Orpheus and Dionysus: The Mystery Cults of Ancient Greece

While Hesiod’ Theogony remains the standard, orthodox version of Theogony, the origin and genealogy of the gods, from Greek antiquity, there exists an alternate tradition attributed to pseudo-historical and somewhat mythical figure of Orpheus, a character whose life is shrouded in mystery and tales of great heroic journeys.  According to some legends and tales surrounding his life he is the son of the Muse Calliope and the god Apollo, the patron deity of the city of Delphi where the famed temple of the Oracle at Delphi was kept. Orpheus was a famed lyric poet who supposedly gained his lyre from a chance meeting with Apollo in the forest one day in his youth, Apollo having been greatly charmed by the boy’s voice.  It was there supposedly that Apollo initiated him into the great “mysteries” to which many of the practices and rites of the esoteric “mystery cults” of ancient Greece were associated.

But perhaps Orpheus is best known for his lyrical voice and the poetry which bears his  name, i.e. the Rhapsodies, a voice and music was known to tame even the most savage of beasts.  He is perhaps best known not only for his role in the tale of the Golden Fleece as the poet who tames the Sirens on their epic journey, but also his great love for the nymph Eurydice for whom he travels to the realm of the dead to save, only to have her lost forever when he turns his head to look back to her to make sure she is following him.[1]

With respect to the life of Orpheus, what we know comes to us down as legend and tales of old that speak of a child who is singing in the forests one day in Thrace who is found by Apollo who is charmed by his sweet voice.  As the legend goes, Orpheus was taught music (the lyre) by Apollo himself and was ultimately initiated into the “cult of the mysteries”, or divine knowledge, by him.  After a life of singing and divine inspiration, he fell in love and married the nymph Eurydice, who was his ceaseless companion and close confidante.  She, after being pursued through the woods by the god Aristaios, a deity also associated with Dionysus and Zeus, was killed by a poisonous snake and killed.  Orpheus was grief stricken, and with the assistance of the gods who empathized with his plight, travelled to the underworld to try and save his beloved.  He journeyed through the land of the dead and reached the throne of Pluto (Hades) and Persephone and begged them to let Eurydice live again.  Again his true love and plight was empathized with and they granted his wish, but under one condition.  He was not to look back at his beloved until they had completely left the realm of the dead, a test of faith as it were.  Orpheus, in one of the great tragedies of Greek mythology, looks back to be sure his beloved is behind him before leaving the land of the dead and so she is lost to him forever.  Orpheus is then said to have wandered the woods by himself and only sang to men after that, singing always about his lost love for Eurydice. There are different tales of his death but one story has him slain by Thracian women, (Mainádæs), women associated with the cult of Dionysus again, for luring their men away with his sweet music.  Orpheus is also associated with the myth of Jason and the Argonauts (the Golden Fleece) and is said to have saved the crew from the deadly Sirens on their journey with the charm of his music.

The religious practices and rites surrounding Orphism are closely associated with the life and legend of the mythical figure Dionysus, or Dionysus Bacchius or Zagreus as he was sometimes referred to.  Dionysus in mythical lore was the son of Zeus and Persephone, or sometimes Demeter or Semele depending upon the mythical variant.  As the legend goes he was murdered as a small child at the behest of Zeus’s jealous wife Hera.  His heart however was saved by Athena before he could be killed forever, and through this act of kindness and empathy he is born again.  This notion of rebirth and salvation was a main theme surrounding the worship of Dionysus and most certainly echoes themes we find much later in the life and teaching of Jesus.

The god, or cult, of Dionysus in ancient Greece – and through Roman times as well where he was worshipped as Bacchus – is closely associated with death and rebirth and divine ecstasy, which in turn was closely associated with wine, which in turn was associated with fertility and the spring, again rebirth.  Hence his, and less directly Orpheus’s, association with not only Persephone, the goddess of the underworld (death and rebirth), but also the goddess of the harvest and the spring, Demeter.  The close affiliation to the “divine mysteries”, to which the worship of Dionysius is closely associated with in antiquity, and to which Orphism in turn is also closely associated with, is evidenced by the many parallels and intertwined myths surrounding the two figures – Orpheus’s trip to the underworld and back to save his love Eurydice and Dionysus journey to the underworld to save his mother Semele for example.

 

What we know of the life of Orpheus as a historical figure, if in fact he did exist as an actual historical figure, is not much.  However, he is closely associated with the region of Thrace, both from stories around his birth and death, a region which lies just to the North of classical Greece and the Near East, lying in modern day Bulgaria which would explain why the stories and poems of his life were not integrated into classical Greece mythology until after Homer and Hesiod.  In many respects one can look at the historical figure of Orpheus just as one looks at the historicity of the Hebrew Moses.  In fact, the two traditions surrounding these two “prophets”, if we may call them that, come from basically the same period in ancient history albeit from two different, but closely related, regions. Moses from ancient Palestine/Middle East and Orpheus from Thrace/Greece/Near East.

Little is known about the life of this pseudo-mythical figure other than it believed by modern and ancient scholars alike that he was in fact an historical figure, the notable exception being Aristotle, who – depending upon how you interpret the quotations from later authors from whom Aristotle’s opinion is summarized – doubted not only his existence but also his authorship of the poems, the Rhapsodies, that bear his name.  Aristotle however, given his reputation as a scholar and the access he must have had to historical records and accounts from Greek antiquity is worth mentioning as a skeptic but having said that he was skeptical of the old mythical tradition from antiquity in general so perhaps it is not surprising.

According to later authors who are by all accounts are likely quoting from the same passages in Aristotle’s lost work De Philosophia, it seems likely that Aristotle believed at least that the compilation of hymns that bear the name of Orpheus was done by an Onomakritos, a scribe and counselor from the court of Pesistratos from the late 6th and early 5th centuries BCE who ruled Athens from 561 to 527 BCE.  As the story is related by Herodotus (who does not mention Orpheus specifically but indirectly as it related to the poems of the Muses) he tells us, consistent with Aristotle in fact (or perhaps Aristotle’s reference is from Herodotus) that these poems of the Muses (Musaios) were actually the works of Onomakritos, who inserted his own “forgeries” into the poems themselves and was therefore banished from Athens by the son of Pesistratos, Hipparchos.  After the family of Pesistratos was banished to Persia, Herodotus tells us that is by using the works Onomakritos that the great Persian king Xerxes I was convinced to lead an invasion into Greece.[2]

The earliest literary reference to Orpheus in the historical record is a two-word fragment of the sixth-century BC lyric poet Ibycus who simply refers to Orpheus as “the famous Orpheus”.  We also however find references and attestations to not only Orpheus himself but also the traditions surrounding the cult of mysteries or aspects of worship and initiation which were such an integral part of the tradition surrounding Orpheus from Herodotus as well as the tragic Greek playwright Euripides (The Bacchae), as well as Plato among others.  Plato in particular in one quotation from the Apology places Orpheus in the same category as Hesiod and Homer, as well as the Muses themselves, as having knowledge of divine mysteries as well as being objects of reverence.[3]  Having said that, with respect to what can be known about the historical figure of Orpheus if he did indeed exist, it is perhaps worth quoting a modern day scholar (and arguably a modern day “devotee”) on the subject, whose words sum up the situation quote nicely:

This alone may be depended on, from general assent, that there formerly lived a person named Orpheus, whose father was Œagrus, who lived in Thrace, and who was the son of a king, who was the founder of theology, among the Greeks; the institutor of their life and morals; the first of prophets, and the prince of poets; himself the offspring of a Muse; who taught the Greeks their sacred rites and mysteries, and from whose wisdom, as from a perpetual and abundant fountain, the divine muse of Homer, and the philosophy of Pythagoras, and Plato, flowed; and, lastly, who by the melody of his lyre, drew rocks, woods, and wild beasts, stopped the rivers in their course, and ever, moved the inexorable king of hell; as every page, and all the writings of antiquity sufficiently evince. Since thus much then may be collected from universal testimony, let us, pursue the matter a little farther, by investigating more accurately the history of the original Orpheus; with that of the great men who have, at different periods, flourished under this venerable name.[4]

 

Leaving aside the obvious questionable attribution of the inspiration and source of the works of Homer, Pythagoras and Plato being from Orpheus himself, this quite eloquent view of the figure of Orpheus does represent the view of the “inner circle” of Orphic believers in antiquity however, reflecting not only the great influence that his life and works were believed to have had, but also the “secret” nature of the “mystery cults” and rites that were so closely associated to the figure himself.  What we do however know for certain is that there existed a theology and “mystery cult” tradition surrounding the pseudo-mythical figure of Orpheus that was very influential on the development of not just theogony but also in turn philosophy in classical Greece.

Our primary textual evidence is from not only from the hymns which bear his name which survive for the most part intact, having in all likelihood been compiled in the last few centuries BCE, but also from references to the practices and rites surrounding Orphism in Herodotus as well as Plato and Aristotle (despite the latter’s noted skepticism regarding Orpheus as an historical figure) and prominently in the more recently discovered  by the Derveni Papyrus.  All of these point to a tradition that was not only widely known and practiced in classical Greece, but also one that was on par, albeit independent, from the Homeric and Hesiodic poetic/historical traditions which represented more “orthodox” Hellenic theological and mythological beliefs.  Notably however, Orpheus is not mentioned in either the works of Homer or Hesiod, speaking to an independent theological tradition, at least in the first few centuries of the first millennium BCE after which it was clearly integrated and synthesized into Hellenic mythological and cultural lore.

The Derveni papyrus was discovered in 1962 and is believed to have been compiled in the 5th century BCE.  While it’s a fairly damaged papyrus scroll, the bulk of the text has been recovered after much painstaking research and it consists of a running commentary on Orphic theogony, giving us insight and corroborating evidence of Orphic theogony proper, but also of a fairly early tradition of theo-philosophical interpretations of theogony in general, this one most likely coming from a school associated with Anaxagoras given the prominent role of “Mind” throughput the text.  The papyrus was discovered in a burial site from the 3rd century BCE around the time of the reign of Phillip II of Macedon around the area of Thrace/Macedon, a region closely associated with the stories surrounding the life of Orpheus.  This archaeological find allows us to date Orphic Theogony and cosmological narratives – and in turn practices associated with the tradition undoubtedly – to at least the time of classical Greece.  This material and belief systems reflected in the papyrus however, are undoubtedly representative of a theological and mystical tradition that is of much deeper antiquity, a tradition which bears many similarities and resemblances to what we know of ritual and theological traditions of Egypt, as well as those spoken of in the earliest Vedas and the Avestan lore, and one which was clearly of interest to the early Greek philosophers.[5]

Orpheus was believed to be the founder and prophet of the “Orphic mysteries”, as well as credited with the authorship of the so called “Orphic hymns”, a somewhat late Hellenistic compilation of poems addressed to the various gods and goddesses that were pre-eminent in the Orphic Theogony, a somewhat alternative representation of the divine order of the universe than presented by Hesiod.  The Orphic hymns include poems and commemorations to the gods and goddesses of Night, Heaven, Fire, and unique to the Orphic mythological tradition to the protogenital human, or Protogonus (Phanes).  Within this poetic compilation we also find verses dedicated to major “naturalistic” concepts that played an important role in early Hellenic philosophy such as Law, Justice, Equity, Health, etc. no doubt speaking to the interplay and interchangeability of the gods and goddesses in Greek mythology and the principals or “ideas” which they represented.[6]

Regardless of whether or not he existed as an actual person in history however, the life of Orpheus is not only very closely embedded in and related to classical Greek mythology, but also very closely associated with the so called “mystery cults” of ancient Greece.  These cults were closely affiliated with the with rites of initiation and rituals and the worship of Dionysus, worshipped as the “savior” of mankind through which the mysteries of divine union could be realized.  While these practices were shrouded in mystery and closely guarded within the “Orphic” community as it were, the Derveni Papyrus in particular reveals some insights into how these mythological narratives were interpreted by those within the tradition itself, a tradition which the author of the Derveni Papyrus was clearly intimately familiar.

