Charles William Mitchell “Death of Hypatia” (1885)
8 March – Death of Hypatia
On March 8th 415 Hypatia of Alexandria, a very high philosopher and pagan initiate in the Ancient Mysteries of Orpheus, was murdered by an angry crowd, prey to religious fanaticism. It was the Christians who dismembered her body, representing this brutal event the dispersion of ancient mystery knowledge. This fact is connected in an occult way to modern Women’s Day.
This was the brutal effect of Theodosius’ decrees, which prohibited pagan cults, effectively reversing the process of persecution between pagans and Christians. Already in 391 the same fury had destroyed the Temple of the god Serapis, the Serapeum of Alexandria. The magnificent statue of the god Serapis, seated on the throne as Zeus, wearing a crown of seeds on his head, the left hand a scepter to represent grace and the right hand on the infernal guardian Cerberus, to symbolize the custody of the secrets of initiation.
The destruction of Alexandria in Egypt thus sanctioned the end of hermeticism as an exoteric doctrine, which returned only with Marsilio Ficino’s translation of the Corpus Hermeticum, the texts attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, in 1460 in Florence at the Medici Court, thus initiating the Renaissance movement as we know it from its union of art, religion and science in a single corpus proper to Universal Man.
Here then is Hypatia of Alexandria in the words of Rudolf Steiner:
Among the other disciples of the Orphic mysteries there was also that nice personality, who did not hand down to posterity an outward name, but who clearly shows himself a disciple of the Orphic mysteries and about whom I now want to speak. From a young age, and then for many years, this personality was closely united with all the orphic disciples of Greece; he worked in the time before Greek philosophy, and of which there is no mention in the histories of philosophy; for what is said about Thales and Heraclitus is only an echo of the action exercised before then, in their own way, by the disciples of the mysteries. Among them was the one I am speaking about now, a disciple of the Orphic mysteries and then a teacher of Ferecides of Syros, the one I spoke about last year in the series of conferences in Munich: The East in the light of the West*. Investigating in the chronicle of akasha we find the individuality, lived in that disciple of the Orphic mysteries, reincarnated in the fourth post-Christian century. We find it again in his reincarnation, in the midst of the busy circles of Alexandria, having in itself the Orphic mysteries translated into personal experiences, certainly of the highest species. It is wonderful how all this, in reincarnation, is translated into personal experiences. This individuality is reborn at the end of the fourth century, as the daughter of the great mathematician Theon; let us see how in his soul he revives that which, through the observation of the luminous mathematical ratios of the universe, could experience the orphic mysteries. All this was now personal talent, personal faculties; now this very individuality needed a mathematician for a father, in order to inherit certain gifts, so personal must have been such faculties. Thus we look back to times when man was still in communion with the spiritual worlds, as for that Orphic disciple; thus we see a kind of projection of that individuality among those who taught in Alexandria between the fourth and fifth centuries. This individuality had not yet accepted in itself anything that, so to speak, made men neglect the deficiencies of the early Christian beginnings, because the echo that resounded from the Orphic mysteries was still too vast in this soul; too vast for it to be illuminated by that other light, by the light of the new event of Christ. Christianity, as it then appeared for example in Theophilus and Cyril, was in truth such that that Orphic individuality, now personal in character, was able to say and give far greater and wiser things than those who at that time represented Christianity in Alexandria. Both Theophilus and Cyril were invaded by the deepest hatred against everything that was not Christian-church in the strict sense in which both these archbishops had grasped him. For them Christianity had taken on such a personal character that they hired their own troops. People gathered from all sides, destined to form almost a bodyguard for the archbishops. They were pressed for power, in the most personal sense. What animated them was hatred against every tradition of ancient times, which was all the greater than the counterfeit image in which the new light was shown. A deep hatred lived in the Christian authorities of Alexandria, especially against the reborn individuality of the Orphic disciple. It will not surprise us, therefore, that against the reincarnated Orphic individuality the slander of being devoted to