A Little Bit of Symbols: An Introduction to Symbolism - Henry Reed (2016)
Chapter 9. A MEASURE OF THE MIND-OF-GOD: THE SYMBOLISM OF NUMBERS
How could something so precise as numbers have the kind of suggestive or evocative qualities needed to drive the symbolic process? Two plus two equals four, and four equals four, nothing more, nothing less. Equals and symbolizes imply very different correspondences, as we know. It doesn’t seem possible that such abstract things like numbers could have proven symbolic significance. But they do!
What about having a lucky number? What makes it special? What does thinking about that number bring to mind? Answering such questions is a good review lesson concerning how symbolism works its charms.
I first entered into the realm of number symbolism in fourth grade. We were working on learning our multiplication tables. I had to memorize a lot. To simplify my task, I visualized arrangements of marbles, the coin of my realm at that time. To visualize two times two, which equals four, I would see a square of marbles, arranged two by two. As I learned how to find what little numbers make up big numbers, I found the marble approach helpful.
There are so many possibilities. As always, the properties of something are the source of its symbolic energy. Explore the properties of numbers that allow them to be arranged in various patterns. It can be very entertaining, with perhaps the symbolism process working in the faraway background, to arrange large numbers of marbles into different patterns.
Another way of getting into the symbolism of numbers is by thinking about how we learned to count. Experts believe that numbers began by counting things on our fingers, giving the number ten its importance. Our standard arithmetic, and the way we write it out, is based upon ten and its square, one hundred, then one thousand, etc.
Add the toes to the fingers, and we get twenty. The Mayans used this vigesimal, or base twenty, system in their astronomical calculations to become more accurate in heavenly calculations than the earlier Mesopotamians.
The Mesopotamians favored the number sixty as a basis for counting. This decision comes from their counting the days in an annual seasonal cycle (they counted 360, off by a bit more than five days). Also, using a compass to draw a circle, that same compass setting will walk around the circle’s circumference in six steps. These six points define a hexagon created by six triangles.
Triangles are crucial to construction. The number three is the smallest number that allows for creating a boundary and enclosing some space. As carpenters know, the triangle is the most simple and stable of the forms in construction. No wonder that they say, “Three times a charm,” although that might not be the original reason for saying it. Yet, in so many stories, having to do something three times, or if something happens three times, makes it real, or committed, solid, true.
Being “true” can also be a term referring to the number four, as implied in the “four corners” of Earth, or “four directions.” The Masons established their ideals based on their being “on the level.” Being square with level makes something plumb upright and predictable. No matter where along the construction we might go, everything remains in square relationship to each other.
Pythagoras was the ancient Greek genius who figured out the length of the shortcut between opposite corners of a square (and thus finding a relationship between the square and the triangle). He then devised an entire religion out of what he and his students discovered about the properties of numbers. He discovered how those properties are mirrored in what we hear as music—the musical scale. Today the study of “sacred geometry” finds many correspondences between the mathematics of music and the geometry of the objects in creation.
The numbers one, four, seven, and twelve are the most frequent stars of the number family when it comes to spiritual or metaphysical traditions. Researching the history of the symbolization of these numbers finds that looking skyward, toward the gods, stars, planets, and moon, has played a significant role in the reputation of these numbers. There are the twelve signs of the zodiac, for example, giving us the twelve months of the year. There are four phases of the moon, each seven days long. The cycles of life, in its various manifestations, become yet another mode of expression that nature uses to suggest its secrets.
The number 147 is constructed of three multiplied by seven multiplied by seven. [On the other hand, if you were to look at it as 1+4+7, then it would give you 12, another special number, and then, 1+2 would be 3.] Suddenly, the number 147 is full of surprises. This latter procedure is that of numerology, a unique system of working with numbers symbolically. In that divinatory discipline, any number, regardless of size, can be equated to one of the nine single digits by adding up the digits comprising that number until a single digit results. Each digit has a particular symbolic domain within a framework of a complete digital cycle.
Should a person become stalked by a particular number appearing repeatedly, perhaps almost magically, then certain strategies might apply. First, the number may be a prod from memory, associated with a past incident wishing to be used to understand something in the present. Second, the source of the attraction or curiosity may be explored in the numerical constituents of the number, as in the different numerical patterns it’s possible to make from that many marbles. Third, the digits used to signify the number may be combined to result in a final single digit for numerological interpretation.
Meditating on the number and looking for it to appear in a dream, or in daily life, may provide a context that would reflect some added meaning. Using the number as a basis for an arts or crafts project offers interesting possibilities. Preparing a little “offering” for the spirit of a symbol can result in an increased sense of relationship with that symbol. Flatter the gods that rule that number and its relatives, and your efforts to understand a particular number might receive a special blessing.
SOME SYMBOLS TO SAMPLE
Triangles get tight.
I could count on one hand.
It’s as easy as …
SOME SYMBOLS TO SAMPLE
Count your beads.
They either are, or they’re not.
Often seen in nature
Shadow and light