Gematria is a system by which hidden truths and meanings are discovered within words. Each letter of an alphabet corresponds to a number. Numerical values of words are totaled up and then these words are said to correspond with other words sharing the same numerical value.
The Babylonian king Sargon II, in 8th century BC, is believed to have been the first to use gematria when building the wall of Khorsabad exactly 16,283 cubits long, because that was the numerical value of his name.
In Jewish mysticism this is a traditional system of associating numbers with Hebrew letters for the purpose of discovering hidden meanings in words. This is accomplished by systematically associating letters with numbers and then finding other words with similar numbers. These latter words are regarded as comments on the original words. Systems related to the Hebrew implementation of gematria are still used.
The Hebrews also used gematria for divination.
The ancient Greeks used gematria in dream interpretation. It also appears in the literature of the magi, and has been used in connection with the Greek alphabet.
The Gnostics applied gematria to names of deities such as Abraxas and Mithras, equating them because both of their names equaled 365, the number of days in a year.
Gematria carried over into early Christianity which helped make the dove a representation of Jesus; the Greek word for dove, peristera, equals 801 as do the Greek letters in alpha and omega, which represent the Beginning and the End.
It was the Kabbalists, however, who seriously studied gematria and developed it into an art form. The Kabbalists of the 13th century seriously believed that the Old Testament was written in a hidden code inspired by God. They used gematria as one of the chief means by which to decipher this code. An example of this is shown in their interpretation of Jeremiah 9:9, «From the fowl of the heavens until the beasts are fled and gone». This was interpreted as meaning, that no traveler passed through Judea for 52 years, because the Hebrew word for beast, behemah, has the numerical value of 52.
Entire verses were numerically added up and interpreted in such a fashion. The 13th century German Kabbalistic scholar, Eleazar of Worms, did extensive gematric commentaries on the Bible.
The Kabbalists also used gematria to search for the holy names of God thinking, as so many others have, that these names such as the Tetragrammaton possessed power. Such a procedure has been adopted by many present day magicians. However, it should be noted two schools of thought regarding gematria also were issued from the Kabbalists. One advocated it use while the other cautioned against its practice, recommending that it only be practiced to strengthen one’s own conclusions. Various methods of gematria have evolved; for example one Kabblistic tract lists 72 of hem.
There are two other lesser known decoding systems which are related to gematria, and various methods of practice exist within each of these systems too. The first of these systems is known as notarikon, in which the first letter of words may be extracted and combined to form new words; or, another version is to take the first, last, and sometimes the middle letters to make new words or phrases.
The other system is called temurah. It is a more complicated system in which letters are organized in tables, or according to mathematical arrangements. By the procedure of substitution new words or anagrams are formed.
Some modern occultists apply gematria to Tarot cards, associating the twenty-two trumps with Hebrew letters. A.G.H.