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18 and Life
In Hebrew, the word for life or the living (chai or hai cf. haya) has a gematria value of 18. In the Cabala, it is mystically linked with Tzadikim Nistarim and Lamedvavniks, whereby it is connected to the number 36 (two lives or 2 living ones) and the notion of 36 wise individuals. There is evidence that these connections go deeper. In Sanskrit, the word haya means life and the word chaya is linked with the name of a shadow or counterfeit wife of the sun. In the Sharada alphabet, based on Sanskrit, letter 18 is ch(a). In the Rasens Molvitsky script, which has been claimed as a source of Western languages, the hexagram is linked with letters: 17, 18, 19.  In Hun-Syanbi script, letter 18 is a hexagram.
These connections may indicate something about the early Jewish diaspora. Tradition speaks of three main strands: Ham, Shem and Japheth linked with Africa, Asia and Europe respectively. Japheth led to Gomer and, in the Armenian/Turkic tradition, to 12 progeny, that included, Khazar.  Khazaria, north of the area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, is linked with an important Jewish settlement. This same area is associated with the Huns and a branch of the Scythians. The Scythians in India were known as the Sakas and Sakyas (as in Buddha Sakyamuni). Further West, they were known as Ishkur, Ashkur and Ashkenaz. Hence there appears to be a long-standing link between the Jews and Middle-Asia, one branch of which had an early alphabet with only 18 letters culminating in a hexagram comprised of two intersecting triangles, now better known as the Star of David.
The association between life and the upward and downward triangles (the Blade and the Chalice in Dan Brown's account) goes back to India, where it represents the union of:  Male - Female, Purusha - Prakriti, Spirit - Matter, Shiva - Sakti. In India, it also symbolizes the advent of a Divine Child variously called Kartika, Kartikkeya, Skandha, Muruga, Murgan and is part of the sadkona yantra.
In India, the Sadkona yantra is more popularly known as the Shatkona, and as the Seal of Vishnu, which becomes the Sumerian Dual Trinity of Light and in the West becomes the Seal of Solomon, the Star of David and the Magen David (Shield of David). The two-dimensional hexagram or hexagon is also called a six sided, six pointed or six pronged star.
In the Hebrew tradition, the hexagon becomes deeply interconnected with number symbolism. For instance, the number 37 is linked with the word for heart (Halev) and also with the Heart of Wisdom. This number 37 generates 37 as a Star with 19 as Hexagon. The mirror of 37 produces 73 as a star with 37 as Hexagon.  
Meanwhile, 37 as a prime number[i] can be drawn as 37 points representing a cube of 64 constituent squares --which also hides a hexagon with a deeper meaning:
"The Schema represents by a series of points the symmetric aspect of a Cube in flat projection. Each point represents one of the Sixty-four constituent Cubes in a cube of 4 × 4 × 4, and of these lesser cubes there are visible Thirty-seven, and never more than Thirty-seven can be seen at any one time. The whole 64 stand for the absolute Truth - ALHQEIA = 64 - and the 37 thus symbolise Revealed Truth, of which the Holy Names founded upon this number are types."[ii]
In Hebrew mysticism, the tetrahedron star is called the Merkaba. As with so many of the perennial symbols, there are new age versions, whereby this symbol becomes linked with mandalas. There is also a three-dimensional version called the star tetrahedron, which modern sites associate with the Vitruvian Man of Leonardo of 15th century Italy. Etymologically, Merkaba is associated with three Egyptian words Mer-Ka-Ba, Light-Spirit-Body.[iii] In the Mer-Ka-Ba meditation, the human body is situated in the centre of intersection of an upward, male (fire) pyramid and a downward, female, (earth) pyramid. The central axis corresponds to the Heart Chakra (Chakra 4. Anahata or Anahita in the Sanskrit tradition).     
The Merkaba meditation is linked with the Heart chakra which, in Egypt, may go back to Tell el-Amarna in the Middle Kingdom (1720 B.C.), when the town was called Horizon of Aton, (Akhat Aton). The sun (as Aton, Atum) had various symbols, including the beetle (Khepri) and ram headed beetle (Khnum), which became linked with the daily cycles of birth and rebirth (of the sun), and with larger cycles of the triumph of life over death. The Hebrew number 18 is more than a simple term for life: it is also about cosmic cycles of life.
