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Archive for August 2008


Joseph Azize Page


Henri Tracol

The notes I summarize here were written by Mr Adie under the heading “3 October 1951, Group II, Colet Gardens”, and placed in the same folder wherein I found the Gurdjieff group meeting of 16 October 1943. Their six pages relate to Henri Tracol’s exchanges with two persons, ‘Mr Andrews’ and ‘Mrs Brown’. I find the second exchange sound, but is not so novel now as it would have been in 1951. However, the first is unique, and deserves to be known. Mr Adie must have valued it, because he has written these notes very carefully. I suspect that he either worked from memory or had jotted down some rough notes during the meeting. Also, the meeting almost certainly had more than two exchanges. This also points to the probability of selection.

Part One
‘Mr Andrews’ had a question about the suffering he has occasioned himself by causing “a lot of trouble” to other people. Mr Tracol replied that there are different types of suffering: first, there is suffering in personality. He offered the example of the ordinary negative emotion we experience at having made ourselves look silly or bad in front of others. Secondly, he said, there is the suffering which comes when we have done something wrong “against ourselves”. With this suffering, the essential thing is not that other people have been touched by it or even know of it, but that “it has been against ourselves in the sense of the work”.

In this instance, replied Andrews, it was definitely the first type of suffering.

“Then”, said Tracol, “you have to fight very hard, probably all you can mobilize of effort of work against it.”

How?, asked Andrews, whart type of effort?

“So you can get some result when you fight”, replied Tracol.

I find it a little hard to follow what Andrews then said, but he spoke about his manifestations. Tracol may have too, yet he understood the man’s state. “But I mean the fight itself” – he used that word again – “That ought to be very very clear to you. You must know how to fight, really fight your negative emotions. Try to tell me more clearly.”

Andrews then mentioned his efforts to stop thought and to relax.

Tracol responded bluntly: “That is not sufficient now. You know that your help is ‘I’, but you must know how to do it. I will try to make you understand by a kind of pciture. You are in a house and a fire is in some part of it and you have to stop it. … We are in the presence of something quite catastrophic. You have to mobilize all your forces against it. It is quite a concrete thing that is happening, as concrete as fire … quite concrete and you have to oppose it with something quite concrete also.”

“It is a thing that demands energy against energy, or, if you will, energy to direct energy in another direction.You have to arrive ready at this feeling of yourself before a complete process after having tried and tried very much. This I want you all, when you have such an enemy inside you, to try.”

“You relax and you really try to get ‘I’. ‘I’ is an affirmation that you are there fighting. ‘I’ is like the soldier who arrives on the battlefield, who says ‘I am there’. That must be very concrete. ‘I AM HERE’. You must feel that ‘I’. It comes from your sensation. You must try to put all the force you can behind it.”

“Without that ‘I’ you can do absolutely nothing. For the moment when you say it, everything else has to disappear. Just the moment when you say ‘I AM’ you sense as much as you can. Then you begin again, ‘I AM’. Try really to understand that you can put an energy in there, and that now you must try at any cost. Then you will try and the beginning and perhaps not succeed, but try and try again. Then you will attract into your ‘I’ the energy that is in your feelings.”

Mr Andrews made a comment that it was more than a metaphor, it was a picture. Tracol continued: “You have a little sensation in you sometimes. That sensation is, right now, all that you have to lean on in your effort. When we begin to remember ourselves, we say ‘I AM’. We say it as we must, with whatever is available to us. But it cannot change anything until you have tried again and again. Then, little by little, through these unsuccessful efforts, we start to understand that the affirmation has contain a certain kind of something, and what can that something possibly be but an energy?”

“You remember how in ‘Fragments’ (i.e. In Search of the Miraculous) Mr Gurdjieff says it has to make a vibration? I have heard him say that many times with his own mouth. That vibration is a sign that the energy of vibrations is there and that energy is in that direction. You can not do it at once. You do it twice, thrice, four times, five times. I am suret aht your negative emotion is a little less after it and you will understand what the fight is.”

Part Two
A vigour leaps at me from the page. Gurdjieff had not then been dead two years. I suspect that the power of this exchange reflects Gurdjieff’s personal impact, at a close remove. Later, of course, that influence was obscured by time, but also by Mme de Salzmann’s “New Work”. The later material I have seen from Henri Tracol is not, in my view, of the order disclosed here.

Note that Tracol’s first advice was to try whatever gave results. As I have mentioned in the book George Adie and in earlier blogs, one can take the advice of not working for results too absolutely. Anyone who never seeks any result from their work is mad. The real problem, as I see it, it is identification with results, and dreaming about possible results. This will all undermine the very effort.

Further, I find the exchange fascinating as being consistent with the impression given by Mr Adie’s 1949 diary, which shows Gurdjieff speaking similarly about the importance of ceaseless struggle so that sweat pours even from one’s heels. But for me the important thing is that this robust approach is the one which for me works. The New Work only set me back.

But now, with the material I recently posted from Gurdjieff’s October 1943 group meeting, I feel that readers of this blog have access to some high quality and otherwise unpublished material which could lead to a new understanding of “effort” and how a clear intellectual understanding of true efforts can lead to encouragement.

To tie these strings together, Gurdjieff had said in 1943 that the secret is in the effort. And the effort demands an intensity only of attention or of concentration while the person remains relaxed. As Mr Adie would say, I focus or concentrate without self-tensing. There is no tension in any of the centres, just direction. This, of course, is what inner concentration is: all of the faculties are pointed towards the centre. One can look at an object while relaxing the eyes or one can fixedly stare at it. It removes some of the self-tension, perhaps, to reflect that as Gurdjieff said, the exercises should be allowed time to work. Tracol stressed the last aspect of this, especially. Do not expect to succeed the first time: be patient, and let the work operate.

In 1943, Gurdjieff stated his hope that the exercises would produce faith in our possibilities of becoming. Tracol stated as a fact that if one persisted one would feel the vibrations which lead up to “I AM”, and from this would understand what the fight is. His advice was to think of a soldier coming in to battle. Gurdjieff had prayed “May God help you with your intellect”. Perhaps these are three aspects of the same thing, for as Orage said: “Thought is the pure effort to attain the truth and takes place in the Intellectual centre.”


Joseph Azize has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book “The Phoenician Solar Theology” treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The third book, “George Mountford Adie” represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.



A WOMAN’S WORK: the spiritual life journey of Ethel Merston

John Robert Colombo Page


JRC reviews Mary Ellen Korman’s “A Woman’s Work”

What I have before me as I write this review is a handsome trade
paperback titled “A Woman’s Work.” It is subtitled “The Spiritual Life
Journey of Ethel Merston” and the author is Mary Ellen Korman. Barbara
Allen Patterson is identified as the book’s editor. I assume Mrs.
Patterson to be the wife of William Patrick Patterson, the energetic
and well-known exponent of the Fourth Way, who has contributed a short

Patterson is a partner in Arete Communications of Fairfax, California,
the book’s publisher, as well as the founder-editor of “The Gurdjieff
Journal,” the latest issues of which have been serializing the text of
this book. So as a subscriber to the “Journal,” I knew the book was
about to be published, but not so soon. Maybe the publisher was also
surprised. On the book’s copyright page, there are two curiosities.

The first curiosity is that the present publication has been
copyrighted in the year “2009.” This is a slip-up that is certain to
confuse librarians and bibliophiles. (J. Walter Driscoll,
bibliographer of Fourth Way publications, take note!) For the record,
I purchased my copy directly from the publisher and it arrived on
August 11, 2008.

The copyright page’s second curiosity is that it runs the Library of
Congress Catalogue which lists ten names for indexing purposes. Since
these could double as the backbone of the book, let me list them here
in the order in which they appear on the copyright page:

1. Ethel Merston. 2. G.I. Gurdjieff. 3. Ramana Maharashi. 4. J.D.
Krishnamurti. 5. Anandamayi Ma. 6. Sunyata. 7. Swami Omananda. 8. Pak
Subuh. 9. J.G. Bennett. 10. Fourth Way.

These names are quite a mouthful! The book also offers the reader
forty-nine black-and-white photographs of gurus and other people.
There are generous source-notes and also an index of names.

I know little about the author, Mary Ellen Korman, except for what it
says on the book’s back cover: “Editor-writer Mary Ellen Korman has
long been interested in spiritual transformation and its many
approaches. She teaches a yoga of body impressions and lives in
southern Pennsylvania.” I am not quite sure how a session of “a yoga
of body impressions” differs from a standard session of hatha yoga,
but that is what it says and I am willing to learn.

In the Preface, Mrs. Korman acknowledges the contribution of her
husband Henry Korman, with whom she has authored an earlier book in
1997. Its title is not promising, as least in the present context:
“Living with Dogs: Tales of Love, Commitment, and Enduring

As a reader and reviewer of this book, however, I want to acknowledge
the seamless prose of Mrs. Korman. She has done exemplary work
combining her own writing with that of Miss Merston who kept a diary
of her life, travels, and reflections. Passages from this diary and
other works are introduced into the narrative. (The typescript of the
diary is on deposit at the City of Westminster Archives in London.)
The two voices are one voice, rather like the chanting of one of those
Tibetan monks who is able to intone both a tone and an overtone in one
breath simultaneously.

My sole criticism is that Mrs. Korman is too vague about some facts
that could have been checked. For instance, was Miss Merston really
awarded an O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire) for her outstanding
work with the WRNS (Women’s Royal Naval Service) during the Great ar?
More work should have been done here and elsewhere.

Now to Ethel Merston. The excerpts from the book that have been
appearing in issues of “The Gurdjieff Review” did not really whet my
appetite to read the full text, but the mention of the “big names” did
pique my interest – enough to purchase a copy. All her life, Miss
Merston was a pilgrim, a quester, a seeker. She would probably concur
with this description of her way of life – but not if the definition
of a “seeker” excludes someone who is a “finder.” I will return to
this point shortly, but first some biographical information.

Ethel Merston was born in London, England, in 1882, into a family of
professional and accomplished Jewish-German parents of some wealth and
social standing. The original family name was Meyerstein. It seems the
family was a secularize one and dysfunctional. Edith’s mother was
artistic but high-strung and young Ethel fought with her bitterly. The
mother also “dabbled” in Theosophy.

When Ethel was eight years old, Madame Blavatsky “came to tea.” She
and her younger brother Will met the Madame. “Ethel and Will had heard
that Madame Blavatsky had only to point her finger at an object and it
would fall. The children watched her closely. When finally she pointed
and nothing happened, they were disgusted with her.” That incident
seems to have set the pattern for the future full of ultimately
disappointing meetings with gurus.

Ethel developed various psychosomatic illnesses (the author is as
vague as Ethel is about these) but as if in compensation, she had a
passion for languages and gardening. She left home without any
education or training and supported herself with temporary secretarial
work. She joins the WRNS and apparently distinguished herself on the
home front during the Great War.

After the war she sought the services of a psychiatrist, and her
choice of specialists is interesting: Dr. Maurice Nicoll, who was at
the point of abandoning Jung for Gurdjieff. She heard Gurdjieff speak
on one occasion and on another attended a lecture at the Quest Society
on the Fourth Dimension delivered by P.D. Ouspensky.

