Thursday, March 20, 2014
By Kristy McCaffrey
Numbers have long carried sacred and mystical significance, helping us to understand our place in the world. For example, four thousand years ago the Sumerians created the measuring system of time—60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day. There’s debate about whether numbers originated in China or India, but it’s fairly certain that they came before the use of letters.
Numerology is the belief in the mysterious, esoteric relationship between numbers and living things, physical objects, ideas, and concepts. Each number has a generally accepted definition.
0: The nothing
9: The limited and the limitless
10: Death and rebirth
Here are a few famous numbers, along with positive and negative connotations associated with each.
4: A masculine number, symbolizing wholesomeness, organization and order. There are four cardinal directions (north, south, east west), four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), and four elements (earth, air, fire and water). But in China the pronunciation of the word for the number four is similar to that of the Chinese word for death. Therefore, many buildings in China skip a fourth floor, just as U.S. builders sometimes omit floor 13.
13: Long regarded as unlucky. The Kabbalah states that there are 13 spirits of evil. It’s considered unlucky to have 13 people sit down to dinner, a reminder of the Last Supper where Christ was betrayed by one of his 12 disciples. In the Tarot deck, 13 is the number of Death. But, it’s not all bad. The calendar year is divided into 12 months, but there are actually 13 lunar months, which led the Mayans to revere the number. In ancient times, the 13th member of a group was thought to be the leader—Zeus and the 12 gods and goddesses, Christ and the 12 disciples, King Arthur and the 12 Knights of the Round Table.
17: This number is almost universally important, a beneficial number representing spirituality, immortality, rebirth, and transformation. The reasoning can be found in the component elements. If you take 1+7 = 8, you have 1 (number of the One God), 7 (number of completeness and perfection), and 8 (number of cosmic balance and harmony). In Islam, it’s believed that the sacred name of God is comprised of 17 letters. For this reason the number appears repeatedly in Islamic tradition and folklore. In the Bible, the Flood is said to have begun on the 17th day of the second month and ended on the 17th day of the seventh month. Greeks still believe that the 17th day of any month is a good day to cut wood to build a ship. But the naysayers include both the Egyptians (Osiris, God of the Dead, was slain on the 17th day of the month) and the Italians (rearranging the Roman numeral XVII can create the word “VIXI”, translated from Latin to mean “my life is over”).
42: Per Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, this is the secret of everything in the Universe. J
666: Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia is a fear of the number 666. In the Bible, the number first appears as a reference to the amount of King Solomon’s wealth in the First Book of Kings in the Old Testament. But the root of the dark superstition surrounding the number comes from the Book of Revelation in the New Testament. John the Apostle refers to 666 as “the number of the beast,” often interpreted as the Antichrist, or Satan. But if numerology is employed, 6+6+6 = 18, which breaks down to 1+8 = 9. Nine is known as the number of man, so one line of thought is that John referred to the “beast” as the material part of man as opposed to the spiritual side. When 666 is spoken aloud in Chinese, it sounds like the phrase, Things going smoothly. It is one of the luckiest numbers in China and often appears on banners and good-luck cards. In science, the number denotes Carbon-12, a stable and naturally occurring isotope with 6 protons, 6 neutrons, and 6 electrons; it forms 98.93% of the carbon on Earth.
On the surface, numbers are simply a way to keep track of the world around us. Beneath this definition lies a deep philosophical history surrounding the symbolism of numbers, a belief that spans across time and cultures. Numbers are sacred, defining the mystical and nature itself.
Nozedar, Adele. The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Signs and Symbols. Harper Collins, 2008.