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Joseph Azize Reviews: Gurdjieff’s Early Talks in Moscow – Petersburg – Essentuki – Tiflis – Constantinople – Berlin – Paris – London – Fontainebleau – New York and Chicago 1914-1931

Gurdjieff’s Early Talks in Moscow, Petersburg, Essentuki, Tiflis, Constantinople, Berlin, Paris, London, Fontainebleau, New York and Chicago, 1914-1931, Book Studio, 2014 (442 pp.)

Twice the size of Views from the Real World, this may well be the last great publication of hitherto little known Gurdjieff material. It features many photographs providing unique impressions, some of which I have not seen before. But the essence of this book is the ideas. These notes of talks, exchanges, and other sundry pieces have circulated, if that is not too vigorous a word, within very limited circles for 100 years in some cases (e.g. “Reflexes of Truth” cannot be later than 1915 when Ouspensky heard it). As I wrote in the short essay which I was privileged to offer this volume, the editors are to be commended for their indefatigable efforts in hunting down the texts. It was not easy, and the material rewards have been only the expenditure of what must be significant sums of money, together with lost “opportunity costs”. For those who imagine that authors and publishers bathe in cataracts of gold, undeceive yourself, as George Borrow memorably exclaimed, undeceive yourself! No one produces books like this unless they are burning with a quiet ardent flame to share something which is of great value to them, and they have the fortitude to persist through delays, difficulties and disputes. The time the editors have invested in this has been amply rewarded by their very efforts. I did much less than they did, yet I have felt something of this. Perhaps one can even say that the editors have gone some way towards paying the debt of their existence.

Part One

I shall not repeat what I wrote in the short essay: suffice it to say that I explained why, in my view, this publication was necessary for the true development of the impulse brought by Gurdjieff, now that the copyright in these works has expired. However, if you have not obtained a copy, then let me reiterate that it contains the material which was edited, spliced and rearranged before inclusion in Views, and much else besides, not least some of Gurdjieff’s own exercises. It is the exercises I wish to speak about here, because I sense that there is a need to explain these to the larger Gurdjieff “world”, since they are perhaps the least understood aspect of his legacy.

First of all, an observation: the late Jeanne de Salzmann must have felt that the publication of Gurdjieff’s exercises was needful, for she published several of them in Life Is Real Only Then, When “I AM”, and she placed more in the notes which she left behind, and which have found their way into The Reality of Being. It is not her fault that that book was so poorly edited, as I have mentioned in an earlier review. However, I am grateful that it was produced, if not only because it enables us to compare her formulation of the exercises with Gurdjieff’s own words. For example, the exercise at pp.196-197 of Reality is based on the “Compromise Exercise” at pp.409-411 of Gurdjieff’s Early Talks, and the exercise taught in Reality at p.189 is that of transcript 29 (3 August 1944) in Transcripts of Gurdjieff’s Wartime Meetings 1941-1946, the companion volume to Early Talks. There have been sundry other partial disclosures, such as in Sinclair’s Without Benefit of Clergy, a book which promotes himself, de Salzmann and the Foundation, in that order. These have been unsatisfactory: partial description is worse than none, because it must by its nature prompt readers to speculate. Sinclair’s effort necessitated the publication of the Four Ideals exercise.

Yet, I do not think that the authority of anyone’s example, even that of the formidable Jeanne de Salzmann, is by itself sufficient warrant for our own actions, at least not in a case like this.

The reason the Gurdjieff exercises deserve to be better known is simply that they are essential to his method, and if they are not published in authentic formulations they will be lost forever. A friend recently remarked to me that the exercises should ideally be passed on orally. Substitute “presence-ly” for “orally” and I agree. They should, ideally be passed not from mouth to ear, or even from person to person, but from presence to presence, hence I say “presence-ly” transmission is the best. But this is not happening. Even the fact that de Salzmann published some in Life Is Real, a matter which alarmed George Adie, tells me that she must have felt that this was the proper way to transmit them to future generations. As we now know, if she did continue teaching the Gurdjieff preparation and exercises in her own groups, it was in rare cases, and even then, all the indications are that as time went by this occurred less frequently.

Yet, even here, we have not come to the heart of the matter, for why would anyone wish to preserve materials if there is no use in their preservation, or worse, if – as some say – their publication is harmful? After all, perhaps de Salzmann ceased to use them because they were not so effective as the Zen-influenced “sittings” she adapted? Perhaps she did not properly take into account the damage which could be caused by using exercises?

Briefly, I am of the opinion that the Gurdjieff exercises are of a far higher quality than the sittings. Further, I have searched for evidence, but never found any, to suggest that the publication of exercises ever harmed anyone. Even if certain people had ended up worse off for them, this raises questions of causation, responsibility and weighing or assessment.

The first issue is causation. What caused the hurt? Was the use of the exercise really the cause of the deterioration in the person’s state, or was it rather an incident in a process which was already under way? Some people go mad when they make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Does that mean that Jerusalem should be destroyed or that no one should go there? In such a case it is apparent that the person was already unbalanced, and the event was not to blame for that. Unsteady people often seek what is holy and powerful because they feel the need for it. You cannot stop them. They are hell-bent on finding something.

The second matter is responsibility: who is responsible for the person’s condition? As soon as the question is posed that clearly it is answered, for everything subsequent flows from that condition.

The third question is weighing. If there is a possibility that people can damage themselves with exercises, there is nonetheless a certainty that people can benefit from them. How do you weigh the one against the other? The only possible way is through one’s own experience, and this is revealed to us most clearly through conscience. Conscience is a big thing. It is a big thing, too, to say that you are at peace with your conscience. People who say that invariably wish to believe it, and say it, as if stating it publicly proves it must be so. Conscience, in other words, is often used as a fig-leaf. But if we cannot say what conscience is, we can at least know that the void we feel through lack of conscience is not deepened or wounded by one’s action. That, in the end, is how we weigh the possible benefit against the possible detriment.
Part Two

The discussion of the exercises has to move beyond what this person did or that institution has done. In the end, appeals to authority are insufficient. We need objective reasons. The practice of the exercises is, for me, sufficient and objective reason. Almost ten years ago now, several months after I had left the group, I found myself in a position where I was still okay, but could tell that I could not go on the way I had: it was as if a car had had a fairly full tank of petrol, but it was now starting to get low. The car was still chugging along, but it no longer sat on the road the way it does when it is full. I knew the gauge was getting low. Fortunately, I was not so low that I did not have a sense of what was needed. I obtained the tapes of meetings with Mr and Mrs Adie. and went back to transcribing them. Much to my surprise, what I found was that the preparations and exercises which they brought suddenly came to life.

The preparation is the exercise which Gurdjieff taught the Adies to perform at the start of each day. It is not only a meditative exercise, it also includes making a plan for the coming day. This is an essential feature. It was a surprise, because Mr Adie had not asked to transcribe them. He had felt that the living work with them had been sufficient to ensure that they would be passed on. But he had not allowed anyone but Mrs Adie to take the preparation, at least not in the years I was with him. The result was that after his death, and for quite a long time, no one gave the preparation at all. If we had it, and we rarely did, I was by listening to a tape. Then, when Jim Wyckoff introduced the “new work” sittings, that tradition of the Gurdjieff preparation and exercises stopped. But there is, I believe, an objective value in not allowing the knowledge which has been found to be lost again. De Salzmann had ths emblazoned across the screen at the start of one of the movements films. It struck me then, at it still strikes me now. What falls from the wagon is lost. Okay, we threw ourselves over the side, and caught it just before it hit the road.

The second objective reason is based on aim. The important thing is always all the aim, not just that we formulate an aim which touches our feeling, but also an evaluation of the target itself, according to conscience. For me, the Gurdjieff tradition has a very specific place, it can help find the consciousness and balance, and elaborate the energies necessary, to follow my supernatural aim. It is not needed for natural purposes, even if it can be advantageous. In my case, I aspire to become a true Christian. The situation is analogous to our need for medicine, exercise, a nourishing diet, and recreation simply in order to perform to our best, to exceed our limitations. Gurdjieff’s ideas and methods, to me, are like that. Let us say that you want to attend divine worship, but you have a migraine. The doctor gives you a pill and prescribes a change in lifestyle and diet so that the headaches will not reappear, or at least not be so crippling. Gurdjieff’s ideas and methods help one clear away the migraines of the world, so that one can participate in divine worship.

The ultimate aim of Gurdjieff’s technique, in so far as it has one, is identical with that of Christianity, but it needs personal effort, and the discarding of certain baggage mixed in with his legacy, to recover the supernatural aspect. I do reject Gurdjieff’s attitude to certain things. This is not the place to document it all, but look at the transcript of the meeting of 22 July 1943, and you will see what I mean. I am shortly publishing an academic article which gathers what Gurdjieff said on fasting, and which also publishes the opinions of several international medical experts on fasting to the effect that Gurdjieff was just plain wrong, even though one of them says that the views expressed were once thought to be correct. I studied the issue carefully, and I cannot see that the experts are wrong: the evidence is too clear. Perhaps Gurdjieff himself would change his mind if he saw it.

But there is one thing which Gurdjieff said, about his own methods, which I think is correct: “Exercises, exercises, thousands and thousands of times. Only this will bring results.” (Wartime Meetings, p. 100). This is my experience: the exercises are not enough, but they are indispensable. What they need more than anything else to keep them effective and true is not the movements but the ideas. And this book of early talks will, I am sure, allow more people to work in the salt mines as it were, to dig and recover for themselves the exhilarating sense of engaging with one of the great mystics.

If the exercises found here assist people in finding strength, and building up reserves of the fine energy we need on the mystic path, that will be objectively good. And who in their right mind would not want to serve the objective good?

Joseph Azize, 8 April 2014

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Using Moving Centre: with George Adie

This edited transcript from Tuesday 30 March 1982 is of a meeting where people brought questions about the study of the work of moving centre. The week before, Mr Adie had suggested that, to gain understanding for their inner aim, they study the work of moving centre.


The idea was to make a plan in advance to be present and observe a discrete moving centre activity. We cannot completely follow moving centre, it is much faster than the head, but we can make an effort, and that will bring the results we seek. He added that it would be best to take simple actions which (1) involved a sequence, (2) where there was no danger anyone or anything else would be damaged, and (3) which customarily arose in the course of their days. As feasible examples, he gave boiling the water for tea or coffee, getting the mail from the letter box, and the first time in the day when you walk through the front door. When they had time and the opportunity, they should (4) study repetitive actions, as these provide special possibilities for self-study. Examples of this were raking the grass and clipping the hedge. I think that the reasons for these suggestions will become apparent.


The first question was from Daniel, who tried to observe his sensation, but he did not know why he was doing it, and that had left him without any profit, not even a question.


It comes back to my purpose,” said Adie. “If I don’t know what my aim is, I don’t know what my question is. Why would there be a question which means something to me without any aim? Perhaps a point of interest arises, perhaps not. But if I am trying to achieve something for a purpose, and it isn’t achieved, then I am surely interested to know why. It has to become simple and clear; as clear as if I cut myself a piece of bread, regard it on the plate, and I ask whether I eat it or not.”

But would any of that matter if you weren’t hungry? It isn’t working to put a brick on the shelf and then take it down again. That isn’t work: it’s no use to anybody. It could be but you’d have to invent some circumstance.”


However, if you were observing at moments which arise most days, then you would need to know whether the purpose was fulfilled. You would have to have questions. You can’t necessarily answer them, but you can examine them, and there is profit in that. In trying to work in that way, extraordinary realisations will come. I can’t always recount them straight afterwards. Yet, it’s a law that there are. Whether you notice them or not depends on your presence.”


You have to guard against a sort of tension in your head that makes you follow with your head. It’s as if I think that I can take something in with my head and understand. But it is not like that. I have to understand in the present second. Then, if I have received, I can understand more later on. However, it depends on having been there to receive.”


Alfred said that during the week he had some feeling, but it was accidental.


Yes, but all feelings are accidental, in a sense. You are not able to produce feelings at will. What you have is a certain possibility of dividing your attention, of making place for an aim, and having some kind of awareness and intention about it. The feelings will then be corresponding; but you can’t know what they’re going to be.”

Feeling can’t be under compulsion. You can have the idea to be kind, to help a person, while lacking the actual impulse to do so. Feeling is the result of your presence; feeling depends upon presence. Seeing and understanding depend upon presence, they are all interdependent, but the force is feeling in myself force. I can have an idea, but if there is no feeling, there is no force to fulfil. But I want action, I want some process, and that has to have feeling.”


But what kind of feeling? I don’t know, just like that. My idea of being kind and considerate, that is one thing, that is my thought. But my feeling, what is that?”


When feeling comes it isn’t really accidental. It is lawful, in process – but it isn’t under your control. It’s lawful and it’s available. Nobody can determine the result of the law of accident. Feeling is always available, but I have to be open to it. It depends on my state, that’s what prevents me from receiving what is available. I have mentioned before about looking through a frosty window at a railway yard. Not very romantic, but it was magical. It hinged on my state. When my state is low I don’t see the life, the light, nothing. I’m lost in my troubles all the time.”


The condition of the preparation is totally different, and so the experience is different. You cannot remain in that condition and mix in life. As you cannot take the condition into life, so you cannot take the experience. It only comes in flashes. If you remained sitting for another half an hour, it would not maintain itself. But do I have some sort of awareness of the result, the influence upon me?”


If I leave my room to go to the letter box, there are ages of the higher centres even in that short period. There are tens of thousands of flashes available to me. I go without any words. I wish not to disrupt that feeling, that balance. In that state, maybe worthwhile thought will commence moving, of itself. Then I have to go out, but that has taken place, that thought.”


Patrick then asked about an observation he had made during the movements class that evening.


First, Mr Adie asked Mrs Adie if she would like to comment, but she did not, so he spoke: “It was freedom from thought in a moment of balance. You were under different conditions, your attention was divided, and you forgot about the events of the day. I am not used to the kind of thought Gurdjieff’s movements need, and there is my possibility. Those moments of freedom can help me find how I must be placed inside myself so that the thinking brain can take its proper place: acting when needed, not interfering when not. This shows that the moving and instinctive centre together can perform the movements, provided they are allowed to. All our movements are habits: a great variety of habits. Everything is in habitual movement, not only externally but also internally.”


You can’t do anything without movement. There may be a hundred different movements in getting up from the chair, getting a book, and sitting down again. We never think about our movements in ordinary life: what different kind of movements do we make when getting breakfast. So, which of these are we going to observe? If I say that I won’t hurry in any of my movements, I will fail. But what can I settle for? What can I accept so as not to hurry? If I am making breakfast perhaps I have one piece of toast not two, or I don’t cook breakfast. If you don’t try and think … if you could observe two or three movements that would be a substantial thing. If you’re doing repetitive work it gives you a chance – you can decide to take something small like getting the tools from your bag with your left hand, never the right.”


Someone said that they’d painted the front door of the house with the left hand. When her husband came home he had to repaint it because it was a mess, plus she’d got paint all over the place. Not so intelligent: to have put their tongue in their left cheek while painting would have been be more sensible. It’s not very comfortable to do that, but you can decide to do it for three minutes. We have spent five minutes speaking about it now, but are we prepared to even sit and think for five minutes of practical ways to apply the ideas? We haven’t yet. It’s like thinking that it would be very nice to have a drink, but then never going and getting the bottle.”


Take five minutes. Think of something specific and intelligent. Don’t hurt yourself, but a little bit of discomfort won’t be any harm.”


Andrea said that she had tried to follow the movement of her hand while writing, but kept losing the impetus.


You say you tried observing the movement of the hand while writing? What sort of movement was it? What do your movements express? Somebody competent? Self-confident? Nervous? Hesitation? Someone who couldn’t care less? If I wish to study, then I can observe. But if I don’t have that desire, then I can’t even follow. Why should I? What is the point?”


And then I can go further: does the result correspond to the kind of writing that I need to do the job? I don’t aim to have the writing a copperplate writing. But it would be good if my writing was legible. Is my movement producing reasonable writing, without being unduly slow? Does it correspond to the task that I have? How do I move when I’m in a hurry? Hurry is inimical to my observation – I can’t observe properly if I am in a hurry. If I can see the nature of the movement, it will tell me something about the state inside. And then one begins to see the kind of dreams.”


You find that the work goes better when you observe yourself? Yes. The problem you face is that your work doesn’t mean enough for you. A schoolboy given an algebraic sum, or something in a language he can’t understand, won’t even try if he can’t understand what it’s about. If it looks difficult, it’s much easier to look out of the window. Without some purpose, the idea of trying does not recommend itself to most people. But we apply ourselves to this because we want to find out.”


And what is the alternative? If I do not wish to control my movements, what chance do I have? It is all connected. I move in accordance with dreams, I move in accordance with my total state. If I am in a good state, unhurried, I move in a totally different way. If I am late, or fearful, the movements are entirely different. I never think of trying to use that to obtain control. We want the quality of life which is possible when I have control.”


© Joseph Azize, 11 . 2 . 2014

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John Robert Colombo reviews: “Georgi Ivanovitch Gurdjieff: The Man – The Teaching – His Mission”

William Patrick Patterson’s latest opus is reviewed by John Robert Colombo.


In the past I have reviewed in some detail four or more of the books written by William Patrick Patterson. The reviews have appeared on this web-blog devoted to Gurdjieff studies which is maintained by the Cambridge scholar Sophia Wellbeloved. As well, I recently reviewed the author’s last book “Adi Da Samraj – Realized and/or Deluded?” for “Parabola,” the New York quarterly publication which celebrates all the world’s spiritual traditions in words and illustration.


Mr. Patterson (hereinafter WPP) needs little or no introduction to the readers of this web-blog. He is an extremely busy man, a long-time student of the late Lord Pentland (to whom the book is co-dedicated; guess the identity of the other co-dedicatee), and one of the principals behind Arete Communications, Publishers, Fairfax, California. Since the 1990s, WPP has been the mainstay of the Gurdjieff Legacy Foundation (which arranges study groups, seminars, workshops, talks, etc.) and the Gurdjieff Studies Program (which offers correspondence courses and private instruction).

Since 1992, he has edited the triannual publication called “The Gurdjieff Journal.” (I have been a subscriber from the first issue. I find its issues informative, though lately I sense the articles have begun to reflect the editor’s general cultural and social interests rather than specific Fourth Way matters.)

WPP was born in 1937 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and has extensive experience as a writer and editor. Elsewhere he has described in detail his closeness to Lord Pentland who in 1953 was one of the founders of the Gurdjieff Foundation in New York City. WPP operates his enterprises in the busy field of the human potential movement, but he does so in that sector of it (the Fourth Way) that has been accustomed to privacy.

WPP appears to be a “one-man Gurdjieff movement” who runs a “one-stop Gurdjieff program.” His dedication, energy, knowledge, determination, and popular scholarship are not to be downplayed. Yet feelings run high in some circles that serious work in this sector takes place only in private. I have no problems appreciating his own contribution and legacy.

So much for WPP. Arete publishes serious and specialized books, so these titles seldom receive the media or even the word-of-mouth exposure that they deserve, a fate that is shared with the productions of many another dedicated publishing imprint. So my policy in reviewing such books has been two-fold: to go overboard in describing the physical appearances of Arete’s books; to go to great length to outline their contents. My assumption is that readers will never see copies of any of these books, unless they are specially ordered from specialty bookshops or mail-order services like By the Way Books or direct from the publisher’s website. (For the record I purchased my copy from the website.)

Now to “Georgi Ivanovitch Gurdjieff: The Man, The Teaching, His Mission.” I have no idea how many copies of this book have been printed, but since it is a good and useful publication, I hope the press-run is extended at least ten times! Yet the publisher has to take into account the appetite of the market. It is a very interesting book, rather like a bowl of plum-pudding: Turn the page to learn something new, or to be reminded of something old in a new way. It is a book for people who are _interested_ in the Fourth Way, not principally participants in the Work.

The book is a big volume: over 650 pages in all, probably around 350,000 words in length. It measures 6 by 9 inches and is 2 inches thick. The pages are well designed; the type is well-leaded and easy to read. It is a sturdy, bound volume with card covers and maroon-coloured end-sheets and (a classy touch!) a thin white ribbon to serve as a bookmark. There are more than ten dozen black-and-white photographs and illustrations, some new arrivals, others old standbys. The book is of good workmanship and the text is substantial and well as organized.

The copy on the dust-jacket (undoubtedly written by WPP) identifies this title as the author’s ninth book. It points out, in addition, that he has produced the award-winning video trilogy (“The Life and Significance of GIG”) and two recent videos (which I have yet to view) called “Introduction to The Fourth Way: From Selves to Individual Self to The Self” and “Spiritual Pilgrimage: Visiting Gurdjieff’s Father’s Grave.”

The only way to convey the tome’s contents is to describe its table of contents. The Acknowledgements and Foreword are routine. The bulk of the text consists of nine sections arranged chronologically. An unusual feature is one that is found in the books of Colin Wilson: each section, part, or chapter is summarized through quasi-headlines: “Candidate for the madhouse. Exoteric, mesoteric, esoteric. Saleswoman of Sunwise Turn. Dangerous distortion. Orage ostracized.” They make amusing and sometimes startling reading. This sample comes from Part VI: The Herald.

Without further comment on my part, here are the titles of the nine sections: Part I, Search for the Miraculous. Part II, Higher Dimensions. Part III, Magicians at War. Part IV, Tzvarnoharno. Part V, All and Everything. Part VI, The Herald. Part VII, The Way of the Sly Man. Part VIII, Uspenskii in America. Part IX, Strike a Big Do. The attentive reader will catch from these titles the drift of the presentation of WPP’s presentation of the by-now canonical account of how this “self-supporting” part of the Eastern Wisdom Tradition was brought to the West.

The Afterword itself is nine pages in length and offers the reader a pertinent account of WPP’s current thinking about the Fourth Way and the great role he sees it playing in the contemporary world faced with “the scientific entrancements of Technology.” (I will return to the author’s odd argument and the conclusions he draws from it at the end of this review.)

The rest of the Afterword consists of fascinating documents that the author (as editor or compiler) has turned up in his researches in university libraries’ manuscript collections. There is the longest version that I have seen of the scenario of the ballet “The Struggle of the Magicians.” This is followed by two manuscripts dated 1926 in which P.D. Ouspensky ponders the historic cleavage: “Why I Left Gurdjieff” and “The Struggle of the Magicians: Where I Diverge from Gurdjieff” (Had I world enough and time, I would delve into these matters.)

What follow are WPP’s own essays: “Gurdjieff in Egypt: The Origin of Esoteric Knowledge” and “Gurdjieff and Christianity” and “Gurdjieff, Uspenskii, Orage and Bennett” and “Personals and the Inner Animal” and “The Science of Idiotism” and “Images of God or Machines?” (These essays are reprinted from “The Gurdjieff Journal” so they will be new to that publication’s non-subscribers. They are thoughtful and based on original research, or at least on vast reading.)

There follow short essays and reminiscences by various hands on various subjects: Jessie Dwight Orage, Solita Solano, Carman Barnes, Frank Lloyd Wright, Count Bobrinskoy. These texts seem to be hitherto unpublished and of anecdotal interest, so it is nice to have them in print. The occasional pieces are followed by WPP’s Notes, thirty-four of them, ranging in length from one paragraph (Chief Feature) to three pages (Seekers of Truth). Some of the pieces are rehashes, but others (to name a few: Intelligentsia, Mercourov, Mouravieff) offer new information or formulations in a readable way.

Following the Notes is the Chronology which goes from Gurdjieff’s year of birth 1872 (by WPP’s determination) to the man’s death (at the age of only seventy-seven) in 1949. The entries here cover current events as well as developments connected with the Work (which WPP has paralleled in previous books). What struck me about the section is just how some assumptions based on slight evidence have passed into statements of fact (two instances: Gurdjieff’s “working in the employ of the thirteenth Dalai Lama” in 1902; Aleister Crowley’s visit to the Priory in 1926).

A section that is likely to be overlooked is the one called References. It is the book’s backbone for it consists of twenty-five pages of sources (almost exclusively based on 111 English-language texts). A lot of time and effort was expended on this section, largely invisible to the casual reader – to the extent that a book of this seriousness attracts the attention of “the casual reader.”

I had long wondered if anyone would ever comb through the vast literature of the Fourth Way and then quiz senior participants in order to generate a list of its leading students, thereby exhibiting the zeal shown by genealogists of the Church of Latter Day Saints who copy birth records for their retroactive rite of baptism as Mormons! WPP has done the hard work. The section titled “Gurdjieff’s Students” consists of the names of 144 men and women, with vital years, schematically arranged, beginning with Russians, then yielding to English followers, French students, and finally American activists. Some Australians are named, but no Canadians (excepting Gurdjieff’s one-time physician, Dr. Bernard Courtenay-Mayers).

The Afterword concludes with the six pages devoted to the Selected Bibliography, and with an Index that is analytic, one dozen pages in length. In a sense, I suppose, this Afterword exhausts WPP’s larder of hard-to-digest information and opinion. The Afterword is almost a book in itself, one that could be titled “Fourth Way Notes and Queries.”

Having described the beginning and the ending of this book, I find I have passed over its middle section – the nine parts mentioned earlier in this review – which runs from page 1 to page 418! Yet I have already written over 1,400 words, and I wonder how long this review should be. I will leave it to the reader’s imagination – and perhaps to part two of this review – to fill in the big blank.

In a sense the heart and core of the book is found in the nine pages of the Afterword per se. This section seems to be a summary at the present time of the author’s thoughts on Gurdjieff’ “mission” (though “Gurdjieff’s ‘work’” might be a better term to use). WPP views Gurdjieff as a teacher and hence as someone who “acts.” What is this about? “His aim was to keep students between a ‘yes’ and a ‘no,’ keep them in question, and thus not knowing, for knowing is closure.” His message is that man is born without a soul and must acquire one and then develop it along given lines. He is truly the “Teacher of Dancing” because he is “one who embodies, understands and teaches the principles and laws of consciously receiving and transmitting energy in order to coat a soul.”

More than a century ago Gurdjieff recognized an imperative (memorably formulated in slightly different words by Denis Saurat): “Unless the ‘wisdom’ of the East and the ‘energy’ of the West could be harnessed and used harmoniously, the world would be destroyed.” WPP adds, “A major shock had to be given to avert the world’s destruction – the revelation of a heretofore esoteric teaching known only by its initiates …. ” There are religions founded by Hasnamusses as well as those founded by “genuine Messengers from Above.” The sign of the true religion is “wholeness” which is to be found in “the whole sensation of myself.” There is need for a new conception of God. “Then it follows that there must be a new conception of religion.” A tall order, indeed!

We live in trying times. WPP writes, referring to rolls of camera film, with its negative images and positive prints, “We either develop the positive or die in the negative.” He continues, “This eternal truth is inborn in every World-Time, be it Hunter-Gatherer, Agrarian, Industrial, Post-Industrial, and now the Technological.” He quotes from his second-last book “Spiritual Survival in a Radically Changing World-Time” about the dangerous nature of Technology. (In his books the word Technology is capitalized.) “Technology is not us. And yet it is us. This is what makes it so difficult to understand.”

