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According to numerologists, each number possesses a certain power that exists in the occult connection between the relations of things and the principles in nature which they express. All that humans are capable of experiencing can be reduced to the digits one through nine. These single numbers are derived from the simplification of all combinations of numbers to their basic essence. This essence then vibrates through the single digit.

Because numerology became popular among New Age diviners in the 1970s, many people who have been introduced to the technique for the first time believe that it is of recent origin. On the contrary, numerology is among the oldest of the psychic sciences, and numerological divination and number charms are found in India, Greece, Egypt, China, and Europe.

Pythagoras (c. 580c. 500 b.c.e.), the great Greek mathematician and mystic, proclaimed that the very world is built upon the magical power of numbers. According to his doctrines, numbers contained within them the essence of all that is in the natural and the spiritual worlds. For those who followed the teachings of Pythagoras, the number one symbolized unity and therefore the Creator-God. Two represented the duality of good and evil and stood for the devil. Four, symbolizing balance, was considered by Pythagoreans as their most holy and sacred number, and their most solemn oaths were sworn on four. Pythagoreans also used numbers to represent various planets and elements. For example, five stood for fire; six, earth; eight, air; twelve, water.

In addition to the teachings of Pythagoras, Cornelius Agrippa's (14861535) work Occult Philosophy (1533) quite likely furnished the basis for much of the belief in numerology practiced in the Western world. Agrippa also emphasized the powers inherent in numbers and even prescribed certain numbers as tools in banishing evil, promoting healing, and summoning benign spirits. The energy found in the number five, for instance, could exorcise demons and serve as an antidote to poisons.

Contemporary numerologists use their various systems to produce assessments of an individual's personality traits, behavior patterns, and to describe compatibility and a possible course of future events for their clients. Depending upon the numerological system, the first and most important number derives from one's birth date and is determined by reducing the numbers of that date into single digits. Beyond this cycle of nine, though, are the two Master Numbers 11 and 22. These never are reduced to single digits. Take the following birthdate for purposes of illustration:

March 29, 1985
3 11 23 3 + 11 + 5 = 19
1 + 9 = 10

The number has been found in this manner: March, the third month, provides the number 3. The day gives 2 + 9 = 11. 1 + 9 + 8 + 5 = 23. Three reduces no further. Eleven does not reduce, being a Master Number. Twenty three (2 + 3) reduces to 5; 3 + 11 + 5 = 19, 1 + 9 = 10 reduces to 1.

The number one, then, is the most important number in this person's life. It is his or her destiny, which cannot be changed, but which he or she does have the ability to direct. From this number, individuals may determine their potential; their hidden aptitudes, talents, and desires; and their specific mission in life.

According to numerology, there are specific meanings for each number, with both positive and negative aspects. Interpretations of the nine numbers may vary with the individual numerologist, but here, briefly, are some basic meanings for each number:

1Number one people are independent and need to be, as they tend to be the oak that shelters multitudes. They must control and direct their body, mind, and spirit to the utmost efficiency. They should accept no limitations, yet they must learn to cooperate without losing their individuality. The negative aspect of the number one lies in the danger of emphasizing the needs of self over others.

2People of the number two will naturally follow the lead of others. Those with this number become excellent diplomats, peacemakers, and go-betweens. Here, as opposed to the number one, the attraction is to groups, to communities. The number two is a perfect wife or husband, for all other numbers are compatible with them. The negative aspect of number two lies in the hazard of withdrawing from others and becoming extremely self-effacing.

3Those on this path through life have discovered the joy of living. They will tend to find their opportunities on the lighter side of life, in circulating and socializing. An artistic environment is best for the three personalities as they are always seeking expression through writing, speaking, or art. The negative polarity for the number three personality is to become superficial.

4These people are the builders, those who start with a firm foundation and build something of lasting importance. People who are "fours" serve patiently and dependably and are capable of great achievements. They do the job at hand, striving to perfect the form of the task before them. The opposite polarity for the four personality is to become distant and removed from others.

5 Those with the number five as their destiny must be prepared for frequent, unexpected change and variety. Five personalities do a lot of traveling and learn to understand all classes and conditions of people, and they are generally without racial prejudice. Five people always are seeking the new and progressive. Number five personalities must guard against becoming self-indulgent.

