THEOSOPHY, Vol. 45, No. 2, December, 1956
(Pages 74-80; Size: 21K)
THE SYMBOLISM OF NUMBERS(1)
[Part 3 of a 4-part series]
IN ancient Symbolism it was always the SUN (though the Spiritual, not the visible, Sun was meant) that was supposed to send forth the chief Saviours and Avatars. Hence the connecting link between the Buddhas, the Avatars, and so many other incarnations of the highest SEVEN. The closer the approach to one's Prototype, "in Heaven," the better for the mortal whose personality was chosen, by his own personal deity (the seventh principle), as its terrestrial abode. For, with every effort of will toward purification and unity with that "Self-god," one of the lower rays breaks and the spiritual entity of man is drawn higher and ever higher to the ray that supersedes the first, until, from ray to ray, the inner man is drawn into the one and highest beam of the Parent-SUN. Thus, "the events of humanity do run coordinately with the number forms," since the single units of that humanity proceed one and all from the same source -- the central and its shadow the visible SUN. For the equinoxes and solstices, the periods and various phases of the Solar course, astronomically and numerically expressed, are only the concrete symbols of the eternally living verity, though they do seem abstract ideas to uninitiated mortals.
Number Seven, the fundamental figure among all other figures in every national religious system, from Cosmogony down to man, must have its raison d'étre. It is found among the ancient Americans, as prominently as among the Archaic Aryans and Egyptians. Says the author of the "Sacred Mysteries among the Mayas and Quiches, 11,500 years ago": "Seven seems to have been the sacred number par excellence among all civilized nations of antiquity. Why? Each separate people has given a different explanation, according to the peculiar tenets of their (exoteric) religion. That this was the number of numbers for those initiated into the sacred mysteries, there can be no doubt. Pythagoras ... calls it the 'Vehicle of Life' containing body and soul, since it is formed of a Quaternary, that is Wisdom and Intellect, and of a Trinity or action and matter. The Emperor Julian, 'In matrem, etc.,' expresses himself thus: 'Were I to touch upon the initiation into our Sacred Mysteries, which the Chaldees Bacchized, respecting the seven-rayed god, lighting up the soul through him, I should say things unknown to the rabble, very unknown, but well known to the blessed Theurgists'."
And who, acquainted with the Puranas, the Book of the Dead, the Zendavesta, the Assyrian tiles, and finally the Bible, and who has observed the constant occurrence of the number seven, in these records of people living from the remotest times unconnected and so far apart, can regard as a coincidence the following fact, given by the same explorer of ancient Mysteries? Speaking of the prevalence of seven as a mystic number, among the inhabitants of the "Western continent" (of America), he adds that it is not less remarkable. For: "It frequently occurs in the Popul-vuh ... we find it besides in the seven families said by Sahagun and Clavigero to have accompanied the mystical personage named Votan, the reputed founder of the great city of Nachan, identified by some with Palenque. In the seven caves from which the ancestors of the Nahuatl are reported to have emerged. In the seven cities of Cibola, described by Coronado and Niza. ... In the seven Antilles; in the seven heroes who, we are told, escaped the Deluge ..."
"Heroes," moreover, whose number is found the same in every "Deluge" story -- from the seven Rishis who were saved with Vaivasvata Manu, down to Noah's ark, into which beasts, fowls, and living creatures were taken by "Sevens." Thus we see the figures 1, 3, 5, 7, as perfect, because thoroughly mystic, numbers playing a prominent part in every Cosmogony and evolution of living Beings. In China, 1, 3, 5, 7, are called "celestial numbers" in the canonical "Book of Changes."
The explanation of it becomes evident when one examines the ancient Symbols: all these are based upon and start from the figures given from the Archaic Manuscript.
The author of the Source of Measures says that the foundation of the Kabala and all its mystic books is made to rest upon the ten Sephiroth; which is a fundamental truth. The 10 is the first Divine Manifestation containing "every possible power of exact expression of proportion."
In Sepher Jezirah, or Numbers of Creation, the whole process of evolution is given out in Numbers. In its "32 paths of Wisdom" the number 3 is repeated four times, and the number 4 five times. Therefore, the Wisdom of God is contained in numbers (Sephrim or Sephiroth), for Sepher (or S-ph-ra when unvowelled) means "to cipher." And therefore, also, we find Plato stating that the deity geometrizes in fabricating the Universe.
It is a fact well known to every conscientious student of the Kabala, that the deeper he dives into it, the more he feels convinced that unless the Kabala -- or what is left of it -- is read by the light of the Eastern esoteric philosophy, its study leads only to the discovery that, on the lines traced by exoteric Judaism and Christianity, the monotheism of both is nothing more exalted than ancient Astrology, now vindicated by modern Astronomy. The Kabalists never cease to repeat that primal intelligence can never be understood. It cannot be comprehended, nor can it be located, therefore it has to remain nameless and negative. Hence the Ain-Soph -- the "UNKNOWABLE" and the "UNNAMEABLE" -- which, as it could not be made manifest, was conceived to emanate manifesting Powers. It is then with its emanations alone that human intellect has to, and can deal. Christian theology, having rejected the doctrine of emanations and replaced them with direct, conscious creations of angels and the rest out of nothing, now finds itself hopelessly stranded between Supernaturalism, or miracle, and materialism. An extra-cosmic god is fatal to philosophy, an intra-cosmic Deity -- i.e. Spirit and matter inseparable from each other -- is a philosophical necessity. Separate them and that which is left is a gross superstition under a mask of emotionalism. But why "geometrize," as Plato has it, why represent these emanations under the form of an immense arithmetical table? The question is well answered by the author just cited.
