Monday, January 21, 2013

The Sacred Art of Numbers

Numbers at Play

Numbers are a special group of symbols. They were created in the Beginning as all symbols were but numbers serve a unique function.

The meaning of many symbols has become encrypted with cultural and other protocols so they are obscured to all but the initiated. Number, however, do have a more universal quality about them that allows them to cross cultural and temporal barriers.

Numbers have a special place in our history and in our spirit. The Bible contributes and entire section, The Book of Numbers, to the subject of numbers. It is filled with a plethora of Holy formulas, relationship, and accountings all expressed in numbers.

The Hebrew tradition is greatly indebted to the study and application of numbers. The Hebrew alphabet is concurrently an expression of letters and numbers that are at times used in tandem and at other times used separately.

In one form or another numbers have been used as long as we can understand the history of people. But for our purposes perhaps the greatest philosopher of numbers was the Greek scholar Pythagoras. Likely born on the island of Samos near Ionia in about 570 B.C. (the exact date is not known) he lived and taught for about 70 years. He is considered the father of number theory.

Joscelyn Godwin writes, “ his emphasis on Number...revealed the secret without which modern technology would have been impossible. It is applied mathematics, after all, that has led to the so-called conquest of Nature. But at the same time, and much more importantly, Pythagoras taught the metaphysical and sacred aspect of Number as reflecting the One and its emanations.”

It is the metaphysical aspects of numbers that are the basis for numerology and cartomancy which is the study of how numbers relate to humans and their condition. This study of numbers was know in Biblical times and before. The work of Pythagoras helped us to understand the cosmic aspects of numbers as they relate to heaven and nature.

Modern man rudely uses numbers only in their counting function or as a shorthand language to express concepts. David Fideler writes of Pythagoras, “What we do know is that a metaphysical philosophy of Number lay at the heart of his thought and teaching permeating...even the domains of psychology, ethics and political philosophy.” He continues, “Pythagorean understanding of Number is quite different from the predominately quantitative understanding of today. For the Pythagorean, Number is a living, qualitative reality which must be approached in an experiential manner. Whereas the typical modern usage of number is as a sign, to denote a specific quantity or amount, the Pythagorean usage is not, in a sense, even a usage at all: Number is not something to be used; rather, its nature is to be discovered.”

These days we have stripped numbers down to their barest utilitarian elements causing these symbols to be viewed as a token that stands in for something we are counting. This minimalist “counting function” pervades the thinking of nearly everyone and deprives people of the vastly larger carrying capacity that numbers have for storing data.

If we can understand that all thing come from the One which is the unity, while Two opens up duality and conflict but the possibility of knowledge then we can begin to comprehend a larger role for numbers particularly those from 1 to 10. The data stored in number symbols is enormous. However, it takes a mind open to metaphor and allegory to peek inside and view the secrets that numbers hold.

Quotations from:

“Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library”, David Fideler editor, 1987

More about symbols: Click Here

Illustration: "Numbers at Play", 4"x4", Ink on paper, A Ann Reif, 2013


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