6Because six is the number of devotional, impersonal love, these people serve quietly, cheerfully, and efficiently, applying the law of balance to adjust inharmonious conditions. People often come to six personalities for material or spiritual aid, and they must always be ready to give it. Some persons with a six life-path are musically endowed, but their real love is for the home and the harmony therein. The opposite polarity for the six personality is to become tyrannical.

7Seven is a cosmic number related to the seven planets, seven days of the week, seven colors, and seven notes on the musical scale. Things and opportunities are brought to the seven persons, without their actively seeking them. Those with this number should use their mental abilities to probe the deep mysteries and hidden truths of the universe. They are potential mystics; and with their extreme sensitivity, the seven personalities must guard against their tendency to wish to withdraw from the larger society in which they find themselves.

8Those bearing the number eight in their life-path are the practical people of the material world. They usually desire and achieve love, power, and success. Eight is the number associated with large corporations and organizations. It is a powerful number, and those bearing the responsibilities of the number eight may succumb to the negative polarity of becoming demanding individuals.

9Nine is the number representing humanitarianism. Those under this vibration must be prepared to give up all personal desire and ambitions. Number nine operates under the Law of Fulfillment, and its appeal is to the all-inclusive, to the many. The negative polarity of the number nine personality is to become egocentric.

11A Master Number: This is the number of the dreamers, the visionaries, the ones who receive their ideals intuitively. Their destiny is to reveal something new and uplifting to the world. Number 11 is the messenger, the spokesman or broadcaster. The negative polarity for revelators is to become fanatical and judgmental in their beliefs.

22A Master Number: This is the practical idealist who is concerned with the benefit and progress of humankind. A 22 readily conceives philanthropic plans and seeks to help the masses with their improvement, expansion, and growth. The negative vibrations that accrue around the 22 personalities may lead them to become self-promoters, rather than idealists who work for the general good of the many.

According to the precepts of numerology, one's name is very important, as it is concerned with sound, a direct manifestation of vibration. Therefore, since each letter of every alphabet has its distinctive sound, it follows that each letter would have its own distinctive number. Using the one to nine cycle it is imperative to establish the essence of the number.

The graph that follows, with a name given as an example, shows how to arrive at the number vibration.



 21 7  22  
 3 7  4  
   14 (1+4)= 5   

The five is the number of this person's name, and according to numerology such a number relates to the person's character and personality. Referring back to the basic explanation of the number vibration, a five would make Mary a progressively minded who must be prepared for much travel and many changes in her life.

Numerologists claim that numbers hold the key to determining many aspects of one's life and destiny. Some who practice numerology even believe that totaling the number of the vowels of one's name can identify the essence of a person's inner self and the soul. Using Mary's name again, we get the numbers 1 + 6 + 1 + 5. By totaling and simplifying these we arrive at the final digit of four. This number represents Mary's inner self. It expresses her real potential, longings, and hidden talents. As a four, her expression is to serve others patiently and dependably and to create something of lasting importance.

Delving Deeper

Cirlot, J. E. A Dictionary of Symbols. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1993.

Gibson, Walter B., and Litzka R. Gibson. The Complete Illustrated Book of the Psychic Sciences. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Co., 1966.

Karcher, Stephen. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Divination. Rockport, Mass.: Element Books, 1997.

Lagerquist, Kay, and Lisa Lenard. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Numerology. New York: Alpha Books, 1999.

Petrie, Jodra. Tell Fortunes and Predict the Future. New York: Award Books, 1968.

Spence, Lewis. An Encyclopedia of Occultism. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1960.

Woodruff, Maurice. The Secrets of Foretelling Your Own Future. New York: Signet, 1969.


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This article is concerned with the employment of numbers in a symbolic religious, magicoreligious, and philosophical sense. One or the other form of symbolic usage is found almost universally, but the explanation for the choice of some numbers as sacred or magical is not always clear, being lost in the remote past of the cultures involved. In practice, it is often difficult to separate the religious, magical, and philosophical usages, especially in the higher cultures or civilizations. Accordingly, it will be convenient to group the various usages under each number treated. Special attention is given to number symbolism in the ancient Near East and the Greco-Roman world.

