STARS AND NUMBERS
[The Theosophist, Vol. II, No. 9, June, 1881, pp. 199-201]
Ancient civilization saw nothing absurd in the claims of astrology, no more than many an educated and thoroughly scientific man sees in it today. Judicial astrology, by which the fate and acts of men and nations might be foreknown, appeared, nor does it even now appear, any more unphilosophical or unscientific than does natural astrology or astronomy—by which the events of so-called brute and inanimate nature (changes of weather, etc.) might be predicted. For it was not even prophetic insight that was claimed by the votaries of that abstruse and really grand science, but simply a great proficiency in that method of procedure which allows the astrologer to foresee certain events in the life of a man by the position of the planets at the time of his birth.
Once the probability, or even the simple possibility, of an occult influence exercised by the stars upon the destiny of man admitted—and why should the fact appear more improbable in the case of stars and man than in that of the
sunspots and potatoes?—and astrology becomes no less an exact science than astronomy. The earth, Prof. Balfour Stewart, F.R.S., tells us—“is very seriously affected by what takes place in the sun” . . . a connection is strongly suspected “between epidemics and the appearance of the sun’s surface.”*
And if, as that man of science tells us, “a connection of some mysterious kinds between the sun and the earth is more than suspected” . . . and the problem is a most important one “to solve,” how much more important the solution of that other mystery—the undoubted affinity between man and the stars—an affinity believed in for countless ages and by the most learned among men! Surely the destiny of man deserves as much consideration as that of a turnip or a potato. . . . And if a disease of the latter may be scientifically foretold whenever that vegetable crops out during a “sunspot period,” why should not a life of disease, or health, of natural or violent death be as scientifically prognosticated by the position and appearance of the constellation with which man is as directly connected and which bears the same relation to him as the sun bears to the earth?
In its day, astrology was greatly honoured, for when in able hands it was often shown to be as precise and trustworthy in its predictions as astronomical predictions are in our own age. Omens were studied by all imperial Rome, as much, if not more than they are now in India. Tiberius practiced the science; and the Saracens in Spain held star divination in the greatest reverence, astrology passing into
* “One of the best known vegetable epidemics is that of the potato disease. The years 1846, 1860, and 1872 were bad years for the potato disease. Now, those years are not very far from the years of maximum sunspots . . . [there is a] curious connection between these diseases affecting plants and the state of the sun. . . . The disease that took place about three centuries since, of a periodical and very violent character, called the ‘sweating sickness’ . . . took place about the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century. It took place in the following years: 1485, 1506, 1517, 1528, and 1551, about a period of eleven years intervening between the outbreaks. Now, this is exactly the sunspot period . . .” (The Sun and the Earth. Lecture by Prof. Balfour Stewart).
Western Europe through these, our first civilizers. Alphonso, the wise king of Castile and Leon, made himself famous in the thirteenth century by his “Astrological Tables” (called Alphonsine),* and his code of Las Siete Partidas; and the great astronomer Kepler in the seventeenth, the discoverer of the three great laws of planetary motions (known as Kepler’s laws), believed in and proclaimed astrology a true science. Kepler, the Emperor Rudolph’s mathematician, he to whom Newton is indebted for all his subsequent discoveries, is the author of The Principles of Astrology,† in which he proves the power of certain harmonious configurations of suitable planets to control human impulses. In his official capacity of Imperial astronomer, he is historically known to have predicted to Wallenstein, from the position of the stars, the issue of the war in which that unfortunate general was then engaged. No less than himself, his friend, protector and instructor, the great astronomer Tycho Brahe, believed in, and expanded the astrological system. He was forced, moreover, to admit the influence of the constellations on terrestrial life and actions quite against his will or wish, and merely because of the constant verification of facts.
