33. The Order and the Teaching

(Part 1 – Notes for this chapter at the end of Part 3)

The city of Croton was located on the Gulf of Tarentum, near the Lacinian promontory, facing the open sea. Like Sybaris, it was one of the most flourishing cities of southern Italy. It was renowned for its Dorian constitution, its athletes, victors in the Olympic Games and its doctors, rivals of the Asclepiad. The Sybarites owed their fame to their luxury and indolence. The Crotons perhaps would have been forgotten despite their virtues had they not had the privilege of providing a shelter for the great Pythagorean school of esoteric philosophy, which can be considered the mother of the Platonic School and the ancestor of all idealist schools. However noble the descendants may have been, the ancestor far surpassed them. The Platonic School stemmed from an incomplete initiation; the Stoic School lost the true tradition. The other systems of ancient and modern philosophy are more or less fortunate speculations, while the doctrine of Pythagoras was based on an experimental science and was accompanied by a complete organization of life.

Like the ruins of the ancient city, today the secrets of the Order as well as the teacher's thought are buried deeply underground. Nevertheless, let us try to call them to life once again. For us this will be opportunity to penetrate into the heart of esoteric teaching, the arcanum of religions and philosophies, and to lift a corner of Isis' veil in the light of Greek genius.

For several reasons Pythagoras chose this Dorian colony as the center of his activity. His aim was not only to teach esoteric doctrine to a circle of chosen disciples, but also to apply these principles to the education of youth and to the life of the state. This plan required the establishment of an institute for the initiation of the laity, with the underlying design of slowly transforming the political organization of the cities in the image of Pythagoras' philosophical and religious ideas. It is certain that none of the republics of Hellas or of Peloponnesus would have tolerated this innovation. The philosopher would have been accused of conspiring against the state. The Greek cities of the Gulf of Tarentum, less influenced by demagogues, were more liberal. Pythagoras was not disappointed in his hope of finding a favorable reception for his reforms in the senate of Croton. In addition, his aims extended beyond Greece. Envisioning the evolution of ideas, he foresaw the fall of Hellenism and dreamed of planting the principles of a scientific religion in the human mind. By establishing his school on the Gulf of Tarentum, he spread his esoteric ideas into Italy, and in his doctrine he preserved the purified essence of Oriental wisdom for the peoples of the Occident.

Upon his arrival in Croton, which then inclined toward the pleasure-filled life of neighboring Sybaris, Pythagoras brought about a veritable revolution. Porphyry and lamblicus depict his first activities there as those of a magician rather than of a philosopher. He assembled the young men at the temple of Apollo, and by his eloquence succeeded in wresting them from debauchery. He called the women to the temple of Juno, and persuaded them to bring their golden robes and their ornaments to that place as trophies of their victory over vanity and luxury. He enveloped the austerity of his teaching in mercy; from his wisdom shone a heart-warming flame. The beauty of his face, the nobility of his person, the charm of his manner and his voice won the people. The women compared him to Jupiter; the young men to the Hyperborean Apollo. He captivated the crowd, who were astonished that at his words they fell in love with virtue and truth.

The senate of Croton or "Council of One Thousand" became concerned about his growing influence. They summoned Pythagoras before them to give an account of his conduct and of the means he used to master people's minds. This was an opportunity for him to explain his ideas on education, and show that, far from threatening the Dorian constitution of Croton, his teaching would only strengthen it. When he had won over the wealthiest citizens and the majority of the senate to his project, he proposed to them the creation of an institute for him and for his students. This brotherhood of lay initiates would lead a communal life in a specially constructed building, but without separating themselves from civil life. Those among them who already were qualified as teachers could instruct in physics as well as the psychic and religious sciences. As for the young men, they would be admitted to the classes of the institute at various levels of initiation according to their intelligence and their willingness, subject to the control of the leader of the Order. But first they had to submit themselves to the rules of communal life and to pass the entire day in the institute under the supervision of their teachers. Those who wished to enter the Order formally would give up their wealth to a curator, with the privilege of taking it back whenever they wished. There would be a section for women in the institute, with parallel initiation, but differentiated and adapted to the duties of their sex.

This project was adopted with enthusiasm by the senate of Croton, and after a few years a building, surrounded with broad porticoes and beautiful gardens, appeared on the outskirts of the city. The Crotons called it the Temple of the Muses, and in reality, at the center of these buildings, near the modest habitation of the master, was a temple dedicated to these divinities.

