“Pythagoras, the pure philosopher deeply versed in the profounder phenomena of nature, the noble inheritor of the ancient lore, whose great aim was to free the soul from the fetters of sense and force it to realize its powers, must live eternally in human memory.”—H. P. Blavatsky
This world-famous Greek teacher of “the Heart Doctrine” was born about 580 B.C. on the island of Samos and died about 500 B.C. Before his birth it was prophesied to his father that a son was about to be born to him who would be a great benefactor of mankind. Some even went so far as to declare that Pythagoras was a human incarnation of Hyperborean Apollo.
It is related that when a mere youth he left his native city to begin a series of travels to the wise men of all countries, from the Hindus and Arabs in the East, to the Druids of Gaul in the West. We are told that he spent twelve years in Babylon, conversing freely with the Magi, by whom he was instructed in all their Mysteries and taught the most perfect form of worship. He spent twenty-two years in Egypt as an intimate of the most learned hierophants, under whose tutelage he mastered the three styles of Egyptian writing, the common, the hieroglyphic, and the sacerdotal. He brought with him a personal letter of introduction to Amasis, the reigning Pharaoh, who forthwith wrote to the hierophants and requested them to initiate Pythagoras into their mysteries. Pythagoras first went to the priests of Heliopolis, but they, true to the inveterate Egyptian suspicion of foreigners, although hesitating to disobey Amasis openly, tacitly refused to initiate Pythagoras and advised him to go to the sacred school at Memphis, ostensibly because it was of greater antiquity than that of Heliopolis. At Memphis also he met with the same finesse, and was next sent to the school at Thebes, where finally under the most severe tests—tests which nearly cost him his life—he was fully initiated into the Egyptian Mysteries and thereafter had free access to the treasures of the hierophants.
After leaving Egypt Pythagoras returned to Greece by way of Crete, where he descended the Idaean cave in company with Epimenides, the great Cretan prophet and seer, who in return for the removal of the plague at Athens in 596 B.C. accepted from the grateful people only a branch of the sacred olive of Athena, and refused the large sums of money which were offered, because he declared that spiritual gifts can not be bought and sold. From Epimenides and Themistoklea, the Delphic Pythia, Pythagoras received further instruction. In the course of his travels he became an initiate not only in the mysteries of India, Babylonia, Egypt, Greece, and Gaul, but also in those of Tyre and Syria.
Pythagoras studied the various branches of knowledge, especially mathematics, astronomy, music, gymnastics, and medicine, and contributed very greatly to the development of these sciences among the Greeks, for he was a man both of singular capabilities and of great acquirements. His personal appearance was noteworthy. He was very handsome and dignified; regularly dressed in white, and wore a long, flowing beard. He never gave way to grief, joy, or anger, but was accustomed to sing hymns of Homer, Hesiod, and Thales, to preserve the serenity of his mind, and he was very eminent for his power of attracting friends. The religious element was predominant in his character, and his entire life was ruled by humanitarian and philanthropic motives. He was opposed to animal sacrifice, and on one occasion purchased a large draught of fish, which had just been caught in a net, and set them free as an object-lesson in kindness.
Pythagoras was a practical occultist, and is said to have understood the “language” of animals so as to be able to converse with them and tame even the most ferocious. It is said of him that upon one occasion he was seen and heard publicly speaking at far distant places both in Italy and in Sicily, on the same day, a physical impossibility. It is also stated that he healed the sick, had the power of driving away evil spirits, foresaw the future, recognized character at a glance, and had direct communication with the gods.
Finally at the age of nearly fifty, Pythagoras went to southern Italy or Magna Graecia, after an unsuccessful attempt to establish a society in his native city, and in 529 B.C. founded the Pythagorean Brotherhood and the School of the Mysteries at Crotona. He gained extensive influence immediately and attracted great numbers of all classes, including many of the nobles and the wealthy, so that the society grew with wonderful strides and soon similar schools were established at many other cities of Magna Graecia: at Sybaris, Metapontum, Tarentum, and elsewhere. Each of these consisted of three hundred members accepted under inviolable pledges of secrecy and bound to Pythagoras and to each other by the most sacred of obligations.