Given Orpheus’s close connection with mystery cults and divine ecstasy which was closely aligned to the cults of Dionysus (not just in classical Greece but also in Roman times under the name of Bacchus) by studying Orphic theogony we can get a glimpse perhaps into a more archaic and alternative theological and shamanic tradition than the more structured and literary version presented by Hesiod.  For the Orphic theogony by definition carries not just a much more esoteric and “secret” meaning, but one which perhaps points to much more ancient origins given its close affiliation with ancient rites and rituals and initiation, very much reminiscent to the practices and rituals that are laid out in more detail in the Avestas and Vedas assuredly.

 


[1] Parallels to the story of Orpheus looking back upon his love as they leave the land of Hades can be drawn to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah where the city of Sodom is destroyed by the Lord for its wickedness but Lot’s wife looked back at the destruction of the city and was reduced to a pillar of salt.  Genesis 19.

[2] See Pausanias. Pausanias Description of Greece with an English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D., and H.A. Ormerod, M.A., in 4 Volumes. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1918.  Paus. 1.22.7 and Herodotus Histories Book VII Chapter 6 from Herodotus, with an English translation by A. D. Godley. Cambridge. Harvard University Press. 1920 at http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0160%3Abook%3D1%3Achapter%3D22%3Asection%3D7 and http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0126:book=7:chapter=6&highlight=onomacritus respectively for references to the account of Onomakritos in the court of Pesistratos and See Orpheus and Greek Religion by W. K. C. Guthrie, Princeton University Press 1993, pages 13-14 for the story of Onomakritos in Herodotus and pgs. 57-59 for his analysis and conclusions regarding the beliefs of Aristotle regarding Orpheus as interpreted from the excerpts of the (much later) Greco-Roman authors.

[3] While Aristotle reflects a more skeptic view of the Orphic tradition as well as the historicity of its founder, Orpheus, we find from Plato’s Apology the following quotation speaking to the high regard at least Plato had for the pseudo-mythical figure.  “Or again, what would any of you give to meet with Orpheus and Musaeus and Hesiod and Homer?” Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 1 translated by Harold North Fowler; Introduction by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1966.  Apology, verse 41a from http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0170%3Atext%3DApol.%3Asection%3D41a

[4] The Hymns of Orpheus, translation and Introduction by Thomas Taylor, 1792.  http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/hoo/

[5] The analysis of the text is fascinating and revealing into not only Orphic beliefs from the period of classical Greece but also an early commentary on “mystery cult” mythological and esoteric beliefs in and of themselves.  See The Derveni Papyrus: Cosmology, Theology and Interpretation by Gabor Betegh.  Cambridge University Press 2004 for a very detailed overview of the archeological find, a translation of the scroll (what can be recovered), a good summary of the analysis of the conclusions that can be drawn from the text itself as well as a reconstructed (Orphic) theogony which is embedded in the scroll.  Why it was buried with what appears to be a great and well respected warrior and aristocrat remains a mystery.

[6] For a complete translation of the ancient text/fragments, see Hymns of Orpheus, translated by Thomas Taylor, 1792.  http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/hoo/

The Theogony of Hesiod: Order (Cronos) from Chaos

One of the nice things that you found as you studied more advanced civilizations, as you got further into the first millennium BCE, you had better material and source texts to work with.  You no longer had to rely on texts and tablets that described ancient rituals for specific temples, or documents or inscriptions associated with royal burial grounds, you actually had books or treatises that were authored and compiled by a single individual that had coherent narratives and compiled and consolidated all the various traditions that might be represented throughout that particular culture.  One of the other nice things as you moved into the study of the civilizations of the Greeks and the Romans is you started to see pretty good one to one representations of their words into modern day English given its more direct relationship to the Latin.

Prior to looking at the mythological creation narratives that were prevalent in classical Greece, it’s worth pointing out some of the terminology that we use today that originated with the Greek language, the Greek poets and philosophers, that has come down to us in English, through the Latin translations, that we use to describe these intellectual traditions.

The words “theogony” and “cosmology” specifically actually both come from their Greek counterparts which in English have very similar meanings but in the Greek have different definitions, definitions that are symbolic of the intellectual tradition which each in turn belonged.  Theogony, or thæogonía (θεογονία) means the study of the origin and genealogy of the gods whereas “cosmology”, or kozmogonía (κοσμογονία) denotes the study of the origins of the universe, the latter term coming into use as the philosophical tradition arose, “kosmos” first being attributed to Pythagoras in fact circa 5th century BCE.  Theogony signifying, as in the case with Hesiod for example, the mythological narrative that described the creation of the gods of the pantheon and their successors.

While thæogonía (theogony; Gr. θεογονία) is the origin and genealogy of the Gods, kozmogonía (cosmogony; Gr. κοσμογονία) is the origin of the universe. In Hellenic polytheistic religion, these two terms are closely related and cannot actually be entirely separated, for the phenomenal universe is itself divine and the personal deities are intimately connected with its origin and both emerge simultaneously.

The etymology of thæogonía is Θεοί (Gods) + γέννα (birth), hence, the birth or origin of the Gods.  The etymology of kozmogonía is kόσμος (order, to put in order) + γέννα (birth); the word kόσμος only later came to mean the entire universe, but its original meaning has some bearing on how we understand our world, as the view of Orphismós sees the birth or origin of the kózmos (cosmos; Gr. κόσμος) as having a form and order, what Pythagóras (Gr. Πυθαγόρας) called diakózmisis (diakosmesis; Gr. διακόσμησις), the orderly arrangement of the universe.[1]

Having clarified this subtle but important distinction, in particular as we look at this time period of ancient Greece where philosophy begins to take precedence over mythology – logos over mythos – the analysis and study of the theogonies of Hesiod and the one attributed to the pseudo-historical figure of Orpheus actually shed much light on the transition, or at least the precursors to the transition which start with Pythagoras and Plato and come to a more solid, rational, foundation with Aristotle.

To the Greeks, and in particular t the tradition associated with Hesiod, it is Chaos that was the arche, or underlying origin, of the universe.  Arche means ‘beginning’, ‘origin’ or ‘first cause’ and ‘power’ in Greek.  It can also denote ‘ultimate underlying substance’ or ‘ultimate indemonstrable principle’ at least as seen in the context of Greek Cosmology.  Later philosophers such as Aristotle expanded upon the meaning of arche as the element or principle of a thing, which although indemonstrable and intangible in and of itself, provides the conditions of the possibility of the existence of such a thing.

In the Greco-Roman tradition, particularly in the works of the Neo-Platonists and other historians of philosophy from Cicero to Diogenes Laertius to Plutarch and others, it was the “first principles” of things that were the topic of the early Greek classical authors such as Hesiod and in turn Orpheus, who was the attributed author of various hymns and poems devoted to the gods that spoke of an alternative theogony, through which later philosophers viewed and interpreted these first principles and through which these later authors juxtaposed and defended the Hellenic philosophical tradition in the face of impending Christianity which took over the theological beliefs of the Mediterranean and Near Eastern peoples a few centuries after the death of Jesus and the birth of Christianity and its adoption by the Roman Empire by Constantine.

In modern times, the arche is the word used by Carl Jung to describe the underlying psychological themes he found present in individual’s unconscious mind through his psychological practices.  To Jung these basic symbols and images that he found present in the modern mind bore striking similarity to primitive mythological motifs, motifs that are found in virtually all of the mythological traditions that we are studying and analyzing within the context of this work.  Jung called these symbols archetypes, the commonality of which across many of his patients he used as the rationalization for the existence of what he called the collective unconscious, the same principle which Joseph Campbell indirectly leveraged to explain the commonality of mythical themes and stories across all pre-civilized man across the globe – as presented in his Hero with a  Thousand Faces for example.  In essence this notion of arche to the Greeks represented the establishment of the basic universal building blocks, the first principles of abstract thought and ideas, upon which was superimposed Greek theogony as it was formulated in order to establish a more rational basis upon which the cosmological world order was maintained and was to be understood.  This transition is typically referred to in the academic literature as logos over mythos but we can view it here within the context of theogony to cosmogony.

 

The orthodox version of creation mythology from classical Greece is from a poetic work attributed to Hesiod called the Theogony.  Compilation of the text is dated to somewhere between the 8th and 6th centuries BCE, somewhat contemporaneous to Homer, and representative of the height of literature to the Greeks even by the classical philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle among others that followed in their footsteps..  The Theogony, or again literally the birth of the gods”, describes the origins and genealogies of the gods of the ancient Greek pantheon.

Hesiod markedly begins his work with an attribute to the divine Muses, the great daughters of Zeus who in the Hellenic world were the masters of mystery and the keepers of the divine mysteries through which any true knowledge or truth could be known.  It is through the Muses themselves that Hesiod relates his tale, speaking directly to their source through which his tale, his Theogony, is related and written.

(ll. 1-25) From the Heliconian Muses let us begin to sing, who hold the great and holy mount of Helicon, and dance on soft feet about the deep-blue spring and the altar of the almighty son of Cronos, and, when they have washed their tender bodies in Permessus or in the Horse’s Spring or Olmeius, make their fair, lovely dances upon highest Helicon and move with vigorous feet. Thence they arise and go abroad by night, veiled in thick mist, and utter their song with lovely voice, praising Zeus the aegis- holder and queenly Hera of Argos who walks on golden sandals and the daughter of Zeus the aegis-holder bright-eyed Athene, and Phoebus Apollo, and Artemis who delights in arrows, and Poseidon the earth-holder who shakes the earth, and reverend Themis and quick-glancing (1) Aphrodite, and Hebe with the crown of gold, and fair Dione, Leto, Iapetus, and Cronos the crafty counsellor, Eos and great Helius and bright Selene, Earth too, and great Oceanus, and dark Night, and the holy race of all the other deathless ones that are for ever. And one day they taught Hesiod glorious song while he was shepherding his lambs under holy Helicon, and this word first the goddesses said to me — the Muses of Olympus, daughters of Zeus who holds the aegis:

(ll. 26-28) `Shepherds of the wilderness, wretched things of shame, mere bellies, we know how to speak many false things as though they were true; but we know, when we will, to utter true things.’

(ll. 29-35) So said the ready-voiced daughters of great Zeus, and they plucked and gave me a rod, a shoot of sturdy laurel, a marvellous thing, and breathed into me a divine voice to celebrate things that shall be and things there were aforetime; and they bade me sing of the race of the blessed gods that are eternally, but ever to sing of themselves both first and last. But why all this about oak or stone? (2)[2]

We see here not just the invocation to the Muses, in fact the allusion to the very source of the material being the Muses themselves who speak through Hesiod, but also the purpose of the work as explaining the existence of the Greek gods and goddesses that we know all too well even from modern renditions of Greek mythology – reference to Zeus and Hera, Apollo and Athena, Poseidon and Aphrodite, and even Cronos, the older parent of the Greek pantheon who is to play such an important role in the Theogonic tale that Hesiod is to tell.

A few verses later Hesiod provides us with his account of the first initial principles or gods from which the pantheon emerges from, the initial cosmological account of creation as it were.  The reference to the first beings that were ever created from which the pantheon of Greek gods originated and from which his story of rulership, succession, betrayal and the ultimate establishment of order is unfolded.  In Hesiod’s account of the creation of the universe, the initial state of the universe is Chaos, or Khaos in the Greek, and from this initial state of disorder, from which the word still carries the same meaning even in modern English today, the universe comes to life and order begins to manifest.