Thus the Pythagorean institute was born. It became a school of education, an academy of sciences, as well as a small model city under the direction of a great initiate. Through theory and practice, through science and art united, the Pythagoreans slowly attained that science of sciences, that magic harmony of soul and mind with the universe, which they considered the arcanum of philosophy and religion. The Pythagorean school has a supreme interest for us because it was the most remarkable attempt at lay initiation. Anticipated synthesis of Hellenism and Christianity, it grafted the fruit of science onto the tree of life; it knew that inner living attainment of truth which deep faith alone can give. It was an ephemeral attainment, but nevertheless was of major importance.

In order to obtain some impression of it, let us enter the Pythagorean institute with the novice, following his initiation step by step.



The white home of the initiate brothers stood on a hill among cypress and olive trees. From below, passing along the coast, one saw its porticoes, gardens and gymnasium. The Temple of the Muses, with its circular colonnade was larger than the two wings of the building. From the terrace of the outer gardens one overlooked the city with its Prythaneum, its harbor, its great assembly square. In the distance, the gulf extended itself between the sharp coasts like an agate cup, and with its blue line the Ionian Sea marked the limit of the horizon. Sometimes women clothed in various colors could be seen leaving the left wing of the building, passing down the long avenue of cypresses toward the sea. They were going to perform their rites in the temple of Ceres. Often from the right wing, men in white robes could be seen ascending to the temple of Apollo. And it was not the least attraction for the seeking mind of youth to think that the school of the initiates was placed under the protection of those two divinities. Indeed, the great goddess, Ceres, embraced the deep Mysteries of Woman and Earth, and Apollo, the solar god, revealed those of Man and Heaven.

Therefore this little city of the elect shone outside and above the populous city of Croton. Its tranquil serenity appealed to the noble instincts of youth; nothing that went on inside its doors was seen, and it was known that it was not easy to gain admission to its activities. A simple green hedge served as the only barrier to the gardens of Pythagoras' institute, and the entrance door remained open all day long. But a statue of Hermes was placed there, and on its pedestal could be read: Eskato Babeloi, Go Back, Profane Ones! Everyone obeyed this commandment of the Mysteries.

Pythagoras was extremely strict when it came to admitting novices, saying, "Every wood is not fit for fashioning a Mercury." The young men who wished to enter the Order had to undergo a period of probation. Presented by their parents or one of the teachers, they were allowed first to enter the Pythagorean gymnasium where the novices entered into games suited to their age. At first glance the young man observed that this gymnasium did not resemble those in the city. Here were no violent shouts, no noisy groups, neither ridiculous bragging nor vain display of strength by athletes in embryo, challenging one another and showing their muscles. Here were groups of affable, distinguished young men walking two by two beneath the porticoes or playing in the arena. With kindness and simplicity the newcomer was invited to share in their conversation as if he was one of them; there was no eyeing him with a suspicious look or greeting him with a malignant smile. In the arena they practiced running, as well as throwing javelin and discus. They also carried out make-believe combats in the form of Dorian dances, but Pythagoras had strictly forbidden physical combats in his institute, saying that these were superfluous and even dangerous, in that they tended to develop pride and hatred along with strength and agility. He believed that men destined to practice the virtues of friendship should not begin by attacking one another and rolling in the sand like wild beasts, that a real hero knows how to fight courageously, but without anger, and that hatred makes a man inferior to any adversary. The newcomer heard these sayings of the teacher repeated by the novices, who were very proud to be able to communicate their precocious wisdom to him. At the same time they asked him to express his own opinions and to contradict theirs freely. Emboldened by these advances, the naive candidate soon showed his true nature. Happy at being listened to and admired, he made speeches and boasted as much as he liked. During this time the teachers observed him closely without once reprimanding him. Unknown to him, Pythagoras came in order to study his gestures and his words. Pythagoras gave particular attention to the bearing and laughter of the young men. Laughter, he said, reveals the character in an infallible manner, and no dissimulation can beautify the laugh of a wicked man. In addition, he had made such a profound study of human physiognomy that in the latter he could discern the depths of the soul.

