I am mathematical by nature. Before my own awakening my profession was based in statistical analysis. And so, when I discovered that there was more to Pythagoras than A²+B²=C², my fascination took hold.
The more I read, the more I begin to see how much is left out of our ‘necessary’ learning. My mind wondered, how is it decided what is necessary? Who decides the legacy of a notable life, what is left out and what is published? It is decided by value, and our values have become corrupted by materiality. We should teach what is right over what is profitable.
As someone who comes from statistics, I find it unacceptable to choose what statistics to share in order to fit a ‘truth’. Statistics are the truth in themselves when they’re shared fully; when not just a portion is separated from the whole as we see in the mass media of today. How is it that two stories of the same origin can be told in countless opposing ways while proclaiming to be the truth? It’s because neither portray unbiased truth, but instead intertwine opinions and convey them as fact. We should no longer be split but become one whole to create harmony. Seeking honesty through unbiased analysis and historical perspective.
Onwards. Onwards, and back in time to the 6th century BC.
It was the peak of a period known as the axial age. A pivotal period in our history; A time of great thinkers; The time of Buddha and Confucius; The beginning of grammar as we understand it today; The time, of Pythagoras.
Because he didn’t write any of his teachings down, Pythagoras has left us with a fascinating but sometimes confusing legacy. So what accounts we have of who he was and his own beliefs are sometimes contradictory.
Who was Pythagoras?
In what historical accounts are available, Pythagoras is believed to have been born between 600 – 590BC. His mother was Parthenis, and his father changed her name to Pythasis after he visited the city of Delphi, of the famous oracles. While he (Mnesarchus) was attending to business there, he consulted the oracle of Delphi, asking whether the Fates were favorable for a return voyage to Syria.
The oracle did not answer the question Mnesarchus asked. Instead she told him that his wife would soon give birth to a son. And this child was destined to surpass all men in beauty and wisdom. He was told that throughout the course of his life would contribute greatly to the benefit of mankind.
A prophecy proven true
The first of the oracles predictions held true when the child arrived; his wife had given birth to a son. He had been so deeply impressed that he not only changed the name of his wife, but also named his son in honor of the Pythian priesthood at Delphi, naming him Pythagoras.
Pythagoras’ teachings would suggest that he was thoroughly fluent with the concepts of eastern esotericism. He traveled among the jews, and learned for the Rabbis about the secret traditions of Moses. It is believed the Essenes were consecrated through their study and interpretation of Pythagorean symbols. Apparently, Pythagoras was initiated into the Egyptian, Babylonian, and Chaldean Mysteries. The accounts of exactly where he traveled differ among historians, but it is agree upon that he visited many countries and studied among many masters.
“After having acquired all which it was possible for him to learn of the greek philosophers and, presumably, become an initiate in the Eleusinian Mysteries, he went to Egypt, and after many rebuffs and refusals, finally succeeded in securing initiation in the Mysteries of Isis, at the hands of the priests of Thebes. Then this intrepid ‘joiner’ wended his way in Phoenicia and Syria where the Mysteries of Adonis were conferred upon him, and crossing to the valley of Euphrates he tarried long enough to become versed in, the secret lore of the Chaldeans, who still dwelt in the vicinity of Babylon. Finally, he made his greatest and most historic venture through Media and Persia into Hindustan where he rained several years as a pupil and initiate of the learned Brahmins of Elephanta and Ellora.”Frank C. Higgins, Ancient Freemasonry
Furthermore, Higgins states that the name of Pythagoras is still preserved in the Brahmin records as Yavancharya, the Ionian teacher.
Pythagoras founded a school at Crotona in southern Italy after compiling the secrets he learned from different groups and cultures around the world
Through this wisdom, Pythagoras instructed a small group of sincere followers in his newfound wisdom, and in occult mathematics, music and astronomy. He believed were the foundation of science and the arts.
He taught that wisdom “was the understanding of the source or cause of all things, and this could be secured only by raising the intellect to a point where it intuitively cognized the invisible manifesting outwardly through the visible, and thus became capable of bringing itself en rapport with the spirit of things rather that their forms.” Manly P. Hall, Secret Teachings Of All Ages
It was about unlocking the higher self.
In the eyes of Pythagoras, The highest understanding that a human being could have was that of the Monad; the one, supreme mind. Pythagoras taught that man and the universe were both made in the image of God and that because of this, each allowed understanding of the other. There was the macrocosm (Universe) and the microcosm (Man); the big and the little universe; the Grand Man and the Man.
