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What is Numerology?

Updated on December 27, 2016

Numerology is the occult study of the meaning of numbers. It is often used to uncover secret events or to forecast the future. When so used, numerology is a form of divination, or fortune-telling. It also may be combined with other divinatory techniques, such as astrology-, cartomancy (using playing cards), geomancy (using figures or lines), and dream interpretation. Sometimes dream symbols are translated into numbers for use in gambling.


As a form of divination, numerology is a type of magic. Its philosophical and historical background is provided by a mystical theory of numbers. The origins of the theory, in its Occidental form, are usually ascribed to Pythagoras, a Greek mathematician of the 6th century B.C. This system claims that all things are number and that number influences the essence of things. Thus number is the mediator between the divine and the earthly. So, if one performs various operations with numbers, these operations also affect the things related to these numbers.


At its simplest level, this principle can be seen in number taboos. For example, in modern American society, 13 is considered unlucky, and all things somehow connected with 13 are to be avoided: the 13th day of the month, particularly if a Friday; the 13th floor; 13 dinner guests; and so forth. A curious contrast occurs in Belgium, where the number 13 is worn by women as a good-luck charm. The origin of the negative symbolism of 13 is often ascribed to the New Testament account of Judas as the 13th person at the Last Supper. However, an earlier concept stresses its relation to 12, a good number identified with the Zodiac, which had strong positive associations in Babylonian and other early astral mythologies.

Varied Symbolism

In the Pythagorean system, numbers from 1 to 10 had specific symbolic meanings as well as meanings in geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, acoustics, and thus in music. The term "music of the spheres" derives from the concept of mathematical relations among astronomic phenomena. Among the symbols represented by 1 were the first principle, God the creator, the east, unity, both male and female. immortality, the right side, the day, the sun, and equality. The number 2 signified female, the mortal, the left side, the night, the moon, inequality, and matter. The odd numbers above 1 were male, the even numbers female. This opposition is somewhat reminiscent of the Chinese opposition of Yang and Yin. The number 3, equaling 1+2, represented perfection and stood for all reality, both (1) unity and (2) diversity.

There are sacred trinities in many religions, including the Christian, Hindu, and Egyptian. However, contrary to popular belief, 3 is not universally sacred. Among American Indians, the sacred number is 4.


In addition to the occult meanings of numbers, another principle is basic to numerology— that of gematria, or cryptograph. In Hebrew, consonants are used as numerical signs, but by providing them with vowels, one can often read them as words and can read words as numbers. A combination of gematria and Pythagorean number symbolism formed the basis for the number magic of the medieval Cabala. This allows special readings of the Hebrew Bible to find secret or hidden meanings in the text.

This system has also been applied to Greek and Latin and sometimes to the New Testament of the Bible. For example, various personified meanings have been given to 666, the number denoting the Beast in the Book of Revelations. Among these are Xero, Caesar, Martin Luther, Pope Leo X, and Napoleon.

Magic of Three

Hidden meanings were built into much of the literature of the Middle Ages. Dante's Divine Comedy is both one work and triple, as the triune deity. Its 3 parts are Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. There are 3 principal characters: Dante, Vergil, and Beatrice— that is, man, reason, and revelation. The 3 regions are divided into 9 (3x3) parts. The structure of the work is also symbolic: 100 cantos, 33 for each section and 1 for the introduction. Such number symbolism was also used in other medieval poems and in the architecture of churches.

The text of this article has 97 lines, an auspicious number composed of 9 (3x3) and 7, known as the number of harmony.


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