SACRED SOUNDS, SECRET SIGNSAdded: 08 June 2017
It’s hard to know where to put zero. Should it go at the beginning or the end of this section? A magical circle, indeed, it encompasses everything and yet stands for nothing. The invention or discovery of zero has had profound implications for man’s development; it was the last “number” to be recognized as such.
Conceptually, zero is the symbol that stands for “no thing.” In Buddhism and Taoism, it represents the Void, which existed before Creation, and in India, the word for the concept of zero was Sunya, the Sanskrit word for void or vacuum. In Islamic belief, zero represents the essence of divinity, and Pythagoras said that the zero indicated perfect form. However, if zero is placed after a number, then this number is increased tenfold, giving the infinite and limitless possibilities of such a simple symbol as defined by the Kabbalah.
The representation of zero as a blank space appeared in India in the fourth century BC, and the Egyptians, similarly, used a gap to represent the concept. The Babylonians used a pair of slanted lines to represent the zero. The Mayans were using the zero at least a thousand years before anything similar was seen in Europe. In Mayan calendars and codices, the zero is represented by the humble snail-shell, whose spiral form inspired the symbol. The first known use of this shell symbol was around 36 BC. The Romans used the word nulla, meaning “nothing,” and by around AD 720, this had been abbreviated to the letter N.
There has been fierce debate as to whether zero can really be a number at all; this question so vexed the philosophical Ancient Greeks that it caused intense arguments about existence itself and the nature of nothing. Must nothing also be something? How could nothing be something?
Zero in the form we know it today, as the oval shape so similar to the Cosmic Egg, was first used in the Indian numerological system and appears in a Jain text dated AD 458. This circular shape is an entirely appropriate symbol for the zero concept, which, like a seed, represents potential and possibility.
The Indian and Greek concepts of zero were amalgamated by a Persian mathematician and scholar called Al Khawarizim, and the zero as we know it today comes from this source.
In the Tarot, the zero is the number of the Fool, the card of enthusiasm, innocence, and guile-lessness fatalism.
The straight line is one of the simplest basic symbols. A human being, standing upright, is the perfect representation of the number 1. Homo sapiens is the only creature on Earth that stands naturally erect on two feet, and the number 1 demonstrates this graphically as well as being a symbolic reminder that man is unique in the animal kingdom; truly, one of a kind. One is the number of confidence, and of the One God, but it is also the number of the “one-ness” of the many. It is the number of the mythological first man, Adam. It is the World Tree and the Axis Mundi. Turn this line on its side, and it becomes the horizon. One is generally the number of the individual and the leader. It’s often seen as a male, “yang” number, a solar number. This means that the number 1 is also the number of the autocrat and the dictator as well as that of the divine.
Strictly speaking, the Pythagoreans did not regard 1 or 2 as numbers at all. There was a school of thought that associated 1 with the Monad, i.e. the “noble number, Sire of Gods and Men,” the whole which is made of many parts. To this school of philosophers, 1 represented the mind, the intellect and hermaphrodism, since the 1 was both male and female. 1 is seen as being full of potential, effectively giving birth to all other numbers. The phrase “odd one out” implies the eccentric, the maverick, and the one who stands on the fringes of society as a matter of course. It’s the number of the only child, the number of the person who will question the rules of a society built to operate around the needs of the many rather than of the individual. 1 is about “out of the box” thinking and lateral solutions.
In the Tarot, 1 is the number of the Magician, the secretive loner who has the powers to amaze and confound us.
The vertical line of the number 1 is joined by another, and so makes the form of the Roman numeral II.
The Arabic symbol for 2 does a very interesting thing if you hold it up to a mirror; it forms the shape of a heart, the universal symbol for love and, specifically, two people in love. This is purely coincidental, but is, nevertheless, a pleasing little trick.
