A Brief History of Pythagorean Numerology

There are as many different numerologies in the world as there are developed cultures, since wise people have realised that there is a connection between the Creation, the numbers and the reality of our world a long time ago. In this section, we are going to focus on only one kind of numerology: the one associated with Pythagoras.

The Life of Pythagoras

It all began more than 2500 years ago on Samos, a small island in the Mediterranean. Born there was a person who can rightfully be called the very first philosopher of humanity. This is because it was exactly Pythagoras who has coined the word philosophy.

In those times, the Mediterranean was a major center of the world's civilization, and the young Pythagoras traveled around a great deal in order to find all the available sources of ancient wisdom. He spent 22 years in Egypt absorbing the knowledge of its ancient civilization, he studied with the wise people of Babylon, and journeyed to Persia in order to familiarize himself with the Zoroastrian tradition, and he even met the mysterious Hyperboreans. The sphere of his interests was not limited to the sciences, although he was strongly interested in mathematics, but also included religious systems. As a result, Pythagoras was initiated into the mysteries of several cultures.

By the time he was 40 years old, Pythagoras had settled in Southern Italy, established his school and presented his teachings to the humanity. The scale of that teaching and its impact on human civilization were so great that even now, after several millennia, the name of Pythagoras is known to practically every shool kid.

Ironically though, the proof of the theorem attributed to Pythagoras in the school textbooks is probably one of his least achievements. After all, the fact that the sum of the squares of two legs gives the square of hypotenuse was already well known in Egypt and Babylon long before Pythagoras came along. Yet his philosophical system was so impressive that the ever-famous Plato could even be thought of as merely one of Pythagoras’s followers.

However, the interests of Pythagoras weren't exclusively abstract or theoretical. He spent plenty of time researching into music and its application to healing, or as a means of restoring the vibrational balance of one's system. Pythagoras believed that music is an art in which numbers reach directly to the heart, whereas in mathematics they just occupy the brain.

It is clear that philosophy, as understood by Pythagoras, was very different from how it is understood now. It had more in common with some concepts of Indian yoga. Consider this: Pythagoras completely accepted the idea of a cycle of numerous incarnations of a human soul and believed that the exit from that circle was found not through religious rituals but through philosophy, i.e., contemplation and comprehension of the main principles of Creation. Philosophy, in his understanding, was a path of perfecting the soul, a path to immortality.

Numbers are at the very core of Pythagoras’s teachings, but his understanding of numbers was very different from the contemporary one. Now we understand numbers in a concrete, utilitarian way (two apples, three dollars, etc.), or like a sort of exercise for one's brain (the dreaded math with which we were all fed up at school and believed we’d never use it in real life).

For Pythagoras, numbers, especially the first ten, are the highest manifestations of the Creative Principle in the creation of our world. They can be called the different aspects of the Creator of the Universe. Interacting and gradually descending from the world of ideas into the world of matter, the numbers create, according to their rules, everyone and everything.

To show that this idea might be not just a wild speculation, consider that according to contemporary physics, at some deep level, microparticles and the quanta of energy are indistinguishable. In other words, material particles are in fact bundles of energy, or electromagnetic waves. And waves—or vibrations—are directly related to the numbers that define their frequency.

From Theory to Practice

Enough theoretical speculations for now. Let's concentrate on life’s utilitarian, practical application of numbers. We are all used to counting things, using money, applying numbers to our cars, telephones, addresses, and so on. The day, month and year of a person's birth also contain their numbers. Numbers surround us everywhere. And even though this is true, we do not think about them in terms of bearing some special mystical properties, but rather we are simply using them for convenience, taking one or another sequence of numbers as yet another random thing in our chaotic and senseless world.

Still, sooner or later many of us start asking questions the answers to which cannot be found in either schoolbooks or academic treatises. What are we doing in this world? Is there any reason for our existence here? Is the world really as chaotic and void of any sense as it seems to be? Are we really here simply to hang around in this chaos and somehow come to our natural end? Or does our existence have some purpose? Is there perhaps something that we are supposed to learn in our lives? Is there someone or something that can help us to understand what's going on, which path to take so that we can eventually reach our true destination?

Questions like these have been asked since man’s beginning on this Earth. To some people, these kinds of questions come early in youth, while others need to gain some life experience before they start asking these things, and there are still others who simply can't be bothered with them.

Understanding the connection between the everyday numbers that surround us and the Numbers (with a capital N), which are the acting principles of the universe, is important in our search for the answers to the questions above. This is where numerology comes in.

In the lessons that follow, I will share with you my fascination with the wonders of the universe, as seen with the help of the tools of practical numerology. I don't promise that you will understand everything about your life and the surrounding world, but if you were to get even the smallest glimpse of understanding, this could prove to be very important. After all, even a tiny lantern is much better than complete darkness.

More History

Below you'll find a collection of bits and pieces of information that will help you to better understand the history of Numerology. I plan to add more to this collection from time to time.

Isopsephy and Gematria

The history of numerology is closely related to the invention of alphabet. Since letters of alphabet were also used to record numbers, each and every word could be given a numeric value. The process of adding together the numeric values of separate letters to obtain a value for the whole word was called by the Greeks Isopsephy. Later, when this method was used to interpret the Torah, it was called Gematria.

Isopsephy was widely used by the Greeks in magic and interpretation of dreams. According to tradition, Pythagoras used isopsephy for divination. The idea is that if two words or two phrases have the same numeric value, then there is some kind of an invisible link between them. For example, Jesus in Greek (Ιησούς) adds up to 888, as well as the phrase "I am life" (η ζωη ειμι). Clearly, Christians felt this made a lot of sense.

As you will see, the approach that is used today to obtain the numeric value of a name or a word is substantially different from the method used in isopsephy.

Katapayadi Varga

This is a system of Vedic numerology which I've met across when studying Jyotish, Vedic astrology. Some prominent contemporary Jyotish scholars believe that ancient astrologers, like the famous Maharishi Jaimini, used Katapayadi Varga to encode secret messages in their works, and that complete understanding of their works is impossible without the knowledge of this system of numerology.

In it, numbers are strongly associated with the structure of the Sanscrit alphabet. As a result, each letter maps to a number from 0 to 9. A word then can be represented as a sequence of numbers, one number for each letter, for example it could be 30247 for some word made of five letters. To discover the hidden meaning of the word, a multiple of 12 would have to be subtracted from the resulting number so that the result was in the range from 1 to 12. In our example, the result is 7, so the word is in some way related to the seventh house of the horoscope, or to the seventh sign of the zodiac, Libra.

Again, you will see in the following lessons that the way how the numerological meaning of words is defined in the Western practical numerology is very different. Still, it is interesting to see how different cultures used or are using numbers not just for counting objects or money.