The statement as to the death of Pythagoras, which occurred when he was about eighty, vary. One account says that he was banished from Crotona and fled to Metapontum where he died after a self-imposed fast of forty days. Another says that he was murdered by his enemies when the temple of the school at Crotona was burned to the ground, either by the nefarious Kylon who because of his unworthiness had been refused admittance to the Brotherhood and his wicked associate Ninon, or by the frenzied townspeople. At the same time similar persecutions in the other cities where the branch schools had been established resulted in the (supposed) murder of all but a few of the younger and stronger members, who succeeded in escaping to Egypt. Thereafter individual Pythagoreans, unorganized in Schools, which were everywhere successfully suppressed, continued to keep the light burning for centuries. The doubtful point is, whether the temple and the various assembly halls of the Pythagoreans were burned at the end of the Leader’s life, or about a hundred years after his banishment and death by starvation. Telauges, his “son,” is said to have succeeded his father as the Head of the shattered society, but little is known of him. It is significant that the Pythagorean Brotherhood and School of the Mysteries at Crotona flourished during the last twenty-five years of the sixth century B.C., the accepted date of its overthrow being about 500 B.C.
II. The School
It was a Pythagorean maxim that “everything ought not to be told to everybody.” Therefore membership in the society was secret, silent, and guarded by the most solemn forms of obligatory pledges and initiations. Members were classified as Akousmatikoi or Listeners, Probationary Members, who did not live at the School, and Mathematikoi or Students, Accepted Members, who lived with their families at the central School of the Mysteries or at one of its branches. Probably the Mathematikoi were further divided into two classes: the Pythagoristae or exoteric members, and the Pythagoreans or esoteric members.
Practically any candidate of an upright and honest life was admitted at request as a Listener, but only the fit and the worthy were accepted as Students. Listeners, wishing to become Students, were forced to pass through a period of probation lasting from two to five years, during which their powers of maintaining silence were especially tested as well as their general temper, disposition, and mental capacity. A good working knowledge of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music, (the four branches of Pythagorean mathematics), was required preliminary to admission to the School. Only the most approved members were admitted to the Esoteric Section. Women were admitted (an innovation from the Greek standpoint). Among these Theano was the most distinguished. She had general supervision of the women.
The members were devotedly attached to their Leader and to one another. They were enabled to recognize other members even when unacquainted by means of their secret symbols, and it is recorded: “If Pythagoras ever heard that any one used symbols similar to his, he at once made him a companion and a friend.” Unquestioning loyalty was given to the counsels of Pythagoras by his disciples, for whom the ipse dixit of the master settled all controversy, and the rank and admission of candidates depended solely upon the intuitive discernment of Pythagoras, who made all appointments.
The Students wore a special dress and had vows. They were trained to endure fatigue, sleep little, dress very simply, never to return reproaches for reproaches, and to bear contradiction and ridicule with serenity. The School of the Mysteries was a school of life, not a monastery. Pythagoras did not aim to have his disciples withdraw from active life, but taught them how to maintain a calm bearing and an elevated character under all circumstances. The intention was to train them to exhibit in their personal and social capacities a reflection of the order and harmony of the universe. The membership was international.
As it was a Pythagorean maxim that “friends should possess all things in common,” new members upon entering the School handed over their personal possessions to the proper official who turned them into the common treasury. A student was at liberty to depart from the School at pleasure and at his departure he was given double his original contribution, but over his former seat was erected a tomb, funeral rites were performed, and he was ever afterwards referred to by the loyal members as deceased.
Purity of life was required and temperance of all kinds was strictly enjoined. All members ate at a common refectory in groups of ten, as at the Spartan syssitia. The diet was subject to a most careful regulation and consisted largely of bread, honey, and water. Animal foods and wine were forbidden. It is stated also that beans were tabooed because of their indigestibility and tendency to produce agitated dreams.
