Numerology: A system of divination and magic based upon the concept that the universe is constructed in a mathematical pattern, and that all things may be expressed in numbers, which correspond to vibrations. — Rosemary Ellen Guiley, HARPER'S ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MYSTICAL & PARANORMAL EXPERIENCE (Castle Books, 1991), p. 237 , p. 409.
Whether Steiner’s doctrines contain numerological components is open to interpretation.
There can be no doubt, however, that Steiner found occult meaning in numbers.
(To understand what Steiner is driving at — as well as what he is trying to deny —
in some of the following statements, you need to know that he was an avowed occultist.
When he speaks of "real occult teaching," he means his own doctrines
and those previous occult teachings of which he approves.
All occult teachings of which he disapproves are, he indicates, superstitious and false.)
"[N]umbers and numerical proportions have a certain meaning for the cosmos and the world. It is in numbers, we might say, that the harmony that wells through space is expressed ... To those who are affected by the materialistic culture of our times it will appear as mere playfulness if it is believed that, through a consideration of numbers, it is possible to gain knowledge of the nature of things ... Real occult teaching knows nothing of witchcraft and magic, nor of a superstitious meaning of some number. Its knowledge rests on deeper things ... [N]umbers can give you a clue to what is called meditation if you have the key to plunge deeply enough." — Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT SIGNS AND SYMBOLS (Anthroposophic Press, 1972), pp. 31-32.
Compare that statement to the following:
"In their development men have become fourfold beings and thereby beings of the created world. Here on earth, however, the fifth member of their being, the spirit self, will be added. Were they to remain fourfold beings, they would be constantly directed by the gods...." — Ibid., p. 42.
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"In all occultism [i.e., in all "real" occultism] the One has always designated the indivisible unity of God in the universe. God is indicated by the number one." — Ibid., p. 32.
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"Two is called the number of revelation in [real] occultism. This means that whatever appears to us in the world, whatever reveals itself, whatever is not in any way concealed, stands as a duality ... The duality of good and evil is a necessity in the manifest world. There are infinitely many dualities ... Everything appears in duality. Two, duality, is the number of appearance, of manifestation." — Ibid., pp. 32-34.
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"Three is the number of the Divinity revealing itself. There is a statement in occultism that says that two can never be the number for the Divinity. One is a number for God, and also the three. The one who sees the world as a duality, sees it only in its revelation. Whoever claims that this duality is all is always in the wrong...we must look for the duality and triad that is to be met at every turn. Then we consider the numerical symbols in the right way, in the Pythagorean sense, and can draw conclusions leading from one to the other." — Ibid., pp. 34-40.
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The theory behind numerology is based on the Pythagorean idea that all things can be expressed in numerical terms because they are ultimately reducible to numbers. — "numerology." ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 12 Sep. 2009.
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"Four is the sign of the cosmos or of creation ... Men stand in the fourth kingdom ... On the Moon they were still operating in the third elementary kingdom, on the Sun in the second, and on Saturn in the first ... Everything visible in creation stands in the sign of the four. There are many planets that are not to be seen with physical eyes, such as those in the first, second, and third elementary kingdoms. Only when such a planet within creation enters the mineral kingdom can it be seen." — Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT SIGNS AND SYMBOLS, pp. 40-41.
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"Five is the number of evil ... Wherever we meet with evil, such that it can actually adversely affect our own being, there a fivefoldness is at play. This is the case everywhere, including the outside world, but people are unaware of it, and our present materialistic world view has no conception of the fact that the world can be considered in this way ... When, one day, medicine will make use of this, it will be able to influence beneficially the course of illness. Part of the treatment would be to study the illness in its development on the first and fifth days after its onset, on the separate days at the fifth hour past midnight, and again during the fifth week. Thus it is always the number five that determines when the physician can best intervene." — Ibid., p. 42.
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Six gets a pass.*
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"Seven is the number of perfection. Observation of man himself will make this clear. Today he is under the influence of the number five insofar as he can be good or evil. As a creature of the universe he lives in the number four. When he will have developed all that he holds at present as germ within him, he will become a seven-membered being, perfect in its kind. The number seven rules in the world of colour, in the rainbow; in the world of tone it is found in the scale. Everywhere, in all realms of life, the number seven can be observed as a kind of number of perfection. There is no superstition or magic in this." — Ibid., pp. 43-44.
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Steiner found occult significance in other numbers as well, but he didn't
go into these in the lecture I've been quoting.
