How Numerology Works

By: Tracy V. Wilson  | 
Numerology is the belief that all of life's events are defined by the mystical relationship between you and your life numbers. FotoHelin/Shutterstock

In the world of Harry Potter, Hermione Granger's favorite subject is arithmancy. The novels don't offer much detail, but they make it clear that arithmancy involves the magical properties of numbers. Hermione learns to use complex charts to perform numerical divination, or tell the future using numbers.

In real life, arithmancy is known as numerology. According to numerologists, everything in the world is dependent on numerical patterns. These patterns come from the numbers' inherent vibrations.


As the numerology theory goes, each number has a unique vibration, giving it certain properties. These properties can shed light onto a person's behavior or predict whether romantic partners are compatible.

Numerological chart analysis can determine a person's lucky number or angel numbers. These recurring numbers offer clues into how the world works or the significance of people and events. According to many numerologists, nothing happens by accident — everything happens because of numbers.

Most numerologists credit the Greek philosopher Pythagoras as the founder of numerology. Pythagoras and his followers, known as Pythagoreans, studied mathematics, music and philosophy. Many textbooks credit the Pythagorean school with several important discoveries, including:

  • The Pythagorean theorem, which states that in a right triangle, the square of the length of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides (a2 + b2 = c2)
  • The mathematical proportions in musical harmonies, likely discovered using stringed instruments
  • The first irrational number, the square root of two or Pythagoras' constant

In addition, Pythagoras and his followers believed in mystical properties of numbers. According to Underwood Dudley, author of "Numerology: Or What Pythagoras Wrought," the Pythagoreans became interested in number mysticism after discovering a particularly fascinating fact about numbers. If you add up a series of odd numbers beginning with the No. 1, the result is always a square number.

Discoveries like this led the Pythagoreans to the conclusion that "all is number." According to one interpretation, this means that people can measure everything in the world and describe it in terms of numbers and proportions. This is a reasonable idea, and it has had a big influence on science and mathematics. But according to another interpretation, "all is number" means that everything in the world is made of numbers and can be reduced to a numerical value.


Pythagorean Numerology Basics

Greek philosopher Pythagoras believed that everything in the universe could be explained by numbers. Polina Antonova/Shutterstock

In their study of mathematical concepts, the Pythagoreans sorted numbers into categories. Numbers like one, four and nine are square because a corresponding number of dots or pebbles can be arranged in a perfect square. One, three, six and 10 are triangular — one, three, six or 10 dots can be arranged into regular triangles. Two, six and 12 are oblong, since the corresponding number of pebbles form rectangles.

Along with describing numbers in terms of math and geometry, the Pythagoreans also described them in terms of non-numerical traits. These traits had more to do with intuition and mysticism than science or mathematics.


For example, odd numbers are masculine and even numbers are feminine. The No. 1 is creative, since the addition of multiple ones can create any other number. Two represents duality and is female, while three is male. As the sum of two and three, five represents marriage, and since it falls exactly in the middle of the numbers one through nine, it also represents justice.

Ten is a sacred number, largely because it is the sum of the first four digits.

After the death of Pythagoras, interest in mathematical mysticism faded. It reappeared in the late 1800s when Mrs. L. Dow Balliett published several books on number vibration, music and colors. According to Balliett, each number has a specific vibration. People, foods, objects and colors also vibrate. In order to live a productive and harmonious life, people should make sure their environment vibrates in harmony with their own vibrations. This concept appears frequently in other new age practices, some of which describe it as an affect of the movement of subatomic particles. However, there has been little scientific study to identify or quantify such a vibration or to analyze its affect on human existence.

Unlike the Pythagoreans, modern numerologists apply numbers to people in addition to applying intangible concepts to numbers. According to most numerologists, the numbers one to nine have unique properties that are the direct result of their inherent vibration. Some of these properties come from Pythagorean writings, and others come from how cultures around the world use and approach numbers.

Some systems designate numbers with repeating digits as master numbers, which include all the attributes of two other numbers:

  • 11: 1 and 2
  • 22: 2 and 4
  • 33: 3 and 6
  • 44: 4 and 8

Numerology purports to tell the future, guide human behavior, predict the outcome of relationships and otherwise divine the unknowable by figuring out a person's numbers. For example, if the No. 9 has a particular vibration, a person whose number is nine has the same vibration. That person can choose what to eat, where to go and how to live based on which choices have a vibration that is compatible with nine.


Finding Your Life Path Number

You can find your life path number using your name and some simple addition. Iryna Imago/Shutterstock

The process of translating words to numbers is central to numerology. The practice has roots in Greek, Latin and Hebrew gematria, or the practice of turning words into numbers for the purpose of divination. People have used gematria to study and interpret the Torah, the Bible and other religious texts.

Most of the time, numerologists focus on people's names, using a simple chart to change names into numbers. Different numerology systems use different charts, but an easy one begins with "a" equaling one, "b" equaling two and so forth.


Numerologists typically use a person's birth name to find their number. Some argue that unborn babies select their names themselves and communicate them to their parents psychically, making sure their name will suit them and yield the correct number. According to numerologists, the name a person receives at birth is more significant than nicknames, names taken upon marriage or otherwise changed names.

To determine a person's birthday number, the numerologist picks the corresponding numbers from the chart and adds them together. If the result has two or more digits, the numerologist will add those digits together, repeating that step until arriving at a single digit.

