#16: Numbers

5 minute read

This month’s investigation into Numbers has attracted contributions from teachers, mathematicians, scientists, workshop leaders, artists, writers, designers, poets and painters, each with their very own unique relationship with numbers and each with their own insights into the use of numbers in life, in art and as a means to unfolding our Being. In this edition, among other subjects, we delve into geometry, maths, physics, theology, philosophy and biology, some of which are fields new to the pages of Wake up screaming. 

The following foreword is from Geometer-artist Tom Bree. Tom has been researching the geometric and cosmological design of Wells Cathedral in Somerset for 8 years now and is currently writing a book about his findings. The working title of the book is The Cosmos in Stone. I went to Tom’s talk in Wells Cathedral last month where he explained his findings, his words and work with numbers inspired this edition’s theme: Numbers.
Without further ado, over to Tom…



Tom Bree - Chapter House Staircase - Wells Cahedral
Tom Bree – Chapter House Staircase – Wells Cathedral

Sacred Number and its Incarnation Through Geometry

In the modern world the focus upon number, structure and more generally ‘order’ is often associated with a rational scientific outlook. This perception can lead to an opposing reaction in which the casting away of such ‘oppressive’ fixed boundaries is seen as a glorious escape from an entrapment within detached analytical thought processes that somehow disregard spirituality, intuition, emotion and more generally a direct experience of things that can bypass the analytical mind. The rationalist outlook claims a superiority due to its capacity to view the world with a detached objectivity whereas the experiential approach claims superiority due to its direct ‘tasting’ and thus knowing of things.

This dichotomy is an unfortunate phenomenon of the modern world in which there is a division between these two modes of perception despite the fact that as humans we have the capacity for both. By seeing the two modes of perception as being irreconcilable we end up condemning ourselves to a state of inward divorce and division.

As a geometer-artist, teacher and researcher I deal with the use of geometry as both an art form as well as a contemplative philosophical focus. The practice of geometric art requires a certain amount of technical capacity involving logical thought processes although in a more overarching way the whole process of pattern making is a contemplative one in which the soul is encouraged to orientate its vision towards the boundless albeit through the bounded numerical forms of geometry. In the drawing of a pattern the soul presents itself with a visible reminder of the order, harmony and beauty that it ultimately is regardless of the hardships and disorder that often pervades our day to day earthly existence. In this sense the practise of geometric pattern making is a contemplative one that uses the visible forms of this world to point towards something that is ultimately beyond what can be seen.

Wells Cathedral - The Lady Chapel, Stained Glass
Wells Cathedral – The Lady Chapel, Stained Glass

The difference between idolatry and iconolatry is in the relationship that we have with the icon/idol that we see in front of us. If we only see the visible form of the object it is an idol in the sense that we are materialistically only seeing its outward appearance. But if the object is, symbolically speaking, ‘transparent’ then we can see through it, as it were, towards an eternal reality that lies beyond it. In this sense the bounded world in which we live is only an entrapment if we reside purely in materialistic ‘measurable’ perceptions rather than seeing the measureless through the measurable, the heavenly through the earthly, the One through the many, or geometrically speaking, the hidden centre of the circle through its visible circumference.



Wells Cathedral - The Lady Chapel Geometry
Wells Cathedral – The Lady Chapel Geometry

The whole cosmos could be looked upon as a theophany – a divine appearance of the eternal numerical thoughts of the Divine Mind. Cosmology in the ancient and medieval worlds required a very developed technical and mathematical know-how although its primary purpose was to contemplate the divine reality. The word Cosmos literally means Order because the movements of the heavenly vault above us follow numerical cycles. However the word Cosmos also relates to Beauty in the sense of a beautiful ‘external adornment’ through which the hidden can become revealed. This association of beauty with order was an essential aspect of ancient and medieval cosmology but the Beauty in question is ultimately beyond anything that the human eye has the capacity to see. So in this sense the cosmic movements overhead are merely an image of the eternal and unchanging realities of number that are forever known in the Divine Mind. To contemplate such numbers and use them in sacred art and architecture is thus to align the soul, along with its surroundings, with the knowledge of the Divine Mind.

But having said all of this the Divine Mind itself is like the hub of a clock in the sense that it lies at the root of the ordered movements of time but is ultimately beyond them located as it is in the central unmoving realm of the timeless.

Tom Bree teaches practical geometry art classes about the use of geometry in sacred art and philosophy. He teaches at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts in London, the RWA in Bristol and the Chalice Well in Glastonbury as well as for various other organisations and institutions.

Tom has been researching the geometric and cosmological design of Wells Cathedral in Somerset for 8 years now and is currently writing a book about his findings. The working title of the book is The Cosmos in Stone. As part of this research Tom has taken a close interest in the cosmological phenomenon known as the Venus Pentagram cycle. See Tom’s Youtube film in which this phenomenon is demonstrated by Tom himself with the help of some of his students.

Find Tom here: Facebook page

A word from Matt:

The artists who gathered to take on this epic subject are numerous and eclectic, giving a wide range of perspectives on the intimate creative relationships between humans and numbers. Tom’s foreword leads us nicely into a contribution from Glastonbury writer and Astrologer, John Wadsworth, who talks us through the synchronistic beauty of The Dance of Venus among other things. Kavitha Shivan presents her research on the underlying maths of the Kolam, chalk mandalas created on the streets of India. Julija Goyd talks about her project exploring Grapheme Synethesia, recognising numbers as having associated colours.

Theoretical physicist, Nadav Drukker, shows us his pottery inscribed with equations, Victoria Marchenkova dived into theological realms as she introduces us to the Kabbalistic concept of 288 Holy Sparks, Nina Valetova talks about her work with The Möbius Strip, Tatiana Garamond introduces her project The Book of Hours, dedicated to the counting of criminal injustices against women. Yvette Kaiser Smith talks about Numbers as Source of Abstraction, along with Keanu Arcadio who explores The body’s Dimension as Metaphysical Extension

Serial contributors Richard Downes and JEMontclair provide the poetry, Jane Embleton and Mandy Pullen talk to us about their workshops to connect people with the sacred patterns of the Dance of Venus and after all that and more, I delve into my own relationship with numbers in an attempt at deepening my relationship with digits. All this and much, much more in this month’s edition of Wake up screaming. Please see the full contributors list above and below each article.