Gnostic Doctrine

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

The Initiations of the Pythagoreans

 The Initiations of the Pythagoreans

The ancient Mystery schools were renowned for their tightly guarded esoteric knowledge of the scared Mysteries and sciences, where all was taught orally, and the difficult levels of initations, which took many years to complete and an advanced level of education before being allowed acceptance. The great Greek philosopher Pythagoras (born around 500 BC) was initiated in all the Grecian, Barbarian and Phoenician sacred Mysteries during his youth, before being initiated in the Egyptian and Chaldean sacred Mysteries, spending 22 years in Egypt then a further 12 years in Babylon. Most notably in the Egyptian mystery schools Pythagoras had to win the respect of the priests before being allowed initiation and was given the most difficult precepts, which he performed so swiftly that he won their admiration and was granted initiation in all the most scared Egyptian sciences, a honor never before granted to a foreigner. He was 56 years old before he returned to Samos then onto Crotone, Italy were he founded his Mystery school most famously remembered for perfecting mathematics, geometry, astronomy, philosophy and metaphysics along with having a powerful political influence. 

The initiations of the Pythagorean Mystery school were among the most difficult of the ancient world and many failed or were rejected, (which ultimately lead to Pythagoras's death at the hands of some of those he did not accept as disciples). He did not allow his followers to attend his lectures and teachings in the person until they had successfully acomplished 7 years of initiations, beginning by examining the candidates judiciously and observed their mannerisms and disposition, neglecting

then for 3 years while subjecting trails and tests upon them. After this they were compelled to not speak a word for 5 years before becomig known as esoterics and deemed worthy to share in his doctrines in the person. Prior to this they were taught by the second hand teachings of his disciples. Those who failed initiations or were rejected were given double the wealth the came with and sent away, a tomb was then erected to symbolically represent their deaths and they were forbidden to associate with any Pythagoreans whom considered them as dead.

The following accounts of the initiations of the Pythagoreans and those prior of Pythagoras in Egypt and Babylon are sourced from the writings of Neoplatonic philosophers Porphyry, Iamblicus and Diogenes Laertius.

~As he was a young man, and devoted to learning, he quitted his country, and got initiated into all the Grecian and barbarian sacred mysteries. Accordingly, he went to Egypt, on which occasion Polycrates gave him a letter of introduction to Amasis, and he learnt the Egyptian language, as Antipho tells us, in his treatise on those men who have been conspicuous for virtue, and he associated with the Chaldaeans and with the Magi.

Afterwards he went to Crete, and in company with Epimenides, he descended into the Idaean cave, and in Egypt too, he entered into the holiest parts of their temples, and learned all the most secret mysteries that relate to their gods. Then he returned back again to Samos, and finding his country reduced under the absolute dominion of Polycrates, he set sail, and fled to Crotona in Italy. And there, having given laws to the Italians, he gained a very high reputation, together with his scholars, who were about three hundred in number, and governed the republic in a most excellent manner; so that the constitution was very nearly an aristocracy.

~He was the first person, as Timaeus says, who asserted that the property of friends is common, and that friendship is equality. And his disciples used to put all their possessions together into one store, and use them in common and for five years they kept silence, doing nothing but listen to discourses, and never once seeing Pythagoras, until they were approved, after that time they were admitted into his house, and allowed to see him. They also abstained from the use of cypress coffins, because the sceptre of Jupiter was made of that wood, as Hermippus tells us in the second book of his account of Pythagoras.

~And he was so greatly admired, that they used to say that his friends looked on all his sayings as the oracles of God. And he himself says in his writings, that he had come among men after having spent two hundred and seven years in the shades below. Therefore the Lucanians and the Peucetians, and the Messapians, and the Romans, flocked around him, coming with eagerness to hear his discourses; but until the time of Philolaus, there were no doctrines of Pythagoras ever divulged; and he was the first person who published the three celebrated books which Plato wrote to have purchased for him for a hundred minae. Nor were the number of his scholars who used to come to him by night fewer than six hundred. And if any of them had ever been permitted to see him, they wrote of it to their friends, as if they had gained some great advantage.