"Mental perception," he says, "to become physical perception, must have the Cosmic principle of light: and by this, our mental circle must become visible through light; or, for its complete manifestation, the Circle must be that of physical visibility, or Light itself. Such conceptions, thus formulated, became the groundwork of the philosophy of the divine manifesting in the Universe."
The early Gnostics claimed that their Science, the Gnosis, rested on a square, the angles of which represented respectively Sige (Silence), Bythos (depth), Nous (Spiritual Soul or Mind), and Aletheia (Truth).
For them the whole of the Universe, metaphysical and material, was contained within, and could be expressed and described by the digits of Number 10, the Pythagorean decade.
This Decade representing the Universe and its evolution out of Silence and the unknown Depths of the Spiritual Soul, or anima mundi, presented two sides or aspects to the student. It could be, and was at first so used and applied to the Macrocosm, after which it descended to the Microcosm, or Man. There was, then, the purely intellectual and metaphysical, or the "inner Science," and the as purely materialistic or "surface," both of which could be expounded by and contained in the Decade. It could be studied, in short, from the Universals of Plato, and the inductive method of Aristotle. The former started from a divine comprehension, when the plurality proceeded from unity, or the digits of the decade appeared, but to be finally re-absorbed, lost in the infinite Circle. The latter depended on sensuous perception alone, when the Decade could be regarded either as the unity that multiplies, or matter which differentiates, its study being limited to the plane surface; to the Cross, or the Seven which proceeds from the ten -- or the perfect number, on Earth as in heaven.
On the plane above, the Number is no Number but a nought -- a CIRCLE. On the plane below, it becomes one -- which is an odd number. Each letter of the ancient alphabets having had its philosophical meaning and raison d'étre, the number 1 signified with the Alexandrian Initiates a body erect, a living standing man, he being the only animal that has this privilege. And, by adding to the 1 a head, it was transformed into a P, a symbol of paternity, of the creative potency; while R signified a "moving man," one on his way. Hence PATER ZEUS had nothing sexual or phallic either in its sound or form of letters.
The Pythagoreans hated the binary. With them it was the origin of differentiation, hence of contrasts, discord, or matter, the beginning of evil. In the Valentinian theogony, Bythos and Sige (Depth, Chaos, matter born in Silence) are the primordial binary. With the early Pythagoreans, however, the duad was that imperfect state into which the first manifested being fell when it got detached from the Monad. It was the point from which the two roads -- the Good and the Evil -- bifurcated. All that which was double-faced or false was called by them "binary." ONE was alone Good, and Harmony, because no disharmony can proceed from one alone. Hence the Latin word Solus in relation to one and only God, the Unknown of Paul. Solus, however, very soon became Sol -- the Sun.
The ternary is truly the number of mystery par excellence. To study it on the exoteric lines one has to read Ragon's Cours Interprétatif des Initiations; on the esoteric -- the Hindu symbolism of numerals; as the combinations which were applied to it are numberless. It is on the occult properties of the three equal lines or sides of the Triangle that Ragon based his studies and founded the famous masonic society of the Trinosophists (those who study three sciences; an improvement upon the ordinary three masonic degrees, given to those who study nothing except eating and drinking at the meetings of their lodges). "The first line of the triangle offered to the apprentice for study," writes the founder, "is the mineral kingdom, symbolized by Tubalc ... (Tubal-cain). The second side on which the 'companion' has to meditate, is the vegetable kingdom, symbolized by Schibb ... (Schibboleth). In this kingdom begins the generation of the bodies. The third side is left to the master mason, who has to complete his education by the study of the animal kingdom. It is symbolized by Maoben ... (Sun of putrefaction)" etc., etc.
The first solid figure is the Quaternary, symbol of immortality. It is the pyramid: for the pyramid stands on a triangular, square, or polygonal base, and terminates with a point at the top, thus yielding the triad and the quaternary or the 3 and 4. It is the Pythagoreans who taught the connection and relation between the gods and the numbers -- in a Science called arithmomancy. The Soul is a number, they said, which moves of itself and contains the number 4; and spiritual and physical man is number 3, as the ternary represented for them not only the surface but also the principle of the formation of the physical body. Thus animals were ternaries only, man alone being a septenary, when virtuous; a quinary when bad, for:
Number 5 was composed of a binary and a ternary, which binary threw everything in the perfect form into disorder and confusion. The perfect man, they said, was a quaternary and a ternary, of four material and three immaterial elements; which three or elements we likewise find in 5, when it represents the microcosm. The latter is a compound of a binary directly relating to gross matter, and of three Spirits: "since 5 is the ingenious union of two Greek accents placed over vowels which have or have not to be aspirated. The first sign ' is called 'Strong Spirit' or superior Spirit, the spirit of God aspired (spiratus) and breathed by man. The second sign ' the lower, is the Spirit of Love, representing the secondary Spirit; the third embraces the whole man. It is the universal Quintessence, the vital fluid or Life." (Ragon.)