15                             16                               17                                        18
S                              ‘ (O)                           F (P)                                    S
sa                             Ain                              pa                                        şa
Mother of all Life,  The Eye or Fountain,  Thou art the Tree of Life,   Thou art the first Voice (Sound)
Simat Hiia               Ain                              Pira anat Haii                      S'auta abar qadmaiia
19                                                                 20                 21                  22
Q                                                                  R                  S                    T
qa                                                                 ra                  ša                   ta  
Thou art the first cry of Life,                      Teacher       Sun Spirit        Repentance   
Qala anat qadmaiia d' Hiia,                         Rabai          Shamish          Toba
There was a parallel tradition of the Nazorean Essenes of Mount Carmel.[iv] They also had their own version of Aramaic Hebrew, with their own mystical meaning for each of the letters of the alphabet.[v] Here, we find that 18, associated with life in Hebrew is called, more specifically, “Thou art the first Voice (Sound)” and 19 is called “Thou art the first cry of Life”. The Nazorean alphabet is more than lively letters. It is a summary of the creation story. Sa and qa are letters for the first human voice (sound) and first cry of life.
If we look to the Nazorean alphabet as a whole we find that it follows a distinct pattern: A B G D, H W Z, H T Y, K L M N, S ' F/P S, Q R S T. The same underlying pattern is found in Egyptian hieroglyphic alphabets, in Proto-Sinaitic, Proto-Canaanite, Ugarit, Aramaic as well as Phoenician, Hebrew and later Arabic which codified these divisions as abjad, hawwaz, hutti, kalaman, sa’fas and qarashat.[vi] So the cosmic, creation of life, story of the Nazorean alphabet may be more closely connected with the creation of Western alphabets than we might have imagined. 
To understand this cosmic story of life we need to look more closely at the number 18. The Mer-Ka-Ba meditation is based on 18 breaths (or more precisely 17-1 breaths). In the Pythagorean tradition, a person has 18 breaths in 1 minute. This leads to 1,080 breaths per hour (18 x 60), to 12,960 breaths (18 x 60 x 12) in 12 hours and 25,920 (18 x 60 x 24) in 24 hours. 25,920 years is the duration of a cycle for precession of the equinoxes. Hence, a person has the same number of breaths in a cycle of one day as the universe has years in a cycle of precession of equinoxes.  
In the cycle of the year, 18 is also linked with Scorpio and Ophiucus (Serpentarius, Aesculapius). Today, Scorpio remains adjacent to Ophiucus who holds the two parts of the Serpent. Historically, Scorpio, was a much larger constellation. In the Christian tradition, Ophiucus was seen as the second decan of Scorpio. The star Unukalhai (Alpha Serpens) is sometimes represented as an elaborate star.
The Sufi tradition of Ibn Arabi (c.1200 A.D) links the mansions of the moon with zodiac signs, letters of the alphabet and divine attributes. In his system, the 18th and 19th mansions of the moon are called the Heart and The Sting (Al Kalb, al Shaula) with the following correspondences: 
18. Al Kalb                                                           19. Al Shaula
The Heart                                                              The Sting 
8°34'17" Scorpio                                                   21°25'40" Scorpio
The Sphere of Ether, Meteors and Fire                 Air
Tâ (unstressed t)                                                    Zây (z)
The Seizer                                                             The Living One
cf. 15 16 17 18                                                      cf.19 20 21 22               
In this version, the heart (al kalb) is the heart of the Scorpion and the sting is the final star in the tail of the Scorpion. Hence, the number 18, which was linked the human heart and defined the breaths in 1 minute of a person's life, also became linked with mansion 18 of the moon (The Heart). It was further linked to the letter Tâ (unstressed t) and called the Seizer -- also a connotation of Khepri in Egypt and Rahu in India: i.e the Northern node of the moon, which along with Ketu are intersection points of the orbits of sun and moon that determine eclipses. Meanwhile, Arabic Mansion 19, the sting  (Al Shaula), is the star on the end of the tail of Scorpio. In India, the corresponding Nakshatra 19. Moola (or Mula) means The Root and entails a star named mala, which means original sin in Sanskrit.  