Closely related to astrology is the Kabala and its system of numerals. The secret wisdom of the ancient Chaldees left by them as an inheritance to the Jews relates primarily to the mythological science of the heavens and contains the doctrines of the hidden or occult wisdom concerning the cycles of time. In the ancient philosophy, the sacredness of numbers began with the great FIRST, the ONE, and ended with the naught or Zero, the symbol of the infinite and boundless circle, which represents the universe. All the intervening
* [Strictly speaking, they are astronomical tables produced at Toledo, Spain, in 1252 by fifty astronomers under the patronage of Alphonso X (1252-84), known as El Sabio, “the Learned.” Vide the Bio-Bibliographical Index, s.v. ALPHONSO.—Compiler.]
† [Reference is most likely to Kepler’s De Fundamentis Astrologiae. In the Charles Frisch edition of his Opera Omnia, published in 1858 by Heyden and Zimmer at Frankfurt a. M., it may be found in Vol. I, pp. 417-438.—Compiler.]
figures, in whatever combination, or however multiplied, represent philosophical ideas relating either to a moral or a physical fact in nature. They are the key to the archean views on cosmogony, in its broad sense, including man and beings, and relate to the human race and individuals spiritually as well as physically. “The numerals of Pythagoras,” says Porphyry, “were hieroglyphical symbols, by means whereof he explained all ideas concerning the nature of all things.”* In the symbolical kabala—the most ancient system left to us by the Chaldeans—the modes of examining letters, words and sentences for hidden meaning were numerical. The gematria (one of the three modes) is purely arithmetical and mathematical, and consists in applying to the letters of a word the sense they bear as numbers—letters being used also for figures in the Hebrew as in Greek. Figurative Gematria deduces mysterious interpretations from the shapes of letters used in occult manuscripts and the Bible.
Thus, as shown by Cornelius Agrippa, in Numbers (x, 35), the letter Beth means the reversal of enemies. The sacred anagrams known as Zeruph yield their mysterious sense by the second mode named Themura, and consist in displacing the letters and substituting them one for another and then arranging them in rows according to their numerical value. If, of all operations in the occult sciences, there is not one that is not rooted in astrology, arithmetic and especially geometry are a part of the first principles of magic. The most recondite mysteries and powers in nature are made to yield to the power of numbers. And let this not be regarded as a fallacy. He who knows the relative and respective numbers or the so-called correspondence between causes and effects will alone be able to obtain of a certainty the desired result. A small mistake, a trifling difference in an astronomical calculation and—no correct prediction of a heavenly phenomenon becomes possible. As Severinus Boethius
* [Porphyry, Pythagorae vita, Amsterdam, 1707. Cf. H. Jennings, The Rosicrucians, 1870, p. 49 (p. 35, 3rd ed.).—Compiler.]
puts it, it is by the proportion of certain numbers that all things were formed. “God geometrizes,” saith Plato, meaning creative nature. If there are so many occult virtues in natural things, “what marvel if in numbers, which are pure and commixed only with ideas, there should be found virtues greater and more occult?” asks Agrippa. Even Time must contain the mystery number; so also does motion, or action, and so, therefore, must all things that move, act, or are subjected to time. But “the mystery is in the abstract power of number, in its rational and formal state, not in the expression of it by the voice, as among people who buy and sell” (De Occulta Philos., cap. iii, p. cii). The Pythagoreans claimed to discern many things in the numbers of names. And if those who having understanding were invited to “compute the number and name of the beast” by the author of St. John’s Revelation it is because that author was a Kabalist.
The wiseacres of our generation raise daily the cry that science and metaphysics are irreconcilable; and facts prove as daily that it is but one more fallacy among the many that are uttered. The reign of exact science is proclaimed on every housetop, and Plato, who is said to have trusted to his imagination, is sneered at, while Aristotle’s method built on pure reason is the one accepted by Science. Why? Because “the philosophic method of Plato was the inverse of that of Aristotle. Its starting point was universals. the very existence of which was a matter of faith,” says Dr. Draper, “and from these it descended to particulars, or details. Aristotle, on the contrary, rose from particulars to universals, advancing to them by inductions” (History of the Conflict between Religion and Science, p. 26). We humbly answer to this, that mathematics, the only exact and infallible science in the world of sciences proceeds from UNIVERSALS.