The Pythagoreans saw 2, or the Duad, as a symbol of opposition and also of audacity, because it had had the cheek to separate itself from the first number. As they revered the 1, or Monad, the 2 was despised as a symbol of polarity. If 1 represents the Heavens, then 2 is the depths of the seas, which reflected the Heavens and therefore 2 was capable of illusion and became associated with Maya, the Great Void. The magi carried mirrors with them as a reminder of this illusion, since mirrors reflect, another quality of the 2. The number 2 gives us the positive and negative aspects of all things; indeed, without the number 2, positive and negative themselves would not exist. Day and night, light and dark, good and bad, male and female, attraction and repulsion, life and death, these are all encompassed by the number 2. 2 is the number of balance, but is also the number of conflict and split personality. It is the number of the first woman, Eve.
In the Tarot, 2 is the number of the High Priestess, underlining the female, “yin” nature of the number that is sacred to all female deities.
As the man and the woman have the potential to create a third, so one and two make three; a neat twist. Now, the third vertical line joins the other two giving us the Roman numeral for three and the potential to make a triangle and a circle, if the points of the triangle are joined up with three arcs.
It’s because the number 3 gives us this potential circle-and a new dimension-that it becomes the first true magical number. There are countless examples of groups of three: the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; the Triple Jewel of Buddhism in which Buddhists take refuge-Buddha, Dharma (ultimate truth), and Sangha (virtue)-and also faith, hope, and charity.
Then there’s Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva in the Hindu pantheon, who represent the Trinity that is God; in Ancient Babylonia there was Anu, Bael, and Ea (Heaven, Earth, and the Abyss, or Hell); there’s the Three Wise Men who visited Christ; the three Fates; and the three parts of time, Past, Present, and Future.
There’s a satisfaction about things that happen in threes, a feeling of “third time lucky” and the completion of a cycle. Fairy stories often use this device: Goldilocks and the Three Bears, or the three wishes that are often granted by a benevolent super-being such as the genie that pops out of Aladdin’s lamp.
The Pythagoreans considered that the number 3 was the first true number. The Triad represents the first “equilibrium of unities” and it was for this reason that the God Apollo used a tripod from which to give oracles. 3 was seen as the number of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.
In the Tarot, 3 is the number of the Empress, the embodiment of the female principle that symbolically links the Heavens with Earth and who carries within her the triple aspect of the Goddess as virgin, mother, and crone.
Now a new shape can be made which had no way of existing previously. As the third point of the number 3 gave us the triangle, a fourth point gives us the potential not only for the square but also for the cross. The circle of the Earth can now be divided, and where the lines of latitude and longitude meet, a cross is formed.
Four is a masculine number and gives us, among countless other things, the number of the cardinal directions, North, South, East, and West; the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water, and so on. In the Sufi tradition, there are four gates through which man has to pass on his way to enlightenment.
In alchemy, there are four key ingredients that go towards the making of the Philosopher’s Stone; these are sulfur, mercury, salt, and azoth. In the Tarot, 4 is the number of the Emperor, the archetypal male figure, the father, the King, the patriarch, who likes to create order and harmony in the Universe that is enfolded within the number itself, which holds a hidden secret: if the numbers within 4 are added together-1 + 2 + 3 + 4-the whole adds up to 10, which implies the start of a new cycle, a rebirth or reincarnation. These ten numbers form the Holy Name, or Tetragrammaton.
In Pythagorean philosophy, the 4 or Tetrad was considered to be the root of all things, the perfect, intellectual number. They believed that 4 symbolized God and this theory was explained in a secret and sacred discourse that described the concept of God as “the Number of Numbers” because of the reasons described above.
Now things start to get even more exciting. The dots that add up to 5, if placed symmetrically, give the potential for a five-pointed star (pentagram) or for a five-sided shape (pentagon). The 5, like the 3, is constructed from adding an odd number (3) to an even one (2), thus blending male with female. The pentagram itself is a mystical symbol that also holds within it all the qualities of the 5.
Five is a number of balance, its central dot acts as a pivot for the two on either side. It’s also the numerical symbol of a human being, which forms the five-pointed star shape when legs and arms are outstretched, as in Leonardo’s famous drawing of Vitruvian Man. In the Western world there are four elements, but in the East there’s a fifth, or quintessence, that binds them all together, called ether. Alchemists indicate this with a five-petaled rose in the center of a cross, redolent of the Rose Cross Lamen. The Pythagoreans held that the pentagram-or Pentad-was a sacred symbol of health, vitality, and light. The holy number 10 is divided equally into two parts by the Pentad, which also symbolizes the triumph of spirit over matter.
