Los Angeles - Brad Stewart was a teenage stock trader in 1986 when he went to a financial bookstore in Los Angeles and stumbled across a strange, smoke-filled back room devoted to an odd science.
The co-owner of the store, Jerome Baumring, sat with his cowboy-booted feet on a desk and chain-smoked while staring through owlish glasses at a computer screen filled with stock market quotes. Baumring was surrounded on three sides by stacks of books, mostly rare original editions about financial markets, music theory, astrophysics and mysticism.
If properly understood, he told Stewart, the books offered the astute investor a better understanding not just of life, but of the world of finance.
Soon Stewart was “buying hundreds of books I needed to understand the subject.”
Over time, Stewart amassed a library of tomes on such things as Pythagorean harmonics, celestial mechanics and Jewish mysticism, and he established himself as the source for such material among financial traders with similar interests.
Now, at age 40, he presides over the Sacred Science Institute, a small publishing company specializing in English translations of some of the most complicated and convoluted tracts ever written. The audience: people who see geometrical connections between the architecture of Hindu temples and fluctuations in the Dow Jones industrial average.
Stewart operates out of a domed chalet outside the mountain town of Idyllwild, about 110 miles east of Los Angeles. The company operates under an unusual working relationship between scholars and translators with an academic interest in rare scientific and religious works, and Stewart’s clients — about 400 people he likes to call “my financial guys.” These book buyers tend to live in the world’s financial centers.
The Sacred Science Institute is 12 years old and has published about 500 books, mostly rare financial-market treatises. Stewart’s 100 or so best-selling titles offer more conventional business advice and provide the income he needs to cover the costs of translating his mystical texts.
Most of his clients are fans of financial wizard W.D. Gann, whose century-old books are so dense that many students give up before gaining an inkling of his “square of nine” investment techniques. Stewart’s clients aren’t reading these texts to find coded references to Dell’s stock price on a specific date. They read to discern larger patterns in how the universe operates.
Settling into a chair at a large wooden table in his living room and opening an elephantine edition filled with esoteric symbols and algebraic formulas, Stewart said, “I’ll show you why my guys are into this.”
“This baby begins with Pascal’s arithmetical triangle and logarithmic spirals,” he said, “and then just keeps going and going through Hindu chakras, the Egyptian alphabet and the harmonic patterns in the stained-glass windows of medieval cathedrals.
“The point is that this is a mysteriously organized universe. The market — its prices and times — move in accordance with its harmonic rhythms; there’s a nonrandom element to it all,” he said.
The big book on the table had an equally hefty title: “Natural Architecture: A Report by Petrus Talemarianus on the Establishment of a ‘Golden Rule,’ According to the Principles of Tantrism, Taoism, Pythagoreanism and the Kabala, Serving to Fulfill the Laws of Universal Harmony and Contributing to the Accomplishment of the Great Work.”
Published in 1949 in French and restricted to 252 copies for members of a secret society, “Natural Architecture” was recently translated into English by Ariel Godwin and edited by his father, Joscelyn, a music professor at Colgate University and a noted author in the field of 17th-century philosophy and mysticism.
“You don’t have to get the math to understand the basic idea, that numbers are the basis of the universe,” Joscelyn Godwin said. “By the time you finish reading, you believe.”
As for putting that knowledge to work in the stock market, however, Godwin joshed, “I just wish I had the money, the time and the temperament to try it out.”
But are such things actually related to the stock price of Microsoft in the morning?
“Absolutely not,” said critic John Allen Paulos, a professor of mathematics at Temple University in Philadelphia.
“Why not study belly button lint?” Paulos asked sarcastically. “The translations might be difficult undertakings, but the financial codes and formulas that people think they discern from them have nothing to do with the stock market.”
Still, Stewart has his fans.
The works will sell for as much as $350 each, for those who wish to purchase only one, and $250 for those who join the Sacred Science Translation Society.
The society price is reserved for customers who commit to buying every translation produced at Sacred Science. Exactly when the books will be released is hard to say. “I have no deadlines,” Stewart said. “It can take years to translate some of these books. But my guys will wait, because there’s no place else to get them.”
Regular customers include Steve Rideout, a natural gas trader and hedge fund developer who believes that “while the predictive world of finance is difficult,” mastering the geometrical codes hidden within such works as Plato’s “Timaeus” will give him just enough of an edge “to actually make some money.”
Commodity trader Robert Tam said two decades of intense study of the relationship between science and religion has led to spiritual renewal.
“It takes a lot of homework figuring out these ideas — initially, it killed my social life,” he said. “But as I delved deeper and deeper into Plato, geometry, the movement of the planets and music, I found myself also moving deeper into my own Orthodox Judaism.”
Stewart appreciates such connections as well.
“This material is not for everyone,” he said. “And I always tell people, ‘Don’t expect to read a few books and get rich.’ In fact, I’m not even all that interested in the stock market anymore.
“Money doesn’t solve the big questions, the ones that resonate with the heart. For me and many of my financial market guys, it was simply the stick that was whacking us down the road to the real prize: a better understanding of the order of the universe.”