Tag Archives: Pythagoreanism

Homage to Pythagoras

Homage to Pythagoras: Rediscovering Sacred Science, edited by Christopher Bamford, with essays by Christopher Bamford, Keith Critchlow, Robert Lawlor, Anne Macauly, Kathleen Raine, and Arthur G Zajonc, a 1994 paperback from Lindisfarne Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Christopher Bamford Homage to Pythagoras from Lindisfarne Press

“These articles, both scholarly and sympathetic to the Pythagorean perspective, are proof of the contemporary interest in Pythagoras’ philosophy as a living reality. Homage to Pythagoras is a major addition to the field of Pythagorean studies and traditional mathematics.

Here is a collection of essential documents by people at the leading edge of the sacred sciences in our time.” [via]

Essays include:
· Christopher Bamford, Introduction: Homage to Pythagoras
· Robert Lawlor, Ancient Temple Architecture
· Keith Critchlow, The Platonic Tradition on the Nature of Proportion
· Keith Critchlow, What is Sacred in Architecture?
· Keith Critchlow, Twelve Criteria for Sacred Architecture
· Robert Lawlor, Pythagorean Number as Form, Color, and Light
· Arthur Zajonc, The Two Lights
· Anne Macauley, Apollo: The Pythagorean Definition of God
· Kathleen Raine, Blake, Yeats and Pythagoras

The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library

The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library: An Anthology of Ancient Writings Which Relate to Pythagoras and Pythagorean Philosophy, compiled and translated by Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie, edited and introduced by David Fideler, a 1987 paperback from Phanes Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie David Fideler The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library from Phanes Press

“Pythagoras (fl. 500 B.C.E.), the first man to call himself a philosopher, was both a brilliant mathematician and spiritual teacher. This anthology is the largest collection of Pythagorean writings ever to appear in the English language. It contains the four ancient biographies of Pythagoras and over twenty-five Pythagorean and Neopythagorean writings from the classical and Hellenistic periods. The Pythagorean ethical and political tractates are especially interesting, for they are based on the premise that the universal principles of Harmony, Proportion, and and Justice govern the physical cosmos, and these writings show how individuals and societies alike attain their peak of excellence when informed by these same principles. Indexed, illustrated, with appendices and an extensive bibliography, this work also contains an introductory essay by David Fideler.” — back cover

Imagining Karma

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Imagining Karma: Ethical Transformation in Amerindian, Buddhist, and Greek Rebirth by Gananath Obeyesekere.

Ganath Obeyesekere Imagining Karma

Obeyesekere works through a project of “comparative structural interpretation” (354), using simplified and idealized models of the processes described by rebirth doctrines within and among various cultures. One of his goals is to demonstrate that reincarnation “eschatologies” are not unique to Indic religions, as is sometimes supposed. The societies that furnish Obeyesekere with ethnological data are Vedanta and Upanishadic Hinduism, Theravada Buddhism, West Africa, Trobriand, Northwest Coast Amerindians, Inuit, Tlingit, Kwakiutl, Classical Hellenism (as Pythagoreanism and Platonism), “Heterodox Islam” (as Druzes and Ismailism), and Bali. He omits the kabbalistic metempsychosis of mystical Judaism, as well as some Australian and Asian cultures of reincarnation, noting that he is especially interested in those who hold beliefs permitting cross-species rebirth of humans. This latter idea he ties to the notion of “species sentience” (his term) and relates structurally to vegetarianism, by means of an endoanthropophagy (cannibalism) taboo.

Obeyesekere distinguishes a “karmic eschatology” from the basic “rebirth eschatology” according to the presence of two features, which he groups under the process of “ethicization” of the reincarnation process. The first feature is a differentiation of post-mortem otherworld experiences based on the ethical status of the deceased. The second is the ethicization of rebirth per se, so that the ethical value of one life has the determinative effect on the identity and quality of the next life. (He notes that this latter feature correlates to a devaluation of animals, when compared to rebirth schemas that lack it.) Tied to this ethicization is the establishment of a salvation that lies outside the cycle of rebirth altogether. Obeyesekere also asserts a parallel process of “axiologization,” by which preexisting local values are conceptualized and universalized. While outlining his model of the “karmic eschatology,” he counters Western descriptions (or “inventions”) of Buddhism as essentially and originally “rational” (151 ff.).

