Numbers, Their Occult Power and Mystic Virtues, by W. Wynn Westcott, , at sacred-texts.com
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Pythagoras, one of the greatest philosophers of ancient Europe, was the son of Mnesarchus, an engraver. He was born about the year 580 B.C., either at Samos, an island in the Ægean Sea, or, as some say, at Sidon in Phoenicia. Very little is known of his early life, beyond the fact that he won prizes for feats of agility at the Olympic Games. Having attained manhood and feeling dissatisfied with the amount of knowledge to be gained at home, he left his native land and spent many years in travel, visiting in turn most of the great centres of Learning. History narrates that his pilgrimage in search of wisdom extended to Egypt, Hindostan, Persia, Crete and Palestine, and that he gathered from each country fresh stores of information, and succeeded in becoming well acquainted with the Esoteric Wisdom as well as with the popular exoteric knowledge of each.
He returned with his mind well stored and his judgment matured, to his home, intending to open there a College of learning, but this he found to be impracticable owing to the opposition of its turbulent ruler Polycrates. Failing in
this design, he migrated to Crotona, a noted city in Magna Græcia, which was a colony founded by Dorians on the South coast of Italy. It was here that this ever-famous Philosopher founded his College or Society of Students, which became known all over the civilized world as the central assembly of the learned of Europe; and here it was in secret conclave that Pythagoras taught that occult wisdom which he had gathered from the Gymnosophists and Brahmins of India, from the Hierophants of Egypt, the Oracle of Delphi, the Idæan cave, and from the Kabalah of the Hebrew Rabbis and Chaldean Magi. For nearly forty years he taught his pupils, and exhibited his wonderful powers; but an end was put to his institution, and he himself was forced to flee from the city, owing to a conspiracy and rebellion which arose on account of a quarrel between the people of Crotona and the inhabitants of Sybaris: he succeeded in reaching Metapontum, where he is said to have died about the year 500 B.C.
Among the ancient authors from whom we derive our knowledge of the life and doctrines of Pythagoras and his successors, the following are notable:—
B.C. 394.—Archytas of Tarentum, who left a fragment upon Pythagorean Arithmetic.
B.C. 380.—Theon of Smyrna.
B.C. 370.—Philolaus. From three books of this author it is believed that Plato compiled his book Timæus; he was probably the first who committed to writing the doctrines of Pythagoras.
B.C. 322.—Aristotle. Refer to his "Metaphysica," "Moralia Magna," and "Nicomachean Ethics." Nicomachus of Stagyra was his father.
B.C. 276.—Eratosthenes, author of a work entitled "Kokkinon" or "Cribrum," a "Sieve to separate Prime from Composite Numbers."
B.C. 40.—Cicero. Refer to his works "De Finibus" and "De natura Deorum."
300 A.D.—Porphyry of Tyre, a great philosopher, sometimes named in Syriac, Melekh or King, was the pupil of Longinus and Plotinus.
340 A.D.—Jamblicus wrote "De mysteriis," "De vita Pythagorica," "The Arithmetic of Nicomachus of Gerasa," and "The Theological Properties of Numbers."
450 A.D.—Proclus, in his commentary on the "Works and Days" of Hesiod, gives information concerning the Pythagorean views of numbers.
560 A.D.—Simplicius of Cilicia, a contemporary of Justinian.
850 A.D.—Photius of Constantinople has left a Bibliotheca of the ideas of the older philosophers.
Coming down to more recent times, the following authors should be consulted:—Meursius, Johannes, 1620; Meibomius, Marcus, 1650; and Kircher, Athanasius, 1660. They collected and epitomized all that was extant of previous authors concerning the doctrines of the Pythagoreans. The first eminent follower of Pythagoras was Aristæus, who married Theano, the widow of his master: next followed Mnesarchus, the son of Pythagoras; and later Bulagoras, Tidas, and Diodorus the Aspendian. After the original school was dispersed, the chief instructors became Clinias and Philolaus at Heraclea; Theorides and Eurytus at Metapontum; and Archytas, the sage of Tarentum.
The school of Pythagoras had several peculiar characteristics. Every new member was obliged to pass a period of five years of contemplation in perfect silence; the members held everything in common, and rejected animal food; they were believers in the doctrine of metempsychosis, and were inspired with an ardent and implicit faith in their founder and teacher. So much did the element of faith enter into their training, that "autos epha"—"He said it"—was to them complete proof. Intense fraternal affection between the pupils was also a marked feature of the school; hence their
saying, "my friend is my other self," has become a by-word to this day. The teaching was in a great measure secret, and certain studies and knowledge were allotted to each class and grade of instruction: merit and ability alone sufficed to enable anyone to pass to the higher classes and to a knowledge of the more recondite mysteries. No person was permitted to commit to writing any tenet, or secret doctrine, and, so far as is known, no pupil ever broke the rule until after his death and the dispersion of the school.
We are thus entirely dependent on the scraps of information which have been handed down to us from his successors, and from his and their critics. A considerable amount of uncertainty, therefore, is inseparable from any consideration of the real doctrines of Pythagoras himself, but we are on surer ground when we investigate the opinions of his followers.
It is recorded that his instruction to his followers was formulated into two great divisions—the science of numbers and the theory of magnitude. The former division included two branches, arithmetic and musical harmony; the latter was further subdivided into the consideration of magnitude at rest—geometry, and magnitude in motion—astronomy.
The most striking peculiarities of his doctrines are dependent on the mathematical conceptions, numerical ideas, and impersonations upon which his philosophy was founded.
The principles governing Numbers were supposed to be the principles of all Real Existences; and as Numbers are the primary constituents of Mathematical Quantities, and at the same time present many analogies to various realities, it was further inferred that the elements of Numbers were the elements of Realities. To Pythagoras himself it is believed that the natives of Europe owe the first teaching of the properties of Numbers, of the principles of music, and of physics; but there is evidence that he had visited Central Asia, and there had acquired the mathematical ideas which form the basis of his doctrine. The modes of thought introduced by Pythagoras, and followed by his successor Jamblicus and others, became known later on
by the titles of the "Italian school," or the "Doric school."
The followers of Pythagoras delivered their knowledge to pupils, fitted by selection and by training to receive it, in secret; but to others by numerical and mathematical names and notions. Hence they called forms, numbers; a point, the monad; a line, the dyad; a superficies, the triad; and a solid, the tetrad.
Intuitive knowledge was referred to the Monad type.
Reason and causation „ „ Dyad type.
Imagination (form or rupa) „ „ Triad type.
Sensation of material objects „ „ Tetrad type.
Indeed, they referred every object, planet, man, idea and essence to some number or other, in a way which to most moderns must seem curious and mystical in the highest degree.
"The numerals of Pythagoras," says Porphyry, who lived about 300 A. D., "were hieroglyphic symbols, by means whereof he explained all ideas concerning the nature of things," and the same method of explaining the secrets of nature is once again being insisted upon in the new revelation of the "Secret Doctrine," by H. P. Blavatsky.
"Numbers are a key to the ancient views of cosmogony—in its broad sense, spiritually as well as physically considered, and to the evolution of the present human race; all systems of religious mysticism are based upon numerals. The sacredness of numbers begins with the Great First Cause, the One, and ends only with the nought or zero—symbol of the infinite and boundless universe." "Isis Unveiled," vol. ii. 407.
Tradition narrates that the students of the Pythagorean school, at first classed as Exoterici or Auscultantes, listeners, were privileged to rise by merit and ability to the higher grades of Genuini, Perfecti, Mathematici or the most coveted title of Esoterici.