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 renioval 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 drought 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 menlbers 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.
Issued by Greece on Aug. 20, 1955, to commemorate the 2500th anniversary of the founding of the first school of philosophy by Pythagoras.
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 after-wards 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.
In a subsequent article some of the main tenets of the Pythagorean Brotherhood will be outlined.
Articles from The Theosophical Path
VOLUME 1 Number 1 — July 1911
Editors: Katherine Tingley / G. de Purucker
Theosophical University Press