A History of Numerology

July 5, 2010



© 2009-2010  by Haruth

When I first became interested in the esoteric, there were certain fields which I quickly realised had been so completely hijacked by a certain faction of the “New Age”, and thereby so utterly discredited it, that it was no longer regarded as much more than a curiosity for fools.

One such field was that of Numerology.

The “New Age” deserves to applaud itself for bringing the fullest potential of alternative systems of spiritual development to the Western consciousness. When it comes to Numerology, however, a great disservice has been perpetrated against a proud, historical tradition.

The roots of Numerology go right back to the very beginning.

From the earliest moment that humanity looked up and saw patterns in the stars, the drive to understand how such perfect order could possibly exist has been at the very centre of intellectual pursuit. Modern science owes everything to these early systems of numerical analysis: systems created in the hope of uncovering the logic, design and causative agent behind all natural phenomena.

It is no coincidence that all ancient systems of writing are number based.

The most urgent need to record and relay information begins with the herds-man. With no formal system of writing available, he essentially had to develop one of his own making. Archeologists have found more ‘tally-sticks’1 than any other artifact in ancient Sumer, and studies have shown that the proto-writing of the Sumerian culture, which is thought to predate all other writing systems, was a natural development of this simple method of maintaining a count of livestock and goods.2

With the fall of Sumer, the Mesopotamian culture developed this simple accounting system further; as did the Babylonian culture which eventually displaced them; into the most widely used and historically significant writing system in the region. By 3,400 B.C.E. cuneiform included some one thousand, five hundred3 distinct symbols4.

Of all writing systems, cuneiform is the simplest in which to recognize the ‘tally-stick’ root of the written form. It is a short step from a notch cut in a piece of wood to the lettering system that we all know, comprising indentations in clay:

Cuneiform Letter on Clay Tablet5

Around 3,000 B.C.E. a distinct variant of cuneiform emerged that would become established as Hebrew. Although the Modern Hebrew characters have lost much of the immediacy of cuneiform, in relation to the root of language6, the fact that each character doubles as the figure used to represent a number bears its own witness.

This duplication of symbol was not lost on the Mystics of the Jewish faith.

The Kabbalah is the central esoteric teaching of the Jewish Tradition. Attempting to explain the relationship between God and His creation, it is, of itself, a thesis which places much emphasis on Creation as a process reflected in number. It is in this tradition that we first find the concept that man may begin to comprehend the inherent order that he observes within nature. The key to this understanding lies in developing ‘…full knowledge of the manner by which numbers develop, become active, aware and finally complete in an eternal cycle’. 7

The most detailed development of this concept is found in the various forms of Gematria. In these traditions, number exploration goes far beyond the contemplation of the basic cycle one through ten.

In these systems, the central hypothesis is that words, or phrases, which have identical numerical value, bear some relation to each other. Several systems have developed through the ages, but the purest form relies on the summation of the absolute numerical values8 represented by the letters (common symbol) which make up the word or phrase.

The premise of such an activity is that, by identifying words which are numerically equivalent, we can learn something fundamental about both words. The numerical resonance between words indicates a harmonic relationship between them. Such a harmony, particularly when accompanied by a synchronicity of meaning or general contextual usage, can be interpreted in various ways: which depends largely on the tradition, or bias, of the practitioner.

Irrespective, every discovery adds to a personal understanding of the inter-connectedness of everything, offers additional insight to the natural order of things and ultimately draws the practitioner towards the Creator.

The next important development takes us to Greece. What may surprise many, despite the obvious similarity between the names of the letters, is that the Greek alphabet is nothing more than a variation9 on Hebrew: the common root being Phoenician which predated them both. As with the Hebrew alphabet, the Greeks had no separate symbols for numbers10. It should come as no surprise, then, to discover that the Greeks had their own form of Gematria.

Isopsephia, as the Greek tradition was called, shared many of the concepts and beliefs with which we are familiar from Gematria. In its earliest form, as in the Judaic tradition, Isopsephia was applied exclusively to sacred texts.11

Whether or not Pythagoras (500 B.C.E.) ever used the methods of Isopsephia is unknown. Indeed, no written records of his methods, beliefs or inspiration exist.12 Everything that we know of him, and the mystery school he is credited to have formed, was written centuries after his death. Most of the writings make it very difficult to know what is true, and what is myth woven around the revered founder of what appears to be a rather odd cult13.

Pythagoras Teaching Music

From Raphael’s “The School of Athens”

What is generally accepted as the most, but not entirely, truthful account comes from Aristotle, reporting in his “Metaphysics”14:

1.   The Pythagorean school held that the principles of Mathematics are the principles of all things. i.e. by comprehending numerical patterns, we can understand the patterns of nature.

