Are There (Hidden) Archetypal Patterns in Our Lives? — Part 3, Numbers
This article is the third in a series. To put what follows into context, it would be helpful to have read the first. If required, at least read the introduction to that to make sense of what follows. In a nutshell, I’m in an argument with the astrologer Michael Harding as to whether patterns and strange coincidences in our lives are the consequence of Jungian archetypes (i.e. transcendent, supernatural influences) or, as he thinks, planetary movements (celestial mechanics). Part 1 gave an overview of the issues, and provided some examples with discussion. In part 2 I discussed coincidences/patterns involving names. Here I move onto numbers.
Numbers are another important source of patterns and coincidences. How should we understand their nature? Probably the most common view is the one expressed by Martin Cochrane: “Mathematics is…only another language, constructed to explain the reality of the physical world. In other words, another social construction by man”¹. To many people this will seem self-evident; of course humanity invented numbers, how else could it be? This way of thinking, however, depends upon the truth of a premise, the worldview of scientific materialism, including the current evolutionary understanding, that life including humans emerged from dead matter where no mathematics could have existed. It is therefore only one hypothesis, since there is an alternative, more spiritual, viewpoint:
- Carl Jung: “It is generally believed that numbers were invented or thought out by man, and are therefore nothing but concepts of quantities, containing nothing that was not previously put into them by human intellect. But it is equally possible that numbers were found or discovered (his italics). In that case they are not only concepts but something more — autonomous entities which somehow contain more than just quantities… I incline to the view that numbers were as much found as invented, and that in consequence they possess a relative autonomy analogous to that of the archetypes’².
- Physicist Freeman Dyson wonders “why the electron pays attention to our mathematics. (This) is a mystery that even Einstein could not fathom”³. Perhaps the problem is that he sees mathematics as “ours”.
- Marie-Louise von Franz, leading follower of Jung: “Nowadays, in this time of so-called enlightenment where everything irrational and the word God anyhow is thrown out of human science, a real attempt has been made in formalistic mathematics to define number in a form which would exclude all irrational elements, with the definition of numbers as a series of marks and a creation of the human mind. Now the spirit is seemingly owned by the ego complex, the mathematician’s ego owns and created numbers! That is what Weyl believed, and that is why he said: ‘I cannot understand that something completely simple which the human mind has created suddenly contains something abysmal’. He should only have asked whether the human mind had really created them. He feels as if he were now manipulating the phenomenon completely, but that is not true”⁴.
- J. A. West and J. G. Toonder: “The division of the zodiac into.. sectors is based fundamentally upon the belief that the universe is coherent and that numbers are not mere inventions of man allowing him to make purely quantitative distinctions but rather the symbolic keys to qualitative laws that govern the coherent universe. All esoteric traditions have always sought to express the multiplicity within unity, and this has always involved the use of numbers, and the use of symbols…”⁵.
- John Addey (in relation to the concept of the reality of numbers): “There are those who believe that distinctions of this sort are merely arbitrary conceptions of the human mind which have no reality other than that given to them by our own thoughts. This is a heresy(!) which has arisen as a by-product of an era of scientific materialism which cannot conceive of inner realities except in these terms”⁶.
Addey establishes a connection between number and synchronicity by pointing out that: “Since the remotest times men have used numbers to express meaningful coincidences, that is, those that can be interpreted… They have never been entirely robbed of their numinous aura”⁷.
That is to say, in the past humans have always experienced numbers as transcendent, ‘divine’, which, translated into modern language, means that they exist, as Jung suggests, at the level of the archetypes⁸.
In case you think that is another example of their naive and superstitious nature, which in modern times we should have outgrown, Jung also mentions: “That numbers have an archetypal foundation is not… conjecture of mine but of certain mathematicians. Hence it is not such an audacious conclusion after all if we define number psychologically as an archetype of order which has become conscious”⁹.
This viewpoint is, of course, the basis of numerology, a study which has strong parallels with astrology, in that an apparently unlikely external principle is claimed to be responsible for structuring human affairs. I have heard it dismissed with the same contempt normally reserved for astrology, so let us take a look at the issue more closely.
