The Sacred Tetractys: Why do Freemasons connect the dots?

The Sacred Tetractys: Why do Freemasons connect the dots?

If Pythagoras found himself transported to the modern world, he would have much to learn about technology, science, and human thought. But is there something Pythagoras can still teach us today in his symbol of the tetractys? What do the dots reveal? How is it significant to Freemasonry?

To start with, tetractys refers to a symbol of the Pythagoreans which consists of four rows of dots containing one, two, three, and four dots respectively which form an equilateral triangle. Many have found the tetractys full of sublime meaning.

When did the tetractys first come about? To answer this question may be more difficult. Very little is known about the real Pythagoras, or rather too much is “known” about him, but most of it is surely mistaken. The biographical trail is scattered with contradictions. It combines the sublime, the absurd, the inconceivable, and the just plain weird.

The teachings are elusive because he never wrote anything down. His treatises are only known to us through other Greek researchers. Consequently, it is up to present-day scholars (and there are many) to sift through these works in order to find a common thread that can be genuinely ascribed to Pythagoras. Jean Leblond I - 1605-1666

We do know that Pythagoras was born in Samos in the sixth century B.C.E. Pythagoras was both a mystic and a scientist, although some scholars tend to praise his mathematical prowess while looking away with embarrassment at his perceived “mysticism.” For Pythagoreans, they were one and the same.

The Science of Number was the cornerstone of the Pythagoreans. It describes, if not yet everything, at least something very important about physical reality, namely the sizes and shapes of the objects that inhabit it.

The Pythagoreans influenced the world by the simple expression:

“All is number.” – Pythagoras

What Did Pythagoras mean by this famous motto “All is Number?”

Is it possible to listen to this message today afresh, with Pythagorean ears? What teaching does the tetractys offer a Freemason?

The Tetractys: A Masonic Lecture by William Preston (1772)

FINAL Tetractys PrestonFreemasons in earlier times thought highly of Pythagorean philosophy. Brother Manly Palmer Hall, a 33° Mason dedicated an entire chapter in his work “The Secret Teachings of all Ages” to the both mystical and philosophical qualities of Pythagorean numbers.

Hall wrote:

“The ten dots, or Tetractys of Pythagoras, was a symbol of the greatest importance, for to the discerning mind it revealed the mystery of universal nature.”

Hall states that if one examines the tetractys symbolically a wealth of otherwise hidden wisdom begins to reveal itself.

The Prestonian Lectures (1772) give us further insight into some of the possible masonic thinking on the tetractys in the 1800’s.  It was the subject in one of the series of lectures written by Brother William Preston for instruction and education of the Lodge members.

An excerpt of the Lecture (1772) goes as follows:

“The Pythagorean philosophers and their ancestors considered a Tetractys or No. 4:

  • 1st as containing the decad;
  • 2nd as completing an entire and perfect triangle;
  • 3rd as comprising the 4 great principles of arithmetic and geometry;
  • 4th as representing in its several points the 4 elements of Air, Fire, Water and Earth, and collectively the whole system of the universe;
  • Lastly as separately typifying the 4 external principles of existence, generation, emanation, creation and preservation, thence collectively denoting the Great Architect of the Universe Wherefore to swear by the Tetractys was their most sacred and inviolate oath.”

In other words, it is taught to Freemasons that a four-fold pattern permeates the natural world, examples of which are the point, line, surface and solid and the four elements earth, water, air and fire. Musically they represent the perfect consonants: the unison, the octave, the fifth and the fourth.

The Divine Creator in Freemasonry is sometimes referred to as The Great “Architect” or Grand “Geometrician” always building the universe through the creative tools of the geometer. Tetractys itself can be interpreted as a divine blueprint of creation. Grand Geometrician

Some say that Pythagoras and his successors had two ways of teaching, one for the profane, and one for the initiated. The first was clear and unveiled, the second was symbolic and enigmatic. In order to achieve mastery of this universe, a person has to discover the veiled meaning of numbers hidden in all things.

I have often wondered if we could hypothetically peer into the mind of the Grand Geometrician, and the veil was lifted, what design would we see?

The Grand Design

Perhaps we would see how the Master Builder has ordered all things by measure and number and weight. Throughout the structure of the universe the properties of number are manifested. Geometry is fundamental to the work of the masonic builders. It is engaged with the first configurations of the Plan upon which the form is erected and the idea materialized.

Examining numbers symbolically, they represent more than quantities; they also have qualities. Brother H. P. Blavatsky in the “Secret Doctrine” tells us the numbers are entities. They are mysterious. They are essential to all forms. They are to be found in the realm of essential consciousness. They are clues to our evolution.

Blavatsky emphasizes that the study of numbers is not only a way of understanding nature, but it is also a means of turning the mind away from the physical world which Pythagoras held to be transitory and unreal, leading to the contemplation of the “real.”

Personally, I find that the masonic teachings in all their many symbolic forms a good way to study numbers. The reason I continually come back to Pythagorean philosophy is the tradition of music theory. In music, the Divine patterns of the Grand Geometrician are expressed in musical ratios. Harmony through sound, therefore, can be applied to all phenomena of nature, even going so far as to demonstrate the harmonic relationship of the planets, constellations, elements and everything, really. The reason being that all life vibrates, like the string. Tetractys Portal

Why do Freemasons connect the dots? Like many symbols, the tetractys can lead a craftsman down a rabbit hole of self-discovery. By rabbit hole, I mean a portal into a mysterious and infinite wonderland of formulas filled with beauty, confusion and intrigue – a place to encounter all sorts of adventures with concepts beyond our wildest dreams that keeps us coming back for more.