2.   The number 10 was particularly significant, represented in the form of the Tetraktys – a common symbol which graphically represented the emanation from the Creator to the Mundane. (Compare with the 10 Sephira on the Tree of Life within the Kabbalistic tradition).

Tetraktycs and The Tree of Life

3.   All is number: an idea which encompassed both the physical and invisible world, up to and including the soul. This was not considered a theoretical matter, but was viewed as a statement of fact. In this context, the belief that the soul, in particular, was number may be relevant later.

4.   All numbers are whole numbers, or simple fractions of whole numbers. In the Pythagorean mind, no other type of number could exist because it only whole numbers were capable of representing the forms of reality.

5.   From earlier sources describing the development of the Pythagoras myth, it is clear that “Pythagoras was obsessed with the “deeper meanings” behind numbers; the spiritual and metaphysical meanings of their relationships with each other and their transcendence beyond the universe at large.”15

From these observations, there certainly appears to be evidence that the relationship that Pythagoras had with numbers could have been described in terms familiar to those working within the system of Isopsephia.

In any event, it is worth noting that two discoveries attributed to Pythagoras have survived the scrutiny of history: his geometric proof of the theorem which now bears his name16; and the mathematical elements of his theory of music, harmony and scale17.

Despite the disparaging attitude of modern science towards many of Pythagoras’ other theories, many of the most important discoveries of the Middle Ages rely on Pythagoras for inspiration18.

Johannes Kepler made his discovery of the Laws of Planetary Motion whilst attempting to prove the validity of Pythagorean notions of the Music of the Spheres19 and the Sacred Geometry of Platonic solids which underpinned the structure of the Solar System.

Kepler’s Platonic Solid Model of the Solar System

Newton’s Theory of Light20 relied on the same premise as the Pythagorean theory of light, which held that light was composed of particles. Newton suggested that the diffraction patterns which he studied were the result of these colored particles separating, according to their size, as they passed through the prism21.

Newton Splitting Light into its Component Particles

Around this time, as the world of science was making great strides forward, on the back of ancient mathematical concepts, the systems of Isopsephia and Gematria were being adopted by many mystery schools which began to spring up across Europe. In particular, the Rosicrucian22 and Masonic23 Orders have at their heart, much symbolism which can only be understood by applying the logic and teachings inherent within these number systems.

Not until the late 19th Century, when a similar wave of interest in occult truths swept society, did a significant advance occur in the field of numerical science.

Against a background which embraced the ideas of Theosophy; introducing many of the Eastern Traditions to the West; and The Golden Dawn; reinvigorating the Western Tradition; a little remembered music teacher, living in Atlanta City, came to some startling conclusions.

In her studies of harmony, Mrs L. Dow Balliett came to realise that the letter name applied to each note had the same vibratory qualities as the note itself. It was this simple observation, she later claimed, which led to her interest in the application of numerical science.

The handful of books which she published on the subject24 essentially defined the modern method of relating names and numbers to acquire insight to the character and personality of the individual25. Her ideas could easily have been quickly forgotten, but for the efforts of one of her students.

Dr. Julia Seton (Sears)26 was an influential humanitarian, suffragette and lecturer in New Thought who toured the English speaking world extensively. It was she who brought Mrs. Balliett’s ideas to a world-wide public. She also wrote several essays on the subject, and it is her book “Symbols of Numerology” which is credited with giving the Science of the Vibration of Names and Numbers its modern name.

Dr Julia Seton Sears

(1862-1950)

Whilst Dr. Seton, and many other of Mrs. Balliett’s students, wrote influential books on the subject, it was Dr. Seton’s daughter, Dr. Juno Jordan who gave Numerology it’s scientific footing.

Turning her back on a career in dentistry, Dr. Jordan studied psychology and founded the Californian Institute of Numerical Research with the intention of testing and perfecting the system. The Institute continued for twenty five years, closing only when the research body had convinced themselves that the theory was robust, the methods accurate and the interpretational guidelines valid. The results were published in Dr. Jordan’s seminal work “The Romance in Your Name”27.

Juno Jordan 1884-1984

The advent of the system represented a primary shift in emphasis in the field of Numerical Science in the West.

Historically, all of the Western systems directed their efforts towards uncovering the big answers. Numerology took the same principles and applied them at the personal level: effectively redirecting the focus of Numerical Science away from understanding creation and turning it towards understanding ourselves.

In this sense, Numerology has much more in common with Astrology than anything that Pythagoras may have been involved in. Clearly, the twelve key numbers (1-9 plus the 3 master numbers) may be considered in sympathy, if not entirely in harmony, with the twelve signs of the Zodiac: a science always directed toward self analysis and growth, rather than the rather tawdry ‘fortune telling’ device that it has become considered by the uninitiated.

