Sunday, September 14, 2008

Pythagoras, Tetraktys, and the Manti Temple

Pythagoras (died 490 BC) is perhaps most famous to us because of what we all dreaded in school: math and the Pythagorean Theorem. For those who can't remember or who willfully forget this (me), the Pythagorean Theorem is described as such:

In any right triangle, the area of the square whose side is the hypotenuse (the side opposite the right angle) is equal to the sum of the areas of the squares whose sides are the two legs (the two sides that meet at a right angle)

This is also represented as a² + b² = c².

Pythagoras was also considered to be the first Greek philosopher and discoverer that musical harmony is based on constants between intonation. One of his lesser known discoveries, at least to lay people, is the Tetraktys. The Tetraktys is a triangle, with a dot representing each row and its value. Thus, the first row is one, the second two, the third three, and the fourth four. If one were to add all of these up, the answer is ten (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10, a perfect number in the decimal system). There are many mathematicl formulas and fascinating connections to the Tetraktys, among which the Kabbalists are obsessed with its relation to the Tetragrammaton (I would love to hear what David Littlefield has to say about this).

I bring this up in an LDS-related blog because a few years ago I went to the Manti Temple and was impressed with its symbolism and unique character. I asked some of the temple workers what the symbols on the door hinges and door knobs were but they did not know and referred me to a book about the Manti Temple that I could buy in a local grocery store. Those living in Manti know there's probably only one store. So I found the book, "The Manti Temple", and bought it. It was written specifically for the 100 year celebration of the temple and includes some great information about the temple and its history. One of the sections in the book includes an observation made by Hugh Nibley about the temple's unique metallic features. In case one is not familiar with his work, Nibley viewed the temple as a compass for the cosmos, a place where we can get our bearings in relation to the universe. By gaining further truth and knowledge there, we can answer the terrible questions of life (great chapter in Temples and Cosmos) and find our way back to God's presence.

According to Nibley, his Great Grandfather, John Patrick Reed, who was a Branch President and leader of his local Masonic order in Belfast, Ireland, designed many of the metal elements in the Manti Temple. Brother Reed, influenced by his Masonic associations, incorporated many of the symbols into the temple as purely cosmetic elements. One of the more well-known elements seen by patrons is the distinctive look on the door knobs. Look closely at the picture below.

If you were unable to see it, look at the top half of the door knob in the middle region. What do you see? Four lines that represent a triangle, the Tetraktys! You may ask why this is so significant when it is simply a masonic element from Greek philosophic schools used in an LDS temple? Consider this statement, attributed to Iamblichus:

The Tetraktys [also known as the decad] is an equilateral triangle formed from the sequence of the first ten numbers aligned in four rows. It is both a mathematical idea and a metaphysical symbol that embraces within itself — in seedlike form — the principles of the natural world, the harmony of the cosmos, the ascent to the divine, and the mysteries of the divine realm. So revered was this ancient symbol that it inspired ancient philosophers to swear by the name of the one who brought this gift to humanity — Pythagoras.”
Why do we go to the temple? Is it simply to do work for the dead? Or do we go to learn "the principles of the natural world, the harmony of the cosmos, the ascent to the divine, and the mysteries of the divine realm"? Does not the temple teach us about the nature of the universe, the creation, or how we can ascend back to God? Is it just coincidence that this symbol, which represents learning the mysteries of the universe, was added as a decoration by one completely unfamiliar with its meaning, and yet still have deep and profound meaning for the temple?

For a similar situation, check out here, here, here, and especially here for Bryce's posts about the symbol of the Seal of Melchizedek at the San Diego temple which occurred under similar circumstances by the architect, and also included Hugh Nibley. Also checkout David Larsen's site on the Heavenly Ascent in apocalyptic literature.


Anonymous said...

calling four lines in a triangular shape a tetraktys is quite a leap. i guess you see what you want to see

Bryce Haymond said...

Great post! I think there are many symbols like these that are just waiting to be discovered.

Thanks for the links!

Hans said...

Thanks Bryce, I look forward to seeing if you have any additional insights like the one about San Diego.


Perhaps what you are trying to say is summed up in Ezekiel 12:2?

"Son of man, thou dwellest in the midst of a rebellious house, which have eyes to see, and see not; they have ears to hear, and hear not: for they are a rebellious house."

I never claimed that I am positive that this is correct, but there is a lot of circumstantial points that sure make it plausible.

Nate said...

I was thinking along the lines of anon at first, but then I thought...that triangle is pretty random. It doesn't really fit with the rest of the picture. It probably does mean something. I would challenge anon to venture a better guess than Hans's.

Anonymous said...

Very nice and useful post

andronikos said...

pythagoras is el....el lin....dont forget that....el lin

Anonymous said...

This image should be rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise. The elements you are referring to are actually Arabic kufic script and spell out "Allah". Nibley does specifically note these elements as being of Arabic origin.