Numerology is easy, so it seems. In case you wanted to know the number your name makes you just need to pick a table which shows you the numerical value assigned to the letters of the alphabet. With the help of this table, you then convert your name into a series of numbers. Lastly, you add all the numbers together, and voilà—there you have your name number!
But wait, what if you get interested in the ‘How’ behind the assignments of numbers to letters? What if you wanted to know the original source of the table you just used? If you are also familiar with astrology, you might start to wonder if there are correspondences between numerological and astrological symbolism. Soon you notice that there are many numerology systems, and they all use more or less different assignments of numbers to letters and planets. You become also aware that those systems vary in how they are used and interpreted. Suddenly, you find yourself in a state of great confusion. Welcome to the jungle of numerology systems!
I started to write this article some time ago and realized that the subject was too complex to fit into one piece. That’s why I decided to break the article down into parts. I don’t know yet how many of them there will be. Maybe I’ll manage to cover the subject in two or three parts. It could also be, that this is becoming a series. Let’s see. In this part, which is the first one, you will read about the following:
- Seeking the original source
- General differences between the systems
- Basic questions
- Ways to assign numbers to letters
- Development of the alphabet
- Special features of the Hebrew language and alphabet
- Transliteration of the Hebrew alphabet
- Agrippa – from Hebrew to Greek and Latin
- Comparison of different assignments of numbers to the Latin alphabet
1. Seeking the original source
I’ve been interested in numerology for a couple of years getting into it sporadically once in a while. A few months ago I wanted to investigate further the correspondences of numbers with astrological symbolism beginning with the planets. A hard task to deal with, as I found out. But as both astrology and numerology aim to symbolize individuals and their life there must be at least some degree of overlap, mustn’t there? Maybe the number your name makes corresponds with the ruler of your ascendant, your sun sign or some other important planet or point in your birth chart?
In chapter 74 in the first book of his Three Books of Occult Philosophy Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (14. September 1486 – 18. February 1535), a German physician, scholar, theologian, and writer on occult subjects, states as followed:
God gave to man a mind, and speech, which (as saith Mercurius Trismegistus) are thought to be a gift of the same vertue, power, and immortality. The omnipotent God hath by his providence divided the speech of men into divers languages; which languages have according to their diversity received divers, and proper Characters of writing, consisting in their certain order, number, and figure, not so disposed, and formed by hap, or chance, nor by the weak judgement of man, but from above, whereby they agree with the Celestiall, and divine bodies, and vertues. But before all notes of languages, the writing of the Hebrews is of all the most sacred in the figures of Characters, points of vowels, and tops of accents, as consisting in matter, form, and spirit. Trans. J. F., 1651
Three things Agrippa states here: 1) God is the source of speech and the creator of all languages, 2) Every language has its reasonable system which corresponds with the celestial realm, 3) The Hebrew script is special.
The idea that letters have meaning besides the ordinary, as well as the assignment of numbers to letters, can indeed be found in cultures with different languages around the world. Several systems of numerology have been developed over the centuries. Some are said to be as old as mankind itself. Nowadays in the Western world, it seems that the most widespread numerology system is the one attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras of Samos who lived around 500 BC.
Besides this “Pythagorean” system one can find methods of numerology mostly attributed to the Chaldeans and Hebrews. Interestingly, even modern editions of numerology systems still seem to draw in some way on these ancient ones. Numerology also still agrees in its assumption of a creative force / Spirit / God where it sees itself rooted in.
As it seems, we need to head at least towards antiquity if not farther to get some more information about how it all may have begun. Before that, we will look at some general differences occurring between numerology systems.
2. General differences between the systems
There are various minor and major differences between numerology systems. Some use only single-digits, others use also double-digits. Differences occur as well in the use of so-called master numbers. Some systems use only a few double numbers as master numbers, others use several double numbers, and still others use some single and double digits combined.
