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Games with Gematria

This article was written by David Godwin
posted under Kabbalah

Is gematria a valid and useful technique for investigating anything, or is it nothing but mental exercise? If it is useful, can it apply to anything other than Hebrew scripture? Is it even taking things too far to apply it to the Aramaic of the Zohar? How about non-Hebraic names, such as Bill Jones or Aleister Crowley? How seriously should you take correspondences that you happen upon in your reading and investigations?

To add fuel to the fires of this controversy, let us examine the name Lilith.

In Jewish folklore, Lilith is a night-demon and a queen of demons. She was the first wife of Adam, before Eve was created, but she refused to submit to her husband. Consequently, she became a demon and the mother of millions of demons. At the same time, she is responsible for the deaths of countless mortal babies. Yet every time a male ejaculation occurs, even in wedlock, Lilith may be there to scoop up the semen and impregnate herself for yet more baby demons. As a remedy against this, devout couples will put a warning notice above their beds (written with Hebrew characters, of course): Senoy, Sansenoy, Semangeloph! Adam ve-Chavvah! Chotz Lilith! Senoy, Sansenoy, and Semangeloph are the names of three guardian angels assigned to keep Lilith under surveillance. Chavvah is the name "Eve" in its original Hebrew form, and Chotz Lilith means simply "Out, Lilith!"

But is this tale nothing more than a patriarchal myth meant to emphasize the cultural devaluation of women? Let us see what gematria has to tell us.The sum of the name "Lilith," LYLYTh, is 480. Now, what else equals 480? Standard procedure in this sort of encipherment (assuming any encryption was intended) is to begin by breaking down the sum into its simplest components; i.e., 80 + 400. That gives us Peh and Tau, which is the spelling for a word in Biblical Hebrew; namely, the word PTh, poth, meaning an opening—or the female pudenda! Most appropriate for Lilith, one might say. But what else is there? Reversing the consonants, we get ThP, toph, a small hand-drum or the bezel of a ring. Suggestive, perhaps, but not very informative. Ah! But what about the fact that 480 is also the enumeration of the word Talmud? Is Lilith somehow equivalent to the great body of teaching and exegesis represented by the Jewish Talmud? Does she embody its essence? Or is it all directed against women, personified by the original activist feminist?

So much for the obvious correspondences, but surely a little exploration can come up with others that will easily prove that Lilith is not only a symbol of women's liberation but is in fact the Goddess as seen through the eyes of a partriarchal monotheism. Lilith (480) is the prayer shawl of YHVH (tallit ha-YHVH), the signet of Yahu (chutam ha-Yahu) and thus the final Heh of Tetragrammaton, Queen of the Firmament (malkah ha-Raqia), the daughter of wisdom (bath ha-chokmah), the tablernacle of Adonai (mishkan ha-Adonai), and the presence of the King (shekinah ha-malekh). All these phrases are equal to 480. It is even possible to push things one step further and say that Lilith Herself is “the almighty living God YHVH Elohim” (ha-Shaddai El Chai YHVH Elohim), since that also equals 480. No wonder Lilith = Talmud!

All of this is quite an achievement for someone identified in Isaiah 34:14 (the only biblical mention) as a "screech owl."

Conclusion: Although it might not be immediately apparent, this little essay was designed to demonstrate several answers to the opening questions. The fact is, once you have arrived at a conclusion by logic, emotion, political correctness, or social conditioning, it is reasonably easy to demonstrate or "prove" your position by the manipulations of gematria. Although such mathematical gyrations may not actually prove anything, they do succeed in providing food for thought and in giving one a fresh outlook.

Gematria was historically used as a code, however, which means that, when you get right down to it, a numerical correspondence is valid only if it was intended. (Of course, it should go without saying that the intention may have been unconscious.) It is highly doubtful that the patriarchs of ancient Judaism named Lilith "Lilith" because they intended to convey the idea that she was a persona of the Almighty Living God! On the other hand, they probably did intend that Jachin and Boaz should each have a value of 79. In other words, gematria is truly valid only insofar as the intentions of a writer are taken into account. If the author was ignorant of gematria and was not using it in his/her writing, intentionally or "accidentally" (subconsciously), then playing around with words and numbers in an attempt to "prove" some particular point is a vain exercise of use only insofar as it exercises the mind. Analyzing Anglo-Saxon names by gematria falls into this category. If, on the other hand, the author is known to have been familiar with the system and to have been not hostile toward it, that writer's work may well be elucidated—and even have its true meaning explained—by an examination for the numerical correspondences of gematria.


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