Some have argued that the spectrum of numbers generated and utilized in a Numerological chart (there are no less than fourteen combinations required in order to generate a chart and to use it successfully as a tool towards self discovery) make the system too cumbersome. However, once the chart has been devised and interpreted, looking ahead is more akin to the study of biorhythms and is therefore much simpler for day to day application.

It is interesting to note that coming to Numerology too young is almost guaranteed to end the relationship early. The full value of the system seems to only become apparent later in life, when enough tests have been passed / failed that we can fully appreciate the reading before us. We have come to recognize for ourselves already, many of the things which Numerology has to say about us. With this in mind, it becomes clear that these aspects of ourselves which we do not recognize in our chart are the very aspects from which we can most powerfully learn as we move forward.

This in itself offers a clue to the real value of Numerology. Numerology does not tell us how to live our lives. Nor does it tell us our fortune. It cannot reveal lucky numbers. Nor can it indicate our perfect partners. As such, it offers much more than the ‘New Age’ allows it to.

Numerology is nothing less than a tool which aids us towards psychological self awareness.

Psychology is a complex field. Numerology takes that complexity, and by focusing on key psychological states, as applied to individual personality traits, opens the potential for dialogue on our strengths, which naturally aid us, and our weaknesses, which may have thus far hindered us. Such simple insight into our own character, allows us to move forward in full awareness of the true potential we harbor within ourselves.

It is, of course, important that this ‘self’ dialogue is an honest one, and perhaps explains why the system is more readily acceptable to those who have already lived a little. It is only through such honest appraisal, that our weaknesses can be turned into strengths, for even our weaknesses are a talent that can be nurtured. Dr. Jordon asks us to, “Discover our challenge. Do not attempt to overcome it – BECOME it”.

“All is number”, and the disharmonies that we face; psychologically, physically, emotionally; find their reflection in the dance of number which the Universe places before us. By offering some understanding of how our personal identity fits within the symphony, Numerology allows us to find a manner of living ‘in-harmony’ with the Universe as it unfolds around us.

I shall leave the final words to Mrs Dow Balliet:

“No talent can remain mute if it has been gained. No place can hold you that you have outgrown. ‘The Law of Nature is compensation’ – it will move you to where you belong. Deal only with yourself. Do not blame others. In-harmony cannot find you if there is no point of contact.”

Numerology provides a point of contact.

© 2009-2010 Written by Haruth for release on SymbolicLiving.com
This article is copyright protected.  Reproduction without written permission is prohibited.

Footnotes:

1.        Clay tokens marked as a “record of transaction” have been dated as early as 8,000 B.C.E.

http://www.denison.edu/campuslife/museum/cuneiform.html

2.        For an overview of this process visit

http://www.sumerian.org/tallysticks.pdf

3.        Adkins, Lesley, Empires of the Plain: Henry Rawlinson and the Lost Languages of Babylon, New York, St. Martin’s Press (2003)

4.        By the time the language became extinct around 75 C.E. the character set had reduced to some 500 symbols, mainly through elimination of homophones (symbols which represent the same sound), but also through the formation of logograms (a single symbol which represented an idea which previously required several symbols to convey).

http://xoomer.virgilio.it/bxpoma/akkadeng/cuneiform.htm

5.        One of the famous Armana Letters:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amarna_letters

6.        The historical development of the letter Aleph will help to demonstrate this point:

Cuneiform Proto-Hebrew  becomes Aramaic  becomes modern Hebrew א

For an appreciation of development of other Hebrew letters visit:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Hebrew_alphabet

7.        Leonard Bosman, The Meaning and Philosophy of Numbers, 1932. Still available in reprint at Amazon.

8.        The following table indicates the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, their English equivalent, and the number represented by each.

9.        For details of the simplicity of the variation visit:

http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/4_history.html

For an overview of the alphabet family tree visit:

http://phoenicia.org/alphabet.html

10.     The following table indicates the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet, their English equivalent, and the number represented by each.

Note: there was once a sixth letter (Digamma) of value 6, but it fell out of use as did the letters with the values 90 and 900.

11.     Modern writers lazily refer to the Greek tradition as Gematria. In general terms, we can assume that any “Gematria” which focuses on the New Testament, e.g., should rightly be referred to as Isopsephia.

12.     This of course has not stopped every esoteric movement, which includes a mathematical element within their teaching, lay claim to being heir to the true teachings of Pythagoras!

13.     For an interesting academic summary of the theoretical aspects of the Pythagorean sect visit:

http://www.cs.utk.edu/~mclennan/OM/BA/ETP/index.html

14.     A good summary is presented at:

http://www.abu.nb.ca/Courses/GrPhil/Pythagoras.htm

15.     From:  http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pythagoras/

which gives a very good history of the development of the myth of Pythagoras.

