Numerology is any system that believes in or assigns numbers a meaning beyond their mathematical meaning and/or connects numbers and patterns found in groups of numbers with events, objects, or people in the real world. There are a number of numerological systems, and a numerologist is someone who practices numerology or provides occult interpretations of numbers using one of these systems.
The origins of numerology are traced to the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Pythagoras, who said that all things can be expressed in terms of numbers, and his followers, the Pythagoreans. In their view, each number had a mystical meaning. We can see reverberations of this sort of thinking even in those who don’t believe in numerology, but—for example—have a lucky number.
In its infancy, the approach to numbers as sources of revelation was called arithomancy or arithmancy. These approaches to numbers—used in early times by Chaldeans, Greeks, and Hebrews—align the letters of the alphabet used by the culture with the set of numbers according to some standardized rule. Thus, any word can be rendered in a numeric form by a numerologist, who adds the individual values together, and interprets the meaning of the results. A numerologist today, using a similar system, might interpret a person’s name to reveal his or her character, talents, aptitudes, and future. Some say that from a person’s name, a numerologist can divine a person’s inner life, outer life, and path.
Arithmancy and numerology, although having ancient origins, are still of keen interest to many people today. You may be familiar with the second word because this was the name of a course that Hermione took in the Harry Potter book The Prisoner of Azkaban. There are many websites devoted to arithmancy or numerology and Harry Potter. Today’s numerologists may have close ties to astrology or tarot. The practice is also linked in current times to the I-Ching and Feng Shui, as well as to Kabbalah or Qabbalah.
The Hebrew practice of numerology associated with the Kabbalah is called gematria or gimatria. It is a form of alphabetic substitution use by a numerologist to unlock hidden meanings of scriptural and other texts. In this system, the numbers one through ten are aligned with the first ten letters of the Hebrew alphabet; the multiples of ten from 20 to 90 are aligned with the next eight; and the first four hundreds—100, 200, 300, and 400—are aligned with the final four letters. English has four more letters in its alphabet than Hebrew, and the numerical associations are different for today’s numerologists. But the underlying search for meaning and understanding in both pursuits still have much in common.