Having constructed the model of Buddhist rebirth ideas, with reference to those of “small-scale societies,” Obeyesekere compares it to other cultures under his consideration. He also discusses instances of deviance from the model within Buddhism (e.g. 132), and variability within the other cultures. None are presented as static or uniform, but the structure(s) described by Obeyesekere serve(s) as a strange attractor around which the instances group themselves, according to “expectability” and its circumstantial thwarting. He emphasizes (e.g. 139) that “popular” features durably contradicting “pure” doctrines are as likely to be survivals from the religion’s first codification as they are to be “contaminations” from a subsequent, alien source.

He explains that his methodological goal is to demonstrate that while cultures as wholes may be “incommensurable,” comparison of important aspects or dimensions of culture can be undertaken productively. Although I found plenty of his more specific arguments questionable (often provocatively so), I think he succeeds on this most general plane of his ambition. [via]


Tartaros: On the Orphic and Pythagorean Underworld, and the Pythagorean Pentagram by Johan August Alm is a monograph available from Three Hands Press. The special leather-bound edition is sold out, but deluxe and standard hardcover editions are still available.

Johan August Alm Tartaros from Three Hands Press

“The magical doctrines of the ancient Orphics and Pythagoreans are poorly understood by modern scholars, in part because they were secretive in their own time. Well-known for speaking in riddles and complex ciphers, its adepts were bound by strict taboo and silence, the breaking of which was punishable by death. The enigma of the cult’s teachings was further shrouded by centuries of suppression, and, in some cases, appropriation or misrepresentation, by the growing forces of Christianity. What remains today are the fragments of its lost books, together with the words of those who, for good or ill, wrote about them. In an original interpretation and synthesis apt for today’s student of ancient mysticism and the occult, August Alm advances a new conception of these ancient mystery-cults and their sublime doctrines of Chaos, Darkness and Light.

A foundational part of these ancient Greek mystery-cults was the concept of Tartaros. As the abyss of primeval darkness and chaos, Tartaros was, in its most ancient conception, the birthplace of the human soul and the cosmos itself. This vast and incomprehensible dominion held at its center a great fire, an Axis Mundi about which the universe was arranged. In later eras, it passed into myth as a vast and voidful underworld; a place of binding for condemned souls and the enemies of gods, sealed fast with barriers of bronze and iron. Christians later appropriated it as a partition of their own concept of eternal punishment, a division of hell which constrained no less than the fallen angels.

An equally enigmatic Pythagorean cipher is the symbol of the Pentagram, or five-fold star, whose form has been revered in western magic for some three millennia, but whose origins and original attributes are shrouded in mystery. Its attribution to the four elements, joined together with aither, was popularized in the middle ages and is its best-known meaning in modern occult sciences. However, its earlier Pythagorean usage was related to health and well-being, and almost certainly adumbrated another retinue of arcana, one which was ancient even at the time of Pythagoras.

Exhuming the scattered fragments of these two elder doctrines of Tartaros and the Pentagram, Alm examines their reverberation as occult—and occluded—concepts through centuries of philosophical thought, in a line connecting the shadowy teachings of such ‘dark traditions’ as the Orphics and the Pythagoreans, later penetrating the adyta of Neoplatonism. Arguing for a new undertanding of the Pentagram, he connects its fivefold mystery to the great powers of Tartaros, and also to such terrifying gods such as Hecate, Nyx, Erebos, Typhon, Cerberus, and the Erinyes. This strand of mystery touches upon such related concepts as the high theogony implicit within the Platonic Solids, the shadowy influence of the Cult of the Idaean Dactyls on Pythagoreanism, the Light which is rooted in Darkness, and the magical pathology of the ‘Unrooted Tree’.” [via]