Tuesday, July 10, 2007

What is the Tetractys?

"Bless us, divine number, thou who generated gods and men! O holy, holy Tetractys, thou that containest the root and source of the eternally flowing creation! For the divine number begins with the profound, pure unity until it comes to the holy four; then it begets the mother of all, the all-comprising, all-bounding, the first-born, the never-swerving, the never-tiring holy ten, the keyholder of all."

The Tetractys was very important to the Pythagoreans and considered sacred. So much so that they addressed some of their prayers to it and took oaths by it. What is the Tetractys and why is it so important?

According to Pythagoras, the numerical intelligence of the Universe was represented by the Tetractys - a triangular arrangements of ten dots, with one on top, two on the second row, three on the third and four on the fourth. Ten was considered the perfect number.

The Tetractys represented the four elements - earth, air, fire, and water. It was also used to represent the ratios that form the basic intervals of the Pythagorean musical scales.

The Tetractys is also closely associated with the Kabbalah. The Kabbalah Tetractys is usually displayed with the Tetragrammatton written right to left instead of the dots. Some say the ten dots of the Tetractys correspond to the ten Sephiroth of the Tree of Life.

What does the Tetractys have to do with Freemasonry? In Morals and Dogma, Pike asserts that the Tetractys should be one of the symbols of the Master Mason degree. According to Bridge to Light by Rex Hutchens, a book that I received after becoming a 32° Scottish Rite Freemason,
"In the Scottish Rite workings of the Symbolic Degrees (1-3) the Pythagorean Tetractys is an important symbol. Since it is not to be found in the York Rite symbols of these degrees, it is not well known among Masons in America, virtually all of whom take the first three degrees in York Rite lodges."
This intrigued me and I wanted to learn more. In UGLE lodges, the Tetractys is represented by the Hebrew letter Yod, the first letter of the ineffable name of God - יהוה, suspended above the Master's throne - the same place as the 'G' in American lodges. It looks like I will have to dive into the Kabbalah and the teachings of Pythagoras to learn more. Albert Pike writes of the Tetractys numerous times. In the 29th chapter of Morals and Dogma he writes:

The peculiar and principal symbol of this Degree is the Tetractys of Pythagoras, suspended in the East, where ordinarily the sacred word or letter glitters, like it, representing the Deity. Its nine external points form the triangle, the chief symbol in Masonry, with many of the meanings of which you are familiar.

To us, its three sides represent the three principal attributes of the Deity, which created, and now, as ever, support, uphold, and guide the Universe in its eternal movement; the three supports of the Masonic Temple, itself an emblem of the Universe: — Wisdom, or the Infinite Divine Intelligence; Strength, or Power, the Infinite Divine Will; and Beauty, or the Infinite Divine Harmony, the Eternal Law, by virtue of which the infinite myriads of suns and worlds flash ever onward in their ceaseless revolutions, without clash or conflict, in the Infinite of space, and change and movement are the law of all created existences.

To us, as Masonic Judges, the triangle figures forth the Pyramids, which, planted firmly as the everlasting hills, and accurately adjusted to the four cardinal points, defiant of all assaults of men and time, teach us to stand firm and unshaken as they, when our feet are planted upon the solid truth.

It includes a multitude of geometrical figures, all having a deep significance to Masons. The triple triangle is peculiarly sacred, having ever been among all nations a symbol of the Deity. Prolonging all the external lines of the Hexagon, which also it includes, we have six smaller triangles, whose bases cut each other in the central point of the Tetractys, itself always the symbol of the generative power of the Universe, the Sun, Brahma, Osiris, Apollo, Bel, and the Deity Himself. Thus, too, we form twelve still smaller triangles, three times three of which compose the Tetractys itself.

I refrain from enumerating all the figures that you may trace within it: but one may not be passed unnoticed. The Hexagon itself faintly images to us a cube, not visible at the first glance, and therefore the fit emblem of that faith in things invisible, most essential to salvation. The first perfect solid, and reminding you of the cubical stone that sweated blood, and of that deposited by Enoch, it teaches justice, accuracy, and consistency.

The infinite divisibility of the triangle teaches the infinity of the Universe, of time, of space, and of the Deity, as do the lines that, diverging from the common centre, ever increase their distance from each other as they are infinitely prolonged. As they may be infinite in number, so are the attributes of Deity infinite; and as they emanate from one-centre and are projected into space, so the whole Universe has emanated from God.

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