Numerology systems also vary in their terminology and what the numbers they calculate relate to. Some are more oriented towards everyday life questions, some are concerned with spiritual matters. Common numbers calculated in numerology systems are called expression number, heart’s desire, physical talent, karmic number, and life path. The calculations themselves vary, too. Some systems are based primarily on the birth name. Others work with the name you are mostly known by taking also into account name changes.
There are systems that give general viewpoints on different subjects in life. Others calculate specific periods that carry different themes. Numerology systems also differ in their interpretations of the given numbers. Certain numbers have in some systems a more positive or negative connotation than others.
In addition to all differences already mentioned, one crucial distinction between numerology systems lies in the way they assign numbers to letters. Some systems assign a numerical value to the letters of a word, based on how the word is written, whereas others have a phonetical approach, i.g., they are based on the sound of the word. Both approaches entail some difficulties as we will see.
3. Basic questions
The central question in numerology is, of course, what number to assign to what letter? Relating to this there are, as we have seen, some further considerations: Should numerical values be assigned to the letters of the word in their written form or according to their sound? If we decided to go with the sound, then we have to figure out how to phonetically transcribe a word. Next, let’s have a look at some general ways how to assign numbers to letters.
4. Ways to assign numbers to letters
Distinctions between numerology systems can be made by the set of numbers they use, including whether single- or double-digits are used. Some work with the ordinal numbers of the letters of the alphabet, some use their reduced numbers. Other systems are based on a specific set of numbers.
For example, In the system attributed to the Chaldeans, we have a range of numbers 1 to 8. Although other numbers are used in this system if they occur during the calculations or as a result of a calculation, the numbers assigned to the letters of the alphabet are only single digits from 1 to 8. Number 9 was sacred to the Chaldeans. Therefore it was thought to be inappropriate to assign this number to a few letters only.
Indeed, number 9 is special being the last number of the basic numbers 1 to 9. All numbers after number nine reduce back to basic numbers, e.g., 10 reduces back to 1, 14 reduces back to 5, 34 back to 7. One example of number 9’s uniqueness is that any number multiplied by nine will always reduce to nine, e.g., 9×7=684 → 6+8+4=18 → 1+8=9.
Some systems are based on the amount of letters you have in the given alphabet. This means here we use ordinal numbers. For example, the letter K is the 11th letter in the English alphabet. Therefore its ordinal value is 11. Some numerology systems are based on ordinal numbers but work with reduced numbers. Numerology tables attributed to Pythagoras are usually displayed with single-digits from 1 to 9 only, but if you take a closer look, you see that the assignment of the numbers to the letters in these tables are reductions of the ordinal numbers of the 26-letter Latin alphabet (same letters that comprise the English alphabet). Some, like Javane & Bunker, use the Pythagorean system with double-digits and their reduced numbers together. The layout of the chart below is chosen to show you how, in the Pythagorean system, the assignment of numbers to the letters of the alphabet is derived from their ordinal numbers.
In antiquity some languages used letters to also express numbers and dates, meaning each letter had a natural numerical value assigned to it. To some extent using letters to express numbers is still the case in our times, for example in Hebrew writing. There are several methods of Hebrew gematria. For a short introduction please see the article Hebrew Gematria by John J. Parsons.
As we remember, Agrippa states that the Hebrew script is special. No surprise, that some numerology systems are based on a transliteration of the Hebrew alphabet to the alphabet of the language in use, e.g., assigning Hebrew letters and their numerological values to English letters. There are various opinions on how to transliterate the Hebrew alphabet in other languages. Several complications arise here relating to the representation of vowels and letters found in some languages not used or expressed by special characters in the Hebrew alphabet.
I’m going to show you some editions of converting the Hebrew alphabet to modern alphabets later in this article. But first, let us find out why particularly the Hebrew script seems to have a special role among all forms of writing and why it is important for us to know about it.
5. Development of the alphabet
The development of the alphabet is a highly interesting and complex subject. It is not possible to give a complete overview of this subject in this article, nor am I capable of doing so. I will only mention a few intriguing facts here. For further studies please see the links at the bottom of this article.