All this is mentioned in passing, in so many words, as the author has
hardly any other real information about Ethel’s first forty years. So
the biography effectively begins on a bench on the Boulevard de la
Madeleine in Paris in late August of 1922 when she meets George
Gurdjieff and appeals to him to receive her at the Priory, which is on
the point of opening its doors to selected members of the public.
After half an hour of silence, Gurdjieff replies with one word:

It turned out that Ethel – I will call her Merston hereafter – had
organizational and administrative abilities, so she became the chief
gardener at the 200-acre estate at Fontainebleau-Avon. She learned
enough Russian to order the Russian residents around and she possessed
enough class to intimidate the English visitors. This period is well
documented in the literature of the Fourth Way, particularly by her
nemesis at the Priory: young Fritz Peters who later wrote about the
many run-ins that he had with her.

Merston emerged as an unliked and unlikeable martinet (with “a little
black book” to record transgressions). Part of a chapter is devoted to
describing how Gurdjieff took pains to humanize her in the eyes of the
residents and visitors, and how he laboured to sensitize her to the
needs of other people, as other people experienced her as being
captious and distant.

At the Priory she learned to deal to some extent with her pressing
spinal problems through massage therapy as well as exercises in
self-remembering and self-observation: “I did not try to stop the
worry, but just to separate it from the body.” She wrote about
Gurdjieff: “I did not go to him for spiritual teaching, but solely for
physical healing purposes.” She left the Priory in 1927 but continued
her personal associations with Gurdjieff’s followers.

This would be a long review, indeed, if I gave equal time to Merston’s
experiences with other teachers in other parts of the world. Here I
will devote a sentence or two to each encounter, as she visits guru
after guru. Through the influence of a psychotherapist named Adelaide
Gardiner, who was also a leader of the Theosophical Society’s Esoteric
Group, she undertook a study of the “astral body.”

An inheritance from the estate of her parents in 1932 left her
independently wealthy and free to travel at will. In New York City she
met Ruth Underhill and the two of them shared accommodation in Tucson,
Arizona. She attended A.R. Orage’s groups in New York in 1924. She
even had psychic readings conducted by Edgar Cayce and another by Mrs.
Eileen Garrett. Nothing much occurred.

In 1934, at the age of fifty-two, she arrived in Bombay. She would
live in India off and on for the rest of her life. She never married
or showed much interest in or understanding of men. She shared living
quarters with a series of talented but unstable women who exhibited
psychic abilities as well as symptoms of mental, emotional, and
physical disorders. She met Saroijini Naidu, the poet and patriot,
whom she admired, and Mohandas Gandhi, who impressed her (as he did
everyone else, except Ali Jinnah of Pakistan).

Readers interested in how an English woman of a certain social class
conducted herself in India prior to Partition will find the bulk of
the book worth reading. The same is true for readers interested in
trance mediumship, for Merston’s companions were always conducting
seances or otherwise simply falling into trances. Seldom did the
voices that spoke to them during these sessions said anything
significant. Musicologists will be interested in the descriptions of
violinist Maude MacCarthy (Omananda Puri) and her husband, the
brilliant composer John Foulds.

In the meantime Merston read books by Alice Bailey, Helena and
Nicholas Roerich, and Paul Brunton, and she received private
instruction in specific but unnamed yogic techniques from a Hindu
medical doctor. In 1935, she returned briefly to Europe where she
attended one of Krishnamurti’s talks at Ommen, Holland. It seemed she
had no rapport with the designated World Saviour, or he with her.

Then it is back to India again. In 1931, Paul Brunton had received
instruction from Ramana Maharshi, “one of India’s great sages,” and
Merston was drawn to the Adviatic Vedantic teacher’s ashram near the
temple town of Tiruvannamalai at the foot of Aurunachala. She was
struck by the place’s peace and beauty.

She sat with Maharshi and told him, “I have hopes that I shall find
some interest in life.” The Maharshi replied, “If there is no
interest, it is good.” Their dialogue is reproduced at some length but
it seems to be a mishmash of cliché and mistranslation. She soon left
to visit other places and people, but she would return at least five
times: “I visited the Ashram each summer to sit in Bhagawan’s

Merston spent the Second World War in India. She immersed herself in
village life and acted in many capacities – as social worker, nurse,
gardener, herder, magistrate, etc. It turned out her distance from
other people made her good at non-judicial dispute resolution and
social mediation. But her labours were uphill battles against the
centuries-old ignorance of the villagers and the new-found arrogance
of the politicians and bureaucrats of the national government.

She met Alain Daniélou and his companion Raymond Burnier,
musicologists who had studied at Rabindranath Tagore’s Santiniketan.
Then she met dance student Uday Shankar, guru Anandamayi Ma, poet
Lewis Thompson, guru Krishna Prem at the famous ashrama of Mirtola,
and Sri Aurobindo at Pondicherry.

She visited Mirtola, the ashram of Sri Anandamoyi Ma, but rejected the
Bengali guru’s approach of devotion and worship. She befriended the
Danish mystic Sunyata (Alfred Sorensen) and regarded him as a
“natural” mystic, as had Brunton earlier. She was attracted to the
spiritualism of Swami Omananda and The Boy who channelled The

She attended the death of Bhagavan at his ashram in 1950. As she
herself observed, it seemed to take decades for the lessons of her
teachers to take effect. “If I understood anything of the Maharshi’s
way of Self-inquiry, it is entirely due to Gurdjieff.” Then she
encountered Mataji, Krishnaji, known as The Mother.

On a visit to England in March 1954, J.B. Bennett invited her to stay
at Coombe Springs. She undertook editorial tasks connected with his
three-volume work “The Dramatic Universe.” All the while she continued
to work on her own glossary of “All and Everything.” What became of
that glossary is not mentioned. It seems Madame de Saltzman, with whom
she had no genuine relationship, had commissioned a glossary of her

On a return visit to Coombe Springs in 1957, she met Pak Subuh. She
was suspicious of the Indonesian teacher and felt hypnotism was behind
the effects of latihan. She invoked Bennett’s repeated experiences of
latihan to explain his end-of-the-day conversion to Catholicism.

In 1958, she visited friends in San Francisco, and in New York she met
up with an old friend, Jessmin Howarth, and at Franklin Farms in
Mendham, New Jersey, she conversed with John Pentland and
mathematician Christopher Fremantle.

Back in India in 1959 she resumed her friendship with a Benedictine
monk, Père Henri Le Saux, who wrote kind words about her, including
these: “She was an Englishwoman, always ready to do anyone a kindness,
no matter when or who it might be. This she always did with great
sensitivity….” It seems that the five decades of wandering in search
of gurus had engendered compassion. In 1967, at the age of
eighty-four, Merston succumbed to cancer and died in the shadow of her
beloved Arunachala.

What to make of her life? She was at once an adventurous Englishwoman
and a spiritual voyager, yet it seems (at least to the bystander or
interested observer) that hers was a life of to-ing and fro-ing
without much sense of self-awareness or self-fulfillment. (She cruised
on ocean-going vessels rather than on jetliners, but nonetheless
she brings to mind a jet-setting, globe-trotting journalist like Pico Iyer.)
No doubt she did what she wanted to do at the time, but did it satisfy her?
Despite years of hard work, indeed labour, she seems to have scattered her
attentions and her achievements. What were her goals? Simply to live?
Who is to say? She, the expert, does not say.

She was definitely not a finder, if by “a finder” is meant someone who
makes a self-discovery, perhaps a “personal best.” Within herself she
carried her problems (psychological as well as physical), and was
unable to commit herself to any single discipline or kindle within
herself a spark or flame of independence. This may explain her
never-ending, peripatetic pilgrimages to visit the world’s spiritual
leaders and sacred sites. Perhaps it is the travel and not the
terminus that is the destination.

As I read about the travels of Miss Merston, however, I kept thinking
about an Alice whom I knew, not “Alice in Wonderland” but the woman
who for decades until her recent death served as my research
assistant. A social-worker by profession, a woman the age of my
mother, all her life she was a “quester.”

Over the eighty years of her life she was, serially, a Presbyterian by
birth, a member of the United Church of Canada by default, a
Theosophist by interest, a student of the Kaballah through chance, a
Crowleyite as it happened, an Anthroposophist for reason of residence,
a Mormon by marriage, and at the end of her life an Anglican for
convenience. She seemed to have missed Gurdjieff (though she once
attended a function at the Foundation in New York, something I have
never done) and also Krishnamurti (though she did attend one of his

Looking back on this “quest” of hers, I wonder about its seriousness.
Alice was an independent thinker to the degree that she yearned for a
meaning and a significance in life that she could not find in
organized religion. But she was stubborn and would not learn anything
from anyone but herself. Was Alice passing the time? Was she in search
of a miracle? Was she like Merston?

We are informed that Merston began by searching for a cure for the
severe back pains that she suffered, but I believe she had much more
than that in mind. She was waiting for someone to offer her a placebo
with no strings attached. It never happened.

The “quests” of these two women bring to mind the famous byword of the
stage magician. Referring to the “vanishment” of an object, the
magician knows what his audience does not suspect: “Either the object
is still there or the object was never there to begin with.”
Is it a stretch to say that the same principle may be applied to the
“search for truth”? Indeed, it is there to begin with, or it will not
be found elsewhere.

John Robert Colombo is the author-editor of three books devoted to the
life and work of Denis Saurat, the Anglo-French littérateur and
metaphysician. This fall will see the publication of a collection of
his essays titled “Whistle While You Work.”



August 27, 2008 at 6:29 am


Joseph Azize Page


The wedding at Cana

The Pseudo-Ouspensky on St John’s Gospel

Part One: Notes on Saint John’s Gospel, published by Ediciones Sol, Mexico, undated, attributed to P.D. Ouspensky, almost certainly in fact written by an anonymous pupil of Ouspensky (see James Webb, The Harmonious Circle).

It (sc. the Gospel of St John) talks about New Foods. The first miracle it relates is the miracle of water turned to wine at the wedding feast. Wine represents New Food – not a natural food, but something which has to be made by a very complicated process. Wine is the juice of fruit which is ‘fermented’, which means it has taken on a new force from being dead. Water comes naturally, from a spring. Wine has to be made intelligently, by men, for their own use.

A whole chapter talks about Bread, Flesh, Blood. “For the bread of God is he which cometh down from Heaven and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said, I am the bread of life. He that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” The disciples wanted the bread to be ‘given to them’. Jesus at once answers, “I am the bread.” It is something very difficult; they cannot understand. They ask for ‘a gift’. Jesus answers, “He that cometh to me shall never hunger, he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”

“To come” means progress, advance step by step.

“To believe” means work to combine Imagination, Reason and Will into a balanced power which will be Faith. Faith is not an emotion.

Jesus said unto them: “Verily, verily I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood ye have no life in you … For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.”

“Flesh” and “blood” are New Food. Food is another name for Power . We are enclosed inside powers of which we are not conscious. We cannot ‘eat’ or ‘drink’ because the faculties with which we could take those powers in and use them are not working. We are like dried-up sponges in water. The water cannot soak in and penetrate the sponges because they are dead.

“Eat the flesh” and “drink the blood” means being made an active living part inside a great force – like a red corpuscle in blood, which draws life from the food a man eats and makes new life from it. “He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me and I in him.”

“Dwelleth in me and I in him” means being admitted into a new consciousness.

