The Timeless Alphabet: An Introduction to the Symbolic Language of Numbers and Shapes

Posted: 03/14/2012 in Metaphysics, Michael Schneider, Mythology, Religion
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by Michael Schneider

Just a few numbers and their shapes compose this archetypal alphabet upon which the designs of the universe, from atoms, flowers, seashells to the human body and galaxies and are based. The forms of nature are forces made visible. Each number and shape conveys specific meaning, and everything in nature tells us its purpose if we know how to read the language in which it is written. Great spiritual art, crafts and architecture have always used this language of number, shape, pattern and proportion to manifest harmonious composition. Knowing nature’s own language is a step towards our harmonious, respectful cooperation with a wonderworld of beauty, and a key to understanding the symbolic significance of numbers and shapes wherever they occur.

The symbolic significance of numbers and shapes is not arbitrary or cultural but comes from their timeless characteristics, their properties alone, and the ways they relate with others. It’s best to let numbers and shapes themselves teach you directly, so bring a geometric compass, straightedge, colored pencils and blank paper for hands-on experiences.

We don’t need any math background to learn the gentle alphabet of nature’s design language. The most important reason for these studies is their healing and uplifting property. With this in mind, Plato wrote:

“‘You amuse me,’ I said, ‘with your obvious fear that the public will disapprove if the subjects you prescribe don’t seem useful. But it is in fact no easy matter, but very difficult for people to believe that there is a faculty in the mind of each of us which these studies purify and rekindle after it has been ruined and blinded by other pursuits, though it is more worth preserving than any eye since it is the only organ by which we perceive the truth. Those who agree with us about this will give your proposals unqualified approval, but those who are quite unaware of it will probably think you are talking nonsense, as they won’t see what other benefit is to be expected from such studies.”

These classes are informative and inspiring, and will rekindle and enhance your own investigations and understanding by means of the wisdom inherent in numbers and shapes.

Come learn the language of your native world!

This information is especially valuable to artists, craftspeople, architects, educators and students of symbolism in worldwide traditions.

For information about specialized workshops for your group email Michael



1&2 Unity & Polarity

This first session begins with an overall introduction to the language of numbers and shapes. It introduces participants to the ancient traditions of “philosophical mathematics” including symbolism of the geometer’s tools, the spiritual allegory of geometric construction, and overview of the Timeless Alphabet. Through hands-on activities with the compass, straightedge and marker, we’re guided to see geometric construction as a creation myth, a metaphor for the process by which all the forms of nature are created.

Unity is a fact of nature, and all numbers and shapes unfold from Unity, number 1, represented by the point, circle and sphere, are most efficient forms and worldwide symbols of heavenly perfection. But Unity casts its own shadow to “create” polarity, represented geometrically by the compass itself, and the Vesica Piscis, the almond opening through which all other numbers and shapes are born.



3: Trinity: Tri-Unity

The birth of the number 3 and triangle enables opposites to balance and transcend to a new wholeness they couldn’t achieve by themselves. A third leg makes a tripod stable, and a third strand of hair allows a braid to knot as one whole, just as neutral judges balance opposing parties, neutrons balance atoms, and the Supreme Court plays the role of the balancing, transcendent third force. This class surveys the appearance of trinities in nature and as worldwide religious symbols, investigating spiritual art which uses the unseen triangular frame to convey this archetypal power.




4: Fair And Square

This class examines the symbolism and appearances of the number four and its representative forms, the square, cube and tetrahedron. Fourness is the essence of volume, underlying the forms of crystals and creatures, and is a symbol of earth, manifestation and the four states of matter (“mater” or mother) shaping and clothing the designs of nature, arts, crafts and architecture. Thus it appears worldwide as a number of directions and migrations, represented everywhere from goddess art to divinatory board games.




5: The Flag of Life

In starfish and flowers, corporate logos and flags, the number five and the amazing regenerative geometry of the pentagon and pentagram star appear in nature and human affairs as a sign of life (the flower of every edible fruit is five-petaled). It is a worldwide symbol of humanity, authority, harmony, beauty and excellence. Participants will learn to recognize the five-ness of living forms, and see how artists from Egypt and Greece to Raphael and Dali have applied five-fold symmetry — the flag of life — to create harmony in their compositions.



