I’ve been working lately on a metaphysical project that involves a serious focus on the meanings of numbers. It’s not based on the somewhat generally accepted principles found across most modern Numerology resources, but is rather based on me studying numbers and trying to see what “identity” or “personality” each individual number seems to consistently put forth. It’s not the quickest work I’ve ever undertaken, but it is undeniably fascinating. It’s also had the interesting result of urging me to question the way that numbers are used across multiple other metaphysical disciplines.

For example, there’s this thing that practitioners of both Numerology and Tarot will do, in which they crunch down a person’s birthdate until they arrive at a single digit. Let’s use the birthday of the late, great Sam Cooke to illustrate, because just two days ago, it would have been his 84th birthday if he were still with us…

Sam Cooke’s birthday: Jan. 22, 1931.

Since January is the first month, the math would work like this:

1 + 22 + 1931 = 1954

Next, take those digits and add them:

1 + 9 + 5 + 4 = 19

Keep going:

1 + 9 = 10

One more time, so as to arrive at a single digit:

1 + 0 = 1

So the modern Numerologist would say that Sam Cooke’s Life Path Number was 1, and this would carry with it a host of associated meanings that don’t really require detailing for purposes of this post. Let’s just focus on the fact that Sam Cooke comes out as a 1 in this context.

Similarly, the modern Tarot practitioner would say that Sam Cooke’s Soul Card is Card 1 of the Major Arcana, or The Magician. Again, we can back-burner the precise breakdown of what that actually means for the moment, and just stress that we’re focusing on the number 1.

Both the numerologist and the Tarot expert would pull a great deal of import from all of this. “Sam Cooke was a 1,” they’d say. “Being a 1 in my field of expertise means the following…” they’d say. And I’ve worked through this exercise for people dozens of times, myself, just sort of swallowing it whole, without ever really questioning some of the underlying assumptions that the technique is making.

But take a look at those assumptions. Primarily, anyone using this technique is saying that each of us is an embodiment of one of the familiar numbers we use, and that it identifies and describes us in much the same way that our Zodiac Sun Sign identifies us and describes us in the astrological realm. But it occurred to me that these numbers are based on our Gregorian calendar. This is the most widely used calendar system in the modern world, so it’s not without a significant following, and a case for deriving meaningful numbers from it could certainly be made…but it’s not the only calendar system in the world.

I decided to run some numbers based on other calendar systems, just to see what might happen. Would the same number keep popping up for a given person? Or would we get a slew of entirely different numbers each time we chugged through the calculations? If we did mostly or always arrive at the same number for a person — say, if we did get 1 for Sam Cooke every time out of the mathematical gate — then said number would probably feel like a pretty strong significator for the person in question. But what if we got an assortment of numbers more varied than the array of dishes at a buffet restaurant? What then? What number might still seem to retain any relevance at all? Here’s how things shake out for Sam Cooke using four other major world calendars:

Hebrew Calendar: 4 Shevat, 5691 —> 4 + 11 + 5691 = 5706 —> 5 + 7 + 0 + 6 = 18 —> 1 + 8 = 9

Islamic Calendar: 3 Ramadan, 1349 —> 3 + 9 + 1349 = 1361 —> 1 + 3 + 6 + 1 = 11 —> 1 + 1 = 2

Persian Calendar: 2 Bahman, 1309 —> 2 + 11 + 1309 = 1322 —> 1 + 3 + 2 + 2 = 8

Hindu Calendar: 2 Magha, 1852 —> 2 + 11 + 1852 = 1865 —> 1 + 8 + 6 + 5 = 20 —> 2 + 0 = 2

So using five different systems, Sam Cooke rolls out twice as a 2, and presents one time each as a 1, 8, and 9. So then what number is he, *really*?? Does it matter what the other systems say, if Sam Cooke was born in the United States, and lived most of his life here? Shouldn’t the calendar in use here prevail?

Maybe. But what if the person doing the calculation lived in Israel? Or Iran? Or some other place that didn’t use the Gregorian calendar? Would a more “true” number result if it was the calendar of the observer that was used to determine the number, or should it be the calendar of the observed party (in our example, that’s good old Sam Cooke) that holds sway?

What about me? I was born and raised in the US, just like Sam Cooke was. But my family is Jewish. Using the Gregorian calendar, I come out as a 6…but using the Hebrew calendar, I’m a 7. So which of those numbers am I??

I’m sorry to say that I have no easy answers for you here — I’m still working away at this numbers stuff right now, and I’m firmly lodged in question-asking mode; question-answering will have to come in time.

Still, I wanted to flag some of these issues here. It started to bother me that so many books and websites and speakers I’ve encountered engage in this Life Path and Soul Card business as if the human-spawned Gregorian calendar can and should be as universally applied across the globe as, say, the boiling point of water or the speed of sound. The birth of Jesus isn’t any more a definitive starting point for a time scale than zero degrees Fahrenheit is a perfect origin for a temperature scale — they’re both just points along an axis that only have special meaning if enough people agree that they do. Absolute zero would seem to be a terrific starting point for a temperature scale, as we can’t seem to get any lower than that in this physical universe of ours…but the only comparable time-based event would be the Big Bang, and we don’t really have a way of determining exactly how much time has elapsed since then.

So, like I said: no answers yet. But I think it’s worth asking the questions… Please feel free to ask or answer these or any related questions in the comments section. Just, please, first: take a number…