We have to relate to Technology. “The hazard of not relating to it rightly is not only to forfeit our very identity and spiritual possibility, but to open the Gates of Hell to a certain planetary destruction that will erase the human experiment.” Yet introduced into the apocalyptic vein are pints of fresh new blood. “The seminal and sacred teaching Gurdjieff brought is in essence scientific in that it is centered in continual questioning, verification, exploration, and faith of Consciousness, not belief or dogma.” He continues, “It is _the religion for our time_ so directly attuned is it to the World-Time.”

I find the phrase “World-Time” to be off-putting, and I am uncertain about its origin. It looks and sounds like a formulation from the German historian Oswald Spengler. (Perhaps Weltzeit?) Is it used by other writers than WPP?

“Only the Fourth Way can stand against the scientific entrancements of Technology, as it itself is founded in a scientific technology, albeit a sacred one, of self and soul development by inner practices based on the knowledge of chemical processes and laws. The only foundation that can adequately carry this is the awakening to and acceptance of the truth that the teaching Gurdjieff brought is an esoteric school united with its true and original Christian origin.”

I find the tone of the Afterword to be disturbing, evangelical in its strain and tenor, and while one may applaud the author’s moral fervour, it seems the argument is more rhetorical than reasonable. There are few connectives. Will all the doom and gloom be lifted by a quorum of followers of the Fourth Way? Technology presents problems but not ones that science cannot resolve. Problems should be dealt with on their own level. In this context, I find myself recalling the final, sobering sentence of Sigmund Freud’s The Future of an Illusion (1927, 1968) translated by James Strachey. The founder of psychoanalysis and the critic of the world’s cultures wrote as follows: “No, our science is no illusion. But an illusion it would be to suppose that what science cannot give us we can get elsewhere.”

According to this tome’s jacket-copy, as I mentioned earlier, this publication is WPP’s ninth book. It is also the author’s longest and most ambitious book, one that at times brings to mind James Webb’s tremendous work The Harmonious Circle. The jacket-copy goes on to say that the present volume will be WPP’s “last.” His last on Gurdjieff? On the Fourth Way? On saving the world from itself? I hope that this is not so. Say it is not true, WPP.

John Robert Colombo is a Toronto author and anthologist with a special interest in Canadiana and esotericism and wisdom traditions. He is the author, editor, compiler, or translator of over 220 books, all listed on his website < www.colombo.ca > . A book of his poems “The World of Differences” will appear in February of this year. He has compiled “The Northrop Frye Quote Book” (3,600 quotable quotes arranged by 1,100 subject headings), a decade-long undertaking, which will be published in March.

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This is from the transcript of the meeting of Saturday 18 March 1989. This was a “weekend work” day. As usual, Mr Adie opened with some ideas, to provide a practical guideline for the inner work, and then there was exchanges, first at lunch and then at supper.

Breakfast Address

All we know is our fantastic unique world: we don’t know the common life. It’s a very lonely position, and one that should be terrifying to people. But it’s never one fact by itself, one fact touches another. If I find any these reality, it gives me strength. I start to see the beauty in everything, even in people’s nature, even in people who do terrible things. They’re not devoid of a sense of duty.”

Perhaps I need a few icons to get me out of this. But then, what kind of icons?”

I often think of the saying in Revelation: “Behold I come quickly, and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” There is an icon. It means “I am” is instantaneous according to my work and corresponding to my effort, my work.”

We can know moments of difference if we work, because here there are favourable conditions for acquiring a certain knowledge of our inner arrangements: of thought first, then of the body and then of feeling. The world is still marvelously beautiful. We’re extraordinarily lucky to have enough freedom to come here for a full day, free of the forces which oblige other people to go lower and lower.”

Certain impressions connect to something in you, and you find a higher level of being which will disappear, for we don’t know how to sustain it. The question is, how can I build in myself this finer material? How can I acquire more of it and maintains it until it crystallises into a centre of gravity? It’s a very practical work.”

Impressions are coming not only from all different directions, but also of every different density. If we could be more open to impressions, there would be a chance then of selecting the higher impressions. We cannot afford to sink down into anything. This is what is spoken of: “Free man, move on.” A free man is not a proud one, or self-obsessed. And the laws are there: ever in life and in death. So I can die and descend or die and ascend.”

Our work is very practical, the most practical thing, because it leads to the total transformation of the whole of life. I even cut the bread better, don’t misplace my glasses every time I read the paper. It comes back to the individual: each one has to be concerned with themselves and only with themselves. If one can be concerned with oneself, then one can begin to have external consideration.”

If we accept the word “work”, that makes an enormous difference. It means that we accept to construct something within ourselves, and to have sufficiently deep impressions that can nourish me a bit, perhaps until I come again. I can be changed. My ordinary I is my misconception. I was very worried in the early days, how can I be changed into something I am not? It seemed impossible. I hadn’t had the idea of two lives simultaneously. If I only see for a moment I am changing. All the time there is the possibility of change. Fish in an aquarium, changing colour all the time. Can I find the posture that produces harmonious colour, harmonious sound? This is the only body we have, so what about it? It could function better. Try and make the work immediate by the conscious receipt of more and finer impressions.”

After Lunch

The first questioner spoke of obtaining glimpse of how he lives under compulsion. Mr Adie replied: “ You don’t recognise the forces which compel you as forces. You find yourself impelled, but we think of them as reasons, considerations, everything but forces. I need to be present to my processes. I am not present to my thought, and so it operates to compel me. In the ordinary way there is no query about the process or nature of my thought. I can question individual ideas or notions, yes, but the quality of my thought?”

Mick then spoke about seeing a rather dramatic opposition in himself. “What is important to you out of that?” asked Adie. “It’s that you’re still identified with what you say. You’re not free of it: “Poor suffering Mick, undergoing this unjust torture. Not exactly fair, is it?” Life is different from what you think. If you could see, really see that you are being pushed around and compelled by forces, then you could get some perspective on what you do, or what is done through you, and you could say: “No, I don’t think that was a very good idea.”

So this afternoon, two lives at the same time. I pull the weed up, and I see what’s happening. Try and sense in yourself: is there any being impulse? Is there any immediate decision, anything you could say I to? Could you say: “I am related to this?”

Sometimes we feel heavily assailed by something difficult. If I can manage that, that is like a big lunch. I have to make a connection, but the greater the connection the greater the transformation of material. When things have gone wrong, when something has broken, make a particular intention. It’s a challenge. Even in the fact of tragic news, I can suffer, but I don’t have to be negative about it.”

When I suffer very much, it can mean that it’s something very near me. It means that essence is being touched. The very suffering can free me from my personality, or I can plunge right into and become more hopelessly lost than ever. I am tested. I must on no account be negative, though. It’s a process which I accept. I am there, the process begins, and I find I am weak. But I want to be there, with intention.”

Paul mentioned a desire to be quiet. “ To be quiet does not mean that everything unpleasant will disappear,” said Adie. “If I am present, I can be quiet in front of this trouble: I remain, I accept the annoyance, the frustration or the irritation. My quiet depends upon accepting this. We don’t seek quiet by avoiding, that is not our work.”

What you have been spoken of is subjective, subjective and real. And you have discovered that it is all contained within: it’s localised. Everything you need is there, inside. It’s not external or out yonder. So what about my posture? The mechanical goings-on diminish when I have taken a conscious posture. If I make this effort frequently enough, something will change. This sense of frustration is all of my energy pouring out. You have an occupation which makes demands on you, coming from all angles, so you have just what you need to serve you there.”

I want to be able to recognise my insecurity more quickly. I think I’m alright, but I’m really very insecure. It would help if you could remember exactly how you were: how your shoulders were, and so on, with what sort of pressure you were moving your hands, at which point your effort started to become less precise, so that this could indicate to you, warn you, on other occasions, that you’re about to put your foot into it.”

After Supper

Mr Adie added in his answer to a question I had asked, this interesting observation. It only had a point because it was not referring to me personally. “Sometimes this work is very difficult for people who are not very negative. There are people who seem not to cause much annoyance for other people. They are quiet, and they don’t take much offence, so they’re always happy. Where are their prods? I have to find material. See what it means, this non-stop possibility that is offered. It’s a very high demand but it is possible. That is why I cannot afford to disappear in front of unpleasantness. I must learn to be able to be there but not to be negative.”

In response to Gerry, who had been more present than usual, Adie said: “This morning you saw yourself taking it methodically. You didn’t plunge into the thing. You were not quite so hurried as usual. It was more steady. The unwinding allows you to operate with more control. I need to know, as much as I can, what happens. There will be little signs, if I can read them, in my body, my feeling, and they tell me that a change of state has begun. It can remind me, give me fore-knowledge. If I wish to work, the associations come with lights, and can give me an impulse to change. I see that I saw it, I thought of it as an unwinding. It means to say that I haven’t got to start the job at a breakneck speed. It means, steady boys, sort of thing. Yes. And so there is room for me, as well as the job.”

I see that in the ordinary way, when I can go, indeed I go. I am left behind. So the irritation I feel when this is starting up is to be valued, in a way, because it warns me, and if I heed the warning, I can take measures so as to avoid identification. It makes that moment of warning more critical. I shall remember it more. It’s like a turning.”

Finally, Shaun spoke about finding a state in which he could overcome fatigue. He felt that work had come alive for him. Adie replied: “It is futile to try and recapture that state, but not futile to try to reach that level again. How?”

The fatigue appears when I am not particularly enamoured of what I am to do. So if I realise that one of the warnings is fatigue, it warns me: “What is my attitude towards the job? Is it a job I wish to avoid? Maybe then I have to do it.” I tell myself that I am tired, but really it is not that, really, something in me does not want to do it. I must be careful of how I speak. As I speak, so I think. I say I am tired, but I’m not, I’m just not interested.”

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From Joseph Azize: GEORGE ADIE ON “A LINE OF WORK” 10 March 1987

This is from a group meeting of Tuesday 10 March 1987. Held at Newport, both Mr and Mrs Adie were present. I shall present only a few of the questions and answers here. I hope that briefer transcripts may be easier to digest. With material like this, the information imparted is important. But so too is the impression of the operation of Adie’s reason, not just his intellect, when speaking ex tempore. In my opinion, if one can be open to the impression of how his reason worked, it lifts the level of our own. Such a transcript may even provide an imaginative inkling of what his presence could be like.


Part One: From The Meeting

At the start of the meeting, Mr Adie noticed that a young woman was looking tense. He asked: “Can’t you deal with that tension? She replied that she had been trying.


Then stop trying,” he advised. “Relax something else. If there’s tension in one part, then relax another. We have to be very practical about this relaxation, and what it means. It isn’t a question of easing one part, such as my shoulder, so much as it is finding a way into all of my sensation, and into all that my sensation is connected with. My organism has a thousand gates into my wholeness. I don’t realise that, I relax one part, and then I put a full stop there, when it could be a fresh start.”

I cannot relax any-thing without relaxing every-thing. It affects everything, my mood, my closedness, my negativity, everything. But once you have started to make the effort, even if it seems futile, continue to bring consciousness to sensation – the effort will not be wasted.”


Sally asked: “What is a line of work?”


You have to understand this for yourself: a line is a result of a point having moved. So a point is this instant. What is my immediate aim now? Surely to be present. But what is the line of my work? I have to have formulated a longer term aim and a related plan: perhaps it is to study the posture of the tongue and what that is related to within myself. It includes but isn’t limited to just this immediate second. It has to connect through these moments. I am a student, I have some study to do. That line will provide me with certain material. I set a term of a week, let us say, and the term provides a certain intensity or focus. These then are conscious, or relatively conscious conditions for work. That will give me a line of work, because the end of the term will come and I am finished, and then I cannot have that line of work quite the same.”


Mr Gurdjieff used to give an example of people coming to his apartment. Their aim was to get from where they were to his apartment. To get to it they needed a plan: they had to set out down this street and then down that street, and they had to follow the lamp posts. Each was a point in their destination. Each had to be followed in order to get to the end of the street. The points together made a line.”

The near aim is an immediate thing, while the line of work is something which endures for a week or a month or a fortnight, and to which all my immediate work relates.”


So, if my key idea is to have sensation of my tongue, all my other efforts mustn’t stop, but they can relate to that for a week, if you like.”


No line of work will bring me anything unless I remember that it is an inner work, and it is related to the circumstances of my life, to take advantage of them.”


A line is a continuity, a view forward, you see: one thing leading to another. It’s very important to understand the sequential nature of any work. There is an immediate aspect: the immediate possibility of action. And in addition there’s the continuity of the work. I may be alive in a week’s time, and if I am, I hope there will be some connection uniting my efforts. It begins to give me the idea what a line of work is. Does that begin to make it a little clearer?”


Work, if it is to be a work and not play, must have a sequential nature.”

Peggy then said that she had gone to a shopping centre she had never visited before, and could not help looking at people.


What is important at this point is to know that you are bound to: you are bound to. If you do not, you will bump into somebody. It is especially so in unfamiliar circumstances. Then, you will notice more, but wherever you are, you are always observing other people, otherwise you’d be colliding all the time. That is lawful reaction, that is the sensible, life-preserving instinctive centre. With the eye you see, you measure the distance, but your other senses are also more active, including your sense of your own organism.”


So you’re bound to be struck by new impressions, but the thing is to be present to it. You didn’t quite understand what you were in. But you bring the question and so you have advanced a step. Although you hadn’t been to that particular shopping centre, it’s always different, it’s never the same. But the unfamiliarity makes it impossible to miss that, whereas in ordinary life we’re forever in a hypnotic sleep, imagining that it’s the same as before. This is one reason our work is so interesting, it is never the same.”


Life is different from what we have been accustomed and compelled to think. There’s a tremendous obstinacy and a tremendous momentum, like a big flywheel, attaching to what we’ve thought before, and we’ve pinned our egotism to it. Were not going to give up our thoughts so easily. Although it’s mechanical it’s all we’ve ever known. Life compels us in this direction. That is why this work is said to be a way against nature.”


The thing is to understand what the Work is, the way of work, why the word “work” is used, why really, nobody in Sydney who has not tried this or something similar knows what work is at all. We seek to be less impelled, more impartial, to understand something, so that gradually these wheels which dominate us will lose their momentum, at least so far as they relate to me and my organism.”



Remember how Mr Gurdjieff would say: “Life from new begin?” This is one meaning of it, that the mistakes and blunders, the slumbers and dreams of the past have told their tale. We’ve learnt from them, and that’s it. Real work is where you can choose and decide and apply yourself to your aim – that is our work.”

We don’t understand work because we cannot taste its action: if we could taste the nature of our action it would give us an enormous amount. There are six fundamental actions, six basic triads, only six. There’s 1-2-3, 1-3-2, 2-3-1, 2-1-3, 3-1-2 and 3-2-1. We take those as names, but descriptive names which, if we could understand them, would raise us to a higher level.”



If we could only sense the nature of those actions, we would be at that higher level. Out of those six triads, one represents actions such as building a house where a plan is needed, and then the materials gathered. Every brick must be laid carefully, and mortar spread, within the correct time, otherwise, the labour is lost. Directly you stop your effort, the house stops. That’s one kind of effort. The other kind is burning a house. You light a match and place it to the fuel, and you do nothing else, without any further effort. That’s a totally different kind of triad.”


Now, what is the taste of these different actions? Some of my actions are like burning a house, and some of my actions are patient and plodding. That opens a vast field of work. Am I really doing any work, or am I just slinging things around? Am I trying to build a house with the same effort I use when I burn it? That won’t do. If I had these thoughts, and related them to the observation, I’d be so much more interested: when I like something, what triad is operating? When I dislike something else, what triad then? You see the expansion of mind involved? That’s the life of the Work. How rich! Did it strike you as rich?”




I would say there’s been quite a lot of material tonight. Try and make a note of one or two of the points, especially if they’re new, and try and build a line of work.”


Joseph Azize


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JOSEPH AZIZE REVIEWS: Martin Benson Speaks

Martin Benson Speaks, ed. Carl Lehmann-Haupt, Codhill Press, 2011 (248 pages)


In previous posts, I have stated my conclusion that the Gurdjieff Work has reached an interval in its historical development. Increasing difficulties are met with in the Work, whether considered at the level of individuals, groups or as a movement. These difficulties are lawful, for now – right now – all are working in the interval. The momentum that once was is now weak, and the new energy which is needed has not yet appeared. Worldwide, the Gurdjieff current and all those in that line, are in the interval of its development.

The great value of Gurdjieff’s ideas and methods is still apparent. But the line of force which came from Gurdjieff himself and his direct pupils has been dispersed, never to be directly recovered. At the interval, indeed, precisely at the interval, new forces are needed, and wisdom is necessary if it is not to be diverted in a new direction, and run the risk of disappearing, or even worse, continuing and becoming its opposite.

Memoirs and collections of talks, such as those in this interesting volume, provide some of the requisite force. Will they provide sufficient? By themselves, of course not. The ideas have to be applied in a balanced manner. Yet, I think that I can be confident that this book will help.

This is the sort of book which puts the content back into the over-used word “interesting”. Too often, that word is used to avoid making unflattering comments, or to hide an inability to articulate certain qualities felt rather than distinctly seen. But this book arouses one’s interest. It provokes further thought, and leads one to pursue further avenues of study.

It is not what I would judge to be one of the first-rate recent Gurdjieff books, such as those by Solange Claustres and Jeanne de Salzmann, or the recently published volume of Orage’s commentaries on Beelzebub. Neither, however, is it at the other extreme with some others there is no need to name. But some of it is very powerful, and even when I am disposed to disagree with Benson, or to be doubtful, his opinion is nonetheless worth examining. Beyond even that, there are passages where he articulates a line of thought I had been tentatively developing. It was delightful to come upon such confirmation.

The great weakness of the book is that it is an apparently randomly assembled collage. Benson does not really emerge: we obtain glimpses of him. We hear his voice but don’t really see him. Hence, perhaps, the title – for it really is just Martin Benson speaking with the bare minimum, if that, by way of introduction.


The Groups

I will start with what is, for me, the most important example, Benson’s observance of two differing tendencies in the Gurdjieff Foundation groups: the Ouspensky-influenced organisation, and the “sittings” introduced into in the 1960s by Jeanne de Salzmann working in tandem with Bill Segal. Lehmann-Haupt writes:

Martin Benson was a different kind of teacher and his approach to the Work differed from the more psychological one practised by some of Gurdjieff’s other pupils. … He didn’t believe in psychological exercises. He didn’t think you could come to a state of attention by closing your eyes in a quiet place at an appointed time. “You all talk about attention,” he said, “but you haven’t got the power to come to a real attention, just by yourself.” He believed that one had to be put on the spot and shocked before one would be able to attend productively. (12)”

Benson himself is quoted as declaring:

I could almost answer that nobody, sitting in a quiet time, can come to attention. You have to be in a receptive part of attention, and it takes a big shock so that you’re ready to receive it; that will put you into real attention. Now, you may not believe this, but this is what I have come to. The Old Man was capable of giving us the shock.” (78)”

You know why I don’t go to sittings? On account of that. … the reason people go to sittings is the thing I don’t want to go to sittings for. … Instead of arriving at a state of absolute awareness of yourself – what we call consciousness – you may arrive at what we call illumination. This is what the Japanese go in for in Zen. The danger of a process is that one could go so far and never return. … I don’t delve into the Zen thing because I figured out years they {sic} they’re out after illusions not consciousness. (159-160)”

So I suggested last year, “This is not the Gurdjieff Work anymore. We should change the name from the Gurdjieff Foundation to the British Ouspensky People in America Foundation.” Well, Mme de Salzmann almost died when I said that. (171)”

This confirms, or at least lends support for, the view that the “New Work” which Jeanne de Salzmann introduced in the 1960s under the influence of Asian practitioners to whom she had been introduced by Bill Segal, was truly, as it so clearly appears to be, a departure from Gurdjieff’s line. The only question is whether, together with this new practise, she also continued to teach Gurdjieff’s preparation and exercises. There are different views about that. Incidentally, if I understand Benson correctly, he felt that he could help Segal, who was – it seems – too much off with the spirit, and not enough in and caring for the body (p.157). Benson’s way and advice was to “Keep your feet on the earth” (163).

Benson was critical of the Ouspensky groups ( see pages 39, 118 and 192). I am interested in those remarks chiefly because they relate to the question the form of the Work, and how too rigid a form can stifle the content. But an unyielding and even doctrinaire approach to the Work was by no means the exclusive preserve of the Ouspensky people. I knew some people from the Foundation who could have given Ouspensky a few tips in this respect.

To my mind, the issue of change and continuity comes it is an inescapable part of the human condition: we need both. That is, we cannot live without a mix, or perhaps a balance, of change and continuity. We need principled development. But, as stated above, we also need the wisdom to judge when the development is based on sound principles, and when it is a lop-sided development which will lead to the diversion, indeed the corruption of the line of work. We need discrimination to sift the good ideas from the bad. We need courage to stand against a group, when it is necessary, but who has the wisdom to know when refusing to accept the group consensus is merely self-will?


The Human Condition and the Exercises

This, I think, is true: our quandary before all these questions of judgment is an inescapable part of our condition. Speaking of our condition, Benson provides a hitherto unpublished comment by Gurdjieff which sheds, I would say, a powerful light on our condition:

You know, Mr Gurdjieff would say a curious thing: “The angels are pure, and there is no place for them to go. We on this earth are fallen angels, but we have a place to strive for, objectively and actively to come to.” (138)”

Benson also gives some information about the exercises which came directly from Gurdjieff, and which I have said time and again, are to be distinguished from the “New Work”. In respect of these exercises, and I reiterate that I have recently been informed that Jeanne de Salzmann did teach them to small groups, Benson said:

You never know what you do in these exercises to allow things to happen, allow vital things to happen otherwise nothing will happen. (140)”

This may well be very true: it is not that Gurdjieff’s exercises and preparation furnish any guarantee, but perhaps they allow a certain movement of vital energies to occur which otherwise would not, or probably would not. And that may be sufficient to make these exercises critical.

The book abounds with some most unusual observations. Some of them may just be strange, but others, such as the “salt in the mountain” remarks (127), strike me as quite possibly true, and if so, point to a phenomenon we have been too little aware of. Just recently, a newspaper article in the Sydney Morning Herald, stated, quite in passing, that the indigenous aboriginals of Australia had known that there was something unhealthy beneath a certain are in Kakadu, and refused to live there. It turns out that it harboured uranium deposits.

Another idiosyncratic, but profound comment is about how he ran the Sundays at the ice house at Armonk:

I don’t demand anything, least of all the finished product – or to do things neatly, correctly. That’s not the demand. I make such demands of the natural forces that make their senses vibrate and grow close to nature in the greater sense of the word, to actually feel that they’re alive in order to do better things. (164)”


Glimpses of Gurdjieff

Little is said in this book about Gurdjieff. One of the anecdotes, concerning Gurdjieff’s remark to the minister at Benson’s wedding, strikes me as rather inconsequential (178-179). But the others strike me as more powerful. Benson has an interesting slant on Gurdjieff’s habit of writing in cafés: it was, he says, in order to steal the “wasted emotions” of the people who were there (173-174). This then starts Benson speaking about the “stealing” exercise, which he also does at p.156, where he curiously says that he could have performed the exercise had he been able to get into an objective state, but that he had never been able to. The passages at pp.123-124 about taking a part of God’s force may not be the same thing, exactly, but neither are they unrelated, and they repay careful pondering.

Another forceful anecdote concerns how Benson approached Gurdjieff at a time when he, Benson, was “suffering tremendously.” Gurdjieff said to him: “You see that skin? That is yours and no one else’s. This is a part of you.” Short, almost pitiless in its expression and conciseness, but how profound. So much of our suffering is predicated upon an implicit attitude that other people have to change or apologise before our pain can end. As Benson goes on to say, in his own voice: “It’s just as bad … to continue feeling bad about the situation.” (48)

Speaking of Gurdjieff, however, the most unexpected piece of information here is that Gurdjieff was involved in two motor accidents while at the Prieuré: the second, and much less serious one, is described at pp.193-196. I had not heard of that one before. The account of it, of Benson’s removing the staples from Gurdjieff’s body, and what Gurdjieff did the day after he returned from the hospital was strangely moving. I wonder why no one else mentions this, or is it just that I have missed it?

I mentioned that there were points in Benson which accorded with ideas I had already had. One of those is the idea that doing has been down played in the Work since the death of Gurdjieff. I expressed that view in those parts which I wrote of George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia, and illustrated it by reference to Mr Adie’s teaching, Then I read in Benson:

… as it says in the Book of Solomon, ‘Man should rejoice in his works, for that is his portion.’ Do you all understand that? No more, no less. That’s what you leave behind, that‘s your development, that’s you. Is that understandable? (82-83)”

In a curious way, you grow by doing. (139)”


Miscellanous Points

There are a few errors, e.g. “practiced” for “practised” (12).

More serious than the odd spelling errors, are certain notes which are not just indulgent, or even self-indulgent, but absurdly so: see the anecdote which ends: “Christ, I loved that” (120). I can see nothing to love there.

There is a very strange passage on love, which spans the strange and the inspired. First, I cannot see why Abeldard and Heloise’s romance is “the most tragic love story that has ever existed” (135). But then, Benson’s comments on “love” being a concept which came not from Christianity but from Greece, specifically Plato (135-136), is seriously muddled. Many writers such as CS Lewis may have interpreted Christian love through Greek spectacles, but it is prominent in the Gospels, long before any influence of Greek thought. However, to say that what is valuable is not “love” but “wisdom” is quite stimulating (136). Of course it is a simplification and the result of an abstraction: in reality, love and wisdom must go together, and perhaps even be aspects of the one cosmic force. It is interesting how often people who claim to be straightforward and bluff, not given to intellectual niceties, are in fact more at the mercy of their analyses than the “intellectuals” whom they deride.


The Ongoing Issue

Now that I am onto it, I cannot lose sight of what I call “the ongoing issue”. And that is this, the Work does not seem to work beyond a limited point. All development seems to plateau out after a period of probably three years, about the length of time it usually takes get a university degree. There are exceptions, of course, but these seems to depend upon a fortunate conjunction of the student and the teacher. This is a large thought, but it is one of those which I found expressed in Benson, and which confirms me in my view. He writes:

I think some people are born with a greater being than other people. They have to be educated, in a sense, not educated in a school, but ‘brought out’. If they stay at it they can understand more and more and eventually become an entirely different person through that understanding. But I don’t think this is acquired so much. (150)”

This seems to be right. Gurdjieff had the power to lift people beyond their deserts, and this gave them a tremendous desire to help others, and a confidence that development was possible. But it just doesn’t seem to be the case that this development is possible for very many of us. And to evolve into someone with the individuality and understanding of Gurdjieff, or even close, seems quite impossible. Benson puts it more bluntly: “I don’t think we have the possibility of reaching consciousness” (154).

But if this is right, then Gurdjieff was wrong. Yet if Gurdjieff was wrong on that point, he still had a point: we can have more consciousness than we enjoy. It may well be that we would never be making efforts towards any consciousness unless we came to believe that we could have full consciousness. And it is even more likely, I think, that if we are not making efforts towards full consciousness, we will sink even deeper into unconsciousness. As Jane Heap used to say, the only difference between a groove and a grave is the depth. As Benson used to say: “The power of forgetting is … the curse of mankind” (80, see also 165).