Steiner focused on certain numbers (especially 3, 4, 7, and 12), and tried to impose them on the subjects he discussed. He forced, in other words, phenomena into boxes having 3, 4, 7, or 12 compartments whenever this was even slightly possible.
Three and four, as we have seen, are the numbers of divinity and creation. Seven, the number of perfection, is the sum of 3 + 4. Seven is also the number of seals mentioned in the Book of Revelation, and it is the number of "sacred planets" (i.e., the "planets" known to the ancients, which include non-planets such as the Sun and the Moon). Twelve is the product of three and four (3 x 4). This is the number of Christ's disciples as well as the number of signs of the zodiac. Steiner insistently divided subjects into twelve components and then linked each of them to one of the astrological signs.
Concerning 7 and 12,
and the "secrets of numbers"
(and a smidgen about 3):
"Now everything that comes under the laws of time is regulated by the measure and the nature of the number seven. We learn to understand the evolution of the world by basing it upon the number seven and counting, for example, the seven stages of Saturn, Sun, Moon, Earth (or Mars-Mercury), Jupiter, Venus and Vulcan. In everything which has to do with time we proceed aright by making use of the number seven. In ‘time’ we are everywhere led to the number seven. All the schools and lodges whose teachings lead out of space into time have seven as a fundamental number when they lead to the supersensible. This number seven is associated with the holy Rishis, and with the holy teachers of other nations down to the seven wise men of Greece. But the fundamental number of space is twelve, and in flowing into space, time is revealed according to the number twelve. At the point where time flows out into space the number twelve dominates. We have twelve tribes in Israel, also twelve apostles at the moment when Christ, Who had previously revealed Himself in time, poured out into space. What is within time occurs in succession. Hence that which leads out of space into time, to gods of the Luciferic realms, leads into the number seven. If we would characterise anything in this realm according to its essence, we find the being by going back to the ancestry. In order to perceive that which develops itself in time we pass from the later back to the earlier, as from child to father. On going into the world of time, in which the number seven obtains, we speak of children and of their origin, of the children of spiritual beings, of the children of Lucifer; when we lead time out into space we speak of beings existing simultaneously, in whose nature, co-existence and also the flowing of souls, the impulses from one to another in space demand our consideration." — Rudolf Steiner, THE EAST IN THE LIGHT OF THE WEST (Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., 1940), chapter 8, GA 114.
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“The facts stated at the end of the last chapter cannot but be somewhat unintelligible to persons who encounter them for the first time, for they belong to the secrets of numbers. And the secrets of numbers are those which are in a comparative sense the most difficult to master.
"It has been stated that there is a certain relation between the numbers seven and twelve, and that this relation has something to do with time and space ... [W]e shall always see our way if we judge of evolution in time from a framework built up by means of the number seven. We must not build and speculate and attribute all kinds of meanings to the number seven; we must only pursue the facts from the point of view of the number seven. In the first place this number seven is only a means of facilitating our task ... [S]ince the earth goes through various embodiments we have to look for its seven incarnations; Saturn, Sun, Moon, Earth, Jupiter, Venus and Vulcan. Because human civilisations pass through seven incarnations we must seek their connections by once more using the number seven as a basis ... By starting with the incarnation of a man of the present day and looking back at his three former incarnations it is possible to draw certain conclusions concerning his next three incarnations. The three former and the present incarnations, plus the three following make seven again. Seven is a clue for everything that happens in time.
“On the other hand the number twelve is a clue for all things that co-exist in space. Science, which at the same time was wisdom, was always conscious of this. It said: ‘It is possible to find the right way by connecting the spatial relationship of everything that occurs upon the earth with twelve permanent points in space — the twelve signs of the Zodiac in the cosmos.’ These are the twelve basic points with which everything in space is connected. This declaration was not an arbitrary yield of human thinking; but the power of thought in those early times had learned from reality and so ascertained the fact that space was best understood when it was divided into twelve constituent parts, thus making the number twelve a clue for all spatial relations. But where the question of changes came in, that is to say in the time element, the seven planets were given as a clue by a still older science. Seven is here the clue.