It is this year especially, the year 1881, which seems to defy and challenge sober, matter-of-fact science, and by its extraordinary events above as below, in heaven as upon earth, to invite criticism upon its strange “coincidences.” Its freaks in the domains of meteorology and geology were prognosticated by the astronomers, and these everyone is
bound to respect. There is a certain triangle seen this year on the horizon formed of the most brilliant stars which was predicted by them, but none the less left unexplained. It is a simple geometrical combination of heavenly bodies, they say. As to that triangle, formed of the three large planets—Venus, Jupiter and Saturn—having aught to do with the destinies of either men or nations—why, that is pure superstition. “The mantle of the astrologers is burnt and the predictions of some of them, whenever verified, must be attributed to simple and blind chance.”
We are not so sure of that; and, if permitted, will further on tell why—meanwhile, we must remind the reader of the fact that Venus, the most intensely brilliant of the three above-named planets, as was remarked in Europe and for all we know in India also—suddenly parted company with its two companions and, slowly moving onward, stopped above them, whence it goes on dazzling the inhabitants of the earth with an almost preternatural brilliancy.
The conjunction of two planets happens but rarely; that of three is still more rare; while the conjunction of four and five planets becomes an event. The latter phenomenon took place in historical times but once, 2449 years B.C., when it was observed by the Chinese astronomers and has not recurred since then. That extraordinary meeting of five large planets forebode all kinds of evils to the Celestial Empire and its peoples, and the panic then created by the predictions of the Chinese astrologers was not in vain. During the following 500 years, a series of internal broils, revolutions, wars, and changes of dynasty marked the end of the golden age of national felicity in the Empire founded by the great Fu-hi.
Another conjunction is known to have happened just before the beginning of the Christian era. In that year, three large planets had approached so closely together as to be mistaken by many for one single star of an immense size. Biblical scholars were more than once inclined to identify these “three in one” with the Trinity, and at the same [time] with the “Star of the wise men of the East.” But they saw themselves thwarted in such pious desires by their
hereditary enemies—the irreverent men of science, who proved that the astronomical conjunction took place a year before the period claimed for the alleged birth of Jesus. Whether the phenomenon forebode good or evil is best answered by the subsequent history and development of Christianity, than which, no other religion cost so many human victims, shed such torrents of blood, nor brought the greater portion of humanity to suffer from what is now termed the “blessings of Christianity and civilization.”
A third conjunction took place in A.D. 1563. It appeared near the great nebula in the constellation of Cancer. There were three great planets and—according to the astronomers of those days—the most nefarious: Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The constellation of Cancer has always had a bad reputation; that year the mere fact of its having in its neighbourhood a triune conjunction of evil stars, caused the astrologers to predict great and speedy disasters. These did come to pass. A terrible plague broke out and raged in all Europe, carrying off thousands upon thousands of victims.
And now, in 1881, we have again a visit of three other “Wanderers.” What do they forebode? Nothing good, and it would seem, as if of the great evils they are likely to pour on the devoted heads of hapless humanity, the fatal prelude is already being played. Let us enumerate and see how far we are from the truth. The nearly simultaneous and certainly in some cases unexpected death of the great and most remarkable men of our age. In the region of politics, we find the Emperor of Russia, Lord Beaconsfield, and Aga Khan;*
* H. H. Aga Khan was one of the most remarkable men of the century. Of all the Mussulmans, Shiahs or Soonis, who rejoice in the green turban, the Aga’s claims to a direct descent from Mahomet through Ali rested on undeniable proofs. He again represented the historical “Assassins” of the Old Man of the Mountain. He had married a daughter of the late Shah of Persia; but political broils forced him to leave his native land and seek refuge with the British Government in India. In Bombay he had a numerous religious following. He was a high-spirited, generous man and a hero. The most noticeable feature of his life was that he was born in 1800—and died in 1881, at the age of 81. In his case too the occult influence of the year 1881 has asserted itself.
in that of literature, Carlyle and George Eliot; in the world of art, Rubinstein, the greatest musical genius. In the domain of geology—earthquakes which have already destroyed the town of Casamicciola on the Island of Ischia, a village in California and the Island of Chios which was laid entirely waste by the terrible catastrophe—one, moreover, predicted for that very day by the astrologer Raphael. In the domain of wars, the hitherto invincible Great Britain was worsted at the Cape by a handful of Boers; Ireland is convulsed and threatens; a plague now rages in Mesopotamia; another war is preparing between Turkey and Greece; armies of Socialists and red-handed Nihilists obscure the sun of the political horizon in Europe; and the latter thrown into a violent perturbation is breathlessly awaiting the most unexpected events [in the] future—defying the perspicacity of the most acute of her political men. In the religious spheres the heavenly triangle pointed its double horn at the monastic congregations and—a general exodus of monks and nuns—headed by the children of Loyola, followed in France. There is a revival of infidelity and mental rebellion, and with it a proportionate increase of missionary labourers (not labour), who like the hordes of Attila destroy much and build but little. Shall we add to the list of signs of these nefasti dies, the birth of the New Dispensation at Calcutta? The latter, though having but a small and quite a local importance, shows yet a direct bearing upon our subject, i.e., the astrological meaning of the planetary conjunction. Like Christianity with Jesus and his Apostles the New Dispensation can henceforth boast of having had a forerunner in starry heaven—the present triune conjunction of planets. It proves, moreover, our kabalistic theory of periodical cyclic recurrences of events. As the Roman sceptical world of 1881 years ago, we are startled by a fresh revival of mendicant Ebionites, fasting Essenes and Apostles upon whom descend “cloven tongues like as of fire,” and of whom we cannot even say as of the Jerusalem twelve, “that these men are full of new wine,” since their inspiration is entirely due to water, we are told.
The year 1881, then, of which we have lived but one-third, promises, as predicted by astrologers and astronomers, a long and gloomy list of disasters on land, as on the seas. We have shown elsewhere (Bombay Gazette, March 30, 1881) how strange in every respect was the grouping of the figures of our present year, adding that another such combination will not happen in the Christian chronology before the year 11811, just 9930 years hence, when—there will be no more a “Christian” chronology we are afraid, but something else. We said: “Our year 1881 offers that strange fact, that from whichever of four sides you look at its figures—from right or left, from top or bottom, from the back, by holding the paper up to the light—or even upside down, you will always have before you the same mysterious and kabalistic numbers of 1881. It is the correct number of the three figures which have most perplexed mystics for over eighteen centuries. The year 1881, in short, is the number of the Great Beast of the Revelation, the number 666 of St. John’s Apocalypsis [xiii, 17-18]—that Kabalistic Book par excellence. See for yourselves: 1 + 8 + 8 + 1 make eighteen; eighteen divided thrice gives three times six, or placed in a row, 666, ‘the number of man.’”*
This number has been for centuries the puzzle of Christendom and was interpreted in a thousand different ways. Newton himself worked for years over the problem, but ignorant of the secret Kabala, failed. Before the Reformation it was generally supposed in the Church to have reference to the coming Antichrist. Since then the Protestants began to apply it, in that spirit of Christian charity which so characterizes Calvinism, to the Latin Popish Church, which they call the “Harlot,” the “great Beast” and the “scarlet woman,” and forthwith the latter returned the compliment in the same brotherly and friendly spirit. The supposition that it refers to the Roman nation—the Greek letters of the word Latinus as numerals, amounting to exactly 666—is absurd.
* [See “The Year 1881” in the present Volume.—Compiler.]
There are beliefs and traditions among the people which spring no one knows from whence and pass from one generation to the other, as an oral prophecy, and an unavoidable fact to come. One of such traditions, a correspondent of the Moscow Gazette happened to hear in 1874 from the mountaineers of the Tyrolian Alps, and subsequently from old people in Bohemia. “From the first day of 1876,” says that tradition, “a sad, heavy period will begin for the whole world and will last for seven consecutive years. The most unfortunate and fatal year for all will be 1881. He who will survive it has an iron head.”