In the Christian tradition, the opposition of Seizer-Living One (mansions 18 and 19) shifted from positions on Scorpio to stars on Ophiucus. The Arabic tradition included three distinct stars: Alyah, Unuk and Al Hay, which were translated as the accursed, the encompassing and the living. In some versions Unuk and Al Hay were merged as one star, Unukalhai.[vii] This led to an opposition between Alyah (in the tail) and Al Hay (or Unukalhai in the neck):
Ketu                                                                     Rahu
South Node of the Moon                                     North Node of the Moon
Alya, (Alyah, Al Yah)                                         Al Hay (Unakalhai, Al Hayyah, cf. haya)
Accursed                                                              The Living
Serpens Cauda                                                     Serpens Caput
Cauda Draconis                                                   Caput Draconis 
The Seizer                                                           The Living One
These oppositions could then be linked with evil versus good and personified as Satan versus Christ. So the Biblical struggles of Christ and Satan are not just moral battles for the souls of Christians. They are equally struggles to restore balance and ensure continuity through harmony of the cosmic forces of the heavens.    
In the bigger picture, these two stars in Ophiucus became linked with two key points in the cosmos, the northern and southern boundaries of the heavens, that could further be linked with Alpha and Omega. The beginning and end of the year was now linked with the beginning and end of the alphabet. The Aleph - Tau of Phoenician, Hebrew became the Alpha and Omega of Greek and the A to Z of English. The visual results of this approach were various diagrams that correlated letters of the alphabet and/or runes with a wheel, a wheel of time and other wheels. Some used 22 letters, others 24, 26, 28 (as in Arabic). Some began with noon (South and the South node of ketu) at the top. Others began with midnight (North) at the top.
The metaphysical consequences of this approach were systems that linked microcosm and macrocosm. The breaths in a day, a year, and various cycles (e.g. 12, 18,19) were correlated to the breaths in a 100 year cycle and to a cycle of precession of the equinoxes (25,920 years). Hence, the two sets of letters 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19, 20, 21 22 of the early 22 letter alphabets became linked with corresponding mansions of the moon, thus coinciding with:
1) the old end of the year (i.e. Samhain, All Saints/All Souls, Halloween).
2) the sun’s crossing of the Milky Way, symbolically a passage from material to spiritual.
3) stars that mark the Southern boundaries of the sky.
4) an end and a beginning of a new cycle
5) a struggle between light and darkness represented as fights between Christ and Satan, Saint Michael and Lucifer.
6) a larger struggle of light and dark witnessed in eclipses of sun and moon
7) a long-term struggle of forces of light and dark, good and evil, symbolized by the serpent now seen as two pieces of head and tail (serpens caput-serpens cauda). In earlier times, these two pieces were one serpent kept in balance by Ophiucus (Serpentarius, Aesculapius, cf. Dhanvantari in India). 
A series of images were used to describe these key points with respect to cosmic balance. The Serpent wrestler became a man holding two serpents, a man with a scale and finally the scales of Libra. Rahu and Ketu were sometimes shown (cf. image above) as Alpha and Omega. The two intersecting triangles or pyramids became a symbol of balance. At the same time they gained a talismanic symbolism of protection, hence, the Seal of Vishnu and Solomon and the Shield of David.
This tail of the serpent or dragon, links with the last letter of modern Western alphabets, which is both an ending and a herald of new life. Hence we find that Sanskrit, jAni (life, living), becomes the last letter in various Western alphabets: Georgian jani, and san, Slovene Cyrillic, jivete, and Russian Cyrillic zhivete (life). The transition from end (death) to a new beginning (life) is symbolized by a process of transformation and reversal. Hence, the star, Alyah leads to the star Al Hay, haya, chaya, chai, hai (also the Chinese word for the final zodiac sign of the 12 year cycle). The letter A of Russian, Az is mirrored as Za. Complex alphabets frequently have two versions of Z, a Z for life as existence and another for life as eternal life (e.g. Sa, Sha, Shin). Some have multiple A’s, multiple K’s etc. Some have three versions of the letter I: I in Winter, J in Spring and Summer, Y in Autumn.      