16.     Though it may be true that Pythagoras was the first to be able to mathematically prove it, the principle which bears his name was known in Egypt, Chaldea and China thousands of years before his time. For more information, visit:

http://www.arcytech.org/java/pythagoras/history.html

17.     Pythagoras musical theories were central to the scientific understanding of tone, harmony and scale. The theories which he developed remain in use today, and form the basis of modern tuning, chord development and tonal progression.

To see how the Tetraktys relates directly to music theory, visit:

http://www.dartmouth.edu/~matc/math5.geometry/unit3/unit3

18.     Read Richard Bloodworth’s short essay on Pythagoras’ contribution by visiting:

http://www.2b2b.org/docs/papers/PythagorasPhilos.pdf

19.     Music of the spheres discussed at

http://www.keplerstern.com/Music_of_spheres/music_of_spheres.html

20.     For information on Newton’s Theory of Light, visit:

http://galileo.phys.virginia.edu/classes/609.ral5q.fall04/LecturePDF/L20-LIGHTII.pdf

21.     From:  http://www.colorsystem.com/projekte/engl/08newe.htm

which gives an overview of the colour theory devised by Newton.

22.     For an interesting article which discusses Isopsephia as applied within the early Rosicrucian rituals and teachings visit:

http://www.rosecroixjournal.org/issues/2005/articles/vol2_22_29_mcdavid.pdf

23.     Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Rite of Freemasonry, Charleston, 1871 (in which Pike asserts that the Cabala is the key of the occult sciences, with particular reference to the Scottish Rite).

Albert Mackey, The History of Freemasonry, 1881 (in which the key to Masonic Gematria is revealed as that published in the second book of Agrippa, “Three Books of Occult Philosophy”). The form of the Key, which cannot be readily extrapolated from any of the Keys published here, can be obtained by PM for those interested but unable to access a copy of either Agrippa or Mackey.

24.     The most influential of her many titles, modern reprints of which are available on Amazon, include:

Vibration: A System of Numbers as Taught by Pythagoras” 1905

Philosophy of Numbers: Their Tones and Colours” 1908

Nature’s Symphony, or Lessons in Number Vibration” 1911

The Day of Wisdom According to Number Vibration” 1917

Number Vibration in Questions and Answers, a Textbook” 1920

25.     It should be well noted, that no such system existed before the time of Mrs L. Dow Balliet. Any individual, or organization, claiming otherwise is at best misinformed, and at worst deliberately misleading.

26.     Dr Julia Seton (Sears) short biography can be read at

http://cornerstone.wwwhubs.com/Julia_Seton_Sears.html

27.     Dr Juno Jordan, “The Romance in Your Name” is available in reprint at Amazon.


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  • Susan Ditmire

    Numerology – Mrs L. Dow Balliet
    Her real name was Josie Dow Balliet. I am trying to help find more history on Mrs. L. Dow Balliet, along with all the books she wrote about Numerology, she was one of the founders of the Atlantic County Historical Society and served as President for the first 2 terms of ACHS existance.

    Mrs. Balliet died in Atlantic City in 1928 at age 84.

    I found your article very interesting and the connection to Mrs. Seton- Sears and Dr. Juno. Could you recommend a good book or help us with finding out more about her. Perhaps a picture??

    Thank you for your article and any assistance.

  • Haruth

    Hi Susan

    Glad you enjoyed the article.

    Mrs Balliet was certainly a formidable woman. As well as the ACHS, she was at the forefront of many of the Atlantic City women’s societies (http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=NXJFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=hLwMAAAAIBAJ&dq=dow%20balliett&pg=6369%2C2878620) and held very definite views on suffrage (http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=FR1UAAAAIBAJ&sjid=CToNAAAAIBAJ&dq=dow%20balliett&pg=5184%2C185537). She also ran the School of Psychology and Physical Culture, which explains her apparently idiosynchronous book “The Body Beautiful: According to the Delsartian Philosophy”, published in 1901, which contains instruction on yoga-like exercises.

    Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to locate a biography of Mrs Balliet, nor the book from which my notes on her were originally taken :(.

    I have come across a picture of her online at a Polish website (http://www.numerologia.net.pl/NUMEROLOGIA,4.html) Unfortunately, until I put my hands on a lost, dusty tome I can’t say for certain that the image is definitely her (it was a 1950′s book attempting to debunk numerology, which contained all sorts of interesting gems on the development of the system as we use it today). The site also gives her a birthdate which would make her only 81 in 1928 – so the veracity of the site may be questionable.

    Good luck in finding further information. There seems to be a lack of biographical information for her online. :( Will drop a note here if I manage to locate the book! (Feel free to join the forum section of the site if you want to contact me direct by email or PM).

    Very best wishes
    Haruth

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