Even though number is at the heart of all astrology, it is John Addey who makes most reference to it in theoretical writings, not surprisingly since he is descended metaphysically from Pythagoras. He did some innovative work, developing the concept of harmonics, which in his words are “not only the circles or cycles of activity measured off by the whole length (duration) of each cosmic period, but also the sub-rhythms of activity which recur and are exactly completed within each period and which therefore must have a duration based on the division of that period by a whole number”¹⁰ (his italics). The implication is therefore that “the symbolism of number is an integral part of astrology… (and) is expressed primarily through the harmonic relationships of planets in the circle”¹¹.
Having noted that D’Arcy Thompson has shown how mathematical laws are at work in all the forms of nature¹², he makes this fascinating claim: “Now science must learn that the lineaments of human character and convolutions of destiny, too, fall no less within the scope of number; for if it is true that God made ‘every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew’, it is no less true that He measured the ways of man before He was in the womb, and made Him an embodiment of ideal and divine numbers”¹³.
If Addey is right that the archetype of number structures human affairs, perhaps some of the following examples will seem a little less surprising.
Ken Anderson says: “Most of us have a specific number that dogs our lives to a greater or lesser degree. Depending on your temperament, it can mean a little — one of life’s little eccentricities — or it can mean a lot — a marker of significant events in your life”¹⁴, and repeats the idea in his later book: “Most people feel they are in some way attached to a particular number or numbers, whether it be their birthday or some other digit or set of digits. The same number crops up throughout their life resulting both in good news and bad news, happy and sad experiences, good and bad luck”¹⁵. He gives examples of famous people — John Lennon and 9, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, both 7¹⁶. From his correspondents he gives the examples of :
1) Suzanne Venecek, who, having read his previous book, realized that the number 10 was a significant number invading (!) her life¹⁷.
2) Audrey Austin of Kariong, New South Wales, who “believes her ‘number’ is 3”, it having cropped up throughout her life in all kinds of circumstances. And in fact, according to numerology, derived from her birth-date, her number is 3!¹⁸
3) Ute Kaboolian who, having had the same type of experiences, says: “If we do have a hand in making our reality according to what we think is important to us, then maybe anniversaries and other dates stress this importance in ways that cannot be overlooked. They also show us how we, as individuals, are connected to the greater experience of our universe. When my husband and I were married in 1958 I was 27 years old. On 15 July 1989, we celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary. I was born in 1931. My husband has a 31 in his social security number, I have a 58. In 1958 he was twice my age. As he tells it, first he had to wait 27 years for me to be born, then another 27 years before he was able to meet and marry me. In 1958 our ages added up to 9 (2+7=9 and 5+4=9). In 1989 our ages were reversed, my husband was 85, I 58, which is the year I got married and started a new life. In 1989, both our ages totalled 13, the reverse of 31, the year I was born”¹⁹. (Is attaching meaning to this just fanciful speculation? Many people will say so, but the very least that can be said is that the couple themselves are convinced of what the wife is saying, which places it on a par with synchronistic events which can really truly impress only the person concerned.)
In the above cases the repeating number is fairly simple. It is possible for a longer number to repeat itself, however:
1) In an ongoing childhood game a girl gave herself the (telephone) number 7605. In 1940, over ten years later, she had her first telephone connected and was “amazed when the gentleman from the post office said, ‘Your number, madam, is 7605’ ”. A possible explanation for this event would run as follows. The girl’s choice of phone number is stored in the collective unconscious. Later on she is assigned a real number, either by a human being, in which case some form of ESP could be involved, or by some random factor — for example a computer, or by merely being the next person on a list — in which case we would have to believe that ESP extends beyond human consciousness. Alternatively, she chose the original number unconsciously because it had some unknown numerological significance for her, confirmed by its reappearance later. Or, the event was organised by a hidden intelligence in order to impress the woman. (I believe that I have had a synchronistic experience of precisely that type.)