Saint John gives a new meaning to the word “Light”.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. … All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.”

Light is the basis of all life on earth. Vibrations of energy and power travel on. light. All material forms are threaded through with it, like beads on a string.

“And the light shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not.”

“Darkness” means mechanicalness. Earth is enclosed and enwrapped in a great flame of radiant power. The same power is stored inside every living form, waiting for some shock that will set it free.

“The darkness comprehendeth it not.” “Comprehend” means ‘take in and use’. We are Darkness so long as we are mechanical. Life with power flows all round us, but we cannot take it in and use it.

“Light” is Food. Every animal and plant and stone draws in something from light and could not live, without it. Colour is food which flowers draw out of a ray of light in which our eyes can see, no colour at all, unless it is broken up for us in a rainbow. Colour is as necessary for the flower as its ordinary food of moisture and warmth. But it uses another faculty to absorb colour. It is a faculty which we have not got at all.

The Gospel talks of ‘mechanicalness’ several times. “Then, said Jesus, I go my way, and ye shall seek me and die in your sins: Whither I go, ye cannot come.”

“Die in your sins” means in the circle of mechanical thoughts and feelings which enclose us.

Jesus answered, “For I know whence I came and whither I go.” We do not know whence we came and whither we go. We do not ‘come’ or ‘go’.

“I am the door of the sheep … By me, if any man enter in he shall be saved and shall go in and out and find pasture.”

“Sheep” represent mechanical people.

“Shall go in and out” means ‘shall be conscious and therefore free’.

“Find pasture” means ‘find fresh growing food’.

“And he said, Therefore said I unto you that no man can come unto me except it were given unto him of my Father. From that time, many of his disciples went back and walked. no more with him.”

The superficial disciples did not like being told they were mechanical. They liked to think they had ‘chosen’ to be disciples.

“Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? And Simon Peter answered him Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.”

The real disciples could never be ‘offended’. They knew what they wanted. Their aim filled their minds and drove out all negative objections.

“Words of eternal life” means New Food. The true disciples thought it so precious they were prepared to sacrifice their worldly life in order to find it.

The Gospel talks of “Truth”. “God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

“Worship in spirit” means secretly, inwardly, in thought and feeling.

“Worship in truth” means ‘true with ourselves.’

“When the spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth; for he shall not speak of himself, but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak, and he will show you things. to come.”

“Spirit of truth” means ‘no self-deception’. The more we try to be true in spirit, secretly, the more chance we have of understanding objective truths.

“For he shall not speak of himself” means ‘he shall no longer be subjective.’

“But whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak.” He shall ‘hear’. It is a new faculty. Their machinery makes the noise they imagine they hear. To hear means three separate efforts combined continuously:

First, effort to make silence in ourselves, by stilling the noise made by our imaginings;

Second, effort to listen, to become aware of something outside us;

Third, effort to take in. A new faculty is needed, which will start a new process of thought and feeling.

“He will show you things to come” means the new faculty the conscious man will have acquired will enable him better to understand laws.

Jesus says, “I can of mine own self do nothing. As I hear, so I judge … and my judgment is just, because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.”

Jesus directly followed the Will of God. It cannot reach us except through laws. Each person has a law. Our work of self-observation is simply in order to find out what is our particular law. No one else can tell us what it is.

Jesus says, “He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory, but he that seeketh the glory that sent him, the same is true and no unrighteousness is in him.”

“He that seeketh the glory that sent him” means a man who is trying to wake, in order to follow the law that works through him, apart from his feelings.

“No unrighteousness is in him” means no mechanicalness.

“Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself; except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in me.”

“Abide in me” means ‘obey your law’. The home of the branch is in the vine. It ‘abides’ there. That is where it is fed and kept alive. If we awake, the home of our thought and feeling will be in a new sort of conscience. New food will be drawn from it and life will not be able to be parted from it.

Jesus heals the man who was born blind. No one recognizes him after he is healed. They think he is different – another person. Pharisees and Jews come and question him. They ask the wrong sort of question, ‘How was it done?’ ‘What sort of a man was Jesus?’ They do not really care. They are inquisitive. The man whom he healed simply says, ‘All I know is, I was blind and now I can see’. The result is all that matters.

Saint John is a poet. He gives new meanings to ordinary words. When he speaks of Wine, Bread, Light, Flesh, Blood, he means Foods – New Powers. Food is a key. It is a new force which starts machinery. Food is another name for Power. If we stop feeding for an instant we die.

Innumerable keys turn the wheels which control the circulation of our blood and feed our brain and keep up movement in us continually, which we call life. Our food is light, air, vision, sound and every impression of feeling and sensation drawn from our surroundings. We have an illusion of being active. In reality we depend entirely on our foods and have no more power in ourselves than a windmill without wind.

Self-remembering is an effort to make new power which will be Food for new faculties which otherwise are starved.

Part Two: The Provenance of the Text and Its Purport
The text was published in a small blue booklet by Rodney Collin-Smith in Mexico. His press, Ediciones Sol, is mentioned by Joyce Collin-Smith in her important book Call No Man Master. Copyright was not claimed by the editor, the publisher, or on behalf of the author. Someone purchased the booklet on my behalf in the USA, I think from the late Michael Smyth. However, I never asked Michael about it, although I am proud to say that I was close to him. I do not presently have access to Driscoll’s bibliography or any of my Gurdjieff and Ouspensky books. However, a correspondent who read the first draft of this blog has informed me that according to James Webb’s Harmonious Circle Rodney Collin-Smith found the materials amongst Ouspensky’s papers after his death, and believing Ouspensky to have been the author, published them (with, I might add, a Spanish translation). When he discovered his error, he withdrew the booklet. Why, I wonder, did he just not re-issue it as “Anonymous, Unknown”?

In the first version of this blog, I wrote of this text: “My own view is that it is too concise and too deep to be by Collin-Smith, but may well have been written by Ouspensky.”

I was not sure that it was in fact by Ouspensky, as my wording “may well have been written by Ouspensky” shows. However, the only alternative author I then considered was Collin-Smith. I continued: “Also, we know from odd comments made in A Record of Meetings that Ouspensky believed St John’s Gospel to have been the most extraordinary document, written, he said, by someone who was nourished by Hydrogen 12, if I remember correctly. By this Ouspensky meant that the author could consciously receive the impressions of higher centres. It is difficult to argue. If anything I have seen is inspired, it is the Gospel of St John. If any text warranted Ouspensky’s comments, it is this one. As an aside, in Orage’s unpublished notes in the Brotherton Library is the following scheme: Hydrogen 6 corresponds to I, 12 to sex, 24 to emotions, 48 to air, 96 to magnetism, 192 to air, 384 to water, 768 to food, 1536 to mineral and 3072 to mineral. In other words, St John’s food was the highest possible.” I thought, therefore that the attribution to Ouspensky was reasonable, but I went on to add: “Now, the thing is the commentary as it stands.”

I do not know whether Webb’s information is accurate or not, and unfortunately, as is well known, he gave very few references. He stated that he would leave his references with Thames & Hudson for scholars. I made enquiries, and am informed that Thames & Hudson do not in fact possess any such document. Further, Joyce Collin-Smith tells me that Webb’s wife did not retain any of the documents, and that they are effectively lost.

I do not know who really wrote these notes, but will refer to the author as the Pseudo-Ouspensky. It is a shame we know so little about the Ps-O., but he or she was a very impressive thinker. And this itself is important: in the late 1940s, Gurdjieff apparently disparaged Ouspensky’s teaching, but from the evidence of these notes, at least one student attained to insights of a high order, and possessed a great power of expression.

Modern biblical scholars have only recently started shaking off the dogma of the “higher criticism” in respect of what one may call the “Johannine Corpus” (the Gospel, the three epistles and the Apocalypse). I will just say here that if you have come across the books of writers like Bultmann and Raymond E. Brown on St John, you might bear this in mind. Ellis’s The Making of the New Testament Documents, and Charles E. Hill’s The Johannine Corpus in the Early Church, are, however, well worth the study.

I have no doubt, and neither did those closest to the Apostolic Age that all five documents were written by St John himself, the beloved disciple, even if all or some of chapter 21 has been added to the Gospel to authenticate and perhaps even to supplement the text. I suspect that St John wrote his Gospel chiefly to leave a testament of his own understanding of Jesus’ teaching and ministry, partly also to counter errors circulating about the roles of the apostles, especially perhaps Peter, and partly to supplement what he and others saw as lacunas in the three Synoptic Gospels. My reading of the texts is that John believed he had a special insight into Jesus’ work, and that his wish to share it was genuine, even if he was urged to it by others. He opted, in the event, to write a Gospel which was different: Clement of Alexandria refers to John’s decision to write a “spiritual” Gospel, which was published while he was still alive (see Ellis, esp. 151-4).

John’s first language was Aramaic, the language in which Jesus taught. John’s Greek was either poor or non-existent: certain Greek speakers approached Philip because he did speak Greek, as suggested in John 12:20-1. The Johannine Corpus has come down to us exclusively in Greek, and the Greek of the five documents is identical in style. Perhaps the texts we have were in whole or in part either (1) translated from John’s teaching, whether oral or written, or (2) edited from John’s rather rough Greek. John’s use of an amanuensis, translator or editor would explain discrepancies of style and vocabulary within the corpus, and why the Apocalypse is written in what scholars often consider a very “Semitic” form of Greek (in addition, the influence of its unusual genre should not be forgotten). For the authenticity of the Apocalypse, together with research into why authorship ever became an issue, see the thesis of Michael Michael, The Number of the Beast, available in the University of Sydney’s Fisher Library and elsewhere.

Part Three
One can infer from our text that it’s purpose was to relate the Gospel of St John to the teaching which Ouspensky had from Gurdjieff, and developed in certain respects. It explains key Gospel words and phrases in terms of the Gurdjieff system. It raises many questions for me: can light be shown on or related to the Ray of Creation? The Pseudo-Ouspensky seems to be saying that light is a very fine hydrogen or series of hydrogens, perhaps even H1. Could this be part of the meaning of the hackneyed phrase “God is Light”? Of course, light is not a simple thing, and I am not qualified to study it the way a tertiary trained scientist could. But I sense that light is of fundamental importance, and I shall have to return to it, many many times. The insight that light is food is striking.

To my mind, one of the most puzzling aspects of Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson is its pervasive but eccentric religious aspect. Gurdjieff populates his cosmos with a deity and four ranks of angels, what is effectively hell, heaven and purgatory, and messengers from above bringing revelation. Where is the austere almost clinical universal scheme he sketched to Ouspensky, described in In Search of the Miraculous? I doubt that anyone would find a new religious faith in Beelzebub’s pages, whatever else they may strike there.

On the other hand, the Pseudo-Ouspensky’s comments here are luminous, deep and insightful. Why did Gurdjieff not write something like this? Perhaps, one could guess, because the Gospel wasn’t important to him: but then why did he speak of his system as “esoteric Christianity”, and why did he use the Johannine concept of the logos (the Word), as centrally as he did in Beelzebub (Theomertmalogos: the concept is also found in Views)? Did Gurdjieff wish to leave it to others? Who? I do not think Nicoll’s work is anywhere deep enough to demonstrate essential connections between Gurdjieff’s teaching and Christianity. The Pseudo-Ouspensky’s far briefer notes, however, succeed. No, my conjecture is that Gurdjieff was equivocal about Christianity.