Letters 18 and 19 become linked with the end of a annual cycle and also become linked with longer cycles, e.g. the 19 year Metonic cycle of the sun, named in honour of the Greek astronomer, Meton (c. 432 B.C.), although it had been discovered over a millennium earlier by the Sumerians. From this came the notion of golden numbers. In the mediaeval period golden numbers 17, 18 and 19 (Arlaug, Tvimadur and Belgthor) were added to the younger Futhark to create a 19 letter Runic alphabet. The symbol for Tvimadur looks remarkably like the letters for Z, e.g  yaz,  its mirror, zay, az, its mirror za etc. So the letter Z that marked the end of day, and the end of the year zI in Sanskrit became the name of the first zodiac animal, zi (rat) in Chinese, the beginning of winter (zima) and heralded a new cycle. In India, it inspired the God, Ziva, Siva, Shiva. Among the Nazorean Essenes it inspired Ziwa and Hibil Ziwa.
Over the centuries different emphases emerged. The Alexandrian Gnostics who carried the alphabet letters of the Essenes to the Celts as the Boibeloth (Babel Lot) Alphabet, rearranged their order to reflect Biblical tribes. Other strands of the Celtic tradition gave greater emphasis to the temporal cycles of the seasons. The Sufi tradition continued the focus on creation but used the letters of the alphabet to trace developments culminating in letter 28: "The Hierarchy of the Degrees of Existence, not their manifestation." The Jewish Cabala focussed on number symbolism.
Through all this the 18 breaths of 1 minute became linked with mansion 18 in the Arabic and Indian systems, with the 18th letter of some alphabets and the 18 x 60 minutes x 24 hours = 25,920 breaths in a day that became linked with the cosmic cycle of 25,920 years needed for one recession of the equinoxes, and which can be seen as a cosmic breath in the larger sense. Multiples of 18 (and related numbers such as 16, 24, 37, and 111) generated a series of numbers that became central to cosmological, astronomical and astrological systems. For instance, in India, 16 vowels x 36 consonants produced 576 sounds. In the West, 18 x 32 = 576, the gematria number of Pneuma, the Holy Spirit or Cosmic Creator of the Universe (cf. Appendix 1). Meanwhile, in India, there is evidence that the number of breaths in a 100 days generated a framework for their chronological periods of up to 1,728,000 years (Appendix 2).  
In the modern West, 18 is merely an age for entry into some aspects of adult life. In modern Israel, the hexagon and letter 18 are often associated with Zionism. In everyday Hebrew associations, letter 18 is now reduced to a toast: “To life!” (Lechaim). We have found that the number 18 is clearly much more than the gematria for life.  It is about breaths, and about the breathtaking miracle of life’s cycles, life resurrected and the promise of life eternal in cultures around the world.         

