Friday, July 30, 2010

The Use of Numbers in Tattoos

(from "Alphabets and Scripts Tattoo Design Directory - The Essential Reference for Body Art" by Vince Hemingson)

"Numbers are the universal language offered by the deity to humans as confirmation of the truth." - Saint Augstine of Hippo (CE 354-430)

Each numeral has specific meanings that can be attributed to it. People use numbers in their tattoos quite frequently in order to convey some of these meanings. While the symbols are unencumbered by historical meaning beyond their numerical value, various traditions have since cloaked the numerals with esoteric significance. From Pythagoras to pure hokum, our numbers have been alchemized into concepts to either fear or revere. Divers meanings have been ascribed to our basic numbers by various traditions, from numerology to the tarot, to sheer superstition.

1 - The beginning and the end, the alpha and omega. Pure potential. Or, it can mean total failure. Yang energy. Positivity and free will. Number one is often used to denote oneself, as in, "I'm taking care of number one." One is the first, the best, and the only. It has no divisors, no factors, no components. It stands for independence and the individual, or God.

2 - Yin energy. Balance and union. Duality and opposition. Two gets complicated because it beckons us to choose. If one is the essence, then two is the existence. In Cantonese numerology, this number means "easy." In pokier, the lowly deuce is sometimes wild, sometimes king.

3 - Neutrality. Mystery and initiation. Two is linear, three is geometric. Three dimensions creat the solid contents of life. Aspects of life and spirituality seem to come in threes: the Holy Trinities in many religions; the past, present, and future; though, word, and deed; animal, vegetable, mineral; me, myself, and I; and, perhaps most importantly, God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent.

4 - Creation, stability, simplicity, and practicality. Think achievement and humility. Four speaks of being calm and grounded. The center of the cyclone. Four is square and natural, solid and whole. The four seasons, four cardinal directions, four elements in nature. At the core of Buddhist teaching are the Four Noble Truths (life is suffering; it has a cause; an end t o suffering is possible; the way out is the Noble Eightfold Path). In Chinese numerology four is unlucky, being a homonym with the word for death.

5 - Five fingers, five toes, five senses - the number five is physical. Action and adventure. Restlessness, passion, and unpredictability. To the Chinese, it symbolizes myself, or the concept of never. The psychologist Carl Jung saw five as the union of the first mail and female numbers, hence the symbol of creative life and erotic love.

6 - The Chinese number six means "easy and smooth all the way." Things unfolding as they should. Natural reactions and responsibilities. Protective and dependable, the number six is a caring number, a number that encourages us to accept what is inevitable, giving rise to compassion and forgiveness. The theory of six degrees of separation says that no one lies outside the number six.

7 - Lucky seven. The seven deadly sins. Seven is said to represent the focused search for esoteric meaning, and is concerned with mysticism and healing. In therapeutic circles it implies thought, awareness, and imagination in the service of manifesting what we want. The word Sabbath comes from the Hebrew root word for seven, meaning "to be complete or full." The Cantonese word for seven is considered vulgar.

8 - Infinity. Sudden fortune, prosperity. Sacrifice and power. Opportunity. In Chinese culture, where the spoken eight sounds like "prosper," it's considered a lucky number. It represents the totality of the universe. The Summer Olympics in Beijing commenced at 8:08pm on August 8, 2008. Buddha taught his Noble Eightfold Path. And finally, "He that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you..."

9 - Symbolic of completeness because no other single digit has a higher value. Nine also symbolizes vision, intellectual power, attainment, and seeing the big picture. Nine months mark the human gestation period. Dante's Inferno speaks of nine circles of Hell and nine spheres of Heaven. The Chinese Netherworld is described as having nine rivers. In Norse mythology, secrets are revealed to Odin after hanging on the World Tree for nine nights.

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