“... [T]here is also an inner relationship of space and time which I can only indicate here in bare outline with which the numbers twelve and seven have something to do. And my illustration shall be made as was usual in the mysteries when the relations of twelve to seven in the cosmos was being portrayed. It has been said that if we do not consider universal space in an abstract sense, but really relate earth conditions to universal space, we must refer those earth conditions to the circle described by the twelve essential points of the Zodiac, viz. Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces. These twelve points of the Zodiac were not alone the real and veritable world symbols for the very oldest divine spiritual beings, but the symbols themselves were thought to correspond, in a certain sense, with reality. Even when the earth was embodied as old Saturn, the forces issuing from these twelve directions were at work upon that ancient planet; so they were later on the old Sun, and on the old Moon, and are now and will continue to be in the future. Therefore they have as it were the nature of permanence, they are far more sublime than that which arises and passes away within our earth existence. That which is symbolised by the twelve signs of the Zodiac is infinitely higher than that which is transformed in the evolutionary course of our planet from old Saturn to old Sun and from that to old Moon and so on. Planetary existence arises and passes away, but the Zodiac is ever there. What is symbolised by the points of the Zodiac is more sublime than what upon our earth plays its part as the opposition between good and evil.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE EAST IN THE LIGHT OF THE WEST, chapter 9.
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Seven and twelve figure prominently in artwork created for
the Anthroposophical headquarters, the Gotheanum.
Here — admittedly difficult to decipher —
are The Round Dance of the Seven (top)
and The Circle of the Twelve (bottom).
[R.R. sketches, 2014, based on paintings by Gerard Wagner,
based on indications given by Rudolf Steiner
— see THE GOETHEANUM CUPOLA MOTIFS OF RUDOLF STEINER
(SteinerBooks, 2014), pp. 102 and 107.
Wagner's painting are multi-colored; my sketches are black and white, with tints added.]
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In light of all this, and considering "the secrets of numbers," you may want to ask yourself what Steiner means when he says such things as "We must not build and speculate and attribute all kinds of meanings to the number seven; we must only pursue the facts from the point of view of the number seven." Steiner said such things often. Look, he said, let's be reasonable. I'm just telling you how things are. So, being reasonable, Steiner warns us against wild speculations. Seven is just a tool, a facilitator. Or, anyway, it is just a tool "in the first place." But we might ponder what seven may be in the final place. "Seven is a clue for everything that happens in time." It is a clue, a number, that helps us unravel "the secrets of numbers."
Let's be reasonable, Steiner says. This isn't numerology. Real occult teaching knows nothing of witchcraft and magic, nor of a superstitious meaning of some number. Its knowledge rests on deeper things ... [N]umbers can give you a clue to what is called meditation if you have the key to plunge deeply enough.
And what should we call the "real occult teaching" that "plunges deeply enough" into the "secrets of numbers"? Being reasonable, we might call it numerology. I began this page with a definition from an offbeat source. Let's turn to more mainstream sources. • "Numerology - the study of the occult significance of numbers." — MERRIAM-WEBSTER'S COLLEGIATE DICTIONARY. • "Numerology - the branch of knowledge that deals with the occult significance of numbers." — APPLE DICTIONARY, 2.0.3, 2005- 2007. • ""Numerology - study of the occult meaning of numbers." — ONLINE ETYMOLOGY DICTIONARY, 2010.
To be reasonable, we might say that numerology is the study of the occult significance of numbers, a study that would give rise to such statements as "In all occultism the One has always designated the indivisible unity of God ... Two is called the number of revelation in occultism ... There is a statement in occultism that says that two can never be the number for the Divinity. One is a number for God, and also the three...." And so on. These are, to be reasonable, numerological statements.
Steiner would deny it; he did deny it. But then he often denied that he was doing what in fact he was doing. Knowing that his teachings could seem absurd, he defended himself by arguing that he should not be classed among the charlatans and mountebanks who traffic in occult falsehoods. No, he was doing something much deeper and truer. Thus, for instance, he could say (as we have seen) "Real occult teaching knows nothing of witchcraft and magic, nor of a superstitious meaning of some number." In other words, his own teaching — which epitomizes "real occult teaching" — contains no superstitions about numbers. But what does it contain instead? Occult truths about numbers. "Its knowledge rests on deeper things ... [N]umbers can give you a clue to what is called meditation if you have the key to plunge deeply enough."
So, according to Steiner, his teaching is free of the superstitions to be found in such things as numerology. But, clearly, his teaching is loaded with the "truths" found in such things as numerology.
"Numerology A study of the occult powers of numbers." — George Riland, THE STEINERBOOKS DICTIONARY OF THE PSYCHIC, MYSTIC, OCCULT (Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1973), p. 147.**
* But not always.
