The Religion That Worshipped Numbers

Pythagoras, the man behind the Pythagorean theorem was more than just a mathematician. He was a spiritual leader with followers who thought he’d been sent from Heaven. For the Pythagoreans, math was a religious experience and some equations were divine secrets, unfit for public eyes.

When your middle school teacher showed you how to find the hypotenuse of a right triangle, you probably didn’t get down on your knees and start worshiping him as a god. But when it first happened in ancient Greece, that was pretty much how people reacted.

There was a whole cult behind the man who figured out how to measure the side of a triangle, and—as you might imagine—they had some pretty strange beliefs.

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10 Pythagoras Led A Cult That Worshiped Numbers

Pythagoras had followers. A whole group of mathematicians signed up to be his pupils, to learn everything he knew, and to help him solve the great riddles of the universe. But this was more than just a group of people who liked math—it was a full-blown religion.

Numbers, Pythagoras believed, were the elements behind the entire universe. He taught his followers that the world was controlled by mathematical harmonies that made up every part of reality. More than that, though, these numbers were sacred—almost like gods.

The Pythagoreans had sacred numbers. Seven was the number of wisdom, 8 was the number of justice, and 10 was the most sacred number of all. Every part of math was holy. When they solved a new mathematical theorem, they would give thanks to the gods by sacrificing an ox.

The Greeks thought it was a little freaky. They didn’t just call it a philosophy or a religion—they saw it as a cult and a dangerous one at that. Pythagoras scared people. They even burned down his house and chased him out of town, fearing his mystic command over the sacredness of numbers.

9 They Prayed To The Number 10

The Pythagoreans had a sacred symbol called the Tetractys. It was a triangle with 10 points across four rows, meant to symbolize the organization of space and the universe. Ten, they believed, was the number of the highest order, which contained the course of all mortal things. And they literally worshiped it.

Pythagoras’s followers had a set prayer they used to worship the number 10. “Bless us, divine number, thou who generated gods and men!” they would say. “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 firstborn, the never-swerving, the never-tiring holy ten, the keyholder of all.”

Everyone had to do it. If you wanted to join the Pythagoreans, you had to swear an oath to the holy triangle. They would swear their loyalty “by that pure, holy, four-lettered name on high,” meaning the Tetractys. Then they would have to swear by Pythagoras himself, who, like a mathematical Prometheus, “to our mortal race did bring the Tetractys.”

8 Pythagoras Was Treated Like A God

Pythagoras’s followers really believed that he was a demigod. They called him “the divine Pythagoras” and told people that he was the son of a god—usually either Hermes or Apollo, depending on whom you asked.

They even had hymns to Pythagoras’s divinity. “Pythais, fairest of the Samian tribe,” one song went, “Bore from th’ embraces of the God of Day. Renown’d Pythagoras, the friend of Jove!”

They even thought that Pythagoras had superpowers. His followers said that he could tame eagles and bears by stroking them. He could control any animal, for that matter, with the sheer power of his voice, and he had the power to write words on the face of the Moon.

One of the biggest legends about him was that he had a golden thigh. When someone doubted his divinity, it was said that Pythagoras would show them his shimmering thigh and win a new convert. In one story, he showed a priest his thigh and, as a reward, was given a magical golden dart that let him fly over mountains, expel diseases, and calm storms.

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