Numbers One to Six. The number one is confined principally to religiophilosophical use. It represents the monad of the Pythagoreans and the One of Plato and the Neoplatonists.

The number two pairs or symbolizes opposites that have a clear relation with one another in ancient mythology and religion: right hand-left hand, earth-heaven, sunmoon, day-night, Ahura Mazda-Ahriman in Persian religion, yang-yin in Chinese thought. Whereas one is regarded as a male number, two is considered female.

The Number Three. The number three is one of the oldest and most widespread of all sacred or symbolical numbers, playing an equally important role in religion, magic, and philosophy. The divine family of father, mother, and child is already represented in the earliest strata of prehistoric Jericho and is well known from the Egyptian group of Osiris, Isis, and Horus. Divine triads such as Indic Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva; Greek Zeus, Athena, and Apollo; Roman Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, and Jupiter, Mars, and Quirinusare common. Lesser divinities are likewise widely found in triads: the three Fates, the three Graces, the three Furies, and similar groups in Teutonic and Finno-Ugric mythology. Threeheaded gods are found from ancient Ireland to India. The Babylonians, Greeks, and Hindus all distinguished three worldsHeaven, Earth, and Lower World, or Heaven, Earth, and Water. In sacrificial ritual the Romans offered a joint sacrifice of a pig, a sheep, and a bull; and in most ancient rituals there were threefold prayers, threefold invocations of the dead, and sacred festivals of three days' duration. There was a similar threefold repetition of magic formulas or incantations. The triangle was regarded by the Greeks as a perfect figure and had a central place in Greek mathematics and mystic symbolism. Time was thought of in terms of morning, midday, and evening and of past, present, and future. It should be observed also that there was a close relationship between three and nine, and groups of nine things are very often to be explained as a mere tripling of groups of three.

The Number Four. The number four was connected very early with the four phases of the moon, the four seasons, the four points of the compass, and the geometrical figure of the square. It was a symbol of completeness and perfection. Among the Greeks, four marked the birthdate of Hermes. The Ionic philosophers identified four elements, and Pythagoras adopted four as a symbol of justice. Later, four cardinal virtues were stressed by Plato; and Simonides, Plato, and Aristotle spoke of"the foursquare man." The Greeks, the post-Vedic literature, and the Zoroastrians all referred to four ages or periods of the world. The Romans used fourfold prayers as well as threefold ones (see Ovid, Fasti 4:778). The number four, especially as embodied in the square, has had an important place in the history of magic.

The Numbers Five and Six. The number five had a natural significance from the five fingers. It was the number of the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, whose symbol, the pentagram, or five-pointed star, was regarded as a magic protection against evils. The Romans offered certain sacrifices at five-year intervals, and the censor held office for a five-year term. In Manichaeism there were five Archons and five Aeons. In Chinese tradition five is a lucky number. The number six represents the macrocosm and is symbolized by the six-pointed star, a combination of two triangles.

Numbers Seven to Ten. The number seven occupies the supreme place in Babylonian religion and astrology. Its use and symbolism were disseminated widely eastward and westward from Mesopotamia. The Babylonians recognized seven planets: Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Mars, Mercury, the Sun, and the Moon. Each day of their sevenday "week" was sacred to one of these celestial bodies. The four phases of the moon were comprised in a period of 4 × 7 days. The Babylonian underworld had seven divisions, and the temple towers, or ziggurats, had to have seven stories. Among the Greeks, Apollo's birthday was celebrated on the 7th of the month. In Old Persian religion there were seven Amesha Spentas, and the Rigveda speaks of seven regions and seven ponds and of the god Agni (Fire) as having seven tongues and seven wives. The tripling of seven (21) is very common in Indic literature. In Buddhism seven is as important as eight. It is to be noted that seven itself is the sum of the two sacred numbers three and four.

Numbers Eight and Nine. The number eight symbolizes perfection. The Elamites had eight heavens. Of greater importance is the use of eight in Buddhism to indicate the eightfold path that is central in its teaching. The number nine, so often used as a tripling of groups indicated by three, was much favored by the Celts, Germans, and Finno-Ugric peoples. The Greeks had nine Muses beside the three Fates and three Graces. The Chinese regarded nine as a symbol of perfection. The pagoda of nine stories was modeled on the Chinese conception of heaven.