“From the point of view relevant here I should like to associate the Zarathustrian world-picture with 'Chronology'. It looks beyond the two Beings, Ahura Mazdao and Ahriman, to the workings of Time — Zervan Akarana. Not, however, the abstract Time we think of today, but Time viewed as a living, super-personal Being. From this Being proceed the rulers of Time; first of all the Amshaspands, the spiritual Beings who are symbolised in cosmic space by the signs of the Zodiac. Through the number six — or twelve if we reckon in their antipodes — they rule over the Izeds, who rank below them and are 28–31 in number. The Izeds are spirits of a lower kind, servants of the high Time Beings; they regulate the days of the month.” — Rudolf Steiner, CHRIST AND THE SPIRITUAL WORLD & THE SEARCH FOR THE HOLY GRAIL (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1963), lecture 4, GA 149.
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“[T]he Earth makes six-sided silicic acid crystals, while the bee makes six-sided cells. This is terribly interesting ... The bee is formed by the same force that resides in the Earth and can construct a quartz crystal ... [A]ll human beings need to have these six-sides spaces within themselves. Human beings need the same things bees do. And since the bee is that creature that can best of all create this force of having a six-sided effect on other things, the bee collects from everything that can carry over into our bodies this same hexagonally acting force, a force that produces a six-sided effect.” — Rudolf Steiner, BEES (SteinerBooks, 1998), p. 51.
More on 7:
"Each epoch as it runs its course between such events as the great Atlantean flood and the great Was of All against All must again be divided into seven ages. As regards the fifth epoch there are the Indian age of civilization, the Persian age of civilization, the Assyrian-Babylonian-Chaldean-Egyptian-Jewish age, the Graeco-Latin age, our own age, then the sixth, which is indicated in the Apocalypse by the community of Philadelphia, and the seventh age of civilization which will follow that.
"Thus if we imagine the whole of evolution consisting of nothing but short ages such as these — which, however, are long enough — we have 7 x 7 x 7 x 7 x 7 stages of development such as the ancient Indian or the ancient Persian. The number of different conditions of this nature which man passes through between Saturn and Vulcan is 16807:
"Thus you see how the number 7 governs development in the successive periods throughout the whole of evolution. Just as the tones in music progress from octave to octave, so does the whole of evolution take place in octaves of development." — Rudolf Steiner, THE APOCALYPSE OF ST. JOHN (Anthroposophical Publishing Co., 1958), lecture 10, GA 104.
Other numbers also have occult significance
in or around the Anthroposophical universe.
Thus, for instance, we find the following in an Anthroposophical reference book:
"Nine. In ancient esoteric mystery, mystic numerology, folklore, and mythology, nine was considered the number of aspiration and wisdom and the 'harmony of harmony' since three times three equals nine. It was considered 'unbounded,' containing in itself all numbers. For Pythagoras, it was the emblem of matter. In ancient Greece, initiation into the Eleusinian Mysteries took nine days. Nine was the number of the Greek Muses. The Romans held nine in such reverence that they proclaimed a feast every nine years to honor it — the Novennalia, In Northern European folklore and mythology, the cat had nine tails — a symbol of practical wisdom; Merlin had nine bards; King Arthur battled with an enchanted pig for nine days. In the Cabala there are nine degrees, all emanating from God." — George Riland, THE NEW STEINERBOOKS DICTIONARY OF THE PARANORMAL (Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1980), p. 204.**
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"Ten. In religion and mysticism this number represents both totality and completion. For example, in the Rig Veda there are 10 books of hymns; Buddha is described as having 10 noble states and 10 powers; in Northern Buddhism, there are 10 Paramites or sublime virtues; in the Babylonian myth of the flood, 10 Kings (10 ages) preceded the flood; in Judaism, the Temple of Solomon and the Temple in Ezekiel's vision are structured in their dimensions by 10, and 10 is the symbol of the Absolute and the law; in Pythagoreanism 1, 2, 3, 4 are the tetrad, while their union is the decad — 10; for Plato, 1 to 10 was the form of the 10 archetypal principles upon which the world is created, and he described 10 princedoms in Atlantis upon which the world was based; Cabalism describes the ten sepiroth as the Macroprosopous — the 'Greater Countenance,' which foreshadows the archetypal man, Adam Kadmon; finally, some occultists picture 10 as the regulator in the realm of numbers." — Ibid., p. 300.
•• ◊◊◊ ••
"Number 13. Astrologers call this the earth's number, since it [sic: the Earth] is the center of the 12 houses. Contrary to popular belief, it [i.e., the number 13] is not unlucky, representing, instead, virile determination and strenuous work, and success is often designated as one who is obviously a lucky thirteen." — Ibid., p. 206.
** These books roam beyond Steiner's own teachings to survey topics of more general — and perhaps provisional — interest to Anthroposophists. In places, they stray into what Steiner would call superstition and false occult teaching.
- Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings