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Celtic Numerology

Subject: Celtic Numerology

   Text only Version

                              by Mike Nichols

   ...I have been a word among letters.' --the Book of Taliesyn, VIII

   What's in a word? Or a name? What special power resides in a word,
   connecting it so intimately to the very thing it symbolizes? Does each
   word or name have its own 'vibration', as is generally believed by
   those of us who follow the Western occult tradition? And if so, how do
   we begin to unravel its meaning? Just what, exactly, is in a word?
   Well, LETTERS are in a word. In fact, letters COMPRISE the word. Which
   is why Taliesyn's remark had always puzzled me. Why didn't he say he
   had been a 'letter among words'? That, at least, would seem to make
   more logical sense than saying he had been a 'word among letters',
   which seems backwards. Unless...

   Unless he was trying to tell us that the word is NOT the important
   thing -- the critical thing is the LETTERS that make up a word! The
   Welsh bard Taliesyn was, after all, a pretty gifted fellow. He
   certainly put all the other bards at Maelgwyn's court to shame. And
   over the years, I've learned never to take his statements lightly --
   even his most enigmatic statements. Perhaps he was really suggesting
   that, in order to understand the true meaning of a word or name, one
   must first analyze the letters that comprise it. Of course, this is
   certainly not a new theory. Any student of arcane lore would at once
   recognize this concept as belonging in the opening remarks of any
   standard text on numerology. But to read the same meaning behind a
   line of poetry penned by a 6th century Welsh bard may be a bit
   surprising. Is it possible that the Celts had their own system of

   Let us begin the quest by asking ourselves what we know about
   numerology in general. Most of our modern knowledge of numerology has
   been gleaned from ancient Hebrew tradition, which states that the true
   essence of anything is enshrined in its name. But there are so many
   names and words in any given language that it becomes necessary to
   reduce each word to one of a small number of 'types' -- in this case,
   numerological types from 1 to 9 (plus any master numbers of 11, 22,
   etc.). This is easily accomplished by assigning a numerical value to
   each letter of the alphabet, i.e. A=1, B=2, C=3, and so on. Thus, to
   obtain the numerical value of any word, one simply has to add up the
   numerical values of all the letters which comprise the word. If the
   sum is a two digit number, the two digits are then added to each other
   (except in the case of 11, 22, etc.) to obtain the single digit
   numerical value of the entire word, which may then be analyzed by
   traditional Pythagorean standards.

   The problem has always been how to be sure of the numerical value of
   each letter. Why SHOULD A equal 1, or B equal 2, or Q equal 8? Where
   did these values come from? Who assigned them? Fortunately, the answer
   to this is quite simple in most cases. Many ancient languages used
   letters of the alphabet to stand for numbers (Roman numerals being the
   most familiar example). Ancient Hebrew, for instance, had no purely
   numerical symbols -- like our 1, 2, 3, etc. -- so their letters of the
   alphabet had to do double duty as numbers as well. One had to discern
   from the context whether the symbol was meant as letter or number.
   This was true of classical Latin, as well. Thus, in languages such as
   these, it is easy to see how a number became associated with a letter:
   the letter WAS the number.

   It is a bit more difficult to see how the associations in 'modern'
   numerology came into being. The modern numerological table consists of
   the numbers 1 through 9, under which the alphabet from A through Z is
   written in standard order:

                      1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8        9
                      A B C D E F G H        I
                      J K L M N O P Q        R
                      S T U V W X Y Z

   This arrangement seems somewhat arbitrary, at best. At the very least,
   it is difficult to sense any 'intrinsically meaningful' relationship
   between a letter and its numerical value. After all, our modern
   alphabetical symbols and our modern numerical symbols (Arabic) come
   from two completely different sources and cultures.

   For this reason, many contemporary numerologists prefer the ancient
   Hebrew system because, at least here, there is a known connection
   between letter and number. However, when we attempt to adapt this
   system to the English language, a whole new set of problems crops up.
   For one, the entire alphabet is arranged in a different order and some
   of our modern letters have NO Hebrew equivalents. Thus, based on the
   Hebrew alphabet, the only letters for which we have numerical values
   are the following:

                       1 2 3 4 5 6 7        8
                       A B G D H V Z        P
                       Y K L M N W  
                       Q R S T      

   Obviously, a modern numerologist wouldn't get very far with this
   table. In order to compensate for the missing letters in the Hebrew
   system, most modern textbooks on numerology 'fill in' the missing
   letters by 'borrowing' numerical values from the Greek alphabet, thus
   mixing cultural symbols in an eclectic approach that is not entirely

   Another problem is the exclusion of the number 9 from the table --
   which modern textbooks often 'explain' by saying that the Hebrews did
   not use the number 9, since it was a 'sacred' and 'mystical' number.
   The real truth, however, is far less esoteric. The fact is, the Hebrew
   alphabet DID have letters with the numerical value of 9 -- the letters
   Teth and Sade. But, since Teth and Sade do not have equivalents in our
   modern English alphabet, the 9 value must be left out.

   And finally, it is once again difficult to see any INTRINSIC
   relationship between a Hebrew letter and the number it represents. Why
   should one symbol stand for 1, or another for 2, or yet another for 3,
   and so on? The whole superstructure seems somewhat shakey.

