Ridiculed by scientists, mathematicians and sceptics, numerology has struggled for acceptance alongside other predictive pseudo-sciences such as astrology and Feng Shui, but a growing number of celebrities including Prince (see opposite), Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens) and Winona Ryder are using humble digits to interpret personalities, to explain current events, or even to predict the future.
Colin Baker of the Numerology Association reports a recent surge in interest in all things digital. His members are regularly called to radio and TV studios on auspicious dates, including, most recently, 7 July (07/07/07). Consultant member and numerology teacher Sonia Ducie says the "dramatic" growth in interest in numerology in recent years is a sign of the times. "When society is going through a crisis, people tend to turn to religion or spirituality for answers," she says. Ducie also credits the rise of Sudoku with turning many on to the "power" of numbers.
Not everyone is convinced. Simon Singh, the maths enthusiast and acclaimed author of Fermat's Last Theorem and Big Bang, says: "Numbers are inherently interesting - the patterns they make, their properties and relationships are remarkable, and have fascinated mathematicians for thousands of years - but to attribute bogus properites to them, be they predicitve or supersticious, is just a bit sad."
Sad or not, however, it clearly fascinates many - as this numerologically propitious selection of 23 snippets reveals...
1. The theory behind Western numerology goes back to Ancient Greece and the Pythagorean idea that everything can be expressed in numerical terms. Inspired by the Greek and Hebrew alphabets, in which letters are represented by numbers, modern numerologists attach a series of digits to people's names and use these, along with their dates of birth, to "reveal" the person's nature and prospects. But there are other traditions of numerology, notably the Chinese.
2. Spoon-bending psychic Uri Geller is a firm believer in the power of numbers and admits to being obsessed with the number 1111. "I believe that people who have constant contact with the 1111 phenomena have some type of a positive mission to accomplish," he says on his website. " When I see the number 1111, I pray for sick children and world peace," he adds.
3. Numerology forms an important part of Shia Islam and President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is said regularly to consult numbers when making political decisions. Last year he was reported to have brought forward his response to UN demands that he stop enriching uranium to coincide with a holy date in the Islamic calendar.
4. Superstitious Chinese people traditionally attach meaning to numbers based on their pronunciation. The number four is considered to be unlucky because it sounds like "death" but eight is a lucky number because it rhymes with the word for "fortune". The telephone number 8888-8888 was sold for USD$270,723 in Chengdu, China and next year's Beijing Olympics will open on 08/08/08 at 08:08:08p.m
5. The 6th century Byzantine physician Aetius Amidenus employed numerology in his cures for various ills. His prescriptions for gout, for example, changed with the months. He prescribed, among other remedies, milk in September, garlic in October, cabbage in December and abstinence in July.
6. Perhaps the best demonstration of the lengths to which many numerologists go to find "meaning" in numbers is the 9/11 terror attacks. Sally Faubion notes on her website: "September 11, 2001 reduces to a 5 (9+1+1+2+0+0+1=14; 1+4=5). Both the 11 (the number of that day) and the 5 have played significant roles in American history". Faubion goes on to point out that America's "destiny number", derived from Independence day (4/7/1776) is, "ironically", also a five.
Others point to the prevalence of the "ominous" number 11 in the 9/11 attacks. For example: the first plane to hit the towers was Flight 11; the attacks occurred exactly 11 years to the day after President George Bush Senior gave an address to Congress entitled, "Toward A New World Order"; 119 is the area code for Iraq/Iran. 1+1+9=11.
7. The number 666, the Biblical "number of the beast", has long been feared by hexakosioihexekontahexaphobics. An American pastor called Jim Searcy once declared that the Prince of Wales was the Antichrist, because in Hebrew numerology the letters "Prince Charles of Wales" add up to 666. He also predicted that the world would end in October 2000.
8. Tuesday 6 June last year (06/06/06) saw hundreds of expectant mothers desperate not to give birth on the "day of the devil" but not Suzanne Cooper of Bristol who delivered a 6lb 6oz boy at 6am on 06/06/06. His name: Damien. Quoted in The Mirror the next day, dad Mike said: "It was a devil of a birth - a bit of a horror show".
9. Some Christian numerologists predicted dire events would occur on 06/06/06. Tom Chase, an American New Age writer, used astrology and the Bible to calculate that the antichrist would emerge, followed by an asteroid collision and within a year or two the battle of Armageddon. The antichrist, according to Chase, is Vladimir Putin.
10. Filming of the 1976 horror classic The Omen, in which the family of a boy, called Damien, are unaware he is the son of Satan, was beset by a series of unexplained numerological crises. Gergory Peck, star of the 1976 original, and screenwriter David Seltzer took separate flights to the UK for filming, but both planes were struck by lightning. The remake, The Omen 666, was released on 06/06/06.
