Numerology in popular culture

The range of topics touched on in popular television and film has reached almost unthinkable depth, and breadth in recent years. For those who grew up in the age of sterile sitcoms, and sanitized dramas, who could have guessed that whole series based around zombies, serial killers, or biker gangs would have achieved mainstream acceptance and popularity. Still despite widespread interest numerology is one subject matter that does not get much attention in TV or film. This post will give a brief overview of some of the releases with numerology related topics as a main focus.



Pi is the story of a number theorist whose obsession over unlocking the secrets of nature culminates is extreme self-destructive behavior.  Shot in black & white, this is a surreal psychological thriller with a protagonist who is an unreliable narrator as he suffers from paranoia and hallucinations. Max, the main character, believes “everything can be understood in terms of numbers” and struggles to find patterns in the systems around him.

In film he inadvertently comes across a 216-number sequence that, after initially being rejected,  seems to make a bold financial prediction that later comes true. Through a variety of circumstances Max’s work comes to the attention of both a Wall St. firm interested in the financial implications, and a Hassidic group that believes the number has come about for them to being about the messianic age. Tense and paranoid pursuit follows, interspersed with hallucinations and maddening visions ending with the tragic loss of all the knowledge Max originally set out to find.

This film has three main themes directly or indirectly related to numerology:


Max finds the golden spiral occurring everywhere he looks, and he comes to believe that the mathematics this embodies can unlock the means to describing a wide range of phenomena. The golden spiral is a shape whose growth is based on the golden ratio a powerful concept that has fascinated Western intellectuals from Pythagoras to modern physicist Roger Penrose.

The game of Go (圍棋)

An ancient game over 2,500 years old, Go has historically stimulated the study of mathematics due to the complexity that arises from its simple set of rules. In the film the characters come to believe that the game is a microcosm of the complex and choatic world around them, using it as a model for their views of the universe.


Pi goes deep into the Kabbalah working in the concept of the Explicit Name (Shem ha-Mephorash שם המפורש). Readers familiar with the concept will already know that manipulation of the 216-letter word generates 72 columns of three-letter names of the Hebrew God.


The Number 23

Another psychological thriller, this one starring Jim Carey in a non-comedic role. The plot revolves around his obsession with a novel that he believes is written about him. The story reveals glimpses of the 23 Enigma, a number Jim Carey’s character believes is intimately connected with his own life as he struggles to piece together fragments of a broken reality.

The 23 Enigma is a belief that all events are directly connected to the number 23, or some permutation of that number. In the film the number pops up everywhere, sometimes directly, such as finding a hidden secret in room 23 of a hotel, or staircases with 23 steps, and other times more indirectly. The character uses substitution codes to look for connections, the simplest being a code that should be familiar to any numerology fans where the letters of the alphabet are numbered (A=1, B=2, etc).  Names, for example, that come up will total to 23 when this codes is applied. Ned equals 14+5+4=23. Another pivotal point in the plot occurs when the main character finds a hidden message in the novel by reading every 23rd word which reveal an address taking him to a place that helps reveal pieces of his lost memory.

While widely panned by almost all mainstream critics, I nevertheless found myself counting and adding all the numbers around me for the next few days, turning up totals related to the number 23 more often than not.

Bee Season

A 2005 American drama, this film is an adaptation of a book of the same name. It is the story of a family whose stable dysfunctional dynamic is disrupted when the daughter shows an unexpected talent for winning spelling bees. The plot revolves around the family members self-discovery, and spiritual awakening as the young girl gets closer and closer to winning the national championship.


In this film numerology is not the main focus, instead it is a part of the lives of two of the main characters.  The husband, played by Richard Gere,  is a religious studies professor who wrote his graduate thesis on the Kabbalah, His wife (Juliette Binoche), had converted to Judaism when they married. She lives a secret life after having taken to heart tikkun olam (healing the world), a kabbalistic belief in humanity’s shared responsibility in repairing and transforming the world. Her husband, after learning of his success in imbuing her with his spiritual beliefs takes to coaching her with his Kabbalah techniques, taking an amount of attention that comes at the expense of the children in the family.

A bit heavy going at times, this film is still interesting for giving a realistic feeling look at how the Kabbalah can take part in a person’s everyday life.


The only TV show included in this list, while looking over obvious other additions. Numb3rs is included because even though unintentional this series depicts the a positive role for numerology.

Numb3rs is a crime drama that aired for 6 seasons that focuses on a FBI special agent and his mathematical genius brother who helps solve crimes for the FBI. Each episode focuses on a crime that is solved in a way that is always related to the mathematical insights  provided by the agent’s brother.

The show often features rather implausible or dubious mathematical concepts, in part due to how the scripts were written. Hearkening back to the scripts of Star Trek, plots were fully written with spaces left for appropriately impressive sounding mathematical terms to be inserted later prior to filming, even when there is no connection to the math being portrayed. Despite this, the main character’s approach to numbers is a good example of how anyone can pursue numerology in their own lives.

Too often numerology, and the Gematria especially, are depicted as being a a source of predictions about the future, when their real value is in helping us to unlock knowledge of the world around us. In Numb3rs the characters have a sensitivity to spotting and recognizing patterns in the numerical relationships around them. This is the true calling of numerology, using numbers to find previously wisdom and knowledge that was previously hidden. The truly adept will find that this often leads to clear sight about the future with no mysticism required.


Attention in the popular media can be a two-edged sword. The Davinci Code was a perfect example of how media can stimulate fleeting attention of deeper practices in life. Trawling through YouTube videos can still reveal the aftereffects of wild speculation in Bible codes that detract from more serious pursuers. That being said, as a subject close to my heart I do get a kick of seeing numerology, and the Gematria especially, portrayed in TV and film, even when done lightheartedly. When the wash of pretenders of interest pass, even one or two more serious followers that remain can make it all worthwhile in the end. With so few taking a legitimate interest anyone of us can make even a small contribution and that makes new additions even more valuable.


6 responses to “Numerology in popular culture

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