Pythagoras believed that all aspects of the universe were living things. Each of the planets and stars were just like our own human bodies; encasement vehicles for a soul or spiritual organism. The planets were seen as magnificent deities by Pythagoras, worthy of respect, but still a part of the larger and higher One, the Monad, within whom all existed temporarily.
The Wind Blowing, Adore the Sound
Pythagoras was known to teach in aphorisms as a preferred method, and Iamblichus gathered thirty-nine and interpreted them. The wind blowing, adore the sound was Pythagoras reminding his disciple that the blueprint of God is “heard in the voice of the elements, and that all things in Nature manifest through harmony, rhythm, order, or procedure”. All of which are expressing the attributes of the Monad.
It can be witnessed in many forms. For example, read my article on the Vitruvian man, or consider the tracings of the planetary movements below:
It also brings to mind the beliefs of a dutch philosopher, Baruch de Spinoza. He conceived God to be a substance absolutely self-existent and needing no other conception besides itself to render it complete. The nature of the Being was held by Spinoza to be comprehensible only through its attributes, which are extension and thought; These combine to form an endless variety of aspects and nodes.
Ahead of his time
It is interesting to note that in the time of Pythagoras, it was generally accepted that the earth was at the center of the solar system, but Pythagoras taught that the position of each heavenly body was determined by its dignity. Therefore, as Pythagoras taught that fire was the most important of the elements, a flaming sphere (the sun) was at the center of the solar system.
He believed that there was a system of ten concentric circles as the number 10 symbolized the sum of all parts. Therefore, there was the circle of the divine fire (the sun), the seven planets, the earth, and another, invisible planet known as Antichthon. There are many theories on what the meaning of this was. But the most likely is that this was what was considered ‘the eighth sphere’ by Pythagoras. Where the immortals resided, and where those that cast off their material shell would live as ‘spiritualized ether’.
Pythagoras knowledge of the sun’s position was most likely learned during his initiation into the Egyptian Mysteries. They were aware of the cosmic alignments long before we had the ability of scientific method to test proofs. The Egyptians Mysteries understood The wind blowing and the universal laws, allowing them to derive the nature of the cosmic spheres from the order of things.
He was betrayed
Unfortunately, Pythagoras was murdered. The most accepted perpetrator was a disgruntled pupil who spread lies among the people, and who led them against Pythagoras and his school. Finally, he burned down their buildings, killing Pythagoras in the process. There are many conflicting accounts of the details.
They didn’t stop there. This individual wanted to wipe Pythagoras from existence and aimed to burn all record of his teachings. Pythagoras himself did not write anything down, preferring instead to pass on this sacred knowledge through verbal communication and keep it secret among only those who were ready. This has led to much of the secrets and symbolism remaining concealed and undeciphered to this day.
Albert Pike said:
“Pythagoras succeeded too well in concealing his symbols with a veil that was from the first impenetrable, without his oral explanation…”
Pythagoras’ teachings transcended his own lifetime
Out of his legacy was born a religion of sorts, referred to as the Pythagoreans. Their defining belief being that numbers and mathematics constituted the true nature of things. It’s much too in depth for this article here, but I will expand in a podcast or future article.
“The fact that mathematics could explain the human sentimental world had a profound impact on the Pythagorean philosophy. Pythagoreanism became the quest for establishing the fundamental essences of reality…Pythagorean philosophers advanced the unshakable belief that the essence of all things are numbers and that the universe was sustained by harmony.”Christoph Riedweg (2008). Pythagoras: His Life, Teaching, and Influence. Cornell University Press. p. 30.
The Pythagorean Way
The Pythagoreans followed ‘a way of life’ that has been attributed to Pythagoras’ own, with the ultimate goal of attaining harmony of the soul.
They practiced vegetarianism and committed themselves to periods of silence for the purpose of ‘Arete’. Which is translated basically as ‘excellence’, but is defined in early greek as the notion of fulfillment and shares a resemblance to that of enlightenment or oneness.
Pythagoras himself was believed to be one of the earliest recorded examples of a vegetarian with the purpose of religion and ethics, and his beliefs were for the purpose of purity.
We are told by Xenophanes that Pythagoras once heard a dog howling and appealed to its master not to beat it, as he recognized the voice of a departed friend.