The more mystic meaning of 5 is given in an excellent article by Mr. Subba Row, in Five Years of Theosophy: "The Twelve Signs of the Zodiac" -- in which he gives some rules that may help the inquirer to ferret out "the deep significance of ancient Sanskrit nomenclature in the old Aryan myths and allegories."
It is easy to recognize in the two spirits -- the Greek accents or signs spoken of by Ragon -- Atma and Buddhi, or "divine spirit and its vehicle" (spiritual soul) .
The Ogdoad or 8 symbolizes the eternal and spiral motion of cycles, and is symbolized in its turn by the Caduceus. It shows the regular breathing of the Kosmos presided over by the eight great gods -- the seven from the primeval Mother, the One and the Triad.
Then comes the number nine or the triple ternary. It is the number which reproduces itself incessantly under all shapes and figures in every multiplication. It is the sign of every circumference, since its value in degrees is equal to 9, i.e., to 3+6+0. If number 6 was the symbol of our globe ready to be animated by a divine spirit, 9 symbolized our earth informed by a bad or evil spirit.
Ten, or the Decade, brings all these digits back to unity, and ends the Pythagorean table. Hence the figure [symbolizing] unity within zero was the symbol of Deity, or the Universe, and of man. Such is the secret meaning of "the strong grip of the Lion's paw, of the tribe of Judah" between two hands (the "master mason's grip"), the joint number of whose fingers is ten.
If we now give our attention to the Egyptian cross, or the Tau, we may discover this letter, so exalted by Egyptians, Greeks, and Jews, to be mysteriously connected with the Decade. The tau is the Alpha and Omega of secret divine Wisdom, which is symbolized by the initial and the final letter of Thot (Hermes). Thot was the inventor of the Egyptian alphabet, and the letter tau closed the alphabets of the Jews and the Samaritans, who called this character the "end" or "perfection," "culmination" and "security." Thence -- Ragon tells us -- the words terminus (end), and tectum (roof), are symbols of shelter and security, which is rather a prosaic definition. But such is the usual destiny of ideas and things in this world of spiritual decadence, if also of physical progress. PAN was at one time absolute nature, the one and GREAT-ALL; but when history catches a first glimpse of him, Pan has already tumbled down into a godling of the fields, a rural god, and history will not recognize him, while theology makes of him the devil. Yet his seven-piped flute, the emblem of the seven forces of nature, of the seven planets, the seven musical notes, of all the septenary harmony, in short, shows well his primordial character. So with the Cross. Far earlier than the Jews had devised their golden candlestick of the temple with three sockets on one side and four on the other, and made of number 7 a feminine number of generation, thus introducing the phallic element into religion, the more spiritually-minded had made of the cross (as 3, 4=7), their most sacred divine symbol. In fact, Circle, Cross, and Seven -- the latter being made a base of circular measurement -- are the first primordial symbols. Pythagoras, who brought his wisdom from India, left to posterity a glimpse into this truth. His school regarded number 7 as a compound of numbers 3 and 4, which they explained in a dual manner. On the plane of the noumenal world, the triangle was, as the first conception of the manifested Deity, its image: "Father-Mother-Son"; and the Quaternary, the perfect number, was the noumenal, ideal root of all numbers and things on the physical plane. Some students, in view of the sacredness of Tetraktis and the Tetragrammaton, mistake the mystic meaning of the Quaternary. The latter was with the ancients only a secondary "perfection," so to speak, because it related only to the manifested planes. Whereas it is the Triangle, the Greek delta, which was the "vehicle of the unknown Deity." A good proof of it lies with the name of the Deity beginning with Delta. Zeus was written Deus by the Boeothians, thence the Deus of the Latins. This, in relation to the metaphysical conception, with regard to the meaning of the Septenary in the phenomenal world, but for purposes of profane or exoteric interpretation, the symbolism changed. Three became the ideograph of the three material elements -- air, water, earth; and four became the principle of all that which is neither corporeal nor perceptible. But this has never been accepted by the real Pythagoreans. Viewed as a compound of 6 and 1, the senary and the unity, number seven was the invisible centre, the spirit of everything, as there exists no body with six lines constituting its form without a seventh being found as the central point in it (see crystals and snowflakes in so-called inanimate nature). Moreover, number seven, they said, has all the perfection of the UNIT -- the number of numbers. For as absolute unity is uncreated, and impartite (hence number-less) and no number can produce it, so the seven: no digit contained within the decade can beget or produce it. And it is 4, which affords an arithmetical division between unity and seven, as it surpasses the former by the same number (three), as it is itself surpassed by the seven, since four is by as many numbers above one, as seven is above four.
(To be concluded)
THE SYMBOLISM OF NUMBERS
[Part 4 of a 4-part series]
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