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The Pythagorean Brotherhood
Posted In: Ancient Civilizations  4/30/12
By: Yona Williams

In ancient Greek history, Pythagoras was a legend in philosophical circles. Born in 570 BCE, the philosopher was a native of Samos before he moved to Magna Graecia – the network of Greek colonies in Southern Italy. Pythagoras had a reputation for mixing math with mysticism and this gained the attention of young men who came from aristocratic backgrounds. With these men, the Pythagorean Brotherhood was born – a secret society or cult based on the theories and teachings of the philosopher.

Legend has it that Pythagoras gained all of his knowledge when he traveled throughout Egypt and the East. He is said to have heavily borrowed some of the viewpoints from ancient mystery religions. Some of his accomplishments and milestones include making significant mathematical discoveries, such as the Pythagorean Theorem , identifying the ratios associated with music, and established the doctrine connected to the "transmigration of the soul." In other words, he believed in reincarnation. This belief was also met with a strict vegetarian diet. In his teachings, he also taught the sacred geometry was important. This concept would later become a theme for the Freemasons as well.

In order for one to become a part of the Pythagorean Brotherhood, potential candidates had to undergo a strict initiation process. If they passed the hard interview, then they had to swear an oath on a sacred triangle that was called the tetractys. This meant that the men would give up their worldly possessions to the group as a whole. They'd also take a vow of silence that lasted for five years. During this time, they were called akousmatikoi (or listeners). They were permitted to listen to Pythagoras teach only when he was instructing from behind a veil.

In time, the listeners would move up in the ranks of the inner circle and become mathematikoi – which is what members of the inner circle were called. The mathematikoi concentrated on the Pythagorean teachings that dealt with science and philosophy. The akousmatikoi focused on the mystical oral teaching of Pythagoras. These were referred to as symbola.

The Pythagorean Brotherhood grew in power and political influence in its day – existing from around 530 BCE to around 450 BCE. However, when they started to support the losing side of a political battle between local parties, they started to dwindle in influence. Violence erupted between the parties and their headquarters were burned to the ground in the city of Crotona. Many members of the Brotherhood paid with their lives as they were killed. Pythagoras was able to escape death and went into exile, but he died a couple of years later around 495 BCE. However, his philosophy was strong and lived on to survive.


 

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