I was born in Ireland, and am an historian of Western Esotericism, with special reference to 1920s and 1930s Paris, focusing on the life and writings of G. I. Gurdjieff (1866? – 1949). see my Academic Resarch Page at http://ccw​e.wordpres​​ia-wellbel​oveds-acad​emic-resea​rch-page/ for more info . Gurdjieff's teaching: for scholars and practitioners

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 <; 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 < >.




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

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

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 < > . 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.


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.”

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


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

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

“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.

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. < >.

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.

Butuzov, Gleb. “Some Traits of Hermetic Language.” Web.

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. [].

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

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: –

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.

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.

_____. “Monkey Junk: A Satire on Modern Divorce” The Chronicle Review. The Chronicle of Higher Education.Web.

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

King, C. Daly. The Oragean Version. Unpublished. Web.

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

_____. 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.

New Living Bible. Web.

Ouspensky, P.D. In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching.New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1949. Web.

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.

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.

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 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