6: The Joy Of Six

The principle of sixness is that of structure, function and order, the efficient properties of space, power and time. It appears as the close-packed crystalline patterns of snowflakes, diamonds, chicken wire and honeycombs, as well as the underlying pattern within much spiritual art including the Sphinx and Egyptian jewelry and painting, Chinese sculpture and the U.S. Great Seal.. Multiples of six (especially 12, 24, 30, 36 and 60) provide the sacred measures of space, weight and time, from rulers and protractors to clocks and calendars. Participants will explore the mystery of the sixfold pattern as it appears in many of its universal guises.



7: The Virgin Number

The number seven was considered “virgin” by the ancients because no number goes into it (without remainder), and its geometric construction cannot be captured by compass and straightedge. Thus it appears to us as objects we cannot grasp like the colors of the rainbow and tones of the musical scale. The predominance of seven in religious and mythological symbolism reveals its role as the number of stages in a whole process, from the number of crystal systems and endocrine glands to chakras and “heavens” clues to the stages of our spiritual journey. Participants will learn how to tune a musical instrument to the Pythagorean scale used in ancient musical healing therapy.



8: Periodic Renewal

What is it about the number eight and the geometry of the octagon which makes it so popular in the design of sacred buildings around the world? Participants will tour various expressions of the properties of this fascinating number and see how it reveals the principle of the musical octave, periodic renewal, at work through the universe, from the mythology of Grandmother Spider and the Siberian Shaman’s eight-legged horse, the pattern of rhythmic flow symbolized in the I Ching, in computer chips, the Taoist “Eight Immortals” and Buddhist mandalas which make visible the “Eightfold Path”. We’ll look at sacred architecture including mosques, ancient temples and even the U. S. Capitol Building to discover the principle of “periodic renewal” at work.



9: The Horizon

In traditional worldwide number lore, nine, or thrice three, was referred to as “the horizon” symbolizing the ultimate, the maximum, “the whole nine yards”. This class will look at the ways people have revered the number nine and its principles through their arts, crafts, architecture, literature, mathematics, mythology, religion and folk-sayings, from “cloud nine” and a pagoda’s nine levels to a cat’s nine lives. Casual attire: no need to “dress to the nines”.




10: New Unity

The number ten is a traditional symbol of fulfillment, a return to unity after having gone through the experience represented by single-digit numbers. Tens, hundreds and thousands represent greater powers of Unity. Participants will see how a knowledge of the mathematical principles within “ten” help us to understand its appearances in nature, as well as the philosophical basis of many cultures’ religious scripture, architecture and arts. We will explore the traditional wisdom held in the Tetraktys, symbol of the Pythagoreans, as well as the hidden map of ourselves in the Kabbalah’s “Tree of Life” diagram.




11: The Passageway

The number eleven is quite a mystery. References in sacred literature, philosophy, art and architecture are rare and obscure, but they do exist. It was considered to tresspass beyond 10, but incomplete approaching 12. Resembling the principles of the number 2, of which it is a lower form, 11 represents a door, tunnel or passageway, not only between the realms represented by numbers 10 and 12, but appears as the number of days of the Babylonian New Year’s Festival (the door between years), as the link between the Chinese Magic Squares of Heaven and Earth, as Egyptian bread offerings, in many Islamic references, and is important in the history of measure. To where does this passage lead us?



12: Cosmic Dozens and
The Cosmological Circle

“The universe is simple if you use imagination.
Its pattern is the number Twelve which structures all Creation.
You need not study physics or be versed in numerology
To draw from Threes and Fours the duodecimal cosmology.”

–“Twelve Fold Universe” by John Michell

To live in accord with the perceived cosmic order, countless societies mirrored upon Earth the patterns they saw in the sky and in mathematics, particularly around the wondrous properties of the number twelve. Twelve is the traditional “framework number” embracing and interrelating the numbers below and beyond it. From time immemorial the archetypal “twelve-around-one” pattern of the zodiac was mirrored in twelve-tribe societies, the mythologies of twelve heroic ordeals, twelve spiritual disciples, and the designs of monuments, temples and cultures mediating between Heaven and Earth, from Stonehenge to the U.S. Government. Come learn about worldwide traditions of the Duodecimal (twelvefold) Cosmology.

The “Cosmological Circle” refers to an ancient geometric diagram which appears throughout the world underlying the designs of temples, kivas, churches, mandalas and other expressions of sacred arts, crafts and architecture. Its secret is that it makes visible the harmony of all the numbers 1 through 12 and so represents a harmonious sacred microcosm. We’ll see how its “squared-circle” design insures that such temples are properly oriented to the solstices and equinoxes, and symbolizes that the site occurs at the meeting of Heaven and Earth.


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