Numerology, the study of the symbolism of numbers, is quite ancient, and goes back to at least to the Pythagoreans in ancient Greece, and even further, when we study ancient cultures and their rituals. In the Christian tradition, there has been somewhat of a dilemma: although its obvious that scripture makes symbolic use of numbers, so did the ancients, whose philosophy was corrupted by idolatry. Wikipedia sums it up:
"The Fathers repeatedly condemned the magical use of numbers which had descended from Babylonian sources to the Pythagoreans and Gnostics of their times. They denounced any system of philosophy which rested upon an exclusively numerical basis. Even so, they almost unanimously regarded the numbers of Holy Writ as full of mystical meaning, and they considered the interpretation of these mystical meanings as an important branch of exegesis. There was reluctance in the Christian teachers of the early centuries to push this recognition of the significance of numbers to extremes."
Nevertheless, St. Augustine wrote:
"Numbers are the Universal language offered by the deity to humans as confirmation of the truth."
If we look at the symbolism of numbers in the Christian tradition, there has been almost a complete ignorance of it. As far as I know, the most extensive study of numbers from a Biblical scriptural viewpoint was summed up in a book by E.W Bullinger in the 19th century, Number in Scripture. But some of it is his own guesswork, containing hits and misses. The subject begs for further study.
The symbolism of numbers, for the most part, has been lost to the modern world. Wikipedia states: "There are no set definitions for the meaning of specific digits." And different systems of numerology will no doubt disagree with each other. Where to start? How to set up a rational foundation?
Enter Emanuel Swedenborg. A great scientist of the 18th century, his vision was opened around the age of 55 to be exposed to the symbolic language of heaven, which was recorded in the Bible. He explained the spiritual significance of each and every word, verse by verse. And many verses contain numbers. I will quote from him directly:
"What the "years" and the "numbers of years" which occur in this chapter, signify in the internal sense, has hitherto been unknown. Those who abide in the literal sense suppose them to be secular years, whereas from this to the twelfth chapter there is nothing historical according to its appearance in the literal sense, but all things in general and every single thing in particular contain other matters. And this is the case not only with the names, but also with the numbers. In the Word frequent mention is made of the number three, and also of the number seven, and wheresoever they occur they signify something holy or most sacred in regard to the states which the times or other things involve or represent; and they have the same signification in the least intervals of time as in the greatest, for as the parts belong to the whole, so the least things belong to the greatest, for there must be a likeness in order that the whole may properly come forth from the parts, or the greatest from its leasts." (Arcana Coelestia, 482).
The above passage, where the smallest part is contained in the whole, is an overall principle followed by Swedenborg, where order in the smallest part of creation can reveal the order in the entire universe. In modern science, scientist are intrigued with holograms and the human brain: for the smallest part seems to be a reflection of the whole. The same is true for numbers. Numbers form the foundation of mathematics, and breakthroughs in mathematics has led to discoveries in science. Yes, numbers are the means by which the Divine reveals truth to humans.
When it comes to numerology, or the spiritual significance of numbers, most will relegate this to the realm of superstition. But sometimes, certain superstitions have a basis in fact, and are based on ancient traditions, where the meaning has been lost. Rather than write a blog on all the numbers, lets concentrate on the most unluckiest of numbers that has survived in Western superstition: the unlucky number 13.
Why is thirteen so unlucky? Superstition, most will say. As I write this, I am on the 22nd floor of a hotel on a business trip. And when I went up the elevator, floor number thirteen (13) was completely missing. I just came back from Starbucks, where I picked up a newspaper, and the front page described the killings in Fort Hood Texas, where an army soldier had killed thirteen people. And earlier, I read about a case before the Supreme court about considering whether or not life imprisonment was cruel and unusual punishment for juveniles. One case before them was a juvenile who committed a horrible crime at the age of thirteen. And earlier this year, O.J. Simpson was convicted in Nevada, thirteen years to the day after he was declared not guilty for the murder of his ex-wife. And we all know about Friday the 13th, right? And the movie? Ok, good number to start with for a generic blog introducing numerology. I dont believe in coincidences, since the number 13 has popped up a lot recently I decided to start with this number.
So, lets take a look at the number 13, is it just us, or do other cultures regard 13 as unlucky? Consider the following examples, which I randomly pulled from Wikipedia:
"The number of Norse gods (there were 12) at a banquet that was crashed by the evil god Loki (making 13) who killed Baldr with an arrow/spear made out of mistletoe using Hodr, thus marking the beginning of Ragnarok."