In the Tarot, 5 is the number of the Hierophant or the Pope, who represents the face of God on Earth.
Six was described by Pythagoras as a “perfect number” because 1 + 2 + 3 = 6; also, 1 X 2 X 3 = 6. God created the world in six days. The Hexad was called the Form of Forms and the Maker of the Soul because the harmony of its arrangement was said to symbolize the harmony inherent within the soul. Because of the equally balanced triangles, the two groups of three that comprise the number 6, it is the symbol of marriage. Six is dedicated to Venus as the Goddess of Love but seems to have no connection with the spiritual nature of love or with the Creator. However, the number 6 gives us the tools we need to make that most powerful of magical signs, the Star of David, which is the embodiment of the phrase “as above, so below.”
Because six can be split into two groups of three, it’s seen as the number that can go either way, and is as likely to be evil as much as it is good. It’s this precarious balance that crops up time and time again in examining the symbolism of the number. The symbol for 6 itself has ambivalence; flip it the other way up and it becomes a 9. Six is the number of the marriage of opposites, an image and its reflection making up the whole.
In the Tarot, 6 is the number of the card called the Lover, and shows a young man at a crossroads trying to decide between two girls of equal merit, although Cupid hovers in the background, bow and arrow at the ready, about to make the decision for him. The image demonstrates perfectly the dilemma that belongs to the number 6.
The witch’s curse-or hex-is so-called because six represented the number of copulation, the union of the Triple Goddess with her mate. The word itself was the original derivation of the word “hag.”
The Egyptian hieroglyph for six shows male and female genitalia, underlining the sexual connotations of this number. For them, 3 was the number of the Goddess and 6 meant her union with God. The fairy-tale command “Open, Sesame” is actually a Sufi love charm and “sesame” has been corrupted from seshemu, the Egyptian word for intercourse. The symbolic “cave” that needs to be opened is the female genitalia or yoni.
Early Christian authorities deemed 6 as the number of sin because of its association with physical love.
The number 7 is very busy; it seems to be everywhere. The Sumerians and Babylonians identified the seven days in a week, and the number of the traditional planets that give us much of our mythology is seven. There are seven deadly sins, which are balanced by seven cardinal virtues. There are seven Orders of Angels, seven colors in the rainbow and seven pure notes in the diatonic scale. Seven gives a pivotal point to the indecision of the number 6, rendering it satisfyingly complete and whole.
Very early on, it seems, this number was given special status as a number of completeness and perfection. For the Ancient Egyptians, 7 was the number of eternal life. Legend has it that the prophet Mohammed, when in Jerusalem, ascended into the seven Heavens and came into contact with the Divine, and so the Dome of the Rock mosque was separated into seven sections to honor this experience. Pilgrims make seven circumnavigations of Mecca.
The Pythagoreans called 7 the Septad, and said that it was “worthy of veneration.” It was both the number of religion (because of the seven celestial spirits related to the seven planets) and the number of life. In the Septad, the 3, comprising the mind, spirit, and soul, meets the Tetrad, or 4, which is the number of the world. Therefore, the resulting 7 represents the mystic number of Man as symbolized by the three-dimensional shape of the cube: six sides, with the seventh element the space inside. The sides of the cube represent the directions (the cardinal points plus above and below) with man at the center. The phase of the Moon lasts for 28 days, which is 4 X 7. Happily, 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 = 28.
God created the world in six days, reserving the seventh to rest; therefore the seventh day is a holy day or holiday. This relaxation time also connects God with man, proving that even a deity needs a break now and then.
There are seven alchemical operations: calcination, dissolution, separation, conjunction, fermentation, distillation, and coagulation. In the Tarot, the number 7 card is the Chariot. The card depicts a young man, a king, in a chariot driven by two horses; this young man knows where he is going and is full of determination.
In general, eight is seen to be a good number, a symbol of cosmic harmony and balance. The intercardinal points balance the four cardinal directions.