This, I think, may be the upshot of “the ongoing issue”.



© Joseph Azize, 27 December 2013

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Review, Orage’s Commentary on Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson: New York Talks 1926-1930 A.R. Orage – Lawrence Morris and Sherman Manchester

Orage’s Commentary on Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales to his

Grandson, New York Talks 1926-1930,

is published by  Book Studio, 2013

(363 pp. plus a selected bibliography and an index)


Gurdjieff’s legacy has reached a critical point. In my opinion, the line which he began, and which those who follow it with more or less faithfulness call “the Work”, has reached an interval or gap. I mean by this what Gurdjieff meant: if the Work is to develop in the direction with which it began, it must cross each interval with the help of forces which correspond to the current with which the movement began. An impulse which is not true to Gurdjieff’s own line will carry it in the wrong direction.


The first step of this line of development, the note DO, was Gurdjieff’s personal efforts: bringing his ideas and methods, teaching, writing, composing, etc. The second and third steps were, I would say, the work of his direct pupils (the note RE), and then the publication of his writings and music (the note MI). Of course, there is some overlap at each stage: living processes are like that. It is only analysis which distinguishes clearly separated stages: a trumpet does not sound in heaven to announce the end of one and the commencement of another.


In this case the interval between MI and FA would bear risks if not only because those learned from him in person have almost all died. But the interval is even more dangerous because many important texts remain unpublished. Very few of his pupils, whether second generation or later, have access to all of his talks, transcripts and papers in their original form. Even Beelzebub, upon which Gurdjieff manifestly placed so much of his hopes, has been effectively bleached of colour by what purport to be two retranslations, displacing the text he himself authorised.


But there is more: Gurdjieff’s method was one of engagement under fluid conditions. Unlike his pupils, he created no institutions beyond the temporary. Even before the motor accident, he had told Nicoll that the conditions at Fountainebleau were temporary. Gurdjieff rarely repeated himself, and he made pupils responsible for passing what they had learned. “What falls from the wagon is lost”. Each pupil had this privilege and burden. It is arguable that too many did not pass on as much as they could have as well as they could have. Some things can only be passed on person to person, others can be indicated or even transmitted well enough in writing – and if they are not passed on that way, may well be lost for ever. Despite the good intentions of those establishing them, could the founding of foundations have effectively served as a corporate substitute for the individual efforts required? And although associations are necessary, perhaps not associations of the type we have seen.


Whether one agrees with me or not on every detail, my chief point here is that while Gurdjieff founded no religion, sect or denomination, the line of engagement with the ideas and methods he brought needs to be fed. Good records of personal encounters with Gurdjieff, and attempts to develop his ideas in the light of contemporary experience (e.g. the work of Bennett and Buzzell), is vital – without it no engagement would be possible for those who did not know Gurdjieff. That is why books like this one are vital for the entirety of the Gurdjieff Work.


If the interval between Gurdjieff’s direct legacy (the notes DO, Re and MI), is to be filled to allow note FA (which must be Gurdjieff’s indirect legacy) to sound as it should, then the first three notes should be fully sounded. That is, the ability of the Gurdjieff Work to continue in the direct line initiated by Gurdjieff himself absolutely and necessarily depends upon the full and complete transmission of that legacy. To the extent that this transmission is defective, the direction will veer off into tangents. The Gurdjieff Work will lose its vivifyingness.


Will this book be accorded the value it deserves? I am not sure. I shall not detail all my reasoning now, but basically, Sophia Wellbeloved’s analysis is correct: “… the Work is now in the process of redefining itself as a tradition.” (Gurdjieff: The Key Concepts, 154) If this is so, then it follows that those within the tradition believe that they have all they need. And if one construes “need” very narrowly, this might be correct. But they do not have all that they could want and can use.


This is, I repeat, a vital book for anyone interested in Gurdjieff’s ideas and methods. It presents for the first time the two sets of notes made by both Lawrence Morris and Sherman Manchester of the lectures given in New York between 1926 and 1930 by A.R. Orage. Already an accomplished intellectual when he met Ouspensky and then Gurdjieff, Orage was undoubtedly one of the wisest of Gurdjieff’s pupils. This volume furthers the completion of what I see as step 3 (fully sounding the note MI), the publication of Gurdjieff’s writings.


First, it contains ideas of a quality far higher than what we usually meet with in life. You have to read some of it, and ponder it, to see whether you agree or not. Remain with it, and ask, can these ideas make a difference to my life? Remind yourself of them in different circumstances.


Second, if you are going to read Beelzebub’s Tales (and everyone seriously interested in Gurdjieff’s ideas should), then, better than any other material I have seen or could imagine, this book provides assistance. Mrs Annie-Lou Staveley must have felt much the same, for when she read the passages which Nott published within his own book, she issued them as a stand-alone hardcover. Nott’s extracts totalled 91 pages out of a 228 page book. That is, the Orage notes, which he edited, form about 40% of his own work. More significantly, the contents of this volume are unedited, and run to 363 pages. Further, more text fits onto each of these pages than it does on those of Nott’s book. I would estimate that this book is at least six times longer than the generous extracts in Nott. It is also helpful that for many of the talks we have two separate sets of notes, those of Morris and Manchester. The comparison is often intriguing.


Third, Orage’s reading is both individual and exemplary, meaning that it can serve as a model. If Orage can read like an individual, perhaps, we too can. It is a model of relatively conscious thinking. Excluding comparison to sacred literature such as the Bible and some of the Upanishads, the depth of this book invites comparison with Shakespeare (I am now more certain than ever that Jane Heap, as reported to me by Dr John Lester, was correct: Shakespeare was in conscious receipt of esoteric influences. He was also Catholic: see John Finnis and Patrick Martin, “Another Turn for the Turtle”, Times Literary Supplement, 18 April 2003, 12-14).


To me, Orage’s material here is enlivening. It consists not only of his comments on Beelzebub, but also of his question and answer sessions with his own pupils, and of his remarks on all sorts of aspects of life. If Beelzebub was the cornerstone of “All and Everything”, Orage’s wise insights build lay part of the edifice. At random, I opened the book at p.233 and found this:

the object of these beings in Babylon was …

to make remember. So they decided to introduce

elements into works of art that would cause the

observer to question, to ask what is there strange

about this. Egyptian frescoes produce or provoke this state.

Greek art does not.


This not only sheds a great light on what many people, not myself alone, have felt but been unable to articulate, it does so with a clarity and force which Gurdjieff lacked. These notes confirm, many times, that Orage had gained an objective understanding, or at least an understanding closer to objective than any of us are likely to achieve. What else but startling objectivity could bring someone to insights such as these, to select but three?


A mother crying over (to us) a repulsive criminal is enslaved by an earlier actualization.” (p.2)


The philosopher is a speculator who deals with words. The priest does not even deal in words but in symbols, but their meaning he no longer knows.” (p.165)


Wholeness cannot be written about.” (p.324)


I could well believe that not everyone is touched by each of these three comments, but to my mind each of them offers clear evidence of a person whose reason was alive. You would have to be both highly intelligent and discerning to understand these sayings. But imagine the state of Orage’s being for him to coin them.


How often, since reading it have I wondered, am I enslaved by an earlier actualization? Am I dealing in symbols the meaning of which I am ignorant? I am indebted to Orage and his collaborators: people who were not even alive when he was born.


With this volume, more useful material is available to those who wish to develop themselves. Only with that effort, only with many such individual efforts, can the Gurdjieff Work as a whole cross the interval before it now.


Joseph Azize was a pupil of George and Helen Adie, themselves pupils of Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and Jeanne de Salzmann, who developed what they received in their own individual ways. Among other issues, he is currently pondering the question of fate. His latest publication, an academic study of Gurdjieff’s “Four Ideals” exercise, has recently been published in ARIES. Another academic study, this time of Gurdjieff’s attitude to fasting, which incorporates a survey of some medical experts on fasting and starvation, is slated to appear next year in another international journal.



18 October 2013

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“Monkey Junk”— Zora Neale Hurston’s Experiment in Oragean Modernism

Sophia Wellbeloved and Jon Woodson

Monkey Junk”— Zora Neale Hurston’s Experiment in Oragean Modernism   



A.R. Orage’s literary celebrity attracted a large following among the New York intellectuals of the 1920s including the Harlem Renaissance. He gave creative writing workshops and lectured on Gurdjieff’s esotericism, gradually forming his own version—Oragean Modernism. According to Gurdjieff, objective art is the only art that has value, and Zora Neale Hurston and other Harlem writers were engaged in the quest for objective art. Orage’s writing groups performed the contradictory functions of disseminating Gurdjieff’s ideas into society with the hope of raising the number of people belonging to the circle of conscious humanity, while at the same time preserving the teachings by placing them in a coded form in widely distributed popular texts. Hurston’s story, F was an attempt both to spread the Gurdjieffian teaching through objective art and to make sure that esoteric ideas would survive the collapse of the present form of civilization. In this story Hurston’s concerns are complex, being synthesized from anthropological research, the Bible, Orage’s teachings, and the literary model of Gurdjieff’s Tales.


1. Oragean Modernism

      Alfred Richard Orage, (1873 – 1934) began his professional life as a charismatic intellectual school teacher who lectured and wrote variously on Plato, Nietzsche, Theosophy, and psychoanalysis. His political interests included Fabian Socialism and monetary reform. He co-founded the Leeds Art Club, which became a center for modernist culture in pre-World War I England (Webb 200). Orage’s interests and concerns included personal and political well-being, eventually extending to a concern for cosmological and planetary well-being that would profoundly influence his pupils in New York. In 1916 he moved to London, where he edited the influential literary weekly The New Age, publishing G. K. Chesterton, H. G. Wells, Bernard Shaw, Katherine Mansfield, and others including Ezra Pound with whom he wrote several issues of The New Age. During that phase of his life, he was considered by T. S. Eliot “the finest critical intelligence of our age” (Taylor 16).  However, in October 1922, having heard the Greek-Armenian guru George Ivanovich Gurdjieff give a talk in London, Orage left The New Age and England to work with Gurdjieff at his “Institute For the Harmonious Development of Man” in France.

    Gurdjieff (1886?-1949) offered a teaching that was a blend of Theosophy, a variety of predominantly Western esoteric sources, and hypnotism and other therapeutic practices. He used a methodology composed of practical work on the self and sacred dancing, along with alchemical, psychological, and cosmological theory, to “wake up” and develop human beings whom he defined as sleeping, hypnotized machines with no central “I” or soul. Orage remained a practitioner and assiduous disseminator of Gurdjieff’s teaching, known as the Work (and in America also as the Method), for the next ten years.

    When Orage arrived in New York in December 1923, fourteen months after leaving England for the Institute, he set about raising funds and arousing interest in the teaching. Gurdjieff himself arrived a month later in January 1924 for a highly publicized visit, during which he gave talks and demonstrations of his sacred dances in New York, Boston and Chicago. Orage’s literary celebrity attracted a large following among the New York intellectuals of the 1920s. He gave creative writing workshops, and lectured on Gurdjieff’s teaching, gradually emphasizing and moderating elements of the teaching to form his own version of it that differed from the Work as taught by Gurdjieff in Europe.  Orage’s modernism was imbued by Gurdjieff’s esotericism, and both elements were embraced by his pupils.


2. Esotericism — the Tales and Objective Works of Art

    Beginning in 1925, Orage became the principal editor of the first volume of Gurdjieff’s three volume work known as Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson (Tales) [1], and his continuing process of editing and interpreting the chapters as they arrived from France over the next four years was shared with his American pupils (Driscoll 3) and also with other pupils in France. The book became central to Orage’s teaching, especially of his Gurdjieff study groups, such as the Harlem group, led by Orage with the assistance of  poet and novelist Jean Toomer and psychologist and mystery-writer C. Daly King.

    The epic narrative of the Tales takes place during a voyage on a spaceship. Beelzebub tells his grandson of his own exile to our solar system, the creation of Earth, the multiple Gnostic Falls, the failures of men and their worsening state, the only remedy for which is remembrance of death.

Gurdjieff meant his reader or listener, the text was often read aloud, to be confused by the complex sentence structure of the Tales,by its many anomalies, contradictions, inconsistencies, and by the acknowledged deceptions within the narrative (See Wellbeloved 2002, 77-83). Gurdjieff warned his reader that he was unique in respect to “muddling and befuddling, the notions and convictions of everyone he comes into contact with” (Tales 26). Published posthumously in 1949, the book has 1238 pages, all of which he had intentionally made difficult to understand.  The text includes his reading instructions, but these are in themselves contradictory and so are impossible to follow. Gurdjieff said he had “buried” a secret that readers should search for, and gives an apparent clue as to how the secret was buried. He describes how a questioning attention can be drawn to decode a secret message by what he terms a “lawful inexactitude.” The secret is pointed to by placing something “out of place” or in the wrong scale, for example an otherwise perfectly proportioned sculpture might have hands that are far too big (Tales 461). The law in question in “lawful inexactitude” is the Law of Seven, a series of descending vibrations that represents the inevitably destructive nature of time (Webb 503; 40; 141-42). This has led his many readers to search through multiple readings for the one “lawful inexactitude” that might reveal Gurdjieff’s secret. Orage himself was convinced there was a specific secret that Gurdjieff was withholding from him, and the members of his groups also engaged in this search.

    The Harlem writers, along with the other pupils, believed the Tales to be an objective work of art.  According to Gurdjieff, objective art is the only form of art that has value. Its meaning cannot be mistaken, whereas subjective art made by “mechanical man” can be misunderstood. However, to understand objective art a person must have “at least flashes of objective consciousness” (Ouspensky  298; also see Wellbeloved 11). So, searching alone is not the way to find objective meaning in an objective work of art; this can only be found by raising the level of consciousness, becoming “an initiate of art.”  

    While the demand to make or write an objective work of art may have inhibited readers and writers immediately within Gurdjieff’s influence, this was clearly not the case with Orage’s group of writers who were intent on writing their own objective works of art (Woodson 9-10). They also related his teaching to Objective Drama as expounded by Orage together with Gurdjieff’s teaching on the necessity to play roles (Webb 537-41). Orage emphasized the central place of esotericists in the world especially in relation to evolution. The evolution or self-perfecting of individuals was said to be necessary also for the safe evolution of the planet. If there were not a sufficient number of evolved people within a certain time frame, the planet could be destroyed. Ideas of specially evolved members of a “conscious circle of humanity” were in accord with contemporary notions that extended Darwinian evolution to describe a Nietzschean evolution of man into a super-race. Gurdjieff’s teaching echoed that of Blavatsky’s specially evolved “Masters.” Orage’s writing groups performed the contradictory functions of disseminating Gurdjieff’s ideas into society with the hope of raising the number of people belonging to the circle of conscious humanity, while at the same time preserving the teachings by placing them in a coded form in widely distributed popular texts.   

    Thus Zora Neale Hurston’s short story, “Monkey Junk: A Satire on Modern Divorce,” was one of those attempts both to spread the Gurdjieffian teaching and to make sure that the ideas would survive the collapse of the present form of civilization. In order to serve in this capacity, the story sets out to entertain the reader, while also containing a highly concentrated hidden content. “Monkey Junk” entertains by performing a satirical treatment of the flapper phenomenon under the guise of being a satire on marriage, the flapper and marriage themes being treated through a comic parody of the Bible. The story exhibits little concern with marriage or divorce, and the depiction of the wife through French garters (verse 29) and silk stockings (verse 45) establishes that the wife was a flapper; the wife’s casual treatment of sex (verses 13, 14, 33, 39) also establishes her identity as a flapper. Dorothy Parker’s satirical depiction of the flapper in her poem “The Flapper” (published in Lifein 1922) parallels the wife’s treatment of the husband in “Monkey Junk”: the poem’s concluding couplet states “Her golden rule is plain enough / Just get them young and treat them rough” (Parker 113-14). Parker’s use of the Bible barely registers, though her reference to the golden rule relates to a specific verse, Matthew 7:12,

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (KJV). Hurston’s story is written in a parody of Biblical verses, and she refers to Matthew 7:12 directly in the first verse as “he knew all the law and the prophets” and in verse 14 with the mockery of “he that is so wise and knoweth all the law and the profits.” The passage occurs a third time in verse 25 of Hurston’s story:

25.“Thou art very dumb for nowthat I, thy husband, knoweth that thou art a flirt, making glad the heart of back-biters, I shall support thee no more—for verily know I ALL the law and the profits thereof.” (Emphasis added)

Not only must the reader conclude that Hurston has intentionally emphasized Matthew 7:12, but that when the word “now” appears instead of “know” that this also is intentional. Hurston has engaged the phonetic level of language, and prophet/profitand know/nowactively point to this altered interpretive convention.

While directly humorous treatments of the Bible were rare in the 1920s, we may see Hurston’s treatment of religion as being in step with the writings of Sinclair Lewis and H.L. Menken: Menken’s “nihilistic criticism of American culture—literature, politics and religionmade him among the most hated and admired men in America” (emphasis added; Cheatham “Provincial America in the 1920s”). Hurston’s blasphemy is moderated, because she has cast the language of the Bible into the black sociolect of the 1920s. Blind Willie McTell’s ragtime lyric “A Married Man’s a Fool” incorporates a similar parody of the Bible, though unlike the text of “Monkey Junk” it lacks a frame [2]. Hurston’s derisory treatment of the Bible is further made complex by the fact that she placed her story in a black newspaper, The Pittsburgh Courier,tacitly the national news organ for the black Americans of that era. The implication of the folk-parody approach is that the popular understanding and practice of the Christian religion is itself a parody of a more authentic version of the religion.

Hurston includes direct and indirect references to the Bible, which she knew would have been recognized by her readers. At the same time her exploitation of the Bible’s familiarity worked against the expectations of her readers, since Hurston’s use of these references is consistently ironic. Among others we find:

Then did he make a joyful noise saying, “Behold, I have chosen a wife, yea verily a maiden Ihave exalted above all others, for see I have wed her.” (“Monkey Junk” verse 5; emphases added)

A joyful noise” is made by the Psalmist in Psalms 95:1 and 98:4; while the maiden with the attribute of “exalted above all others” is referred to within Catholicism as Mary Mother of God.

And he gave praises loudly unto the Lord saying, “I thank thee that I am not as other men.”

refers to Luke 18:11:

The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as

other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.

In Matthew 13:45-46 the Kingdom of heaven is like a pearl of great price, for which a rich merchant sells all he has; in Hurston’s verse 13 the pearl refers to a woman who sells herself.   

    Then did his pearl of great price form the acquaintance of many men and they prospered her.

    It is difficult to assess the practical application of the Harlem group to the whole of Gurdjieff’s teaching, but in relation to their own writings all of them employed “inexactitudes,” in order to draw attention to Gurdjieff’s book and his teaching. Whereas Gurdjieff gives the visual example of a dis-proportioned sculpture in the Tales (Gurdjieff 1950 477), the participating writers of the Harlem group, Zora Neale Hurston, George Schuyler, Nella Larsen, Gwendolyn Bennett, Eric Walrond, Richard Bruce Nugent, Rudolph Fisher, Wallace Thurman, and Melvin B. Tolson began to look for ways to include unexpected insertions, absurdities, or apparent errors that might point to concealed texts within their texts that would lead readers to Gurdjieff’s book and to his teaching. Thus the Harlem group, believing that they had little time to save the world from destruction, operated at a high level of anxiety. The eschatological fixations of the Oragean Modernists drove them to create a considerable body of published writing in a very short time [3].


3. Gurdjieff and Literature


    Gurdjieff spent much time writing in Parisian cafés and so was not isolated from the cultural milieu of 1920s and 1930s Paris, a center for European esotericists and American writers. The conflation of these two groups can be seen in modernist interest in the occult, esotericism, and myth. Gurdjieff’s institute attracted many literary figures, and Gurdjieff himself collected an influential group of writers willing to translate and to edit his writings. Although Gurdjieff insists that the Talesis not a literary work, he was aware of modernist literary interest in myth, esotericism, and the desire for immaterial values that pervaded the inter-war years.

    Prominent literary pupils of Gurdjieff are well known in the Work, via the lists of participants in books by Louise Welch, James Webb, and Paul Beekman Taylor. For example, in the 1910s and 1920s, The Little Review—published in Greenwich Village from 1917 to 1929—was the most influential literary magazine in the world. It was the first to publish a chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses, for which the editors, Jane Heap and Margaret Anderson were tried for obscenity. The editors became followers of Gurdjieff in 1924 after meeting him in New York and spending the summer at his Institute in France (Webb 276-285). Despite the centrality of Oragean Modernism to the creation and dissemination of modernist culture, the Gurdjieffian project is maligned and castigated when it is noticed, as in this discussion by Kristin M. Mabel Bloomberg:

Another notorious guru was the Russian mystic and dancemaster George Ivanovitch

Gurdjieff who turned from the idealistic tenets of Theosophy to a philosophy

of “barbarism and primitivism” (170) that highlighted the ideology of man as

the noble savage and encouraged its students to become conscious of their

true selves and to cease being human machines. For Gurdjieff, this practice

could not be a pleasant one, and the process was “enhanced” with an emphasis

on stress, pain, tension, and conflict. Gurdjieff ’s philosophy is one that is

linked explicitly by Peter Washington in Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon to the

Left Bank lesbian expatriate circle that included Jane Heap, Margaret Anderson,

Djuna Barnes, and Janet Flanner (288). Gurdjieff ’s ideals also surface in

Harlem, with Thadious Davis linking a study group led by Gurdjieff disciple

Jean Toomer to writers including Nella Larsen. (24-5)

4. Hurston’s Esoteric Content

Zora Neale Hurston was a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance, and studies of the movement describe her as a participant in Jean Toomer’s Gurdjieff groups (see Woodson 147-70). In the 1920s Hurston was in New York studying anthropology with Franz Boas at Columbia University, and during that period she came into contact with such important white cultural figures as Carl Van Vechten, Fannie Hurst, C. Daly King, her patron Charlotte Osgood Mason, and A.R. Orage who presided over the New York Gurdjieff groups. Orage organized writing seminars that attracted many important writers, and for many members of the Harlem group of writers the Harlem Renaissance was a subset of this wider, esoteric literary movement. Orage’s influence on these groups of writers has been acknowledged by writers on esotericism but not by mainstream scholars of literature. Academic adherents of American Studies routinely frames Oragean Modernists figures as nationalists, so that the esoteric content of the works produced by these figures has not previously been realized. It is not only Hurston who has been evaluated without reference to these fundamental components. Such writers as Djuna Barnes, Dawn Powell, C. Daly King, Carl Van Vechten, and James Agee have introduced into their writings the same esoteric elements (phonetic codes, roman a clef of esotericists, intentional mistakes, and esoteric vocabulary) as Hurston used in her texts. Hurston’s participation in the Harlem Renaissance and her affiliation with Toomer, Orage, C. Daly King, and Van Vechten turned her to esoteric influences that are evident in her writings once they are read with attention to this aspect. The esoteric content within Zora Neal Hurston’s writings is consistent from “Monkey Junk” (1927) to her incomplete novel, “Herod,” (snatched from a fire after her death in 1964). It is only through the well-documented disinterest of literary scholars in occultism [4] that there are such consistent misreadings of Hurston. Hurston’s texts make it clear that their many anomalies are signs of a coded, esoteric level. Hurston’s critics have detected this esoteric level but have explained it away by portraying Hurston as an eccentric. For example, on her Mules and Menwebsite Laura Grand-Jean states that “More than anything Zora Neale Hurston was the worlds greatest liar and her own duplicity explains why for so long she was lost to us”  (Grand-Jean “Introduction”).

It is likely that Hurston absorbed the system of esoteric literary coding from her close associate Carl Van Vechten. Van Vechten, a best-selling novelist in the 1920s, is acknowledged to have been vital to the publishing of Harlem Renaissance texts, and he befriended the Harlem writers. Moreover, there is a direct literary influence from Van Vechten on Nella Larsen who stated that Van Vechten’s novel, Nigger Heaven (1926)was one of the big influences on Harlem and its artistic life (Davis 212). Moreover, Thadious Davis states that when Larsen was writing her first novel, Quicksand (1928), she ceased writing, read Nigger Heaven, and then after destroying a good half of what was completed, returned to work on her novel keeping Nigger Heaven as a stylistic model (Davis 212). This account does not specify what is meant by matters of style. Since literary scholars do not recognize that Van Vechten was himself a follower of Gurdjieff or that Nigger Heavenis an esoteric text, their assessment of its influence on Larsen (and on Hurston) is incomplete [5]. The code used by Van Vechten and the other writers in the Gurdjieff camp was the phonetic cabala, the traditional code used by the writers of alchemical texts since the fourteenth century. (Research on the use of codes in Oragean Modernism is at a preliminary stage, and more papers will follow.) At about the same time as Van Vechten began to write his novels in the cabala, Fulcanelli’s Le Mystère des Cathédrales(1926) was published making the delineation of the alchemical code available to a wide audience. But as Van Vechten moved in Parisian artistic circles, he and his American associates may have had access to early copies of the Fulcanelli [6] book or even direct access to Fulcanelli.

5. Hurston, C. Daly King, and Van Vechten

Hurston’s reverence for Carl Van Vechten has long been remarked. They met when she was working as a secretary for the writer Fannie Hurst. They liked each other instantly and shared a close friendship thereafter [7]. But this association has dismayed Hurston’s scholars and has not stimulated them to make a close exploration of the literary consequences of their friendship: Van Vechten is seldom dealt with by scholars of the Harlem Renaissance writers and only insofar as his novel, Nigger Heaven, is found by them to be inescapable. Major treatments of the Harlem Renaissance (Amritjit Singh, Theodore Francis) make no mention of Van Vechten’s other novels, though Thadious Davis’s biography of Nella Larsen establishes that Larsen read Van Vechten’s Peter Wiffle(1922) and that by 1929 he was one of her favorite authors (Davis 165). Yet, Van Vechten was a prolific best-selling novelist, and his novels were the models for some of the Harlem Renaissance writers. More to the point, some of Van Vechten’s novels concern themselves with esoteric material, and Firecrackers(1925) is a thinly veiled presentation of A.R Orage’s organizing of the New York branch of G. I. Gurdjieff’s “Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man.” Beneath the roman a clef, Van Vechten’s Firecrackersis more deeply coded using the cabala cipher.

In Firecrackers, Van Vecthen’s fourth novel, a character clearly based on Muriel Draper organizes Pinchon’s Prophylactic Plan, a school of self-development based on Ouspensky, Arthur E. Waite, Gurdjieff, Jaques-Dalcroze, and Einstein (175), so that Van Vechten cannot actually be said to have removed his fictional school very far from the actualities of Orage’s school. The list in the novel presents only Jaques-Dalcroze and Einstein as red herrings—though the former was, like Gurdjieff, a teacher of therapeutic dance and there is a great deal about science in the Tales. Van Vechten’s character, Miss Pinchon, the organizer of the fictional school, was based on New York saloniste and interior decorator Muriel Draper. Draper was a close associate of both Van Vechten and Orage. In fact, Draper was responsible for the running of the New York branch of Gurdjieff’s Institute, thus allowing A. R. Orage the freedom to organize an extensive movement that maintained an influential literary component [8].