Verily at the first Chaos came to be, but next wide-bosomed Earth, the ever-sure foundations of all the deathless ones who hold the peaks of snowy Olympus, and dim Tartarus in the depth of the wide-pathed Earth, and Eros (Love), fairest among the deathless gods, who unnerves the limbs and overcomes the mind and wise counsels of all gods and all men within them. From Chaos came forth Erebus and black Night; but of Night were born Aether and Day, whom she conceived and bare from union in love with Erebus. And Earth first bare starry Heaven, equal to herself, to cover her on every side, and to be an ever-sure abiding-place for the blessed gods. And she brought forth long Hills, graceful haunts of the goddess-Nymphs who dwell amongst the glens of the hills. She bare also the fruitless deep with his raging swell, Pontus, without sweet union of love. But afterwards she lay with Heaven and bare deep-swirling Oceanus, Coeus and Crius and Hyperion and Iapetus, Theia and Rhea, Themis and Mnemosyne and gold-crowned Phoebe and lovely Tethys. After them was born Cronos the wily, youngest and most terrible of her children, and he hated his lusty sire.[3]

 

So here in the work of Hesiod lie the beginnings of some of the basic principles, or framework at least, from the transition from theogony to cosmology, the primordial arche as it were upon which the Greek pantheon emerges.  We are presented at the beginning of the genealogy with the notion of Chaos, or disorder as the term is still used today, that represents the primordial substance that forms the basis of all creation.  In Hesiod’s account Chaos is a pseudo-anthropomorphic being, a being that although not anthropomorphic per se, i.e. it is without gender or form, and yet it is the primordial substance form which the primary first generation deities and their offspring come forth from.  According to Hesiod out of Chaos emerge Gaia (Earth) and Tartarus – Mother Earth and the Underworld respectively, the great pillars of the world of being inhabited by human souls.  And then, perhaps surprisingly, in this tradition Eros, or Love, is a primary force which then acts to create the rest of the first generation of gods and goddesses and from which the realms of Heaven and Earth and all the basic natural principles and their anthropomorphic counterparts are created and established.

Next in Hesiod’s Theogony, also out of Chaos came Erebus[4], representing darkness or shadow, as well as Nyx, or the Greek’s personification of Night.  Erebus and Nyx then reproduced to form Aether, and Hemera (day).  Then came Gaia who gave birth to Uranus (sky/heaven), and Ourea (mountains) and Pontus (sea).  Uranus then fertilized Gaia and from this union the great Titans are born and the next generation of gods are born, the greatest of which is Cronos and from which the tale of the next generation of gods and the overthrow of Chaos by Cronos (time) is told.

These characters, these entities, represented the first and foremost parts of creation that sprung forth from the “void”, the first generation of gods for the Greeks.  Although the principles or deities themselves were different, there were some parallels to the genealogy of the Egyptians and Mesopotamian story lines albeit the ordering and gods themselves were different for each of the civilizations, perhaps indicative of the different aspects of each of the respective cultures.  Here we can find in this subsequent generation of gods, much like the Egyptian creation mythology, the generation and establishment of the world order, the pieces of the puzzle were laid down as it were, creating the foundations upon which mankind could emerge and flourish.

Hesiod then goes on to tell the tale of the overthrow of the evil ruler Chaos by Cronos, the greatest of the first generation of gods at the behest of his mother Gaia, Mother Earth.  Herein we find the great mythical narrative of the manifestation and establishment of order upon chaos, a tale that is gruesome and graphic no doubt in its details, and speaks to a consistent tradition of castration of the first principles of creation upon which the second generation of order is established.

(ll. 167-169) So she said; but fear seized them all, and none of them uttered a word. But great Cronos the wily took courage and answered his dear mother:

(ll. 170-172) `Mother, I will undertake to do this deed, for I reverence not our father of evil name, for he first thought of doing shameful things.’

(ll. 173-175) So he said: and vast Earth rejoiced greatly in spirit, and set and hid him in an ambush, and put in his hands a jagged sickle, and revealed to him the whole plot.

(ll. 176-206) And Heaven came, bringing on night and longing for love, and he lay about Earth spreading himself full upon her (7).

Then the son from his ambush stretched forth his left hand and in his right took the great long sickle with jagged teeth, and swiftly lopped off his own father’s members and cast them away to fall behind him. And not vainly did they fall from his hand; for all the bloody drops that gushed forth Earth received, and as the seasons moved round she bare the strong Erinyes and the great Giants with gleaming armour, holding long spears in their hands and the Nymphs whom they call Meliae (8) all over the boundless earth. And so soon as he had cut off the members with flint and cast them from the land into the surging sea, they were swept away over the main a long time: and a white foam spread around them from the immortal flesh, and in it there grew a maiden. First she drew near holy Cythera, and from there, afterwards, she came to sea-girt Cyprus, and came forth an awful and lovely goddess, and grass grew up about her beneath her shapely feet. Her gods and men call Aphrodite, and the foam-born goddess and rich-crowned Cytherea, because she grew amid the foam, and Cytherea because she reached Cythera, and Cyprogenes because she was born in billowy Cyprus, and Philommedes (9) because sprang from the members. And with her went Eros, and comely Desire followed her at her birth at the first and as she went into the assembly of the gods. This honour she has from the beginning, and this is the portion allotted to her amongst men and undying gods, — the whisperings of maidens and smiles and deceits with sweet delight and love and graciousness.[5]

From the seed of the of Chaos then, intermingled and spread about across the earth and sea and land, the other great first primordial creative principles of the first generation of gods, the second generation of deities comes forth as Cronos takes the reins of power from his father and bears children with Rhea, his sister.  But the graphic tale of deceit and disorder continues though, and with this next generation of gods we finally come to the great Zeus, the god of Thunder and Lightning who finally restores balance and order not only to the immortals but to the world of man as well.

As the tale is told Cronos knew he was to be overthrown by one of his seed and therefore after Rhea bore each child, Cronos swallowed them whole to ensure that his reign would last forever.  But Rhea outwitted her spouse and when Zeus was born she hid him from his father in a deep and secret cave, replacing him with a stone and outwitting him in order to fulfill the prophecy and no doubt so that her children could be reborn and live.  In a story that bears much resemblance to the pantheonic struggles so well documented in Egypt between Osiris and Set, who is overthrown by the progeny of Isis and Osiris, namely Horus), Hesiod tells us that Cronos is convinced by Gaia to overthrow his father Uranus and claim authority over the gods.  He did this successfully (in particularly gruesome fashion as it were) and then wedded his sister Rhea after which Rhea and Cronos in turn birthed Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus, finishing the major Olympiad as it were.  After a long struggle steeped in myth and graphic tales of mischief and brutality, Zeus ends up taking over Olympus and control over the Greek pantheon from Cronos.

(ll. 453-491) But Rhea was subject in love to Cronos and bare splendid children, Hestia (18), Demeter, and gold-shod Hera and strong Hades, pitiless in heart, who dwells under the earth, and the loud-crashing Earth-Shaker, and wise Zeus, father of gods and men, by whose thunder the wide earth is shaken. These great Cronos swallowed as each came forth from the womb to his mother’s knees with this intent, that no other of the proud sons of Heaven should hold the kingly office amongst the deathless gods. For he learned from Earth and starry Heaven that he was destined to be overcome by his own son, strong though he was, through the contriving of great Zeus (19). Therefore he kept no blind outlook, but watched and swallowed down his children: and unceasing grief seized Rhea. But when she was about to bear Zeus, the father of gods and men, then she besought her own dear parents, Earth and starry Heaven, to devise some plan with her that the birth of her dear child might be concealed, and that retribution might overtake great, crafty Cronos for his own father and also for the children whom he had swallowed down. And they readily heard and obeyed their dear daughter, and told her all that was destined to happen touching Cronos the king and his stout-hearted son. So they sent her to Lyetus, to the rich land of Crete, when she was ready to bear great Zeus, the youngest of her children. Him did vast Earth receive from Rhea in wide Crete to nourish and to bring up. Thither came Earth carrying him swiftly through the black night to Lyctus first, and took him in her arms and hid him in a remote cave beneath the secret places of the holy earth on thick-wooded Mount Aegeum; but to the mightily ruling son of Heaven, the earlier king of the gods, she gave a great stone wrapped in swaddling clothes. Then he took it in his hands and thrust it down into his belly: wretch! he knew not in his heart that in place of the stone his son was left behind, unconquered and untroubled, and that he was soon to overcome him by force and might and drive him from his honours, himself to reign over the deathless gods.[6]

Zeus then revives his brothers and sisters that his father has swallowed and takes over the rulership of heaven, defeating and killing his father like his father had done before him, and establishing balance and harmony in the heavens and on earth.

(ll. 492-506) After that, the strength and glorious limbs of the prince increased quickly, and as the years rolled on, great Cronos the wily was beguiled by the deep suggestions of Earth, and brought up again his offspring, vanquished by the arts and might of his own son, and he vomited up first the stone which he had swallowed last. And Zeus set it fast in the wide-pathed earth at goodly Pytho under the glens of Parnassus, to be a sign thenceforth and a marvel to mortal men (20). And he set free from their deadly bonds the brothers of his father, sons of Heaven whom his father in his foolishness had bound. And they remembered to be grateful to him for his kindness, and gave him thunder and the glowing thunderbolt and lightening: for before that, huge Earth had hidden these. In them he trusts and rules over mortals and immortals.[7]

 

This great mythical tale that Hesiod spins for us, from the direct inspiration of the Muses which are so closely associated not only with the lyric poetic tradition of of classical Greece but also the mystery cults of the Greeks as well, bears much resemblance to the mythical narratives to the East and West, each of which tell the tale of a first generations of gods or first principles that are born out of chaos, a watery abyss, from which emerge Heaven, Earth, Sea and Sky.  And then from this initial creation, the great Mother Earth (Gaia) produces the next generation of gods with the greatest of her siblings, Cronos, or Time (order, i.e. the Maat of the Egyptians), henceforth establishing order from the initial chaotic abyss.  And then the next generation of gods is brought forth and there is another (symbolic) overthrow of the reign of the gods and goddesses to a second generation, where Zeus, the god of thunder and lightning, takes the throne from his father after an epic battle between the older generation of gods (the Titans) and the new generation born of Earth.

Interestingly, the attributes of Thunder and Lightning which are so closely associated with the Greek god Zeus, the head of the Olympic pantheon as it were, are also closely associated with the Sumer-Babylonian god Marduk, who as we learn from the Sumer-Babylonian theogony of the Enuma Elis also comes to power via the overthrow of the second generation of gods ruled by Tiamut through another epic battle of the forces of good (represented by Marduk) and the forces of evil as represented by Tiamut.  Even more interesting perhaps are the parallels that can be drawn between Zeus and Marduk of the Greek and Sumer-Babylonian pantheons respectively to the role of Thunder and Lightning as a fundamental creative principle, a cornerstone of the cyclical process of universe creation as it were, in the mythos of the ancient Chinese as depicted in the notion of Zhen (Thunder) as one of the eight primary trigrams of both the Earlier and Later Heaven sequences of bagua from the Yijing.

 


[1] http://www.hellenicgods.org/orphiccosmogonyandtheogony

[2] The Theogony of Hesiod.  Translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, 1914.  From http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/hesiod/theogony.htm

[3] http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/hesiod/theogony.htm (ll. 116-138).

[4] Erebus , or Erebos, is translated into English roughly as “deep darkness, or shadow”.  Erebus is also referred to as a region of the Underworld where the dead had to pass immediately after dying, and is sometimes used interchangeably with Tartarus.

[5] The Theogony of Hesiod.  Translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, 1914.  Book II verses 167-206.  From http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/hesiod/theogony.htm

[6] The Theogony of Hesiod.  Translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, 1914.  From http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/hesiod/theogony.htm

[7] The Theogony of Hesiod.  Translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, 1914.  From http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/hesiod/theogony.htm

 

 

 

The Hetu and Luoshu Diagrams: Numerology in Chinese Antiquity

What we can definitively say about how the underlying symbols of the Yijing were created can be ascertained primarily from the commentaries that survive and were appended to text itself as it has been received from antiquity, a process that we know and has already been indicated was influenced by socio-political factors.  It is clear however that numerological and arithmological beliefs were instrumental in their creation, as indicated not only in the commentaries themselves which speak to how the hexagrams and their constituent trigrams were created, but also by associated mythology surrounding two figures in particular that seem to point to even deeper Chinese antiquity.