Through these detailed observations, the master obtained a precise idea of his future disciples. At the end of a few months the decisive tests came. These were imitations of Egyptian initiation, but were very much milder and had been adapted to the Greek nature, whose sensitivity could not have survived the mortal terrors of the crypts of Memphis and Thebes. The Pythagorean aspirant was made to spend the night on the outskirts of the city in a cavern where it was said there were monsters and phantoms. Those who did not have the strength to bear the dread experiences of loneliness and night, who refused to enter or fled before morning, were considered too weak for initiation and were sent away.

The moral test was more serious. Suddenly, without preparation, one fine morning the hopeful disciple was locked in a dismal, bare cell. He was handed a slate and was coldly ordered to find the meaning of one of the Pythagorean symbols, for example, "What is the meaning of a triangle inscribed in a circle?" or, "Why is the dodecahedron, enclosed in a sphere, the number of the universe?" He spent twelve hours alone in his cell with his slate and his problem, with a pitcher of water and dry bread for food. Afterward he was led into a room before the assembled novices. On this occasion they had orders mercilessly to ridicule the miserable one who, cross and starved, appeared before them like a guilty man. "There," they said, "is the new philosopher! How inspired his countenance looks! He is about to tell us his meditations! Do not conceal from us what you have discovered! You shall go through all the symbols; another month of this, and you will become a great sage!"

Meanwhile the master was observing the attitude and countenance of the young man very attentively. Irritated by his fast, overwhelmed by the sarcastic tauntings, humiliated at his inability to solve an incomprehensible enigma, he had to make a great effort to control himself. Some would cry out in rage; others answered with cynical words; others, beside themselves, broke their slates in fury, pouring curses upon the school, the master, and his students. Pythagoras then appeared and calmly said that, having so poorly withstood the test of vanity, the aspirant was requested not to return to a school about which he held such a bad opinion, where the elementary virtues had to be friendship and respect for the teachers. Ashamed, the rejected candidate went away, sometimes becoming a dreadful enemy of the Order, like the celebrated Cylon who later stirred up the people against the Pythagoreans and brought about the destruction of the Order itself. On the other hand, those who bore the attacks with calmness, who answered the provocations with accurate and spiritual reflections, declaring that they were ready to begin the test again a hundred times over in order to obtain a bit of wisdom, were solemnly admitted to the novitiate, amid the enthusiastic congratulations of their new fellow students.



The Novitiate and the Pythagorean Life

Only then did the novitiate, called preparation (paraskeis), begin. It lasted at least two years, and could extend to five. During their instruction, the novices or listeners (akousikoi), were placed under a rule of absolute silence. They had no right to make any objection to their instructors, or to discuss their teachings. They had to receive the latter with respect, then to meditate upon them at length within themselves. In order to impress this rule upon the mind of the new listener, he was shown a statue of a woman covered with a long veil, her finger placed upon her lips. She was the Muse of Silence.

Pythagoras did not believe that a youth was capable of understanding the beginning and end of things. He thought that to exercise him in dialectic and reasoning before he had been given the meaning of truth, made an empty and a pretentious sophist. Above all he wished to develop in his pupils the archetypal, higher faculty of man -- Intuition. And for this reason he did not teach mysterious or difficult things. He proceeded from natural feelings and the first duties of man at his entry into life, and showed their relationship with universal laws. Since he first inculcated in the young men a love for their parents, he enlarged this sentiment by assimilating the idea of father to that of God, the Great Creator of the universe. "Nothing is more venerable," he said, "than the quality of the father. Homer called Jupiter the ruler of the gods, but to show all his greatness, he called him the Father of gods and men." He compared the mother to generous and beneficent nature. As celestial Cybele produces the stars and Demeter produces the fruits and flowers of the fields, so the mother nourishes the child with all joy. Therefore in his father and mother the son should honor the representatives, the earthly representations of these great divinities. He further showed that the love one has for one's country comes from the love one felt for one's mother in childhood. Parents are given to us, not by chance, as man generally believes, but by an antecedent and higher order called Fortune or Necessity. It is necessary to honor them, but one ought to choose one's friend. The novices were urged to group themselves in twos according to their affinities. The youngest was to seek in the eldest the virtues he himself pursued, and the two companions should inspire each other to the better life. "The friend is another self; one must honor him like a god," said the master. If the Pythagorean rule imposed upon the novice listener absolute submission with regard to his teachers, it left him complete freedom in the joy of friendship; it even made friendship the stimulus to all virtues, the poetry of life, the pathway to the ideal.