Appendix 1: Multiples of 18, 24, 37, 111
18                                24                    37                                111
18 x 4 = 72                 24 x 3 = 72
                                                           37 x 3 = 111               111 x 1 = 111
18 x 8 = 144               24 x 6 = 144              
                                                            37 x 6 = 222               111 x 2 = 222 = Light of Jah            
18 x 16 = 288             24 x 12 = 288                        
                                    24 x 13 = 312
                                                                                               111 x 3 = 333
18 x 20 = 360             24 x 15 = 360
18 x 24 = 432             24 x 18 = 432
                                                           37 x 12 = 444             111 x 4 = 444 = Perfect Love
18 x 32 = 576             24 x 24 = 576                                                            = Pneuma
18 x 37 = 666                                     37 x 18 = 666            111 x 6 = 666 = Great Beast, Satan
18 x 40 = 720             24 x 30 = 720
                                                           37 x 24 = 888                         111 x 8 = 888 = Christ
                                                                                               111 x 10 = 1110
18 x 80 = 1440           24 x 60 = 1440
                                                           37 x 73 = 2701
18 x 60 x 24 = 25920                                                                                   = Precession
Appendix 2: Indian Breaths and Chronology
The Indian system used 15 breaths/minute. The Indian system implies:
1 Day                               10 Days                   100 Days
21,600 Breaths                 216,000 Breaths     2,160,000 Breaths
The underlying numbers 21,600 216,000 2,160,000 recur as the numbers of Nadikas in an Ideal Life:
1 Year                              10 Years                  100 Years
21,600 Nadikas                216,000 Nadikas     2,160,000
Nadikas recur as the number of years in various cycles:
1 Precession/ Equinoxes 1 Yuga/Prajanatha   1 Cycle Creation/Destruction
21,600 Years,                   216,000 Years         2,160,000 Years
The underlying proportions 216 432 648 864 432 864 1296 1728 are linked with both breaths (prana, yoga) and chronology. Indeed we find that multiples of the latter lead directly to the years in the 4 Ages of Man (Yugas):
432,000                  864,000            1,296,000            1,728,000
432,000 Years        864,000 Years  1,296,000 Years 1,728,000 Years
Kali Yuga                Dvapara Yuga   Treta Yuga          Krita/Satya Yuga
These same ratios are found in the breaths corresponding to the period 20-80 Days:
432,000 Breaths   864,000 Breaths 1,296,000 Br.      1,728,000 Br.
20 Days                 40 Days             60 Days               80 Days
Scholars have noted parallels between the numbers connected with an ideal life of 100 years and the larger cycles of the universe. The above numbers suggest that a detailed study of breaths, seconds, minutes, hours, in 100 days generated the (proportions of) numbers used in 100 years of ideal life 100 years of Brahma (the age of the universe). One of the underlying ideas that linked Breaths and Yoga was the notion that if one could reduce the breaths/day one could expand one's life span.

[i] 37 as a Prime number in the Bible: http://www.biblewheel.com/GR/GR_37.asp
Multiples of 37 generate a series of significant numbers qua Hebrew gematria: 
37 x 6 =   222             111 x 2 = 222 = light of Jah
37 x 12 = 444             111 x 4 = 444 = Perfect Love
37 x 18 = 666             111 x 6 = 666 = Satan = Great Beast = Megatherion (= Scorpio)
37 x 24 = 888             111 x 8 = 888 = Christ
37 x 73 = 2701        
[iii]Some trace the tradition back to the 18th Dynasty in Egypt (1540 B.C.- 1307 B.C.). Others claim it goes back to the Middle Kingdom (1720 B.C.).
[iv]Already in the centuries before Christ, they had connections with India, Tibet and China.
[v] This Nazorean alignment of alphabet letters and meanings is remarkable for several reasons. On the one hand it continues Eastern paradigms. In the Indian tradition, letters 15 and 16 as Kalas 15 and 16, linked with the full moon, had a particular importance in creation stories as beginning - end, creation - dissolution. In the Indian tradition, 18 is linked with Jyestha (the eldest), and with Indra, the Dragon Slayer. In the West, this becomes life and the first voice (sound). In India, 19 is linked with the Root Nakshatra from which all begins. In the Nazorean scheme the letter Q (qa) is the first cry of life. In the Arabic tradition, especially through the Qu'ran,  letter 19 plays a seminal role. In the Celtic tradition the Q of Quert (apple tree) also plays a key role in the first life.
[vi] English made minor modifications: A B G D became A B C D (1 2 3 4). Sanskrit and Nazorean Ha Wa Za became Hebrew Heh Vau Zayin and English E F G (5 6 7). Nazorean H T Y became Heth Teth Yodh and H I J (8 9 10). K L M N remained the same KL M N (11 12 13 14). S ‘ F/P S dropped the two Ss, Ain (‘) and F/P became O P (15 16). Q R S T remained the same Q R S T (but the numbering 19 20 21 22 became 17 18 19 20). Six letters were added at the end: U V W X Y Z (21 22 23 24 25 26).
[vii] This Unukalhai is stillassociated with a wonderful quilt design in a star form and could be linked with the tradition of Lucifer as the morning star.