Numbers have been used mystically in relation to letters since at least the 8th century BCE. There are a few different systems for assigning numbers to letters, but many people (including myself) use a chart like this:
Pythagoras and his followers believed that everything in this world could be explained by numbers. Numbers could be assigned to anything, and that would give us a better understanding of the world. It might be a bit different from what he meant, but we do use a lot of numbers to make sense of the world now, so I'm giving him at least partial credit.
So how does this chart work? Well, you take a word, turn the letters into numbers, then add all those numbers up. Then break apart the digits and add those numbers up. Repeat until you have one digit, then determine something about that word based on the number you get.
Let's try a simple word as an example. "Cat."
C = 3
A = 1
T = 2
3 + 1 + 2 = 6
Okay, we got 6. But what does that mean? There are a few things we can see for ourselves: this is an even number, so there's a balance to it. This is not a prime number, so it's nothing especially weird or unique.
Okay, great. Cats are generally calm (balanced) and not uncommon (not a prime number). But that's not a lot to go on. What else does "6" mean?
The Pythagoreans had specific meanings assigned to each number. They also had a few general rules (even numbers are female, odd numbers are male; check out my post about gender in magic). You can read more about the reasoning behind these meanings here, but I'll give you a short list of keywords for 1-9. 1. Unity, beginnings 2. Duality
4. Order, balance
5. Marriage, life
7. Lucky, mystical
9. Pain, sadness
As you can see, "cat" is 6, meaning they are purr-fect. It's simply a mathematical fact. Sorry, dog people. (At least dogs are fortunate, I guess.)
Numbers are also considered important in holy books. Given that Christianity is the dominant religion where I live, the Bible is the one I'm familiar with, so we'll look at that.
1. God was the only thing that existed, so 1 is considered to be unity, everything all together before creation. 2. Adam and Eve were made, two "opposite" types of humans that complemented each other. Some people associate 2 with evil, since these two committed the original sin. Also because on the second day, God didn't say "and it was good."
Skipping ahead a bit...
7. It took 6 days to make everything, then God spent the 7th day resting. 7 is a number of luck, maybe because God was so happy to take a break.
Another little skip...
12. Jesus had 12 loyal disciples. 12 is a good number.
13. This one is unlucky because Jesus + 12 = 13, and one of those 12 betrayed him.
You can see a chart of keywords here.
Numbers play a big role in tarot decks, too. In fact, the numbers and court cards can be boiled down into basic concepts that, when put together, have specific meanings.
That's it for this week. Stay safe!