The two figures in question are the Yellow River Map, or Hetu (河圖), and the “Inscription of the River Luo”, or Luoshu (洛書, also written 雒書), each of which is connected in mythological lore to Fu XI and King Wen, two figures from Chinese antiquity lore that are integrally linked to the establishment of Chinese civilization.  The figures are referred to not only in the Ten Wings itself, but also in the “Book of Documents”, or Shujing (書經) which dates to the middle of the Western Zhou period (11th to 8th centuries BCE), as well as the Guanzi (管子), or “Master Guan”, which is a collection of various philosophical treatises on statecraft collected during the Spring and Autumn period (8th to 5th centuries BCE).[1]

Hetu and Luoshu diagrams

Hetu and Luoshu diagrams

While the derivation of the Hetu and Luoshu diagrams to the Earlier and Later Heaven arrangements of the bagua, or eight trigrams, which form the basis of the hexagrams of the Yijing does not show up in the written records until the Song Dynasty period (960 – 1279 CE), there is ample evidence to surmise that that the numerological and/or metaphysical connection between them reaches back into at least Bronze Age China from which the first evidence of the Zhou Yi emerges.

First and foremost, we have a direct reference to the Hetu and Luoshu in the Ten Wings commentary itself, albeit in a form that does not allow for too much explanation as to how precisely these diagrams are related to Yijing divination other than referring to the Hetu as a “map” and the Luoshu as a “document” or “inscription”, and indicating that they were used as a “model” for the ancient sages who used or created the Yijing.  The specific verse or passage from the Great Commentary is below:

 

Therefore: Heaven creates divine things; the holy sage takes them as models.  Heaven and earth change and transform; the holy sage imitates them.  In the heavens hang images that reveal good fortune and misfortune; the holy sage reproduces these.  The Yellow River brought forth a map and the Lo River brought forth a writing [document]; the holy men took these as models.[2]

 

It’s also clear from the archeological record though that ancient Yijing divination was performed in conjunction with the burning of tortoise shells so that does offer further corroborating evidence that these symbols, or at least the Luoshu, was related to ancient Yijing divination in some way.  We could speculate that that this ancient practice, using the Luoshu and Hetu diagrams, was the origins of the divination practice in deep Chinese antiquity and these practices ended up evolving into the yarrow stalk and hexagram based divination process that ended up being encapsulated in the Zhou Yi and then codified finally in the Yijing.

Furthermore, we have from Chinese mythology the association of the Hetu diagram with the legendary Fu XI who witnessed a “dragon horse”, or longma (龍馬), emerge from the Yellow River with a set of symbols on its back, i.e. the Hetu diagram, from which he supposedly “divined” an ordered system of trigrams within which the universal ordering of things could be understood.  This is the mythology that surrounds the creation of the “Earlier than Heaven”, or Fu Xi, arrangement of the eight trigrams.  We also have a very similar myth associated with the Luoshu diagram that speaks to the emergence of a dragon turtle, or longgui (龍龜), from the River Luo from which had the Luoshu symbol on its back, actually its turtle shell, from which an alternate trigram arrangement or sequence was established, the “Later than Heaven”, or King Wen arrangement.

It also seems clear that the design of the Hetu and Luoshu diagrams, being based upon the collection and arrangement of sets of dark and light circles, speaks to a much more archaic and older numerological system that predates the formulation of the trigrams or hexagrams that constitute the core part of the Yijing.

For in deep antiquity, and this is perhaps true of the evolution and creation of all counting systems in antiquity, numbers were represented by simple representations and collections of objects, objects that were typically easily accessible.  For example, the early numbering system of the Chinese, which was base 10 like ours and as reflected in the Hetu and Luoshu each of which have numerical representations of all of the numbers 1 – 9, used small bamboo rods (stalk like figures in fact) to denote the numbers 1 through 10.  This system of symbols allowed for not only the representation of very large numbers using a small set of symbols which were easy to learn and communicate, but also allowed for relatively straightforward arithmetic operations as well.[3]

The Luoshu diagram significantly, also is a clear representation of the magic square of base three – where each of the numerical representations on all of the lines of the diagram, the vertical, horizontal and diagonal axes, all add up to 15.  This may be perhaps the earliest known evidence for a magic square in antiquity.

This numerical diagram, across all ancient cultures and civilizations that understood numbers in fact, indicates not only a belief in the “divine” or “revealed” nature of base 10 as the core counting system upon which all numerology and arithmology is subsequently based, but also the “divine” or “eternal” nature of the numbers 1 through 9 and their inherent symmetry and harmony, tying these basic numbers directly with universal harmony and balance upon which the Yijing squarely (pun intended) rests.

We also find a reference, albeit indirect, to the Hetu diagram in specific passage from the Great Commentary (Dazhuan):

 

Heaven has 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9.  Earth has 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10.  Thus heaven has five numbers and earth has five numbers.  The two series are interlocked in order; each number in one series has its partner in the other [When they are distributed among the five places, each finds its complement].  The sum of heaven’s numbers is 25; the sum of earth’s numbers is 30; the sum of the numbers of heaven and earth is 55.  This is what stimulates alternation and transformation and animates spirits [It is this which completes the changes and transformations ad sets demons and gods in movement].  The full Number is 50, of which 49 are used.  Dividing into two lots represents duality.  Setting one aside completes the triad.  Counting by fours represents the four seasons.  Reserving the remainder between the fingers represents the leap month.[4]

 

As per the first part of this passage, in the Hetu diagram we see the odd numbers between 1 and 10 – 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 respectively – being represented by the white, or “yang”, circles/dots, yang being the primary attribute of the trigram named Heaven (Qian) which is made up of three solid lines.  And conversely we see in the Hetu all of the even numbers between 1 and 10 – 2, 4, 6, and 8 respectively – being represented by black, or “yin” circles/dots, yin being the primary element associated with the Earth trigram (Kun) which is represented by three yin, or broken, lines.  Furthermore, we can see in the Hetu diagram that in fact the two series of even and odd numbers are in fact paired, each number having its counterpart on the opposite side of the diagram – 1 opposite 2, 3 opposite 4 and so on.

It is within this framework of basic numbers, specifically the numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4 (from which 10, the most “complete” or “perfect” number is derived arithmetically in the Pythagorean system; 1 + 2 + 3 + 4) upon which the yarrow stalk divination framework is built upon.  We start with a reference to the calculation that is used to determine the total number of yarrow stalks, from the arithmetic summation of all the even and odd numbers between 1 and 10, summing 55 in all, of which 50 are used as the basis for calculation.  The fundamental duality underpinning the universe, represented by the number 2 (the Dyad in Hellenic philosophical parlance), is then manifest in the initial division process of yarrow stalks into two piles or sets.  The number 3 (the Triad) is then signified by the setting aside of one yarrow stalk after the initial division into 2 piles is completed.  We then use the number 4 (the Tetrad) as the means by which the yarrow stalks are counted, by fours.  We also see here a direct reference to (at least one of) the universal meanings of 4, i.e. the 4 seasons.

It’s important to note that the Yijing is in fact NOT a counting system, and despite the best efforts of many numerologists over the centuries, it is clear that the underlying hexagrams, as well as the underlying trigrams upon which the hexagrams are based, do not represent numbers per se.  However, it is factual to say that that the system of broken and solid lines from which the trigrams and hexagrams are constructed, as well as the divination process itself which underlies Yijing consultation, clearly has a strong numerological and arithmological basis – a numerological basis and theory that in all likelihood rests upon, and was formulated out of, the prehistoric numerology that is reflected in the Hetu and Luoshu diagrams.

So while the textual evidence seems to be unclear or hazy at first glance, upon reflection and analysis it’s clear that there existed a strong relationship between the inherent numerology encoded in the Hetu and Luoshu diagrams to the numerology and arithmology that underpinned the Yijing tradition, even if the textual and written evidence for the correlation and ultimate derivation of the bagua arrangements of Earlier and Later Heaven from the Luoshu and Hetu diagrams respectively is not clarified in the written record at least until a much later period in the Song dynasty circa 1000 CE.

 


[1] Reference the online resource Chinese Literature and Philosophy, from ChinaKnowledge.de entitled “The River Chart and the Inscription of the Luo” at http://www.chinaknowledge.de/Literature/Daoists/hetuluoshu.html

[2] The I Ching: Or Book of Changes.  Translated from the Chinese into German by Richard Willhelm and then to the English by Cary F. Baynes with a foreword by Carl Jung.  Princeton University Press.  Third Edition 1967.  The Great Treatise (Dazhuan) Book II Ch. XI verse 8 pg. 320

[3] See http://www.storyofmathematics.com/chinese.html

[4] The Book of Changes (Zhouyi).  Translation and commentary by Richard Rutt.  Routledge Publishing, 1996.  From the Ten Wings section, the Dazhuan or Great Commentary.  Wing 5, Dazhuan I, Chapter IX verse 1-3 pg. 415 and alternate translations in brackets from The I Ching: Or Book of Changes.  Translated from the Chinese into German by Richard Willhelm and then to the English by Cary F. Baynes with a foreword by Carl Jung.  Princeton University Press.  Third Edition 1967.  The Great Treatise (Dazhuan) Book II Ch. IX verses 1-3; pgs.  308-311

Pythagoras and Plato: From the One to Many

Philosophy to the Greeks not only helped them understand the cosmos, creation and destruction of the universe and the essence of the natural world, but also the harmony within which we as individuals should lead our lives, and in turn – as described by subsequent philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle and others – how the pursuit of excellence and harmonious virtue in our own individual lives corresponded to and aligned with a greater social good within which society as a whole could be organized.

In order to find this source of this “closed” view of the West, this almost obsession to break things apart and drill further and further into the constituent components of a thing until once can literally go no further, one needs to reach back to the beginning of development of thought, and language, in the West. To the ancient Greeks who laid down the intellectual foundations – linguistic, metaphysical and otherwise – that we have inherited in the West through language and culture down through the ages.

 

Pythagorean Philosophy as Expressed in the Tetractys

One can look at the beginning of this “bound” and “closed” systemic view of the world as having its roots in Pythagorean philosophy, a philosophy that as we understand it rested on the harmony and eternal co-existence of numbers and their relationship to each other, forming the underlying ground of all existence. It is from the Pythagorean tradition as we understand it, that Plato’s fascination with geometry – as reflected most readily in perhaps his most lasting and influential dialogues the Timaeus – was founded.

Pythagoras (c. 570 – c. 495 BCE) , or Pythagoras of Samos as he is sometimes referred to as, was born at the beginning of the 6th century BCE reportedly on the island of Samos in the Aegean Sea. While we don’t have any of his writings directly he was widely regarded as one of the most influential Ionian philosophers in antiquity and his views and beliefs greatly influenced the later philosophical schools of Plato and Aristotle among others. He is believed to have traveled widely throughout the Mediterranean in his youth, studying with the Egyptians, the Chaldeans and Magi, and even the Hebrews according to later biographers and interpreters of his school.

The Pythagorean school was known primarily for their obsession with, their identification with a complex and yet straightforward geometric symbol known as the tetractys – an equilateral triangle. The tetractys represented the core tenet of Pythagorean thought as understood by outsiders and later philosophical schools which either criticized and/or adopted some of its core principles, Plato being the prime example. The symbol, no matter how it is interpreted, represents the harmony of numerical order and relationships, and of course the underlying symmetry and geometry of the equilateral triangle, as reflected in the universe as a whole, the underlying symmetry and harmony of musical theory, and the underlying (or overarching depending upon your perspective) principle that sheds light on the comprehension of the universal order and in turn mankind’s place within it.

The Tetractys symbol is a perfect triangle of sorts that is classically viewed as a base of 4 equidistant points, on top of which a layer of three, then two and then at the top 1 point rested, altogether creating a perfect equilateral triangle with a base of 4 and a total of 10 total points in the system.

 

While there are a variety of ways to interpret the meaning of this geometric structure and how the Pythagoreans themselves understood it (no works from Pythagoras or his direct followers are extant), most later philosophers imposed a metaphysical transliteration of this geometric structure, applying some Neo-Platonic (actually Middle Platonic which integrated both Pythagorean/Italian philosophical elements with Peripatetic – Aristotelian concepts) principles onto the system, and looked at it as representing the cosmological world order.

