Number as Paradigm
If Western Civilization has jettisoned off its rails, has lost its way, not once but an indefinable number of times between the days of Pythagoras and the present day, it is because we have been unfaithful to him who should by rights have been our guiding star. Pythagoras, the first systematic botanist, was the Johnny Appleseed of our epoch, the midwife of modern consciousness, ushering it to birth from a dusky, mythic past, sowing the seeds of spiritual orchards after a divine plan laid up in Heaven.
I say after the divine plan laid up in Heaven, for Pythagoras was not the progenitor of modern man. It may be that he was merely a re-discoverer, like Columbus of America after the Vikings and the Native Americans and the men who lived here even before them. Centuries before Pythagoras, Greek trade penetrated deeply into the Black Sea and upstream along the banks of the Dnieper, the Dniester and the Danube. Here, the Greek mind encountered shamanism.
Perhaps Pythagoras was a great shaman in his early years. Whatever the case, Dude was an aspiring hobo, not unlike my own self. Born and raised on the misty island of Samos, he hitched a ride to Egypt where he became an Egyptian priest for many years, and it was in Egypt that he studied number theory and geometry. He stood before the Pyramids, which are constructed after the sacred Tetractys. For Pythagoras, number became paradigm. One is unity, and from unity is born distinction. One makes a point, Two make a line, Three points form a plane, and the number 4 is the essence of three-dimensionality (a pyramid or tetrahedron has 4 points). We see it in our four seasons, four directions, the four Hebrew letters representing the unspeakable name of God, the Cross, and so on, and thus the sacredness of the Tetractys and also the perfect number 10, as 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10. Thus, the decimal system is born and also music theory based on the ten ratios which produce the ten divine tones.
“I swear by the discoverer of the Tetractys
Which is the spring of all our wisdom,
The perennial fount and root of nature.”
From Egypt, Pythagoras hitchhiked to Babylon, where he was introduced to monotheism (Zoroastrianism). There, from the Magi, he learned of astronomy, the music of the spheres, the vibrations of the cosmos. And perhaps on his return to Greece, he followed in the footsteps of Abraham. Whatever the case, he established his school in Croton (Italy). Here, the wisdom of Pythagoras was distilled into a comprehensive philosophy where mathematics, music, astronomy, politics and the first principles of divine Truth became an indivisible way, part and parcel of one another. And since those days, if we have taken many wrong turns, it is because science, music, politics and spirituality have diverged.
The Pythagoreans of Croton became major players in the political scene, until their school was burned to the ground, and many of them were killed or hunted down, and those who survived were driven into exile. It is sometimes said that Pythagorean philosophy travelled as far as Britannia, and sired the druids, for the Celts were known during the time of the Roman Empire to be ‘barbarians’ of great scientific understanding. And these druids shared with the Pythagoreans an understanding of the transmigration of souls (over-simplistically described as reincarnation). And perhaps some portion of this druidic understanding came with the Pilgrims to America, where it is evident in a lineage such as William Penn and the many Penn children and grandchildren who were born here in the New World, where they were re-introduced to shamanism in their encounters with the Native Americans. I’m talking about the Pythagoreans, who top all the reading lists suggested by Thomas Jefferson. Pythagorean philosophy was not lost on the Transcendentalists, such as Emerson who wrote of the Oversoul, the One, flowing through all living beings in their portion. Individual souls? Yes and no. Individual unalienable (pronounced ‘un-a-leen-a-bel’) rights portioned out of a plan laid up in Heaven? Heck yea.
As they say, the oak is in the acorn. Numbers, the spring of our wisdom, the fountain and root of nature, but not merely the numbers, but rather ratios, relationships of numbers to other numbers, as with the Pythagorean Theory (A squared + B squared = C squared); The ratio of the legs of a right triangle to a hypotenuse, ad infinitum, forming the spirals of a sea shell, or a galaxy, or a strand of DNA; The sacred Tetractys and the atomic vibrations which underlie the multiplicity of life and matter. Predictable? Not really. Every parabola or spiral which makes up a fingerprint is a singular instance. Try surfing the break at Farmers, 4 miles north of Santa Cruz, where one minute you’re catching the ride of your life and the next minute you’re getting cheese-grated along the reef bottom. No, not the numbers themselves, but the relationships between them are where true understanding lives. Truth has its Absolutes in Heaven and its variables here in Creation, but truth is neither Absolute nor relative. Truth is relational, occupying the spaces in between the Absolutes and the variables. But it was the discovery of irrational numbers which really blew the minds of the Pythagoreans and neo-Pythagoreans. Take a number like unalienable Pi, in which no pattern can be discerned by the rational mind. Pi, which can never be ensnared or subdued, and is the essence of a circle, the sacred hoop of the Native Americans, and therefore the Pythagoreans taught their disciples, male and female, to “never take the narrow ring of a slave”.
“How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here we will sit, and let the sound of music
Creep in our ears; soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.
Sit, Jessica. Look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlayed with patines of bright gold;
There’s not the smallest orb…
But in his motion like an angel sings…
Such harmony is in immortal souls,
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.”
-Bill Shakespeare of Britannia