In Freemasonry, while being lectured on the 47th Problem of Euclid, we are introduced to the ancient philosopher, Pythagoras. According to Masonic tradition, he is said to have traveled through Asia, Africa, and Europe where he was initiated into several orders of priesthood and was raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason. While it is impossible to say that he was a Freemason, as we know it today, Pythagoras and his teachings are seen as the root of Western occult tradition, and certainly, Freemasonry falls under the wide-ranged umbrella of Western occultism. It is hard to fully trace the life of Pythagoras as none of his own writings survives to this day. There is also a lot of false legends about him that was written: "by later writers who accepted, uncritically, what they read by others, that all one can say with certainty is that there was a figure in ancient Greece named Pythagoras and that this man founded a philosophical/religious order known as the Pythagoreans."
Born on the island of Samos (just off of the coast of Turkey and north of the island of Patmos) circa 570 BC, Pythagoras is said to have left his homeland in search of knowledge. He studied under the philosophers Thales of Miletus (Greek city on the Ionian coast in what is today Turkey) and Pherecydes of Syros (a Greek island in the Aegean Sea). Both men are highly regarded philosophers, but Pythagoras left their tutelage in search of further knowledge.
Pythagoras traveled to Egypt where studied with the priests of Thebes. Some scholars claim that this was no easy feat as only Thales had been the only Greek admitted to the priesthood of Thebes. Once in Egypt, Pythagoras visited the court of Pharaoh Amasis/Ahmose II (5th ruler of Egypt during the 26th Dynasty) in Heliopolis who was an admirer of Greek culture and provided the means by which he was able to be admitted to the priestly school. After leaving Heliopolis, Pythagoras traveled to Memphis before going to Thebes. Seeing that Pythagoras had the support of the Pharaoh, the priests of Thebes initiated him into their order where he studied astronomy, geometry, and Egyptian mysteries. The Theban priests made life difficult for Pythagoras in hopes that he would quit and return to Greece; the Egyptian priesthoods were often reluctant to allow foreigners into their orders.
Around 525 BC, Cambyses II of Persia invaded Egypt and which resulted in the death of the Pharaoh, and members of the priestly orders, including Pythagoras, were taken captive back to Babylon. The magi of the Zoroastrian religion recognized the intellect of Pythagoras and began to instruct them with their knowledge including astronomy and divination. After 12-years in Babylon, Pythagoras was allowed to return to Greece.
He returned to Greece where he was initiated into Grecian and Cretan mystery cults, and finally settled down in the colonial city of Crotona in southern Italy. Here he founded a brotherhood to pass on the knowledge he had amassed in this travels. It is said that the initiates lived under a vow of silence for the first 5-years and upon completion were then admitted into the inner teachers of the brotherhood. The brotherhood continued to exist until some time around 510 BC when the brotherhood got involved in local Crotona's politics and back a party that lost which resulted in a mob burning down their headquarters building. The surviving members of the brotherhood scattered throughout the Greek world and so the teachings of Pythagoras spread across the western world. It is not known if Pythagoras was killed during this conflict, but many think that he escaped to Metapontum, Lucanium (what is now Italy) where it is believed he died around 490 BC.
Pythagoras left a legacy that is both praised and controversial. He is seen as contributed to the development of mathematics as well as Western philosophy, especially in the writings of Aristocles of Athens (commonly known as Plato) and Aristotle, but there is much about his life that has been exaggerated to a point of near deification. Even among the scholars, there is debate as to the validity of some of the tales of his life, particularly those of his travels to Egypt and Babylon, but there is no clear consensus. However, Pythagoras leaves a legacy that has influenced the establishment of initiatic and esoteric orders such as Freemasonry.
1. Greer, J. M. (2017). The Occult Book. New York: Sterling.
2. Huffman, C. (2014, May 28). Pythagoras. Retrieved from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pythagoras/
3. Mark, J. J. (2011, February 14). Pythagoras. Retrieved from Ancient History Encyclopedia: https://www.ancient.eu/Pythagoras/
4. Pythagoras. (n.d.). Retrieved from Encyclopedia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Pythagoras
5. Westbrook, P., & Strohmeier, J. (2009, July 3). Pythagoras in Egypt and Babylon. Retrieved from Esoteric Online: http://www.esotericonline.net/group/mysteryschool/forum/topics/pythagoras-in-egypt-and
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