Much importance was attached to music, and to the physical exercise of the disciples. Each day began with a meditation upon how it could be best spent and ended with a careful retrospect. The students arose before the sun, and after breakfast studied for several hours, with an interval of leisure, which was usually spent in solitary walks and silent contemplation. The hour before dinner was devoted to athletic exercises. In the course of the day there were mutual exhortations not to sunder the God in each and all but to preserve the union with the Deity and with one another. The students were accustomed to visit Pythagoras at night, and went to sleep with music.
III. The Teachings
As Pythagoras met with the immemorial fate of the world’s great teachers, many fantastic distortions of his teachings were published; some of them, in his name by his enemies, for the express purpose of bringing his teachings into disrepute; and many things were imputed to him which he certainly never said or did. Probably he did not commit any of his teachings to writing, but it is certain that his disciples memorized his sayings and treasured them as the oracles of the Deity. He had two forms of teaching: one public or exoteric, and one private or esoteric. It is noteworthy that wherever his teachings prevailed, sobriety and temperance displaced licentiousness and luxury, for the distinguished Pythagoreans were men of great uprightness, conscientiousness, and self-control, capable of devoted and enduring friendships.
(a) Exoteric Teachings
The public teachings of Pythagoras consisted principally of practical morals of the purest and most spiritual type and emphasized the virtues of self-restraint, reverence, patriotism, sincerity, conscientiousness, uprightness, truth, justice, and purity of heart. He insisted upon the highest ideals of marriage and of parental duties, and always exerted his influence to suppress wars and dissensions. He was the first to apply the term philosopher or lover of wisdom to himself, as a substitute for the earlier term sage, for he said: “The Deity only is wise; men at their best are merely lovers of wisdom.” He was also the first to use the word kosmos or “order,” as applied to the universe. He used to say:
Drunkenness is synonymous with ruin.
No one ought to exceed the proper quantity of meat and drink.
Strength of mind depends upon sobriety, for this keeps the reason undiverted by passion.
In answer to the question, “When may I indulge in the pleasures of passion?” he replied: “Whenever you wish to be weaker than your Self.”
Never say or do anything in anger.
Virtue is harmony; health, the Universal Good.
He urged his disciples not to kill animals, because he declared that they have a right to live, as well as men.
It is the part of a fool to attend to every opinion of all men, above all to that of the mob.
Do what you believe to be right, whatever people think of you. Despise alike their censure and their praise.
Add not unto your grid by discontent.
Do not speak few things in many words, but many things in a few words.
Either be silent, or speak words better than silence.
It is hard to take many paths in life at the same time.
Youth should be accustomed to obedience, for it will thus find it easy to obey the authority of reason.
Men should associate with one another in such a way as not to make their friends enemies, but to make their enemies friends.
We ought to wage war only against the ignorance of the mind, the passions of the heart, the distempers of the body, sedition in cities, and ill-will in families.
No man should deem anything exclusively his own.
Every man ought so to train himself as to be worthy of belief without an oath.
He used to call admonishing, “feeding storks.”
Philosophers are seekers after truth.
The discourse of a philosopher is vain, if no passion of man is healed thereby.
Choose the best life; use will make it pleasant.
Man is at his best when he visits the temples of the gods.
A man should never pray for anything for himself, because he is ignorant of what is really good for him.
Do not the least thing unadvisedly.
Advise before you act, and never let your eyes
The sweet refreshings of soft slumber taste,
Till you have thence severe reflections passed
On th’ actions of the day from first to last.
Wherein have I transgressed? What done have I?
What duty unperformed have I passed by?
And if your actions ill on search you find,
Let grief, if good, let joy, possess your mind.
This do, this think, to this your heart incline,
This way will lead you to the Life Divine.
* * * * *
This course, if you observe, you shall know then
The constitution both of gods and men.
And now from ill, Great Father, set us free,
Or teach us all to know ourselves in Thee.
The noblest gifts of heaven to man are to speak the truth and to do good. These two things resemble the works of the Deity.
Place intuition as the best charioteer or guide for thy acts.
Possess not treasures except those things which no one can take from you.
Be sleepless in the things of the Spirit, for sleep in them is akin to death.
Each of us is a soul, not a body, which is only a possession of the soul.
The tyrant death securely shalt thou brave,
And scorn the dark dominion of the grave.
The greatest honor which can be paid to the Deity is to know and imitate Its perfection.
The wise men say that one community embraces heaven and earth, and gods and men and friendship and order and temperance and righteousness ; for which reason they call this whole a kosmos or orderly universe.
Of all things learn to revere your Self.
Likeness to the Deity should be the aim of all our endeavors. The nobler, the better the man, the more godlike he becomes, for the gods are the guardians and guides of men.
There is a relationship between men and gods, because men partake of the Divine Principle.
You have in yourself something similar to God; therefore use yourself as the Temple of God.
Be bold, O man! Divine thou art.
Truth is to be sought with a mind purified from the passions of the body. Having overcome evil things, thou shalt experience the union of the immortal God with the mortal man.
(b) The Esoteric Teachings
The esoteric teachings of Pythagoras, which he called “the Gnosis of Things that Are,” or “the Knowledge of the Reality,” so far as they can be gathered from the extant fragments, dealt with (1) Symbols, (2) Number, that is, the inner meaning of arithmetic and geometry, (3) Music, (4) Man, and (5) the Earth and the Universe. In his esoteric teachings Pythagoras gave out the keys to the system of practical ethics outlined in his exoteric sayings. Such of his public utterances as were called Symbols were mere blinds, capable of several interpretations with several distinct and highly important meanings attached to them. H. P. Blavatsky, speaking of these, says:
Every sentence of Pythagoras, like most of the ancient maxims, had (at least) a dual signification; and while it had an occult physical meaning expressed in its words, it embodied a moral precept.
It is no mere coincidence that many of the maxims were and still are current among widely separated nations. The following are examples of some Pythagorean Symbols together with their possible meanings as moral precepts:
“Do not devour your heart”: that is, do not consume your vitality in futile grief.
“Do not devour your brain”: that is, do not waste your time in idle thoughts.
“hen you are traveling abroad, turn not back, for the furies will go with you”: that is, do not dally or cry over spilt milk but hasten to accomplish whatever you have begun; otherwise you will fail, and remorse and sorrow will thereafter attend you.
“Do not indulge in immoderate laughter”: that is, restrain the unstable parts of your nature.
“Do not stir fire with a sword”: that is, do not return angry words to an angry man, for “hatred ceaseth not by hatred but by love—this is an everlasting truth.”
“Turn away from yourself every sharp edge”: that is, control your passions.
“Nourish nothing which has crooked talons or nails”: that is, cultivate only kindliness of disposition.
“Help a man to take up a burden but not to lay it down”: that is, by toils and sorrows men are strengthened.
“Do not step above the beam of the balance”: that is, live a life of perfect justice.
“Spit not upon the cuttings of your hair or the parings of your nails”: that is, even trifles are important.
“Destroy the print of the pot in the ashes”: that is, correct all mistakes.
“Put the shoe on the right foot first but put the left foot first info the bath-tub”: that is, act uprightly and honestly, washing away all impurities.
“Look not in a mirror by lamplight”: that is, do not be misled by the phantasies of the senses, but be guided by the pure, bright light of spiritual knowledge.
“Transplant mallows in your garden but eat them not”: that is, cultivate spirituality and destroy it not.
“Do not wear a ring”: that is, philosophize truly, and separate your soul from the bonds of the body.
“When the winds blow, give heed unto the sound”: that is, when the Deity speaks, attend closely.
“When you rise from bed, disorder the covering, and efface the impression of the body”: that is, when you have attained unto wisdom, obliterate all traces of your former ignorance.
“Leaving the public ways, walk in unfrequented paths”: that is, lead a spiritual, not a worldly, life.
“Do not offer your right hand lightly”: that is, do not make pledges which you cannot or will not keep, and do not divulge the Mysteries to those who are unfit and uninitiated.
“Do not receive a swallow into your house”: that is, do not disclose the Mysteries to one who is flighty and unstable.
“Speak not about Pythagorean concerns without light”: that is, do not assume to be a teacher until you have become a student.
“When treading the Path divide not”: that is, truth is one but falsehood is multifarious; choose that philosophy in which there is no inconsistency or contradiction.
“Above all things learn to govern your tongue when you follow the gods”: that is, learn the power of silence.
“Disbelieve nothing admirable concerning the gods or the divine teachings”: that is, the Deity is perfect justice and perfect love; “the Divine wisdom is the science of life, the art of living.”
“Do not cut your nails while sacrificing”: that is, in praying, remember even those who are most distant.
“Sacrifice and worship unshod”: that is, approach the Mysteries with a reverent heart.
“Entering a temple, neither say nor do anything which pertains to ordinary life”: that is, preserve the Divine, pure and undefiled; the divine science cannot be judged by the ordinary standards of human opinion.
“Enter not into a temple negligently nor worship carelessly, not even though you stand only at the doors”: that is, seek the Divine wholeheartedly without reference to personal advantage, no matter however humble your position.
“Approach not gold in order to gain children”: that is, beware of all teachers who barter the things of the Spirit; “by their fruits ye shall know them.”
“Inscribe not the image of the Deity on a ring”: that is, do not think of the Supreme as either finite or personal.
The esoteric teachings of Pythagoras in regard to number dealt principally with the significance of arithmetic and geometry, and emphasized the importance of the application of number to weights and measures. He was the first to explain the multiplication table to the Greeks. The leading idea of his system was that of the Unity in Multiplicity. Therefore the Pythagorean concept of harmony was based upon the relationship of the One and the Many, the idea of the One in Many and the Many in One—“as above, so below.” By number Pythagoras meant not merely figures, but regulated motion or vibration, rhythm, law, and order; for he made number equivalent to intelligence. He said:
Number is that which brings what is obscure within the range of our knowledge, rules all true order in the universe and allows of no errors.
He assumed, as first principles, the numbers and the symmetries existing in them, which he called harmonies. He taught:
Virtue is a proportion or harmony. Happiness consists in the perfection of the virtues of the soul, the perfect science of numbers. Nature is an imitation of number.
Pythagorean arithmetic was concerned especially with the first ten digits, which were “hieroglyphic symbols, by means of which Pythagoras explained his ideas about the nature of things.” He taught that unity, the monad or one, is no true numeral, for one multiplied any number of times by itself always equals one; that is, unity unlike the true numerals, has not an infinite series of varying powers, for its square, cube, and other powers, are one and all equal to one, the first term of the series. Another peculiarity, which proves unity not to be a true numeral, is its indivisibility into whole numbers.
The monad is God and the good, which is the origin of the one and is itself Intelligence. The monad is the beginning of everything. Unity is the principle of all things and from Unity went forth an infinite or indeterminate duality, the duad, which is subordinate to the monad as its cause.
Pythagoras taught that the duad, the first concept of addition, was the first true figure and regarded the one as a symbol for the Primitive Unity or the Deity, the Absolute, behind and above the indeterminate or infinite duad, which symbolized chaos or spirit-matter. The triad or the three, the monad plus the duad, symbolized the Divine, the Heavenly, as opposed to the Earthly.
The Pythagoreans say that the All and all things are defined by threes; for beginning, middle, and end constitute the number of all and also the number of the triad.
The tetrad or the four exists in two forms, its actual form the quaternary or the four, the symbol of Earth as opposed to Heaven, and its potential form, the tetraktys, which contains in germ the sum total of the universe, manifested and unmanifested, the Pythagorean dekad or ten, thus, 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10. The tetraktys, therefore, was regarded as a very sacred symbol. The pentad or number five, symbolized man. The senary or number six, is, of course, composed of two threes, and was regarded as an abbreviation for the alpha and omega of evolutionary growth. The hebdomad or number seven, is the perfect number, par excellence, symbolizing both heaven and earth. In the words of H. P. Blavatsky:
The ogdoad or 8 symbolizes the eternal and spiral motion of the cycles, and is symbolized in its turn by the Caduceus (or herald’s staff of Hermes). The nine is the triple ternary, reproducing itself incessantly under all shapes and figures in every multiplication. The ten or dekad brings all these digits back to unity and ends the Pythagorean table.
