The next step beyond that of embodying the sacred proportions in architecture and art was to contrive their vocal expression.
The ancient number-letter system of the Orient is often difficult for the Masonic student to understand; but when one looks into it carefully it is comparatively simple. In the days before the invention of symbols for figures Hebrew scholars expressed numbers by letters, and a Greek testament shows the employment of this method of expression by the Greeks also, as in Revelation xiv, 18, where the number 666 is written Xsu. Mackey’s Masonic Encyclopedia refers to it under the head of “Alphabet.”
The common origin of the two series is manifest in their agreement up to the letter P. The ancient employment of the decimal system (generally denied by scholars) is proved by the arrangements in digits, tens, and hundreds, and the greater antiquity of the Greek series by its agreement with Egyptian, Chaldea and Hindu (Sanskrit) words, older than Hebrew.
The many qualities peculiar to numbers and the prevalence in Nature of forms answering to the figures of geometry caused many ancient philosophers to believe that the entire scheme of the universe was based upon mathematics. Those curious scientific playthings called “acrostics” and “magic squares” were looked upon as marvels of mystic meanings, during a bygone age.
Understanding this, we can translate into their proper number values the proportions, ground plans, and ornaments of ancient temples, besides countless biblical names and phrases, classic proper names, magic words, and above all the passwords of our Masonic craft which explain the acts and allusions that accompany them.
This is really what constituted the speculative Masonry of old-time seers, and shows it to have been far beyond the mental reach of the illiterate stone-cutters – to whom so many of our brethren love to ascribe the authorship of our fraternity.
This system was really based upon a 26-letter alphabet answering to the 26 of JHVH, of which alpha was the first letter, mu or mem the middle, and omega the last, philosophically referring to the beginning, middle, and end of human life.
The “nonary” system (derived from nine, or “3 times 3”) is identical with what we now call the “decimal” system. The ancients, prior to the invention of the Abacus, employed a series of decimal places running from right to left, represented by shallow dishes or holes scooped in the sand . The empty hole represented zero (position without number) . As soon as there were 10 pebbles or other counters in any hole, they were removed and one was placed in the decimal position to the left. By this means decimal computations up into the trillions were possible. With the precision of an adding machine. Certain numbers show the peculiarity of representing two different sacred quantities; as, for instance, the number 888. This has a special significance of its own, but was constructed from 3 times 8 (24) counters (8 units, 8 tens, and 8 hundreds)-there being a mystic relationship between the two ideas represented and between the two numbers involved.
To the brother who is really interested in learning the truth about this wonderfully constituted ritual of ours, it may be emphasized that failure to know or recognize these methods of the ancients has been the reason why so many of the past expounders of Masonry have failed to “hit the mark.”