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.

tetractys  Vesica pisces

The Pythagorean Meaning of the Tetractys

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 of wisdom.

  • 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.

Pythagorean and Kabalistic symbol for the cosmic space

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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 Tree of Life.

Tree of Life

In Kabbalah, 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 to the followers of the Kabbalah because it signifies the 72 names of God.

Given these two meanings attached to 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.

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