This story was told with the purpose of teaching another belief that was adhered to within Pythagoreanism, metempsychosis. (Transmigration of the soul after death into a new body, human or animal). Metempsychosis was not for punishment so much as for attainment of knowledge in the pursuit of wisdom. Pythagoreans (in this case, Philolaus) put a stress on knowledge as a means of release from the sêma (tomb) of the soul, the sôma (body). The soul could then join in the life of the gods and thus escape the cycle of reincarnation into another human body. Casting off his material nature and becoming a body of spiritualized ether.
The idea of the souls transfer into the form of an animal seems to be less of a belief among the Pythagoreans, and more of an allegorical method for teaching a specific lesson.
It was used to describe balance and the need for moderation; to not allow themselves to succumb to the lower desires. It was said that if one was too much of a certain nature, they would become as such in the next form they took. For example, shyness would result in the embodiment of a deer or of a rabbit, ferociousness in that of a wolf or other predatory animal.
He did, however, teach of reincarnation and transmigration of the soul into successive bodies. It’s been said that Pythagoras gained the ability to remember his past lives, recounting four before his incarnation as Pythagoras, The First Philosopher. Apparently, this title holds held secret initiation of the Pythagorean candidate according to T. R. Prater.
A legacy continued: student becomes guru
From Philolaus is another topic; much of Pythagoreanism seems to have developed or evolved with its followers come teachers in the years after Pythagoras, such as one of the most fascinating and substantial discoveries attributed to Pythagoreans by our modern society:
“…discovering that the most harmonious musical intervals are created by the simple numerical ratio of the first four natural numbers which derive respectively from the relations of string length: 2:1 the octave (1/2), 3:2 the fifth (2/3) and 4:3 the fourth (3/4)….Werner Heisenberg has called this formulation of musical arithmetic as “among the most powerful advances of human science” because it enables the measurement of sound in space.”Constantine J. Vamvacas (2009). The Founders of Western Thought – The Presocratics. Springer Science & Business Media.
This discovery is believed to have been known to Pythagoras. However, “Hippasus is the first person to whom is assigned an experiment demonstrating these correspondences that is scientifically possible.” Pythagoreanism, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Carl Huffman
The Golden Ratio
The Pythagorean numerical and ratio application also led to discoveries in architecture and engineering. Later being expanded upon by Vitruvius during the 1st century BC in his application of ratios to architecture in relation to man himself, and from whom Leonardo Davinci’s ‘Vitruvian Man’ is taken. (A side note, but an interesting one if you have much interest in architecture and form).
They placed great emphasis on the study of geometry and its harmonious connection with universal law. Its study of geometrical proportion in relation to harmony was probably most well known in the expressions of Pi and Phi ɸ(the golden ratio). Both of these values are expressed symbolically as they are known as ‘unlimiteds’ in that they are not whole numbers. They are infinitely recurring/have no end.
An Equal(ity) society
Another fascinating factor, is the inclusion of women! Especially considering the cultural context of the time; when we remember that the era of Pythagoreanism took place between approximately 6th century BCE to 4th Century BCE. That’s over 2,000 years ago! A modern step in an ancient society.
“Dicaearchus, who reports that Pythagoras had as followers not just men but also women and that one of these, Theano, became famous…Dicaearchus does not identify her as the wife of either Brontius or Pythagoras but simply as a follower of Pythagoras.”Ibid
Put simply, I believe that they placed equal value on the membership of women, and did not consign them to being the ‘wife of’ but as an equal of mind.
There is not a great deal of reliable evidence of her writings, but a portion of Philodemus’ On Piety has often been attributed to her:
“I have learned that many of the Greeks believe Pythagoras said all things are generated from number. The very assertion poses a difficulty: How can things which do not exist even be conceived to generate? But he did not say that all things come to be from number; rather, in accordance with number – on the grounds that order in the primary sense is in number and it is by participation in order that a first and a second and the rest sequentially are assigned to things which are counted.”M.E. Waithe (1987). A History of Women Philosophers: Volume I: Ancient Women Philosophers, 600 B.C.-500 A.D. p. 12. ISBN 9789024733484.
And she is not alone. In the catalogue of Pythagoreans in Iamblichus’ On the Pythagorean Life, 17 women are named.
It seems that Pythagoras’ teachings were inclusive. Based on a foundation of logic and sound evidence, through a language that may be considered as universal. What a fascinating blip in history that has influenced a great deal in modern history!