An interesting new combination, meanwhile, of the year 1881, in reference to the life of the murdered Czar, may be found in the following dates, every one of which marks a more or less important period in his life. It proves at all events what important and mysterious a part, the figures 1 and 8 played in his life. 1 and 8 make 18; and the Emperor was born April 17th (1 + 7 = 8) in 1818. He died in 1881—the figures of the years of his birth and death being identical, and coinciding, moreover, with the date of his birth 17 (1+ 7 = 8). The figures of the years of the birth and death being thus the same, as four times 18 can be formed out of them, and the sum total of each year’s numerals is 18. The arrival at Petersburg of the late Empress—the Czar’s bride—took place on September 8th; their marriage April 16th—(8 + 8 = 16); their eldest daughter, the Grand Duchess Alexandra, was born August 18th; the late Czarevitch Nicolas Alexandrovitch, on September the 8th, 1843 (1 + 8 + 4 + 3 = 16, i.e., twice 8) . The present Czar, Alexander III, was born February 26th (2 + 6 = 8); the proclamation of the ascension to the throne of the late Emperor was signed February 18; the public proclamation about the coronation day took place April 17th (1 + 7 = 8). His entrance into Moscow for the coronation was on August 17th (1 + 7 = 8); the coronation itself being performed August 26th (2 + 6 = 8);
the year of the liberation of the Serfs, 1861, whose numerals sum up to 16—i.e., twice 8!*
To conclude, we may mention here a far more curious discovery made in relation, and as a supplement, to the above calculation, by a Jewish Rabbi in Russia—a Kabalist, evidently, from the use he makes of the Gematria reckoning. It was just published in a St. Petersburg paper. The Hebrew letters as stated have all their numerical value or correspondence in arithmetical figures. The number 18 in the Hebrew Alphabet is represented by the letters—“HETH” = 8, and “YOD” = 10, i.e., 18. United together Heth and Yod form the word “khaî,” or “haî,” which literally translated means the imperative—live and alive. Every orthodox Jew during his fast and holy days is bound to donate for some pious purpose a sum of money consisting of, and containing the number 18 in it. So, for instance, he will give 18 copecks, or 18 ten-copeck bits, 18 rubles or 18 times 18 copecks or rubles—according to his means and degree of religious fervour. Hence, the year 1818—that of the Emperor’s birth—meant, if read in Hebrew—“khaï, khaï” or live, live—pronounced emphatically twice; while the year 1881—that of his death read in the same way, yields the fatal words “Khai-tze” rendered in English, “thou living one depart”; or in other words, “life is ended.” . . .
Of course, those sceptically inclined will remark that it is all due to blind chance and “coincidence.” Nor would we much insist upon the contrary, were such an observation to proceed but from uncompromising atheists, and materialists, who, denying the above, remain only logical in their disbelief, and have as much right to their opinion as we have to our own. But we cannot promise the same degree of indulgence whenever attacked by orthodox religionists. For, that class of persons while pooh-poohing speculative metaphysics, and even astrology—a system based upon strictly mathematical calculations, pertaining as much
* [All the dates given in this paragraph are according to the Julian Calendar or “Old Style” to which 12 days should be added (in the nineteenth century to obtain the correct dates, according to the Gregorian Calendar.—Compiler.]
to exact science as biology or physiology, and open to experiment and verification—will, at the same time, firmly believe that potato disease, cholera, railway accidents, earthquakes and the like are all of Divine origin and, proceeding directly of God, have a meaning and a bearing on human life in its highest aspects. It is to the latter class of theists that we say: prove to us the existence of a personal God either outside or inside physical nature, demonstrate him to us as the external agent, the Ruler of the Universe; show him concerned in human affairs and destiny and exercising on them an influence, at least as great and reasonably probable as that exercised by the sunspots upon the destiny of vegetables and then—laugh at us. Until then, and so long as no one is prepared with such a proof and solution, in the words of Tyndall—“Let us lower our heads, and acknowledge our ignorance, priest and philosopher, one and all.”