    C. Daly King is another important influence on Hurston who has not been taken into account by Hurston scholars: he studied at Columbia University during the period of Hurston’s anthropology studies at that school. King wrote the “Obelist” series of detective novels, novels that are esoteric, written in code, and contain characters based on Jean Toomer and other Gurdjieffians; the word “obelist” is a variant of obelisk, a character used in ancient manuscripts to indicate spurious passages, so that the very titles of King’s novels declare their duplicity. It is of central importance that King compiled Orage’s teachings into The Oragean Version (unpublished, 1951), a widely circulated volume which contains the essential esoteric doctrines on which Hurston based her fictions.

6. “Monkey Junk; A Satire on Modern Divorce”   

Monkey Junk” is contained in faux-Biblical verses numbered from 1 – 62, but the alert reader encounters a number of anomalies, or what we are calling “lawful inexactitudes.” The first evidence of “lawful inexactitude” is Hurston’s question-provoking use of a title apparently unrelated to her story about a rich man who, imagining that he understands women, marries a wife who only wants his money, for it is not apparent that the words monkey junkconnote anything about divorce. When the husband doesn’t give his wife enough money, she turns to other men, and he is scorned for being a cuckold. The central action of the story is a trial in which due to her sex appeal and tears she is unjustly granted alimony. Her husband threatens her with violence, but she is scornful, and he returns to Alabama to pick cotton.

The titleMonkey Junk” reflects Hurston’s dependenceon self-educated, nineteenth century  Egyptologist Gerald Massey. In Massey’s Ancient Egypt, the light of the world, on page 889 he has a footnote that reads “The Ankh-key of life.” This corresponds phonetically to “monkey” in the title of Hurston’s story, and it gives the meaning of Hurston’s strange construction. Massey explains the word Ank as meaning “the living one,” in A Book of The Beginnings(209), and he connects the title of “the god Tum in Pithom as being the Ankh, the living; he being the sun of the resurrection; written in Egyptian … as P-ankh, Punk, or Punch.” Massey goes on:

 Punch and Nuk have their correlatives in Hunch, Bunch, and Junk. Punch means the short, fat, pudgy, thick-set fellow, whence the puncheon. So in the Xhosa and Zulu Kaffir dialects a short thickset pudge of a person is called isi-Tupana from tupa, the thumb. The “hunch” of bread is a thick lump; the junkis also a short thick lump (Massey 2007, 209; emphases added).

    Massey connects the English language to the Egyptian language in a manner that is original to Massey [9], so that it is clear that Massey is Hurston’s source for these inclusions.  It is also clear that Hurston has followed Massey’s disclosures, for the story emphasizes words that Massey has interpolated from “ankh” (“Monkey” [onk]) into the English words “hunk” (verses 20, 61) and “junk” (title).Furthermore,junk” was 1920s slang for opium, the drug that induces sleep, the condition that Orage was teaching his followers precludes possession of a soul and so leads to death unless a person “wakes up.” Because it was such a powerful metaphor for sleep, Gurdjieff inserted thirty-two references to opium into the Tales (see Anon, Guide & Index, 431), some of them extended: opium as a drug, as a civil evil, a religious doctrine formed to combat the use of it, its culture, and scientific inquiry into its chemical constituents.

7. The Verses: biblical lawful inexactitudes?

The biblical verse form used in “Monkey Junk” immediately suggests a biblical content or a biblical reading of the wife’s story, but there are also indirect references to the Egyptian Book of the Dead, to Gerald Massey’s writings, and to Gurdjieff’s parody of the judgement of the dead by “Mister” God in an invented religion (Tales 217-18) in Beelzebub’s Tales. The narrative of a trial, which results in an unjust judgement, allows Hurston to explore themes of the “fallen” woman, judgement, and justice in relation to these three “scriptures.” As we shall see, this short, short story contains references to a number of trials.

Lawful inexactitudes” also occur as willful errors in grammar and especially in the numbering of the verses, for in Hurston’s story the 15thverse is omitted. Somewhat more cryptic are the “lawful inexactitudes” that require the reader to realize that neither sweat nor mud come in hunks (verses 8 and 21), as the story relates. The text situates the reader in the same position as the jury is situated in the story; Hurston tells us that “the jury leaneth forward to catch every word which fell from her lips” (verse 46)and as in all such coded texts, this is meant literally, since listening is the key to the phonetic cabala of the alchemists.  

The absence of the fifteenth verse is a pointer. Given the biblical format and the subject of a trial, we are forced to question whether any of the fifteenth chapters of the Gospels refer to a trial? Yes, Mark gives his account of the trial of Jesus by Pilate in the fifteenth chapter. Pontius Pilate, the fifth Prefect of the Roman province of Judea, from AD 26–36, presided at the trial of Jesus. Despite stating that he personally found Jesus not guilty of a crime meriting death, Pilate pleases the “multitude,” by handing over Barabbas to them. In Mark 15:15 Pilate releases Jesus to be crucified. In her story Hurston’s character Miles Paige bears a phonetically-coded form of the  name Pilate (See note 11.). Hurston has pointed to this trial-within-a trial by leaving out the fifteenth verse of “Monkey Junk.”

     Hurston has emphasized the purposefulness of her omission by having selected the fifteenth verse, since Mark 15:28is not included in the earliest and best Greek manuscripts. Thus “Monkey Junk” imitates the handling of this dubious verse in some modern Bibles—as in the exclusion of the twenty-eighth verse in theNew Living Bible:  

Mark 15

27 Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.
29 The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. “Ha! Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days.

The KJV verse 28 which had been left out is:

     28 And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors.

This verse relates back to KJV Isaiah 53:12:

Therefore will I divide him [a portion] with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intersession for the transgressors. (emphasis added).  

Thus Hurston has also pointed out a missing link between the Hebrew Scripture and Mark’s Gospel.

8. Objective Drama  

Hurston’s interest in placing the trial of Jesus in her story as a subtext is in keeping with the doctrines that A.R. Orage imparted to the New York group of Gurdjieff’s followers: as Orage had it, the teachings of Jesus were far more ancient than Jesus’s historical period, having been formulated in what Gurdjieff called pre-sand Egypt. According toOrage, the re-emergence of those teachings in the narrative of the New Testament was a work of “objective” art performed by the Essenes.       

    So far, we see that there is a divorce trial in the surface text of “Monkey Junk” and a trial in a subtext, the trial of Jesus indicated through the missing fifteenth verse. In addition to this relatively obscure biblical subtext, there is yet another subtext containing yet another trial with an Egyptian subtext that corresponds to the Gurdjieffian reading of Jesus’s trail as an esoteric event. The Egyptian subtext is directly related to the Gurdjieff Work, for The Oragean Version [10] opens with the argument that Egypt is the source of the Hidden Learning:  


The Hidden Learning has existed (as it exists today) at all times of which we know….  And once it even appeared with accustomed clarity in Public History itself, in the official religion of Ancient Egypt whose complexities are rendered only the more dubious by the anthropological naïveté of professional Egyptology but which shine with an almost unbelievable illumination when a few key principles of the Hidden Learning have been achieved. (King 4).

Orage stressed the centrality of this ancient Egyptian Hidden Learning:

About us, in the creeds, the sects and the distortions of modern Christianity lay the

fragments, of another work of Objective Art, the life of Christ, so it has been said.

According to that account the story of the Christ, a messenger of God upon this planet, was

and is Objective Drama, played not on a stage but in life by the Essene initiate, Jesus. This

play had its origin far earlier, in ancient Egypt, as the drama of the life, death and

resurrection of Ausar (Osiris), the God-in-Man; its function was to present ultimate human

truths through the medium of consciously acted roles.For centuries, we are told, the later

Essene brotherhood, a School itself deriving from Egyptian origins, had held the aim of

presenting this drama in life rather than as a prescribed mystery play and for generations

had trained its postulants to that end. Eventually the cast of thirteen was complete with

Jesus, who had been sent to Egypt for temple training there, cast as the leading actor and

Judas, who must play the next most difficult role, that of the betrayer, fully prepared for his

part. With the necessary modifications demanded by the local scene and times, the action


It is difficult for us to appreciate the magnitude of such an undertaking. The

immediate audience is also without knowing it, the unconscious part of the cast and the

conscious actors must not only fulfill the requirements of their own roles, thereby

objectively demonstrating the truths they have self-selected themselves to manifest, but in

addition they must consciously and deliberately so affect their unconscious counterparts

(the priests and money-changers at the temple, Pontius Pilate, the Jewish mob, the Roman

soldiers, and all the rest) that the latter are forced to enact their own roles, too. Even with

all possible preparations made beforehand, it may well be imagined what hitches in the

performance unforeseen and unpredictable circumstances must threaten and what

consummate ability must be required in order to meet these difficulties and keep the drama

upon its course. No comparable type of acting, the playing so successfully of conscious

roles upon the objective stage of real life, has ever been reported. This was Objective Art.

(emphasis added; King 162-63)

9. Unjust Trials

The scheming woman in “Monkey Junk” is clearly “fallen,” and she prostitutes herself. But she is wrongly judged to be innocent even though it is clear that the wife has been unfaithful to the aggrieved husband. In verse 14, Hurston mentions the horns of adultery:

    “… other men posed the tongue into the cheek and snickered behind the handas he passed,

    saying, “Verily his head is decorated with the horns, he that is so wise and knoweth all the

    law and the profits” (emphasis added).

In the Tales, we find that among many other types of fallsof continents, of civilizations, of religion, and of learningthere is a long section on the degeneration of marriage in which a young Persian confesses to his vices. He has settled in Paris, where immoral women from all over Europe and other parts come “with the obvious intention of putting horns on their other legal halves” (Tales 990-94;emphasis added). Beelzebub finds them guilty.

The Biblical format of “Monkey Junk” will bring to mind Eve, the archetype of fallen woman. Eve is judged by God, and she is found guilty; as a consequence of Eve’s disobedience all mankind has been exiled from eternal life in Paradise into time, suffering, and death. Was this a just judgment? In the trial of Jesus of Nazareth by Pilate (and the judgment of “the multitude”), he is found guilty and so suffers a miscarriage of justice. We have seen that there is an Egyptian intertext in “Monkey Junk,” and there are several other unjust trials relating to the Egyptian Book of the Dead. In E. Wallace Budge’s Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection(1911), the God Set wants to inherit Osiris’s kingdom and so must usurp Horus, the rightful heir son of Osiris and Isis. Set accuses Isis of being a whore who has conceived Horus with another after Osiris’s death.  Therefore, Set argues, Horus is illegitimate and cannot inherit the throne of Egypt. However, the Gods find Isis innocent. In a second trial Set accused Osiris, but his accusations are unknown; Osiris is exonerated and triumphs over Set. (Budge 309-12)  Here the gods give the correct judgment. The Trial of Osiris by Thot after which Osiris is made god of the underworld plays a major role in Hurston’s story and will be discussed below. Once Osiris becomes the judge of the dead he presides over a court in which the dead have to plead perfection: as this is impossible, they must rely on the mercy of Osiris. Both Osiris and Christ were resurrected after death, and each of their teachings shows how time and death can be defeated; this was also Gurdjieff’s teaching, and the fall narrative of the Tales confirms this necessity

    An esoteric text uses a masking text to provide an outward premise. Hurston used the contemporary 1925 Scopes “Monkey Trial” (The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes) to give her story the title “Monkey Junk.” Since the Scopes trial was not a divorce, the fit between the Scopes trial and the fictional trial is not directly obvious, and the association of the trials as unjust trialsmay be thought of as another “lawful inexactitude” that points to the entire esoteric content of “Monkey Junk.” The reader in the 1920s may not immediately have seen how Hurston’s divorce trial related to the Scopes trial, and careful thought would have been required to reveal the connection through the common factor of injustice. In the Scopes trial a public school biology teacher was accused of illegally teaching Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.  The prosecuting counsel, William Jennings Bryan, asked Scopes questions about Adam and Eve in relation to the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib, and in relation to her temptation by the serpent. “In his last words to the court, Scopes, the man who was reluctant from the start, said, “Your Honor, I feel that I have been convicted of violating an unjust statute. I will continue in the future … to oppose this law in any way I can. Any other action would be in violation of my idea of academic freedom’” (“The Scopes Monkey Trial).  This demand that the Bible be read attentively rather than literally relates to the necessity to read the Talesattentively, and Hurston makes the same demands of her reader in “Monkey Junk.”

10. The Scopes Monkey Trial    

The Scopes “Monkey Trial” was of great interest to the public, and it was especially of interest to anthropologists, in that it focused on the split between religious and scientific understandings of evolution. Although Scopes lost his case, his defending attorney demolished the prosecuting counsel by asking questions about Adam and Eve in order to demonstrate that belief in miracles and in the historicity of the Bible is unreasonable. Paul Beekman Taylor points out that in the TalesGurdjieff ridiculed the arguments of both the prosecution and the defense lawyer in the Scopes trial, when Beelzebub remarks to his grandson that evolution “was an American topic of interest. In a parable echoing the Biblical version of the fall of Eve, Beelzebub explained that apes are descended from humans” (Taylor 100).

Hurston’s two-word title “Monkey Junk” links Massey’s Egyptology, the Bible, Gurdjieff’s Tales, and the 1925 Scopes trial. The contemporary divorce trial in her story, like the modern inquisition of science, enacts a travesty in which superstition (for Gurdjieffians a form of “sleep”) triumphed over reason.  It is difficult not to see some racial connection being made to the monkeys in her story, but it remains to be worked out to what extent the levels of esotericism, irony, parody, and social protest can be discriminated.

11. Playing Roles

As we have seen, one aspect of the esoteric is the manipulation of reality. According to Orage, the most ambitious form of this activity was the intervention in history in connection with the story of Jesus Christ. This intervention took the form of conscious and unconscious roles acted in a public objective drama. One aspect of the divorce trial is that it depicts the activity of unconscious role playing, for the wife depicts herself in such a way that the finding is for her side of the case. That the wife’s role- playing is entirely given up to sex appeal is entirely in keeping with what Hurston learned from Gurdjieff, for Gurdjieff taught that sex is the driving force behind “sleep”:

[S]ex plays a tremendous role in maintaining the mechanicalness of life. Everything that people do is connected with ‘sex’: politics, religion, art, the theater, music, is all ‘sex’. Do you think people go to the theater or to church to pray or to see some new play? That is only for the sake of appearances. The principal thing, in the theater as well as in church, is that there will be a lot of women or a lot of men. This is the center of gravity of all gatherings. What do you think brings people to cafés, to restaurants, to various fetes? One thing only. Sex: it is the principal motive force of all mechanicalness. All sleep, all hypnosis, depends upon it.” (Ouspensky 254)

Orage also taught pupils how to experiment with playing more conscious roles in their everyday lives than the automatic roles that they usually assumed:

The automatic roles which one plays in life automatically and unconsciously

are dictated by one’s falsely subjective image of oneself ….  [To] alter such roles consciously

and to attempt to play other roles, not on a stage but in life itself, is an extremely advanced

exercise in its final development but a beginning can be made at this stage. Of course there is

nothing “better” about the artificial role which the subject selects to attempt than about the

automatic one he has always been playing; the whole value of the exercise depends upon

the practice of a different, not a better impersonation. Here also we have a field in which

outside confirmation is both possible and required; the criterion of success is not the opinion

of the experimenter himself but is based upon his demonstrated ability to impress others

who are not involved in the experiment, with the validity of his impersonation.

(King 119-20).

This conscious assumption of roles was often referred to by Orage as “experiment.”Clearly esoteric “experiment” is generated by radically different assumptions about morality, truth, and freedom. In short, since the Gurdjieffians saw mankind as being asleep, they did not limit themselves to the social conventions of the sleepers. With this type of model in her mind, there is no wonder that many of Hurston’s critics point to Hurston’s tendency to dissemble. As Laura Grand-Jean has observed, “Throughout her life she lied about her age, her place of birth, and often times her identity. She cloaked herself in the garbs of the many different identities that she created for herself and recounted in her work(Mules and Menwebsite; emphasis added). This is seconded by Henry Louis Gates in his Afterword to Their Eyes Were Watching God: “Hurston did make up significant parts of herself, like a masquerade putting on a disguise for the ball, like a character in her fictions” (202). These discourses account for these effects as being related to matters of Hurston’s individual personality and not to any greater purpose or to a more general group strategy. A similar duplicity was evidenced by the careers of Melvin B. Tolson (a vexing and enigmatic “Marxist” poet who wrote transcendent, complex, intellectually dense poetry) and George Schuyler (“a literary schizophrenic who created a conservative public persona for himself while expressing extreme leftist views through the pseudonymous Samuel I. Brooks” and “a skillful role player, who [created] an array of masks for himself” [Gruesser 679]), two other African-American writers who are were unacknowledged followers of Gurdjieff and who were colleagues of Hurston’s. Similarly, authoritative accounts of Carl Van Vechten relate that he published six bestselling novels during a brief period of several years during which he is supposed to have been habitually drunk night and day and not to have slept at all (Kellner 165); Van Vechten’s behavior also seems to be a case of what Orage called “experiment” in which Van Vechten played the role of a wastrel.

Hurston and her Harlem Renaissance colleagues were but imitating Gurdjieff, who recounted stories about his selling dyed sparrows as rare birds, passing off cheap wines as rare vintages, or conning

Parisian merchants into giving him credit with stories of Texan oil wells. Gurdjieff was enacting

a morality that departed  from the “sleep”-based activities of ordinary people, and his

followers were enthusiastically imitating him to the best of their capacities.   

12. The Trial of Osiris by Thoth

        One of the curious features of “Monkey Junk” is the number of times bodily organs are mentioned in the story. The Egyptian intertext provides a solution to this question. Here is the description of the trial of Osiris in Gerald Massey’s Ancient Egypt:

The highest verdict rendered by the great judge in this most awful Judgment Hall was a testimony to the truth and purity of character established for the Manes [the spirit of the dead] on evidence that was unimpeachable. At this post-mortem the sins done in the body through violating the law of nature were probed for most profoundly. Not only was the deceased present in spirit to be judged at the dread tribunal, the book of the bodywas opened and its record read. The vital organs, such as the heart, liver, and lungs, were brought into judgment as witnesses to the life lived on earth.Any part too vitiated for the rottenness to be cut off or scraped away was condemned and flung as offal to the powers who are called the eaters of filth, the devourers of hearts, and drinkers of the blood of the wicked. And if the heart, for example, should be condemned to be devoured because very bad, the individual could not be reconstructed for a future life. (201-206; emphases added)

As the whole outcome of the trail in Hurston’s story depends on the speech of the accused being true speech, it is fitting that the list of organs and parts of the body commences with the mouth in the second verse of “Monkey Junk.” Thence follow liver (verse 4); heart, tongue, cheek, hand (verse 14); back, tongue (verse 16); tongue (verse 18); teeth (verse 20); hands, hip (verse 22); tongue (verse 26);  (kidneys verse 27); head (verse 35);   heart (verse 38); stiff-necked (verse 41); eyes (verse 43); lips (verse 46);  lips (verse 47);  mouth (verse 51), skin (verse 58); and nose (verse 59).

    Thus, there is yet another trial being conducted in “Monkey Junk”—and it is very likely to have been in Hurston’s mind the most important of the trials. Namely, the trial of Osiris by Thoth by which he was “Osirified” and became the lord of the underworld, seems to be the esoteric focus of Hurston’s story. The drama of the life, death and resurrection of Osiris (the Egyptian theme) was not only fundamental to Orage’s rendition of the Gurdjieff Work, it was a near obsession of Hurston’s. Hurston’s  most ambitious works of fiction (Seraph, Moses, Their Eyes) are suffused with Egyptian lore taken directly from Massey’s Ancient Egypt, and her most highly regarded novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is a covert retelling of the Osiris myth.  It is only the determination of Hurston’s critics to construct preordained feminist and socio-cultural interpretations of her writing that have caused them to assign whatever Egyptian influences have been noticed to a sort of non-specific Afrocentric interest on Hurston’s part: as a sort of culmination of these efforts, Patricia Hill Collins situates Hurston in an “Afrocentric feminist epistemology” (“Race”). But this Egyptian influence is intricately worked into her writings, so that many words, motifs, and symbols were derived from specifically Egyptian sources. Not only that but these materials were specifically taken from the writings of Gerald Masseyparticularly from Ancient Egypt. Massey, for his part, studied the extensive Egyptian holdings in the British Museum and was able to read Egyptian hieroglyphics.  So tied up with Massey’s volumes is Hurston’s fiction that without reference to Massey, there is essentially no means of discovering what Hurston is getting at. On the other hand, by means of a sound knowledge of Massey most of the difficulties that are presented by Hurston’s writing can be cleared up rather efficiently—though here we are speaking of difficulties that proceed from her esotericism, not those presently framed by her critics. (Since searchable versions of Massey’s books are now available on the Web, Hurston’s references to Massey are readily ascertainable.) Hurston had good reasons to depend on Massey for her Egpytology, for he was a Gnostic, an esotericist, and a powerfully imaginative thinker and researcher who traced the entirety of Christianity back to the Egyptian cult of Horus. The work of connecting Egypt to Christ had already been done by Massey in exhaustive detail. Thus Massey served as a storehouse for the detailed lore that supported the Oragean version of Christianity. Leaving nothing to chance, Hurston pointed the reader toward Massey by coding his name into the text of “Monkey Junk, with Gerald in verse 59 and Massey in verse 58.

Hurston unites Biblical and Egyptian references to terrible and finite ends in her penultimate verse:

    61. And he desisted. And after many days did he receive a letter saying “Go to the monkeys,

    thou hunk of mud and learn things and be wise. (emphasis added)

This puzzling end to her story becomes clearer if we recognize it to be, firstly, an allusion to the King James Version of the Bible’s Book of Proverbs, though the entire passage must be consulted to reveal the entire sense of Hurston’s passage. Hurston’s conclusion also echoes both Gurdjieff ‘s exhortation to “wake up,” and the references to body parts discussed above in relation to the trial of Osiris by Thoth.


6Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:

 7Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler,

 8Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.

 9How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep?

 10Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep:

 11So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man.

 12A naughty person, a wicked man, walketh with a froward mouth.

 13He winketh with his eyes, he speaketh with his feet, he teacheth with his fingers;

 14Frowardness is in his heart, he deviseth mischief continually; he soweth discord.

 15Therefore shall his calamity come suddenly; suddenly shall he be broken without remedy.

(KJV Proverbs 6:6-15)

Secondly, Massey’s discussion of “Sign-language and Mythology” states that:

    Again, the Monkey who is transformed into a man is a prototype of the Moon-God Taht, who is a     Dogheaded Ape in one character and a man in another” (Massey 1995,15).

The monkey can be the source of wisdom, since through this sign Hurston points to the Egyptian god Thot (Thoth), the inventor of writing, the developer of science, and the judge of the dead. In volume two of Ancient Egyptthe profound character of the wisdom of the “monkey” is made manifest, for Massey reveals that the Bible is synonymous with Egyptian scriptures, (Massey, vol.2, 1995,  903). The hellish judgement and sentence is passed in the final verse:  “62. And he returned unto Alabama to pick cotton. Selah.”


In concluding, we will observe that the majority of research on Hurston’s writings continue to make self-fulfilling assumptions about Hurston and to proceed through circular and pre-conceived arguments and thereby does little to explicate Hurston’s texts meaningfully. For instance Hurston’s folk play “Cold Keener” presents a title that Alice Birney of the Library of Congress states “remains a mystery.” Birney then uses a concept of Hurston’s, “primitive angularity,” to explain why the play “with nine skits that are unrelated in their themes, characters, or even their settings” makes no discernible sense. The title uses the same code used in “Monkey Junk” and says “code key” (See note 11.): the play is esoteric and Hurston’s “primitive angularity” is an inadequate approach. While writing this paper we came across Miriam Thaggert’s Images of Black Modernism: Verbal and Visual Strategies of the Harlem Renaissance(2010). Attracted to Hurston’s provocative assertion that “the white man thinks in a written language and the Negro thinks in hieroglyphics” (Thaggert 2012, 48) in Hurston’s essay “The Characteristics of Negro Expression” (1934), Thaggert undertakes an analysis of Hurston’s “theories of black language” (Thaggert 2012, 47) with no basis for this discussion beyond what Hurston has said about black language. According to Cheryl Wall, Hurston’s “Characteristics” essay has become  “a protocol for reading Hurston’s novels”: Wall observes that “Many critics, including Henry Louis Gates Jr., Karla Holloway, and Lynda Hill have remarked on the intellectual boldness and the insightful brilliance of this essay (Wall 2005). Not only is Hurston’s “Characteristics” essay not anthropology in the first place, it is a parody of W.E B. Du Bois’s discussions of black culture in The Souls of Black Folk(1903) and in his later writings. Hurston took her title from a sentence in “Of the Faith of the Fathers: “The Negro church of to-day is the social centre of Negro life in the United States, and the most characteristic expression of African character” (191). The thesis of Hurston’s essay comes from a statement by Du Bois that “The Negro is essentially dramatic,” (Lorini 2001, 167), and Hurston’s “Characteristics” can in part be understood as a send-up of Du Boisian pomposity. Thus Hurston is fundamentally poised to deceive her trusting, sleeping reader. Even in a brief, early piece like “Monkey Junk” Hurston’s concerns are complex, being synthesized from anthropology, Massey’s long and dense discussion in “Sign-language and Mythology,” the Bible, the esoteric ideas of Orage, and the perplexing text of Gurdjieff’s Tales. Thus scholarship on Hurston is years away from a comprehensive understanding of Hurston’s theories of language and of her literary texts.

Works Cited

Anon., Guide & Index. Toronto: Traditional studies Press, 1971.

Barnes, Djuna.Nightwood. New York: New Directions, 1961.

Birney, Alice. The Zora Neale Hurston Plays at the Library of Congress. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/hurston/znhintro.html.

Bloomberg, Kristin M. Mapel. Tracing Arachne’s Web: Myth and Feminist Fiction. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001.

Blue Letter Bible. “The Proverbs of Solomon 6 – (KJV – King James Version).” Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2011. Web. 15 Aug 2011. < http://www.blueletterbible.org/Bible.cfm?b=Pro&c=6&t=KJV >.

Budge, E. Wallace. Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection.vols I & II.vol I, Chapter X “Osiris as Judge of the Dead.” London: P.L. Warner, 1911. http://www.archive.org/details/osirisegyptianre00budg.

Butuzov, Gleb. “Some Traits of Hermetic Language.” Web. http://www.levity.com/alchemy/butuzov_hermetic_language.html

Cheatham, Julie Anne. “Sinclair Lewis and H. L. Mencken:  Two Appraisals of Provincial America in the 1920s.”  John C. Young Scholars Journal. 1990. Web.

CollinsPatriciaHill “Race, Identity and Political Activism: The Shifting Contoursof the African American Thought.” Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought. Ed. Beverly Guy-Sheftall. New York: The New Press, 1995.338-58.

Davis, Thadious M. Nella Larsen, Novelist of the Harlem Renaissance: A Woman’s Life Unveiled. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1994.