Individual strength thus was awakened, morality became living and poetic, the rule accepted with love ceased to be a restriction and became the very affirmation of individualism. Pythagoras wished obedience to be an assent. In addition, moral training paved the way for philosophical teaching. For the relationships that were established between social duties and the harmonies of the cosmos caused one to feel the law of correspondences and universal concordances. In this law lies the principle of the Mysteries, of esoteric teaching and of all philosophy. The mind of the pupil thus became accustomed to finding the mark of an invisible order upon visible reality. General maxims, concise formulations opened vistas upon the higher world. Morning and evening The Golden Verses sounded in the student's ear, accompanied by the accent of the lyre:

Render dedicated worship to the immortal gods;
Keep, then, your faith.

In analyzing this maxim, it was shown that the gods, seemingly different, were basically the same among all peoples since they corresponded to the same spiritually animate forces active throughout the universe. The sage therefore could honor the gods of his own country, at the same time making of their essence an idea different from that of the common man. Tolerance for all cults, oneness of all peoples, unity of religions in esoteric science -- these new ideas were vaguely outlined in the novice's mind like grandiose divinities dimly seen in the splendor of the setting sun. And the Golden Lyre continued its grave teachings:

Revere the memory
Of heroes who are benefactors, of spirits which are demigods!

Behind these lines the novice saw as through a veil the divine Psyche, the human soul, shining. The heavenly road glistened like a stream of light. For in the worship of heroes and demigods the initiate viewed the doctrine of the future life and the mystery of universal evolution. This great secret was not revealed to the novice, but he was being prepared to understand it by hearing about a hierarchy of beings called heroes and demigods who are superior to mankind, and who are its guides and protectors. It was added that since they were intercessors between man and the divine, through them man could succeed by degrees in coming close to the spiritual by practising heroic virtues. "But how can one communicate with these invisible Genii?" "Where does the soul come from?" "Where is it going, and why this dark mystery of death?" The novice did not dare formulate these questions, but they were divined from his expressions. And in reply his teachers would show him fighters on earth, statues in the temple, and glorified souls in the sky, "in the fiery citadel of the gods," which Hercules had reached.

In the heart of the ancient Mysteries, all the gods were re-established in the One Supreme God. This revelation, together with all its consequences, became the key to the cosmos. For this reason it was reserved entirely to initiation proper. The novice knew nothing about this. He was allowed to see this truth only in part through what was called the power of Magic and Number. For numbers, the master taught, contain the secret of things, and God is universal harmony. The seven sacred modes built on the seven notes of the heptachord correspond to the seven colors of light, to the seven planets and to the seven forms of existence, which are reproduced in all the spheres of material and spiritual life, from the least to the greatest. The melodies of these modes, wisely instilled, should bring the soul into harmony, making it capable of vibrating exactly with the breath of truth.

To this purification of the soul necessarily corresponded that of the body, which was obtained by hygiene and the strict discipline of habits. To conquer one's passions was the first duty of initiation. One who has not made an harmonious entity of his own being, cannot reflect divine harmony. Nevertheless, the ideal of the Pythagorean life had nothing of the ascetic element, since marriage was considered sacred. But chastity was recommended to the novices and moderation to the initiates as a source of power and perfection. "Do not yield to pleasure except when you agree to be untrue to yourself," said the master. He added that pleasure does not exist by itself, and compared it to "the song of the Sirens who, when they are approached, vanish and in their place cause broken bones and bloody flesh on a reef devoured by the waves, while real joy is similar to the concert of the Muses, which leaves a celestial harmony in the soul." Pythagoras believed in the virtues of the female initiate but he greatly mistrusted the uninitiated woman. To a disciple who asked him when he would be allowed to approach a woman, he answered ironically, "When you become tired of your composure."