At a very basic level of interpretation we have the top point of the triangle as the Monad, or the grand unifying principle from which the entire cosmos emanates, the next layer representing the Dyad or the grand opposing forces of nature within which the natural world comes into being, the third layer represents the great Triad of principles which culminates in later Hellenic philosophical development as the One, the Intellect and the Soul, and then at the base the Tetrad, or foundation of the world as represented by the four basic elements that the ancient Greek believed underpinned the entire physical world – earth, air, water and fire.

This geometric figure, along with the numerical and arithmological attributes associated with it, represented the finest layer of abstraction, the best explanation, of the underlying structure and order of the universe. The cosmos seen as having a beginning from the vast void comes forth, explained in the Judaic mythological tradition as “the spirit moving against the waters”, where the the One begets Two, and the Two beget Three the great Triad, and the Three rests on the foundation of the Tetrad (Four).

We can see this type of worldview all throughout the Mediterranean in antiquity in all the great schools of thought be they primarily philosophical or again theological. The foundational basis of the cosmos and its relationship to number and geometry was no doubt adopted by Plato from the Pythagoreans – “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here” was said was to be inscribed on the Academy at its entrance. While Plato’s philosophical system was broad and far reaching as reflected in his dialogues, it is in the Timaeus where we find his cosmological world view put forth and geometry, and the tetrahedron specifically, came to represent one of the core foundational building blocks of the known universe.

 

Philo’s Exegesis of the Fourth Day of Creation in Genesis

While we again do not have direct sources of the underlying meaning and explanation of this geometric symbol according to the Pythagoreans themselves, we do have later interpretations of the symbol and its underlying meaning from later Hellenic philosophers. One of the best sources of this material is Philo Judaeus (c. 25 BCE – c. 50 CE), or Philo of Alexandria, who lived and wrote in the first century CE in Ptolemaic Egypt. Philo was first and foremost a Jewish scholar, but he was trained in the Hellenic philosophical tradition and read and wrote in ancient Greek, the lingua franca from the Mediterranean in antiquity prior to the prevalence of Latin as advanced by the Roman Empire.

Embedded in Philo’s extensive analysis and “allegorical” interpretations of the five books of Moses from Hebrew Bible, or Pentateuch (πεντάτευχος in Greek or literally “five scrolls”) , specifically in perhaps his most influential work which was a commentary on the beginning of Genesis entitled De Opificio Mundi, or On the Creation of the World, we find a fairly extensive description of the symbolic figure in his explanation of the establishment of the heavenly bodies on the fourth day, the text of which is quoted below :

14 And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:
15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.
16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.
17 And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,
18 And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.
19 And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

This passage, which describes the creation of the Sun, Moon and Stars by God (Yahweh) on the fourth day of creation is interpreted by Philo from an intrinsically Hellenic philosophical perspective, and in particular Pythagorean, as he interprets these heavenly bodies and their importance in the theo-philosophical traditions of antiquity as representing the establishment, and ultimate representation, of time and order underlying the universe.

In his explanation of this part of Genesis, in particular on day Four of creation, Philo lays out the understanding of the importance of the number 4 within the context of the Hellenic philosophical tradition, a tradition marked quite clearly – at least from a numerological and arithmetic standpoint – by Pythagorean philosophy as embedded in the tetractys even though he does not specifically allude to the tetractys.

But the heaven was afterwards duly decked in a perfect number, namely four. This number it would be no error to call the base and source of 10, the complete number; for what 10 is actually, this, as is evident, 4 is potentially; that is to say that, if the numbers from 1 to 4 be added together, they will produce 10, and this is the limit set to the otherwise unlimited succession of numbers; round this as a turning-point they wheel and retrace their steps.

Philo describes the underlying perfection, or completeness, implied by the number Four as viewed within the context of the number Ten which he calls the most “complete” or “perfect” number (the sum of the four layers of the tetractys – 1 + 2 + 3 + 4) within classically Aristotelian terms of potentiality (4) and actuality (10). He also describes the sense of motion, or cyclical nature implied by this number 4, which actuates to the number 10, as a “turning point” and “wheel”, alluding to the base 10 that was used by the Greeks for counting and within which after the number 10 one begins to “count again”, starting with 11, 12 and so on.

He also describes the number Four as embedding within it three dimensional space, making it the perfect day (symbolically speaking of course) within which God should establish the foundations of the Heavens within which the world of man was thought to be governed in antiquity, and speaking to the importance the field of geometry held to the ancients, a tradition that became the hallmark of the West.

There is also another property of the number 4 very marvelous to state and to contemplate with the mind. For this number was the first to show the nature of the solid, the numbers before it referring to things without actual substance. For under the head of 1 what is called in geometry a point falls, under that of 2 a line. For if 1 extend itself, 2 is formed, and if a point extend itself, a line is formed: and a line is length without breadth; if breadth be added, there results a surface, which comes under the category of 3: to bring it to a solid surface needs one thing, depth, and the addition of this to 3 produces 4. The result of all this is that this number is a thing of vast importance. It was this number that has led us out of the realm of incorporeal existence patent only to the intellect, and has introduced us to the conception of a body of three dimensions, which by its nature first comes within the range of our senses.

And lastly, in reference to the four elements, and four seasons upon which the ground and order of human existence ultimately rests, Philo concludes with the following summation:

There are several other powers of which 4 has the command, which we shall have to point out in fuller detail in the special treatise devoted to it. Suffice it to add just this, that 4 was made the starting-point of the creation of heaven and the world; for the four elements, out of which this universe was fashioned, issued, as it were from a fountain, from the numeral 4; and, beside this, so also did the four seasons of the year, which are responsible for the coming into being of animals and plants, the year having a fourfold division into winter and spring and summer and autumn.

 

Porphyry: On the Life of Pythagoras

Another source of Pythagorean philosophy in antiquity is through the works of Porphyry (c. 234 – c. 305) and Iamblichus (c. 245 – c. 325 CE) who were contemporaries in 3rd century CE antiquity and who both wrote biographies of Pythagoras, who by that time had become a pseudo mythical figure. It is from Porphyry that we find the reference that it was Pythagoras who created and “would swear by” the Tetractys, what Porphyry referred to as the “eternal Nature’s fountain spring”.

Within Porphyry’s biography, he describes the fascination of the Pythagoreans with numbers, arithmology, and ultimately geometry thus:

49. As the geometricians cannot express incorporeal forms in words, and have recourse to the descriptions of figures, as that is a triangle, and yet do not mean that the actually seen lines are the triangle, but only what they represent, the knowledge in the mind, so the Pythagoreans used the same objective method in respect to first reasons and forms. As these incorporeal forms and first principles could not be expressed in words, they had recourse to demonstration by numbers. Number one [Monad] denoted to them the reason of Unity, Identity, Equality, the purpose of friendship, sympathy, and conservation of the Universe, which results from persistence in Sameness. For unity in the details harmonizes all the parts of a whole, as by the participation of the First Cause.
50. Number two, or Duad [Dyad], signifies the two-fold reason of diversity and inequality, of everything that is divisible, or mutable, existing at one time in one way, and at another time in another way. After all these methods were not confined to the Pythagoreans, being used by other philosophers to denote unitive powers, which contain all things in the universe, among which are certain reasons of equality, dissimilitude and diversity. These reasons are what they meant by the terms Monad and Duad, or by the words uniform, biform, or diversiform.

Here we see not only an explanation of the underlying geometrical formation of the Tetractys in terms of Platonic Forms, reflecting the underlying sentiment of the period that geometry and numbers are the best and most profound way to describe elemental reality, but also an explanation of the principles of the Monad (the One) and the Dyad (the Two) as the basic archaic elements of the universe from which all numbers, all of reality really, ultimately originates and emanates from.

Porphyry goes on to describe the meaning of the Triad, and in turn the Decad (Ten), which is formed from 1 + 2 + 3 + 4, the four layers of the Tetractys, and underpins the Pythagorean philosophical system which reflected in the Tetractys thus:

51. The same reasons apply to their use of other numbers, which were ranked according to certain powers. Things that had a beginning, middle and end, they denoted by the number Three, saying that anything that has a middle is triform, which was applied to every perfect thing. They said that if anything was perfect it would make use of this principle and be adorned, according to it; and as they had no other name for it, they invented the form Triad; and whenever they tried to bring us to the knowledge of what is perfect they led us to that by the form of this Triad. So also with the other numbers, which were ranked according to the same reasons.
52. All other things were comprehended under a single form and power which they called Decad [10], explaining it by a pun as decad, meaning comprehension. That is why they called Ten a perfect number, the most perfect of all as comprehending all difference of numbers, reasons, species and proportions. For if the nature of the universe be defined according to the reasons and proportions of members, and if that which is produced, increased and perfected, proceed according to the reason of numbers; and since the Decad comprehends every reason of numbers, every proportion, and every species, why should Nature herself not be denoted by the most perfect number, Ten? Such was the use of numbers among the Pythagoreans.

Here we see the direct metaphysical link drawn between Nature and Number, Ten being the reflection of the most perfect of numbers, upon which – to use Philo’s analogy – the (metaphysical) world turns. We also here can see the source of the Trinity, not in terms of the language and words that are used to describe it as defined by the early Church Fathers, but the underlying potency and perfection of the Triad as a symbolic representation of that which is most holy.

 

Conclusion

So with Philo and Porphyry, both of whom undoubtedly had access to knowledge regarding the Pythagorean philosophical school and their obsession with the tetractys that has subsequently been lost (even though later scholars indicate that his teachings were incorporated into those of the Hellenic philosophical tradition that followed), we find a full and complete explanation of the numerology and arithmology embedded in the Pythagorean philosophical system as manifest in the tetractys, a system which ultimately bounds the spatial dimensions of the material universe within it and from it, as well as enclosing it as it were with a beginning and an end as represented by the underlying numerology, arithmology, and geometry of the figure itself which represented to the ancient philosophers the best possible representation of the inherent cosmological world order.

The Fisherman and the Net: Geometric Symbolism in the Gospel of John (II of II)

The full geometric symbol of the Jesus and fish catching parable from left to right with the Net consisting of two tetraktys, 16 (17) squares in all, each of which is 153 in width and in total each, 612 in length for each side (the gematria value for Zeus)

The full geometric symbol of the Jesus and fish catching parable from left to right with the Net consisting of two tetraktys, 16 (17) squares in all, each of which is 153 in width and in total each, 612 in length for each side (the gematria value for Zeus)

 

What we’re left with if we are to believe this geometric formulation of the miraculous tale of Jesus and the fishes with his seven disciples in the Sea of Galilee in the Gospel of John is a geometric figure – if transposed from top to bottom rather than left to right is one which the inner circle represents the boat and includes circles of circumference of 1925 (gematria value of “Simon Peter”) representing each of the seven disciples, with Simon Peter being in the central location of the seven disciples within the circular boat, the boat itself having a diameter of 1224 which is the gematria value of “Fishes” and “The Net”, and a radius of 612  which is the gematria value of “Zeus”.  The net, again cast to the right of the boat by the disciples for the catching of fish and represented by another vesica piscis with a width of 612 and a height of 1060.  Furthermore, each of the rhombus squares within the net have a width of 153, there are 17 rhombuses in total (including the encompassing rhombus), and the numbers 1-17 when added together also equal 153.  The perimeter of the net in its entirety is 2448, or 153 x 4 x 4.

The final geometric construct has a top portion whose dimensions are determined by the gematria value of the gematria value for “The Fisherman’s Coat” (1060 again) as well as the gematria value of “Simon Peter” (1925).  This figure rests above the circle representing the disciples in the boat whose dimensions again are determined by the gematria value of “Simon Peter” (1925).  The final figure, now at the bottom of the figure, representing the net that was cast by the disciples to the side of the boat, contains a vesica piscis shape precisely equivalent to the one that contains Peter’s coat at the (now) top of our figure, the net having a perimeter of 2448 and consisting of 16 rhombus squares, each 153 in width, and whose vesica piscis width is 612, the gematria value for “Zeus”.

 

Geometric Transliteration of the tale of Jesus and the miraculous catch of 153 fish showing the three distinct and yet related perspectives on reality of which the Soul, via the Logos, bridges the two to provide for the ascent of the Soul into the upper realms.