“The more deeply we study the processes of nature the greater in every direction becomes our admiration for the wonderful work of Him who made it all.”

– C.W. Leadbeader


Note: The full Prestonian Lecture on the Tetractys and Masonic Geometry can be referenced in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, Volume 83.

The Socratic Method: Does It Lead A Mason From Darkness To Light?

The Socratic Method: Does It Lead A Mason From Darkness To Light?

“I can’t teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.” 

So says Socrates, a great thinker of his time in Ancient Greece. He was known for educating his disciples by asking questions and thereby drawing out answers from them, called the Socratic method. The goal was to nudge people to examine their own beliefs, instead of unthinkingly inheriting opinions from others. The approach was a way for his students to find the truth of anything. Thinkers have venerated the method ever since. It really worked for the Greeks.

I have always had a fascination with Greek culture. I particularly enjoy studying Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. I also admit to getting lost in Greek mythology at times, enjoying Greek food, and have always secretly wished that I could dance like a Greek goddess.

Given the above, it seems only reasonable I should find myself honing in on Socrates. Mind you, I am no authority on the great ones of the ancient past, other than being humbled by their wisdom and insight. Socrates is for me the most interesting of the three: a perspective I am sure many might agree and equally as many might disagree.

There are two statements that Socrates made that I found particularly thought-provoking. 

“To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge.”

“Let him that would move the world first move himself.”

The first quote that starts, “To know, is to know that you know nothing” is a paradox right off the bat. Yet, instinctively, somehow, I understand the entire point and it makes sense even while being a total paradox! And the second quote struck me as so linked and interrelated to the first one. One would be hard pressed to assert one carries more11873522964_9cb8eb5a44_b weight than the other or to even think about them separately. 

How can we know what we don’t know? Does the Socratic method offer us a technique to advance towards the light of true knowledge? 

Plato’s Dialogue: It’s About the Questioning

Socrates said: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” In other words, question everything. I recently read the statistic that children through the ages 2-5 ask roughly 40,000 questions. I have wondered why, as we go through into adulthood, the number of questions we ask drops significantly. 

We know through the writings of Plato, the student of Socrates, that he was often quizzed by his teacher about deeper realities. Red Rose in the GardenIn “Plato’s Dialogues,” we can read short works in which Plato recreates various conversations Socrates had with another student. And thus, we get a really good idea of the Socratic method. 

The style of a Platonic dialogue may go something like this:

Q: “What color is the rose in the garden?”
A: “The rose in the garden is red.”
Q:”Is this rose still red to a blind person?”
A: No.
Q: “So you are saying the rose is red only to those who can see.”
A: Yes.
Q: “What color would it be to a blind person? Would it be pink or white or some other color?”
A: (No answer – student is bewildered).
Q: “So the rose is red only to those who can see.”
A: Yes.
Q: “If the rose in the garden is where no one can see it, is it still red?”
A: (No answer – further bewilderment).

And so on. The questioner might end up forcing a realization in the student of how color only exists in a person’s mind as a result of their perception; it isn’t actually a property of the rose. In other words, the rose is not red.

Socrates believed there were two ways to come to knowledge: through discovery and by being taught. To be taught presupposes that someone else has discovered the truth for you. He thought for his disciples to really know a subject, they should form their own beliefs and experience their own blind alleys and realizations.tunnel-2033983_960_720

How does this idea of discovery relate to the path of a Freemason? 

From Darkness to Light

Every Freemason is on a quest to discover his “true self.”  He is taught the importance of the Liberal Arts and Sciences, of which logic is one of them. The study of critical thinking and reasoning allows the Freemason to look beyond mere perception and dogma in the search for truth. In this way, it is possible to forge a path to moral, scientific, and philosophical enlightenment. “To know nothing” is leaning into the next moment, wondering what you are going to find. It is a form of being blindfolded or hoodwinked, waiting for more light. 

It was in Freemasonry that I really learned to embrace the journey from darkness to light, to become a friend of the Socratic method, and learn to be humble in what I don’t know. When I first joined, a poor blind candidate, I was asked probing questions about the First Degree. Questions like, “What does it mean to know thyself?” and “Is truth absolute or relative?” I was asked to explore the relationships among concepts and ideas. For example, I had to compare two types of symbols and to explain how they are similar, how they are different, or evaluate the meanings of each. 

Over the many masonic degrees, my mentors have pointed me in the direction of truth only to glorify the beauty of the group vision and the image of enlightenment. 

The Freemason W.L. Wilmshurst said:

“Truth, whether as expressed in Masonry or otherwise, is at all times an open secret, but is as a pillar of light to those able to receive and profit by it, and to all others but one of darkness and unintelligibility.”

I think he is saying that truth is a mysterious something that is sensed, even though the truthrational mind may try to discredit it. The ability to sense this invitation to truth, even when the path is dark and hidden, is perhaps the most important lesson to consider here. “The future I do not see. One step enough for me.” 

My takeaway from the Socratic method is this: Remember how little you know, question everything, and keep your mind open to other possibilities. If all goes well, truth is our travel companion from darkness to light.  What do you ask for?