Why did Gurdjieff cease teaching of the kind he had engaged in with Ouspensky? It cannot be because only Ouspensky could understand: many people proved otherwise. I just do not understand why Gurdjieff did not do more to spread his ideas, despite his stated intention of sharing his discoveries. Once more, I wonder if he did not have an equivocal attitude, at least to certain aspects of his ideas, namely, those he had taught to Ouspensky. The movements and the inner exercises, at least, seem to have been in a different category for him, as he continued to invent these until his death. Yet, the Gurdjieff groups profited immensely from the publication of In Search, indeed, it rather than Gurdjieff’s books, filled the Foundation and the Institutions for a period. And the Pseudo-Ouspensky established that they could be developed.

I repeat: why did Gurdjieff not do more to spread and develop his ideas? Because he had written Beelzebub? But he prevented its publication until after his death. Why? To form a nucleus which could support the book? But if the nucleus did NOT do one thing, it was support the book. The book was published, and then not used. I have a transcript of a meeting at Bray where Henriette Lannes is asked a question about something in the book and she replies in words to this effect: “No questions about Beelzebub. This is a rule in all groups, you have your reading of it and that is what is important: you work with that.”

I mentioned that to Mrs Staveley once, and she laughed: why not ask questions about it? And I would add now, that on that basis, “you have your own reading of it”, no questions on any topic would ever be asked in groups. You always have your own experience.

I suspect that from Mme de Salzmann’s point of view, the problem with Beelzebub was far more straightforward: she did not sufficiently understand Beelzebub, and she was too pragmatic to court questions she could not answer. I am told that someone once asked Tracol a question about the book, and his reply was something like: “everything in the book is in the Ashiata Shiemash chapters”. Tracol was dodging. Besides, it is wrong. There is a great deal in other parts of the book which cannot be found in Ashiata.

Some friends have made comments about the first draft of this piece, and I feel obliged to add a post-script. First, my appreciation of this piece is by no means undiminished by knowing that it was almost certainly not by Ouspensky. On the contrary, I now have a new sense of appreciation for the unknown pupil of Ouspensky, and gratitude that he or she left their papers with Ouspensky for Collin-Smith to find.

Second, in a DVD I have seen, Dr William Welch says that not long before he died, Gurdjieff, in the company of a few men, drove to a Russian Orthodox Church and parked outside. There he sat in silence for quite a while before driving off.

To my mind, this perfectly encapsulates what I call Gurdjieff’s equivocal attitude to what we might call “exoteric Christianity”. He felt outside it, and yet he felt attracted to it. He had unfinished business.

I have no doubt that Gurdjieff believed that there was a way not only out of the circle of mechanicalness, but to the vision of God. And it is at that second point, as I see it, that his equivocation begins. Others are entitled to disagree: that is my view.

Joseph Azize has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book “The Phoenician Solar Theology” treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The third book, “George Mountford Adie” represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.



John Robert Colombo Page

John Robert Colombo comments on a new academic study of “the Alice
books” written in light of the tradition of Western Esotericism

It must be fifty years ago that I first read the two “Alice” books –
“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (1865) and “Through the Looking
Glass and What Alice Found There” (1871). Since then at least once a
week I encounter a reference to Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland”
in one context or another – Martin Gardner’s “Annotated Alice,” the
Disney movie, passages quoted like “curioser and curioser,” parodies
like “Malice in Blunderland,” mathematical or metaphysical puzzles,
etc. It seems Alice will never die because, as someone once said it
about another fictional character, she never lived.

Freud, Jung, and Adler have offered their interpretations of “Alice”
and her pre-pubertal (or post-Modern) world that the imaginative books
effortlessly create in the minds of their readers “of all ages.”

Although it is certainly no secret that “Lewis Carroll” was the pen-name
of the Oxford don and mathematician named Charles Lutwidge
Dodgson, it is not well known that about the time Carroll / Dodgson
was composing the first of the “Alice” books, he published not only a
four-volume mathematical study called “An Elementary Treatise on
Determinants” but also a series of collegiate monographs devoted to
subjects of passing interest (with such titles as “The New Belfry at
Christ Church Oxford”).

Just as Carroll was the creation of Dodgson, so the “Alice” books are
much more than the adventures of a rambunctious girl, for the books
recount not merely her musings and amusements but her puzzlements when
faced with the greatest questions of all times – the ones that
philosophers enjoy questioning rather than answering. The author is
believed to have modelled his Alice on a “real live” little girl named
Alice Liddell, daughter of the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, whose
family name rhymes with “fiddle.”

Every reader of the books has his or her own image of Alice, usually
the one created by the immensely agile Sir John Tenniel who
illustrated the original editions with his deft lines. My own image is
other than Tenniel’s. I see Alice in two ways: as a lively young girl
and as a full-bodied young woman. This is so because in Toronto, where
I live, we are lucky enough to have two oil paintings of Alice in
public institutions. It is not widely known that the British artist
Arthur Hughes was commissioned in 1863 by the Dodgson family to paint
images of Alice Liddell. The Osborne Collection of Early Children’s
Literature in the Toronto Public Library has the original oil “Girl
with Lilacs”; the Art Gallery of Ontario (currently undergoing a
facelift by the Toronto-born architectural superstar Frank Gehry) has
the same artist’s “The Lady with the Lilacs.” Thus Toronto boasts both
the younger and the older Alice, befitting a city at once younger than
many of the world’s great cities but these days somewhat feistier.
(After all, Toronto will host the next “All and Everything Conference”
in April 2009.)

“Girl with Lilacs,” commissioned by Carroll, depicts a pale, young
girl with large, curious eyes and across her fair features a quizzical
expression. Hughes was undoubtedly familiar with the sketches of Alice
that Carroll himself had executed a year earlier for “Alice’s
Adventures Under Ground,” an early manuscript version of the classic
novel. That accounts for the strong resemblance between the sketches
and the portrait. The other painting, “The Lady with the Lilacs,” is
no evocation of childhood, for it depicts a maiden approaching the
point of full womanhood, and hence as portraiture it is both appealing
and conventional. Between them, the two pre-Raphaelite paintings catch
the sexual ambivalence that we experience with the “real life” Alice:
best caught, perhaps, in the name “Lolita.”

All of this has little to do with the book under review. “Behind the
Looking Glass” was published earlier this year by Cambridge Scholars
Publishing, an academic imprint established in Newcastle, England, by
scholars with an association with Cambridge University. (CSP is not an
imprint of the University, yet its 250 or so titles are worthy of the
Cambridge University Press imprint.)

Here are some bibliographical details: “Behind the Looking Glass.” By
Sherry L. Ackerman. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008.
ISBN (10): 1-84718-486-3. Cloth-bound, jacketed. Pages: xii + 170. The
list price is close to 30 pounds. There are two Appendices.

Appendix A lists mathematical and other works written by Dodgson.
Appendix B is something I have not seen in some time: “a syllabus” for
a course that introduces philosophy (especially epistemology and
metaphysics) using the Alice books as the launching pad. The course is
titled “Questions Behind the Looking-

Glass: A Carrollian Introduction to Philosophy.” There is as well a
far-ranging Bibliography (with entries for books by Bishop Berkeley,
Annie Besant, Madame Blavatsky, Harold Bloom, etc.) and an Index.
There are no references at all to Gurdjieff or Ouspensky.

The author of “Behind the Looking Glass” is Sherry L. Ackerman, a
scholar otherwise unknown to me. She has her own Wikipedia entry,
which begins as follows: “Sherry L. Ackerman, Ph.D., is Professor of
Philosophy at the College of the Siskiyous, in Northern California,
U.S.A., as well as an international dressage clinician. As an active
scholar with the International Society for Neoplatonic Studies, she
has authored numerous papers and journal articles. She is also one of
the American equine industry’s foremost proponents of eco-spirituality
and nature mysticism.” Wow!

Not only was I unfamiliar with Dr. Ackerman but I knew nothing at all
about the College of the Siskiyous, where she teaches. The college’s
website describes itself as “one of the most beautiful community
colleges [sic] campuses in California” with a student population of
2,500. The campus is located “at the base of majestic Mount Shasta,” a
mountain noted for its connections with gurus from India and flying
saucers from outer space.

The author knows exactly what she is doing. She is “deconstructing the
Carroll Myth” and “recontextualizing Carroll.” Never fear that
something valuable will be lost; something of equal or equivalent
value will be gained: “The myth he crafted, however, was neither
social nor sexual … it was spiritual.” Carroll fits hand in glove
into “Victorian esoteric trends.” It seems “The Victorian Cult of the
Child was, more accurately, a reappearance of the Orphic theogony for
the belief in a divine child.” We have here a description of “the
initiatory process” en route to “achieving gnosis.” A tall order.

British society in the middle-to-late-1800s offered Carroll the
Platonic revival and the Theosophical movement not to mention the new
religion of Spiritualism as well as theories about “the Arctic Home of
the Vedas.” It also offered him Christianity. But instead of taking
Holy Orders, as he was required to do to retain his academic
appointment, Carroll waffled: “Carroll chose to sing a new song.
Instead of dogmatic liturgy, he sang the theosophist’s intellectual
hymn to Love and preached from carefully crafted allegory instead of
from a pulpit.”

Dr. Ackerman goes on a bit: “I … feel that I have constructed a
strong preliminary case for a Carroll whose mysticism colored every
aspect of his life. The mystical consciousness considers unity as both
an internal and external focus as it seeks the truth about reality.”
Then, using an idiom from dressage, she takes the bit between the
teeth: “Carroll turns Alice into Odysseus journeying home to Ithaca.
The hero’s journey always involves the departure, an initiation and
the return.” Carroll naturally kept all this to himself. “Carroll
concealed his secret carefully, leaving it so that it could be
understood only by the efforts of the studious and wise.”

Maybe. The words “studious and wise” have a meaning deeper that the
one advanced here but even here they offer a whiff of the esoteric.
While it would be nice to consider readers who embrace Dr. Ackerman’s
thesis to be “studious and wise,” I wonder just how erudite and
sagacious her thesis is. She fails to take into account competing
theories, and she overlooks the work of predecessors like Northrop
Frye, who noted, “I’ve often said that if I understood the two Alice
books I’d have very little left to understand about literature.
Actually I think the Alice books, while they carry over, begin rather
than sum up – a new twist to fiction that has to do with intellectual
paradox & the disintegrating of the ego.”

That insight comes from one of Frye’s Notebooks; in another Notebook
he writes, “I suppose the fascination with Alice is not that she’s a
child in the state of innocence, but that she’s a preternatural child:
what seven-year-old girls would have been like without the Fall.” And
in one of his studies of the Bible, he observed dryly, “In a slightly
different but related area, one feels that Alice could hardly have
held her Wonderland together if she had even reached the Menarche,
much less become an adult.” (The sources are available to any reader
who requests them.)

Dr. Ackerman’s thesis is not novel. For at least two generations now,
scholars like Frye and Harold Bloom have treated imaginative
literature as a species of “secular scripture,” and have regarded it
as “mythopoeic” or “archetypal,” perhaps in an attempt to do away with
such exclusivist critical perspectives as historical criticism,
Marxist, social, biographical, feminist, theological, psychoanalytic,
New Critical, explication de texte, literary critical, etc.