Geometric Transliteration of the tale of Jesus and the miraculous catch of 153 fish showing the three distinct and yet related perspectives on reality of which the Soul, via the Logos, bridges the two to provide for the ascent of the Soul into the upper realms.

Here the inner circle includes the seven disciples with the boat, where each inner circle has a circumference of 1925 (“Simon Peter” gematria value), the diameter of the overall circle representing the boat having a value of 1224 (gematria value of “Fishes” and “The Net”) a radius of 612 (the gematria value of “Zeus”), with the net itself having a width of 612 as well and therefore a height of 1060, again closely related to the gematria values for both “Apollo” and “Pleroma” which is calculated using the square root of 3, of which 153 is an important factor as established quite clearly by Archimedes, and where each of the rhombus squares within the net are 153 in width and where the perimeter of the net in its entirety is 153x4x4 or 2448.

The final geometric construct, in our diagram placed on top of the whole figure, is sized by the gematria value of Peter’s coat (1060 again) and is placed precisely above the circle representing the disciples consistent with the circle representing the net below the disciples boat, with a vesica piscis shape exactly like the one that contains the net below the circle representing the boat, and containing within it a circle of diameter 612 and cut in half by presumably Peter’s coat, resembling the setting Sun, again a significant symbol in the mystery and esoteric traditions that flourished in classical Greek antiquity.

Leaving aside for a moment skepticism that might arise from the construction of this geometric diagram simply from the number 153 combined with the gematria values of some key terms in the language itself from which the shape is constructed, one must keep in mind that the Gospel of John more so than any other Gospel, is the one that contains the most explicit references to the Greek philosophical tradition that preceded it, most notably with its reliance on the Logos as a primordial construct from which the universe first emanates and which is associated with Jesus himself as the Logos incarnate in the world of man.

 

But the symbology of the geometry embedded in the story is not finished yet however, for there is a whole other level of geometric values and relationships that can be drawn out of the diagram if you extend it a bit further.  Drawing on metaphysical theories of a divine triad which reflected the complete cosmic world order and specifically mankind’s place in it, once can view the top most circle – the one representing Peter – as representing the ultimate reality, the One of the Neo-Platonist tradition which had begun to take shape at around the same time that New Testament canon was established – most notably with Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus and Proclus who although were not Christians, still were able to flourish before the pagan traditions were wiped out as the Christian orthodox Church consolidated power.

In this extrapolation of the cosmology embedded in Plato’s Timaeus, and in a tradition that synthesized not only Stoic principles but also Peripatetic (Aristotle) philosophy, the Monad, Dyad and Triad of the Pythagoreans had evolved to reflect the indivisible One from which all of creation emerged, the divine Intellect, or Mind which albeit a reflection of the One was the source of the Dyad, or the multiplicity that was found in the material universe, and then the Soul which was contained attributes of both, both divine and sensual, the goal of life being the ascent of the Soul into the realm of the Good, the abode of intelligibles of Forms, until ultimately a union of the Soul with the Demiurge was possible, consistent with the mystery traditions of Greece, and Egypt, which came before them.

In this sacred geometry than can be gleaned from the parable of Jesus and his disciples and the miraculous catching of the 153 fish, the bottom-most geometric figure which constructed from the gematria values of “Fishes” and “The Net” represents the material world to which our bodies are bound, via the metaphor of the Net, which requires grace, or in this case the messiah Jesus Christ (the Logos in the flesh to the early Christian communities), to release us from this bondage.  The message of the symbology is then that through the belief and faith in Christ and his teachings, as reflected in the middle tier of circles representing the disciples of Jesus who carried forth his message, that this transition from the material world to the spiritual world could in fact be realized.

The connection between Jesus and the Temple at Delphi and Apollo is further crystallized by the fact that if you draw a full circle around the entire diagram, all three circles symbolizing the disciples in the boat, the net and fish, and Simon Peter, the circumference of the circle itself is 7690, 769 being the gematria value of “Pythios”, the holy name for Apollo at the Temple of Delphi.  In this larger geometric symbology, the connection between Jesus the new savior and the Temple at Delphi and Apollo, the historically most significant religious center in the ancient Hellenic world, is born out by the fact that if you draw a full circle around the entire diagram – all three circles symbolizing the disciples in the boat, the net and fish, and Simon Peter – the circumference of said circle is 7690, 769 being the gematria value of “Pythios”, the holy name for Apollo at the Temple of Delphi.

 

Full view of the geometric form of reality encoded in the parable if the miraculous fish story in John which derives the ultimate connection of the three realms with the Temple of Delhi, namely Pythios whose gematria value of 769 is the circumference of the all-encompassing circle.

Full view of the geometric form of reality encoded in the parable if the miraculous fish story in John which derives the ultimate connection of the three realms with the Temple of Delhi, namely Pythios whose gematria value of 769 is the circumference of the all-encompassing circle.

Furthermore, the underlying mathematics that illustrate this divine triad can also be seen by starting with a square with width of one side of a square with equal to 1, representing God the Father of the Christian and the One of the Neo-Platonists.  The diagonal line within this square where each side is again of width 1 is equal to the square root of 2, or 1.415 – the approximate gematria value for “The God Apollo” (1415).  This level of reality is represented by the Nous, or Intellect of the Neo-Platonic triad, the Logos of the Hellenic philosophical which is referred to directly in in John 1, representing the intermediary principle that facilitates and mediates the divine/spiritual and material worlds.  And then the material world, Plato’s World Soul, represented by the Net, or the Holy Spirit in the Christian tradition represented by the height of the vesica piscis that is constructed with a width of the square root of 2, the diagonal of our initial square with each side having a length of 1.  The height of this final vesica piscis is equivalent to the square root of 2 x the square root of three.

The identification of the One which corresponds to the upper portion of the geometric figure which is constructed above with the side of a perfect square, the identification of the bridge between the one and the many (the Logos) as the diagonal within the perfect square whose value is equivalent to the square root of two – 1.415 roughly equivalent to the gematria value of “The God Apollo” which is 1415 – and then the height of a vesica piscis which is constructed from the same dimension of the perfect square whose diagonal is the same width as the vesica piscis from which can be derived the height of the vesica which yields the square root of two times the square root of three, or 2.448, the perimeter of the net in the geometrical symbology above which again is the gematria equivalent to “Fishes” and “The Net” in the story as related in the Gospel of John, a value and shape (of the net) which not surprisingly he equates to Plato’s World Soul.

In its essential mathematical form then, the parable of the story of Jesus and the miraculous catching of fish by his disciples after he is resurrected can be boiled down to the symbolic representation of the three fold view of reality which was prevalent in esoteric and mystical traditions in the Hellenic world at the time of Christ, starting with a square of sides of 1, corresponding to the Neo-Platonic One and underlying unity of all creation (God the Father), the square root of 2 which is the geometric mean between 1 and 2 (the Monad and Dyad respectively) which in the Greek world was symbolized by Apollo (“The God Apollo” gematria value of 1415), the mediator between the heavenly and earthly worlds presiding over the Temple of Delphi, and then lastly Plato’s World Soul, the “Net” of material reality to which we are all bound denoted by the number 2448 (gematria value of “Fishes” and “The Net”) which is almost precisely equivalent to the square root of two times the square root of three (actually 2.448) and represents the height of the vesica piscis which encompasses the net whose width is equal to the diagonal length of the square with sides of 1 (square root of 2).

These Neo-Platonic esoteric elements can be mapped directly to the Christian theological doctrine of the Trinity, where the One of the Neo-Platonists corresponds to the Father of the Christian, the net of the World Soul corresponds to the Holy Spirit which manifests in the material, sensory world, and the Son of God – Jesus – as the mediator between the two worlds, the Logos of the Hellenic tradition who is manifest in the flesh for the salvation of mankind.  Note that this connection to this Greek philosophical tradition and to the Logos doctrine specifically is called out in the opening verse of the Gospel of John itself – “In the beginning was the Word [logos], and the Word [logos] was with God and God was the Word (logos)”[1].  This Logos construct in many respects represents the penultimate theological bridge between the divine and material worlds in the synthesized and most evolved form of the Greek philosophical tradition, at least how it was absorbed and adopted by the early Christian theologians (and Gnostics).  In the Neo-Platonic tradition which continued to evolve somewhat independently of early Christianity, it was referred to as Nous, or the divine Intellect, but the concept was the same – it was the means by which the supernatural could become materially manifest, implying order and reason behind the construction itself and at the same time not being an independent force as it were but one which was metaphysically equivalent with its ontological parent, the One, as well as its ontological child, the (World) Soul[2].

It is not inconceivable then, especially given the first marginalization and then later persecution of the Gnostic sects which attempted to bridge the Hellenistic philosophical doctrine with the interpretation of the meaning of Christ and his message, that the authors of this particular Gospel would try and encode the esoteric and symbolic messages that had been passed down through Pythagoras, Plato and then others within the text itself, burying the meanings in hidden relationships in a story and parable, related to fish of course, that all of the followers of Christianity could glean something from, while at the same time glorifying Jesus as one who was raised from the dead and as a performer of miracles.

 


 

[1] Translation directly from the Greek, i.e. literal translation taken from http://biblehub.com/text/john/1-1.htm.

[2] This triad, in both the Neo-Platonic tradition as well as in the early formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity, were described as being of one substance, or of one underlying essence, where three hypostases in one ousia (substance or essence) came to be accepted as the standard and orthodox position regarding the Trinity in early Christianity.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypostatic_union.

The Fisherman and the Net: Geometric Symbolism in the Gospel of John (I of II)

At this juncture a word must be said about some astronomical events and progressions that were at work around the time of Christ which played some role in the formulation of the interpretation of the life and teachings of Jesus and in particular his association with the Zodiac sign of Pisces, or the “fish sign”.  Specifically here we’re referring to the progression of the equinoxes, within which the timeframe of Jesus’s birth takes on significant importance.

First and foremost it must be recognized that astronomy, theology and philosophy were very intertwined disciplines in antiquity.  This tradition can be seen across all ancient, early civilizations (Sumer-Babylon, Mesoamerican cultures, Indo-Aryan peoples, the Persians, etc.) whose reliance on the stars and an understanding of the passage of seasons was a matter of life and death and cultural and social survival, rather than a simple scientific enterprise.  To know astronomy was to know God to the peoples of antiquity and this was reflected in its incorporation into philosophic, mystic and theological disciplines in antiquity across cultures across the globe.

Despite some basic astronomical ignorance of the ancients – like for example that the Earth revolves around the Sun rather than the other way around – the ancients did show, particular in the West, a very solid understanding of not only the dates of the equinoxes (the two times a year when the length of the day and night are equivalent) but also a good understanding of what is called the precession of the equinoxes, an astronomical phenomenon caused by the very slow movement of the shift of the Earth’s axis, akin to the bobbling of a top, that takes approximately 26,000 years, causing the falling of the dates of the equinoxes to move ever so slightly westward along the ecliptic, the opposite direction that the sun moved across the same path.  The ancients didn’t of course understand why this occurred completely, but they did understand that these equinoxes moved ever so slightly in a regressive path across the ecliptic, through the constellations of the Zodiac, and this progression like all astronomical phenomena had great significance to the sages in antiquity.[1]

So what the ancients knew quite clearly was that, according to their geocentric astronomical viewpoint, the Earth traveled around the Sun every 365 days, that twice a year the day and night were of equal length, i.e. the equinoxes (from the Latin words for equal, “aequus”, and night, “nox”), and that every 26,000 years or so there was a shift of the equinoxes to a (preceding) zodiac sign, a transition from Aries to Pisces occurring at approximately 100 BCE, just around the time of the birth of Christ and shedding some light on the visit of the Magi priests from the East at the time of his birth.

The precession of the equinoxes follows the following progression, timing that was clearly well understood during the second half of the first millennium BCE (and perhaps understood much earlier although the evidence for this is unclear and scant at best) with the astronomical discovery being attributed to Hipparchus the Greek mathematician and astronomer in the 2nd century BCE.[2]

 

  • Age of Taurus (Bull) – 4500 BCE – 2000 BCE
  • Age of Aries (Ram) – 2000 BCE – 100 BCE
  • Age of Pisces (Fish) – 100 BCE – 2700 CE
  • Age of Aquarius (Water-bearer) – 2700 CE ff.