The Pythagorean day was arranged in the following manner. As soon as the burning sun arose out of the blue waves of the Ionian Sea, gilding the columns of the temple of the Muses above the home of the initiates, the young Pythagoreans sang a hymn to Apollo while executing a Dorian dance of a masculine and sacred nature. After the required ablutions, they walked to the temple in silence. Each awakening is a resurrection which has its flower of innocence. The soul should wrap itself in meditation at the beginning of the day, and remain pure for the morning lesson. In the sacred groves they gathered around the master or his interpreters and the lesson was conducted in the cool shade of the tall trees or in the shadow of the porticoes. At noon a prayer was said to the heroes and benevolent Genii. Esoteric tradition assumed that good spirits prefer to approach the earth with the solar radiation, while evil spirits haunt the shadows and pervade the atmosphere when night comes. The frugal noonday meal generally consisted of bread, honey and olives. The afternoon was dedicated to gymnastic exercises, followed by study, meditation and work on the lesson of the morning. After sunset, prayer was said in a group and they sang a hymn to the cosmogonic gods, to celestial Jupiter, to Minerva Providence and to Diana, protectress of the dead. During this time, styrax, balm or incense was burning on the altar in the open air, and the hymn, blended with the perfume, sweetly ascended in the dusk as the first stars pierced the pale blue sky. The day ended with the evening meal, after which the youngest gave a reading, analyzed by the eldest.

Thus flowed the Pythagorean day, limpid as a stream, clear as a cloudless morning. The year was regulated according to the great astronomical festivals. For example, the return of Hyperborean Apollo and the celebration of the Mysteries of Ceres brought together novices and initiates, men and women of all degrees. The young girls were seen playing ivory lyres; married women in peplos of deep-red and saffron, performed in antiphonal choirs, accompanied by songs with the harmonious movements of the strophe and antistrophe which tragedy later imitated. In the midst of these great festivals where divinity seemed present in the grace of forms and movements, in the incisive melody of the choirs, the novice experienced something like a foretaste of esoteric powers, the omnipotent laws of the universe and the deep, transparent heavens. Marriage and funeral rites had a more intimate but no less solemn character. One unusual ceremony made a special appeal to the imagination. When a novice voluntarily left the institute to resume ordinary life, or when a disciple had betrayed a secret of the teaching, which happened but once, the initiates erected a tomb in the consecrated enclosure, as if he were dead. The master would say, "He is more dead than the dead, since he has returned to evil life; his body walks among men, but his soul is dead; let us mourn for it." And this tomb, erected to a living being, tortured him like his own phantom, like a sinister omen.



The Numbers – Theogony

It was a beautiful day, "a golden day," as the elders said, when Pythagoras received the novice in his home, solemnly accepting him as one of his disciples. Now the novices entered into intimate and direct relationship with the master; they were invited into the inner court of his home, reserved for his faithful students. From this fact we derive the name esoterics, those of the inside, opposed to exoterics, those of the outside. Real initiation began at this stage.

This revelation consisted of a complete and rational explanation of esoteric doctrine from its beginnings, continued with the mysterious science of numbers, to the final consequences of universal evolution, and dealt with the destinies and supreme goals of the divine Psyche, of the human soul. This science of numbers was known under various names in the temples of Egypt and Asia. Since it provided the key to all doctrine it was carefully concealed from the uninitiated. The numbers, letters and geometric figures, or the human representations which served as signs for this algebra of the secret world were understood only by the initiate. The latter revealed their meaning to the adepts only after they had taken the oath of silence. Pythagoras formulated this science in his book called Hieros Logos, The Sacred Word. This work has not come down to us, but the later writings by the Pythagoreans, by Philolaus of Archytas, and by Hierocles, the Dialogues of Plato, the treatises of Aristotle, as well as those of Porphyrus and Iamblicus, have made the principles known. If they have remained a closed book for modern philosophers, it is because their meaning and depth cannot be understood except by comparison with the esoteric doctrines of the Orient.

Pythagoras called his disciples mathematicians because his higher teaching began with the study of numbers. But his sacred mathematics or science of principles was both transcendent and more alive than the secular mathematics known to our modern scientists and philosophers. Number was not considered an abstract quantity but an intrinsic and living virtue of the supreme One, of God, the Source of universal harmony. The science of numbers was that of the living forces of divine faculties in action in the world and in man, in macrocosm and microcosm ... By penetrating these, by distinguishing and explaining their workings, Pythagoras made nothing less than a theogony or a rational theology.

A real theology should provide the principles for all the sciences. It will be the science of God only if it manifests the unity and link between the sciences of nature. It deserves its name only on condition that it constitutes the organ and synthesis of all the others. And this is exactly the role that the science of the Sacred Word played in the Egyptian temples, later formulated and made more exact by Pythagoras under the name of the science of numbers. It claimed to provide the key of being, science and life. The adept, guided by the master, had to begin by contemplating the principles in his own intellect, before following their manifold applications in the vast cycles of evolution.