2) “Colin Archer drove a taxi cab for fifteen years with the numberplate T390. His private car numberplate was CRA 390, and when he wrote away for a ticket for a senior citizens’ week concert, he was sent a ticket numbered 390. The following year when he received his ticket to the concert it was again 390”.
3) “In the early 1950s Tony Taylor bought a house in Liverpool, England, Lot №201, which eventually became №47. His local Member of Parliament was Harold Wilson… (who subsequently became Prime Minister). Mr Taylor moved to Australia… and bought a house in Liverpool, a city near Sydney… Its address was Lot 201. It also became house No 47. His local MP was Gough Whitlam, Labor, and Mr. Taylor could not resist writing to him to tell him on the basis of his coincidental experience he would become Prime Minister — he did in 1972”²⁰. (It is not obvious, to me at least, why Mr Taylor should connect the number-coincidence with the career of his local MP. He was proved right, however.)
4) “The address of Howard Trent, of Fresno, California, ends with the digits 742, as do his telephone number and bank account number. The number of a compensation check he received after being hospitalized was 99742, which matched the last five digits of his telephone number. The serial numbers of a set of new tires he bought ended in 742 and the number on his car license plate is FDC742²¹.
In these last three examples, unless there is some numerological significance for the individuals with respect to these numbers, all would appear to be random, meaningless coincidences. The odds against these repetitions happening by chance are significantly high, so that if it is not the archetype of number itself, then again (as in the previous article, with regard to names) I would suspect the involvement of the Trickster/Joker archetype. An alternative explanation would be that the numbers in some mysterious way ‘like’ to repeat themselves. This would fit with Harding’s theory of astrology; the repetitions would be in response to planetary patterns, but we don’t have access to the relevant charts.
Numbers in the form of repeating dates are also involved in significant coincidences and patterns. Tony Crisp gives two examples, the simpler being that of Anna Murray, a BBC researcher, who says that in her family, therefore beyond the scope of the individual’s life, and hard perhaps for astrology to explain, things always happen on the 17th of the month. He comments: “When you collect enough cases of coincidental events, you begin to see that dates and even places frequently have powerful connections in the life of that individual’ ”²².
He follows this up with a more complicated example: “On 5 December 1664, a ship in the Menai Strait off the coast of North Wales sank with 81 passengers on board. Only one man survived. His name was Hugh Williams. In the year 1785, on the same date of 5 December, a ship with 60 passengers sank leaving only one survivor. His name was Hugh Williams. On 5 December 1860, a ship sank with 25 passengers. There was only one survivor. His name was Hugh Williams”²³.
This example has Harding-like features, but what the incidents have in common is the date, the fact of the single survivor, and his name. It is unlikely that the pattern of the heavens recurs on anniversaries, so that the most likely explanation would seem to be the numerological one, that the date somehow attracts the event.
Ken Anderson provides this interesting example: Cheryl Bushby’s baby was “nine days past its expected birth date. Then, on 18 January 1985, the baby came with a rush, thus linking three generations of the family — all girls — to the same birth date. Baby Amanda had arrived on Cheryl’s twenty-third birthday. Her grandmother.. had been born on the same day in 1939 and had given birth to Cheryl on her twenty-third birthday”²⁴.
In this example, the baby seems to want to be born at a certain time. Such an idea is fascinating from an astrological point of view; could she be trying to fit in with her horoscope? The story suggests, however, that it is the date which is important, as if repeating the family tradition was in some way significant.
Anderson cites surveys about birth trends which show that there are fewer births on public holidays in general, notably over Easter and Christmas Days which “can be as much as 36 per cent below the respective daily averages for the days concerned”. Yet “research shows that children born on that day have above average chances of becoming successful. A disproportionate forty-two of the 620 US congressmen have 25 December birthdays, while a check of the birth dates of 9,000 people listed in Who’s Who shows 600 such birthdays. This is fifteen times above the expected rate”. Also leading clergymen are “four times more likely to have been born on Christmas Day than on any other”²⁵.