 

Having established the astronomical significance of the transition into Pisces in the Zodiac at around the time of Christ it is no surprise that we find stories relating Jesus to fish in the literature surrounding his life and teaching.  In particular we have two such miraculous stories relating to Jesus and the catching of fish in the Gospels, the first of which can be found in the Gospel of Luke where the miraculous catching of fish is attributed to the joining of Peter, James and John as disciples of Jesus (Luke5:1-11) and the second story comes toward the end of the Gospel of John after Jesus is killed[3].

As already mentioned the gematria values for “Jesus” and “Christos”, 888 and 1480 respectively were not only related to the magic square of the Sun being factors of the special number 74, which along with 111 and 666 are special numeric characteristics of the magic square of the Sun, but also relate back to the tradition of the Temple at Delphi as the geometric mean between 888 and 1480 is equal to 769, which is the gematria value of the Greek word “Pythios”, the name for Apollo at the Temple of Delphi.  Perhaps the most mysterious and perplexing example of geometric symbology via gematria comes from the story of Jesus and the casting of the net and catching of 153 fish in the Gospel of John, the Gospel that shows the most Greek philosophic influence (Logos, etc.).

In the Gospel of John story, Peter and 6 other disciples are in a boat fishing all night in the Sea of Galilee and have caught nothing.  In the morning, Jesus (unrecognized at first) asks them from the shore if they have caught anything to which they replied no.  He then instructs them to cast their net to the right side of the boat after which they catch a large number (haul) of fish and after which they recognize the man to be Jesus.  Peter then puts on an outer garment (ἐπενδύτην), jumps from the boat (“casts himself into the sea”) and swims ashore to meet him, while the rest of the disciples came ashore to find Jesus and a fire of coals with fish and bread waiting for them.  Jesus then instructs them to bring their net full of fish which they find has 153 fish in it and despite the great load, the net itself had not been broken.  The disciples then eat with Jesus on the shore, it having been the third time that Jesus had revealed himself after he had been crucified.[4]

Keeping to the geometric and mathematical symbolism of the selection of the number 153, we also find references to a very similar story regarding the calculation of fish in the mythical narrative surrounding the life of Pythagoras as reported by Iamblichus as well as Porphyry, both Neo-Platonists philosophers writing some few centuries after Christ but presumably drawing on much older sources, and both clearly showing significant influence by Pythagorean teachings.  The story is related by Iamblichus, the earlier of the two authors from the third/fourth century CE, below:

 

AT that time also, when he was journeying from Sybaris to Crotona, he met near the shore with some fishermen, who were then drawing their nets heavily laden with fishes from the deep, and told them he knew the exact number of the fish they had caught.  But the fishermen promising they would perform whatever he should order them to do, if the event corresponded with his prediction, he ordered them, after they had accurately numbered the fish, to return them alive to the sea: and what is yet more wonderful, not one of the fish died while he stood on the shore, though they had been detained from the water a considerable time.  Having therefore paid the fishermen the price of their fish, he departed for Crotona. But they everywhere divulged the fact, and having learnt his name from some children, they told it to all men.[5]

 

In this Pythagorean story/myth, which is most definitely associated with the miraculous powers attributed to Pythagoras and contributed to his fame there is no mention of the number of fish in the net, despite the attempt by later Biblical and esoteric historians to try and connect the two stories directly.  What does seem rather odd however, is the narrative of the story and how similar it is to the account of Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish at the end of John.  Whether or not the story is attributed to Jesus, and the geometric symbolism tied to and built off of the number 153 is constructed off of that myth/fable remains an unverifiable connection to say the least but the general parallels cannot be ignored, especially since the esoteric geometric symbology which can be constructed from the story itself, stemming from the specific number of fish that are called out as caught in the net that is cast from the boat of disciples, show signs of Pythagorean mathematical and symbology as we have come to understand Pythagorean cosmology and esoteria through antiquity as interpolated by later expositors of his doctrines, again such as Iamblichus and Porphyry, the Neo-Platonist philosophers who are contemporaneous with early Christian theological developments and who clearly held Pythagoras in such high esteem, viewed him as the father of Greek philosophy, and presumably had access to oral as well as written traditions about his life and teachings which are lost to us now.

One might legitimately ask why this number 153 has come to be understood as carrying such great mystical and symbolic meaning.  Despite its very special properties as a number in and of itself (sum of the values 1-17 consistent with the sacred Pythagorean tetraktys triangular shape which followed a similar pattern albeit stopping at 4), and one which clearly shows evidence of knowledge of the latest mathematical developments in late Hellenic antiquity (Archimedes for example who presumably drew from earlier sources to establish the closest know fraction to the value of the square root of three which represents the length/height of the vesica piscis), one could easily right off the numeric value as simply a count of the number of the fish that were actually caught.  For it is not too far-fetched a hypothesis to believe that the disciples, being fisherman themselves, were simply counting the number of fish that Jesus had so miraculously brought into their net.

But this does not explain the geometric symbology that can be crafted and developed from the story itself, starting with the number 153, designing a geometrical circular figure that contains seven same size circles which represents the seven disciples in the boat, each with a circumference of the gematria value of “Simon Peter”, the key figure in the story as 1925.  These seven circles, each with a circumference of 1925 consistent with the circle representing Simon Peter of circumference 1925, reside within a larger circle which encompasses all seven circles representing the disciples which in turn symbolizes the boat, has a diameter of 1224, which is equivalent to the gematria value in Greek of both “fishes” and “the net”.

 

Figure 1: The geometry symbolism of Simon Peter and the disciples in the boat, where the circumference of the circle representing the disciples being equal to 1925 and the diameter of the circle of the boat being equivalent to 1224, the gematria value of “Fishes” and “The Net”.

Figure 1: The geometry symbolism of Simon Peter and the disciples in the boat, where the circumference of the circle representing the disciples being equal to 1925 and the diameter of the circle of the boat being equivalent to 1224, the gematria value of “Fishes” and “The Net”.

At this point Jesus tells the disciples to recast their net to the right side of the boat, using the symbology of the net which has significant esoteric meaning in antiquity, having been quoted by Proclus as a metaphor for the manifestation of the material world which is covered by a net, or web of objects of the senses and mankind’s desire of the same, as well as by the Template of Delphi practitioners whose omphalos stone which formed important element to its divination ceremonies and was considered by some in the Delphic circles to be the center of the world in antiquity, was also covered by a net to effect the same symbolism of the world of name and form from which the individual soul must liberate itself from in order to ascend to the higher realms of spiritual illumination.  The same symbology is used by the Vedic/Hindu tradition to describe the world of Maya, or illusion, which is also symbolized by a net which catches spiritual aspirants and from which they must escape to realize the true nature of reality and attain spiritual illumination and freedom from the bonds of the sensory, material world which is governed by desire.

In the miraculous fish story relayed in John, the disciples then cast the net to the right side of the boat, which following the gematria numeric symbology creates a circle just to the right of the circle of the boat which carries the disciples with the special properties of a vesica piscis being formed whose left outermost edge tangentially brushes up against the center of the circle of the boat (whose height of course is also the square root of 3 which is closely related to the 163 number value that connects the whole geometric symbol.  This net that is case to the right of the boat that rests within the vesica piscis also carries with it special geometric properties as it can be filled with an oblong polygon whose corners align with each center side of the vesica piscis and whose top two corners line up with the top and bottom of the vesica piscis, forming an oblong square which, when cut into a four by four square, visually representing a net one might add, has the special mathematical properties of having its height equal to 1060 (the gematria value of Apollo – the height and width times the square root of 3) a perimeter equal to 2448 or 612 x 4, where each small square across each perimeter of the net is equal again to 153 (153×4 = 612).

Once the boat has been constructed with 7 circles of circumference 1925 (gematria value of “Simon Peter”) and the net has been created just to the right, adjoining to the circle of the boat via the vesica piscis with height of approximately 1060, and the net itself has been broken down into 4 by four squares, reflecting the visual representation of the net, whereby each square is 153 in width and the total perimeter of the square with the 16 inner squares having perimeter of 153x4x4 = 612×8 = 2448, double the gematria value of both “fishes” and “the net” in their Greek transliteration.  The net itself in this geometric diagram is incidentally made up of two Pythagorean tetraktys appended to each other, one on top of the other, where the base of the triangle is 4, the next level is 3, the next two and the top 1 which of course is known to have very symbolic and esoteric meaning in the Pythagorean schools.  The number 153 is reflected in this geometric construction as well as the total number of rhombuses (also referred to as an equilateral quadrilateral), including the outer rhombus itself has not only a width of 153, but also contains 17 rhombuses in total, again including the larger all encompassing rhombus within which all of the other rhombuses are housed – as also already pointed out, 153 is the sum of the numbers 1-17, the number of components in the geometric net.

 

Figure 2: Geometric symbol representing the casting of the net to the right of the boat containing the seven disciples.  The height of the vesica piscis being equal to 1060, and the perimeter of the net having a value of 2448, when divided into 16 equivalent squares (which is two inverted Pythagorean tetraktys on top of each other), each square is 153 in width, the number of fishes caught in the net.

Figure 2: Geometric symbol representing the casting of the net to the right of the boat containing the seven disciples. The height of the vesica piscis being equal to 1060, and the perimeter of the net having a value of 2448, when divided into 16 equivalent squares (which is two inverted Pythagorean tetraktys on top of each other), each square is 153 in width, the number of fishes caught in the net.

The net itself in this geometric diagram can be broken down into two Pythagorean tetraktys appended to each other, one on top of the other, where the base of the triangle is 4, the next level is 3, the next two and the top 1 which of course is known to have very symbolic and esoteric meaning in the Pythagorean schools (see Figure below).  The number 153 is reflected in this geometric construction as well as the total number of rhombuses (also referred to as an equilateral quadrilateral), including the outer rhombus itself has not only a width of 153, but also contains 17 rhombuses in total, again including the larger all-encompassing rhombus within which all of the other rhombuses are housed – as also already pointed out, 153 is the sum of the numbers 1-17, the number of components in the geometric net.

The next, and final level of geometric symbology that can be drawn out of the parable is can be constructed using the gematria value for the fisher’s coat which Peter places on himself before he leaps out of the boat to swim to Jesus on the shore.  The gematria value for the transliteration of “The Fisher’s Coat” or “overcoat” in Greek is 1060, laying out the dimension for the height of the vesica piscis, whose width in turn is 612, the gematria value for “Zeus”.  Its height in turn is closely correlated to the square root of 3, which we know is associated with 153 as well as determined by the closest known approximation for the square root of three at the time, or 265/153 as established by Archimedes some three centuries prior if not earlier.  1060 in turn is not only very close approximation for the gematria value for Apollo (1061) but also for the gematria value of “Pleroma” (1059), which conceptually plays a significant role in early Christian and Gnostic circles, is found in the New Testament and Gnostic treatises, and denotes the complete totality of existence.  Inserted in this vesica piscis is also a representation of Simon Peter, again a circle with circumference of 1925 and a diameter of approximately 612, the gematria value of “Zeus” which is the width of the vesica piscis.

 

 

 

[1] The Zodiac is a circle of approximately 30 degree divisions of celestial longitude that are centered on the ecliptic, 12 divisions in all that are associated with the various animals and mythical figures with which we are familiar, starting with Aries and ending with Pisces.  The calendar and Zodiac astronomical system is attributed to the Babylonians, more specifically the Chaldean people, who came to be known to the Greeks as synonymous with astronomy – for example the magi of the East in the New Testament which anticipated the birth of Christ based upon astronomical phenomena.  The origins of the twelve signs of the zodiac which correspond to the twelve months of our Gregorian calendar can be found as far back as the first millennium BCE.

[2] Although the discovery of the precession of the equinoxes is attributed to the Greek astronomer Hipparchus (circa 190-120 BCE), whose work on precession was continued by Ptolemy, some scholars attribute this knowledge at least at a superficial level to the Babylonians and/or the Egyptian civilizations and priests prior to the Greeks.    This precession is sometimes referred to as the Great Month, the precession through the entire Zodiac being referred to in this context as the Great Year.