For example, the total for the name "John" is 20 and "Smith" is 24 in our image above for a total of 44. Finally, add the two digits together for a total of 8. The only time you don't add the final two numbers is if the sum is 11, 22 or 33 because those are master numbers.

Many numerology systems also use a person's date of birth to arrive at another number known as the birth, life or destiny number. Let's say John's birthday is July 31, 1981. In numerology that is 7 + 31 + 1981 = 2019. Further add 2 + 1 + 9 = 12; and finally add 1 + 2 for a birthday number of 3.

The Pythagorean numerology chart shows which letters translate to which numbers. Maybe you're lucky enough to vibe with a master number!

Some numerologists use charts or diagrams to examine the numbers and letters in relations to one another. These diagrams can resemble astrological charts and can add additional layers of meaning to the numerological reading. But regardless of whether a numerologist uses a simple or complex system to determine the results, the final analysis will often sound much like a horoscope.

Numerologists will interpret the results and the connotations of each number to make recommendations or theorize about a person's future. Recommendations often include:

  • Lucky days or lucky numbers
  • Optimal career paths or leadership positions to pursue
  • Negative tendencies to avoid
  • Positive attributes to emphasize
  • What to look for in a romantic partner

Like astrology, numerology is a type of applied mysticism; it correlates a mystical symbol with a person's life. For this reason, some people have credited numerology numbers with helping them to make personal or financial decisions. However, there's no proof that the system works or that there is any real correlation between the numbers and their associated concepts.


Criticisms of Numerology

Some people notice numerical patterns in their daily lives, in historical records or in religious texts like the Bible. It often seems that the repetition is too frequent to be coincidental. In some cases, people have theorized that these repeating numbers have special significance or demonstrate the influence of a deity or supernatural force. Although not strictly part of numerology, this perception often assigns numerology-like attributes to the frequently appearing numbers. This has led to the 23 Enigma and other beliefs that specific numbers are at the center of a pattern or conspiracy.

Critics, on the other hand, dismiss such occurrences as coincidence for a number of reasons:


  • People are good at recognizing patterns. While this helps people learn to read, count and recognize faces, it can also encourage people to interpret random events as patterns.
  • Because of the small number of numerals that exist in the world, repetitions are inevitable.
  • Because of the small number of round, square or otherwise distinctive numbers in the world, repetitions of those are inevitable as well.

These criticisms can also apply to the ancient system of numerology. For example, some practitioners say they see their birth path number everywhere, and that this confirms that numerology is real. However, according to critics, the frequent appearance is coincidental. In addition, critics point out that people are likely to remember seeing their birth date and forget seeing other numbers. In other words, a person whose birth path number is seven will remember seeing lots of sevens but will disregarding all the sixes, eights and other numbers.

But the biggest criticism of numerology is that it's based on an invented system of counting. This system was developed to allow people to count objects in groups of 10, rather than a single number.

However, this system, known as a base-10 system, isn't the only system of counting. Indigenous tribes in Australian, New Guinea, Africa and South America developed number systems that counted in pairs. Some societies also used base-12 and base-60, which we still use to tell time.

In other words, numerology, like astrology, is based on an invented system that people developed to better organize the objects around them. While people often find such systems helpful on a spiritual or emotional level, there's no scientific evidence to prove that the system really works the way practitioners say it does.


Numerology FAQ

How do you find your numerology number?
Start with the numbers in your birthdate and add them up in a specific way. For instance, if you are born Feb. 14, 1990, in numerology that is 2 + 14 + 1990 = 2006. Further add 2 + 6 = 8, to get your life path number of 8. The only time you don't reduce the final number is if it is an 11, 22 or 33, which are master numbers. You can also use a similar technique with your full name to find your destiny number.
What are the good numbers in numerology?
There isn't a best number. However, master numbers are said to be the most influential and strongest numbers. These include 11, 22 and 33. They represent exceptional spiritual power and knowledge – something other numbers don't contain.
Which is the powerful number in numerology?
The number 22 is perhaps the most powerful number in numerology. It is one of the master numbers that is believed to transform dreams into reality, regardless of how impossible the dreams appear to be.
What does 77 mean?
The number 77 is an angel number. It is an indication that time has come to collect rewards for your effort. If you see it a lot, then it is something that should make you happy. Bear in mind that angel numbers always represent a happy meaning.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Cusante, Johny. "Professional Numerology." (3/2/2007) (Dec. 15, 2022)
  • Drayer, Ruth A. "Numerology: The Power of Numbers." Square One Publishers. 2003.
  • Dudley, Underwood. "Numerology: Or What Pythagoras Wrought." The Mathematical Association of America. 1997.
  • Encyclopedia Britannica. "Numerals and Numeral Systems." 2007. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. (3/2/2007)
  • Encyclopedia Britannica. "Numerology." 2007. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. (3/1/2007)
  • Encyclopedia Britannica. "Pythagoreanism." 2007. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. (3/2/2007)
  • (3/2/2007) (Dec. 15, 2022)
  • Randi, James. "Numerology." Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural." (3/2/2007) (Dec. 15, 2022)
  • Shermer, Michael. "Smart People Believe Weird Things." Scientific American. 11/2002. (Dec. 15, 2022)
  • Shine, Norman. "Numerology: Your Character and Future Revealed in Numbers." Fireside. 1994.
  • Weisstein, Eric W. "Beast Number." From MathWorld--A Wolfram Web Resource. (Dec. 15, 2022)
  • Weisstein, Eric W. "Birthday Problem." From MathWorld--A Wolfram Web Resource. (Dec. 15, 2022)