The Number 10. The number ten, the combined total of the fingers, symbolized perfection and wisdom. In Pythagoreanism the all-important Τετρακτύς was constituted by the sum of 1+2+3+4, arranged in a series of dots with the monad forming the apex of an isosceles triangle. The number ten was significant also in the Hermetic literature. It can be resolved, furthermore, as 7+3, 6+4, and 5+5, with various symbolic meanings attached to such analyses.

Numbers 12, 40, 60, 70, 72, and Others. The number 12 is a great cosmic symbol, made up of 3×4 or 5+7. It is the number of the Zodiac in Babylonia and elsewhere, either under Babylonian influence or independently, for example, in China and in Greece. The Babylonians divided their year into 12 months and their days into 12 hours. The Greeks divided their year in the same way, worshiped a pantheon of 12 Olympian gods, and recorded 12 labors for Hercules. The Gnostics introduced 12 Aeons into their system. The Babylonians assigned the number 13 to their underworld and also to the intercalary month in their lunar calendar. It was considered unlucky because it exceeded the just and fixed number 12. There are some examples of 11's being considered as unlucky for exceeding 10. The number 14, as the double of seven, was regarded as lucky. The number 15 was the sacred number five, the symbol of Ishtar, in triple form. The numbers 25, 50, and 100 had no special significance apart from being used as round numbers in legends and stories.

The number 40, however, was important. The precise origin of its symbolic use is obscure. The tradition that the Pythagoreans transferred the germination of the bean, which took 40 days, to the human fetus and then reckoned the period of pregnancy as 7×40 (280 days) is more plausible than convincing. At any rate, 40 was used also for a period of years corresponding to a generation and then applied symbolically in various other ways. The number 60 (5×12) was fundamental in the Babylonian sexagesimal system but without special significance for religion. However, 70 (7×10) and 72 (one-fifth of the circle of 360 degrees) were both used symbolically to emphasize size and multiplicity.

The Alphabet in Numerology. The letters of the Greek alphabet were given numerical values at an early date. These letter-numbers served as the foundation for the development of an elaborate system of symbolism and divination based on the addition of the numerical values of the letters in given words and their synonyms or opposites. An example from a late Byzantine treatise (see Dornseiff 96) is sufficient to illustrate the practice:

θεός (9+5+70+200)=284; γαθός (1+3+1+9+70+200) = 284; γιος (1+3+10+70+200) = 284.

See Also: astrology; divination; abraxas.

Bibliography: h. j. rose, The Oxford Classical Dictionary, ed. m. cary et al. (Oxford 1949) 614. a. schimmel and w. funk, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 195765) 6:186164, with bibliography. t. davidson et al., j. hastings, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, 13 v. (Edinburgh 190827) 9:40617. r thurnwald, Reallexikon der Vorgeschichte, ed. m. ebert, 15 v. (Berlin 192425) 14:45979, with bibliography. r. mehlein, "Drei," Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum, ed. t. klauser [Stuttgart 1941 (1950)] 4:269310, with bibliography. a. stuiber, "Dreieck," ibid. 31013. e. t. bell, The Magic of Numbers (London 1952). c. m. edsman, "Alphabet und Buchstabenmystik," Reallexikon der Vorgeschichte 1:246. f. dornseiff, Das Alphabet in Mystik und Magie (2d ed. Leipzig 1925).

[m. r. p. mc guire]


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During the Renaissance, many people attached symbolic meanings to different numbers. Authors made use of this symbolism in the structure of their works—that is, their division into books and chapters, verses and lines. They also created patterns of numbers by repeating certain words, phrases, and images. Readers saw these patterns as pointing to hidden meanings beyond the actual content of the text.

The study of numbers dates back to ancient Greece, where philosophers often explained their views of reality in terms of numbers and the relationships between them. The philosopher Plato, for example, noted that certain ratios between numbers determined which notes of the scale would harmonize with each other. He considered a 2-to-1 ratio ideal because it produced the most perfect harmony, the octave. He called this ratio a diapason. He saw this and other ratios formed by combining the first seven numbers as expressing the harmony of the world.