“It is,” Pythagoras says, “the starting point of number.” Passing from the arithmetic to the geometry of Pythagoras, Plato’s statement that “God geometrizes” is undoubtedly Pythagorean in origin, for it is said that Pythagoras perfected geometry among the Greeks, and the two well-known theorems that the triangle inscribed in a semi-circle is right-angled, and that the square of the hypothenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the sides, are still associated with his name. Pythagoras taught:
From the monad and the duad proceed numbers; from numbers signs; from signs lines, of which plane figures consist; from plane figures solid bodies. The Kosmos is endued with life and intellect and is of a spherical figure.
From one point of view, One corresponds to the dot or point, Two to the line, Three to the plane, and Four to the concrete solid. The dekad was represented geometrically in the form of a tetradic equilateral triangle of ten dots, with one dot at the apex, and four along the base line, thus . This shows graphically how the tetraktys as 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10, contains potentially the dekad. This ten-dot triangle filled out by lines becomes an equilateral triangle, with the dot at the apex and at the center remaining as generating-points for adjacent figures, and especially as the centers of circles, inscribed in and circumscribed about the original triangle.
The principal plane geometrical figures known to have been explained by Pythagoras are the circle in its three forms: one with the center unmarked, the second with a dot at the center, and the third with the diameter drawn: ; the triangle: ; the square: ; the pentagram, or five-pointed star: ; and the hexagram, the six-pointed star or so-called Pythagorean Pentacle: .
The circle was called by Pythagoras “the most beautiful of all plane figures” and in its form with the center unmarked, corresponding to the monad or the one in arithmetic, was placed in a category by itself. The circle with a dot at its center corresponds to the duad, the triangle to the triad, the square to the tetrad in its actual as opposed to its potential form, which is that of the tetradic dotted triangle, as previously explained, the potential equivalent of the decad. The pentagram or five-pointed star corresponds to the pentad, and the hexagram to the senary. The circle with its diameter indicated the actual dekad or 10 ( for we no longer write the one within the circle to represent ten) as opposed to the potential equivalent of the dekad, the tetraktys. In his solid geometry Pythagoras taught that “the sphere was the most beautiful of all solid figures,” and in its form corresponding to the monad, it was classed by itself. Pythagoras explained that both the earth and the kosmos were spherical in shape, and added that the universe was made up of five basic solid figures, which were built up from the triangle and the square: namely, the cube; the tetrahedron; the octahedron, a figure with its eight sides formed by equal equilateral triangles; the dodecahedron, a figure with twelve faces formed by regular pentagons; and the icosahedron, a figure composed of twenty equal and similar triangular pyramids whose vertices meet at the center of a sphere, which is supposed to circumscribe it.
Turning to Pythagoras’ teachings in regard to music, which he regarded as a very important help in controlling the passions, it is said that he was the first to teach the Greeks the tonic relations of the musical scale, and invented for them the monochord, a one-stringed instrument, used in measuring the musical intervals. Upon these relations he built his celebrated doctrine of the Harmony or Music of the Spheres, that is, that the heavenly bodies, composing our solar system, in the course of their rotations emit the notes of the scale.
H. P. Blavatsky and the ancients explain this by saying that Pythagoras called
a “tone” the distance of the Moon from the Earth; from the Moon to Mercury ½ a tone, thence to Venus the same; from Venus to the Sun 1½ tones; from the Sun to Mars a tone; from thence to Jupiter ½ a tone; from Jupiter to Saturn a tone; and thence to the Zodiac a tone; thus making seven tones, the diapason harmony. All the melody of nature is in those seven tones and therefore is called “the Voice of Nature.”