A modern poet felt this truth when he made Faust descend to the Mothers in order to restore life to Helena's phantom. Faust seizes the magic key, earth crumbles beneath his feet, dizziness overwhelms him and he plunges into the emptiness of space. Finally he arrives at the realm of the Mothers who guard the archetypal forms of the Great All. These Mothers are Pythagoras' numbers, the divine forces in the world. The poet has rendered for us the awe of his own thought at this plunge into the Abyss of the Unfathomable. For the ancient initiate, in whom the direct view of Intelligence slowly awakened like a new sense, this inner revelation seemed rather to be an ascent into the great incandescent sun of truth where, in the fullness of Light he viewed beings and forms projected into the whirlwind of lives by a great outpouring.

He did not reach in a single day that inner possession of truth in which man sees universal life as reality by means of the concentration of his faculties. Years of exercise and that accord of intelligence, so difficult to attain, were necessary. Before using the Creative Word -- and how few succeed -- it is necessary to spell the Sacred Word, letter by letter, syllable by syllable.

Pythagoras was in the habit of teaching in the Temple of the Muses. At Pythagoras' request, and according to his designs, the magistrates of Croton had had the temple built very near his home, in an enclosed garden. Only the disciples of the second degree entered it with the master. In the interior of this circular temple could be seen the nine Muses, carved in marble. Standing in the center, covered with a veil, Hestia watched, solemn and mysterious. With her left hand she protected the flame of the hearth; with her right she pointed to Heaven. Among the Greeks as well as the Romans, Hestia or Vesta is the guardian of the divine element present in everything. Conscious of the sacred fire, she had her altar in the temple of Delphi, in the Prytaneum of Athens, as well as in the humblest home. In Pythagoras' sanctuary she symbolized the divine, central science of Theogony. Surrounding her statue the esoteric Muses in the circular temple, in addition to their traditional and mythological names, bore the names of the esoteric sciences and sacred arts of which they had custody. Urania presided over astronomy and astrology; Polymnia, the science of souls in the other life and the art of divination; Melpomene with her tragic mask, the science of life and death, of transformations and of rebirths. Together these three higher Muses constituted cosmogony or celestial physics. Calliope, Clio, and Euterpe presided over the science of man, or psychology, with its corresponding arts, medicine, magic, ethics. The last group, Terpsichore, Erato, and Thalia, embraced earthly physics, the science of the elements, stones, plants, and animals.

Thus from the very start the organism of the sciences, imitating the organism of the universe, appeared to the disciple in the living circle of the Muses, lighted by the divine flame.

Having led his disciples into this little sanctuary, Pythagoras opened the book of the Word and began his esoteric teaching.

"These Muses," he said, "are only the earthly prototypes of divine powers whose incorporeal, sublime beauty you are about to view within yourselves. Just as they look at the Fire of Hestia from which they emanate and which gives them movement, rhythm, and melody, so you must plunge into the central Fire of the Universe, into divine Spirit, in order to spread out with it in its visible manifestations." Then, with a powerful, sure hand, Pythagoras lifted his disciples from the world of forms and realities; he erased time and space, causing them to descend with him into the Great Monad, into the essence of the Uncreated Being.

Pythagoras called this the first One, composed of harmony, the Male Fire which passes through everything, the Spirit which moves by itself, the Indivisible, great non-manifest, whose creative thought the ephemeral worlds make manifest, the Unique, the Eternal, the Unchangeable hidden under the many things which pass away and change. "Essence conceals itself from man," said Philolaus, the Pythagorean. "Man knows only the things of this world, where the finite is combined with the infinite. And how can he know them? Because between him and things is a harmony, a relationship, a common principle, and this principle is given to them by the One who gives them dimension and intelligibility, along with their essence. He is the common measure between object and subject, the reason for things by which the soul shares in the final cause of the One.54 But how can one approach Imperceptible Being? Has anyone ever seen the Master of Time, the Soul of the Suns, the Source of Intelligence? No, and it is only in becoming one with Him that one fathoms His Essence. He is like an invisible fire placed at the center of the universe, whose living flame moves in all worlds and impels all." He added that the work of initiation was to get closer to the great Being by resembling Him, by making oneself as perfect as possible, by mastering things through intelligence, by thus becoming active like Him, and not passive like them. "Your being is yours; is your soul not a microcosm, a little universe? -- But it is filled with storms and discords. Therefore, it is a question of effecting unity in harmony. Then, -- only then -- will God descend into your consciousness; then will you share His power; then will you make of your will the stone of the hearth, the altar of Hestia, the throne of Jupiter!"

