The Tetractys - Mathematical and Mystical Meaning
The tetractys is one of the symbols in sacred geometry that is made very
interesting by its complex layers of meaning. It is a design that is
very mathematical in structure and yet holds mystical significance among the
Pythagoreans and the followers of the Kabbalah.
Basically, the tetractys is a triangle composed of ten points rising upward.
Perhaps the best example of the way the tetractys looks like is the way bowling
pins are arranged at the end of a bowling lane.
The Pythagorean Meaning of the Tetractys
Pythagorean and Kabalistic symbol for the
The Greek philosopher and mathematician
Pythagoras, from which we got the Pythagorean Theorem in geometry,
once called the tetractys the symbol of the musical, arithmetic and
geometric ratios upon which the universe is built. For Pythagoras
and his followers, each line of the tetractys holds these meanings:
- First row.
The first row is made of a single point. This point is the
divine dimension from which everything is created. Because
of the nature of this point, it is usually associated with the virtue
- Second row.
The second row is a line connecting two points and signifies the
first dimension. For the Pythagoreans, the second row represents
“Neikos” or Strife. Strife is the power of division
and is often associated with the virtues of movement and impulse.
Movement and impulse, in turn, gives birth to courage and strength.
- Third row.
The third row is a line connecting three points. It is a representation
of the second dimension and of “Philotes” or Harmony.
Harmony is the marriage of physical beauty and mental balance.
- Fourth row.
The four points connected in the fourth row indicates the four elements
of the ancient world: earth, air, fire and water.
Pythagoreans used to swear upon the tetractys in their
hopes of attaining purity of mind and harnessing its power.
The Meaning of the Tetractys in the Kabbalah
The Pythagoreans’ interpretation of the tetractys is mathematical
in nature. By contrast, its significance to the followers of the ancient
Hebrew belief system of the Kabbalah is more mystical.
Just like the Pythagoreans, the followers of the Kabbalah also believe that
the tetractys is an illustration of existence, of the way everything is structured
in the universe. However, the followers of the Kabbalah have paralleled
the tetractys with the Tree of Life
, the ten points of the tetractys
represent the ten Sephiroth or the ten faces of God. The followers of
Kabbalah have also linked the tetractys with the Tetragrammaton, which is
the manner by which the name of God is spoken (YHWH).
In this way, each of the ten points of the tetractys is substituted with a
letter of the Tetragrammaton. When the numeric value of each letter
is added together, it will yield the number 72. The number 72 is considered
holy for the Hebrews and the followers of the Kabbalah, because it signifies
the 72 names of God
Given these two meanings attached with the tetractys, it can be said that
wearing a pendant made in the shape of the tetractys signifies the desire
of the wearer to seek divine understanding. It can also be taken to
mean that the wearer wants to attain a close relationship with God.