Gematria is stray Pythagoreanism

What is Gematria?

Gematria is the pseudo-science that determines the meaning-essence of a word from its numerical value.

Hebrew is one of those languages whose letters do double duty, for they also represent numbers. This happens when a culture does not have a separate symbol set for counting. Anyway, a side effect of this frugal feature is that all words are numbers. You add up the letters. Great so far.

The next step is the science-y part. You collect all the words that add up to the same number and then zoom out. Can you see how they all share some one quality? That is the essence of the number. All words that add up to this number are inflections of the same occult essence, which is that … something you feel when you compare them, reflect on their similarities, and abstract this as an essence.

Gematria is Pythagoreanism gone astray. Pythagoras held that all the qualities of the physical world are the manifestations of number. Facts of reality are facts of number. Qualities are number, though we just can’t see this identity at first glance. This is true, of course, but not in the simple immediate way that Pythagoras imagined. Gematria is one of these errant species of his general thesis that is still with us today. It is popular with occultists in the Golden Dawn lineage. These Brits just took whatever had been translated into Latin and English—Christian Kabbalah and bits of Jewish mystical practice. Gematria was one of the practices, so it was absorbed.

Gematria is an officially forbidden occult practice according to asinine Pauline Christians. Even though Christianity was supposed to be freeing from legal punctiliousness, metaphysical speculation that impinges on Bible territory is forbidden. It is ironic that Judaism, the allegedly benighted parent of Christianity, is less afraid of mystical speculation than its Greek-mythological foster child.

Another irony
Ironically, gematria has come back in style by the strongly anti-occult Alex Jones-type right wing conspiracy fans. The Satanic Panic of the 1980s is back, but it’s finally reduced its scope to “the elite”—meaning tolerant rich people with power over public policy. They like darkies and they like gays, so they’re probably the Satanists that used to run day care centers (but never did).

The contemporary right wing (racist and punishment-loving) conspiracy movement is the vilest and most ignorant flower of Evangelical Christianity, the most strongly anti-occult in all of Protestantism. Yet they use the very occult practices forbidden by Paul to make their points. They use gematria, for example, to prove that Obama is really a reptile or that someone is a member of the (non-existent) “Illuminati.” (See this intelligent sounding but ungrammatical and meandering website for example. It attacks gematria as truly Satanic—it is Jewish, after all—yet the same author uses it to prove that Obama is really a reptile and that Bill and Hillary are members of the (non-existent) “Illuminati.”)

It is always painful when a private joy is coopted by evil and ignorant assholes, yet this seems to have happened to the forbidden (and therefore fun) word games so beloved by young American Crowleyites and other occultists.

An excursion into how Pythagoras was right

Pythagoras knew that nature is interlocked by invariable ratios, and he guessed that the qualities of things are also effects of quantity. But he took this relation to be identity—that numbers as such are full of qualitative content. Sensible and meaningful presentations are, at bottom, numbers. In the words of the Lucid One, Jacob Bronowski:

Pythagoras had found that the chords which sound pleasing to the ear—the western ear—correspond to exact divisions of the string by whole numbers. To the Pythagoreans that discovery had a mystic force. The agreement between nature and number was so cogent that it persuaded them that not only the sounds of nature, but all her characteristic dimensions, must be simple numbers that express harmonies. For example, Pythagoras or his followers believed that we should be able to calculate the orbits of the heavenly bodies (which the Greeks pictured as carried round the earth on crystal spheres) by relating them to the musical intervals.

Pythagoras was the most right mystic in world history. He’s the only to have made good empirically with his mystical revelation about the nature of ultimate ontological simples. Science became perfect when it became knowledge by way mathematical construction.

The quality of greenness really is a number: the energy imparted to special proteins in cone cells. The energy comes from light in the form of its frequency at the point of impact. This received frequency, in turn, is the product of the motion of a wave. The energy has now been traced back to a figural feature of the light itself—its wavelength. This is a spatial span, but by introducing units we can convert it—finally!—into a number. So Pythagoras was right. Nature qua known really is number, all the way down.

Today we know that this reductive relation of quality to quantity is many-mediated and not one of simple identity. We explain the emergence of quality from quantity, but only through a distance of emergence, which is complexity.

But in our deepest reductions, in particle physics, we really are entering an ontological domain of pure number. For example, wetness is pretty meaty in the quality department, yet we know it reduces to an abstractum that has no resemblance to anything remotely empirical—the quantum number. Wetness is the very weak coherence of molecules loosely attracted to each other. In the case of water, it is the hydrogen bonds tugging molecules of H2O at their H-poles.

Now, the electromagnetic force is still meaty, still smacking of quality. We aren’t done. The electromagnetic force in turn reduces to motion and position. The meaty notions of force and field give way to the mere motion of the force particle (the photon) whose magnitude of force in this case is determined by a number having no quality at all—the filling-up of an electron shell. And this is determined by fixed quantum numbers that determine the distance of electron shell s1. This number is the mother of wetness.

So Pythagoras was right after all. Every aspect of nature—object, property, and relation—can be analyzed into a basis of pure number.

Gematria is crap

And now I am reminded of the original topic. I just wanted to say that gematria is the result of taking Pythagoras’ epoch-making idea and applying it to the wrong domain. It does not work with letters to determine occult word essences. But it does work with physical objects.