God, indivisible Substance, therefore, has as a number the Unity which contains Infinity; as a name, that of Father, Creator, or Eternal Masculine; as a sign, the Living Fire, the symbol of the Spirit, the essence of Everything. This is the first principle.

But divine faculties are similar to the mystic lotus which the Egyptian initiate, lying in his sepulchre, sees emerging from the blackness of night. At first it is only a brilliant dot, then it opens like a flower, the incandescent center spreading out like a rose of light with a thousand petals.

Pythagoras said that the Great Monad acts as a creative Dyad. From the moment God is manifest, He is double; indivisible Essence, divisible Substance, masculine, active, animating and passive feminine principles. Therefore the Dyad represented the union of the Eternal Masculine and Eternal Feminine in God, the two basic, corresponding divine faculties. Orpheus poetically expressed this idea in the line,

Jupiter is the divine Husband and the divine Wife.

All polytheisms, by representing divinity sometimes in the masculine, sometimes in the feminine form, have been aware of this idea intuitively.

This eternal Nature, this great Wife of God, is not only earthly nature but heavenly nature, invisible to our eyes of flesh, the Soul of the world, the Primordial Light, -- in turn Maia, Isis, or Cybele who, first vibrating under the divine impulse, contains the essences of all souls, the spiritual archetypes of all beings. Demeter is next, the living earth and all earths, along with the bodies they enclose, into which souls are incarnated. Then she is Woman, companion of Man. In humanity, Woman represents nature; and the perfect image of God is not Man alone, but Man and Woman. Hence their invincible, charming, fateful attraction; hence the intoxication of love, into which the dream of infinite creation plays, as well as the vague feeling that the Eternal Masculine and the Eternal Feminine enjoy a perfect union in the Heart of God. "Honor, therefore, be to Woman, on earth and in Heaven," said Pythagoras, in harmony with all the ancient initiates. "She makes us understand that great Woman, nature. Let her be Her sanctified image and help us to return by degrees to the great Soul of the World who gives birth, preserves and renews, -- to the divine Cybele who bears the people of souls in her cloak of light!"

The Monad represents the essence of God, the Dyad, His generative and reproductive faculty. The latter generates the world; it is the visible unfolding of God in space and time. But the real world is threefold. Man is composed of three elements, distinct yet blended into one another: body, soul and spirit. The universe likewise is divided into three concentric spheres: the natural world, the human world and the divine world. The Triad or the threefold law, therefore, is the essential law of things and the actual key to life. For this law is found at all stages of the ladder of life, from the constitution of the organic cell through the physiological constitution of the animal body, the functioning of the blood system and the cerebro-spinal system, to the hyperphysical constitution of man, universe and God. Thus, as if by enchantment it opens the internal structure of the universe to the astonished mind; it reveals the infinite correspondences of macrocosm and microcosm. It acts like a light which would pass into things in order to make them transparent, and to illuminate the small and large worlds like so many magic lanterns.

Let us understand this law by means of the basic correspondence of man and universe.

Pythagoras stated that the mind of man receives its immortal, invisible and entirely active nature from God. For the mind moves of its own accord. He called the body its mortal, divisible, passive part. He thought that what we call soul is closely linked with the mind, but that it is formed of a third intermediate element which comes from the cosmic fluid. Therefore the soul resembles an etheric body which the mind weaves and constructs. Without this etheric body the material body could not be moved, and would be only an inert, lifeless mass.55 The soul has a form similar to that of the body, to which it gives life and which it outlives after dissolution or death. Then, according to a metaphor employed by Pythagoras and Plato, it becomes a subtle chariot which carries the spirit toward the divine spheres or lets it fall back into the dark regions of matter, depending upon whether it is more or less good or evil. And the constitution and evolution of man are repeated in widening circles, involving every scale of being and all spheres. Just as the human psyche struggles against the spirit which attracts it and the body which holds it, so humanity evolves between the natural and animal worlds where it is held by earthly roots, and the divine world of pure spirits, its celestial source, toward which it strives to raise itself. And what occurs in mankind takes place on all earths and in all solar systems in ever-varying proportions, in ever new modes. Extend the circle to infinity and, if you can, embrace the limitless worlds with a single concept. What do you find? -- Creative thought, astral fluid and worlds in evolution: mind, soul and body of Divinity. Lifting veil after veil, and tapping the qualities of that Divinity itself, you will discover the Triad and Dyad enveloping each other in the dark depths of the Monad like an efflorescence of stars in the abysses of infinity.

