Unpacking My Library: The Mystery of Numbers
I moved into this house four years ago and, what with one thing and another, up until December half my books had been packed in boxes up in the attic. This has been a source of grievous discontent to me, but the ingress of action planet Mars into bookish Virgo saw a couple of boxes come down and oh joy, there was a whole cache of books for my esoterica (mostly astrology) library.
So I thought as an occasional series, I’d tell you about some of my favourite books. These are the ones I use again and again – for inspiration, for reference or just for fun.
The Mystery of Numbers
This is a ragbag collection of pretty much everything Schimmel could find out about numbers, but since she was one of the foremost professors of Islamic culture in the 20th century and a general know-all, it makes for quite a collection of stuff. Its as if she opened the top of her head, reached in and rootled around, and yanked out a handful of crazy facts about each number. Mostly she’s interested in mysticism, religion, myth, symbolism and astrology. And just occasionally some maths.
Randomness is why I like this book. It’s organised from 0 to infinity with a short or long entry depending on how much there is to say.
Here are a few things I learned from reading it.
- The Pleiades disappear for 40 days every year.
- The idea of a seven-fold path to enlightenment is common to Siberian shamans and St Teresa of Avila as well as most other mystics in between.
- The German god Odin had a horse with eight legs. And this is a shamanic symbol too, used in Siberia to express ecstatic experiences.
- Who knows why a football team has 11 players? Is it because 10 is a perfect round number and 11 expresses human imperfection?
- The Jewish Kabbalah and the Muslim sufi tradition have quite a lot in common, including a fondness for the number one.