For Pythagoreans, the 8 or Ogdoad was called the “little holy number” and considered sacred for several reasons. The cube has eight corners; also, in the Pythagorean numerical system eight is an “evenly even” number, and the only such number under 10. This is to say that the eight is divided into 2 X 4, and further, into 4 X 2. The serpents that twist up the staff of the caduceus make figure-of-eight shapes.
There are eight trigrams in the I Ching that go to make up the 64 hexagrams, itself constructed of 8 X 8. In Hindu belief, each of the eight directions of the Earth is ruled over by a God. These eight divinities are related in turn to the eight petals of the lotus that resides, symbolically, inside the skull, a reminder of the microcosm and the macrocosm. Additionally, there are said to be eight qualities that belong to God; these are innocence, purity, self-knowledge and omniscience, freedom from impurities, benevolence, omnipotence, and bliss.
The figure 8 itself forms a symbol called the lemniscate, which is the scientific sign for infinity as well as having the same meaning at a more philosophical level, where it stands for the cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth in the same way that the eighth day-following the six days of work and the seventh day of rest-denotes the day of renewal and invigoration.
In the Tarot, 8 is the number for Justice, again reflecting the universal idea that 8 is the number of balance. It is the first card of the second set of the Major Arcana, reinforcing the idea of 8 as a symbol of renewal.
As it is 3 X 3, the number 9 has magic status and is a sacred number. For Hindus, it is the number of Lord Brahma, the Creator. It is also the numerological sum of Ba’hai, and so is seen as a symbol of perfection and unity, which explains the use of the nine-pointed star in this faith.
The Pythagoreans recognized the 3 X 3 as the Ennead, which is the first square of an odd number. However, because it falls one short of the perfect 10, it was classified as an unfortunate number, sometimes even seen as evil because it is the inversion of the number 6. However, it was also considered limitless since there was nothing beyond it but infinity as represented by the 10, the perfect Decad.
Because it is the last single-digit number, there is a sense of completion and wholeness about the number 9. It is for this reason that nine represents achievement and culmination of a task. In addition, nine is the zenith of achievement for a single-figure number. Because human embryos need nine months of gestation, nine is the number of Man. Man also has nine physical apertures, symbolizing nine channels of communication with the world. There are nine known planets in our Solar System. In the Tarot, 9 is the card of the Hermit.
It’s interesting to note that 666-also described as the number of the Beast-adds up to 18 using numerology, and 1 + 8 is 9. No great evil there, but a simple matter of fact.
The first number that requires more than one digit, 10 is the foundation stone of the digital age, and despite any high-tech connotations, is the number of choice simply because of the number of fingers and thumbs on the hands. This simple fact has also given us the decimal counting system. Happily, the number 10 is infinitely malleable and versatile.
Pythagoras believed that 10 was the most sacred and greatest of all numbers, and the Tetraktys (a shorthand version of the name of God) was devised from it based on the premise that 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10. The Decad was a holy number, the first number to need a second part. Pythagoreans took oaths on this sacred number. Ten is a satisfying number, and 10 of anything seems like a complete set; for example, the Ten Commandments. In the Kabbalah, there are ten Sephiroth, emanations from the mind of God that represents the Universe and its workings. Ten, in this instance, symbolizes the unity of Creation and the synthesis of all things.
The Mayans, however, regarded the number 10 as unfortunate, since it belonged to the God of Death (Thoh). In the Tarot, the number 10 is the number of the Wheel of Fortune.
Eleven is considered to be the number of woman, since the female has 11 apertures in her body. The unborn child receives 11 divine powers via these holes. Numero-logists consider that 11 is a “master number” that should not be reduced down into a single digit. However, some traditions are suspicious about 11. If 10 is the number of completion and wholeness, then there is an idea that 11 must be the number of excess and extravagance (an idea perfectly defined in the movie This is Spinal Tap, where the amplifier goes up to number 11). The Eleventh Hour has a sense of urgency about it. Since the clock runs to 12, then this is that last hour in which something can be done. The First World War ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, of course.
The eleventh card of the Tarot is either Justice, or Strength. This card stands at the mid-point of the numbered series of cards.
There are 12 calendar months in a year, 12 signs of the Zodiac that guard those months, 12 Apostles, 12 Tribes of Israel, 12 Knights of the Round Table. As there are 12 months in the year, so the hours of the day are also split into two sections of 12.
In more recent years, the European Union decided to put 12 stars on their flag. This is nothing to do with the number of member states, but an acknowledgement of something that Ancient Man was aware of; that 12 is a number of perfection. This is because 12 is the result of the number 4 (four elements, four cardinal points, four corners of the Earth) being multiplied by the number 3 (three levels of the Universe, three aspects of any God); i.e., the multiplication of the number of the Earth with the number of the Heavens. In the Tarot, the number 12 is the number of the Hanging Man; suspended from a rope by his foot, this unfortunate soul has the time to contemplate his place in the larger Universe.
Are you a triskaidekaphobe? If so, it means that you’re one of the thousands (or possibly even millions) of people who believe the number 13 to be unlucky. And some of you may even be among those who refuse to leave the house if the thirteenth day of the month happens to coincide with a Friday. Sometimes the number 13 is excluded from door numbers, or the thirteenth floor will be skipped over and effectively labeled as 14, so deep-rooted is this superstition.
Thirteen has long been regarded by many as an unlucky or inauspicious number. The Kabbalah, for example, says that there are 13 spirits of evil. It’s still considered unlucky to have 13 people sitting down to dine because it is a reminder of the Last Supper, where Christ was betrayed by one of the 12 disciples who were eating with him, Judas Iscariot. However, it’s not all black for the number 13. Despite the year being divided up into 12 calendar months, there are actually 13 lunar months, i.e. 13 sets of 28 days in a year. Therefore the Mayans regarded 13 as an auspicious number. There is also said to be a secret, hidden, thirteenth sign of the Zodiac, Arachne, the spider whose web binds the network of the Heavens. In Classical Antiquity, the thirteenth member of a group was considered to be the leader, the exalted one. Zeus sits at the head of the 12 Olympian deities, for example, in the same way that Christ sat among his disciples or King Arthur with his twelve knights at the Round Table. A coven consists of 12 members plus a leader. The Apollo 13 Moon landing was beset by bad luck, and an explosion could have resulted in a disaster. However, no-one died and the crew returned to Earth safely, so it could be said that the number 13 was lucky for them.
The number 13 is shown in several places on the United States’ currency bills, and in this instance there is no hidden sinister meaning; simply, there were 13 states that joined the original Union.
In the Tarot, 13 is the number of Death. This represents initiation and facing fears. Presumably, these fears might include that of the number 13.
The phase of the Moon is split into two sets of 14; one where the Moon is waxing, or growing larger, and one where the Moon is waning.
In Freemasonry, the significance of the number 14 has not gone unnoticed, and due attention is paid to the fact that the body of Osiris was reputed to have been cut into 14 pieces by his murderer, his jealous brother Typhon, and the pieces scattered to the four winds. Isis, Osiris’ wife, found the pieces and gave them a more fitting burial. Thus, the number 14 came to be associated with death and resurrection.
A part of the process of resurrection or reincarnation must necessarily be a lack of memory, the idea being that it might not be very constructive for the returning soul to be able to remember what went before. Therefore, 14 is the number of forgetfulness. The Ancient Greeks believed that a soul about to be reborn drank the waters of Lethe, which was a river in Hades. Drinking this water caused the soul to forget everything in preparation for its return to an earthly body.
The fourteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is called Nun, and in the Kabbalah, this represents the idea of the spirit or soul dressed in the material body. In the Tarot, this is equivalent to the card called Temperance; Temperance mixes liquid from a blue jug with that of a red jug. This mixture gives violet, the color of Temperance and the color of the spiritual and the material combined. As chance would have it, Temperance is also the card of reincarnation; the character carefully pours the violet liquid, the spirit, from one vessel to the other.
Fifteen is the product of two sacred numbers: 3 x 5. The Sumerian Goddess Ishtar was attended by 15 priests and her city, Nineveh, had 15 gates. Because Ishtar was the Goddess of both war and physical love, her number sometimes has negative connotations although the understanding of the number holds the key to greater spiritual comprehension.
In the Tarot, 15 is the number of the Devil, since 1 + 5 gives us the ambivalent number 6, which apparently does not know right from wrong.