11. The Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was condemned for wearing a shirt bearing the number 88. In neo-Nazi numerology, the figures mean Heil Hitler, H being the eighth letter in the alphabet. Buffon denied any knowledge of the link, claiming: "I have chosen 88 because it reminds me of four balls and in Italy we all know what it means to have balls: strength and determination."
12. Marcus du Sautoy, a distinguished Oxford professor of mathematics, believes athletes like Beckham who wear "powerful" prime numbers on their shirts perform better than those who do not. Outlining his theory in a lecture earlier this year, Du Sautoy said: "Sport is about psychology and if you genuinely believe there is something powerful about your number then there is no doubt you will play better."
13. Last February a numerologist was jailed for the 1988 murder of a Hull driving instructor. Martin Brown, 42, had scrawled his birth date, the number of his victim's house and the planned murder date on a matchbox found in the area years later. The evidence helped secure Brown's extradition from Australia, where he had moved after the murder.
14. Numerologists believe a single-digit number derived from one's date of birth reveals a lot about one's personality. Finding your "soul number" involves adding the digits of your birth day, month and year. For example, someone born today (28/07/2007) would add the day (2+8=10) and the month (0+7=7) to the year (2+0+0+7=9). So (10+7+9=26). Those digits (2+6) are added to reach the soul number (8). Mahatma Ghandi and Thomas Edison are among a select group of "exceptional" beings whose dates of birth correspond to the "master numbers" 11 and 22.
15. According to numerologist Andy Bulcraig, even our PIN numbers have numerological significance. To find out how, simply add the four digits of your PIN. (If the sum is two-digit, add them together as well.) Steady earners should arrive at four and philanthropists might come to 9, while those with a double 2 or 4 in their PIN will have double the "energy" and will be, says Bulcraig, high earners.
16. Numerologists also derive meaning from names. They assign the numbers 1-9 to three consecutive series in the alphabet: A-I; J-R; S-Z (for example, the number two corresponds to B, K and T). By totalling the values for each of the letters in a name (if the total is two-digit, add them together), you should arrive at a single "soul number". Three, for example, means you are optimistic, four represents stablity, and nine is linked to vision and perfection.
17. The mother of the model Agyness Deyn (born Laura Hollins) reportedly changed her daughter's name after reading a magazine article about numerology. It suggested the letters in the new name would give her daughter the best "spiritual combination". Soon after the switch Deyn made the move from a Rochdale chip shop to the catwalks of London and Paris.
18. According to the author Titania Hardie, described by her publisher as "Britain's favourite white witch," a man's Day Force Number (the sum of the digits in the day on which he was born) reveals how good he is between the sheets. Number 2 likes foreplay, 7's a bit boring, 5 is raunchy, and 4 is unromantic.
19. For numerologists the advent of the 21st century signalled a busy few years in the form of a glut of "significant" dates. Most recently, thousands of superstitious spouses-to-be, including Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria, rushed to marry earlier this month, eager to captialise on the triplet of "lucky" sevens in the date 07/07/07.
20. Dr Neil Hair, a Scottish chemist turned numerologist, believes the spate of financial crises that struck corporations such as Enron and Worldcom in the early "noughties" could be explained by the figure zero. " The double zeros in 2001 and 2002 represent hidden files and skeletons coming out of the closet," he said at the time. Hair also reads companies' fortunes by analysing numbers derived from their names and " birth" dates.
21. According to Malaclypse The Younger and Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst, founders of a sect of the chaos-centred Discordian religion, all events are connected to the number 23 - one of the most auspicious of all figures. This theoryfeatured in the Jim Carrey film The Number 23 and the TV series Lost.
22. Jim Carrey became obsessed with numerology while making the film. He changed the name of his production company to JC23, citing, among other reasons, the Earth's 23 degree tilt, the 23 seconds it takes for blood to circulate around the body, and the fact that he was born at 2.30am.
23. When David Beckham moved from Manchester United to Real Madrid, theories abounded as to why he switched his shirt number from 7 to 23. Most speculated he was paying homage to the American basketball star Michael Jordan, who also wears 23, but, in a classic example of the way numerologists always find digital answers if they look hard enough, some point to the fact that "David and Victoria Beckham" comprises 23 letters.
3. Prince, a one-time Jehovah's Witness and committed student of the Bible, has emerged as something of a poster boy for numerology. The artist formerly known as 'the artist formerly known as Prince'' has a long-standing fixation with the number 3121.
1. The singer has never explained the obsession, but many believe it's a reference to the address of the star's rented Los Angeles house. Last year, the mansion's owner sued Prince for allegedly violating his £35,000-a-month lease by ''painting the exterior of the house with purple striping, a 'Prince' symbol, and numbers 3121.''
2. The artist has repeatedly used the four digits, to name his album (3121), his website ( www.3121.com) and his own fragrance, which he launched at his Purple Will Reign charity concert on 7.7.07.
1. Prince has even gone so far as to price tickets for his Earth tour, which kicks off at the O2 Arena in London on Wednesday, at £31.21.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies