Towards a Greek Kabbalah: Tetractys as Cosmic Framework
July 16, 2014 5 Comments
Alright, so now we understand the Greek letters as symbols of many things: zodiac signs, planets, elements, numbers, body parts, and any number of gods, images, and other concepts. All this is in addition to their use as instruments of written language as glyphs and of spoken language as sounds and names. While we’ve come a long way, we’re still only setting out our basic tools for further analysis. We know of the Greek letters as units, single entities representing a single set of symbols. To use them, we have to start seeing these letters as relationships, transferring and communicating information and power between other units. It’s like a single word, such as “my” or “the”, being understood, but without meaning until it’s used in a sentence when it indicates relationships and distance between and among other concepts. Within a word, letters act as relationships between the letters before and after it, but is there anything else bigger that we might have the letters act as a relationship between?
This is where we start thinking about things cosmically and from an emanationist perspective, and, to be honest, I have some catching up to do on Hermetic and Neoplatonic philosophical language to describe it accurately. Suffice to say that, like Jewish kabbalah and Hermetic qabbalah, Greek kampala also describes the creation of the cosmos in a series of stages, but not necessarily in a clearly-ordered and sequential manner like the sephiroth do. Rather, it is through providing multiple levels of understanding of the cosmos that we can better understand it. The Greeks loved to divvy up stuff into smaller stuff, the foundation of the problem-solving technique “divide and conquer”, and that continues here. With that, I propose we use the geometric diagram of the tetractys, the holy diagram of Pythagoras: The tetractys is a diagram consisting of four rows of points, each row having an increasing number of points starting at one and ending at four, arranged in an equilateral triangle. This was considered to be the foundational blueprint for all of creation according to that mathematical and mystic hero of Greek thought, and was mathematically significant: it combined the Monad (unity), Dyad (two), Triad (three), and Tetrad (four) into a single unit. These four numbers, representing the One, Power or Differentiation, Harmony, and Cosmos, compose all the things of the universe, as 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10, the unity of a higher order, or the Decad. All of these numbers were holy to the Pythagoreans, but ten most of all; given its fourfold structure, this diagram was called the Tetractys, and sometimes referred to by the Greek letter Delta (Δ). The Pythagoreans saw it as so holy that they prayed to it and glorified it:
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.
And, further, the Pythagoreans swore by the tetractys itself:
By that pure, holy, four lettered name on high,nature’s eternal fountain and supply,the parent of all souls that living be,by him, with faith find oath, I swear to thee.
The tetractys was considered to represent the fourfold nature of creation in eleven different ways, according to Iamblichus in his “Life of Pythagoras”. Essentially, a single Monad (God, the Good, etc.) created a Duality of Two, which then created a Harmony of Three, which then created an Ordering of Four; by the interaction of these different forces, both within their own groups and across other groups, all other things are made. In fact, by interpreting each row (with its difference) in different ways, we obtain something resembling Cornelius Agrippa’s Scale of Four (book II, chapter 7):
- According to the composition of numbers: 1, 2, 3, 4
- According to the multiplication of numbers: a point (0-dimensions), a side (1-dimension), a square (2-dimensions), a cube (3-dimensions)
- According to magnitude: a point (0D), a line (1D), a plane (2D), a solid (3D)
- According to simple bodies: fire, air, water, earth
- According to figures: pyramid, octahedron, icosahedron, cube
- According to things rising into existence through vegetative life: seed, length (shoot), breadth (leaf), depth (trunk)
- According to communities to form nations: individual, household, street, city
- According to judicial power: intellect, science, opinion, sense
- According to parts of the animal: rational, irascible, epithymetic (that which desires good), physical body
- According to the seasons of the year: spring, summer, autumn, winter
- According to the ages of man: infancy, youth, adulthood, senescence
The tetractys even helped to guide the Pythagorean musical system by taking ratios of the rows of dots:
- Rows 4 and 3, 4:3, perfect fourth
- Rows 3 and 2, 3:2, perfect fifth
- Rows 2 and 1, 2:1, octave
- Rows 1 and 1, 1:1, unison
In fact, so influential was the use of the Tetractys in Greek thought that it even influenced philosophical schools hundreds of years afterwards, even Jewish kabbalah and Hermeticism. This can even be seen in one representation of the Tetragrammaton, the four-lettered name of God, represented in a tetractys-like form: Plus, having ten units inside, parallels can be drawn between the tetractys and the Tree of Life, or ten sephiroth. Dion Fortune in her “The Mystical Qabalah” even drew a comparison between the fourfold Tetractys and the first four sephiroth on the Tree of Life, especially with regards to the tetractys as demonstrator of physical space:
The point is assigned to Kether; the line to Chokmah; the two-dimensional plane to Binah; consequently the three-dimensional solid naturally falls to Chesed.
In terms of the four parts of the body, it might be better to restate tetractys #9 above (according to the parts of the human) in Agrippan terms as the Mind, Spirit, Soul, and Body. These four parts of the human are that which links us to the divine (Mind, row 1), that which allows us to reason and intellectually understand the world (Spirit, row 2), that which feels and moves (Soul, row 3), and that which is moved and is felt (Body, row 4). It is by the unification and purification of these four parts of the body do we practice ascension through and beyond ourselves back to the One, but that’s another topic for another day. Suffice it to say that, through the cultivation and increasing of virtues in the four parts of ourselves, we ascend the Tetractys and the multiple parts of the world we find ourselves connected to. If you want, give the excellent Summary of Pythagorean Theology by Apollonius Sophistes a read in the meantime, since that’ll be a huge thing for us later on.
The study and meditation of the Tetractys will become bigger and bigger later on, especially once we view it as a kampalic cosmic map much in the way that the Tree of Life functions for kabbalah and qabbalah. As yet, we’ll leave the individual units of the tetractys unnumbered and unmarked, letting the structure speak for itself. To let it do so, meditate on the structure and form of the tetractys, offering it the same devotion and glory the old Pythagoreans themselves would have done so. Hold the image in your mind, and relate all the parts of the cosmos to its structure: the fourfold nature of things resulting from a threefold harmony resulting from a twofold differentiation resulting from a single Source. To say much about the tetractys at this point would be premature, so I’ll leave it as an introduction on its own as a symbolic representation of what’s to come: first a seed, then a shoot, then a leaf, then a trunk.