Driscoll, Walter J.  “A. R. Orage: An Introduction & Bibliography.” Web. [http://www.gurdjieff-bibliography.com/Current/r_driscoll_%20orage-%20intro_2004-07-04.pdf].

Francis, Theodore. Realism in the Novels of the Harlem Renaissance. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2002.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. Afterword to Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. New York: Harper Perennial, 1990.

Grand-Jean, Laura Mules and Men website. Am. Stud. Prog. U. Va. SSring 2001 http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ma01/grand-jean/hurston/chapters/zorabio.html).

Gruesser, John C. Rev. of Black Empire, by George S. Schuyler. Ed. Robert A. Hill and R. Kent Rasmussen. African American Review27.4 (1993): 679-86.

Gurdjieff, G.I. All and Everything: Ten Books in Three Series: FIRST SERIES:An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man,” or, “Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson.” London: Routledge & Kegan Paul,1950. SECOND SERIES:Meetings with Remarkable Men.” Trans. A. R. Orage, London: Picador, 1963. THIRD SERIES:Life is Real Only Then, When ‘I Am.’” 1stPublished New York: Duton for Triangle Editions,1975. electronic edition: Gurdjieff Heritage: – http://gurdjieff-heritage-society.org/BeelzebubsTales/Beelzebub.ht.

Hodd, Tom. Review of Literary Modernism and Occult Scholarship: The Rising Academic Tide. Eds. Leon Surette and Demetres P. Tryphonopoulos. Orono: NPF, 1996. Modemist Alchemy: Poetry and the Occult. Timothy Materer. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1995. The Antigonish Review. http://www.antigonishreview.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=356&Itemid=65.

Hurst, Fannie. “Zora Neale Hurston: A Personality Sketch” Yale University Library Gazette35.1 (1960): 19.

Hurston, Zora Neale. Zora Neale Hurston to Van Vechten in Jonah’s Gourd VinePhiladelphia: Lippincott, 1934 Beinecke Library. Web. http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/cvvpw/gallery/hurston1.html.

_____. “Monkey Junk: A Satire on Modern Divorce” The Chronicle Review. The Chronicle of Higher Education.Web.http://chronicle.com/article/Monkey-Junk-A-Satire-on/125754/

Kellner, Bruce. Carl Van Vechten and the Irreverent Decades. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. 1968.

King, C. Daly. The Oragean Version. Unpublished. Web. http://www.scribd.com/doc/7100290/Oragean-Version.

Lorini, Alessandra. “The Spell of Africa is Upon Me”: W.E.B Du Bois’ Notion of Art as Propaganda. in Genevieve Fabre and Michel Feith eds.  Temples for Tomorrow: Looking Back at the Harlem Renaissance. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2001.

Massey, Gerald, 1828-1907: A Book of the Beginnings(electronic edition, 2007), ed. by Jon Lange Web. HTML at masseiana.org.

_____. Ancient Egypt the Light of the World: A Work of Reclamation and Restitution. Baltimore, MD: Black Classic Press; Reprint edition (March 1, 1995). Web. electronic edition, 2007.  http://www.masseiana.org/aebk0.htm.

New Living Bible. Web. http://www.newlivingtranslation.com/05discoverthenlt/faqs.asp?faq=19.

Ouspensky, P.D. In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching.New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1949. Web. http://www.holybooks.com/search-miraculous/.

Parker, Dorothy, Not Much Fun: The Lost Poems of Dorothy Parker. Ed. Stuart Y. Silverstein. New York: Scribner, 2009.

Rauve, Rebecca. “An Intersection of Interests: Gurdjieff’s Rope Group as a Site of Literary

Production.” Twentieth Century Literature  49.1 (2003): 46-81.

The Scopes ‘Monkey Trial’ – July 10, 1925 – July 25, 1925” [Introduction, “Inherit the Wind”]Web. http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ug97/inherit/1925home.html

Singh, Amritjit, The Novels of the Harlem Renaissance: Twelve Black Writers, 1923-1933, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1976.

Taylor, Paul Beekman. Gurdjieff’s America. Gurdjieff’s America: Mediating the Miraculousby Paul Beekman Taylor, Cambridge: Lighthouse Editions, 2004. Reissued as Gurdjieff’s Invention of America. Utrecht, The Netherlands: Eureka Editions, 2007.

Thaggert, Miriam. Images of Black Modernism: Verbal and Visual Strategies of the Harem Renaissance. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2010.

Van Vechten, Carl. Nigger Heaven. 1926. New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1971.

Wall, Cheryl. “Zora Neale Hurston’s Essays: On Art and Such.” The Scholar and Feminist Online. Online  3.2. Jumpin’ at the Sun: Reassessing the Life and Work of Zora Neale Hurston.
Monica L. Miller, Guest Editor (2005). Web.

Washington, Peter. Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon: A History of the Mystics, Mediums, and Misfits who Brought Spiritualism to America. New York: Shocken Books Inc., 1966 (London: Secker and Warburg, 1993).

Webb, James. The Harmonious Circle. Boston: Shambhala, 1987. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1980).

Welch, Louise. Orage with Gurdjieff in America.Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982.

Wellbeloved,Sophia.Gurdjieff: The Key Concepts. London: Routledge, 2003.

_____. Gurdjieff, Astrology & Beelzebub’s Tales. New Paltz, NY: Solar Bound Press, 2002. (New Paltz, NY: Abintra Books, 2001).

Woodson, Jon. To Make a New Race: Gurdjieff, Toomer, and the Harlem Renaissance. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1999.


1] The full title of G.I.Gurdjieff’s text was Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson or AnObjectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man, and it was the firstvolume of his All and Everythingtrilogy. The All andEverything trilogy also includes Meetings with Remarkable Men (firstpublished in 1963) and Life Is Real Only Then, When ‘I Am’ (first privately printedin 1974).

[2] Blind WillieMcTell (William Samuel McTier) began to sing “A Married Man’s a Fool” about1920. As this is a folk song, its distribution cannot be specified.

“A Married Man’s a Fool”

Had a friend, Louie Brown, he was a deacon
Just as wise as he could be
Now I realized he could read the good book
Back from revelations down to genesis
You know last Sunday morning we was over to the church
My buddy wants to take him a stand
And he looks out upon that whole congregation
The good book in his hand

Now he cast his eye about, and then he looks over in the amen corner
All the sisters commenced to shout [What’d he say? ]
He said a married mans a fool to think that his wife love nobody else but him
She stick by you all your life the chances is mighty slim
Now you read the good book, chapter twenty-one:
Every married woman got to have a little fun
Read on over chapter twenty-two:
Its a sin to let that woman make a fool outta you
Now you read a little further, chapter twenty-three:
She two-time you, brother, like she double-crossed me
Read on back, over chapter ten:
She shimmy one time, you got the problem again
cause a married mans a fool to think that his wife
Loves nobody else but him, I mean, loves nobody else but him

Well, a married mans a fool to think that his wife
Loves nobody else but him
She stands by you all your life the chances is mighty and slim
Now you read on over twenty-fifth page:
Married womens, lord, is hard to engage
Read kinda careful, chapter twenty-six:
Back door slamming you got to learn to get it fixed
Read on out, chapter twenty-eight:
Who’s that back slidin out through the back gate ?
I believe I’ll close on chapter twenty-nine:
Woman get tired of the same man all the time
cause a married mans fool to think that his wife love nobody else but him


[3] In 1926 these texts werepublished: Wallace Thurman, Fire!!; Carl Van Vechten, Nigger Heaven;Eric Walrond, Tropic Death, and these works marked the manifesto phaseof Harlem literary esotericism. Van Vechten’s novels were the models for theHarlem group’s novels. Two of their esoteric novels followed in 1928— RudolphFisher’s The Walls of Jericho; Nella Larsen’s Quicksand.  1929 brought two more novels from the Harlemgroup —Nella Larsen’s, Passing and Wallace Thurman’s The Blacker theBerry. In 1931 George S. Schuyler brought out Black No More. 1932saw the publication of Rudolph Fisher’s, The Conjure Man Dies andWallace Thurman’s Infants of the Spring. Thus seven novels were writtenand published by members of the Harlem group between 1926, when the esoteric publishingprogram was initiated, and 1932, a notable literary achievement.

[4] See Tom Hodd.

[5] As an example of Van Vechten’shandling of esoteric coding (see note 11), there is an extraordinary passagetowards the conclusion of Nigger Heaven. It is related that when patronswho appear to be wealthy arrive at a particular Harlem restaurant they aregreeted as “Mr. Gunnion” (241). This rude and intolerable handling of patrons couldnot have taken place, and it is clearly a “lawful inexactitude” meant toindicate that there is esoteric content in the passage. Since Gurdjieff wascommonly referred to by his followers as “Mr. G.” and since the goal of histeaching was to produce unity in the self (“one ‘I’”), the name “Mr. Gunnion”(Mr. G.—union) is a transparent indication of Van Vechten’s interest in theteachings of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff.

[6] Thissuggestion is supported by the word “alchemy” (90) and by the codedpresentation of Fulcanelli’s name  (90) inDjuna Barnes’s novel, Nightwood, —again, a poorly understood modern textwhich is Gurdjieffian (and Oragean) and extensively coded in cabala though notcritically categorized as being esoteric, despite Barnes’s association with aParis Gurdjieff group (see Rauve 53). The Orageanliterary code is a curious apparatus in a number of ways. It is a variation ofthe traditional alchemical cabala code. Speaking of the cabalaGleb Butuzov states that “the phrases, read aloud must be understood not justin the sense they have on paper, but also in that elusive sense they acquire onbeing ‘misheard’ (where, in common speech, we would ask our interlocutor torepeat the sentence, because we had heard something that seemed to beinappropriate to the context of the conversation). This second – reallyesoteric – meaning is often irrelevant to the first, and people who neglectthis level of the information–exchange actually read a very different book.”

[7] For her part, Hurston wastremendously fond of Van Vechten. “If Carl was a people instead of a person,”Hurston once said to Fannie Hurst, “I could then say, these are my people” (Hurst 19). Van Vechten’s copy of Hurston’s novel Jonah’sGourd Vine bears the inscription, “For Carl Van Vechten who blows the slidetrombone in the same band with Ol’ Gabr’el.”  (Hurston “Hurston to VanVechten”).

[8]See Welch 31; Taylor 71-2.

[9] Gerald Massey held an Egypt-centric position about the origin of the world’s early advancedcultures that he argued through a scholarly comparative analysis of language, names, and mythology.

[10] The Oragean Versionis the title of an unpublished manuscript by C. Daly King. He compiled thismanuscript during the nineteen twenties in New York to record the teaching ofAlfred Orage.

[11] Unlike a crosswordpuzzle, the coded text does not directly betray its presence. It shows itselfonly through some anomaly. Since anomalies do not necessarily suggest that theyare connected to puzzles, they often go unnoticed. In “Monkey Junk” one chiefanomaly is that Miles Paige is the only name attributed to a character, and heis the lawyer for the defendant. Thus there is no discernible reason for him tohave a name while the major players are nameless. By the rules of the Orageanliterary code Miles Paige has been marked as being of particular interest andthe name represents some other meaning.

The rulesof the phonetic code are simple but since they are not habitual, it isdifficult to work out what they are hiding. One clue has been provided—theproximity of Miles Paige to the word “multitude.” Once the solution has beenarrived at, the surrounding text points to the solution so as to confirm it.The verse where Miles Paige first appears reads as follows: “55. Thendid the multitude rejoice and say ‘Great is Miles Paige, and mighty isthe judge and jury.’” For Hurston’s the purpose, this was equivalent toMat 27:24—“When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but [that] rather atumult was made, he took water, and washed [his] hands before the multitude,saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye [to it].” Thisis not to say that this clarifies the matter since there are other allusionsand particularly since Miles Paige is not only associated with Pilate but withJesus. But the mainstay of the code it phonetic and the sounds of“Pilate” must be heard inside of “Miles Paige”:

Miles Paige





The objections to reading “MilesPaige” as “Pilate“ are as follows: M, e s, and I are remaindered and have to beignored. There is no t.  g is a poorsubstitute for t.  One word is made outof letters in two words. The beginning of the word is in the second word.

In answer it can be suggested thatthis is a code, and the solution is hidden by the extra letters and by the useof two words. Pilate has but one name and Americans have two names, so the useof two words was unavoidable; the deferral of the initial letter to the secondword is one of the rules for the code and has to be worked out over manyexamples: for example, Dust Tracks on a Road (the title of Hurston’sautobiography) reads as “trust code” by adding the tr of the second wordto the ust of the initial word. Only a few consonants (d,b, etc.) mightbe substituted for t, and the writer still has to make an English word fromwhatever is used.


Once the logic of the method has beengrasped, it is still difficult to know exactly where to draw the interpretiveline. Most inclusions, as with Massey’s name, are merely the names of theesoteric teachers of the writer, so that “Monkey Junk” also presents the namesOrage (verses 42 bear, 43 jury judge—compare to verse 48),Gurdjieff (verses 10 chaff; 28,59 ger), and King (verse 25 making), and these names are found in most ofHursrton’s texts as well as those of many other writers influenced by Orage.Massey’s name is original to “Monkey Junk,” so its inclusion is particularlyinteresting.

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ORAGEAN MODERNISM: a lost literary movement – 1924-1953



Oragean Modernism is a fascinating display of critical and scholarly detection. It shows, the extensive influence that G. I. Gurdjieff’s writing and teaching have had on 20th century American literature. I recommend it as irresistible for all readers with an interest in either American literature, Gurdjieff or both. Sophia Wellbeloved


The info below comes from ‘Amazon About this Book’



In 1920 P.D. Ouspensky electrified the cultural avant-garde from New York to Moscow with his fourth-dimensional ideas about cosmic consciousness. His book Tertium Organum was a manual for becoming a Superman. He said:


Two hundred conscious people, if they existed and if they find it necessary and legitimate, could change the whole of life on the earth. But either there are not enough of them, or they do not want to, or perhaps the time has not come, or perhaps other people are sleeping too soundly.”
In 1925 the American followers of A.R. Orage rose to this challenge. Believing that they were the only force that could save the Earth from destruction, they carried out a master plan steeled by a new morality that faced head-on “the terror of the situation.” Fearlessly determined to intervene in world history, they infiltrated the American Communist Party and the publishing industry.
The movement included Carl Van Vechten, Djuna Barnes, Nathaniel West, John Dos Passos, Arna Bontemps, Dawn Powell, James Agee, Maxwell Perkins, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, C. Daly King, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Dorothy West and many more.

In Oragean Modernism, a lost literary movement Jon Woodson reveals the coded contents of their published writings—which were many of the stellar works of 20th century American literature.
Jon Woodson’s Oragean Modernism: a lost literary movement, 1924-1953 (2013) is the sequel to his path-breaking intervention in Harlem Renaissance studies, To Make a New Race: Gurdjieff, Toomer, and the Harlem Renaissance (1999).


Beginning with A Critical Analysis of the Poetry of Melvin B. Tolson (1979), Woodson has investigated complex modernist texts by African American writers, searching for the key to their contradictions, enigmas, and spellbinding literary mastery. Widening the scope of his inquiry to include Lost Generation authors, Woodson has revealed an unprecedented conspiracy of writers, editors, publishers, artists, intellectuals, and technocrats—all united in a secret plan to change the course of world history in order to circumvent a global disaster. Fortified by belief in their super-humanity, the Oragean Modernists were convinced that only they could redirect the fate of the Earth.


Writing titanically, they produced a vast body of esoteric literature to disseminate their message to their contemporaries, and to future generations—should they fail. Comprising many popular and canonical literary works, the Oragean Modernist writings are nevertheless some of the most controversial and difficult literary works of the 1920s and 1930s. For the first time, Woodson’s iconoclastic study places these works in a context that gathers them into a narrative that is daring, sweeping, and intellectually electrifying.
* * * * *
This is the best scan of what was going on in those crucial years, 1924–1953. His book is a major contribution to the cultural, intellectual, and spiritual history of the Harlem Renaissance and all the wells it drew from.O
Paul Beekman Taylor
Gurdjieff Historian
* * * * * *

clIck on


for my online review of Oragean Modenrism

contact me on s.wellbeloved@gmail.com if you’d like to send me a review.

* * * * * *

Jon Woodson is a Howard University emeritus professor of English, Fulbright lecturer in American Literature, novelist, and poet. He is the author of :

Anthems, Sonnets, and Chants: Recovering the African American Poetry of the 1930s, OSUP, 2011

To Make a New Race: Gurdjieff, Toomer, and the Harlem. Renaissance, UP of Mississippi, 1999

A Study of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22: Going Around Twice, Lang, 2001.

Click on the link below for my review of Orgean Modernism


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Recently I’ve received emails seeking to find and define differences betweenTales (Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson) and Meetings (Meetings With Remarkable Men). In my view there are many possible ways in which the texts might be explored, and understood.


All of these must depend most fundamentally on the reader agreeing to do as Gurdjieff asks and read each of his texts (he includes Life Is Real Only Then, When ‘I’ Am but excludes The Herald of coming Good ) in order to receive the special benefit he wishes for us (Tales vi). This implies an invitation to understand these books in relation to each other, and also in relation to the reader’s understanding.


I’ve written about some of the ways that Gurdjieff’s texts might be considered as related in a number of sections on, Beelzebub’s Tales To His Grandson, Meetings With Remarkable Men, Life is Real Only Then, When ‘I’ Am’, The Herald Of Coming Good , Astrology, Autobiographical writings, Myth, Writings, and Zodiac in Gurdjieff: the Key Concepts (Routledge 2003).

However, I have recently been re-reading Northrop Frye’s The Great Code: The Bible As Literature (Ark Paperbacks, 1983) in which he employs typology as a literary critical method to examine the relationship between the Old Testament and New Testaments.


Typology is a method of biblical interpretation whereby an element found in the Old Testament is seen to prefigure one found in the New Testament. The initial one is called the type and the fulfillment is designated the antitype. Either type or antitype may be a person, thing, or event, but often the type is messianic and frequently related to the idea of salvation. The use of Biblical typology enjoyed greater popularity in previous centuries, although even now it is by no means ignored as a hermeneutic.



Typological interpretation is specifically the interpretation of the Old Testament based on the fundamental theological unity of the two Testaments whereby something in the Old shadows, prefigures, adumbrates something in the New. Hence, what is interpreted in the Old is not foreign or peculiar or hidden, but arises naturally out of the text due to the relationship of the two Testaments.


(Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation (Baker, 1970) p. 223. http://www.theopedia.com/Biblical_typology


Frye’s magisterial work: offers a correspondence of patterning between the two Testaments that in my view can also be found in the relationship betweenTales and Meetings.


The following are examples of type and antitype:


Jesus is the antitype of Adam, of Joshua, of prophets Moses and Elijah, of King Solomon.[ …] Christian baptism is the antitype of the saving of mankind from Noah’s flood. The Sermon on the Mount is the antitype to the Ten Commandments. Eternal life is the antitype of ritual observance. John’s “In the beginning” is the antitype to Genesis’s. The new, spiritual, heaven and earth in Revelations is the antitype to Genesis’s physical heaven and earth.

(Marion L. Billington – Frye, intro to typology – Mon, 2 Nov 98 5:58:46 EST ) on a site which discusses Frye’s work at length,





Beginnings and Falls

As a brief example of reading the Bible in a relation of correspondence with Tales, we find that the Biblical creation story in closely followed by the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden, (Genesis 1: 1-31) is echoed in Tales by His Endlessness’ creation of the world in order to expel time which is destroying his habitat (Tales 748 -49). The expulsion of Adam and Eve for knowing about good and evil is echoed in the expulsion of Beelzebub from his home planet Karatas, for knowing better than His Endlessness and thus threatening revolution and overthrow of the established order (Tales 52-3).


Knowledge is the key reason for expulsion in both cases. Adam and Eve’s acquisition of knowledge from the Tree of Good and Evil creates God’s fear that they may also become Gods by eating from the Tree of Life, which would, in terms not directly explained in Genesis, certainly overthrow the established order.


The Fall of Adam and Eve into a world of toil and suffering and the Fall of Beellzebub into our planetary system are both followed by series of further Falls. In Tales although there are periods of improvement these are always followed by loss and disorder which echo the series of biblical Falls (see Frye 170-71 ).





Endings and Ascensions

The Biblical ascension of Ellijah taken up to heaven by a whirlwind (2 Kings, 4: 11-13) is mentioned in the last two verses of the Old Testament (Malachi 4: 4-6) we might relate this to the ascension of Beelzebub, pardoned by His Endlessness and returning to his home planet in a spaceship at the end of the Tales. This also suggests a narrative link to the ascension of Christ having obtained forgiveness for humanity and his return to His Father in Heaven (Acts 1: 9-11).

At the end of Tales Hassein weeps in compassion for humanity (Tales 1161-64) this is echoed by Gurdjieff at the end of Meetings where, during their last meeting, the author and Professor Skridlov also ascend; they ascend a mountain and on the summit the Professor weeps ‘not from grief, no, but as though from tenderness.’ (Meetings 245-46). His life has been utterly changed by his meeting with Father Giovanni, this has been to his ‘worldly misfortune’ that is a casting out of his old values. Giovanni is the Italian name for John so in Biblical terms both the name and the effect of Giovanni’s teaching suggest the last book of the New Testament the Revelation of St John the Divine.


So, although we have touched only lightly on the beginnings and endings of these texts and their interrelationship, I hope that this will encourage further exploration and suggest that Frye’s text can be a stimulus to new ways of reading and to moments of new understanding. The relation of Tales to Meetings in terms of Frye’s typology could lead to a reading that finds the type or types representing Beelzebub in Tales related to the Old Testament and the antitype of Gurdjieff in Meetings relating to the New Testament.



Frye writes in The Great Code of the circular interpretation of the Old and New Testaments the gospel story is true ‘Because it confirms the prophecies of the Old Testament,’ while the Old Testament prophecies are true because they are confirmed by the New Testament. ‘They form a double mirror, each reflecting the other but neither the world outside (Frye 78). This applies also to readings of Gurdjieff’s writings which are often validated with reference to his cosmological and practical teachings, while in turn each of these is validated by his texts.


I don’t want to suggest that readings of either kind would result in any fixed understanding of Gurdjieff’s writings, or that any fixed understanding would in itself be useful. The value of text exploration and analysis leads to moments of new understanding, and in turn these lead to changes of state. And although these new understandings cannot and need not be clung onto as a ‘final’ or ‘true’ meaning any more that our changes of state can be clung to, they are in themselves beneficial.


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The recently published Les Femmes Mystiques is an exceptional book; it is remarkable for the wealth of information it provides about women mystics of all the religions and spiritual movements from antiquity to the present, and it is remarkable from what can be interpreted from the overall impressions it exercises on readers.

It was complied under the direction of the young (37 years old) French specialist of religions Audrey Fella who leads in with a 43-page introduction in which she holds – and it certainly seems to be so – that it is within western Christianity in which there have been the greatest number of female mystics and that this is largely due to the influence of Jesus’ open attitude towards women, although she makes no mention of the influence of Saint Paul who clearly opted for the control and relegation of women to inferior status as all the historical religions have more or less done. Fella defines mysticism “as the union of the soul with God or the absolute” and believes that women mystics have “particularly distinguished themselves in “the affectionate and sometimes sensual mystic of love,” although “mysticism is no more feminine than it is masculine…and is not more natural to women than it is to men.”

More than 900 double-column pages of notices organized as a dictionary-encyclopedia, feature more than 250 women by more than fifty scholars of religion. This of course includes the Catholic women (more than half the total) we would expect to find like Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Sienna, Thérèse de Lisieux, Héloïse, Bernadette Soubirous, or Edith Stein, but also the Protestants Sarah Edwards or Anne Lee, the Orthodox Xenia de Petersburg and the Copt Mary Kahil. And there are the Hindu Anadamayi Ma, the Buddhist Alexandra David-Néel, the Sufi Fâtima Bint Abî, the Hassid Malka Rokeah, and also Shintos, Taoists and Shamans…and, and the philosopher-scientist Hypathia, the Theosophist Helena Blavatsky, the Don Juan Matus and Carlos Castaneda-influenced neo-Shaman Taisha Abelar, artistic mystics like Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf or Isadora Duncan, political mystics like Simone Weill, Wiccans like Starhawk, “pagan” occultists like Lotus de Païni… The book is very usefully completed by a 22-page glossary of selected mystical and spiritual terms.

However, there is a glaring and surprising lack in this book – the quasi-absence of women linked to Gurdjieff and the Fourth Way. There is no mention whatsoever of Jeanne de Salzmann, Olga De Hartmann, Henriette Lannes, Pauline de Dampierre or Louise Welch. This absence doesn’t seem to be a result of unawareness of the Gurdjieff movement because the American painter Georgia O’Keefe’s knowledge of Gurdjieff’s teachings and her links to Jean Toomer are mentioned.

In only six pages and less than 4000 words, the Spanish emeritus professor Bernard Sesé traces the amazing career of Teresa of Avila from somebody who felt that she was “a miserable ruin and sinner” to somebody who came out on the other side of mortifications, the tricks of the devil, extreme torment, pain, suffering, extraordinary visions of enthrallment, constant meditation, prayer and study to joy, bliss, grace, union in her body with Jesus, “peace, quietude and ineffable peace of the soul,” love and service to others and one of the most important roles in the construction of Roman Catholic spiritual theology and a personal example to many other saints and doctors of the Church. There is a full description of how Teresa in her Interior Castle mapped “the seven mansions of the path of the soul until the center of the intimate castle where a spiritual marriage takes place.” This notice is a near-perfect example of what is possible using the way of devotion, a way that the Hindus name bhakti, personal devotion, adoration and loving faith, but it doesn’t adequately address questions which any person aspiring to neutrality must – did Teresa relish in suffering and was her despicience of the ordinary world (in Autobiography, the Way of Perfection she saw “ecstasy” as “making the soul despise the things of this world.”) a price that must be paid for magical religious rapture?

The notice about the Hindu saint and spiritual master Anadamayi Ma by the emeritus professor of INALCO (the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations in Paris) France Bhattacharya is especially well done. It tells how Anadamayi rose from a poor village girl in Bengal, subject to ecstatic trances, married off at 13, but refusing sexual relations, who at 22 years old experienced the divine kheyâl – the spontaneous desire for spiritual practice – and without the assistance of any guru became a spiritual master of immense emotional and intellectual intensity with a worldwide following. She respected Hindu rituals and unsurprisingly recommended a Hindu strictly vegetarian diet (without garlic or onions seen among Hindus following a spiritual path as foods which excite desires and favor a lack of mental control), but she was also noted for supporting spiritual equality irregardless of sex and caste.

I must mention that the notice about Anadamayi solved a longstanding personal mystery for me. As a young man I traveled from Paris (by all sorts of means, mostly hitchhiking) to the holy city of Hardwar in northern India to meet Anadamayi and at the end of a long day of rituals and talk I asked her to sign a book of her sayings and she signed with a dot, which I immediately interpreted as an esoteric symbol…and after all these years I learned from Bhattacharya’s notice that quite simply Anadamayi didn’t know how to write.

The notice about the neo-Shaman Taisha Abelar by Audrey Fella is particularly instructive for the questions it raises about the relevance of the abundance of criticism of the American Toltec shaman Carlos Castaneda (notably by William Patrick Patterson in The Life & Teachings of Carlos Castaneda in which he gives us a catastrophic portrait, especially of Castaneda’s last days, or his disappearance). While Fella mentions the widespread charges of fraud which Castaneda’s writings have provoked, notably the culminating magical practice of jumping off a cliff leading “to the passage from ordinary reality to another reality,” the notice about Abelar’s experiences seems to corroborate Castaneda‘s experiences and at the very least indicates a coherent spiritual system no different from what goes on in many other systems, and notably Tibetan Lamaism, and opens the question about is really possible using extreme methods and how all this can be divided into reality, imagination, self-suggestion or symbolic-metaphorical meaning. It brings to mind the definition of mythology by the British scholar of religions S.H. Hooke, in Middle Eastern Mythology :The right question to ask about myth is not, ‘Is it true?’ but ‘What is it intended to do?’

However, for anybody who believes that any wee particle of truth which we can find is in science and art rather than in religion or for anybody who is an atheist, it has to be acknowledged that what we have in Fella’s book is a huge accumulation of the usual mystic stuff about sexual abstinence, anorexia, stigma, lacrymations, possession, demonology, angelology, relics, visions, prophecies, premonitory dreams, dictated writing, healing and of course various mortifications. It is easy to interpret all this as psychosomatic phenomena born from an incapacity to accept reality as it is, or a refusal of reality, or a wishful, unquenchable thirst for a meaningful life, but one of the paradoxical and remarkable interpretations which can be made from Fella’s book is the overall impression that whatever one accepts or refuses about the truth of what is related it is impossible not to conclude that what we often have here are authentic spiritual adventures and the mystery of people who truly believe in spiritual fulfillment…and above all that often the genuine result is consolation, a consolation which rarely can be found in the spiritual paths which are less centered on mysticism.

This is turn raises a question which Gurdjieff addressed – as quoted by Ouspensky in In Search of the Miraculous; Gurdjieff states that monks are frequently “naïve”, but their essence, “the truth in man”, is more developed than in “an average cultured man”, a factor which opens the way of the fakir or the way of the monk to him…but “the method and means which are possible for a man of developed intellect are impossible for him.” Gurdjieff underscores that the way of the monk is “the way of faith, the way of religious feeling, religious sacrifice. Only a man with very strong religious emotions and a very strong religious imagination can become a monk. …All his work is concentrated on…feelings…But his physical body and his thinking capacities may remain undeveloped. …In order to be able to make use of what he has attained, he must develop his body and his capacity to think. …Very few get as far as this; even fewer overcome all the difficulties. Most of them either die before this or become monks in outward appearance only.” And so what one might venture to assert – and what we see in Fella’s book – is that the mystic, the monk, does indeed often find consolation, but that it is far less often than he or she goes far down the path towards unified growth, what Gurdjieff called “a real I am”, that is of course if one believes that any of the esotericisms or religions do in fact provide the means for a radical transformation rather than just constituting the fulcrum for a magnificent failure.

On the whole, Audrey Fella’s book is remarkably evenhanded and can be used for reference needs or even read from A to Z as fascinating biography. It is a sincere attempt to relate facts, or apparent facts, sprinkled with doses of criticism and even skepticism, but of course it has to be said that that like any book compiled by dozens of people with varied sensitivities it is also riddled with notices which make no attempt to separate possible legend from possible fact, an example of this being the notice about the Virgin Mary, Mother of God in which the usually related tale of Mary and the standard interpretation and meaning of her role are spun out by Thérèse Nadeau-Lacour, a professor of moral theology at the université Laval in Québec.

I hope that this book will soon be translated into English.

Fella, Audrey, (Directeur de la publication), Les Femmes Mystiques: histoire et dictionnaire, 1 vol (1087 pages), Notes bibliogr., Glossaire, Index, Robert Laffont, Paris, 2013.


Simson Najovits is a writer and former Editor-in-Chief of Radio France Internationale where he broadcast on lifestyles, religion and politics. His stories, poems, essays and articles have been published in Canada, the United States, France and Britain. He is the author of the two-volume, Egypt, Trunk of the Tree, published by Algora in New York and translated into Arabic by Shorouk in Cairo. He has been awarded Canada Arts Council and Quebec Arts Council grants. He has lived in Paris for many years and spent many years in the Work.

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A review of a book that examines G.I. Gurdjieff’s ideas in light of Modern Science



The author of this thoughtful book is Christian Wertenbaker, a clinical neuro-ophthalmologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in The Bronx, N.Y. The College’s website identifies the author and describes his work: “His interests include all areas of clinical neuro-ophthalmology, but especially eye movements and nystagmus, and the physiology of visual processing. He has authored or co-authored papers dealing with various aspects of clinical neuro-ophthalmology. He is also particularly interested in the art of patient care, and in teaching this to residents. The detective work involved in obtaining a comprehensive history and examination and then making sense of the patient’s complaints and illness, and the judgment involved in choosing the best course of action are all aspects of this.”


Unless I miss my guess, “Man in the Cosmos” is Dr. Wertenbaker’s first book. It has been subtitled “An Inquiry into the Ideas of G.I. Gurdjieff from a Scientific Perspective.” What I like about this book, to express it briefly and to anticipate the drift of my argument, is that the author is serious about the words “scientific perspective.” A good many books and semi-scholarly papers that examine the parallel relationship of Gurdjieff’s world view and the scientific world view are willing to subsume the latter under the rubric of the former. What Dr. Wertenbaker does is take the scientific consensus as the norm and then subsume Gurdjieff’s cosmology and psychology under it, a wiser course by far. The reader learns a little science along the way.


It is a handsome trade paperback that measures 6 inches by 9 inches. Its pagination runs as follows: xiv+192+iv. It is clearly printed on an off-white stock which, for whatever reason, makes for ready reading. The publishing house is Codhill Press, which was founded in 2008 in New Paltz, N.Y., by David Applebaum while he was the editor of “Parabola Magazine.” It was published last year.


The publisher writes about the mission of his publishing imprint: “Codhill Press is devoted exclusively to the advancement and appreciation of the finest works in poetry and prose which promise to search out important meanings for our lives. Its voice was conceived as lying at the intersection of spiritual, literary, and poetic thought. Its function was to provide texts for readers on a search for meaning and transcendent value.”


New Paltz, by the way, is the name of a village and a town located between Albany and New York City. It has an association with the anti-slavery fighter Sojourner Truth, boxer Floyd Patterson, and Mary Gordon the novelist. It is the location of a campus of the State University of New York. SUNY is the distributor of Codhill’s publications. New Paltz is also the home of another publishing imprint, Solar Bound Press, which issued Sophia Wellbeloved’s groundbreaking “Gurdjieff, Astrology and Beelzebub’s Tales: The Breakthrough Analysis of Gurdjieff’s Masterpiece.”


Textually the present book consists of an Introduction plus nineteen essays which between 1997 and 2011 appeared in “Parabola Magazine.” About a dozen years ago I subscribed to this periodical but I allowed my subscription to lapse because I found it too much like a tossed salad for my taste, a little of this and a little of that, rather than a hearty, three-course meal. But the issues that I read must have included Dr. Wertenbaker’s original articles, and the value of these was lost on me amid the plethora of lighter and familiar material reprinted from so many other sources. The result is that I am going to resubscribe to the periodical, ever mindful of the fact that, when accumulated, articles like these amount to more than the sum of their parts.


Earlier I used the words “scientific perspective,” and the value of this publication lies in the fact that this is precisely what the author offers the reader. The accumulated value of these essays amounts to a new and refreshing view of Gurdjieff’s cosmology and psychology. There is no index but there are about three dozen black-and-white illustrations as well as source notes for each chapter. The clarity of expression must owe something to Dr. Wertenbaker’s clarity of vision and his concern for reality and illusion and what he calls (with respect to the Necker cube and by extension to the subject-matter of this exposition) “perceptual decision.” Here is an outline of the contents and the argument of the book.


In the Introduction the author states that his aim is to relate “two distinct areas of human knowledge: the mystical cosmology of G.I.Gurdjieff, based, according to him, on ancient wisdom, and the discoveries and theories of modern science.” He affirms that Gurdjieff “possessed a degree of awareness, attention, perception, knowledge, and ability to act that put him on another level compared to ordinary people,” so that it is fitting to take seriously his exposition of “more obscure and controversial ideas about the nature of the universe, of man, of the soul, and of their relationships.” Some of these ideas are indeed bizarre in conception and expression.


The author states that “the method of modern science is a generally valid and honest way to arrive at truths about the world,” despite the “caveat” that science “tries to be objective and to remove the subjectivity of the observer from its deliberations.” This turns out to be a major “caveat” or caution. Finally, he adds, almost parenthetically, “There is nevertheless only one world, and so all truths about it must be compatible and related.” This need for consilience is the driving force behind the book.


In addition to his medical training and postgraduate studies in neurology and physiology, the author writes, “I also became a member of the Gurdjieff Foundation, devoted to exploring and pursuing Gurdjieff’s ideas and aims.” With characteristic honesty, he disarms the reader by adding, “I have not arrived at definite conclusions, and still do not know for sure whether many of Gurdjieff’s ideas are true.”


That was the Introduction. There are five sections each with its chapters. The first section is called “Mathematics, the Science of Patterns.” Reading it is like listening to an audio lecture in the popular Great Courses series. We whiz through “Nature’s Patterns,” “Pythagoras in 1999,” and “Some Thoughts on the Enneagram” (to cite the headings of the three articles in this section). Behind this section is the ancient argument waged by those who hold that mathematical concepts correspond to external realities against those who maintain that the concepts are subjective and procedural. What is unquestionable is the power of “patterns” and algorithms which reveal symmetries, whole and broken, in nature and in the human brain.


The chapter on Pythagoras takes the form of a lively dialogue between the author and the ancient philosopher who takes pride in the fact that “modern physics already has been forced to include the fact that the way in which a phenomenon is observed is an essential, though still mysterious, determinant of how reality manifests itself.”


There are nineteen pages devoted to “Some Thoughts on the Enneagram” and these amount to a concise and clearly written exposition of the patterns in nature that are illustrated by the nine-pointed diagram. The chapter is really a disquisition on mathematics and it is an expositor’s delight. The Fibonacci series is evoked to show “Nature’s Patterns.” The analysis extends beyond P.D. Ouspensky’s pioneering disquisition on the figure in “In Search of the Miraculous.” Even so, the author admits, “Its resistance to comprehension indicates how far we really are from the level of understanding that Gurdjieff represented and embodied.”


The second section is titled “Vibrations: The Universal Medium of Exchange.” The author writes, “The most interesting and important part of Gurdjieff’s teaching is related to vibrations, and it seems to me that since his time his views have been increasingly validated by science.” Behind this chapter is the evolution of the general and special theories of Relativity and then of Quantum Mechanics: “a Pandora’s box of bizarre attributes that continue to confound those who wish to add light to the list of puzzles considered solved by science.”


These developments occurred along with the introduction of Gurdjieff’s ideas in the West. The paradoxes familiar to physicists are not unfamiliar to metaphysicians. “If we turn our contemplation away from the outer world and to the inner one, as the sages advise, a different reality becomes evident. Like light, consciousness has no place, and no shape. It is invisible yet illuminates everything. It is unimpeded by time or space.”


The third section is titled “The Inner and Outer Worlds.” The author puzzles over “the greatest riddle, the greatest mystery of all, aside from Creation itself,” and he identifies it as the connection between “the inner world and the outer world, and their relationship to each other.” He notes their interdependency, their correlations, and their dependencies. So the sense of “the mystical feeling of being connected to everything” may be an illusion but then again it may not. In a sense, everyone is “an entity that is separate, yet connected to everything.”


Actually,” the author concludes, “there are three elements that make up a state of full awareness: awareness of the outer world, awareness of oneself through inner sensation and feeling, and awareness itself. Each of these involves different brain regions, and it may be that coordinated electrical activity between separate parts of the brain underlies the sense of self-consciousness. If so, the physical correlate of an inner life is a sufficiently complex electromagnetic pattern at the level of the entire nervous system.”


A significant concept here is what the author calls “semi-independent entities” – “an entity is like a living cell, with a semipermeable membrane that both defines it and connects it with the outside, allowing some substances to pass through in each direction and blocking others, in a dynamic equilibrium.” The cosmos is full of cells.


The chapter “Shadows of the Real World” evokes Plato’s metaphor of the cave, but even more Aladdin’s cave, as it permits the author to offer a disquisition on vision – the physical sort, though it seems it is not far from the other sort – ranging from three-dimensional imagery and three-brain to bilateral brains, to sensory perceptions which waffle before they harmonize. Degrees of consciousness are mentioned. “Mozart could hear an entire composition all at once.” (Here he is paraphrasing Roland Penrose.) “_Consciousness_ is a state in which a man _knows all at once_ everything that he in general knows and in which he can see how little he does know and how many contradictions there are in what he knows.” (Here he quotes Gurdjieff via Ouspensky.)


There is a discussion of the role of the power of the faculty of imagination. In the same way that “imaginary numbers” are required to represent the dynamic nature of elementary particles, what I might call “imaginary powers” are required to perform certain human functions. “We don’t bump into things much, and can plan our meals well ahead, as well as fantasize endlessly about the opposite sex, which sometimes leads to action. In the view of many scientists, this is the origin and purpose of imagination.”


In fact, the future is both largely predictable and completely unpredictable, but we do not live with this paradox, because for the most part we do not live consciously in the present.” Gurdjieff’s movements require the student to “maintain a constant awareness of bodily sensation and at the same time to visualize the next position to be taken. Thus the present comes into existence.”


The chapter “Awakening the Emotions” distinguishes between drives and emotions, with the help of the great psychologist William James; with the assistance of Antonio Damasio, he discusses feeling and emotions and this leads the author to suggest “self-consciousness is the result of the juxtaposition of internal and external sensation.” This is a growing point. The discussion extends to how “our instinctive-emotional reactions also have a direct effect on the activities of the cerebral cortex.”


Such effects produce “states” – arrangements of components, which (in terms of matter) may be solid, liquid, and gaseous. States change – liquids may freeze – “so the state of a substance changes its relationship to space and time, to other things, and to vibrations.” A few pages are devoted to discussing thought, feeling, and awareness … and “conscience.” The states experienced by human beings are discontinuous in nature. Gurdjieff is quoted: “All our emotions are rudimentary organs of ‘something higher,’ e.g., fear may be the organ of future clairvoyance, anger of real force, etc.”


The last chapters of this section are called “The Ego and I” and “The Home of the Self.” If they are less substantial than other sections, it may be because, once introduced, the word “ego” is difficult to dissever from Freud’s use of it, and because the word “home” (which for some readers may bring to mind Gaston Bachelard’s brilliant remark in “The Poetics of Space” that regardless of where we were born every human being lives in a house with a basement, an attic, and other floors and rooms). Yet the chapters imply a hierarchical view of man’s place in the cosmos … his “home.”


The fourth section bears the title “Worlds within Worlds” and the material in its first chapter “The Teaching of the Cosmos” will be familiar to readers of “In Search of the Miraculous” and “All and Everything.” Long before proponents of String Theory, with its multiple universes, Gurdjieff taught that there was not one single cosmos but a series of related cosmoses. Long before the Gaia Hypothesis, he taught that everything in its own way is alive. The writing here is expository.


Sir Isaiah Berlin is identified with the phrase “incommensurable values” which refers to the fact that concepts like liberty and equality cannot be combined in equal measure. This applies to attempts to equate knowledge and belief, a form of squaring the circle. Dr. Wertenbaker writes, “In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in reconciling, or at least understanding the relationship between, science and spirituality. Neuroscientists are tackling the question of the neural correlate of consciousness, after avoiding the subject for a long time. Philosophers are seriously studying the sciences. Physicists find themselves pondering the relationship between their theories and age-old spiritual questions.”


In the chapters in this section the author gives a good overview of Gurdjieff’s ideas, as recorded by Ouspensky, and the insights into the subjective and objective nature of space and time identified with Newton, Heisenberg, Einstein, and the contemporary, maverick theoretical physicist Lee Smolin. Scale is the key here, as is the overall cellular nature of a cosmos, which “selects which substances it will allow in or out.” In this way it resembles the cellular nature of man. Man is a cell in the cell of the cosmos.


The author takes the insight, which is a powerful one, and the argument well beyond the formulation above, introducing mechanical and conscious acts, advancing the average reader’s knowledge and appetite for speculation that would be free-wheeling except that it is based on the substrate of the notion of the cell. The author introduces “a resonance with a higher level of consciousness,” but warns, “These concepts are certainly foreign to science, and well beyond the direct knowledge of most of us, so that one hesitates to even mention them, but they are at the core of Gurdjieff’s teaching.”


Yet the incommensurability of such notions with those of science may be seen as a goad: “Perhaps over time Gurdjieff’s ideas will help to bring about an exact science which includes the inner and outer worlds, time and space and things, consciousness, energy and matter.”


Three more chapters – “Holy Earth,” “Laws, Miracles, and Science,” and “The Materiality of the Soul” – round out this section. The information here, both scientific and Gurdjieffian, will be familiar to readers interested in the conjunction of ancient wisdom and modern science, though the expression of it – done with great care to avoid hyperbole – will be found to be reassuring that a rational discussion of these ideas is possible. Behind it is the conviction that the quest to reconcile the traditional and the contemporary was seen by Gurdjieff as possible, for he wrote as follows:


Everything in this universe can be weighted and measured. The absolute is as material, as weighable and measurable, as the moon, or as man. If the absolute is God, it means that God can be weighed and measured, resolved into component elements, “calculated,” and expressed in the form of a definitive formula.”


The author concludes, “If there is a soul, it seems, it must conform to universal laws.” Science thus relieves the spiritual of the weight of bogus mysticism and diminishes when it does not eliminate the need for belief.


The fifth and last section is called “The Role of Man in the Cosmos,” which is essentially the theme of the book, though the reader may feel that what follows has already been subsumed by what preceded it in the fourth section. The chapter “The Fullness of the Void” examines the nature of thought and intuition and the modalities of knowledge (senses of perception and those of action) and their complexities. We take such input for granted, but not if we are scientists. “The central mystery of neuroscience, and a subject much debated today, is where, or how, or even why, consciousness awareness comes into this practice.”


The exposition here takes the form of a comparison and contrast between what contemporary scientists like Antonio Damasio and Paul MacLean conclude about the brain and what Gurdjieff largely through Ouspensky states about man. The author writes, intriguingly, “One could postulate, somewhat boldly, that the physical correlate of a more comprehensive consciousness is in fact the integrated electromagnetic activity of the brain, perhaps even of the whole body.” Perhaps the author steps too close to the edge when he adds, “Fully consciousness of myself, I become a part of everything.”


The chapter “The Cosmic Necessity of Suffering” is straight exposition of the Gurdjieffian view that suffering is inherent in creation because we are separated from creation because we are separated from ourselves. There is a reason for suffering and perhaps a purpose. “Possibly, if we took our cosmic duty seriously, our suffering could be less random and more appropriate.”


Does Man Have Three Brains,” at thirty-nine pages, is the longest chapter, and a level-headed discussion of MacLean’s tri-brain theory, approached from various vantage-points. One of the vantage-points is Gurdjieff via Ouspensky. Here the exposition struck me as making non-controversial use of evidence and mainstream theory, but the author seems to feel otherwise, for he writes, “The ideas put forth here, while grounded in both inner and outer facts, are far away from current scientific understanding. They do not constitute a theory; rather they form a speculation, with many loose ends. But the issues addressed are fundamental and require confronting.”


The last chapter is titled “The Cosmic Metabolism of Form” which is a serious way of saying “we are what we eat” and perhaps “eat or be eaten” – food, air, and impressions. A key conception here is the following sentence, which takes the reader pretty far from scientific fact but not from the Gurdjieffian perspective: “This vivification of impressions feeds our inner life, which needs conscious impressions to grow, and may also serve a larger purpose, enabling God to ‘see’ his own creation through us and other conscious observers throughout the universe.”


On the last page the author writes (in an outstanding phrase) that we are or can be “part of a great cosmic ecology of consciousness.” Because this is so we have the opportunity to become “part of everything on a conscious level, just as we are part of everything on the level of gross materiality.”


I closed the copy of “Man in the Cosmos” enriched and with the resolve to reopen the book at a later date to recall Dr. Wertenbaker’s presentation of scientific facts and theories, as well as his interpretation of Gurdjieff’s views on man’s nature and creation. It occurred to me the title of the book, while perfectly descriptive and appropriate, might even be inverted. It could be retitled “The Cosmos in Man.”







John Robert Colombo, an author and anthologist, lives in Toronto and contributes reviews and commentaries to this website. His own website – http://www.colombo.ca – describes his books which include studies of science fiction, mystery fiction, Canadiana, quotations, poetry, and the country’s humour. In 1967, he was one of the founders of the League of Canadian Poets, and earlier this month he was invited to address the League’s annual general meeting, where he reminisced about its founding and introduced its inaugural Raymond Souster Award. Some years ago Marcel Marceau visited him at his home and said, “I will gladly come to Toronto at any time to perform for you free of charge.”

11 June 2013

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Trickle Down: a poem from Simson Najovits

I was delighted to receive this  poem from Simson Najovits. He is a writer and former Editor-in-Chief of Radio France Internationale.  His stories, poems, essays and articles have been published in Canada, the United States, France and Britain. He is the author of the two-volume, Egypt, Trunk of the Tree, published by Algora In New York. He has been awarded Canada Arts Council and Quebec Arts Council grants. He has lived in Paris and spent many years in the Work.

His poem expresses rarely held views about Gurdjieff, de Salzmann and the Work, being neither totally for nor against but an interesting and positive reconciliation of those extremes.


Trickle Down

Mister Gurdjieff and Madame de Salzmann were a duo

and incontestably the finest gurus of the 20th century

Mister Gurdjieff he was flamboyant

an athlete of the spirit and the body

by the horns he grabbed the esotericisms of all the ages

reshuffled the deck

and made the supernatural appear credibly natural and even almost scientific

and even, even, refurbished God into an “Absolute Omni-Loving Endlessness”

and he revamped mythology too

his fresh metaphor and allegory juggled strange, meaningful invented words

and retold man’s old desperate tale

Mister Gurdjieff

he reveled in the body

he gormandized and drank, danced, drove fast, did business and played wistful music

he had at least seven children with seven different women, including

Madame de Salzmann

She, Madame de Salzmann, was austere

but she wasn’t a slouch and she played both esoteric hardball and everyday softball

and she too danced, talked, wrote, shocked and electrified

but she was a vegetarian and she was a manager

she organized, arranged and developed

everything she learned from Mister Gurdjieff

and Mister Gurdjieff he said, “She knows everything”

Without Madame de Salzmann

would there be any Fourth Way groups today?

But what is really there?

There is no more real possibility in the Fourth Way

than there has ever been in any esotericism

Mister Gurdjieff and Madame de Salzmann

identified the bane and the mess and the curse plaguing us humans

as well as any esotericism ever did before

we are automatic machines, we are asleep, we don’t do

the doing is done to us, us puny creatures without an I am

But Mister Gurdjieff and Madame de Salzmann

their solution

never delivered the promised goods

just like any other esotericism has never done before

There is no such thing

as a radical transformation, consciousness, being, an I am or knowledge

neither of course is there any eschatology in which even a few

somehow never die

than there ever has been

only the impossible desire of some for an alive life

and the infantile desire of others for an alive death

are here as they always have been

The dust has still not settled

and some still believe

despite the magnificent but obvious rout

of even Mister Gurdjieff and Madame de Salzmann

and all their acolytes too

that Mister Gurdjieff and Madame de Salzmann

wove not only a new garment, but something intrinsically new

well, they didn’t

and they knew they didn’t

but what they did

and knew they did

was give lots of people a fine dose of trickledown

no I am, no consciousness, no being and no knowledge

but lots of trickledowned fragments of all that

When the dust settles one of these years

it will be seen

that this sparkling duo, Mister Gurdjieff and Madame de Salzmann,

were the finest gurus of the 20th century

because they not only indefectibly, determinedly attempted the impossible

they trickled it down.

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A New Book by Keith A. Buzzell Reviewed by John Robert Colombo

A New Conception of God


With the appearance of each new book written by Keith A. Buzzell, I gulp. There are a number of reasons why I gulp, and here are a few of them.


Dr. Buzzell writes long, serious, deep, and indeed heavy analyses of concepts and mechanisms that we take for granted in the work of Gurdjieff. His books are not easy to read; they are not Gurdjieff Lite. Nor are they easy to review, for there is so much detail in his publications and so much analysis that there is a real need of the sixty or so black-and-white or multi-coloured diagrams that accompany the text of this publication. Despite this, it is sometimes difficult to see the forest for the trees – in this instance, to see the familiar “lay of the land” – as described in the pages of (say) P.D. Ouspensky’s “In Search of the Miraculous” – for all the geographical and geological factors that underlie and shape the landscape.


Dr. Buzzell was born in Boston in 1932, studied music at Bowdoin College and Boston University, and received his medical doctorate in 1960 at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. “He has lectured widely on the neuro-physiological influences of television on the developing human brain and on the evolution of man’s triune brain.” (I am quoting from the biographical note that appears in his current book.) “For the past thirty-eighty years, he has been a rural family physician in Fryeburg, Maine, a staff member of Bridgton Hospital and currently holds the position of medical director at the Fryeburg Health Care Centre.”


He and his wife Marlena became students of Irmis Popoff in 1971 and they formed Work groups under her supervision. “It was in 1988 that they met Annie Lou Staveley, founder of Two Rivers Farm in Oregon, and maintained a Work relationship with her until her death.” Both Marlena and Keith have been active in the All and Everything International Humanities Conferences from 1995 to the present.


Dr. Buzzell has a dedicated publisher in Fifth Press. The imprint is based in Salt Lake City, and its personnel (including Bonnie Phillips) have drawn the Plimpsoll line for design and dedication. To date, five books of his books are listed and described in its on-line catalogue < http://www.fifthpress.org > and here are their titles are:


Perspectives on Beelzebub’s Tales” (2005), a collection of essays. “Explorations in Active Mentation” (2006) about Legominism, etc. “Man–A Three-Brained Being” (2007), a scientific study of the brain. “Reflections on Gurdjieff’s Whim” (2012), a study of man’s nature. And now “A New Conception of God” (2013), which travels the rails of the previous book in particular.


Combined, these five books offer more than 1,240 pages of text that examine the bases – or the single basis – of Gurdjieff’s cosmology and psychology, begging comparison in importance for serious students of these matters with Ouspensky’s “In Search of the Miraculous” and Maurice Nicol’s five-volume set of “Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky,” except for the fact that Ouspensky was not really a mathematician (and eschewed descriptions that implied that he was) and Nicoll was not really a scientist (being a Jungian analyst by training), whereas Dr. Buzzell does have scientific standing and a theoretical and practical understanding of the neurology and physiology of the human body and brain. When I think of his achievement, I recall Yogi Berra’s enigmatical remark: “Theoretically, theory and practice are the same thing.”


