Gematria is the practice of systematically assigning numeric values to words. Each letter of the alphabet represents a particular number, and the value of any given word or phrase can be determined by adding up its constituent letters. Gematria was most likely invented by the Greeks, who called it isopsephia, or perhaps by the Jews. It is a key component of Kabbalah (so much so that Aleister Crowley and others have mistakenly used kabbalah as a synonym for gematria) and is also of interest to Christians because of its connection with the Book of Revelation. When John writes of the beast that "the number of his name" is 666, he presumably has some form of gematria in mind — but what form? Greek? Hebrew? Could there be such a thing as English gematria?
The Greek and Hebrew systems of gematria have a certain naturalness to them because, unlike Roman numerals, Greek and Hebrew numerals make use of the entire alphabet. In both systems, the first nine letters represent the numbers from 1 to 9, the next nine stand for the tens (10 to 90), and the remaining letters represent the hundreds. These numeral systems are well-established outside the context of gematria and therefore do not seem arbitrary. The Latin alphabet is another story. Some have attempted a gematria of Roman numerals (for example, adding up the Roman numerals in the supposed papal title Vicarius Filii Dei to prove that the pope is the antichrist), but such a system is unsatisfying because it simply ignores two-thirds of the alphabet. Another option is to imitate the 1-9/10-90/100-900 system of Greek and Hebrew, but this seems arbitrary and contrived when applied to English. Perhaps the most natural system would be A=1, B=2, … Z=26, but even this is slightly arbitrary because it is merely one possibility among many; it's also undesirable for beast-hunting purposes because only very long phrases can add up to as big a number as 666.
Scott Branson came up with the idea of taking a list of words and phrases he considered antichrist-related (such as mark of the beast, necromancy, vaccination, and Confucius) and using a computer program to find the gematria code that would maximize the number of such words that added up 666. The Translucent Amoebae Consortium's Cabbage Codes are another example of the same thing. These systems "calibrate" the gematria code by testing it against a target set of words. If the code gives the "correct" value (666, in this case) for those words, it must be a good code.
The set of words used remains rather arbitrary, though. My own system, Calibrated Gematria, attempts to be more objective. The target set used to calibrate the code consists of English number words. People will inevitably have different ideas about which words ought to add up to 666, but everyone can agree that the best value for "one" is 1, the best value for "fourteen" is 14, and so on.
The Calibrated Gematria Code
The code used in Calibrated Gematria is as follows:
|A = 6||H = 29||O = -9||V = 8|
|B = 8||I = -11||P = -13||W = 11|
|C = -5||J = -14||Q = -29||X = 28|
|D = -24||K = 24||R = -26||Y = -1|
|E = 0||L = -7||S = -11||Z = 35|
|F = 8||M = -12||T = 0|
|G = -10||N = 10||U = 31|
The code itself may look arbitrary, but the results are impressive: zero = 0, one = 1, two = 2, three = 3, four = 4, five = 5, six = 6, seven = 7, eight = 8, nine = 9, ten = 10, eleven = 11, twelve = dozen = 12, fourteen = 14, fifteen = 15, sixteen = 16, seventeen = 17, eighteen = 18, nineteen = 19, twenty = 20, twenty-one = 21, twenty-two = 22, twenty-three = 23, twenty-four = 24, twenty-five = 25, twenty-six = 26, twenty-seven = 27, twenty-eight = 28, twenty-nine = 29. In addition, the names of playing cards have their correct values: ace = 1, deuce = 2, jack = 11, queen = 12, and king = 13.
Larger numbers do not have the correct values, but that is to be expected. The gematria stops working at the point at which the number system begins to use multiplication as well as addition. The -teen sufix means "add ten," so it's easy to accommodate; -ty, though, means "multiply by ten" — something which gematria, being based solely on addition, cannot properly deal with. We can fudge it for twenty by choosing an appropriate value for the letter Y, but it's impossible to continue the pattern for thirty, forty, and so on. Larger numbers can be expressed indirectly, though, by using the word plus, which conveniently equals 0. Thus, two plus two = 4, twenty-nine plus eighteen = 47, and so on.
Again because gematria is addition-based, non-addition mathematical expressions do not reliably yield the correct number, but there are a few that do so by chance: thirteen minus two = 11, seven times negative three = -21, and minus six times three = 18.
The Devil's Number
Calibrated Gematria appears to have two defects. One is that thirteen, unlike every other number word below thirty, does not have the correct value — a flaw in an otherwise perfect system. The other is that many of the letters have negative values, making it practically impossible to get as large a number as 666 — and what good is gematria if you can't use it to accuse people of being the antichrist? But these two problems, as it turns out, solve each other.
Calibrated Gematria does not identify the number 13 directly because to say "thirteen = 13" in so many words would be to violate the taboo that always goes with deeply unlucky things. But when we look at indirect ways of pointing to that number, we find that Calibrated Gematria is hardly ignoring 13. Far from it: number thirteen = 13, after twelve and before fourteen = -13, thirteen plus zip = 13, baker's dozen = 13, and jinx = 13, for example. Perhaps most appropriately of all, triskaidekaphobia — the technical term for the superstitious fear of the number thirteen (i.e., a very negative view of the number) — adds up to -13.
Nor is Calibrated Gematria silent on the number of the beast. Actually, there are two such numbers to consider, because some New Testament manuscripts give the beast's number as 616 rather than the more familiar 666. In Calibrated Gematria, six one six = 13, and six six six = 18. Where can you find the number of the beast in your Bible? That's right, Revelation 13:18.
Calibrated Gematria repeatedly identifies 13 as a sort of stand-in for 666: six hundred sixty-six = 13; the beast's mark = 13; the great beast Satan = 13; a beast rising up out of the sea = 13; a great beast having seven heads and ten horns = 13; a fiend in human form = 13; atheist = 13; Baal = 13; death, hell, and the devil = 13. The conclusion is clear: 666 is an "evil" number from the Graeco-Hebrew world of the New Testament and is suitable for Greek and Hebrew gematria; but Calibrated Gematria is for English and uses the "evil" number from English culture, 13.
So whom does Calibrated Gematria peg as the antichrist? I've tried many, many names, but so far only one adds up to 13: none other than George W. Bush! There are several names that add up to -13, though — most notably, John Kerry, Bush's rival in the 2004 election. Note also: George Bush = U.S. President Bush = the great beast = thirteen = 2; George Walker Bush = the antichrist = 10; Shrub = 31 (13 backwards).
There are some interesting parallels here with Simple English Gematria (S:E:G:, the system where A=1, B=2, and so on down to Z=26). The following values are from S:E:G:, not Calibrated Gematria:
- six hundred threescore and six = 313 (13 combined with its mirror image).
- triple six = three sixes = 132 (13 plus 2, the value of thirteen in Calibrated Gematria).
- George W. Bush = John F. Kerry = 130.
- Note: In Calibrated Gematria the number thirteen is the number of the beast. = 666.
The three canonical archangels match three of the four cardinal directions: Michael = west = 0; Raphael = east = -5; Gabriel = -40; south = 40. Who then is the angel of the north? Or maybe that's the wrong question. Raphael has called himself "one of the seven who stand before the throne" — and throne = north = 4. So maybe the throne is in the north and the seven angels stand at the other points of the compass. Naturally the big three take the three remaining cardinal directions, as indicated by the gematria, and the four other angels must be stationed at the northeast, northwest, southeast, and southwest, respectively.