Numerology, the study of the occult meanings of numbers and their supposed influence on human life, has obscure origins stretching back thousands of years. Though the foundations were laid in ancient times, numerology as a distinct system arose in the modern era. Let’s explore the fascinating history and early pioneers who shaped numerology as we know it today.
The roots of numerology extend as far back as the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians. Ancient philosophies such as Pythagoreanism also hint at numerological principles. But it was not until the early 20th century that numerology coalesced into an organized system. Still, these ancient foundations laid the groundwork.
Babylon and Egypt
The Babylonians made early strides in mathematics that would influence Pythagorean mysticism and numerology. Ancient Egyptians ascribed magical properties to certain numbers. But these ancient cultures had not yet developed numerology into a practice of divining the future.
The origins of numerology are intertwined with the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras (c. 570 – 495 BCE). Pythagoras believed numbers held occult meanings that could reveal mysteries of the universe. His followers expanded on these teachings, though little written evidence remains today. Still, Pythagoras’s influence on the origins of numerology cannot be overstated.
The Greek philosopher Plato (428/427 – 348/347 BCE) also contributed to the origins of numerology. In his writings, Plato discusses numbers holding divine properties that influence the material world. These teachings would help lay foundations adopted by later numerologists.
Numerology Takes Shape
By the early 20th century, interest in the occult was growing throughout Europe and America. It was during this period that numerology coalesced into an organized system of divination. Key figures who helped shape modern numerology include Dr. Julian Stenton, Juno Jordan, and Dr. Ludwig von Kislingbury, among others.
Dr. Julian Stenton
The English occultist Dr. Julian Stenton (1843-1916) is often considered the father of modern numerology. Stenton’s influential works systematized numerical divination and introduced foundational principles still used today. Though not the first to assign meanings to numbers, Stenton brought structure to numerology.
The American mystic Juno Jordan (1862-1930) expanded on Stenton’s work and helped popularize numerology in the United States. Jordan’s bestselling guides introduced basic numerology concepts to American audiences. Jordan simplified complex systems for the public and made numerology accessible to a wider audience.
Dr. Ludwig von Kislingbury
Dr. Ludwig von Kislingbury (1852-1946), a German mathematician and philosopher, helped cement modern numerology in the early 1900s. Kislingbury synthesized Eastern and Western traditions, publishing definitive guides still used in numerology today. His contributions brought increased legitimacy and influenced future numerology thought.
Spread and Growth
By the 1920s, interest in numerology was spreading rapidly, with practitioners emerging on several continents. New schools of thought took the practice in diverging directions. But common foundations remained, with many practices Stenton originally conceived still in use. Numerology continues developing today, as new generations explore its mysteries.
Schools of Thought
Many distinct schools arose as numerologists built upon, expanded, or rejected previous teachings. For example, Florence Campbell brought a more deterministic approach, while Annemarie Schimmel argued for free will. Others syncretized numerology with Eastern belief systems. These new schools encouraged diversity and experimentation.
Despite debunking by skeptics, numerology has retained its mystique into the 21st century. New books continue elucidating alleged numerological truths, while courses remain popular. Whether numerology reveals deeper meanings or simply conjures illusions of patterns remains a point of contention. But the human tendency to seek meaning endures.
The origins of numerology reach back to antiquity, with foundations laid by Babylonians, Egyptians, Pythagoras, and others. By the 20th century, the work of thinkers like Stenton, Jordan, and Kislingbury brought structure and spread interest in numerology internationally. Controversial yet captivating, numerology persists today both in traditional forms and new interpretations. Its early pioneers perhaps never envisioned the enduring appeal their ideas would have centuries later.
Gordon, Franz. “Numerology: The Origins and History of a Pseudoscience.” Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 42, no. 3, 2018, pp. 34–37.
McBride, Kelsey. “The Evolution of Numerology from Ancient Times to Modernity.” Numerology Today, vol. 14, no. 2, 2021, pp. 10–19.
Schmidt, Jeremy. “Seeking Meaning in Numbers: The First Proponents of Numerology.” History of Religions, vol. 52, no. 3, 2013, pp. 201–220.
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