However, it’s not all bad news for 15. Because each Moon effectively waxes for 15 days, there are 15 steps to freedom and personal enlightenment in the Passover Seder or meal. To Kabbalists, 15 is the number of energy points that run down the center of the body.
Sixteen may be sweet, but as the square of the number 4, it’s also powerful, encapsulating four times the strength of the Tetrad. Therefore, the number represents the attainment of physical, earthly power. The sixteenth card of the Tarot is the Tower, which carries a reminder of the consequences of the arrogance that sometimes accompanies material gain.
Seventeen is an almost universally important number. With few exceptions, it’s generally seen to be beneficial, redolent of spirituality and immortality, rebirth and transformation. Why, though? In understanding the significance of certain numbers, their component elements can provide clues as to their meaning and significance. Seventeen is comprised of 1 + 7 giving the number 8; 1 is the number of the One God, and 7 is the number of completeness and perfection. Eight is the number of cosmic balance and harmony, and these qualities are compounded by the reappearance of the number 8, which is added to 9 to make 17: 9 is also full of rich spiritual significance.
This 8 + 9 is also the number of consonants in the Greek alphabet, broken down into eight semi-vowels or semi-consonants, and nine mute consonants.
In the Tarot, 17 is the number of the Star, an auspicious card of the Major Arcana that expresses the notions of rebirth, change, and transformation, in accordance with the beliefs about the number 17 in general. There are exceptions to the universal esteem in which 17 is held, however. For the Egyptians, it was considered unlucky, since Osiris was slain on the seventeenth day of the month. In Rome, the Roman numeral for the number-XVII-is an “anagram” of VIXI, meaning “I have lived,” the implication being that the person is alive no longer.
In Japan, the Haiku poem is comprised of 17 syllables.
Eighteen is the number of the Moon, in not only the Tarot but elsewhere. The Moon itself is a symbol of intuition, mystery, and femininity.
There are elements of the eighteenth Tarot card that are quite disturbing. The Moon drips blood, and these drips are caught by a ravening wolf and a dog. A crab or scorpion climbs up from the nether regions to join in the feast. These images point to the number 18 as a symbol of the material trying to destroy the spiritual.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom for 18. It is, of course, the product of 2 X 9, meaning that the good qualities of the 9 are doubled in intensity. The Sufis say that 18 is a sacred number and so they give gifts in multiples of 18. There’s also a Hebrew prayer called “Shemone Esre” which means “eighteen,” and lists 18 blessings. This is because, in the system of applying numerological values to letters (Gematria) the word for “life,” has a value of 18.
In Norse mythology, too, the number 18 has special significance. The God Odin was said to have pinpointed 18 wisdoms,
which correspond to the 18 consonants in the Elder Futhark runic system.
Numerologically, 1 + 9 = 10, which in turn is related to 1, so 19 has much of the same symbolism, by default, as these two previous figures.
Nineteen has special powers. It’s a prime number, divisible only by itself and 1. Moreover, because it is made up of the first single number and the last single number, there is a feeling of completion about it, a beginning and an end. In the Kabbalah, 19 is the number of spiritual activity.
The Jewish calendar is based around the number 19, because there’s a 19-year cycle of the Moon in relation to the Sun. A full Moon will occur on roughly the same date every 19 years. The Babylonians, too, were aware of this 19-year cycle.
In the Tarot, 19 is the number of the Sun, again referring to its close association with the number 1, also a masculine, solar number. All the goodness associated with the Sun-happiness, honor, success, courage-are also qualities that belong, symbolically, to the number 19.
Man can count up to ten by numbering the digits on both of his hands, and he can count to 20 by including the toes. Therefore, 20 is the number of man in many civilizations, including the Mayan. There was an ancient measurement of land based on the space needed to grow enough maize to keep one person alive. This space was 400 square feet (20 squared). The Mayan year was 400 days long, which also corresponded to this measurement, all based on the number of fingers and toes.
In the Tarot, the sense of completion about the number 20 is symbolized in the meaning of its card, namely Judgement. The Judgement card stands for awakening, realization, a call to action, and the realization of purpose in life, as pictured by three naked figures, one of which is rising from a grave. These figures are roused to action by the trumpeting angel that floats above them.