What I do find interesting is what Dr. Ackerman is doing, quite
single-mindedly, and that is exposing her students to is a body of
knowledge and a tradition of outsider thought that was hardly
recognized as such in the anglosphere before the 1960s. She is
introducing them to the tradition of Western Esotericism. Before the
1960s, for instance, it was permissible to cringe in embarrassment
when mentioning W.B. Yeats’s membership in the Hermetic Society of the
Golden Dawn, as one of my own professors did at the time at St.
Michael’s College, University of Toronto; since then no study of the
laureate’s poetry or his politics is complete without at least one
chapter devoted to the Irish poet’s mystical bent and the source of
his cache of esoteric thoughts and occult imagery. No doubt Carroll
was familiar with Neoplatonism and Gnosticism, but is there any
evidence that he actually read and favoured such texts?

While I would enjoy working my way through “Behind the Looking Glass,”
to answer a question like this one, and to describe chapter by chapter
how Dr. Ackerman approaches the texts in question, I feel it would
take up too much space and not really account for the charm and power
of the Alice books. As well, it is more practical here to make a few
general remarks about the author’s preconceptions and the usefulness
of approaching Carroll’s books through the polarized eye-glasses of

* Dr. Ackerman believes that Carroll “did a masterful job of
concealing his secrets from the crowd.” Did he have any secrets?
Martin Gardner is able to solve the philosophical puzzles without
resorting to quadratic equations or mystagogic utterances. Alice
encounters puzzles, not mysteries, and as everyone knows, the
difference between a puzzle and a mystery is that the former may be
“solved” (because all the parts are present if haphazardly so) whereas
a mystery may never be “explained” (because an essential part is ever
elsewhere). It seems to me that Carroll deals with intellectual
puzzles, more than metaphysical mysteries.

* Dr. Ackerman finds Carroll and his works to be “a radical
religio-philosophical counter-response to patriarchal materialism.”
The response is “radical” in the sense of “root” rather than
“revolutionary,” as were the Prophetic Books of William Blake, which
go unmentioned, despite Blake’s “radical innocence.” Is materialism
“patriarchal,” mysticism “matriarchal”? Assumptions.

* Dr. Ackerman uses literature to illustrate philosophy. “‘Matter’ is
not a name in the way that ‘Humpty Dumpty’ is a name. Carroll’s story
about Humpty Dumpty is suggestive of a satirization of Berkeley’s
nominalism. Humpty Dumpty, from this perspective, subscribed to an
extreme form of nominalism, according to which all that is common to a
group of particulars is their being called by the same name.” (In that
passage, a lot hangs on the uncomfortable adjective “suggestive” as
well as on the ugly noun “satirization.”) The analysis continues with
a roll-call of names: Berkeley, Locke, Plato, Euclid, etc. Her
conclusion? “Carroll’s ultimate work-in-progress – the evolution of
his own consciousness – is available, with some literary archeology,
to be showcased.” Perhaps.

* Dr. Ackerman keeps her eyes focused on Carroll himself as much as
she does on his writings: “We find Carroll himself irreconcilably, and
probably unconsciously, suspended between the phenomenal and noumenal
realms.” “It appears that Carroll, like most academics of this period,
confused the map with the territory.” “As previously noted, Carroll
always vehemently denied that ‘Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’ and ‘Lewis
Carroll’ shared the same identity. They were very much two different
personae.” It is difficult to sidestep biographical criticism.

* Dr. Ackerman notes that “Carroll had originally intended to call
‘Through the Looking Glass,’ ‘Behind the Looking Glass’ but, after
more deliberation, settled upon ‘Through.’” She herself has written
the book that Carroll did not write, employing the preposition
“Through,” though it is a book that Charles Lutwidge Dodgson might
well have written, had he lived through the 1960s. So it is a very
serious work but, I feel, somewhat beside the point.

* Dr. Ackerman has an genuine and infectious enthusiasm for the
philosophy that she says lies “behind” the Alice books. So
apparently – nominally anyway – her book belongs to a class of books
that are revisionist in nature, as her work seeks to reinterpret this
imaginative fantasy as a work of philosophical (or better
metaphysical) inquiry. The author is one of nine academics concerned
with cultural studies who have formed a group they call “ContrariWise:
The Association for New Lewis Carroll Studies.” Members of the group
are intent on offering new insights into Carroll, the Alice books, and
other 19th-century works of literature. Good luck to them.

I doubt that “Behind the Looking Glass” will be of interest to the
general reader who recalls from childhood the pleasure of reading the
Alice books. The study offers few insights into those texts, as
literature, certainly not enough to detain the literary critic. But
the study will reward scholars of children’s literature and perhaps
those cultural historians who may wish to trace the possible influence
on Carroll and other imaginative writers of the period of what James
Webb and Joscelyn Godwin after him have characterized as “rejected
knowledge,” that is, the whole tradition of Western Esotericism. If
this trend continues, in another fifty years “Western Esotericism”
will be so well known that it will have to be renamed “Western

John Robert Colombo, the author of many books, studied Literature and
Philosophy at the University of Toronto. He is currently a Fellow,
Northrop Frye Centre, Victoria College, University of Toronto. He twin
interests are Canadiana and “rejected wisdom.” His website is


for more re Sherry Ackerman and Alice at
HIDDEN SOURCES: Western Esoteric Influence on the Arts,
Conference to be held in Cambridge on Saturday 11th October 2008
Hosts: The Cambridge Centre for the Study of Western Esotericism



John Robert Colombo Page

Brian W. Aldiss


Claudio Naranjo


Gerald Heard


Margaret Anderson


JRC compiles a lively list of lively people:

One Hundred and One Men and Women of Influence
Who Were Influenced by GIG & PDO

Here is a list of those men and women who have demonstrated in their
lives or in their work, ideally in both, a familiarity with the ideas
of G.I. Gurdjieff and P.D. Ouspensky. This familiarity has taken the
form of a creative response to these ideas for the reason that the
majority of these people are artists and writers, though among them
are as well numerous philosophers and musicians and physicians, some
social activists, and a handful of public figures. For these men and
women there is no “ashram,” “church,” or “monastery”; instead, there
is the school – “the school of life.” To keep the list within bounds –
one hundred is an arbitrary number but also a round number, one that
is associated with anniversaries and commemoratives – I have had to
overlook the contributions of a great many talented and accomplished
men and women whose lives and works have been solely devoted to the
exposition of the principles of the Work; their contributions,
especially in writing, music, and dance, have been “vaster than vast,”
though known to “fewer than few.” It is with regret that I have had to
overlook a number of “name” writers who expressed curiosity about
these ideas and attended lectures or even dinner parties with
Gurdjieff or Ouspensky. (Aldous Huxley and T.S. Eliot fall into this
group of socialites: in my opinion, Huxley’s ground-breaking anthology
The Perennial Philosophy and the “libation scene” of Eliot’s The
Cocktail Party and other literary works owe not a little to the
Special Doctrine.) The compilation of this list was made easier
through the contribution of Simson Najovits, Franco-Canadian
Egyptologist and writer. The sharp-eyed reader of this list will
notice that it does not have exactly one hundred entries. So the
reader is invited to add or subtract names. Who has been overlooked?
Who should not be included?

Adaskin, Harry. Canadian composer and memoirist

Adie, George. English group leader in Australia

Adie, Helen. English musician and movements teacher in Australia

Aldiss, Brian W. English science-fiction novelist

Allileyuva, Svetlana. Russian-American memoirist, Stalin’s daughter

Amis, Robin. British lecturer, Praxis Institute founder

Anderson, Margaret. American literary editor

Barjavel, René. French novelist and journalist

Bennett, J.G. English polymath, teacher

Benoît, Hubert. French psychiatrist and writer

Beresford, J.D. English novelist

Blackwood, Algernon. English horror-story writer

Bragdon, Claude. American architect and writer

Brook, Peter. Anglo-French theatre and film director

Buchan, John. Anglo-Scottish novelist, statesman

Burton, Robert Earl. American founder of Fellowship of Friends

Buzzell, Keith. American physician and lecturer

Conge, Michel. French physician, biologist, and teacher

Claustres, Solanges. French psychotherapist and teacher

Collin, Rodney. English philosopher and writer

Dalcroze, Jacques. Swiss originator of rhythmic gymnastics

Daly, Tom. Canadian film producer

Daumal, René. French writer and poet

Del Vasto, Lanza. Italian-born writer, pacifist

De Ropp, Robert S. English biochemist and teacher

Denis Healey. British, future Chancellor of the Exchequer

Dietrich, Luc. French writer

Dukes, Sir Paul. British secret agent, traveller, yoga instructor

Feldenkrais, Moshe. Ukrainian-born Israeli psycho-physiotherapist

Flanner, Janet. Franco-American essayist known as “Genêt”

Fremantle, Anne. British-born art critic

Fremantle, Christopher. Anglo-American painter and teacher

Gale, Zona. American regional novelist

George, James. Canadian diplomat and ecologist

Ginsburg, Seymour. American businessman and writer

Harris, Lawren. Canadian painter and theorist

Hartmann, Thomas de. Russian-American composer and arranger

Heap, Jane. American literary editor

Heard, Gerald. Anglo-American essayist and intellectual

Hume, Kathryn. American memorist

Hykes, David. American composer.

Ichazo, Oscar. Bolivian philosopher

Isherwood, Christopher. American author

Jarrett, Keith. American pianist and composer

Jodorowsky, Alexandro. Chilean producer and director

Jouvet, Louis. French actor and producer

Khan Dessertenne, Jean. French philosopher and poet

King, Alexander. Anglo-Scottish scientist, co-founder, Club of Rome

King, C. Daly. American psychologist and author

Kirsten, Lincoln. American ballet personality

Kheridan, David. Armenian-American writer

Kremski, Alain. French pianist and composer

Landau, Rom. Polish-born, British Arabist and journalist

Lannes, Henriette. French group leader of the Gurdjieff Society in England

Lavastine, Philippe. French orientalist

Leblanc, Georgette. French opera singer, memoirist

Lewis, Cecil. English novelist and broadcaster

Lubtchansky, Jean-Claude. French film-maker

Luhan, Mabel Dodge. American patron of the arts

Mansfield, Katherine. New Zealand fiction-writer

March, Louise. Swiss-American translator, community founder

Mercurov, Sergei Dmitrievich. Russian sculptor

Moore, James. English biographer and group leader

Mouravieff, Boris. Russian-born philosopher and writer

Munson, Gorham B. American literary editor

Roscoe, Burton. American journalist

Naranjo, Claudio. Chilean psychotherapist

Needleman, Jacob. Author, philosopher of comparative religion

Nicoll, Maurice. Anglo-Scottish psychiatrist, teacher

Orage, A.R. English editor and essayist

Owens, Terry Winter. American composer and pianist

Patterson, William Patrick. American editor, lecturer, group leader

Pauwels, Louis. French editor and author

Pohl, Vladimir. Russian musician

Priestley, J.B. English man-of-letters

Random, Michel. French writer

Ravindra, Ravi. Indo-Canadian physicist and philosopher

Rolf, Ida. American chemist, founder of Structural Integration

Rothermere, Lady. English socialite born Mary Lilian, Vicountess

Rubbra, Edmund. English composer of classical music

Salzmann, Alexandre de. Russian-born artist and theatrical designer

Salzmann, Jeanne de. Swiss-French dance instructor and group leader

Salzmann, Michel de. French psychiatrist and group leader

Saurat, Denis. Anglo-French littérateur

Schaeffer, Pierre. French experimental composer

Schumacher, E.F. Anglo-Austrian economists and ecologist

Segal, William. American painter and publisher

Shah, Idries. Indian-born, self-styled Sufi

Solano, Solita. American belle-lettrist

Staveley, Annie Lou. American, community founder

Stjoernval, Leonid. Finnish psychiatrist

Tarte, Charles T. American psychologist and parapsychologist

Taylor, Paul Beekman. British academic and writer

Toomer, Jean. American author

Tracol, Henri. French ethnographer and journalist

Travers, P.L. Anglo-Australian author, Mary Poppins, etc.