In earlier columns of mine on this website, I have offered impressions of some of these publications. But instead of summarizing his arguments, which are invariably technical in nature, I am treating the current book as an independent publication, rather than as a continuation of an ongoing analysis, so here I will describe it and it alone. The full title and subtitle of the present volume are “A New Conception of God: Further Reflections on Gurdjieff’s Whim.”


The trade paperback measures 9.5″ x 6.5″ and the pagination runs like this: x + 311 + iii. The pages are glued rather than sewn, but because of the fact that the slightly off-white text stock is sturdy, the book opens easily and the typography is such that the text is a pleasure to read. There is hardly a page without its source-note. In all, there are about 156,000 words plus more than sixty or so pastel-coloured illustrations, pleasing to the eye as well as revealing to the mind.


There are sixteen chapters, but that is not all of it, because in addition to these chapters there are six more sections: Contents, Foreword (by Joseph Azize), Author’s Preface, followed by three Appendices, References, and Bibliography. So this is a serious, well-thought-out publication.


Joseph Azize, the contributor of the Foreword, was a pupil of Helen and George Adie of Sydney, Australia, from 1981 to 1989, and is the author of a suggestive study of the work of this remarkably influential couple. Azize is also a solicitor and a regular contributor to the present website. The Foreword he has written for this volume is remarkable for its suggestiveness, combining intelligence and emotion in equal parts.


I will merely quote from its somewhat involved final sentence for it encapsulates his impression of Dr. Buzzell and his work. It goes like this: “The level of thought, the balance of mind and feeling bringing a palpable sense of wonder and love of knowledge, and the objectivity of the work, all confirm the opinion which has arisen in me more than once: if I have met a genuine terrestrial scientist, then it is Keith Buzzell.”


The author himself in his Preface undertakes “to understand the depths of Gurdjieff’s ‘new conception of God in the world.’” That is a tall order. The “conception” must embrace everything “from fundamental matter to the starry heavens” – cosmology; it must explain “the roles of human life” – sociology; it must “give form to all the mysteries confronting man” – psychology; and it must “provide guidance and methodology for fulfilling the purposes and ‘laws’ of higher worlds” – religion; and it must “comfort, enliven, correct, guide, discipline and reward the individual and the collective” – philosophy.


To what this new “conception” must do, I have added the appropriate “-ologies,” though other systematic studies might do just as well. Here the author advances beyond those statements and takes a religious or spiritual turn, alluding to the role of “the great Messengers” as “powerful motivators of _behaviour_.” Let me quote him at greater length:


It is our understanding that in his presentation on Time, the three Holy Forces, Okidanokh and the principles of Triamazikamno and Heptaparaparshinokh, Gurdjieff elaborated a perspective which is wholly consistent with modern science and, in particular, with quantum mechanical principles and relativity. Within these multilayered presentations, lies an approach to reconciliation of the principles espoused by both the Great Traditions _and_ modern science.”


This is an even taller order, for while “understanding” Gurdjieff’s system is tall enough, finding a rapprochement with Quantum mechanics (perhaps Quantum psychology or Quantum dynamics are better terms) is an even taller order. Dr. Buzzell is well situated to succeed in this undertaking. Whether he accomplishes it or not – whether it can be accomplished at all – is a matter that readers of this review will have to decide for themselves.


The rest of the Preface serves as an abstract outline of the contents of the book’s sixteen chapters from the perspective of Gurdjieff’s “conception” – “to highlight in some detail the remarkable reconciliation of spiritual and scientific perspectives that Gurdjieff’s teaching accomplishes.” Because it is so general it is worth rereading, like rechecking a roadmap, to confirm the direction taken and the distance clocked. To that end, here is the sketchiest of roadmaps to the book’s sixteen chapters, not a Google-eyed map but a goggle-eyed view – a series of impressions, essentially.


Chapter 1: “Renewed Concept of Conscience.” The author links Conscience with Higher Reason rather than with higher or lower emotion or sensation, for it is related to understanding rather than to feeling. Yet he quotes Gurdjieff who links it with feeling: “Conscience is a state in which a man _feels all at once_ everything that he in general feels, or can feel.” It is to be distinguished from morality, and it is related to consciousness: “Consciousness is a state in which a man _knows all at once_ everything that he in general knows.” Paradoxically, consciousness to the intellect is equivalent to conscience to the emotions. What follows is a discussion of man as a three-brained being.


The author quotes J.G. Bennett as locating conscience in the _world of possibilities_, “a word that requires the third state of consciousness. Only in this world is automatism transcended.” Dr. Buzzell states, “It is our view that Conscience stands at a pinnacle of Gurdjieff’s ‘new conception of God in the world.’” Interestingly, this fact is invoked to account for the ancient notion of the sorrows of the Creator. The chapter continues in detail to place conscience with respect to Kundabuffer, in light of the enneagram, in terms of its origin in Endlessness, to the need to earn a soul, involution and evolution, struggle, etc. The argument is associative but comprehensive.


Chapter 2: “ … A Crimson Thread …. ” Dr. Buzzell’s argument counterpoints general declarative sentences with passages of the involved syntax and vocabulary of Gurdjieff’s “Beelzebub’s Tales.” It is possible to see his argument as a gloss on Gurdjieff’s text. Courting some confusion, the author adopts Gurdjieff’s use of the term “subconsciousness” to refer to mechanized functions and manifestations. In a rare passage of reminiscence, he describes how when he reached the age of fifteen, he had absorbed images associated with battles of World War II to such a degree that sixty-five years later he is able to evoke the feelings associated with them.


Their subconscious presence in my feeling memory became apparently only when the Work actively entered my life and I began slowly to ‘see’ the reflections from the subconscious from the past into my everyday life.” There follows a discussion of the leader-follower relationship and the ultimate causes of war which are triadic. The role of hazard is interestingly described with respect to egoism and its manifestations. He inquires about the individual and collective roles and responses to this condition and its “exceptional cosmic events.”


Chapter 3: “Kundabuffer and Work.” There is a discussion of buffers generally and then Kundabuffer in particular. I have equated Kundabuffer and the Wendigo in my own mind, although most people will find it farfetched to speak of this implanted organ with the Algonkian spirit of cannibalism, the boogie man to Native children, the spectre of “cabin fever” to Native elders, except that the Algonkian word means “me, for myself” and it may refer not just to demonic entities but also to attitudes and especially combines and corporations. There is a short excursus on “Pleasure and Sex Energy” about which little has been written in the past, though Ouspensky deals with infra-sex and supra-sex in some detail in “Tertium Organum.” Here the subject of the biochemical or hormonal and the psychical or neural bases is discussed most interestingly.


It is an absence of consciousness between the brains that inevitably leads to their dissociated functions,” the author writes, in italics, and the rest of the chapter examines the chemical connections and their absences. The second half of this chapter is devoted to the functions of the three brains and these offer unexpected insights, for instance, to the nature of imagery (Hydrogen 24) which is related to attention, or light, with nine of its characteristics mentioned. The author discusses the statement “You are your attention.”


Chapter 4: “Sensing and Feeling.” When I first learned via Ouspensky’s Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution of the four-fold nature of man with its centres (intellectual, emotional, mechanical, moving), subsequently reduced to three centres with the amalgamation of the last two into a recognizable moving or physical centre, to yield the triune nature, I immediately related the scheme to W.H. Sheldon’s somatotyping or body typology (ectomorph, endomorph, mesomorph).


This typology was popular in the United States in the 1920s and so in the 1950s it seemed somewhat familiar, not at all Eastern. I equated the relationship between the sympathetic system and the parasympathetic system with the moving and the mechanical parts of man’s physical nature, one being voluntary (like walking), the other being involuntary (like heart-beats). Later I equated the three brains with the anatomical features: reptilian cortex, limbic system, neocortex, Dr. Buzzell begins with the first two systems and goes on to equate them with the various hydrogens of sensation and feeling.


The exposition here is masterful for it is based on human anatomy and the nervous system with its “little brains” (a neat term for nerve nodes) and it takes into account human evolution from what seem to be primordial times to the present day characterized by human beings capable of “active mentation.” The imbalance among centres “is characteristic of the vast majority of otherwise accomplished individuals” who fail to realize their human potential. “The artistic / spiritual expressions demonstrate a degree of resonant functioning of Higher Emotional Centre, whereas the theoretical and experimental physicist, mathematician or biologist demonstrates a degree of resonant functioning of Higher Intellectual Centre.” Yet, the author asserts, the Higher Centres “are present and functioning in all three-brained beings.”


Chapter 5: “Gurdjieff’s ‘Conscious’ and ‘Unconscious.’” Perhaps the key statement in this well realized chapter — and at six pages very short – is the following sentence: “The feeling and thinking brains should be the centres that, when functioning in accordance with their real potential, are the neural instruments that assist the coating process of the Higher Bodies; they are the developmental centres for the inner and outer manifestations of all self-other relationships, Conscience and Objective Reason.” Exercises to attain this end or these ends are mentioned in passing.


Chapter 6: “Conception.” The mechanism of conception in human beings is reviewed in this short chapter and described on the microscopic level, though “it is not possible to create an accurate or true image of this event.” The question is asked, “Does the conception of a Kesdjan Body occur in an analogous fashion?”


Chapter 7: “Origins.” What Gurdjieff and the author call “Great Nature” is discussed in terms of “the Lateral Octave of the Ray of Creation” and the evolution of the Three Brains. Here there is an unexpected discussion of our human forebears who it seems are anatomically and neuro-anatomically no different from ourselves. One footnote asserts as follows: “Newborns transferred by early adoption, from aboriginal settings into the urban western 20th century world, are developmentally indistinguishable from children born in the West.” I wonder about the evidence for this statement.


Here the author skims over ethnographic and sociological studies rather in the manner of David Brooks, “New York Times” correspondent and television commentator, who steps gingerly from one generalization to another based on summaries of scientific studies. It is a short chapter but it bristles with ideas, especially those about the role of feeling in groups.


Chapter 8: “Bodies and Centres.” It never occurred to me to distinguish between bodies and centres but this chapter begins with Gurdjieff’s differentiation. The presentation discusses the states of consciousness, including Higher Emotional Centre and Higher Being-body and Higher Intellectual Centre, with respect to the intervention of “conscious shocks.” Then there is a distinction between functions and bodies. This is another short chapter, one that ends with a clear expression of respective functionalities:


Kesdjan and Higher Being-body are bodies (who, unified states which are quite separate from their material substrate). Higher Emotional and Higher Intellectual Centres are brained, processing and creative units which, as they refine and mature their functioning, contribute vitally to the coalescence (coating) of the Higher Bodies.”


Chapter 9: “Do–Re–Mi of the Octaves of Food, Air and Impressions.” Three brains require three food sources. “Our exploration will continue into the correspondences and analogies between the three Octaves (Food, Air and Impressions) and into basic features of the enneagram itself. Use will be made of examples – drawn from our everyday Work-life – to relate these ideas to their practical application.”


As to be expected from its contents, this chapter is a long one, fifty pages in length, written with accustomed clarity, about the digestion of food and how it makes possible the transformation of life. Here, almost at random, but in sequential order, are the titles of some of the subsections of the analysis: Physical Food, Role of Air, Mind Influencing Matter, The Substrate of Sensation and Feeling, “Sound is our energy,” Magnetism and Emanation, The Emergence of Self-Other, Impressions, Sex Energy, Brained Origins of Attention.


Outer attention must be balanced with inner attention, and close to the chapter’s end, the author writes about … what he is able to write about: “MI 12 of the Impressions Octave is more difficult to describe as an ‘elemental.’ The primary reason for this difficulty lies within the limited development of the author. One can only see or understand at a level resonant with one’s _being_. The perspective put forward here, on MI 12 and beyond, is limited by the author’s ordinary personhood.”


Chapter 10: “Knowledge and Being.” Dr. Buzzell is able to make his way through the thicket of Gurdjieff’s terminological conceptions because his inquiry is grounded in contemporary knowledge of human anatomy with its cellular, biochemical and neural processes of which we as a species are largely ignorant. In fact, he quotes Irmis Popoff as saying, “You cannot expect to gain and understand extraordinary knowledge unless you already have ordinary knowledge.”


The more scientific information and knowledge that we acquire, the better able are we through “directed attention” to appreciate what takes place within us – “the more we can gain knowledge of the cellular, biochemical and neural processes taking place in our body, the more we can experience and substantiate our mechanicalness.” He quotes Jacob Needleman on “the discipline of inner experience” or “inner empiricism” that match the empiricism of systematic outer inquiries.


Chapter 11: “Three Bodies.” This chapter seems to be a “catching up” in the sense that everyone knows about the existence of the three bodies but everyone knows very little in particular about their constituent elements and functions. Adding to our knowledge, Dr. Buzzell introduces the roles of imagery, visualization and imagination which, “intentionally produced via directed attention,” can lead to “the actualization of Faith (what I really Am), Hope (what I commit myself to into an indeterminate future) and Love (_good will_ toward All and Everything).” So perhaps the key notion to be found in this short chapter is the paragraph that follows:


Kesdjan and Higher Being-bodies do not ‘exist’ in the forms of the cellular, molecular / atomic world (which ends in H 96). We must make the effort to _feel_ and _think_ of their substance as being of the feeling and thinking worlds. Their space and time are not of our sensory / motor world, extending into dimensions that we have to ‘measure’ in a totally different way. Compassion, consideration, nature, Conscience and joy and sorrow are of the _nature_ of Kesdjan. A _body_ formed of these attributes and qualities would be both _individual_ and _shared_ (interpenetrating) with other _bodies_. Similarly, Higher Being-body, formed of the impartial understanding of cosmic law and their levels of manifestation, ‘absorbs’ the qualities and attributes of the Kesdjan Body and becomes both the ‘image’ and a unique manifestation of perfected man.”


Chapter 12: “Reason.” This chapter begins with a discussion of reason in terms of the Table of Hydrogens and then offers a brief historical overview of its significance. Then “the relativity of reason” is stressed from the perspective of points of the Ray of Creation. The chapter becomes relevant to the individual when the discourse turns to work on self.


At every step of this _inner inquiry_, the importance of group work and Work with other methods (inner exercises, Movements, work days, reading, study, music, meditation / contemplation) becomes increasingly evidence, contributing in a myriad of ways to the strengthening of the directed attention and the clarity of self-observation. Each and all of these contribute in essential ways to the digestive processes taking place in the ‘hydrogen’ 48-24-12 levels. One is coming to ‘Know thyself.’”


I do not recall any earlier encounter with the word “automaticities,” but I find the plural noun useful here to refer to instances of “mechanicality” not particularly with respect to one level of being but especially with respect to various levels of being where its nature varies. (Oddly, it is here that I found one extraordinarily minor misprint in the text. The author writes, “Automaticities in other are seen as the same as automaticity in oneself.” Surely he means “in others”; this typo may be an oversight, but I secretly hope it is an instance of an entasis.)


There is also an interesting discussion of the difference between “Reason-of-knowing” and “Reason-of-Understanding.” In fact, this is one of the most rewarding chapters of the book, no doubt the product of much time and effort.


Chapter 13: “The Triadic Nature of ‘Is’ and Attention.” Attention is paid to Paul MacLean’s work on the three-brain concept along with the advent of fMRIs, PET scans and electroencephalography. This is an easy-to-read section despite the fact that “the evolution of the brain was, minimally, a 600 million year enterprise.” Attention is then paid to the notion of “attention” and to the parallel notion of “attentions” (in the plural). Dr. Buzzell attempts the localization in the brain of some of the centres, bodies, and functions known and unknown to man. The discussion leads to the role of will. What the author calls “extremely _unordinary_ circumstances” are required “to coalesce the _attention_ and the _will_ to the greatest degree possible.” He has in mind the experience of Work.


Chapter 14: “The Triune Will.” This chapter offers a discussion of World One which despite its unity exhibits “the outlines of a triad of ‘powers.’” Nothing is quite what it seems when viewed from a different level. Throughout the literature of the Work there are veiled references to “the coating process.” Here it comes into its own following a discussion of Will Power “via the derivative and ‘automatic’ (Okidanokh).” A coloured spectrum illustrates the electromagnetic range of Okidanokh: from extremely low frequency waves through radiowaves, microwaves, infra-red, ultra-violet, X-rays, to gamma rays.


The author concludes this short chapter with the following paragraph: “All three aspects of the Triune Will are present, with varying emphasis, at every step of the process. Each step is a part of the Oskiano of Essence; the education to the responsible life which is inextricably interwoven with Gurdjieff’s ‘new concept of God in the work.’”


Chapter 15: “Laws and the Three Food Octaves.” Here we have a very general discussion about the descent of the Ray of Creation, the increasing restrictions, and the expressions of the six laws. “The automaticities of the laws lie in the _mechanicalness_ of the _images_ because those images have derived from _bodily_ expressions of ordinary life (Itoklanoz and the consequences of Kundabuffer).”


Various triads are discussed and the discussion ranges over emergence of the brain, digestion of food, images, Holy-Reconciling (etc.), and other matters. Every book needs a chapter of odds and ends, so Chapter 15 is the one in question. There is a major discussion of the unquiet brain and “what determines our awareness of the moment.”


Chapter 16: “Attention (H 12), the Greatest Gift to Life; the Power to Pursue Meaning and Purpose.” There is an Overview of H 12, of attentions, and, intriguingly, what is called “The Great Photon.” This is a speculative section that is erected on the background the electromagnetic spectrum. Indeed, the analysis seems to hop, skip and jump along the spectrum, drawing together considerations of brain function and first and subsequent conscious shocks. It seems something of an anticlimax to the book itself.


But the book, long as it is, does not end here, for there are three appendices. Appendix I consists of three pleasing diagrams for “A Symbol of the Cosmos and Its Laws.” The first is in triadic form, the second in circular form, and the third in “will point form.”


Appendix II consists of a discussion of “As Above, So Below: Analogies between World Six and World 48.” This section is quite interesting as it considers changes from World One through World 48.


Appendix III consists of “The Thrust of the Laws within the Ray of Creation.” The illustrations here resemble “decision trees” (even “differential diagnoses”) emerging from a central point.


Recommended Reading – References” consists of lists of books written by nineteen authors, about forty books in all, the listings being supplemental to the longer list in the volume to which this one is a sequel: “Reflections on Gurdjieff’s Whim.”


All in all, all in everything, “A New Conception of God: Further Reflections on Gurdjieff’s Whim” is a considerable achievement, hardly likely to be bettered, in our era at least, though further developments in science and technology will likely add to the complexity that Dr. Buzzell suspects to be there all the time. But there is a reservation that I have; two reservations in fact.


The main reservation is the use of the noun, name, pronoun, or collective “God” in the title. While there are references to what might be called the godhead throughout the text, it seems Gurdjieff’s teachings and this book dwell not on a deity like a pantocrator, but on Creation itself with its laws, some sort of absolute along with its conditions.


There is also the minor reservation, the notion of “whim,” which is an interesting term, though an odd one that I take to be synonymous with “will” or “aim.” However, in his earlier book, Dr. Buzzell quoted the comment of a colleague: “In a rare moment of divulgence, Gurdjieff revealed his own whim: to bring to mankind a new understanding of God.” So I find myself arguing not with Dr. Buzzell but with Gurdjieff about the matter!


Allow me to conclude this review (which is essentially a series of impressions based on the chapters of this book) on an anecdotal note. I undertook to write this review to figure out what Dr. Buzzell himself is writing about, as I am in no position to argue with him about any of his discoveries, insights or conjectures. I did gulp when I opened his book, because of its seriousness, though I decided to swallow my hesitations and write about it anyway. So I think the anecdote has some relevance to the work at hand.


About six months ago I spent an evening with Norman Doidge, the Toronto-based psychiatrist who wrote the semi-popular study called “The Brain that Changes Itself.” This is the book that has drawn wide-spread attention to recent scientific advances in the field of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to repair itself and restore function. Currently he is working on its sequel.


I told him, “I have a suggestion for the title of the sequel.” He looked a little surprised, so I continued. “I was much impressed with the years of research that you conducted before writing ‘The Brain that Changes Itself.’ I paid particular attention to the index to your book. Did you compile it yourself?”


He continued to look surprised, perhaps a little guarded. “Yes, and I spent a lot of time on it.”


I continued, “I have no doubt that you did so, because it is thorough and comprehensive. But I noticed one curious absence in the index.” He looked wary, so I chose my words warily. “I found that it has columns devoted to references to the word Brain, as one would expect, but there is no entry at all for the word Mind. That index entry is missing.”


He smiled and said, “But I did include individual entries for the functions of the Mind, functions like Memory and Imagination. Besides, the word Mind is very difficult to define.”


I replied, “My observation does not imply any criticism of your text. But it occurred to me that the various functions of the Mind presumably affect the multifarious functions of the Brain. So you might consider the title that I am going to suggest for your book’s sequel. I think you should call it ‘The Mind that Changes the Brain that Changes Itself.’”


Dr. Doidge groaned, conceding that if I did not have a neurological point to make, at least I was making a cultural point. But I think I was making a point that the so-called higher functions of the mind’s mentation affect the brain’s operation. I see Dr. Buzzell’s contributions, like Dr. Doidge’s, as offering theories and practices that mediate between the mind and the brain, producing some sort of human plasticity, the sort that begs a familiarity with Gurdjieff’s Work.


13 April 2013



John Robert Colombo is an author and anthologist with a special interest in Canadiana and the world of mysteries. His two most recent books are compilations of stories and memoirs of the English author Sax Rohmer, the creator of Dr. Fu Manchu – “The Crime Magnet” and “Pipe Dreams” – as well as a collection of poems called “A Standing Wave.” His website is < http://www.colombo.ca > .

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In Search of Being

Every so often there comes along a book for which I find myself completely unprepared. One such book was In Search of the Miraculous which asked questions I could not answer and which still asks questions I cannot answer, and that was half a century ago. Another such book is The Reality of Being, subtitled “The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff,” based on notes and annotations of Jeanne de Salzmann. That book appeared only two years ago and it has already acquired something of a following. Its appearance too was unheralded.

The present book is yet another surprise. It is called In Search of Being, the subtitle is “The Fourth Way to Consciousness,” and the author is given as G.I. Gurdjieff. Another book by Gurdjieff? (I recall with relish the clever cartoon that shows a hand-written notice posted on the signboard on the lawn of a parish church. Here are the words on that notice: “Important, If True.”) Later in this review I will look into the question of authenticity of this publication and its text. Right now I want to describe the volume that is resting on my desk, for it is an uncommonly handsome piece of bookmanship, as well as something of a surprise!

During his lifetime Gurdjieff published one book called Herald of Coming Good (1933). Following his death in 1949, a stream of publications began to appear, beginning with the so-called “All and Everything” Trilogy which comprises Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson (1950), Meetings with Remarkable Men (1963), and Life is Real, Only Then, When “I Am” (1978). Independent of these are the texts of his talks that appeared as Views from the Real World (1973). That makes five books in all. Now there is a sixth – In Search of Being (2013).

What a handsome book is the present volume! It measures six inches by nine inches and is attractively bound in cloth, embossed in gold, with a headband, with delicately coloured end-sheets, and with an attractive jacket that shows a watercolour of a landscape with a small figure in the foreground. The artwork is titled “The Road to Cold Mountain” and it is identified as the work of Natasha de Castro. The interior design and typography are impeccable, for the pages (xvi+269+i) are easy to read. Shambhala Publications, Inc., of Boston and New York City, has produced a fine specimen of the art and craft of the bookmaker. The fact that it is reasonably priced (at US $26.95) is presumably based on the anticipation of wide sales around the world.

Over all, the current book has a “familiar” feel to it, so familiar in fact that I turned to my shelf of books devoted to the Work to take down my copy of Jeanne de Salzmann’s The Reality of Being which the same publisher issued three years ago. The designs and formats are the same. When I reviewed Madame’s book for this web-blog, I commented on the care that went into its production, right down to the jacket’s watercolour landscape with its tiny figure in the foreground. That watercolour is called “Inside the Milky Way” and the artist is identified only as “the author’s great-granddaughter.” I wonder if she could be Natasha de Castro.

The two books are “of a piece,” so to speak, and if the landscapes depicted on the jackets are to be construed as evidence of this, the landscape of Madame’s book’s shows the dark sky at midnight, whereas the landscape of Gurdjieff’s book depicts the brightening sky at dawn. The title of the second painting invokes the enigmatic lines of the poem composed by Han-shan: ‘People ask for the road to Cold Mountain, but no road reaches Cold Mountain.” (The earlier book might be described as inner or “esoteric,” the later book as outer or “exoteric.”) In addition, the two jackets feature the sign of the Enneagram which is, or at least once was, unique to the Fourth Way.

The text consists of a Foreword, an Introduction, and ten chapters, followed by Biographical Notes, a list of Fourth Way Centers (four in number), and a carefully constructed Index. Each of the ten chapters consists of five (sometimes four, sometimes six) essays or feuilletons, which are quite short, each ranging in the main from three to six pages in length. These constitute the beating heart of the book. The reader familiar with the thought of the Fourth Way may readily imagine the contents of the chapters from their titles, so here are those titles:

1. Know Thyself. 2. Our Human Machine. 3. World within Worlds. 4. The Possibility of Evolution. 5. The Aim of Religion. 6. Seeking the Way. 7. A Practical Study. 8. A Work for Consciousness. 9. Toward Liberation. 10. Knowledge of Being.

To give an idea of the contents of the short essays, here are the titles of the six essays that comprise the third section, “Worlds within Worlds”: Inside the Milky Way, The Law of Three Forces, The Ray of Creation, The Law of Octaves, Degrees of Materiality. Much information is concentrated in these essays and chapters, but given the brevity of the essays, there is little elbow-room for analysis or illustration. There is a sense in which each essay offers basic information for a talk or a lesson.

I was unprepared for the surprising inclusion of the sixteen-page section titled “Biographical Notes” which, as the reader might guess, is concerned with the contributions to the history of the Work made by Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, and Salzmann. Indeed, by extension, this section covers a wider spectrum than that, for it peers back onto the role of the Seekers of Truth and looks around in a sketchy way to the present-day practices and concerns of the institutes, societies, and foundations.

I found this section to be written with great care, with a style that restrains flair, recalling familiar formulations, but arguing for interpretations more in keeping with the long-term goals of the Work than with “taking sides” on personalities, directions, and other matters of passing interest. For these reasons, I am going to single out a dozen or so ideas that are stressed in these pages to reveal an informed mind at work.

Not only did Gurdjieff not share personal information, he did not identify the source or sources of his theories and practices. As for the three Seekers of Truth, the “original” of Prince Yuri Lubovedsky is identified with the scholar-diplomat Prince Esper Esperovitch Ukhtomsky, and the latter’s debt to Theosophy is stressed. Gurdjieff’s year of birth is given on the jacket as 1866, but on the copyright page as 1872 – this is “having it both ways” – but it would likely be the former if Gurdjieff and Ukhtomsky had met at the Pyramids at Gizeh. “Ukhtomsky and Gurdjieff together would have decided on the form of the teaching and their plan to introduce it to the West.” The identification of the Prince with the Seeker is new, although it was the historian James Webb who discovered that the Prince originated the phrase ‘seekers of Truth.’”