Pythagoras declared that the harmony of the spheres is not heard by the ordinary human ear either because it has always been accustomed to it from the beginning of life, or because the sound is too powerful for the capabilities of the physical ear. In substantiation of this theory it is interesting to note that modern science expresses the intervals of music by proportions similar to those which mark the tonal distances of the planets.
Self-contemplation was strongly insisted upon and played a most vital part in the Pythagorean training. To his esoteric section Pythagoras taught the immortality of the soul, its pre-existence, and its re-birth; karma; and the septenary constitution of man, partially veiled, it is true, under the form of a triple division of the soul into animal, human, and divine parts.
There is a doctrine whispered in secret that man is a prisoner, who has no right to open the door and run away. The gods are our guardians.
The soul is a harmony and the body its prison.
We choose our own destiny and are our own good or bad fortune.
Rash words and acts are their own punishment.
We are our own children.
Intentional perversions of the teachings of Pythagoras, mere travesties of his ideas, are plainly evident in what has come down to us in regard to his belief in metempsychosis. Thus we are told that his enemies circulated the story that Pythagoras had declared that one of his relatives had passed into a bean, a vicious joke based on the fact that beans were excluded from the Pythagorean diet. Another similar malicious fiction about Pythagoras is thus referred to by Xenophanes, a contemporary philosopher.
They say that once, as passing by he saw
A dog severely beaten, he did pity him,
And spoke as follows to the man who beat him:
“Stop now, and beat him not; since in his body,
Abides the soul of a dear friend of mine,
Whose voice I recognized, as he was crying.”
That Pythagoras, himself, did not believe in transmigration after such fashion, is shown quite plainly by the following statements of Hierocles, the Neo-Platonist in his commentary upon the Golden Verses of Pythagoras:
If through a shameful ignorance of the immortality of the human soul, a man should persuade himself that his soul dies with his body, he expects what can never happen; in like manner he who expects that after death he shall put on the body of a beast and become an irrational animal because of his vices, or a plant because of his dulness and stupidity—such a man, I say, acting quite contrary to those who transform the essence of man into one of the superior beings, is infinitely deceived and absolutely ignorant of the essential form of the soul, which can never change; for being and continuing always man, it is only said to become God or beast by virtue or vice, though it cannot be either the one or the other.
The following quotations give us true representations of Pythagoras’ ideas on pre-existence and rebirth.
Souls cannot die. They leave a former home,
And in new bodies dwell and from them roam.
Nothing can perish, all things change below,
For spirits through all forms may come and go.
* * * * *
Thus through a thousand shapes, the soul shall go
And thus fulfil its destiny below.
Death has no power th’ immortal soul to slay;
That, when its present body turns to clay,
Seeks a fresh home and with unminish’d might
Inspires another frame with life and light.
So I myself (well I the past recall) . . .
Pythagoras regarded rebirth as a gradual process of purification and taught that the soul by reason of nobility of character gained by struggles upon earth was destined to be exalted eventually into far higher modes of life. “Imagination,” he explained:
is the remembrance of precedent spiritual, mental, and physical states, while fancy is the disorderly production of the material brain.
Man is perfected first by conversing with gods, which he can do only when he abstains from evil and strives to resemble divine natures; secondly, by doing good to others, which is an imitation of the gods; thirdly, by leaving the mortal body.
By our separation from the Deity, we lost the wings which raised us towards celestial beings and were thus precipitated into the region of death where all evils dwell. By putting away earthly passions and devoting ourselves to virtue, our wings will be renewed and we shall rise to that existence where we shall find the true good without any admixture of evil.
The soul of man being between spirits who always contemplate the Divine Essence and those who are incapable of contemplating it, can raise itself to the one, or sink itself to the other.
Every quality which a man acquires originates a good or bad spirit, which abides by him in this world and after death remains with him as a companion.