Vaysse, Jean. French surgeon and teacher

Walker, Kenneth. English surgeon and author

Webb, James. Anglo-Scottish historian of the occult

Welch, Louise. American biographer and group leader

Welch, William. American physician, writer, foundation leader

White, Minor. American painter

Wilson, Colin. English author

Wright, Frank Lloyd. American architect and theorist

Zuber, René. French photographer

John Robert Colombo is the Toronto-based author and anthologist of close to 200 separate books. This fall will see the publication of “The Big Book of Canadian Ghost Stories” and “Whistle While You Work” (a collection of essays on consciousness studies, some from this news-blog). His website is www. colombo plus. ca. His email address is


August 18, 2008 at 4:22 pm


Joseph Azize Page


Bomb falling on Paris 1943

An Unpublished Gurdjieff Group Meeting dated Saturday 16 October 1943

On 20 July 2008, I was sorting through some papers in a folder Kenneth Adie, Mr George Adie’s youngest son, had passed onto me from among his father’s unsorted documents. Amongst them was a French language transcript of a meeting with Gurdjieff on Saturday 16 October 1943. I have not checked that 16 October 1943 was a Saturday, I am reading from the transcript itself.

Present were Mme de Salzmann and people identified as André Abadi, G. Franc, Louise Leprudhomme, Miss (Elizabeth) Gordon, Yette, Simone, and Nano. The transcript then has a return, apparently, to distinguish those above from those below, being Rene Daumal, Philippe, Méchin, (Henri?) Tracol, Aboulker, Kahn, Luc (Dietrich?), Lebeau, J. and A(lfred?) Etiévant, and J. Crochereau.

The meeting took place in two parts. The first section is said to occur after the reading of ‘Pogossian’, which we know from Meetings With Remarkable Men. Evidently, this was the first meeting after holidays. Gurdjieff asked if anyone had made any observations concerning what I have translated as “the separation exercise”. The exact French is “l’exercise du dédoublement”, literally “the exercise of making into two.” ‘Separation’ and ‘division’ are attested translations of ‘dédoublement’, and this meaning is supported by the context. Later in the transcript the French word ‘separation’ appears as an equivalent. But, unless otherwise stated, you can take it that the speakers always use the word ‘dédoublement’ when I refer to ‘separation’.

The first to speak was Dr Aboulker. He said that he had continued with the exercise, and although he had “succeeded a little” during the holidays, he now had “much less than I did back then”. He stated that he had not been able to reach “a point of coming out of myself”. He requested Gurdjieff to now give him the exercise he had promised to at the beginning of September, “to help me regain the taste of division (dédoublement).”

Gurdjieff did then give him an exercise.

Then Luc observed that he can “separate out from myself very strongly (fortement)” when he makes a very brief effort, but that it disappears when he tries to keep it.

Gurdjieff replied that it was not necessary to do it ‘fortement’, what is necessary is to do it gradually. Indeed, he said, one should never force oneself: that could lead to fixed ideas.

Luc said that he had expressed himself badly. It wasn’t the efforts which are strong (forts), but rather that the impression which he receives is strong, provided the effort is brief.

Gurdjieff replied, it seems to me, not only to the question, but also to the state of the questioner, and to what he intuited was behind the question. He did not seem to be buying Luc’s ‘clarification’. His first sentence is lapidary: “It’s in the effort.” He continued that to act a little more consciously will always be an effort, a point Mrs Adie used to make very often. However, Gurdjieff added, it isn’t necessary to do anything vehemently (violenter).

Luc’s next statement vindicated Gurdjieff’s scepticism as to his ‘clarification’. He stated that he would focus all of his ‘forces’ for a very short period, “as if trying to overcome some obstacle”. He also spoke about how he wrenched himself

Gurdjieff reiterated that that was not necessary. “Do your exercise just as a service, and little by little, you will arrive there. I did say, on one occasion, that it was better to work intensely and for short moments. But the intensity is in the attention, the intensity of concentration, and not in any shock (choc). … Your effort must be to concentrate, not to wrench.” Luc replied that his ‘nature’ refused to “separate itself out” (a se séparer).

De Salzmann gave the advice that if he concentrated in himself more, it would “happen by itself”.

Gurdjieff added that he should tense himself ‘organically’, or else he would also tense his feeling. To show him how to tense organically, Gurdjieff gave him an exercise to try before the main exercise, and invited him to report back in a week “what result you’ve obtained”, a salutary reminder for those who take so literally the idea of not working for results as to think that results are unimportant.

The Louise spoke. She said that she was no longer doing the separation exercise, but concentrating in such a way that she could “sense myself … see myself, and that it is not my head. I have the impression that I see myself as more than my head, more than my body.” Gurdjieff replied that ‘separation’ is exactly that. When Louise added that she could not, however, “feel myself as double” (the French word is ‘double’), Gurdjieff said: “But you can’t feel yourself at all. Your double is incorporeal, you are not able to feel it. It is something which is beyond bodily.”

The last question before lunch was from Lebeau, who spoke of the separation exercise, and how he sensed vibrations which reacted a certain way with his body, bringing a sense of “two separated (séparées) things”. Gurdjieff was pleased, and advised Lebeau too, to try the first exercise because: “Without that you could work for a thousand years, and all you would receive is fixed ideas, and end up a candidate to enter into a madhouse. … do the exercise solely as a service.”

After lunch, Philippe said that Gurdjieff had told him not to continue the exercises, but he would now like to begin them again them. Gurdjieff wanted to know, first, how he had been spending his time. Philippe initially said he’d been resting a little, but Gurdjieff soon established that he hadn’t been resting enough, he had had to work to earn his living, and said: “Perhaps you need a special physical respite. How do you work on yourself when you wish to rest yourself?”

What Philippe said was that he had slept a bit better while he was away. Gurdjieff was pleased with that, saying: “If you cannot sleep here, but you have slept there, we have a sign of work. You have arranged your life a little less mechanically. If it wasn’t automatic, then you were working.” This is, to my mind, is an interesting example of how encouraging Gurdjieff could be. The idea that even sleeping better is a sign of work shows that work is closer, more in such details, than we might think.

Philippe said that he felt: “the need for an inflexible rule. I would like to introduce into my life a very firm rule. I sense that I would be able to maintain it. I have never sensed my slavery so much as now. I have, without doubt, had that knowledge, but never have I sensed it to this degree.”

The ‘rule’ Gurdjieff gave him was to “Do this exercise as your work”, and then gave him a relaxation exercise. Make a program, Gurdjieff advised, decide how much time you will spend on it: 15 minutes, half an hour, one hour; and arrange to do it three times each day “as a service”. The first time, he said, the experience will perhaps be mediocre, and he won’t receive anything. But the second time it would be better, and by the tenth time, perhaps, he would be able to compare the taste of mediocre relaxation with that of good relaxation.

Interestingly, Gurdjieff said that if certain muscles did not relax, he should smack that spot. Presumably, the sharp sensation would make relaxation possible.

Then, Gurdjieff asked Philippe to give the exercise to Doctor Aboulker, who had been doing the washing up. Philippe immediately substituted the word ‘decontract’ for ‘relax’ in describing the exercise.

In a significant reference to the importance of directing thought, Gurdjieff said: “What you need is to relax and to occupy your thought with this exercise.” The word he used was ‘relâcher’, not ‘decontracter’. Aboulker then spoke of difficulties in his attempts to ‘decontract’ himself.

Even a donkey can decontract its large muscles, said Gurdjieff, but to decontract the small muscles is a job for a human cow (literally, “a man of the genre cow”).

To Philippe, Gurdjieff added that the relaxation exercise would be the first exercise of his fresh start, and expressed the hope that it would produce in him faith in his possibilities of becoming. Again, encouragement.

Philippe wanted to return to the separation exercise, but Gurdjieff said to return to that one later. In answer to a reference by Aboulker to his difficulties, Gurdjieff gave the same advice, to leave the separation exercise until after he had progressed with the relaxation exercise.

Aboulker resisted, but Gurdjieff ignored him. Turning to Philippe, he said: “Among other things, you changed one word. In place of the word ‘relax’, you’ve substituted the word ‘decontract’. Relaxation is without end. While there is a limit to decontraction, you can go very far with relaxation. It was you who changed the word. At the same time, if you could understand how you did that, you would understand yet better many of your subjectivities. But this way, you close the door to understanding. This, this is you. … I wish for you that you could understand the difference, for then you could understand many things in your life which are similar to that manifestation . Do not forget this: decontraction – even a donkey can do that. But relaxation – only the intellect can do that. May God help you with your intellect (Que Dieu vous aide avec votre intellect).”

To me at the moment, perhaps the most important sentence is this very final one. I think that too often the intellect is either adored or abused, with little appreciation of what it could be, let alone impartiality. The negative or critical side of intellect, so necessary for any discrimination, is often treated as if it were a negative emotion. As Ouspensky remarked, the reason we have negative emotions is because our attitude to them is insufficiently intellectually critical. It is a piquant human trait that when we ourselves are generally in negative emotion when we condemn others for either using the critical parts of the intellect or for negative emotion, alike.

But the transcript has also significantly helped me in clarifying what Gurdjieff was doing in his final years. Many ‘transcripts’ which are circulated, even published as authentic transcripts, have been substantially edited, and even portions from different meetings have been stitched together to form a ‘genuine’ Gurdjieff meeting. And I think one is entitled to be prima facie cautious of English translations of French language meetings. I say this because I have copies of so many originals from Mr Adie. The same editing and Frankensteining occurred in the production of Views from the Real World. Once more, I have copies of the original drafts. Mrs Staveley, who also knew that this was occurring, referred to it, more kindly, as ‘disinfecting’. To her, there was something earthy about Gurdjieff which she felt might have embarrassed some of the keepers of the flame. We see the same process in the Tchekhovitch book, where the references to the post-death apparition of Katherine Mansfield (vouched for, let me say, by Mme de Salzmann) was omitted from the English translation, together with many other interesting and even valuable excerpts. Obviously, I don’t approve of the process.

To my mind, what we need is impartiality in respect to Gurdjieff, not air-brushing away idiosyncracies we find untidy in our image of him. To do otherwise, to pretend that he was perfect or saintly, is to do him a deep disservice, because it is as if he never had to struggle. But he had denying factors, and as I heard that one lady who knew him said: “Mr Gurdjieff never tried to hide his faults”. Further, if our attitude to him is not critical, if it is anything less than impartial, we are giving ourselves over to suggestibility.

