I hope good luck lies in odd numbers..." (Merry Wives of Windsor. Act 5, Scene 1.) Although statistically, in any form of gambling, every number has an equal chance of being drawn, people tend to "play" numbers which they believe are luckier than the others.

Such beliefs are especially noticeable amongst certain cultural groups; for example the Chinese who consider the number eight especially lucky. They will often pay large sums of money to purchase car number plates that contain a series of eights'. However, the numbers have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with subsequent events, as is evidenced by the following newspaper report,
"A Hong Kong businessman died when his Ferrari with the "lucky" number plate 888 crashed and burst into flames in a suspected road race.
Chan Ki-wo is believed to have been racing at more than 100 kph on a highway on Sunday. One of the few things to survive the blaze was its "lucky" number plate LE888."  (Advertiser).

Perhaps the validity of Numerology can best be summed up by the newspaper columnist Ostrow (1996), who wrote of how, as a young woman seeking to find the cosmic significance in her troubled life, she consulted Rohinini, "…reputed to be one of the most respected numerologists in the world" and who, her friends had assured her, was, "… so accurate it was "totally scary".

He calculated the numerical value of her date of birth determining she was a "nine – such a special number" and assured her this was why she was having so many personal problems.

Her heart was pounding and she felt chills in her spine as he explained, "You are always searching for meaning. You feel frustrated because the meaning of life keeps eluding you... There is a lot of sadness around love for you because reality never matches your expectations."

But he assured her, very soon, she would meet a tall, handsome man, "A man involved in money...perhaps a wealthy business tycoon. He will seek you out!" "Oh Rohinini, how can the numbers know so much about me?" I asked when the awesome session had finished. I was trembling. I wanted to kiss Rohinini's fat, thonged feet. "They just know," be said earnestly."

He then explained how he had determined she was a nine; he added her day of birth 26th to the month and year of her birth to obtain the figure 36 which, when added together, gave the number nine. However, as Ostrow pointed out the final total was actually 35, which, when added together made her an eight not a nine. Embarrassed he apologized and admitted she was in fact an eight not a nine:
"There was an awful moment of silence. Then he said: "Look, it doesn't matter really. I mean, ummm, eight and nine are on the same grid so in reality they have almost identical traits." He quickly tallied some new figures and said, "That will be $45, Ruth", and pushed me out the front door."


Barrett, F. (1801), The Magus or Celestial Intelligencer. London: Lackington, Alley, and Co.
Carroll, R.T. (2003). The Skeptic's Dictionary. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Cavendish, R. (1967). The Black Arts. London: Pan Books Ltd.
Cavendish, R. (1970a). Names. In, Man, Myth and Magic, London: Purnell, 1940-1944.
Cavendish, R. (1970b). Numerology. In, Man, Myth and Magic, London: Purnell, 2023-2026.
Copenhaver, B.P. (1992). Hermetica: The Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius in English Translation, with Notes and Introduction. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Flegg, G. (2002). Numbers: Their History and Meaning. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications
Ostrow, R. (1996) Never count on the cosmic. Sunday Mail, 4th August,  p. 157.
Rakoczi, B.I. (1970). Fortune Telling. London: Macdonald Unit 75.
Schimmel, A. (1987). Numbers – An Overview. In, Mircea Eliade, (editor), Encyclopedia of Religion, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, Volume 11, 13-19.
Unlucky Crash. Advertiser, (2007). Tuesday, September 25th p. 28.

From: Eddie, L. 2008 A Skeptical Look At Alternative Therapies And Beliefs, Digital Publications

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