From the General Grand Council of Cryptic Masons International Education Committee
Gematria, what is it?
By Illustrious Companion Benjamin Williams
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Illustrious Companion Benjamin Williams is a Past Master, Past Excellent High Priest, Past Grand Orator of the Grand Lodge of Colorado, and serves as the Department Commander for the Northwestern Department Grand Encampment of Knights Templar of the United States of America and and the Grand Encampment Education Development Committee.
It is true that all things are manifest in man in likeness of the creator. For the great sages who first framed letters did so in mimicry of the process of creation. Words were once magic, the art of writing, sacred. The utterance of speech manifest in form upon the page was, perhaps, the greatest innovation in human history. It made collective experience and shared expression possible.
The symbolic hieroglyphs shifted and became words, a set of symbolic visual and sonic equivalents, and in a finite set of letters infinite expressions became possible. This is indeed much like God, who in the finitude of the cosmos created the infinite expression of His endless Glory. His alphabet is the stars, His punctuation the beats of your heart.
It should be no surprise, then, that the evolution of language and the alphabet have been symbolized by sages throughout the ages with the emanation of Deity – with the first utterance that created all things, that set the wheel of time in motion. For God moves with the Word, and the Word animates the totality in meaning. There is a great secret here.
In the earlier societies that marked our kind, letter and number were considered to spring from a similar archetype. The encapsulation of a particular meaning within a certain word gave that meaning form, marked it out against the whole, and defined the metes and bounds of an idea to render the nascent and unformed into actuality. It became known. It was weighed and measured. It was comprehended. It was effable – capable of being expressed, and thereby understandable.
Thus number, too, a more simple and discrete rendering of the abstract into principle, likewise symbolized the definition of something – the boundaries of an area, the relationship between one dimension (such as length) and another (such as width).
So it is the older languages combined their letters and numbers into the same symbols. The Arabs gave us the numerals so familiar to us today. But for the ancient peoples of the Levant (that cradle of civilization at the juncture between three continents) the evolution of the alphabet through cuneiform, Babylonian, proto-Sinatic Hebrew, Phoenician, Aramaic, Syriac, Sanskrit, Ancient Greek, Arabic, and ultimately the Latin characters that mark this page (to mention just a few), represented the emanation of Deity, even the codification of abstract principles into utterance and thus the known (or phenomenal) world.
Each of these early languages employed similar principles that informed and evolved into each other. We will here, in the discussion of Gematria I am pleased to present to your attention, use the Hebrew alphabet to illustrate our point, but it should be clear that the Hebrew letters themselves evolved out of, and summarily influenced, and were influenced by, other languages such as Phoenician, Sanskrit, and Ancient Greek. What is seen here is used every day, and is all around us even still. Even in our own tongue.
Each letter in the Hebrew alphabet is thusly also a number – as I have said, there was no separate system of enumeration in the early Jewish tradition, each letter also stood for a numerical quantity, a fact that resembles, rather eloquently, the idea of the Sephiroth itself, the Tree of Life – the spheres of emanation by which the illimitable Deity enabled the limit of the Kingdom. The word Sephiroth comes from the Hebrew root sefer – a etymology common to words meaning to weigh, to measure, to number, to write, even to luminesce.
For Kabbalists, there has been a practice of using some words to substitute for other words, a kind of code usable between initiates to communicate truths, some sublime, some mundane. An example is the use of the symbolic fish by Christians to mark their meeting places. This is a type of Gematria.
In the present day, the term Gematria is more specifically associated with words. The Online Etymology Dictionary defines Gematria as:
Gematria. 1680s, from Heb. Gematriya, from Gk. Geometria (see geometry). “Explanation of the sense of a word by substituting for it another word, so that the numerical value of the letters constituting either word is identical” [Klein].
Gematria has many methods for computing a secondary (or tertiary) meaning from a word. The three most ancient, and most common are gematria, notarikon, and temurah. Each is explained briefly below.
Gematria – from the Greek word for geometry.
Associates words with like numerical value. Thus we measure the span of the word. A plurality of methods mark this most common form of Gematria (which bears the name of the practice). An example is:
Hvhy hbha dxa
YHVH = 26 = Love + Unity
The Hebrew words for Adam, Fool, and Redemption all have a value of 45.
The difference between Adam and YHVH is 19, which is the value of Eve.
Hlbq Kabbalah (137)
Hajma a discovery, invention (137)
Avjm a thing that is possible to find (137)
The number 137 (Kabbalah) written as letters is:
ibsv ,zysls ham = 1664 = “one-hundred-and-thirty-seven”
hyxh bsxy vl hnybs ym hmkx tazb = 1664 = “here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast” (Revelation 13: 18).
Notarikon – from the Greek and Latin words for short-hand writer (think of the English word notary).
Derives a word from the primary letters of a phrase or statement that embodies the meaning of the sentence. It is an acronym. Used all the time in the present day, especially among the military and government. Think also of certain words important to the various rites of Freemasonry – such as INRI. Other examples include:
Dxa = the one
Tma = the truth
,yyx = the life
;rd = the way
The first word of the Ten Commandments:
Ykna = “I”
tbhy tybtk yspn ana = “I myself wrote (and) gave [them]”
Examples in English:
RADAR = Radio Detection And Ranging
TGIF = Thank God It’s Friday!
LASER = Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation
NATO = North Atlantic Treaty Organization
TARP = Toxic Asset Relief Program
Temurah – means “exchange”, or “change place”
A substitution or permutation of one letter for another – a simple substitution cipher whereby a word is transformed into another word. Also the making of anagrams and acrostics. Methods include:
Atbash, replacing the first letter of the alphabet with the last letter, the second letter with the penultimate letter, and so on.
Avgad, Replacing each letter with the immediately subsequent letter.
Albam, replacing the first letter with a letter at a given point in the alphabet (in Hebrew the 12th letter) and then substituting in series. This is a more complex system than space here allows explication, and has been used for centuries in devising the names of Angels as attributes and potencies of Deity.
A simple example, in English, (and given by Manly P. Hall in his secret Teaching of All Ages) is: Live and Evil.
Reflect upon these tools for revealing hidden ideas. Whether or not the revelations are deliberate is not as relevant as the fact that Gematria is a tool usable for understanding esoteric ideas. We will be returning to it in future articles.