This transcript, I repeat, has not been through any editing process, although there are some handwritten corrections. Obviously, however, I have no right to make the entire text freely available. I have sent the original French copy to two people who knew him. I have retained for myself a photocopy.

Together with what I have published of Gurdjieff’s teaching to the Adies in 1948 and 1949, it seems to me that the centre of his inner work in the 1940s was in the exercises as much as it was in the movements, although these have garnered almost all of the attention. The movements can be considered as exercises for the movements floor, but they are less clear, less potent, less concentrated, to my mind; and to a very great extent they depend upon the quality of the group and the movements demonstrator. To me, the movements are something like what Gurdjieff said the Christian liturgies were, school demonstrations of which their true nature was now forgotten. But I don’t think that this has happened with the exercises, for the simple reason that Mme de Salzmann ignored them after a certain point, probably in the 1960s, and they were left to a very few people who, for whatever reason, were not affected by her “new work” and passed them on unchanged. The Adies were among these, perhaps because they came to Australia before she introduced the new work to London. So, too, Mrs Staveley, who had the good luck to return to the USA from London before the great forgetting.

To speak directly of the exercises, which are after all the chief thing, the chief exercise is (I think) what the Adies, like Madame Lannes, called “the preparation”. Secondary, although still vital, are three other types of exercise: (a) tasks to be attempted during the day’s practical activities (particularly well passed on by one person I knew), (b) exercises to relate the energies to the centres and to the whole person (my chief sources here are the Adies, Mrs Staveley and Dr Lester), and (c) preparatory exercises to help in both the preparation and the energies exercises (all the above, but also the Paris transcripts). Bennett admitted that he made changes to the exercises. I think that if one does this, and there may be reason to, one should then give the amended version in addition to the original.

Personally, I think that without these exercises just as Gurdjieff brought them, the “Gurdjieff work” is seriously crippled. People know what to do, but bit by bit, they are bound to forget how to do it. Hence the doubt and uncertainty in so many Gurdjieff groups. Hence the firm belief in the rightness of their “group leaders” and their approach: the belief is a way of coping with their unbelief. But with the exercises, one can find the way.

Joseph Azize has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book “The Phoenician Solar Theology” treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The third book, “George Mountford Adie” represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.



Joseph Azize Page


Al Stewart 2008

Part One: Review and Restatement …

In my previous blog on Al Stewart, I took this inexplicably under-rated artist as the occasion to write about music as a possible intersection of time and eternity. I said that through the measured time of music, something beyond time could be invoked. I would add now that because measured or rhythmic time is not the time in which we live, music is already a displacement of the ordinary. The question is: will it provide something new at the same level, at a lower level (which much of it is) or at a higher level? It goes without saying that little music, just enough to moisten the tip of the sparrow’s beak, is above the level of ordinary life.

Ordinary existence isn’t knowingly lived for an aim: it is subsisting, it is passing our days. Very rarely do we live with a sense of purpose. We don’t sufficiently relate our days to our lifetimes to charge either with meaning. We don’t penetrate into the larger meaning or significance of our lives, being absorbed in the details, and in daily demands. As Lennon sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”. Our lives occur to us almost chaotically: only the narrative of our physical existences lends them continuity. Providence affords a default purpose of existence: to marry and have children. But this doesn’t at all satisfy everyone, while people seek different things from their families, while others seek for more in addition to family life.

The age is desperately hungry. Music has been put to the service of the entertainment industry, but music also provides a favourable opportunity to sustain feeling, order and even reflection, if only for a brief period. Songs and even entire albums can be intense slices of life with enhanced significance. Neither does the imposition of order and rhythm mean that surprises or dis-order must be excluded: e.g. “Strawberry Fields Forever” where the breaks in regular rhythm and production are part of the message, or Stewart’s “Nostradamus” where the discombobulation effectively marks change in the narrative.

Music makes for concentration and intensity. As mental, emotional and physical beings, we find a focus in its distilled experience. Listening or dancing, we’re only subliminally aware of the passage of time. With recorded music, one can select the mood, bringing another influence into one’s emotional life, at any time.

By contrast, in life our emotions transmogrify with bizarre swiftness. Music can induce or at least support a particular emotion, providing a cradle for a profound sustained experience. Even if a poignant song holds one in its sway for a few minutes, that is remarkable, that is a grace. Take the unearthly serenity of Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”. It is more than merely another good love song. For just over four minutes, a magic is masterfully conjured, and held – intensely – in a pure state.

In that previous blog, I also cited Plato’s teaching that time is the moving image of eternity, and observed that humanity was created in the image of God. This dual truth provides another clue: the making of images is a sacred occupation. God and eternity are engaged in it. So too, on a lesser scale, is the artist, at least potentially. Just as one can sometimes glimpse a muted beam from God behind certain human manifestations, perhaps an expression on a face, or a certain action, so one can sometimes sense something eternal behind manifestations in time. If the artist themselves has touched something transcendental, their possibility of allowing that to come through in their music is so much greater.

Music rarely realizes its almost mystical potential: and if it did, one could not listen to it for very long. While many musicians can turn out a fair dance tune, or a sentimental ditty, very few can do what Stewart does, and perhaps no one else actually has to the same extent. By reference to his Year of the Cat album, I explored how he expresses the sense of being present to change in and around us, a subtle feeling of “me-here-now-and-in-history”. It isn’t that no one else has ever sung history, but no one has done it so often and well as to practically make it their domain. In our impoverished feeling lives, we’re often blind to this feeling of “me-here-now-and-in-history”. And yet, it nourishes many phenomena with which we are familiar: nostalgia, patriotism of a certain kind, the wistful attachment to the scenes of our childhood, and the poignant sadness at seeing those sites demolished.

I also showed that whether he was aware of it or not, some of Stewart’s work can be understood as referring, even obliquely, perhaps, to the concept of recurrence.

Recurrence says that when we die, our lives begin once more, and that they do so perhaps very many times if not endlessly. Ouspensky’s idea was that our time (note that I stress “our” time) is our life: we live this life again not in the future but in its very own time. Time, taken as a whole, not just as our individual life-times, has a first dimension: punctiliar time, that is, this very moment. It has a second dimension: linear time, the past and the future. At death our souls continue in this linear dimension of time. However, if recurrence takes place, then it occurs along the planar third or spherical dimension of time. To Omar Khayyam’s confusion, the pen of life, having written its story, returns to trace out the same tale again. To us, the page is blank, but that’s only an illusion. On this theory, the tendencies of the “previous” life are present. Sometimes one dimly remembers that one has lived certain moments before, or just as significantly, that this time this experience, this adventure, is new.

To illustrate this, I told the story of Socrates and Apollo. Socrates heads due west from Athens, never having to swerve an inch thanks to the wings Apollo has lent him. It would seem to Socrates that he is moving due forward in a straight line across a plane. But “the flatness of the planet is a trick of the eye”. Socrates eventually finds himself in Athens once more. So too, the “arrow of time” maybe travels in a circle.

But time is not simply circular, according to Gurdjieff, it is solid and spherical. Although we are unaware, it possesses a third dimension. I offered the metaphor of each moment of time as a traffic-intersection with roads forever branching off. While we continue to drive ahead in time, and to look forward, we are wearing blinkers. We do not see that at each moment we are also driving down one of those roads which has opened up perpendicular to our forward safari, and that the perpendicular roads run into eternity. Orage said: “To be aware of this simultaneity is called solid Time, or the third dimension of Time.” On the theory, and I stress that it is only a theory, occasional intimations of solid time are what we know as “déjà vu”. They may, perhaps, also be behind the sort of experience Wordsworth recalls in “Tintern Abbey”.

According to Gurdjieff, the concept of reincarnation (e.g. in Hinduism and Buddhism) is only an approximation to the truth, and the truth is better expressed by recurrence. Gurdjieff had some interesting things to say about karma, but this is not the place to expound them. Yet, Gurdjieff told Ouspensky, who told Nicoll (without whom we would not have known this) that in recurrence the executioner becomes the executed. This suggests something similar to karma, and while that may be so, it also suggests to me that, in theory, the cycle of recurrence is a function of a change in places in the law of three (see George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia).

That is, if there is anything in my speculation, then the large forces to which our lives have been subject, change places in the ‘next’ life, and excepting this dance of influences, each life would be an identical rerun of the one ‘before’. But they are not identical: Ouspensky said that there are two types of lives, descending and ascending. Suicides, criminals and such are descending . Eventually, suggested Ouspensky, they cease to be reborn. The path of conscious development is ascending and offers more choice in the ‘next’ recurrence. Orage is known to have said that in his next life he intended to remember to go to America earlier in his career. Yet, it is not the aim of the Gurdjieff system to escape from recurrence, or at least not its stated aim, even if that is a desirable consequence of becoming more conscious. Rather, Gurdjieff’s system is concentrated on this life: if one looks after that, all the rest will look after itself. Yet, it must be emphasized, as a matter of theory, it is identical to Christianity: the only realistic aim in life is to prepare the soul for eternity.

But of course, the blog also said a good deal about some of Stewart’s music. By the end of it, I had, I hoped, written enough about Year of the Cat to make you want to listen to that and to much more of Stewart’s work. In this blog, I shall write about another of his albums. I shall need to write a third Stewart blog to do justice to A Beach Full of Shells and some of his other masterpieces, such as “Modern Times” and the sublime, elegiac “Down in the Cellars”.

Part Two: Al Stewart’s Famous Last Words (1993)

In 1993, Famous Last Words was released. Like Year of the Cat, it makes a satisfying whole. As with Lennon’s songs from 1980, you feel that a youth has realised his promise, and put down sturdy roots, producing music just as enjoyable as the early gems, but deeper, as massive as the later Beethoven, in its own way. To me, it’s one of the best popular albums of the last fifty years. I’d even say that it is superior to any single album produced by Dylan, although in terms of modern popular music Dylan is unquestionably a more significant artist than Stewart. I might add that while I would not put Stewart, as an artist, in the same category as Lennon, or as a melodist, with Elton John, I enjoy his work vastly more than that produced by any number of over-rated entertainers such as the Beach Boys, the Eagles, Michael Jackson or Rod Stewart.

Stewart’s first words on Famous Last Words are:

I feel as volatile as the weather
Over fields of Scottish heather
The night before Halloween.

And his final words are:

Night rolls in, gone is the wind,
Fireflies dancing in your eyes,
And now you’re holy again.
Oh, night rolls in, oh, night rolls in.
Oh, night rolls in, oh, night rolls in.

So, appropriately for an album named Famous Last Words, in memoriam Peter Wood (who came up with the piano riff for “Year of the Cat”), it opens and closes with the night, but in both cases, nights such as few artists have ever presented so successfully. The opening words come from “Feel Like”, a song which I would described as “charged”. Stewart continues:

This is the day when all of my feelings changed,
This is the day when all of my life to now seemed oh so strange.
You know I feel like a bird of a different feather,
A trail that runs forever through a forest of evergreens.