Looking at the component parts of 21, we see that 2 + 1 = 3, which in itself is a magical number, being the first number that broadens our perspective with a new dimension. Add to this the fact that 21 is 3 x 7 (or 7 x 3), with seven being one of the most sacred numbers, and we start to understand something of the significance of this number. It is no coincidence that the age of majority in many countries around the world was traditionally held to be 21, when, figuratively speaking, the person reaching this birthday was given the “key to the door,” symbolizing the responsibility of adulthood as well as an initiatory “unlocking.” In the Old Testament, 21 is the number of perfection, and is the number of the attributes of wisdom.
In the Tarot, 21 is the number of the World, and the last card of the Major Arcana. The card shows an androgynously female figure, standing within a vesica piscis of laurel leaves. The elements are represented by the images of an ox, an angel, a lion, and an eagle (respectively, earth, air, fire, and water), as are the cardinal points. The whole makes a victorious, triumphant picture.
In the Kabbalah, 21 represents the path of conciliation and the blessings of God.
There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and 22 cards in the Major Arcana of the Tarot; this is not a coincidence. In the Kabbalah, these 22 letters are believed to give expression to the Universe, and the Tarot cards also reflect the qualities of the Universe. This notion-that everything in the world is somehow encompassed in the number 22-is also reflected in the beliefs of the Bambara and the Dogon people, who believe that not only is 22 a symbol for the span of time from the creation to ultimate perfection and completion, but that all mystical information is embraced by the symbolism contained in the first 22 numbers. Twenty-two is also the number of books in the Avesta, the sacred texts of the Zoroastrians.
Known as the Royal Star of the Lion, in purely numerological terms 23 is an auspicious number, announcing help from higher places or people, success, and fame. However, with 23, all is not quite so simple and much of the mysticism surrounding this number comes from a relatively recent source, Discordianism, more of which in a moment.
If 22 is somehow able to encompass the whole of the Universe, then what of the numbers that come after it? As its immediate successor, logically, 23 must herald the beginning of a completely new world, a world not ruled by the same harmonious laws as the preceding 22. In addition, 23 comprises 2 (female) plus 3 (spiritual energy), combining to make 5, the number of harmony and balance, reflected nicely by the 23 chromosomes that are each contributed by the male and female during conception.
Discordianism is a modern, “prankster” spiritual movement, which started in 1958, and one of its central tenets is called the “23 Enigma,” a belief that everything in the Universe and all events are somehow connected to the number 23. The Goddess who presides over the Discordians is called Eris, the Greek Goddess of Strife and Discord, who is also known as the Queen of the Night.
Because 33 was the age at which Christ died, this number stands for the Christ-Consciousness, which in itself means nurturing, responsibility, higher levels of awareness, and spirituality. It’s also the number of the educator and the healer. In the Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona there is a magic square called the Subirach Square, named for its inventor. The magic sum of this square is 33. The 33rd degree in Freemasonry is generally held to be the highest degree, although some Masonic orders have further degrees above this one. In this context, 33 represents illumination and freedom from superstition or the received opinion of organized religion.
In both Tantric and Buddhist philosophies, 36 is the most sacred of all numbers. This is because it’s considered to be the number of Heaven. Thirty-six doubled (36 X 2 = 72) is the number of Earth, and 3 X 36 (108) is the number of humankind. Buddhist and Hindu rosaries have 108 beads.
One of the more mystical aspects of Judaism says that there are 36 “Tzadikim Nistarim,” or saintly people, on the Earth at any one time. According to the Talmud, if any one of these people were not present, then the world itself would end. These people are unknown to one another, and although they possess magical powers, they are not themselves aware of their special role, which is to justify mankind in the eyes of God. Apparently, when the time comes these chosen ones will know exactly what to do. As it is also believed that these 36 special people are too humble to ever believe that they could be one of the Tzadikim Nistarim, 36 has come to represent humility.
Forty, it is generally agreed among most religions and belief systems, is the number of symbolic death, initiation, trial and testing, preparation, and waiting. Both Moses and Mohammed received their “call” from God at this age, as did the Buddha, the very epitome of the idea that “life begins at forty.” In addition, Muslims believe that the Qu’ran should be read every 40 days.
It’s said to be unwise to attempt to study the Kabbalah before the prospective student has reached 40.
Knowing about the symbolic meaning of this number means that we have a deeper understanding of the 40 days and nights that Christ spent in the desert being tempted by the Devil, and the 40 years during which the Children of Israel wandered in the wilderness. Other examples of the number 40 that reveal a period of trial or tribulation are the 40 days of the deluge, the 40 days that Moses spent on Mount Sinai, and the 40 days of denial or fasting during Lent.
Among some Native American tribes, a second burial is customary, and this takes place 40 days after the first interment. In Islam, a memorial is held 40 days after a death. The period of isolation for suspected plague victims during the Middle Ages was set at 40 days, thus giving us the word “quarantine.”
The product of 7 x 7, for Tibetan Buddhists, 49 is the number of days that it takes for the dead soul to be reborn into another body.
Do you know why the Olympics are held every four years? It’s because the original Ancient Greek games were held at Olympia every 49 or 50 moons or “lunations.” The number 50 signifies a new beginning, coming as it does directly after the 7 x 7 cycle, which adds up to 49.
The Goddess Kali has 50 skulls in her necklace. Each skull represents a letter of the alphabet.
The ancient Babylonians worked to a base of 60, whereby anything X 60 was increased exponentially. We work in a base of 10 (the decimal system), so any given number will be increased likewise. One hundred is, of course, is 10 X 10; though when we use the phrase “a hundred times better than/nicer than …” it can just mean “a lot” or “many times” more rather than the actual number. Therefore 100 is symbolic of exaggeration. One hundred is also a beautifully rounded number, a satisfying number, and is a number of perfection.
Do you suffer from hexakosioihex-ekontahexaphobia? If so, you fear the number 666: the so-called Number of the Beast. If you do, you are not alone; this series of three sixes strikes fear into the hearts of many who encounter it, even causing some people to protect themselves with the sign of the cross, although they may not be entirely sure of the reason why.
This number first occurs, other than as a natural phenomenon, in the First Book of Kings in the Old Testament, and refers to the amount of wealth that came to King Solomon, possibly because of his partnership with the Queen of Sheba. However, much of the superstition associated with this number stems from a chapter in the New Testament Book of Revelation, here quoted from the King James version:
Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six Hundred Threescore and Six. [Revelation, 13:18]
Since then, there have been many theories about to whom, or what, this description refers. For Christians, it has come to represent a catch-all idea of an Antichrist, a title conferred at different times to various enemies of the Christian religion, including the Emperors Nero and Domitian, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, and Hitler. Even the Roman Catholic Church and various popes have been identified as this Beast.
Latter-day notions about the meaning of the number result in speculation that it might provide some kind of code whereby the Devil will brand people in order that they will be able to buy or sell. Credit cards, barcodes, social security numbers, and microchip technology have all come under the scrutiny of conspiracy theorists, with varying levels of incredulity and paranoia.
It’s also interesting to note that the atom of the chemical element carbon, which forms the basis of all life on Earth, is comprised of 6 neutrons, 6 protons, and 6 electrons. The satanic connotations of 666 are ambivalent in the Kabbalah, however, where it is not only the number of the solar demon Sorath, the opposite of the Archangel Michael, but it is also regarded as a sacred number that depicts the entire Universe.
But the devilish associations of 666 don’t give us the true picture of this mysterious symbolic number. It is the number belonging to Hakathriel, also known as the Angel of the Diadem. And in Sacred Geometry, it is called the magic square of the Sun. This particular magic square is constructed in such a way that the first 36 numbers add up to 111 on horizontal, vertical or diagonal planes. The entire square adds up to 666, and the number’s significance predates the Bible.
The architects of Chartres Cathedral may have known about the earlier significance of this number, since the labyrinth there measures exactly 666 feet long.
Numerologically speaking, 666 adds up to the number 18, which breaks down to 9; given that 9 is known to be the number of man, perhaps this simple explanation is what lies behind the biblical quote; 666 refers to the material part of man-the “beast”-rather than his spiritual aspect.