Thinkers of the Middle Ages and Renaissance attached Christian beliefs to the classical* tradition of giving meaning to numbers and ratios. They linked Plato's seven numbers, for example, with the seven days of creation described in the Bible. They also saw meaning in certain numbers found within the Bible, such as 33 (Christ's age at the time of his death) and 42 (the number of generations from Abraham to Jesus). Such Christianized number symbolism figured prominently in the works of many Renaissance philosophers.

Some Renaissance writers structured their works according to key numbers and ratios. In John Milton's poem "At a Solemn Musick," changes in rhyme and sentence structure break the poem's 28 lines into units of 16, 8, and 4 lines. This double diapason reflects the heavenly harmony that is the subject of the poem. The poem Epithalamion, by Edmund Spenser, contains 24 stanzas, each corresponding to one hour of the day. Its structure is so precise that in the poem, night arrives after 16 and one-quarter stanzas, exactly when it would fall in a 24-hour period. Authors could also use words to form patterns and ratios—for example, by repeating images of the sun at certain places throughout a verse or, in a longer work, presenting parallel scenes in the first and final sections.

Within the system of numerology, the same number could have many possible meanings. Also, a given meaning of a number could be either a positive or a negative sign within a work. Readers had to rely on the content of the writing to show which reading the author intended. The use of numbers to express hidden meanings made the structure of a work a vehicle for Renaissance writers' wit.

(See alsoLiterature. )

* classical

in the tradition of ancient Greece and Rome


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A popular interpretive and prediction system deriving from the mystic values ascribed to numbers. In Jewish mysticism, for example, gematria refers to the traditional association of numbers with Hebrew letters, and the practice of seeking hidden meanings in words by systematically converting them into numbers.

Modern numerology was popularized by the palmist and fortune-teller "Cheiro" (Count Louis Hamon), who developed a system of what he called "fadic" numbers. These were arrived at by adding together all the digits in the subject's birth date to produce a number of destiny to which special planetary and other significance was then attached.

In general, numerology systems assign numerical values to the letters of one's name and/or birthplace. These are added together to ascertain a basic number, which has a special symbolic interpretation, much as astrological types are traditionally assigned particular characteristics of helpful and harmful influences. Sometimes lucky or unlucky numbers are also related to the 22 symbols of the major arcana of the Tarot pack.


Bosman, Leonard. The Meaning and Philosophy of Numbers. 1932. Reprint, London: Rider, 1974.

Buess, Lynn M. Numerology for the New Age. Marina del Rey, Calif.: DeVorss, 1978.

Bunker, Dusty. Numerology and Your Future. Rockport, Mass.: Para Research, 1980.

Cheiro [Count Louis Hamon]. The Book of Numbers. London, 1926. Revised as Cheiro's Book of Numbers. London: Barrie & Jenkins, 1978.

Coates, Austin. Numerology. London: Frederick Muller, 1974. Reprint, London: Mayflower, 1978.

Konraad, Sandor. Numerology: Key to the Tarot. Rockport, Mass.: Para Research, 1983.

Kozminsky, Isidore. Numbers, Their Meaning and Magic. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1927.

Misegades, Charles. Know Your Number. Marina Del Rey, Calif.: DeVorss, 1980.

Moore, Gerun. Numbers Will Tell. London: Barker; New York: Grossett & Dunlap, 1973.

Sepharial [W. G. Old]. The Kabala of Numbers. 2 vols. London, 1913. New York: MacKay, 1928. Reprint, San Bernadino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1980.

Stein, Sandra Kovacs. Instant Numerology: Charting Your Road Map to the Future. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.

Westcott, W. W. Numbers: Their Occult Power and Mystic Virtue. London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1890. Reprint, 1974.


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nu·mer·ol·o·gy / ˌn(y)oōməˈräləjē/ • n. the branch of knowledge that deals with the occult significance of numbers.DERIVATIVES: nu·mer·o·log·i·cal / -rəˈläjikəl/·mer·ol·o·gist / -jist/ n.