~Pythagoras died in this manner. When he was sitting with some of his companions in Milo's house, some one of those whom he did not think worthy of admission into it, was excited by envy to set fire to it. But some say that the people of Crotona themselves did this, being afraid lest he might aspire to the tyranny. And that Pythagoras was caught as he was trying to escape, and coming to a place full of beans (of which he considered scared), he stopped there, saying that it was better to be caught than to trample on the beans, and better to be slain than to speak, and so he was murdered by those who were pursuing him. And in this way, also, most of his companions were slain being in number about forty but that a very few did escape, among whom were Archippus, of Tarentum, and Lysis, whom I have mentioned before.

-Diogenes Laertius

-The lives and opinions of eminent philosophers

~Antiphon, in his book on illustrious Virtuous Men praises his perseverance while he was in Egypt, saying, Pythagoras desiring to become acquainted with the institutions of Egyptian priests, and diligently endeavoring to participate therein requested the Tyrant Polycrates to write to Amasis, the King of Egypt, his friend and former host, to procure him initiation. Coming to Amasis, he was given letters to the priests of Heliopolis, who sent him on to those of Memphis, on the pretense that they were the more ancient. On the same pretense, he was sent on from Memphis to Diospolis. From fear of the King the latter priests dared not make excuses but thinking that he would desist from his purpose as result of great difficulties, enjoined on him very hard precepts, entirely different from the institutions of the Greeks. These he performed so readily that he won their admiration, and they permitted him to sacrifice to the gods, and to acquaint himself with all their sciences, a favor theretofore never granted to a foreigner.

~Later he sent him to Anaximander at Miletus, to learn geometry and astronomy. Then Pythagoras visited the Egyptians, the Arabians, the Chaldeans and the Hebrews, from whom he acquired expertery in the interpretation of dreams, and acquired the of use frankincense in the worship of divinities. 

In Egypt he lived with the priests, and learned the language and wisdom of the Egyptians, and three kinds of letters, the epistolic, the hieroglyphic, and symbolic, whereof one imitates the common way of speaking, while the others express the sense by allegory and parable. In Arabia he conferred with the King. In Babylon he associated with the other Chaldeans, especially attaching himself to Zoroaster by whom he was purified from the pollutions of this past life, and taught the things which a virtuous man ought to be free. Likewise he heard lectures about Nature, and the principles of wholes. It was from his stay among these foreigners that Pythagoras acquired the greater part of his wisdom.


-The Life of Pythagoras

~Here in Egypt he frequented all the temples with the greatest diligence, and most studious research, during which time he won the esteem and admiration of all the priests and prophets with whom he associated. Having most solicitously familiarized himself with every detail, he did not, nevertheless, neglect any contemporary celebrity, whether sage renowned for wisdom, or peculiarly performed mystery he did not fail to visit any place where he thought he might discover something worth while. That is how he visited all of the Egyptian priests, acquiring all the wisdom each possessed. He thus passed twenty-two years in the sanctuaries of temples, studying astronomy and geometry, and being initiated in no casual or superficial manner in all the mysteries of the gods. At length, however, he was taken captive by the soldiers of Cambyses, and carried off to Babylon. Here he was overjoyed to associate with the Magi, who instructed him in their venerable knowledge, and in the most perfect worship of the gods. Through their assistance, likewise, he studied and completed arithmetic, music, and all the other sciences. After twelve years, about the fifty-sixth year of his age, he returned to Samos.

It is said that while he was in Egypt he very much applied himself to geometry. For Egyptian life bristles with geometric problem since, from remote periods, when the gods were fabulously said to have reigned in Egypt, on account of the rising and falling of the Nile, the skillful have been copelled to measure all the Egyptian land which they cultivated, wherefrom indeed the science’s name, geometry, was derived. Besides, the Egyptians studied the theories of the celestial orbs, in

which Pythagoras also was skilled. All theorems about lines seem to have been derived from that country. All that relates to numbers and computation is said to have been discovered in Phoenicia. The theorems about the heavenly bodies have by some been referred to the Egyptians and Chaldeans in common. Whatever Pythagoras received, however, he developed further, he arranged them for learners, and personally demonstrated them with perspicuity and elegance. He was the first to give a name to philosophy, describing it as a desire for and love of wisdom, which latter he defined as the science of objectified truth. Beings he defined as immaterial and eternal natures, alone possessing a power that is efficacious, as are incorporeal essences.