Pythagoras taught that man is a microcosm, a compendium of the universe, with a triple nature, composed of (1) an immortal spirit, the Spiritual Soul, intuitive perception, the Nous, a portion of the Deity; (2) a human intelligence, the Human Soul, the rational principle, the Phren; and (3) the sensitive irrational nature, the Animal Soul, the seat of the passions and desires, the Thymos. The Nous and the Thymos, he stated, are common to man and the lower animals, but the Phren, which in its higher aspect is immortal, is peculiar to man.
The immortal mind of man is as much more excellent than his sensitive irrational nature as the sun is more excellent than the stars.
The physical body is but a temporary garment of the soul, into which “the Nous enters from without.” “The sense perceptions are deceptive.”
The principle of life is about the heart, but the principle of reason and intelligence in the head.
Pythagoras added that at death the ethereal part of man freed from the chains of matter is conducted by Hermes Psychopompos, the Guide of Souls, into the region of the dead, where it remains in a state according to its merit until it is sent back to earth to inhabit another body. The object of rebirth is gradually to purify the soul by successive probations, until finally it shall be fitted to return to the immortal source whence it emanated.
(5) The Earth and the Universe
It is well-known that the ideas expressed by Plato in his Timaeus, the dialog which he named after his Pythagorean teacher, are derived almost entirely from Pythagorean sources. Therefore it is probable that Pythagoras taught about the earlier continents, which were destroyed alternately by fire and water, and in particular about the legends of Atlantis, including the account of an Atlantean invasion of Greece about 10,000 years B.C. before the Greeks lived in the Greek lands—an invasion which was repelled by the inhabitants of pre-historic Athens, who were akin to the ancient Egyptians.
In regard to our solar system, Pythagoras knew not only that the earth is spherical, but also taught that the sun, likewise spherical, not the earth, is the center—a theory rediscovered more than 2000 years later by Copernicus and Galileo. Pythagoras also explained the obliquity of the ecliptic, the causes of eclipses, that the morning and evening star are the same, that the moon shines by light reflected from the sun, and that the Milky Way is composed of stars. He held that “the Universe has neither height nor depth but is infinite in extent,” that
there is a void outside the Universe into which the Universe breathes forth and from which it breathes in,
the Universe is brought into being by the Deity and is perishable so far as its shape is concerned, for it is perceived by sense, is therefore material, but that (its Essence) will not be destroyed.
Pythagoras declared that all nature is animate, for
Soul is extended through the nature of all things and is mingled with them
and he believed in one Deity, ruling and upholding all things.
There is One Universal Soul diffused through all things—eternal, invisible, unchangeable; in essence like Truth, in substance resembling Light; not to be represented by any image; to be comprehended only by the Nous; not, as some conjecture, exterior to the Universe, but in itself entire, pervading the sphere which is the Universe.
From this One Universal Soul proceed Spiritual Intelligences, above, below, and inclusive of man; the subtle ether out of which they are formed becoming more and more gross, the further it is removed from the divine Source. He classified these Hosts or Hierarchies of Spiritual Intelligences into gods or major divinities, daemones or lesser divine beings of good and bad natures, and thirdly heroes or disembodied human souls, “immortal minds in luminous bodies,” in position intermediate between men and the daemones. He declared “the whole air is filled with souls.”
H. P. Blavatsky says:
In the Pythagorean Theurgy these hierarchies of the Heavenly Host and the gods were expressed numerically.
The Pythagoreans believed that the forces of nature were spiritual entities. They taught that there are ten spheres formed by the Heavenly bodies, those of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the fixed Stars, the Sun, the Moon, the Earth, and the Counter-earth or the Antichthon, about which little has come down to us but which is presumably connected with “the riddle of the Eighth Sphere.” Furthermore the Pythagoreans taught that there were ten cardinal pairs of opposites or ten antithetical principles, which constitute the elements or Stoicheia of the Universe, namely, (1) the limited and the unlimited; the finite and the infinite; (2) the One and the Many; (3) light and darkness; (4) good and bad; (5) rest and motion; (6) the masculine and the feminine; (7) the straight and the crooked; (8) the odd and the even; (9) the square and the oblong; and (10) the right and the left.