The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
Pythagoras (c.569 BCE—c.475 BCE)
Witchcraft Hall of Fame
Mathematician, musician, and sage, Pythagoras allegedly coined the word “philosopher” meaning “lover of wisdom.” He is most famous for his mathematical “Pythagorean theorem,” however he was a tremendously influential spiritual teacher and occultist as well.
The son of a wealthy jeweler, Pythagoras was born on the island of Samos and consecrated to Apollo before he was born. At one year old, his mother took him to an Israelite High Priest who blessed the baby.
Mathematics was his first passion, followed by music. He may have learned sacred geometry in Egypt. He devised the theory of the “music of the spheres” and healed through specially prepared musical compositions.
The Pythagoreans believed that everything in existence possesses a voice with which to sing praises of the Creator.
Pythagoras studied magic and spirituality in Egypt, Babylonia, and India and possibly with Druids in Europe. He allegedly studied in Egypt for 22 years. He underwent circumcision in Egypt, common to Egyptian spiritual traditions but not to Greek.
Pythagoras also studied with Thessalian witches from whom he learned a divination technique of holding a polished metal mirror up to the moon, then reading messages within. He also possessed a wheel with which he divined. He was a firm believer in divination via astrology, augury, dreams, and entrails.
Pythagoras calculated that Earth was spherical and a satellite of the sun (although these ideas may have been learned in Egypt). Around 518 BCE Pythagoras moved to the Greek city of Crotona in southern Italy where he founded his school of philosophy. His followers were known as mathematikoi and obeyed a code of secrecy.
Pythagoras allegedly never came out in daylight; he only ventured outside at night. He appeared in a long white garment; he had a long flowing beard and wore a garland around his head. He allegedly encouraged his acolytes to consider him an avatar of Apollo who had assumed human form the better to teach them. He could allegedly call eagles from the sky and converse with animals.
Various miracles were attributed to him:
His thigh was made from pure gold
He was seen in two places simultaneously
He was allegedly the reincarnation of King Midas
A river called out “Hail Pythagoras!” to him as he passed by
He lived to almost 100, marrying one of his students when he was 60. They had seven children. He taught that the human soul can achieve union with the divine, mathematics is related to all aspects of reality, and philosophy is a vehicle of spiritual purification. He also taught the necessity of a pure and simple life including vegetarianism.
His students were divided into two classes:
Neophytes, who received a general education
Initiates, who were admitted to the inner teachings. To become an initiate one had to donate one’s property to the school and live within its community
Students were not permitted to argue with the teacher. They had to endure long periods (years) of silence. Pythagoras taught beginner students from behind a curtain—perhaps the inspiration for the Wizard of Oz.
If students were discovered deficient in any area—including intellectual aptitude (and Pythagoras had high standards)—they were summarily expelled from the community.
Whatever property they had donated was doubled in value and returned to them. Funerary headstones and monuments were erected in their memory in the communal meeting hall. They were as if dead. Should they meet other members later, their past would not be acknowledged and they would be treated as strangers.
The beginning of Pythagoras’ end came when a prominent man called Cylon, perhaps the Prince of Crotona, enrolled in the academy. He was very rich and influential. He spent three years in probation, five years in complete silence, and was then found intellectually wanting and expelled.
Cylon described Pythagoras as an intolerable despot and set about a campaign against him. Assassins were hired to torch the academy and kill Pythagoras. The college was set afire by a mob and 40 students were killed, although Pythagoras and two followers were either not present or just barely escaped. Other Pythagorean communities were also destroyed. Pythagoras took refuge in the Temple of the Muses where he died after a 40-day siege.
Pythagoras spread the idea of political liberty throughout the Greek communities of Italy. He left nothing in writing; whatever is known about him derives from the writings of disciples and others. Most of his mathematical secrets were never committed to paper and died with him.