~As he therefore thus prepared his disciples for culture, he did not immediately receive as an associate any who came to him for that purpose until he had tested them andexamined them judiciously. To begin with he inquired about their relation to their parents and kinsfolk. Next he surveyed their laughter, speech or silence, as to whether it was unreasonable further, about their desires, their associates, their conversation, how they employed their leisure, and what were the subjects of their joy or grief. He observed their form, their gait, and the whole motions of their body. He considered their frame’s natural indications physiognomically, rating them as visible exponents of the invisible tendencies of the soul. After subjecting a candidate to such trials, he allowed him to be neglected for three years, still covertly observing his disposition towards stability, and genuine studiousness, and whether he was sufficiently averse to glory, and ready to despise popular honors.  After, this the candidate was compelled to observe silence for five years, so as to have made definite experiments in continence of speech, inasmuch as the subjugation of the tongue is the most difficult of all victories, as has indeed been unfolded by those who have instituted the mysteries. During this probation, however, the property of each was disposed of in common, being committed to trustees, who were called politicians, economizers or legislators. Of these probationers, after the quinquennial silence, those who by modest dignity had won his approval as worthy to share in his doctrines, then became esoterics, and within the veil both heard and saw Pythagoras. Prior to this they participated in his words through the hearing alone, without seeing him who remained within the veil, and themselves offering to him a specimen of their manners. 

If rejected, they were given the double of the wealth they had brought, but the auditors raised to him a tomb, as if they were dead, the disciples being generally called auditors. Should these later happen to meet the rejected candidate, they would treat him as a stronger, declaring that he whom they had by education modeled had died, inasmuch as the object of these disciplines had been to be turned out good and honest men. Those who were slow in the acquisition of knowledge were considered to be badly organized or, we may say, deficient, and sterile. If, however, after Pythagoras had studied them physiognomically, their gait, motions and state of health, he conceived good hopes of them; and if, after the five years’ silence, and the emotions and initiations from so many disciplines together with the ablutions of the soul, and so many and so great purifications produced by such various theorems, through which sagacity and sanctity is ingrained into the soul, if after all this even, someone was found to be still sluggish and

dull, they would raise to such a candidate within the school a pillar or monument, such as was said to have been done to Perialus the Thurian, and Cylon the prince of the Sybarites, who were rejected, they expelled him from the auditorium, loading him down with silver and gold. This wealth had by them been deposited in common, in the care of certain custodians, aptly called Economics. Should any of the Pythagoreans later meet with the reject, they did not recognize him whom they accounted dead.

~Generally, however, it should be known, that Pythagoras discovered many paths of erudition, but that he communicated to each only that part of wisdom which was appropriate to the recipient’s nature and power, of which the following is an appropriate striking illustration. When Abaris the Scythian came from the Hyperboreans, he was already of an advanced age, and unskilled and uninitiated in the Greek learning. Pythagoras did not compel him to wade through introductory theorems, the period of silence, and long auscultation, not to mention other trials, but considered him to be fit for an immediate listener to his doctrines, and instructed him in the shortest way, in his treatise on Nature, and one on the god this Hyperborean Abaris was elderly, and most wise in sacred concerns, being a priest of the Apollo there worshipped. At that time he was returning from Greece to his country, in order to consecrate the gold which he had collected to the god in his temple among the Hyperboreans. As therefore he was passing through Italy, he saw Pythagoras, and identified him as the god of whom he was the priest.

~When Pythagoras tested a novice, he considered the latter’s ability to hold his counsel, “echemuthein” being his technical term for this. Namely, whether they could reserve and preserve what they had heard and learned. Next, he examined their modesty, for he was much more anxious that they should be silent, than that they should speak. Further, he tested every other quality, for instance, whether they were astonished by the energies of any immoderate desire or passion. His examination of their affectability by desire or anger, their contentiousness or ambition, their inclination to friendship or discord, was by no means superficial. If then after an accurate survey these novices were approved as of worthy manners, he then directed his attention to their facility in learning, and their memory. He examined their ability to follow what was said, with rapidity and perspicuity and then, whether they were impelled to the disciplines taught them by temperance and love. For he laid stress on natural gentleness. This he called culture. Ferocity he considered hostile to such a kind of education. For savage manners are attended by impudence, shamelessness, intemperance, sloth, stupidity, licentiousness, disgrace, and the like, while their opposite attend mildness and gentleness. These things then he considered in making trial of those that came to him, and in these the Learners were exercised. Those that were adapted to receive the goods of the wisdom he possessed he admitted to discipleship endeavoring to elevate them to scientific knowledge but if he perceived that any novice was unadapted to them, he expelled him as a stranger and a barbarian.


-The life of Pythagoras

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