In its popular sense this tends to refer to various bastardizations of the gematria, a system of esoteric interpretation of Hebrew scriptures (> Bible; Jewish Religious Literature) based on the swapping around of words which yield the same value when the numbers corresponding to their letters are added up. With creative choice of spelling and letter-values, any desired conclusion can be reached. 666, the Number of the Great Beast, has been extracted from the names of Martin Luther and various popes; the evil company Lateinos and Romiith in Robert Rankin's East of Ealing (1984) takes its name from words devised to "prove" the beastliness of the Catholic Church. Fantasies of History occasionally invoke such obsessive reasoning.
Of far greater fantasy interest are the magical associations of numbers. 1 is primal; 2 stands for many dyads like male and female, Good and Evil, order and Chaos, Yin and Yang; Three is perhaps the most magic of all; 4 suggests the "corners" of the world and the Elements; a 5-pointed star is the heart of a pentacle; 6 recalls the Star of David as well as the magic symmetry of snowflakes; Seven has almost the numinosity of 3 (>>> Seven Samurai); 8 is rather unmagical on Earth, and perhaps for that very reason is the basic magic number of Terry Pratchett's Discworld, whose spectrum has 8 colours; 9 is of course 3 times 3; 12 has biblical and Calendar resonances (the Apostles, the months); Thirteen reeks of bad luck. J R R Tolkien's most effective short piece of verse, the Ring-tallying epigraph of The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955), makes its impact via the cumulative magic of 3, 7, 9 and 1. [DRL]
see also: Quincunx.