Gematria is one of three kabbalistic systems for discovering the secret and mystical truths of words and the nameS of God and Angels and for interpreting biblical words and passages, all by analyzing their numerical values. Each letter of the Hebrew alphabet has a numerical value and a certain spiritual, creative power; God creates everything in the universe by uttering certain words. The values of words and names are totaled and then equated with other words and names that have the same numerical values, and then analyzed within the context of Scripture and other factors.
Gematria was developed into a sophisticated system by German kabbalists during the 13th century but was known and used much earlier by other cultures. King Sargon II, who ruled Babylonia in the eighth century b.c.e., used the numerical value of his name to determine that the wall of Khorsabad should be built to the same equivalent, or 16,283 cubits. The ancient Greeks, Persians, Gnostics, and early Christians used gematria for a variety of purposes. The Greeks applied it to dream interpretation, and the Gnostics to the names of deities. Early Christians arrived at the dove for the symbol of Christ because the Greek letters of alpha and omega (the Beginning and the End) and the Greek term for dove (peristera) add up to the same number, 801.
The kabbalistic system of gematria derived from Near Eastern Gnostic and Helenistic cultures. It is more complex than merely tallying up numerical values of letters; it involves various methods of analysis by which the mystical purposes of the Scriptures, buildings, and objects may be determined. Not only are the numerical values considered but also the size and strokes of the letters. The kabbalists of the 13th century, most notably Eleazar of Worms, applied gematria to the Scriptures, which were held to have been inspired by God and written in code. Thus, “And lo, three men” from Genesis 18:2 is interpreted as referring to the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, for “And lo, three men” and “Elo Michael Gabriel Ve-Raphael” each have the same numerical value of 701.
Gematria was used to ascertain the secret, ineffable, and indescribably powerful names of God. These names were incorporated into the incantations of ceremonial magic, which were used for conjuring and controlling Demons. Some names of angels also are secret names of God, such as Azbogah.
Different systems of gematria were developed; the Kabbalist Moses Cordovero said there were nine. Gematria spread into alchemical and esoteric Christian works. Hebrew words—with or without gematria—took on greater importance for their mystical power or hidden meanings and connections.
Lesser known than gematria are notarikon and temurah, two other systems of decoding and analyzing mystical truths. Various methods exist in both systems. In notarikon, the first letter of words may be extracted and combined to form new words, or the first, the last, and sometime the middle letters of words are combined to create new words or phrases. Names of God and angels are revealed in this fashion. In temurah, letters are organized in tables or mathematical arrangements, which are then substituted for the letters in words, or letters are rearranged into anagrams. For example, such tables can be used to discover the names of the good and evil angels of the planets and signs of the zodiac.