Most of the observations here are difficult to fit in with the categories of explanation that I have suggested. The success of Christmas Day children, however, might be attributed to the ‘energy follows thought’ idea; December 25th is celebrated in our culture as the birthday of a very special person, therefore children born on that day are also treated as special, therefore they believe that they are special, and so on.
Other interesting statistics regarding birth-trends are as follows:
a) there are fewer births on Sundays, increasing gradually to a peak on Thursdays, then declining again.
b) there is a tendency to avoid February 29 when it occurs.
The following example is more difficult. There has been a pattern, every twenty years starting in 1840, of US presidents elected in those years dying in office. This obviously includes the two famous assassinations of Lincoln and Kennedy, which involve an extraordinary set of coincidences connecting them after an interval of 100 years. For considerations of space and because the details are already well-known to many people I will not repeat them²⁶.
What is interesting here is not that there is a pattern relating to the date or year of death, which one would assume to be more significant, but the year of the election, which then results in another event. The fact that there was a failed assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan in 1980, which may have signified the end of the sequence, seems only to draw attention to the pattern, to the fact that some organising influence is going on beneath the surface. If we follow through the idea of the pattern gradually dying away, an interesting incident occurred soon after the inauguration of President Bush in 2001. An armed man causing a nuisance outside the White House, was shot in the leg by security staff. Although the president was in the building, the incident posed no threat to his safety.
It seems especially hard to find a credible explanation for this. It may be a morphogenetic field, but in this case that does not seem especially convincing. In the absence of any other explanation, Alan Vaughan believes that the pattern may be the product of a curse on the presidency, originally placed on William Henry Harrison by a Shawnee Indian prophet after he had defeated the Shawnees at the battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. Should we believe in curses? That is an open question. If you have doubts about the author’s credibility, in his favour it can be said that he prophesied in 1973, on the basis of a dream, that the 1980 president would survive. “The curse has run its course… If allowed once more the dignity of his (the Shawnee’s) ancient race, then he will perhaps have vanquished the spectre of the Shawnee’s curse”²⁷. This is interesting given that there was a failed attempt on Reagan. (On the down side, Vaughan incorrectly felt that the rules governing length of the term of office would change so that there wouldn’t be a 1980 election.)
Especially since the dates are not the same, an astrological pattern may be responsible. Normally, however, in astrological thinking the charts of the individuals are important. Here the office of president seems to be attracting the coincidence, which is bizarre, at least to an outsider like me. Liz Greene, however, offers a possible explanation for the pattern which she describes as “an American president dying in office who has been elected under a Jupiter-Saturn conjunction”. She continues: “This has been happening regularly since Abraham Lincoln, and I think all the conjunctions have been in earthy signs. This time the conjunction has fallen in an air sign, and President Reagan got shot but didn’t die. There is also the curious example of the Pope, who is a different kind of old king. Once again, there was an assassination attempt, but he didn’t die. I don’t know whether this more optimistic note is because air is less concrete than earth and therefore demands less definite concrete expression”. Her hypothesis as to why the office of president attracts the pattern is as follows: “Perhaps America loses her presidents because there is a natal Jupiter-Saturn square in her birth chart, which means the nation is very sensitive to those conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn. But this time the fate has not been enacted concretely all the way through”²⁸.
The following two stories involving number appear to be classic cases of Jungian synchronicity, external correspondences to a personal experience:
1) This one is related by F. David Peat about the physicist Wolfgang Pauli: “One of the great unsolved mysteries of modern physics is the value of the fine structure constant, for while the other fundamental constants of nature are all immensely small or enormously large, this fine structure constant 1/137 turns out to be a human-sized number. This number 137 and its place in the scale of the universe particularly puzzled Pauli and continues to challenge physicists today. It was a mystery that Pauli was to take to his death, for on being admitted into the hospital, the physicist was told that he was being put into room 137. According to one version of this story, on learning of his room number, Pauli said, ‘I will never get out of here’. The physicist died shortly after”²⁹.
2) A woman gave birth to a boy in the back seat of her car on the way to hospital at 6.40 a.m. The numberplate of the car was BOY 640³⁰.
Here is a story, related to Arthur Koestler by Professor Hans Zeisl, which combines the idea of a number invading a life with a powerful synchronistic event: “My grandparents on my mother’s side lived in Gablonz, Mozartgasse 23; we lived in Vienna at Rossauerlaende 23; our law office at Gonzagagasse 23; my mother at Alserstrasse 23, Tuer [flat] 23, and so it went. One spring, my mother was about to leave for a trip to Southern France with a friend of hers and asked me to bring her ‘something to read’. A friend, who owned a bookstore, recommended Ilya Ehrenburg’s Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney: ‘It is just out’. I bought it without looking at it. My mother wrote at intervals. When she approached Monte Carlo she wrote, ‘You know I am not the gambling type, but I am tempted to put a little money on our number 23’. Of course, I encouraged her. The next letter came from Monte Carlo: ‘We arrived last night and before falling asleep I read some more in the The Love of Jeanne Ney. There I came upon a passage where (whoever it was) played roulette and won — on number 23. That settles it: tomorrow I am going to put some chips on 23’. One day later, another letter arrived: ‘23 came out on my second try’. The win was confirmed by my mother’s travelling companion”³¹.
Finally, here is a random story involving number. As is well known, in the Book of Revelation the number ascribed to the devil is 6–6–6 (the ‘mark of the beast’). On the Channel 4 programme Fortean TV (August 22nd 2000), there was a report on a Ford Capri including 666 in its registration, which behaved as though it were cursed or possessed. The previous owner had said that the number-plate was “generating an evil feeling” and had been “very keen to get rid of it”. The new owner moved it from one garage to another block of garages, and a shed in the next garden caught fire the same night, setting fire to the garages. While driving along the front wheel caught fire. A mechanic couldn’t find anything wrong with it, so the brake caliper was changed, the old one being placed in the boot. The next day the owner checked it and it was so hot that it was impossible to handle. A woman friend, having heard about the problems, agreed to check out the car. She sat in the front seat, but when she turned round she saw the face of a woman in the back seat.
This owner was not alone in experiencing such problems. According to the presenter, “plagued by reports of beastly behaviour ” the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency has stopped producing any number-plates containing 666. The civil servant interviewed was somewhat more restrained, confirming that the number had been withdrawn in 1989 after “a small but significant number of people had complained”. The problems did not seem as serious as in the main example, being described as “an inexplicable fault, a spate of break-ins”. It is likely, however, that the reasons given cover up more bizarre happenings, in that the people concerned may not have wanted to appear ‘crazy’; it seems unlikely that a spate of break-ins would lead someone to suggest that a registration number should be withdrawn.
The likely explanation seems to me to be as follows. If we resist the idea that the cars involved are actually possessed by evil spirits, then we would have to point to the association in peoples’ minds between the number 666 and the Devil. It is often said in psychological circles that “energy follows thought”. Other examples would include the condition of cancer patients which improves after they are asked to visualize an army of white blood-cells attacking the malignant ones. In Sports Psychology athletes etc. are told to visualize in advance the winning of the race, the receiving of the gold-medal, and so on. This is believed to increase their chances of winning. In these cases we see human thought/imagination trying to create events in the material world. What can be achieved consciously could also be brought about unconsciously. Thus the car behaves as if possessed precisely because people are thinking it to be so.
There is therefore an impressive array of evidence pointing to number as an organising factor in our lives. Michael Harding has no problem with this, for he says: “The concept of number would appear to be more uniquely related to astrology than to any other coherent cosmological system. Astrologers use numbers to describe the shape and nature of the zodiac and the manifesting qualities of the aspects — and much else besides”. He points out that in some astrologers’ work, “the use of number and archetype are almost synonymous; a number is seen as containing or expressing a specific idea which is then manifested in the world again and again. In other words, the event is in some way a reflection of an underlying ‘truth’ ”³². That was also the conclusion drawn by Addey, Jung, and Von Franz, but Harding does not see things as they do. His own approach is expressed thus: rather than resonating to an archetype, number is “inherent within the process of the thing itself… Number is a way of being, a shifting process of possibilities contained within the working of the cosmos… Number would seem to be the way things ‘work’ ” (p63, his italics). He arrives at this statement after a discussion of the work of modern mathematicians Boole, De Morgan, and philosopher Frege, whom he favours because they satisfy “growing logistical demands” (p62). This is the same attitude that he reveals in relation to the modern philosophers of language, that is to say, only rational explanations will do, and again he seems to think that quoting these writers in some way constitutes proof; ‘modern’ is by definition ‘better’.
Just as in my earlier discussion of the archetypes, Harding makes no attempt to explain what model of the nature of the universe might explain how number is an aspect of matter, and how numerical coincidences could thereby be generated. Given his apparent materialism, we can reasonably ask how he accounts for statements like this by eminent mathematician and physicist Paul Dirac: “There is just one rock which weathers every storm, to which one can always hold fast — the assumption that the fundamental laws of nature correspond to a beautiful mathematical theory. This means a theory based on simple mathematical concepts that fit together in an elegant way, so that one has pleasure working with it”³³.
As always, there is no theoretical background which might justify Harding’s statements. In particular I would ask how the movements of the planets, even if they are capable of organising the numbers of the streets on which we live — which I doubt — can conspire to put the thought into the mind of a bookseller to recommend a certain book, which just happens to contain a passage related in specific details to a thought the reader had a few hours before, and so on. The archetypal, numerological explanations therefore seem more credible.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics, and astrology. All these articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here).
1. as quoted by Ken Anderson, The Coincidence File, Blandford, 1999, p 56
2. Synchronicity, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972, pp 58–59
3. Disturbing the Universe, Harper & Row, 1979, p 50
4. On Divination and Synchronicity, Inner City, 1980, p 22
5. The Case for Astrology, Macdonald & Co., 1970, p 30
6. The Future of Astrology, A. T. Mann (editor), Unwin Hyman, 1987, p 50
7. ibid. p 57
8. For an interesting discussion of number, including some of the old civilizations’ beliefs, see Marie-Louise von Franz, as 25, pp 7–27.
9. as 2, p 58.
10. A New Study of Astrology, Urania Trust, 1996, p 75
11. as 6, p 50
12. He is referring to On Growth and Form, originally published over a hundred years ago. I have the Canto edition, 1992.
13. as 6, p 51
14. Ken Anderson, Coincidences: Chance or Fate?, Blandford, 1995, p 67
15. The Coincidence File, as 1, p 57
16. as 15, pp 66–69
17. as 14, p 38
18. ibid., p 57. This is arrived at by adding together the numbers until they become a single figure. In this case 6/9/33: 6+9+3+3=21. 2+1=3. It is interesting to note that, according to this formula, John Lennon, although he was dogged by the number 9, actually had the birth-number 5, having been born on October 9th 1940.
19. ibid., p 27
20. as 14, p 15, p 78, p 187
21. Incredible Coincidence, Alan Vaughan, Corgi, 1981, p 29
22. Coincidences, London House, 2000, p 81
23. ibid., p 18
24. as 14, p 217
25. ibid., p 55
26. If you are unfamiliar with this story, and cannot find details on the internet, see footnote 8, p 163, or Patterns of Prophecy, Alan Vaughan, Turnstone, 1974, p 38.
27. Patterns of Prophecy, Alan Vaughan, Turnstone, 1974, p 38, p 54, p 125
28. New Insights in Modern Astrology, CRCS, 1991, p 200–201
29. Synchronicity, Bantam, 1987, p 22
30. as 14, p 179
31. The Challenge of Chance, Hutchinson, 1973, p 197
32. Hymns to the Ancient Gods, Penguin, 1992, p 61
33. Quantum Mechanics and the Aether, Scientific Monthly LVIII,1954; quoted in The Case for Astrology, as 26 p 142