"In Italy, 13 is also considered to be a lucky number, although in Campania the expression 'tredici' (meaning 13) is said when one considers their luck to have turned for the worse."
"In Mesoamerican divination, 13 is the number of important cycles of fortune/misfortune"
"There are traditionally thirteen steps leading up to a gallows."
"Before the plot was foiled, there were thirteen plotters in the Gunpowder Plot."
"Apollo 13 was the only unsuccessful mission by the United States of America intended to land humans on the moon."
"The number 13 is associated with bad luck in some countries, and even has a specifically recognized phobia, Triskaidekaphobia, a word which was coined in 1911."
"In numerology, the number twelve is considered the number of completeness, as reflected in the twelve months of the year, twelve signs of the zodiac, twelve hours of the clock, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve Apostles of Jesus, twelve gods of Olympus, etc., whereas the number thirteen was considered irregular, transgressing this completeness. There is also a superstition, thought by some to derive from the Last Supper or a Norse myth, that having thirteen people seated at a table will result in the death of one of the diners."
As for the origin of the superstition of Friday the 13th, its not documented as an unlucky day until the 19th century. But most believe it goes back much earlier, perhaps to Norse mythology. Some apply it to the date of the mass arrest of the Knights Templars, October 13, 1307 - Friday the 13th. Or to the decision to go into the Battle of Hastings, on October 13, 1066.
Some consider that human growth passes through stages, every seven years, which at the beginning of the article, represented a holy and sacred number. It is at the age of thirteen we all became a teenager, which is most often associated with a period of rebellion, as independence is asserted. And so we come across the first statement of the number thirteen in the Bible:
Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer, and in the thirteenth year they rebelled. (Gen. 14:4)
So what did Swedenborg say when he came across this verse? It can be closely associated with the 13th year of human development:
"Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer," signifies that the evils and falsities did not appear in childhood, but that they served the apparent goods and truths; "and in the thirteenth year they rebelled," signifies the beginning of temptations in childhood. (Arcana Coelestia, 1666).
"And in the thirteenth year they rebelled. That this signified the beginning of temptations in childhood, is evident from the signification of "the thirteenth year," and from the signification of "rebelling." The thirteenth year is intermediate between the twelfth and the fourteenth. What is signified by "twelve" has been stated; and what by "fourteen" will be stated presently. The intermediate between no temptation and temptation is "thirteen." What "rebelling" signifies may be seen when it is predicated of the evils in a man, or of evil spirits, when they have been in subjection or are serving, and begin to rise up and infest." (Arcana Coelestia, 1668).
So "unlucky thirteen" seems to be grounded in some scientific fact: it is the age of our adolescent development. But why is thirteen the age of adolescent development? We as humans, are created in God's Image. And numbers are revelations of truth. And these numbers manifest themselves in infinite ways.
Swedenborg would often explore the nature of numbers by decomposing them: the nature of bigger numbers can be discovered if they are a multiple of smaller numbers, or by adding up two other numbers. In this case, the nature of the number 13 is revealed by decomposing it into 7 + 6, or by considering its sequence, after 12 but before 14: the nature of the number can change according to context. When 13 is decomposed into 10 + 3, it actually signifies something good, thus in some cultures 13 is lucky rather than unlucky - thus the number 13 has a positive significance when considered in the passage where Ishmael is circumcised in his thirteenth year.
That thirteen can have a positive significance, as a positive number of human growth, is when it is considered to be a number as part of the Fibonacci series: 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21...etc, where each subsequent number contains in it the previous two numbers, in this case, thirteen is 5 + 8. In this case, it represents the next stage of human growth, bases on the symbolism of the preceding numbers, five and eight. Here is an interesting video which explores the appearance of the Fibonacci series in nature, especially in mathematical spirals (you need to stop my music playlist in the upper left of this blog):
So to take a simple number, and state that it always means one thing, is a bit too simplistic: you have to consider the context in which the number is mentioned. Numbers are just one aspect of the symbolic language of heaven: you can not study numerology in isolation, without a broader understanding of the symbolic language of heaven, which manifests itself in creation. As this has been lost, so numerology at this day is no more than a superstition. The visions of Swedenborg, however, is the first step to restoring to humanity the lost language of symbols, preserved in ancient myths and in the waking dreams of our lives.