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Numbers may seem strictly utilitarian, bleak and uninspiring, but beneath its forbidding façade lurks its mystifying characteristics. To some it was not just mystifying; but it was sacred. This can be found not just in ancient Greek philosophy but in Christian and Hindu scriptures. Take the number SEVEN for example, Christian scriptures contain the following passage “For seven days, seven priests with seven trumpets invested Jericho and on the seventh day they encompassed the city seven times.”
Furthermore according to Christian theology there are:
Seven deadly sins
Seven spirit of God
Seven joys of the virgin
Seven devils cast out of Magdalene
We find something similar in Hindu beliefs. In Hindu literature the number seven continually appears: the Saptamatrikas,(the seven mothers or forms of Devi) saptarshis (the seven sages), the seven superior and inferior worlds, the seven hosts of deities, the seven holy cities, the seven holy islands, seas, or mountains, the seven deserts, the seven sacred trees,
Another number that has always entranced people is 666 which is popularly known as the number of the beast of Revelation. In fact the enduring popularity of the film THE OMEN is a good example of how much it fascinates people.
The number 40 has a similar mystical connotation. In the Old Testament the deluge was supposed to have lasted or forty days and is mentioned as such “For forty days and forty nights lasted the rain which brought about the great deluge”.
Similarly “For forty days and forty nights Moses conferred with Jehovah on Mount Sinai” and “For forty years the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness”
It was however the ancient Greek mathematician Pythagoras (ca. 575-ca. 495 B.C.) who elevated the number to mystical heights. This philosopher from Samos believed that ‘all is number’ by which he meant that it was number which explained the harmony of the universe; a harmony which is also inherent in music. In fact it was Pythagoras who discovered the numerical ratios to the primary intervals in the musical scale. He was instrumental in forming a cult group in Croton which venerated the mystical power of numbers. All Pythagoreans were expected to take their oath on "Tetractys of the Decad" (which is the sum of 1 + 2 + 3 + 4)
Pythagoras found that the first four whole numbers and their sum can be geometrically represented as an equilateral triangle in ten dots of rows one, two, three and four. The resulting geometrical pattern was tetraktys of the decad which Pythagoras believed has mystical powers. This was not all the number one represented the point, two the line, three the surface and four the solid….all sufficient to illustrate terrestrial and heavenly bodies.
PYTHOGOREAN prayer to this mystical Tetrakytis
“Bless us divine number, thou who generatest Gods and men. Oh holy, holy Tetrakytis thou that containest the root and the source of the eternally flowing creation. For the divine number begins with the profound, pure unity until it comes to the holy four, then it begets the mother of all, the first born, the never swerving, the never tiring holy ten, the keyholder of all.’
The influence of Pythagoras was that it gave birth to number lore on which was ultimately based numerology. Numbers were not only representative of nature but also of certain qualities as mentioned below:
Were regarded soluble and therefore ephemeral, feminine and earthly
Is considered insoluble and therefore considered as masculine and earthy.
Each number was identified with some human attribute
1 for Reason, because it was unchangeable
2 for opinion
4 for Justice, (it was the first perfect square and the product of equals)
5 For marriage because it was the union of the first feminine (2) and the first masculine (3)numbers
ONE was regarded odd as it was the source of all numbers.
FOUR is considered holy because it represents the four elements
FIRE, WATER,AIR, EARTH
SIX In antiquity there was also the concept of a perfect number. A perfect number is one where the sum of its divisors adds up to that number. 6 and 28 are such numbers. Many believed these were numbers of the almighty. Look what St. Augustine had to say
“Six is a number perfect in itself and not because God created all things in 6 days, rather the converse is true. God created all things in six days because this number is perfect and it would have been perfect even if the work of the six days did not exist.”
Moreover it is the divine command that ‘For six days shalt thy labour’ which is what man has been doing for centuries.
The mystical connotation of SEVEN has already been explained. But it has certain psychological revelations too. A person can process and store in memory information limited to seven items. In 1956 George Miller in his article The Magical Number Seven Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information explained this with some excellent examples.
TEN is considered holy because it is derived from the first four numbers.
Modern numerology has its roots in GEMETRIA, which originated in ancient times. It is based on the concept that every Hebrew or Greek alphabet represented both a sound and a number. So every word had a number representing each alphabet. According to GEMETRIA two words were equivalent if they added up to the same number.
This had interesting consequences. Amongst ancient Greek heroes Achilles was supreme to both Hector and Patrocles because the names of the heroes have the corresponding numbers 1276, 1225 and 87. Achilles having the highest was the greatest of them of all.
There was also the concept of ‘amicable numbers’. Numbers that match are couples. Pythagoras explained that as “One who is the other I such as 220 and 284”
What he meant was 284 has divisors 1, 2, 4, 71 and 142 and adds up to 220.
Whereas 220 has the divisors, 1,2,4,5,10,11,20,44,55 and 110 which adds up to 284. Since they match they are called ‘amicable numbers’. There was therefore in medieval times the belief, that marriage between people having amicable numbers were ideal.