From this brief sketch one perceives the major importance Pythagoras attached to the threefold law. It can be said that it forms the cornerstone of esoteric science. All the great religious initiators were aware of it; all spiritual leaders felt it. An oracle of Zoroaster said,

The number Three reigns everywhere in the Universe,
And the Monad is its beginning.

The great accomplishment of Pythagoras is that he formulated the threefold law with the clarity of Greek genius. He made it the center of his theogony and the foundation of the sciences. Already concealed in Plato's exoteric writings, but completely misunderstood by later philosophers, this concept has been fathomed in modern times by only a few rare initiates of the esoteric sciences.56 Today one can begin to recognize what a broad, solid base the law of universal threefoldness afforded the classification of the sciences, the building of a cosmogony and a psychology.

Just as the universal threefold law is centered in the unity of God, or in the Monad, so human threefoldness is centered in the consciousness of self and in the will, which gathers all the faculties of body, soul and spirit into a living unity. Human and divine threefoldness, summed up in the Monad, constitutes the sacred Tetrad. But man realizes his own unity only in a relative manner. For his will, which acts on all his being, nevertheless cannot act simultaneously and thoroughly in its three organs, that is, in the instinct, in the soul and in the intellect. The universe and God Himself appear to him only one after the other, and are reflected by these three mirrors: 1. Viewed through the instinct and the kaleidoscope of the senses, God is multiple and infinite like His manifestations. Hence polytheism, where the number of gods is not limited. 2. Seen through the rational soul, God is two-fold, that is, mind and matter. Hence the dualism of Zoroaster, of the Manicheans, and of several other religions. 3. Seen through pure intellect He is threefold, that is, spirit, soul and body in all the manifestations of the universe. Hence the trinitarian cults of India (Brahma, Vishnu, Siva) and the Trinity itself of Christianity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). 4. Conceived through the will which sums up the whole, God is One, and we have the hermetic monotheism of Moses in all its firmness. Here there is no further personification, no further incarnation; we leave the visible universe and return to the Absolute. Alone the Eternal rules over the world, the latter reduced to dust. The diversity of religions therefore stems from the fact that man realizes Divinity only through his own being, which is relative and finite, while at every instant God realizes the unity of the three worlds in the harmony of the universe.

In itself, this last application would prove the somewhat magic virtue of the Tetragram in the order of ideas. Not only would one discover the principles of the sciences, the law of beings and their manner of evolution, but also the reason for the various religions and for their higher unity. It was truly the universal key. Thus one understands the enthusiasm with which Lysis speaks of it in The Golden Verses, and one realizes why the Pythagoreans swore by this great symbol:

I swear by the One Who engraved in our hearts
The sacred Tetrad, mighty and pure Symbol,
Source of nature, archetype of the gods.

Pythagoras pursued the teaching of Numbers still further. In each of them he defined a principle, a law, an active force of the universe. But he said that the basic principles are contained in the first four numbers, since in adding or multiplying them one finds all the others. So the infinite variety of beings who make up the universe is produced through the combinations of the three primordial forces: matter, soul and spirit under the creative impetus of divine unity which combines and differentiates them, concentrates and breaks them up. Along with the principal teachers of esoteric science, Pythagoras attached great importance to the number seven and the number ten. Seven, the compound of three and four, means the union of man and divinity. It is the number of the adepts, of the great initiates, and since it expresses complete fulfillment in everything through seven stages, it represents the law of evolution. The number ten, formed by the addition of the first four and which also contains the preceding one, is the perfect number par excellence, since it represents all the principles of Divinity evolved and united in a new unity.

Upon completing the teaching of his theogony, Pythagoras showed his disciples the nine Muses, personifying the sciences grouped three by three, presiding at the triple ternary evolved in nine worlds, and with Hestia forming divine Science, Guardian of the Archetypal Fire -- the Sacred Decade.


33b. The Order and the Teaching Part 2

The Great Initiates