The teaching was introduced despite the civil war in Russia and the Great War in Europe. Different approaches if not different values were stressed in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Essentuki, Tiflis, Constantinople, and Western Europe. “It was at the Prieuré that Gurdjieff achieved widespread recognition, largely from public demonstrations of the Movements.” There is an adaptative quality to the Work: “In his later years Gurdjieff regarded the study of the original system of ideas as merely a preliminary stage of the work toward consciousness. He turned aside questions about ideas as being theoretical and brought his teaching in terms of a direct perception of reality.” So to the cities mentioned above must be added Paris and Fontainebleau/Avon as the centres of the Work in the form that it is practised these days. This observation, while not new, has become accepted.

For Mme. De Salzmann, he was a spiritual ‘master’ in the traditional sense – not as a teacher of doctrine but one who by his very presence awakened and helped others in their search for consciousness.” Gurdjieff worked initially by attraction, subsequently by repulsion: work on essence, and then on functions. Followers were beckoned and then came, and either went or were expelled. “In fact, he made them leave to pursue their own lives when he deemed it necessary for them or for his larger aims.” (This point is stressed, so the reader might ask, “Is it necessary to leave the Work in order to understand the Work?”) Yet there is the need for a “school” – perhaps even for a “high school”! Whoever wrote this section quite rightly alludes to the teaching in a powerful way, stressing “the sense of cosmic scale and of history, referring back to ancient civilizations thousands of years ago.”

Those thoughts were inspired by sentences in the first section which is devoted to Gurdjieff. In the second section, devoted to Ouspensky, the author notes the hinge role of Boris Mouravieff “who knew both men” and who made the following observation: “One can say, without exaggeration, that without Ouspensky, Gurdjieff’s career in the West would probably have not gone beyond the stage of endless conversations in cafés.” Highlighted are Ouspensky’s romantic temperament and his distrust of science, or at least of academic scientists, as well as his interest in Theosophy and occult literature. Like Ukhtomsky before him, he was received at the headquarters of Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society at Adyar, today’s Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India.

The bonds that bind Ouspensky and Gurdjieff, based on the goals that they had in common, are emphasized, even when Ouspensky decided in 1924 to “work alone.” This matter is discussed again and again. “There was no hostility between the two men. Ouspensky did not pretend to be on the same level of understanding, and spoke of his former teacher with great respect and affection. Most important, he had no quarrel with the teaching itself, no disagreement over interpreting the ideas.” Then an interesting suggestion is made: “It is therefore quite possible, even likely, that he approved of Ouspensky’s separation, and may even have suggested it himself.” It seems a rapprochement is taking place.

In fact, this section alludes to the dramatic role of Judas Iscariot in Christ’s Passion, recalling references in the canon to the unbreakable bond between Betrayer and Redeemer. It surprises me that after all these years the dynamics of this relationship need to be re-examined, as I thought it obvious – or at least inevitable – there would be “a parting of the ways,” a parting that was not really what it seemed to be.

Ouspensky continued to teach what he knew, but not what Gurdjieff knew. “A year after Ouspensky’s death, John Bennett, one of his senior followers, visited Paris to meet with Gurdjieff and determine how to continue the work in England. He was surprised to find Gurdjieff bringing a wholly different teaching, turning away theoretical questions and speaking only in terms of a direct perception of reality.”

The third and final section is devoted to Jeanne de Salzmann to whom the Fourth Way “is a path to be followed, a practical way to consciousness of reality in onself.” The text continues, “She was among the handful of his pupils included in what he called ‘special work’ for a direct perception of reality through conscious sensation.” Before he died, Gurdjieff instructed her to do “everything possible – even impossible – in order that what I brought will have an action.” (Here I might add that the “school” became not a really a “high school” but something of a “dancing school.”) “The speed with which she organized Gurdjieff centers within two years of his death suggests a predetermined plan.” This view of Madame I find to be sympathetic and suggestive of the self-altering nature of what long, long ago was known as the Special Doctrine, as distinct presumably from the theosophical Secret Doctrine.

The experience of a more conscious sensation of presence” is a neat and knowing way to define what Madame required of her followers. To this end there were three practices: the sharing of experiences, not the discussion of ideas; the conscious practice of Movements; the sitting meditation “for a direct perception of reality.” (This used to be termed “special work” when the practice was limited to a handful of senior pupils.) “Sittings for more advanced participants are often totally silent, while those for newer followers include indications of how to work to be present.” The last point made in this section is that Madame regarded each of the centers as a “house of work” for change in being. With this she claimed no priority or exclusivity. “It is not possible to see above one’s own level.”

I have devoted some attention to “Biographical Notes” because this section is carefully and concisely written and the points are well argued, albeit in brief compass, but they will grant the reader, whether newcomer or veteran, an enriched if not a refreshed perspective on the Work, and this surely is the point of the book as a whole.

Earlier I used the words “whoever wrote this section”; here, unfortunately, I have little information to offer the reader. No co-author or editor is listed on the title page, but on the copyright page, in the smallest type in the book, there appears the following non-sentence: “Edited by Stephen A. Grant, a senior member of the Gurdjieff Foundation, New York.”

I understand that Mr. Grant and his wife Anne-Marie Grant are stalwarts of the New York Foundation and that they (singly or together) are the presences behind not only the present publication, In Search of Being, but also the previous one, The Reality of Being. A medieval Italian phrase might describe their efforts, and that phrase is “a fine Italian hand.” The phrase implies a combination of two qualities in writing and handwriting, craft and craftiness, and refers to anything so written as to establish a standard for fine workmanship.

Keeping in mind the question of the fons et origo of the forty-seven essays or feuilletons, I turned to the other two editorial contributions to the packaging of this work, the Foreword and the Introduction. Although the words are often used interchangeably, there is a critical difference between a Foreword and an Introduction. The former is a contribution to the rest of the book by someone other than its author; the latter is the author’s contribution – a chapter in itself which sets the scene for the rest of the book, so it is usually as long as one of the book’s chapters. (For the record, the Preface is the work of the author and it is shorter and more general.)

This editorial distinction is honoured in In Search of Being. The Foreword is signed by Stephen A. Grant, and in it he writes in what I assume to be in the guise of the book’s editor. (Did modesty lead him to eschew title-page credit? Or was it the desire to suggest the text is in essence “the work” of Gurdjieff?) He makes general points about the posthumous influence of Gurdjieff’s “knowledge of being.” (Here he was born in 1866.) There is a discussion of the “ancient science” which for all its lineage seems surprisingly contemporary:

This science viewed the world of visible matter as modern physics does, recognizing the equivalence of mass and energy, the subjective illusion of time, the general theory of relativity. But its inquiry did not stop there, accepting as real only phenomena that could be measured and proven by controlled experiment.” I am uncertain about the reference to “controlled experiment,” but that sentence certainly distances the teaching from Theosophy by emphasizing the teaching’s compatibility with the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics rather than the revival and renewal of ancient occult traditions.

The editor then explains that the present publication is largely based on the St. Petersburg lectures delivered by Gurdjieff to Ouspensky’s pupils as recorded by Ouspensky. “The present book is intended to fulfill the original purpose for the St. Petersburg talks. It restates Gurdjieff’s quoted exposition, supplemented by his later lectures, mostly in 1922-1924.” The editor compares the work here to that later undertaken by Madame de Salzmann. “These subsequent talks, which took place at the Prieuré in Fontainebleau and in New York, were recorded and arranged by Jeanne de Salzmann, Gurdjieff’s closest follower. They were published in 1973 under the title Views from the Real World.” It occurs to me that one of the casualties of the Revolution and the War is what might be termed “the Gurdjieff-Ouspensky collaboration”; it was certainly disrupted, so the planned book never appeared. Instead, in general, close to one century later, that book has finally appeared, in the guise of the collaboration of Gurdjieff-Ouspensky-Grant.

Grant explains, “In Search of the Miraculous and Views from the Real World remain the authentic source books of Gurdjieff’s early teaching …. In reconstructing his early teaching, this volume restates less than one-third of In Search and even less of Views, leaving the original sources as required reading for a complete picture of the teaching.”

Grant did not work alone. “This book was arranged and edited with a small group of followers of Gurdjieff and of Mme. de Salzmann. Apart from this foreword and the biographical notes, the text consists almost entirely of Gurdjieff’s own words, restated from the new English translation of the original Russian text of Fragments of an Unknown Teaching and … from Views from the Real World.” The editor adds that the subsection “Functions and Centers” is derived from Ouspensky’s Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution. This seems straight-forward enough but it would be the devil’s own job to track down the texts that are excerpted and glossed.

Still, care has been taken; respect has been shown. “Gurdjieff’s spoken words, delivered at different times and on different occasions, have been modified, mostly in style and voice, where necessary for a consistent presentation in a single book.” Here it occurs to me that this undertaking is not more radical than the revision (which was authorized by Madame) of the classic first edition of Beelzebub’s Tales. This is in keeping with Grant’s conviction that the Fourth Way is “a way of understanding” and that “nothing should be taken literally,” as man’s needs evolve and devolve with the decades.

The Foreword continues with a distinction between “the outer, exoteric form of the teaching that is visible to the uninitiated and the inner, esoteric content that can be known only by adherents who practice it.” The unusual suggestion is then made that because the group at St. Petersburg was “an unprepared audience,” the teaching was exoteric in form. Little of it had to do with its esoteric dimension or nature, “the practical inner work required either for relating the lower centers or for opening to the higher centers,” references to which are cloaked in Beelzebub’s Tales.

Grant concludes the Foreword by sharing with his readers what Madame told him of the rapprochement between Ouspensky and Gurdjieff during the last months of the former’s life. I am not going to reproduce this intriguing passage here, any more than I am going to examine the texts of In Search and Views to identify the passages that gave rise to the “restatements” that appear here. I will leave that to textual scholars who are equipped to do so, though it is unlikely that the labour would yield much of interest. Ouspensky was in Constantinople in 1920 when he received a copy of Bragdon-Bessarabov’s ground-breaking translation of Tertium Organum. He read the text and found that only one word of it needed to be changed. In fact, in all the pages of the present book, I found only one lapse that Grant has made. (Read on.)

As mentioned earlier, the Introduction is the part of the book in which the author (as distinct from the editor) outlines his argument. The exposition here is new to me, not in terms of what it says, but in light of the language that is used. The author refers to “the Great Knowledge … handed on in succession from age to age, from people to people, from race to race.” Not Special Doctrine, Teaching, System, Work, Fourth Way, etc. “In order to know, it is necessary to find out how to know.” Here the assumption is that “there is no secret whatsoever” except that “one must learn from those who know.”

It strikes me this section anticipates the wide-spread availability of “secret knowledge” and “sacred traditions” during the so-called New Age of the 1960s and 1970s, but yet again the notion is not limited to that period. Curiously, it is at this point that Grant makes his single mistake, or allows one lapse, for he has Gurdjieff write: “In the chapters that follow …. ” I find it highly unlikely that these are his words, as he was not consciously writing a book composed of chapters. (I will allow to pass, without adding a comment, on the last lines of the text: “As cautioned in the introduction, one should take nothing literally. A large idea should be taken only with large understanding.”)

I have been beating around the beating heart of this book, the forty-seven subsections or excerpts or extracts, keeping them for the end. Not quite the end, as I believe at this point that an excursus is in order. The act of thinking about the composition or recomposition of In Search of Being brought to mind similar undertakings, though none is sufficiently close as to permit a sustained comparison. It has long been forgotten that W. Somerset Maugham devoted considerable time in the late 1940s to reading the “Ten Greatest Novels of the World” (War and Peace, etc.) and then condensing the texts. In his shortened versions of the classics, the words are those of the authors but their elaborations have been trimmed to the bone. I have read two of these novels and I found them to be somewhat satisfying, though Maugham himself expressed dissatisfaction with the response of critics and readers, especially in terms of sales and royalties. No one loves War and Peace after reading it in Maugham’s version.

Less relevant are Reader’s Digest Condensed Books (issued between 1950 and 1997) which offered readers “abridged” or “condensed” books (mainly novels) to allow them a sense of the story.Today they read like Harlequin Romances. Somewhat more relevant is the experience of Professor Kevin O’Brien who in Oscar Wilde: An Apostle for the Arts published the texts of the three addresses that Wilde delivered during his lecture tour of Central and Eastern Canada in1882. The manuscripts of two of these addresses have survived the vicissitudes of the years, but the manuscript of the third address has been lost to posterity.

Yet because Wilde delivered the third address so many times, and the journalists of the day, many of whom practised shorthand, were required to report on it in considerable detail, generally verbatim, Professor O’Brien was able to “reconstruct” from their published reports the text and offer it as the lost lecture, now found. Indeed, it reads like an “original” address by Wilde. This is an undertaking of reconstituting a lost work that is familiar to the editors of classical texts. Scholars of Ancient Greek, faced with the patchwork survival of parts of, say, Sappho’s poems, have made educated guesses as to what the Greek poetess meant to say. I introduce these matters to suggest there is a wider context for the manipulation of extant texts here than is generally recognized.

Perhaps a distinction is in order, one that was popular with Roman Catholics in the pre-Vatican II era, when priests and sisters made the distinction between two levels of sin and sinning. There are “mortal sins” – perish the thought! These are weighty and serious matters, crimes really, for both sinner and society. Then there are “venial sins,” transgressions that are less serious in nature which are readily forgivable and quite understandable, rather like infractions. (One might think in terms of drunk driving charges versus parking tickets.) The adjective “venial” is often confused with the adjective “venal.” Venial sins are quite human in nature, often committed with the best of intentions and irritating consequences; venal sins are mortal sins, pure and simple, and serious indeed.

It may seem farfetched to introduce this terminology in this review, except that in my own mind I find what has been done here in the construction of this book and in the attribution of it to Gurdjieff alone is, if a sin at all, one that is “venial” rather than “venal,” an infraction or infringement, the bending of the expectation of the reader rather than the breaking of a bond with the reader. It is understandable and forgivable, and presumably the end in mind justifies the means employed. I expect there are readers who are involved in the Work who will find the use of the byline misleading and inexcusable. I am not one of them. End of excursus.

I have already devoted 3,500 words to this review of In Search for Being, so I am reluctant to add many more, though I would have to do that were I to include a detailed analysis of each of the ten chapters with their forty-seven subsections of text. There is little point in doing so here, as the reader is presumably familiar with the outlines of the teaching – as the result of active participation in the work or as the result of close readings of the canon.

It is unlikely that he or she will find here any new information – in the sense of unfamiliar images, analogies, comparisons, symbols, stories, fables, insights, techniques, practices, or expressions – but instead the reader will find now-familiar conceptions expressed with singular ease in these edited selections and passages. Hence the book is an ideal one to use to introduce the Fourth Way to newcomers. Because of the byline, old-comers will want to add it to their private libraries.

Yet I will not conclude this review sounding that note! I anticipate seeing a selection of the subsections of this book printed in the pages of Parabola and other journals now and in the future. The overall impression that I have as I read these pages is that I am listening to a congenial Gurdjieff delivering lectures in fluent English, making his teaching accessible and agreeable in terms of the mentality of the day – our day. That is certainly part of the man, but it is certainly not the whole man.

Reaching the last page and closing the book, I have to ask myself the question that the reader will undoubtedly ask himself or herself. That question is the following one: “Is this a new book written by G.I. Gurdjieff?” It is a question worth pondering.

Here is my answer: “No, it is not a new book written by Gurdjieff. Instead, it is something of “an old book” that could be signed by Gurdjieff. Nothing in it is “new” except for the arrangement of the passages. The word “written” does not apply, either. Gurdjieff himself wrote little – most of what he has had to say in print was dictated to secretaries, translated by assistants, reported by Ouspensky, rewritten by A.R. Orage, recalled by followers, etc. The adjective “old” refers to the fact that this material is “old and familiar,” not “brand-new,” though it has been polished and smoothed, selected and adapted, repackaged and recycled. The appearance on the title page of the unmodified byline “G.I. Gurdjieff” may be seen to be misleading in terms of authorship, but it may also be held to be defensible in terms of offering the message of the man, which has been reflected and refracted for use in this medium of expression.

It has been done well. To the degree that it deserves to be done at all today, let me add that I could not imagine how it could be done better.

John Robert Colombo is a Toronto-based author and anthologist who writes regularly for this website. Most recently he contributed the Foreword to Paul Beekman Taylor’s Real Worlds of G.I. Gurdjieff. To appear this Spring is a collection of his poems titled A Standing Wave, to be followed in the Fall by an omnibus edition of the texts of the seven novels that Jules Verne set in Canada. His website is < http://www.colombo.ca > . If you wish to receive notice of his forthcoming reviews and commentaries in this webblog, drop JRC a line at < jrc@colombo.ca > .

John Robert Colombo reviews Gurdjieff’s Early Talks

Gurdjieff’s Early Talks is a substantial volume, both physically and psychologically. As if to prove the truth of that statement, the book bears one of the longest title-subtitle combinations on record: Gurdjieff’s Early Talks 1914-1931 in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Essentuki, Tiflis, Constantinople, Berlin, Paris, London, Fontainebleau, New York, and Chicago. That is eleven cities in all!

The tome measures 8.5″ x 5.5″ and has a heavy card cover with pages that are light cream in colour. While the type is small, it is surprisingly easy to read. Here is the pagination: xx+442+vi. The publisher is Book Studio, a company that was founded in London, England, in 2008. Its website < http://bookstudio.co.uk/&gt; rewards checking , for it offers for sale a roster of new and reprinted Work-related books, all beautifully designed and printed and less well known than they should be.

One of its recent compilations is Orage’s Commentary on Gurdjieff’s ‘Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson’: New York Talks 1926-1930 which appeared in 2013. It consists of A.R. Orage’s lecture notes, edited with care by Lawrence Morris and Sherman Manchester. I devoted a fair amount of time reading the book from cover to cover. The text is quite repetitive and it made me think of the musical convention of “theme and variations” and specifically of Wallace Stevens’s ingenious poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” Yet Orage was a brilliant writer, personality, and presenter, so the reader learns something new even when the author covers familiar ground.

Book Studio’s website also lists what must be a companion volume to the present one, a volume that I have yet to see. I have made a note to order it. Its title is as follows: Transcript of Gurdjieff’s Wartime Meetings 1941-46. Here is a description of its contents from Book Studio’s website:

“With the outbreak of the Second World War, Gurdjieff’s American and English students were unable to return to Nazi occupied Paris, nevertheless, Gurdjieff continued to teach despite difficult and dangerous wartime conditions. In 1938, Jeanne de Salzmann introduced her French work group to him, and with this nucleus, Gurdjieff held regular meetings at his Paris flat throughout the occupation.

“In question and answer format, Gurdjieff answers his students’ questions on practical work in daily life and gives specific advice, guidance, and exercises. Among those present in Gurdjieff’s company at this time were René Daumal, Luc Dietrich, Jeanne de Salzmann, Tcheslaw Tchekhovich, Henri Tracol and René Zuber. Thirty-three meetings held at 6, rue des Colonels Renard, Paris. Second edition with new material. Complete and unexpurgated.”

Since I am quoting from the publisher’s catalogue copy online, I will reprint the website’s description of the present publication, the one being reviewed here: Gurdjieff’s Early Talks.

“The talks in this volume are not verbatim transcriptions. In the early years of Gurdjieff’s exposition of the fourth way teaching, he rarely allowed notes to be taken during his talks. The majority of his early talks were written down after the fact by pupils who were present, either individually or collectively, and should be taken as recollections of what people believed Gurdjieff to have said.

“The provenance of the talks are library archives, private collections, and individuals from all around the world. They have been arranged chronologically and are presented in this edition for the first time in their entirety. [The last three words appear in italics in the original.] Over one hundred authentic talks, unaltered and unexpurgated. Illustrated and fully indexed, with exercises, sayings and aphorisms.”

So the present book is a bonanza for the reader. A feature that goes unmentioned is the forty-six photographs that are reproduced (rather indistinctly, unfortunately) from the collection of the multi-talented impresario Gert-Jan Blom. There are also perhaps half that number of line drawings devoted to the interactions of the centres. There is a one-page bibliography and a ten-page, detailed index. This is a generous book.

I have yet to mention the contribution of Joseph Azize who is no stranger to this website (which is maintained by Sophia Wellbeloved in Cambridge, England). In an appreciative foreword titled “In Appreciation: A Short Essay of Commendation,” Azize extolls this “practical system of ideas and methods, which, if diligently applied, would bridge the gap between dream and reality.” He continues, “The path which Gurdjieff pointed to does not lead straight out of the world, but through it, fulfilling the legitimate demands of daily life.”

By now the Work in the West is a century old and Azize argues that it has reached “a critical point … an interval or gap.” The note do represents Gurdjieff’s personal efforts, the note re the work of his direct pupils, and the note mi the publication of his writings and music. The mi-fa interval requires “access to all of his talks, transcripts and papers in their original form,” and it also requires that there be access to “even the English version of Beelzebub, upon which Gurdjieff manifestly placed so much of his hopes.”

With respect to Gurdjieff’s Early Talks, Azize states that “books like this one are vital for the entirety of the Gurdjieff work.” The transmission of the legacy requires this or “the direction will veer off into tangents. The Gurdjieff Work will lose its vivifyingness.” Azize’s argument makes sense in the context of the Work, yet it is hard to imagine how the preservation and publication of texts like these, with their limited distribution, will add the necessary “shock.” He recognizes this and faults the publication of Views from the Real World because “it was neither transparent nor respectful of the integrity of the texts.” He concludes this line of argument: “Sometimes, to polish is to tarnish. And here, at last, are the unpolished texts, taken down by anonymous pupils.”

It is interesting that nowhere in his foreword does he mention the name of P.D. Ouspensky who did more than anyone else at the time to preserve Gurdjieff’s verba ipsissima. Nor does he refer to the more recent achievement of Stephen A. Grant who worked to the same end through the redaction of a fresh translation of Gurdjieff’s words in Ouspensky’s text in a form that has appeal to today’s serious reading public. I am referring to Grant’s adventurous volume – it is not temerareous at all – titled The Reality of Being: The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff. It is a collaboration across time, across the interval, so to speak, presumably what Azize has in head and heart and hand.

In these pages there are texts of 103 talks, some as short as a paragraph in length, others more than twenty pages long, to a word-count in the neighbourhood of 186,000 words. Here is what is colloquially known as “god’s plenty,” rather more than one would expect covering only seventeen years of Gurdjieff’s life. The editing is seemingly effortless, though here and there, near the beginning, I found myself wondering, “Who is speaking?” After reading all the texts, it comes as a relief to discover two short sections titled “Sayings” and “Aphorisms.”

Here are two instances from the former: “Real art is knowledge, not talent” and “Think of what you feel, and feel what you think.” Here are two instances from the latter: “Like what ‘it’ does not like” and “There are here no Russians, or English, Jews or Christians, but only those who follow one aim – to be able to do.” As a collector of quotations myself, I am delighted to have these terse expressions at hand, though I find myself scratching my head as to why the former are described as sayings while the latter are considered to be aphorisms: they seem to me to be much alike coming from the same mind.

Scratching my head is not my response to the talks themselves, but expressing my pleasure at having them in print describes my elated reaction. A thorough review of the contents here would require presenting what is known about the Work through previous publications and teachings plus the additional insights embedded in the present text. That would take thousands of words and too many computer screens.  Instead, I will note a half dozen sections which intrigued me and hence will, I assume intrigue every reader.

1. Asked about the origin of the teaching, Gurdjieff answered, “My teaching is my own. It combines all the evidence of ancient truth that I collected in my travels with all the knowledge that I have acquired through my own personal work.” (This comes from the section “Questions and Answers, Prieuré, October 1922.”)

2. Discoursing on symbology, he said, “My task was to give my listeners a sensation of the taste of understanding with which one must approach the search after the laws of truth. Once more I repeat: in order to understand in these matters, constant efforts are necessary.” (From “Lecture on Symbolism: The Enneagram.”)

3. On the subject of non-identification, he noted, “Humanity is earth’s nerve ends, through which planetary vibrations are received for transmission …. We can easily sacrifice our pleasures but not our sufferings; we are too identified with them – we love ourselves too much. We must learn to express opposite feelings. Everything in the universe has a place in a scale.” (Delivered on Monday, 17 July 1922; no locale identified.)

4. On Christianity, he stated, “Mind is governed by a devil. Do not let your mind slave for your essence. The thinking center is Christian, the emotional center is pre-Christian, the body is pagan. Emotional center with body make the devil, which the thinking center must learn to control.” (From “Summary of Lectures: Fifth Lecture: Christianity.”)

5. Discussing kinds of impressions, he makes an amazing declaration that is well worth pondering at considerable length: “We are only sincere in our imagination.” (This comes from Wednesday, 5 January 1921.)

6. Covering a wide range of subjects, he makes a statement that has always haunted me since I first encountered it in the 1950s in the pages of In Search of the Miraculous: “Eastern Art has a mathematical basis, it is a script with an inner and outer content. In Persia there is a room in a monastery which makes one weep, owing to the mathematical combinations of parts of the architecture. Real art is knowledge, not talent.” (From “Religion, Will, Education, New York, Saturday, 1 March 1924.”)

It is interesting to consider what is not included in the talks. In the index there are hardly any references to people, not even to Madame de Salzmann, though there are three odd mentions of P.D. Ouspensky. The first reference identifies him as being present at a meeting at Warwick Gardens; the second mistakes him for Madame Ouspensky; the third identifies him as “a writer and professor of psychology”! (Ouspensky objected to be identified by his publishers as “a mathematician”; I wonder what his take on being labelled a “psychologist” would be.)

Come to think of it, in the text there are no references at all to Carl Jung or Sigmund Freud, despite the fact that what is being proposed by Gurdjieff is a system of psychopraxis with many principles and procedures in common with the then-current psychological and psychiatric theories of the Swiss and the Austrian clinicians and theorists. Indeed, Jung’s practice of “active imagination” kept popping into my mind as I read many of the procedures and approaches identified with Gurdjieff during these years.

There are instances of the withholding of sensitive information in the text of Views from the Real World and these lacunae have been mentioned in passing in the literature of the Work. Although the present texts are presented verbatim, so to speak, there are some examples of this practice in these pages. I will give one instance. In the section “Fontainebleau, Friday, 19 January 1923,” Gurdjieff outlines the role of “the general accumulator” with regard to the energy required for self-remembering. Here is the text:

It is possible to prolong memory of self-remembering by making the energy stored in us last longer, if we are able to manufacture a store of this energy.

[At this point Mr. Gurdjieff gave an exercise.]

Up to now we have been doing all the exercises mechanically, without thought ….

The bracketed words are in italics in the original.

And so it goes. I imagine an ideal world with all the interested parties – biographers, historians, researchers, lecturers, instructors, group leaders, and students of the Work – busy turning the pages of Gurdjieff’s Early Talks 1914-1931, if only to savour the taste of the Special Doctrine.


John Robert Colombo is an author and anthologist who lives in Toronto. His latest books are A World of Differences (a collection of poems), The Northrop Frye Quote Book (3,600 quotations from the writings of the Canadian literary critic), and The Rohmer Miscellany (the record of Colombo’s long-time fascination with the works of the author Sax Rohmer, creator of Fu Manchu). His books are described on the website < www.colombo.ca >.