I. Declining from the public ways, walk in unfrequented paths. By this it is to be understood that those who desire wisdom must seek it in solitude. The initiatic journey is one of isolation and exploration along paths taken by very few.
II. Govern your tongue before all other things, following the gods. Here Pythagoras warns us that words have a tendency to misrepresent our true Self. If a thought or argument cannot be articulated clearly and properly without sentimental bias or emotional clouding, it is best to remain in silence.
III. The wind blowing, adore the sound. We are reminded to take a moment to appreciate the “voice” of the elements. All things in Nature manifest through harmony, rhythm, and order and through attuning ourselves to Nature’s expressions we are confronted with the very principles of Divine law.
IV. Assist a man in raising a burden; but do not assist him in laying it down. This aphorism instructs the initiate to help those who despite their failings are industrious in attempting to better themselves or their situation, but to never assist those who seek to evade and hide from their problems. In other words, aid the diligent and not the indolent.
V. Speak not about Pythagoric concerns without light. A simple warning to not attempt to interpret the mysteries of God and embark on the initiatic path without first seeking spiritual and intellectual illumination. Furthermore, all of the initiate’s Great Work must operate in spiritual and moral alignment with the Divine.
VI. Having departed from your house, turn not back; for the furies will be your attendants. Pythagoras here warns us that once the initiatic path is taken, it must be completed to fruition. Turning back from the path of spiritual enlightenment and returning to our former ways of bestial vice and ignorance will cause one to suffer exceedingly; as stated by Iamblichus, ” it is far better to know nothing about Divinity than to learn a little and stop without learning all.” There is no place for dabblers on the initiatic path.
VII. Nourish a cock, but sacrifice it not; for it is sacred to the sun and moon. Here the cock is to be understood as a symbol of our body as well as our worldly ambitions. At face value this aphorism warns us against sacrificing living things to the gods. Life is the sacred product of the union of the masculine(Sun) and the feminine (Moon) principles of Divinity and should not be destroyed by man. As such it is also a plea against suicide. It is also an instruction for the initiate to continue to nourish his physical body and worldly ambitions and actions and not to “sacrifice” these along his journey. Giving up or sacrificing the cock is symbolic of foregoing our desire to wake in the morning, our desire to live. Even when we have reached the point to where the Universe has unveiled its mysteries and all that is physical seems trivial we should continually strive to understand the mystery of life.
VIII. Receive not a swallow into your house. This aphorism instructs the initiate to not allow drifting thoughts to flutter into his mind, nor shiftless people enter his life. The symbolism of the swallow can be interpreted as either a good or bad omen, but at all levels relates to rather material and shallow sentiments.
IX. Offer not your right hand easily to anyone. Pythagoras warns us to keep our own counsel and not offer wisdom (our right hand) to those incapable of appreciating it. Be prudent with whom you share the wisdom of the mysteries with, for, let us not forget that there are those who will indeed bite the hand that feeds them.
X. When rising from the bedclothes, roll them together, and obliterate the impression of the body. This aphorism is directed to those who have awoken from the sleep of ignorance. It instructs the awoken individual to eliminate from their recollection all memory of their former spiritual darkness. Iamblichus writes that “a wise man in passing leaves no form behind him which others less intelligent, seeing, shall use as a mold for the casting of idols.”
** The bold italic phrases are attributed to Pythagoras while my commentary following the 10 aphorisms is based on Iamblichus’ interpretation.