   But let us now turn our attention to a Celtic alphabetic system called
   the 'Ogham'. This alphabet is written by making a number of short
   strokes (from 1 to 5) below, above, or through a 'base line' (which in
   practice tended to be the edge of a standing stone). Thus, A, O, U, E,
   and I would be written, respectively:


   Of course, in this system it is easy to see how a letter becomes
   associated with a number, since the numerical value of each letter is
   implicit. Thus, A=1, O=2, U=3, E=4, and I=5. (It is true there is much
   disagreement and confusion among modern scholars as to how the Ogham
   alphabet should be rendered. Further, a number of different Oghams
   seem to have been employed at various times by different Celtic
   cultures. But this confusion usually centers on whether the strokes
   should be above, below, or through the base line -- NOT on the number
   of strokes used. On that point, there is general agreement. And though
   orientation to the base line is important, it is not essential to our
   discussion of numerology, since we need only concern ourselves with
   the NUMBER of strokes used.)

   Thus, based on the work of such scholars as P.C. Power, S. Ferguson,
   D. Diringer, I. Williams, L. Spence, and D. Conway, I have synthesized
   the following table of Celtic numerology:

                         1 2 3 4         5
                         A D T C         I
                         B G U E         N
                         H L V F         P
                         M O W J         Q
                         X K R  
                         S Y    

   Using this table, the student of Celtic numerology would then proceed
   to analyze any word in the generally accepted manner. One should not
   be concerned that the numbers 6, 7, 8, and 9 do not appear in this
   system, as the Ogham alphabet had NO letters with these values (as
   opposed to the Hebrew alphabet which DID have letters with the missing
   9 value, as mentioned earlier). Another consideration is that the
   Ogham alphabet is just that -- an alphabet. It never represented any
   particular language, and historically it has been employed by many
   different languages. Again by contrast, the Hebrew alphabet was
   structured for a particular language -- Hebrew -- and many problems
   arise when we attempt to adapt it to a language for which it is not

   Although the Ogham alphabet only has letter values from 1 through 5,
   all of the numbers from 1 through 9 (plus any master numbers of 11,
   22, etc.) will be used in the final analysis (just as in the Hebrew
   system). To understand how this works, let us try an example. We will
   use the name of the Welsh goddess Rhiannon:

                       R + H + I + A + N + N + O + N
                     5 + 1 + 5 + 1 + 5 + 5 + 2 + 5 = 29
                                 2 + 9 = 11

   Most numerologists will agree that 11 is a 'master number' or 'power
   number' and therefore it is not further reduced by adding the two
   digits (although, if one does this, 1 + 1 = 2, and 2 is considered the
   first even and feminine number in the numerical sequence, certainly
   appropriate for a Welsh Mother Goddess). Viewed as an 11, the analysis
   is usually that of someone who is on a 'higher plane of existence'
   (certainly appropriate for a goddess), someone who brings 'mystical
   revelation'. Often this is someone who feels slightly distant from the
   people surrounding him or her, and who has trouble feeling any real
   empathy for them (which seems to fit a faery queen who has come to
   live in the land of mortals). Also, this is sometimes the number of
   the martyr, or of someone unjustly accused (which is certainly true of
   Rhiannon's story as told in the 'Mabinogi', in which she is falsely
   accused of destroying her own son).

   By way of contrast, the 'modern' system would have Rhiannon be a 3, a
   somewhat inappropriate masculine number (not that all feminine names
   should always yield a feminine number -- but one would at least expect
   it to do so in the case of an archetypal mother goddess). The Hebrew
   system would yield an even more inappropriate 4, that being the number
   of the material world and all things physical (and since Rhiannon
   hails from faery, she is definitely not of this material plane.)

   By now, some of my more thoughtful readers may think they see some
   inconsistency in my approach. Why have I gone to so much trouble to
   point up the flaws in traditional systems of numerology (even going so
   far as to suggest an entirely new system), only to fall back on
   interpretations of the numbers that are strictly traditional? The
   reason is this: all of my objections thus far have been limited to
   METHODOLOGY. When it comes to interpreting the meaning of the numbers,
   I have no quarrel with the traditional approach, since here we enter
   the field of universal symbolism. All systems of numerology, be they
   Hebrew, modern, Oriental, or whatever, tend to attach the same
   interpretive meaning to the numbers. When Three Dog Night sings, 'One
   is the loneliest number that you'll ever know...', it is a statement
   which is immediately understood and agreed upon by people from widely
   diverse cultures. And the same holds true for all other numbers, for
   we are here dealing with archetypal symbols.

   It is worth repeating that, although I believe this system to have a
   firm theoretical basis, it is still in an embryonic state -- highly
   tentative, highly speculative. To the best of my knowledge, it is also
   an original contribution to the field of numerology. While some
   writers (notably Robert Graves in 'The White Goddess') have dealt with
   the numerical values of Ogham letters, I believe this article is the
   first instance of employing it specifically as a system of numerology.
   I have spent many long hours working with Celtic numerology -- putting
   abstract theory to use in practical application -- but much work
   remains to be done. For this reason, I would be happy to hear from
   readers who are interested in the subject and who would like to share
   their own experiences and thoughts.

              Document Copyright  1978, 1998 by Mike Nichols

   This document can be re-published only as long as no information is
   lost or changed, credit is given to the author, and it is provided or
   used without cost to others. Other uses of this document must be
   approved in writing by Mike Nichols. Revised: Thursday, April 2, 1998


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