[3] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miraculous_catch_of_fish for a brief account of both of the miracle accounts.

[4] John 21:1-11.  See http://biblehub.com/text/john/21-1.htm.

[5] Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras Chapter VIII, translated by Thomas Taylor.  London: J.M. Watkins 1818.

What can we do?

We look around and what do we see?
As we live our little boxes in the sky
Or our homes that we build on plotted our land
With food processed and shipped
And the environment raped to serve our needs
Until Earth herself cries out in anguish
As her forests are pillaged
And her seas exploited
And all the wonderful beasts and other wonders of life
Disappear from our planet at an ever alarming pace

But we shuttled down these high rises
We commute on trains and buses and automobiles
To get to our place of business
Which provides us the means to live
The currency to exchange for goods and services
That serve all our wants and desires
And the wants and desires of those who depend on us
To try and make it easier and better for those that depend on us
The next generation
But what d we teach them?

In our elevators and subways
Filled with clones just like ourselves
Glaring into their cell phones
Virtually connecting
With friends and colleagues perhaps
Who have well crafted personages
That show the world the pieces of ourselves
That we want them to see
Hiding behind these virtual walls
All sharing the same fears
And all looking for the same love
Which seems to slip through our fingers
That grains of sand
The tighter we grip, the more quickly it fades

Or perhaps they are simply waiting for that one message
That one like or that one comment
From that one special someone that we used to hold so dear
That will just never arrive
For to them we just filled a need a certain period of time
Satisfied that desire until it became too much
Or they just tired of us and wanted to move on

These are human emotions and challenges
That we all share
And yet we sit in our shells thinking
That our problems are real and unique
And to hell with everyone else
For if capitalism is nothing else
It is every man for himself
For the good of the economy
Which only serves to line the pockets
Of those whose pockets are so deep
They could not reach the bottom with a ladder

But we hope beyond hope
That we seek and what we are after
Will provide that elusive happiness
That is the whole purpose of this silly game now isn’t it?

From the very beginning, it was about survival
We were given brains and smarts
We built tool and weapons
And clothes and shelter
We formed social groups and gatherings
That banded together and foraged together
And protected each other in times of warfare and famine
All bound by the great laws that Darwin ‘discovered’
That allowed of the strongest of the species to propagate
To give the next generation the best possible chance to survive
By natural selection he called it
Nature’s way of giving us a chance
To live on

Qualities such as strength and protection
Prerequisites to dominance and the creation of territorial boundaries
To ensure access too food and other resources
That would allow our tribe to survive and maybe even thrive
And provide a better world for those that came after us

All of these things have been wired into us
Since we evolved from the chimps
So many millions of years ago
Without these traits
These means of survival
We would not be around today to talk about how great we are
And how great a nation we live in
And how our interests need to be protected
At all costs
Even if that means taking the war to the enemy
Overseas at great expense
To the taxpayers and the men and women of service
Who give their lives for this ‘just’ cause
Creating the mounting debt
Which in the end just lines the very same pockets
Of those that ‘protect’ our national interest

Is this no different
Than those that forced the draft upon us in Vietnam
That fought and battled in the shadows of the cold war
To the Muhammad Ali’s, Gandhi’s and Martin Luther King’s of the world
Who made great sacrifices to stand up for what they believe in
To fight for the the injustices in their homeland
To stand up against the interests of power
Who even to this day keep this great social divide in place
To serve their interests
And keep the naysayers at bay
With their powerful lawyers
And the legislative branch at their disposal
As they fill their coffers for their next election

To fight the fight of all fights
Muslim, Christian, Jew
Black, White, Yellow
None of that mattered
These great prophets, Jesus included,
Made these great sacrifices
So that the people that followed int their footsteps
hight live win a more human world
With perhaps just a trace of empathy
For our fellow man

Is this no different then
This system of ours and our great laws and justice system
Than the Great Books that were written
Inspired so they say even in ancient times
The Qur’an and the Torah
The Bible and the Bhagavad Gita
All meant to inscribe and instill
National and religious pride in its members
Laying claim to the one true word,
The One true God
Which surpasses all others
And who has handed down laws, commandments even
Which we must obey
Or face the wrath of the Lord
To protect the status quo

Look closely my dear friend
Look closely at how and why and who crafted these Great books
And what you invariably find is that they are designed to protect
Those that have power from losing it
And give them at the same time to enforce their will
Upon those that defy it

We must say yes
The rule of law and the creation of an International body of ‘peacemakers’
Is certainly a step forward
In the evolution of man and the spreading of some form of justice
To all around the globe
Even though we all know that those that are ‘protected’
And those that are not
Are separated by economic interest and national gain
Just like those the home

One of the truly great things about America no doubt
Is our self proclaimed ‘freedom’
But freedom from what exactly?
Freedom to speak our minds without risk of banishment or imprisonment?
Sure we can say what we want but what are the consequences?
Ask Curt Shilling after being let go from ESPN after a Tweet
About whether or not gender neutral, or perhaps better put gender confused,
Should be allowed to determine which bathroom they go into

Our freedoms constrained by the deep pockets
Of those to whom our attacks are directed
And while this system of law may seem fair in how we present it to the rest of the world
When you line up the lawyers and draft the court documents
It is invariably the ones with the deeper pockets and the greater commitment to their cause
That win the day in the end
Which more often that not, more often than we wish to admit
Is to protect the staus quo, and ensure the rich and powerful remain so
And that the people that serve them
Stay inter rightful places
The caste system of the 21st century
Is created before our very eyes
But we fail to see it, and we call it freedom
As if we fool everyone into believing it to be so

While teams of lawyers get behind various causes of ‘injustice’
Class action lawsuits ensure
Thousands and even millions of dollars are spent
In the name of justice and freedom
But really its to empower the lawyers
And laden their pockets full of money

And game this system of justice that we hold so dear
That has now been so saturated with lawyers and thieves
And the makers of the laws themselves
Follows to the later the advice and instructions of the powerful lobbying forces
Funded by major corporations that want nothing more
Than to keep things just the way they are
To protect their power, to protect their money
And keep their bubble world
Insulated from the harsh reality and conditions of the 99.9%
Who struggle to pay rent and put food on the table
And who try desperately to educate their young
And keep them off the streets
And out of the prisons that they all seem to end up in

Is this no different then
Then the story told in the Bhagavad Gita
And how it espouses Arjuna to fight
On the eve of battle and do his duty, follow his dharma
Obey and accept his station in life
So that those in power can stay in power
And that everlasting life, enlightenment itself can be his
If he just just stands and fights
A ‘just’ war for a ‘just’ cause

And the Judeo-Christian faith, and the Muslims too
The Church perhaps, the worst offender of them all
In the name of peace and love and faith in God
Who had their great crusades
Under the guise of Religion
But with empirical ambition the real reason behind it al
Jesus was put to death on the cross
Muhammad built his kingdom
Moses led his people from Egypt

No doubt these religious movements
Brought these peoples together
Unified them and established great city-states, nations and alliances
Bound by common religious beliefs
The great opiate of the masses

But why? To what end?
For the construction of empires of course
And the mass of wealth for those that ran those empires
The same story told over and over again
Where now even one wonders if the story can be changed
It is so ingrained in our society
So ingrained in our system of government
Here in the West and the East
One undertake guise of democracy, freedom and capitalism
And the other undertake guise of Religious statehood and Divinely inspired law

And we look from the West
With the sharia law we see
Yes it is barbaric in some cases
No doubt the stoning to death
Of women who marry without parental consent
Is bestial by any moral or ethical standards

But a democratic nation, a capitalistic one
The one we live in and find ourselves caught in
How much better is it really?
For what we have gained
In a system so fraught with greed and lust for power
That entire regulatory bodies have had to be created to reign it in
Even greater substantiating the financial burden of its citizens
As we prepare ourselves for the next major bailout
Of the financial firms that are simply just too big to fail
Line the pockets of the great new aristocracy
We have created modern times

Muhammad’s laws are dated no doubt
As most certainly are those of Moses
The Church is coming along
But still has its political motives
As it fills its own coffers in the Vatican
And looks to convert followers

And so we are left with one question, maybe two
What can we do? What is our purpose here?
Whereas the ancients that was a simpler question
Which started with survival
And progressed with the ‘advancement’ of civilization
To the pursuit of individual happiness
Which could be found in the study of ethics
Alongside the design of the perfect society
Ruled by the philosopher king in Plato’s words

Which in today’s parlance is simply Tyranny
With a naive faith in the Tyrant’s ability
To act into best interests of its people
Which runs entirely against millions years of biological evolution
Which has wired us to take care of our own first
At the great expense of others as needed
This is the mark of the human race
The true character of the human being
Homo sapiens, God’s great creation.

This is the true legacy of the Greeks in a way
Not Democracy or Philosophy
It’s the breaking down of knowledge into such small and tiny portions
Such that true knowledge and wisdom
Which Socrates so humbly professed he knew none of
And humanity and its relationship with nature
Has been almost completely lost
And hangs on by the thinnest of threads

In all the divisions and distinctions
And different modes of thought
That all subserve mother Earth and her fruits
To the pursuit of the pleasures of mankind
Backed by the Great Book
Handed down from God to Moses
Genesis all but tells us this
That these beasts and plants
These creatures of the sky and the water
Were given over to us to have dominion over
And use as we wish
And that we have done
Leaving the spirit of these beautiful verses
That have inspired us for two thousand years
In the hamper in the trash
While we continue to milk Mother Earth and all her inhabitants
Until one day they will all be gone
And the err of ways will finally be looking us in the eyes
And we will have no answer
But claim only perhaps that it was the prior generations
That did not set things straight
And perhaps they will be right

And where have we come after all these centuries?
What have we really progressed into?
What have we truly gained?
Take out Chinese – check
Mobile phones and Facebook – check
FaceTime with friends all around the world – check

And a loneliness and detachment that is beyond our imagination
As we walk through this world with our headphones on
Tuning out to the homeless on the street
And all the passers by
Ignoring all the angst and frustration
That is almost brewing over the cauldron of our cities
It can be seen in the hostility and anger
That is shout between and among fellow citizens
Ss they fight to make a red light or find a parking spot
Just to get to work
Where they can chase that mighty dollar

Perhaps Montana, Utah, Colorado, Washington, Canada even
Are all different.
Where you get a hey or a wry smile when you pass by
And humanity, what makes us human, the human condition itself
Is shared in a passing moment filled with a quick glance between total strangers
As a door is held open
As a dropped paper is picked up
As a smoke is lit by a strange
As a dollar is dropped in the cap of someone whose life has left them homeless

What can we do?
But plow on and do our duty
Provide for those that count on us
And make the sacrifices necessary to do
Use whatever means possible
To make good on our compromises
While still holding on to some moral and ethical creed
That brings us to the rest of humanity
And to the rest of the creatures we share this beautiful planet with

And keep our judgments to ourselves
And be not greedy with our well wishing
With our hellos and goodbyes
With our ‘have a nice days’ exchanged to strangers in elevators and on the street

Make the world a better place
Starting and ending with you and how you treat people
And battling those demons inside you that make you just want to run away
Run away with all the hatred that became calcified in your heart

Turn the other cheek he says
That is his greatest dictum
Not that he rose from the dead
But that he taught us the ultimate sacrifice

That for a friend, to back him up and love him still
After he betrayed you and gives you up to the authorities
The very same people you were rising up against
Even if that meant being dragged through the streets
Carrying the very same cross that he was to be nailed to
To suffocate to death in excruciating and unimaginable pain
To hold fast to his beliefs in love and truth
No matter what the cost

We need not be martyrs
We can not all find that strength
But we can be nice and kind
And forgive those that trespassed us
Just as we wish to be forgiven by those that we have trespassed
And pray that tomorrow we may be a better person
Than we were today

And maybe at the very end
As well all slowly march to that imminent doom
When the show is over and the lights go out
We might have made a difference in this world
And can find peace at last

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