It is usually held that most modern alphabets are descendants of the ancient alphabets of which the so-called Phoenician alphabet, developed from the Proto-Sinaitic script, is thought of being the first one. Hebrew is one of the very ancient languages, still spoken today, which alphabet was developed from/alongside the Phoenician.
Jeff A. Benner in his online course Learn the Ancient Hebrew Alphabet and Language points out, that the old Hebrew, the Samaritan, and Phoenician alphabets were identical. In the course, and in his article The Paleo-Hebrew Alphabet, he cites among others Humphrey Prideaux and the Encyclopedia Americana:
Humphrey Prideaux also writes in 1799; “And these five books [of the Samaritans] still have among them, written in the old Hebrew or Phoenician character, which was in use among them before the Babylonish captivity, and in which both these and all other scriptures were written, till Ezra transcribed them into that of the Chaldeans [Aramaic].”
This same theory is presented in the 1831 edition of the Encyclopedia Americana; “During the Babylonish captivity , they received from the Chaldees the square character in common use; and in the time Ezra, the old Hebrew manuscripts were copied in Chaldee [Aramaic] characters.”
More interestingly, not only shared the Phoenicians, the Samaritans, and the Hebrews the same alphabet, but they also spoke the same language. Benner writes:
The Phoenicians lived north of the land of Israel centered around the Biblical cities of Sidon and Tyre, in modern day Lebanon, between the 16th and 3rd Century BC. The Phoenicians shared the same alphabet with the Hebrews and the Samaritans. It was also evident that the Phoenicians and Hebrews spoke the same language as the “Foreign Quarterly Review” wrote in its 1838 publication; “The learned world had almost universally allowed that the Phoenician language was, with few exceptions, identical with the Hebrew.”
The table below on the left shows a comparison of hieroglyphs, Proto-Sinaitic, Phoenician, Paleo-Hebrew, Aramaic, and modern Hebrew like we know it today. The ‘Other’ section displays the corresponding Archaic Greek, Modern Greek, Etruscan and Latin letters. The colorful graphic by Starkey Comics on the right as well as the graphic in black and white by Dr. C. George Boeree at the bottom left display both the development of the Greek and Latin alphabets from the Phoenician/Early Hebrew.
Below is another picture showing the evolution of Middle Eastern, Greek and Latin alphabets from the Phoenician. Note that some Phoenician letters are “missing” in the Greek and Latin alphabets whereas the Greek and Latin alphabets contain letters not found in the Phoenician alphabet. This becomes particularly interesting when dealing with transliteration.
Because modern alphabets are descendants of the Phoenician/Hebrew, and as some numerology systems are based on a transliteration of the Hebrew alphabet, it will be worth to have a closer look at the Hebrew script.
6. Special features of the Hebrew language and alphabet
There is an interesting statement about the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet in the Sefer Yetzirah (also called the Book of Formation or the Book of Creation). Chapter two starts with the following sentence: “The twenty-two sounds and letters are the foundation of all things […] He hath formed, weighed, and composed with these twenty-two letters every soul, and the soul of everything which shall hereafter be.” This translation is from 1893 by W. W. Westcott. Below the entire chapter two of the Sefer Yetzirah.
Now, let’s look at the nature and the special features of the Hebrew language. Language is a tool of thinking and expression. It also reveals something about how the world is perceived by its speakers. Here lies a crucial difference between Hebrew and modern languages. Jeff A. Benner states in his article Ancient Hebrew Thought that Greek thought views the world through the mind (abstract thought) whereas ancient Hebrew thought views the world through the senses (concrete thought). He also explains that Greek thought describes objects in relation to their appearance. Hebrew thought again describes objects in relation to their function. Benner gives an example:
A deer and an oak are two very different objects and we would never describe them in the same way with our Greek form of descriptions. The Hebrew word for both of these objects is איל (ayil) because the functional description of these two objects are identical to the ancient Hebrews, therefore, the same Hebrew word is used for both. The Hebraic definition of איל is “a strong leader.” A deer stag is one of the most powerful animals of the forest and is seen as “a strong leader” among the other animals of the forest. Also the oak tree’s wood is very hard compared to other trees such as the pine which is soft and is seen as a “strong leader” among the trees of the forest.
Not only the Hebrew language but also its script and alphabet is special in that the letters are actual words. For example, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet Aleph is also a word meaning “strength”. English translations of words including the letter Aleph are for example “father” (the strong one of the house) and “God” (Mighty One). Below a picture by Jeff A. Benner showing how the Hebrew parent root »EL« is built and what its meaning is.
For more insights into the Hebrew language, I warmly recommend visiting Jeff. A Benner’s Ancient Hebrew Research Center’s webpage and watching his video series called Introduction to Ancient Hebrew.
7. Transliteration of the Hebrew alphabet
This is one of the trickiest things to do. There are many variations and opinions on which Latin letter should be equated to which Hebrew letter. Below are a few tables that give you some examples of English transliterations. For a German transcription of the Hebrew alphabet, you may want to have a look at Ingrid Kaufmann’s tables which you can access via the following links: Phonetische Umschrift des Hebräischen and Alphabet.
There is one chart I found that stands out in displaying the sounds, meanings, and assignments of the Hebrew alphabet to the Greek and Latin alphabets. This chart is by Rowan Seymour and it is based on information from the Ancient Hebrew Research Center as well as the website Hebrew for Christians.
8. Agrippa – from Hebrew to Greek and Latin
Agrippa writes in chapter 74 in the first book of his Three Books of Occult Philosophy about the equation between the Hebrew, Greek and Latin alphabets. I noticed, that some translations of this work differ significantly from the original. There are errors with the Hebrew letters listed in this chapter. This is true, for example, with the English translation edited by Willis F. Whitehead, published in Chicago in 1898, as well as for a German translation I own published by Marco Frenschkowski in 2012.
Compared to the original work De occulta philosophia, libri I, which was written in Latin and first published in Paris in 1531, the English translation by J. F. in 1651 is almost identical. There occurs only a minor difference with the letters U and V, and J and I. This is because the 23-letter classical Latin alphabet used letter V for V, U and W. The letter I was used for I and J, meaning V = V, U, W and I = I, J. That is why in the English translation you see U instead of V and J instead of I. For example, the original lists the vowels as followed: A, E, I, O, V. The translation says: A, E, I, O, U.
Below the English translation from 1651 by J. F. and for the sake of easy comparison, the original pages in Latin from the De occulta philosophia, libri I, published in 1531 in Paris.
But to return to the division of the Letters. Of these, amongst the Hebrews, are three mothers, viz. א ו י; seven double, viz. ב ג ד כ פ ר ת. The other 12, viz. ה ז ח ט ל מ נ ס ע צ ק ש are simple. The same rule is amongst the Chaldeans; And by the imitation of these also the letters of other tongues are distributed to Signs, Planets, and Elements, after their order. For the Vowels in the Greek tongue, viz. Α Ε Η Ι Ο Υ Ω answer to the seven Planets. Β Γ Δ Ζ Κ Λ Μ Ν Π Ρ Σ Τ are attributed to the twelve Signs of the Zodiack, the other five Θ Ξ Φ Χ Ψ represent the four Elements, and the spirit of the world. Amongst the Latine there is the same signification of them. For the five Vowels A E I O U, and J and V Consonants are ascribed to the seven Planets; and the Consonants B C D F G L M N P R S T are answerable to the twelve Signs. The rest, viz. K Q X Z make four Elements. H the aspiration represents the Spirit of the World. Y because it is a Greek, and not a Latine Character, and serving only to Greek words, follows the nature of its Idiome.
It has to be noted that Agrippa’s assignment of letters to the kabbalistic concept of three groups of mother letters, simple letters, and double letters differs from what you find in the Sefer Yetzirah. Agrippa lists letters Alef (א), Vav (ו), and Yod (י) as the three mother letters. In the Sefer Yetzirah, mother letters are letters Alef (א), Mem (מ), and Shin (ש). Due to this difference, there are also differences in the group of the twelve simple letters. The seven double letters in Agrippa are the same as listed in the Sefer Yetzirah.
So far, I found the letters Alef (א), Vav (ו), and Yod (י) mentioned together as a group only in The Origin of Letters and Numerals According to the Sefer Yetzirah (1912/1913) written by Phineas Mordell, where he mentions that Dunash Ibn Tamim maintained that the three letters Alef, Vav, and Yod are the original vowels of the Hebrew alphabet. Mordell also writes that Tamim’s opinion was shared by many Hebrew writers, but then gives several differing opinions on the subject.
Agrippa mentions at the beginning of chapter 74 “the more curious Mecubals of the Hebrews” (Kabbalists). In the next sentence he writes: “Moreover they divide the letters of their Hebrew Alphabet, viz. into twelve simple, seven double, and three mothers, which they say signifie as Characters of things, the twelve Signs, seven Planets, and three Elements…” (trans. J. F., 1651). According to this, one would strongly assume that Agrippa himself had access to kabbalistic teachings, being familiar also with the Sefer Yetzirah. So, it is unclear to me what is the reason for the differences in Agrippa.
In book two Agrippa lists the Hebrew standard gematria, the Greek numerical system and an equation to the classical Latin alphabet. He then explains a method for calculating the planet under which influence one is born as well as how to calculate one’s horoscope, which is likely to mean the Ascendant, the Greek word for the rising sign being( ). I will introduce Agrippa’s method in part two of this article.
9. Comparison of different assignments of numbers to the Latin alphabet
Below is a table I made that displays the assignment of numbers to the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet in three different numerology systems. Next to this table on the right, you find another table that shows you the assignment of numbers to the Hebrew alphabet according to standard Hebrew gematria. I made these two tables as a tool for comparing the different systems and to see at a glance their differences.
The most differences in the systems of numerology seem to occur with letters/sounds »S« and »T«. To visually find the differences easier, I marked them with different colors. The numbers assigned to letters/sounds »S« are marked in red. The numbers assigned to letters/sounds »T« are marked in gray. Differences occur also with sounds/letters »H« and the guttural »CH«, which are marked in blue. Other differences are marked in light brown. If the whole row of a letter is white, this means that the number assigned to it is in it’s reduced form the same in all systems. For example, the letter »L« has in all systems a numerical value which reduces to 3.
There are combinations of letters that make one sound, like »SH« (the German »SCH«), the English »TH« or the just mentioned »CH«. Systems that are based on a phonetic approach, like the one by Frank Alper (Nicolas David Ngan), do take these combinations into account, others just count each letter separately. This is a major difference between the systems.
The table above is primarily to show you the differences in the assignment of numbers to letters in some numerology systems. Besides using tables of different assignments, each system works with its own methods and calculations. I will introduce you to those systems in part 2 of this article.
What we got so far
The foundations and roots of numerology are a complex subject. Studying the development of the alphabet helps to get an understanding why certain numbers are associated with certain letters. As seen in the comparison table above, different numerology systems use different assignments of numbers to letters. The question is not which one is the most correct system, but what does each system signify and what correspondences with astrology can be found? That I’m attempting to find out. Thus the quest continues…
This was part 1 of Investigating Correspondences Between Numerology and Astrology. In part 2, I will take a closer look at some numerology systems and how they actually use their tables of assignments of numbers to the alphabet. You will also learn about the astrological symbolism these systems work with.
Sources and further reading:
Agrippa von Nettesheim, H. C., Die magischen Werke, herausg. und eingeleitet von M. Frenschkowski, 2. Auflage 2012, marixverlag GmbH, Wiesbaden.
Cheiro, Cheiro’s Book of Numbers, Pakistan, 1959, Burma & Ceylon, by D. B. Taraporevala Sons & Co. Private Ltd, by arrangement with Herbert Jenkins Limited.
Mordell, Phineas, The Origin of Letters and Numerals According to the Sefer Yetzirah, Jewish Quaterly Review, published by the Dropsie College Philadelphia Pa, 1912/1913, reprinted by Franklin Classics.
Ngan, Nicolas David, Your Soul Contract Decoded—Discovering the Spiritual Map of Your Life with Numerology, 2013, Watkins Media Limited.
Thompson, Leeya B., The Wisdom of Sound and Number: Phonetic Chaldean Numerology—Reclaiming an Ancient Oracle, 2006, iUniverse, Lincoln, NE.
Zettel, Christa, Das Geheimnis der Zahl: Geheimlehre und Numerologie, 1996, Wilhelm Heyne Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, München.
Agrippa von Nettesheim, H. C., De Occulta Philosophia, Libri I, Paris, 1531, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, http://daten.digitale-sammlungen.de/~db/0003/bsb00038519/images/.
Agrippa von Nettesheim, H. C., De Occulta Philosophia Libri Tres, Cologne, 1533, Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/DeOccultaPhilosophiaLoc1533.
Agrippa von Nettesheim, H. C., Three Books of Occult Philosophy or Magic, Book One – Natural Magic, Willis F. edited by Whitehead, Chicago, 1898, https://archive.org/details/cu31924028928236.
Agrippa von Nettesheim, H. C., Three Books of Occult Philosophy, translated by J.F., 1651, https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Three_Books_of_Occult_Philosophy.
Compagni, Vittoria Perrone, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2017/entries/agrippa-nettesheim/.
Benner, Jeff A., About the Hebrew Alphabet -Index, https://www.ancient-hebrew.org/alphabet/index.htm.
Benner, Jeff A., Ancient Hebrew Thought, https://www.ancient-hebrew.org/philosophy/ancient-hebrew-thought.htm.
Benner, Jeff A., Introduction to Ancient Hebrew, https://www.ancient-hebrew.org/introduction-to-ancient-hebrew.htm.
Benner, Jeff A., Mr. Benner’s On-line courses, https://www.ancient-hebrew.org/bookstore/classes.html.
Benner, Jeff A., The Philosophy of the Hebrew Language, https://www.ancient-hebrew.org/language/philosophy-of-the-hebrew-language.htm.
Benner, Jeff A., The Paleo-Hebrew Alphabet, https://www.ancient-hebrew.org/ancient-alphabet/paleo-hebrew-alphabet.htm.
Boeree, George C., The Evolution of Alphabets, http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/evolalpha.html.
Boeree, George C., The Origin of the Alphabet, https://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/alphabet.html.
Huss B. and Kadary J., Introduction to Kabbalah, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, IsraelX, edX 2019.
Parsons, John J., Learning Hebrew Grammer, https://hebrew4christians.com/Grammar/grammar.html.
Roosma, André H., The Written Language of Abraham, Moses and David––A Study of the pictographic roots and basic notions in the underlying fabric of the earliest Biblical script, http://www.hallelu-yah.nl/Early-Semitic.pdf.
Sepharial, The Kabala of Numbers, 1920, https://archive.org/details/TheKabalaOfNumbers/page/n7.
Sepher Yetzirah: The Book of Formation, and the Thirty Two Paths of Wisdom, trans. W. W. Westcott, 2nd edition, 1893, https://archive.org/details/sepheryetzirahb00rittgoog.
Wikipedia, Alphabet, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alphabet.
Wikipedia, Hebrew alphabet, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_alphabet.
Wikipedia, History of the Hebrew alphabet, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Hebrew_alphabet.
Wikipedia, Griechische Zahlenschrift, https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Griechische_Zahlschrift.
Wikipedia, Latin alphabet, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_alphabet.
Wikipedia, Paleo-Hebrew alphabet, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleo-Hebrew_alphabet.
Wikipedia, Proto-Sinaitic script, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proto-Sinaitic_script.
Wikipedia, Romanization of Hebrew, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanization_of_Hebrew.
Featured Image: Gerd Altmann | Pixabay