black magic was raised. This was enough to arouse against the sublime and unique figure of the reincarnated Orphic disciple all the rabble of the hired soldiers. That woman was still young, but despite her youth, despite the many difficulties that even then opposed a woman who followed a long course of study, she had ascended to that light that could shine brighter than all wisdom, all knowledge of those times. And it was admirable how in the schoolrooms of Hypatia* – such was the name of the orphic reincarnate – the purest, brightest wisdom of Alexandria reached the enthusiastic listeners. She forced at her feet not only the old pagans, but also Christians of deep knowledge and acute penetration like Synesius*. Hypatia of Alexandria exerted a powerful influence; in her the ancient pagan wisdom of Orpheus translated into the personal element resurrected. Universal karma truly acted in a symbolic way. Everything that was the secret of her initiation now really appeared as projected onto the physical plane. We touch with this an event that operates symbolically and that is relevant to many things that take place in historical times; we touch one of those events that seem to be only a martyr’s death, but which is a symbol in which spiritual forces and meanings are expressed. One day in March 415, Hypatia fell prey to the fury of those who surrounded the Archbishop of Alexandria. They wanted at all costs to dispose of her spiritual power. The wildest and most uncultivated hordes were also gathered around Alexandria and set upon her. Under false pretexts they went to fetch the virgin sage, they put her in a carriage, and at a sign given the furious rabble threw itself upon her, tearing her clothes; then they dragged her into a church and literally tore the flesh from her bones. She was stripped bare, torn to pieces, and the shreds of her body were still dragged around the city by the crowd dehumanized by passion. Such was the fate of the great philosopher Hypatia! Here we find mentioned in a symbol something that has deep connections with the foundation of Alexandria by Alexander the Great, although the fact occurs only long after the foundation of the city. It reflects important secrets of the 4th post-atlantic period, full of such great and important events, that with such a powerful symbol, in such a paradoxically grandiose way, places before the world that fact in which the dissolution, the dispersion of the ancient mysterious knowledge must be revealed: the massacre of Hypatia, one of the most famous women in history, lived between the fourth and fifth century of our era”. – Rudolf Steiner, Occult History
The reincarnation of Hypatia
In the Greek period, so they appear to us entirely placed on the physical plane of souls, young and old, who before were clairvoyant. This phenomenon appears to us especially in the great mathematics of Hypatia in which she lived, as science and personal wisdom, all the mathematical and philosophical wisdom of her time. All this was encapsulated in Hypatia’s personality. We will see again how that individuality had to assume precisely a feminine personality, in order to be able to merge in itself in such a soft compagine all that she had already welcomed in the orphic mysteries, in order to express in her personal action all that, as a disciple of the orphic mysteries, she had welcomed you through the inspirers. Therefore, let us see how, in the succession of human incarnations, the influences of the spiritual world intervene and modify them. I can only mention how the individuality which was incarnated in Hypatia, which carried within itself the wisdom of the Orphic mysteries lived it personally, was then called in a later incarnation to take the opposite path, that is to say, to bring all personal wisdom upwards, towards the divine-spiritual. Thus Hypatia reappears about the turning point between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries as an important, vast, universal spirit of modern history, a spirit that greatly influences the synthesis of scientific and even philosophical knowledge. We thus see the historical powers penetrate into the successive incarnations of individuality. If we look at history in this way, we actually observe a kind of descent from spiritual heights to the Greek-Latin period, and then again a descent: an accumulation of material provided only by the physical plane during the Greek period and of course up to our own time, and a revival into the world of the spirit, through an impulse to which the science of the spirit contributes, and to which a personality such as Hypatia, reincarnated in the thirteenth century, was already instinctively inclined. – Rudolf Steiner, GA126, Stuttgart, December 29, 191.
Today we celebrate the sacrifice of Hypatia and the resurrection of the mysterious knowledge of which she was the representative in a new form in Anthroposophy, the “Sophia of Man”.