FREDERICK BLIGH BOND, F.R.I.B.A
THOMAS SIMCOX LEA, D.D.
ANNOTATED AND TRANSCRIBED BY
PETER WAKEFIELD SAULT
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ON THE SYMBOLISM OF NUMBERS.
(WITH REFERENCE TO GEMATRIA.)
Of late there has been manifest a greatly increased interest in the symbolic uses of Number, and some dim sense that numbers do in reality constitute a sort of Language of Interpretation.
The numbers so evident in the Sacred Books have attracted renewed attention. Some of these, it is recognised, have an astronomical bearing, being connected with the chronologies, and hence with solar, lunar and planetary periods; and we may trace the growth of astrological systems to which certain numbers are traditionally attached.
Other numbers are more purely geometrical. To some the dual significance clearly applies.
But the pure teaching and symbolism of numbers, already degraded by the false gnostics, was destined to suffer, in the long darkness of the mediaeval times, further degeneration, and a species of idolatry of numbers has resulted, all sorts of fancied potencies and virtues being attached to these symbols, and magical qualities attributed.
At times these appear faintly reminiscent of the verities they were designed to represent, but more often
they are but the false attributions of superstitious vanity and ignorance, the stock-in-trade of the charlatan.
The Church in her ostensible teaching has been but little concerned with the mysteries of Number. What she has put forth has been of the simplest. The Apostolic Fathers in their references to such matters have been chiefly concerned with the refuting of heretical teachers, so that much of what they say is apt to convey, and perhaps designedly so, an impression of triviality and almost of disdain. After the third century the Church becomes strangely anxious to crystallise in human words the essence of mysteries which we are bound to believe she always possessed in another and more recondite form, for the alternative - i.e. that she did not possess them - would leave insufficiently explained the artificial aspect of the theological system to which she adheres and would impair her claim to antiquity in this sense.
The simplicity of the geometric and numeric symbolism as conveyed by the orthodox Bishops in any written treatise is well seen in the writings of Durandus, the XIIth century Bishop of Mende, whose work embraces reference to all the principal features of a church and the simpler numbers connected with them. But the teaching conveyed is almost purely ethical in its application, and seems largely an effort of pious imagination. We might quote as an instance the following:
“Some (churches) are built in the form of a circle, to signify that the Church hath been extended throughout the circle of the world, as saith the Psalmist, ‘and their words unto the end of the world’ - or because from the circle of this world we reach forth to that crown of eternity which shall encircle our brows.”
“By the lattice work of the windows we understand
the prophets and other obscure teachers of the Church Militant: in which
windows there are often Two shafts, signifying the Two precepts of
Charity, or because the Apostles were sent out to preach the Gospel two
the prophets and other obscure teachers of the Church Militant: in which windows there are often Two shafts, signifying the Two precepts of Charity, or because the Apostles were sent out to preach the Gospel two and two.”
The study of the true principles underlying the older symbolism of Numbers is of a very intimate nature and involves a well-founded familiarity with pure mathematical principles in their relation to geometric form, and to the cyclic laws governing the motions of the heavenly bodies. Without this as a constant guide and check, any results obtained will be liable to error and to dangerous contradiction. Moreover, the serious student who has investigated, without sufficient mental reserve, the workings of the mediaeval Cabalists, and their more modern exponents, may have much to unlearn ere he can approach the subject with a clear outlook.
There is a fundamental principle which must be stated as a sine quâ non if any research on right lines is to be undertaken. This is, the avoidance of all attributions to individual numbers of a nature or significance wholly or uniquely “good” or “evil”.
This is a heresy which vitiates the great mass of literature on the subject, and it appears even in the works of famous Cabalists. There is no wholly evil number, just as there is no wholly “fortunate” or “unfortunate” number, but there are numbers which, from special association, have acquired one or the other preponderant character.
And often the very reason for such acquired significance is lost. A modern investigator of astronomical numbers, the Rev. John Griffith, of Cardiff (who has been working out an astronomical interpretation of the Phaestos Disc), as a result of the careful study of ancient calendars, has been able to point out those cases
in which an ancient festal day has, by the secular change and progressive error of the Calendar, drifted away from its original moorings, and remained in the recollection of the people merely as a “fortunate” day - with a number of the common monthly count attached to it.
Now in regard to the Gematria, our guide is of course the general or collective sense of the words accumulated upon any given number by virtue of their correspondence with that particular value. Some progress has already been made in in the collection and classification of known and suspected Gematria words. But a great deal remains to be done, especially in the recording of words of negative implication or of antagonistic meaning and of a large category of words which are thought to possess, in addition to their ordinary significance, a secondary and obscure symbolical meaning which their Gematria would tend to make clear. The analysis has however already gone far enough to shew abundant evidence of contrasted, as well as of allied, meanings, the good and evil, or positive and negative, signification being present on the same number, indicating a polarity or balance of opposites.
A number may thus suggest a quality or principle, and at the same time, the defect, or excess, of that quality, and thus the regularity of the interpretation is assured, for the choice between positive and negative becomes the choice between the rational versus the irrational, and the spiritual versus the material combination.
In this way, and in this way alone, is a faithful system of interpretation capable of being consistently applied by the method of Gematria, for were it otherwise, and a significance wholly and uniquely good, or evil, found in the words on any given number, it would be possible to harness together a Divine and an Infernal number.
Their sum would be chaos in the literary as well as the theological sense, and the whole of the geometric structure would be riddled with contradiction. Alternatively, if it were not for this element of choice, it might easily appear that a Holy Name could be analysed into two component numbers, one or both of which might possess a significance exclusively evil, which is absurd.
As an instance of the simple polarity above referred to on any given number, we may take the number 46, on which appear the words
A more subtle contrast is observable in the case of OinoV (Oinos) - Wine, and OxoV (Oxos) - Vinegar, both of which are 400 by Gematria.
A further and very striking instance of this polarity is found on the number 1500, shewing the antithesis between Light and Darkness, thus
Other contrasted meanings are obtained on two successive numbers. This is sometimes effected by the use of the Alpha, which is the Greek negative, and which seems happily adjusted to this use, for, as as has already been shewn, two successive numbers are often to be regarded as two expressions of the same value, the greater or lesser computation of some geometric quantity which cannot be expressed more definitely, as it is fractional.
So we find such pairs as
In this power of choice comes in a possible scope for the Inspirational element in interpretation, prompting the student in his choice to test all values by the standards of Life and not of Death. “The Spirit beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.” Our Cosmos presents itself to us under the laws of Light and Darkness, and between these our spiritual choice is made.
The importance of this choice in these days can scarcely be over estimated, for too often spiritual imagery is accorded interpretation in the material sense, leading to the misapplication of a well-intentioned effort, and thus to waste and to confusion.
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