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Internet Book of Shadows, (Various Authors), [1999], at

                       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 problemhas always been howto be sure ofthe 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 modernnumerologist wouldn't get veryfar 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

              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 shaky.

                  But letus 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

                  Althoughthe Ogham alphabet onlyhas letter valuesfrom 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 haveRhiannon 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


              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.


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