This track should be taken with “Genie on a Table Top”, which could be dubbed “Feel Like: Part Two”. Powered by a Hammond Organ, the lyrics are vivid, cinematic, and simply brilliant:

… There was a hint of syncopation coming from the sidewalk and the street.
There was a glint of scintillation hanging over everyone you’d meet
And it makes me feel okay
Like a big yellow tractor going mowing through a field of hay,
Like a genie on a table top surfing through the month of May.
I saw a world in the window of a knick-knack shop,
And I tossed it in the air.
… There was a rush of animation bubbling about inside my soul,
There was a rin-tin tabulation coming: it was so hard to control,
And it makes me feel okay:
Like a pig with a bucket full of truffles in a French café,
Like Louis Armstrong playing trumpet on the judgment day,
Like a flying-boat captain with an amethyst lake below,
Like a winner of a marathon rolling in a field of snow,
Like a figure-skating gigolo looking for a heart to steal,
Like a simulated orgasm suddenly becoming real,
Like a big yellow tractor going mowing through a field of hay,
Like a genie on a table top surfing through the month of May.

Stewart inimitably describes how it feels to be raised in exaltation. In “Feel Like”, he has remarked, correctly from the point of Gurdjieff’s psychological ideas, that a change in the entire person comes about when the feelings have become engaged. As he states, his life now seems strange. We have superficial and ephemeral emotions in response to external stimuli, but the first real feeling is “self-feeling”. It is that feeling which is in direct contact with the real I, “essence” (see my blogs “Behind Real I Lies God” and “The Sixth Sun”). Once feeling has been awoken, the balance of one’s life suddenly seems different because it was lived in a different state of consciousness, and under the domination of personality. As Gurdjieff said, personality lives in time, but essence is in eternity. This offers some context for the line about the shop window: it is reminiscent of Blake’s “eternity in a grain of sand”, not just in terms of sentiment, but because both Blake and Stewart are writing under the influence of essence.

Perhaps I am making too much of what is only a bunch of words thrown together for the purposes of the record industry? It could be, but I doubt it, for three reasons.

First, consistency. Stewart’s lyrics are consistently deep, unlike, say Neil Diamond’s, where depth is the exception to a prevailing sentimentality. Unlike most modern lyricists, Stewart does not need to take refuge in cleverness, even if he sometimes does, such as in “Song on the Radio”. Lennon penetratingly remarked that Dylan was deliberately opaque so as to be “secure in his hipness”. Stewart, I would say, is (usually) secure in his ability.

Second, Stewart’s two “feel-like” songs have a certain individuality. Many have sung that they feel “alright”, “good”, or “so good”. Novelty can pose as individuality, e.g. Bowie contriving to be “unpredictable”. But individuality can come from something deeper, the essential I. As Gurdjieff remarked, personality always reacts the same way, essence never. There is no clear clean litmus test to differentiate the two, and they can be mixed: to me, in some of Bowie’s earlier material such as “Bewlay Brothers” and “Rock and Roll Suicide”, together with the glitz and show business, I hear something of the real person. In “Feel Like” and “Genie”, rightly or wrongly, I fancy that I hear the genuine article, presented with his accustomed artistic prowess.

The third pointer to the truth of Stewart’s art is that he is aware not only of his feelings but of larger reality. He describes bodily sensations in such a way that one must assume that an original experience prompted it, and he is aware of himself in the world (he feels like a trail which runs forever through a forest of evergreens).

So there is awareness of basic corporeal reality, but if that were all there were, it would be unexceptional. This body of work offers refinement and reflection. By refinement, I mean that for artistic effect elements of reality are heightened, while others are excluded. Consider the autumnal mellowness of “Don’t Forget Me”:

The sun is going down across the great unknown.
Lights come on inside the towers made of stone.
A muffled drum plays out of sight and all alone – Summer is over.

… It’s a never ending show, faces come and go like a river.
You’re a rainbow wrapped in grey, shake the dust away …
But don’t forget me, don’t forget me now …

The melody, the arrangement, and the saxophone all conspire to illuminate the words. Once more, the hearer cannot imagine these words with any other tune, or vice versa. It is another example of Stewart’s uncanny ability to conjure up a sense of himself as conscious to the passing of time. It is not just the memory of the old days which makes for this poignant sense. By itself, that brings only nostalgia. It is the fact that one is present to the recollections the past.

Another aspect of Stewart’s art is his interest in history. More than anyone else, he can take scenes from history and bring them alive. The result is not always magnificent. For example, I was not terribly fond of Between the Wars, although it had its moments. Sometimes he reaches for a greatness which narrowly escapes, as on “Man for all Seasons” from Time Passages. In that case, I think the problem was the musical construction of the song: despite the excellent subject matter, the melody does not weave a spell: it just does not feel like a smooth, organic piece. At almost six minutes, it sounds like two songs stitched together by good production.

On this album, “Peter on the White Sea” is a well-told tale from the life of Peter the Great of Russia, but the music just doesn’t, at least to my ear, quite rise to the occasion. It tells the story of how the Tsar and others took a boat onto the White Sea. They were struck by a storm, and even the mariners thought they were lost. But he persevered all night, and as the day broke in calm, they came into harbour by a monastery, ringing its bells in greeting. It is good, maybe even very good, but somehow not compelling.

More successful, perhaps because of Tori Amos’ melody, is “Charlotte Corday”. That gruesome identity assassinated Jean-Paul Marat at the precocious age of 24, in 1793. The murder is perhaps the best known instance of French Revolutionary politicide, partly because Marat was slain while bathing to mitigate a chronic dermatological problem, partly because the knife-plunging killer was a beautiful young aristocrat, and partly because each of them (de Corday and the butchered Marat) were depicted in rivetting, almost journalistic artworks. Stewart draws a spare sketch of a furtive apparition in a long black dress, fetched as a step on the stairs or as a shadow in the candlelight (every devotee of G.M. Hopkins knows that ‘fetching’ is an old term for ‘seeing’ an apparition). Stewart suggests a soul wandering under purgatorial licence, and fading before dawn:

Just what it is that brings her here no man alive could say,
See her for a moment, then she looks away,
The ghost of Charlotte Corday.

Stars in the window like a panoply covering everything, a river of light

… All at once there’s someone there that only you can see,
Seeking the forgiveness that will set her free.
The wind has taken away the words she wanted to say,
The sky now turning to grey, the dawn is turning away
The ghost of Charlotte Corday.

The piece is atmospheric, and memorable. In particular, the line commencing with “Stars” is worthy of mention, brilliantly evoking through the Milky Way the wonder of the spectral appearance. That the line isn’t linearly related to the balance of the song makes it, if anything, even more potent. It is quite an impressive accomplishment: while Stewart’s history-exploring tendency is given full rein, he creates an effective ghost story. In other words, he brings history directly into the present.

This relating of history to the contemporary is of course something Stewart has attempted very many times, either by way of placing sketches from diverse times side by side, as in “Manuscript” and “Somewhere in England”, or by reflection, as in “Palace of Versailles” from Time Passages. In that interesting song, Stewart sings of the French Revolution, warning “Marat, your days are numbered!”, later to comment that “the ghost of revolution still prowls the Paris streets …”. In a way, “Corday” is the successor to “Versailles”: two songs of Revolutionary outrages spawning restless spirits.

And that is an opportune point at which to introduce the spell-binding “Necromancer”, for if there is a supernatural rush on this album, so to speak, “Necromancer” is it. My only quibble with the arrangement is the introduction and the middle eight. My guess is that Stewart came up with the verses first, but was left with a rather short song. Impressed by the verses, as anyone would have been, he decided to lengthen it with the “additions”. I may be wrong, but despite the relation of the introduction to the close, the introduction and middle eight do sound to me inorganic. However, the reuse of the opening at the close is effective. That said, the song is still extraordinary.

` Oh the sweet addiction of forbidden fruit,
Oh the strange affliction that has taken root.
Oh the hidden cancer, cancer of the soul.
Oh the necromancer inside us all.

One can sense, even from these first four lines, the mantic power of the words. The rhythm and melody uncannily complement them to produce an incantation of hypnotic power.

I have never seen this many people gathered in one place together.
… Caught up in the fury and euphoria they say will last forever …

Oh the pretty candle, oh the pretty flame,
Come fly into the night with us and feel the same.
Oh the sweet surrender, oh the solemn vow,
Leave your own identity and join us now.
I believe that I have been through this before,
And I can still remember,
Maybe a past life, I just can’t tell.
The faces and the uniforms have changed
Yet there’s something so familiar,
Am I still under that same old spell?

Is Stewart referring to reincarnation, to recurrence, or is he unsure?

Oh the love of darkness, oh the vampire’s kiss,
Have mercy on a people who would dream like this … like this.

Stewart does not identify the setting or the people concerned. At one point he warns “you don’t want to know”. Are they contemporary? The gruesome vision would suit a Satanist coven and a ritual for shape changing, perhaps into ravens or owls. However, I think that Hitler is his necromancer, because of the references to a people, their numbers, uniforms, the dream that it will last forever, the addictive quality of the fury and euphoria, the loss of personal identity in something bigger, and the bizarre attraction. Perhaps Stewart was impressed by “The Triumph of the Will”.

But we cannot be sure. Sometimes such as on “Modern Times”, he teasingly creates a fictional encounter which seems to have the ring of truth about it. Perhaps he has done so here. A necromancer raises the dead, and Stewart does this: he did it for Peter the Great and Charlotte Corday on this same album. He is forever assuming identities from the past. In other words, his necromancy is, I think, strictly artistic. This extraordinary piece leads us directly to the “Hipposong”, the penultimate song on the album.

As a piece of music, I am not fond of the “Hipposong”. But, like “Necromancer”, it mentions reincarnation. The singer superciliously dismissed the plaints of the suffering hippopotamus. The last line of the song is the punchline: the haughty narrator himself comes back as a “large hippopotamus”. Instant Karma, so to speak, has got him.

But if the “Hipposong” is slight (just under two minutes), the album as a whole is dominated by the epic “Trains”, running for just over eight minutes, yet making a satisfying whole, as well integrated and tight as any two and a half minute song. I think of this piece as a classic: the past is enchanted by the glow of memory, spirited into the present by magic lantern, and then the line between past and present is peeled away.

In the sapling years of the post war world, in an English market town,
I do believe we travelled in schoolboy blue, the cap upon the crown.
Books on knee, our faces pressed against the dusty railway carriage panes
As all our lives went rolling on the clicking wheels of trains.

The school years passed like eternity, and at last were left behind.
And it seemed the city was calling me to see what I might find.
Almost grown, I stood before horizons made of dreams …

Trains, all our lives were a whistle stop affair, no ties or chains.
Throwing words like fireworks in the air, not much remains.
A photograph in your memory through the coloured lens of time.
All our lives were just a smudge of smoke against the sky.

The evocation of boyhood is simple, brief and all the more poignant for the barely perceptible restraint. The use of the alliterative “smudge of smoke” (once “puff of smoke”) is both accurate and poetical. The reference to those early years passing like eternity is very true, and there is a reason for it, which I return to in part 3. The song tells the story of the spread of railways through to the early 20th century, with slight vocal backing on the euphonious phrase “on the day they buried Jean Juarez” for an effective impetus:

On the day they buried Jean Juarez, World War One broke free.
Like an angry river overflowing its banks impatiently.
While mile on mile, soldiers filled the railway stations …

Of the soldiers, he sings “All their lives were just a smudge of smoke against the sky.” He swiftly moves on to the 1930s, “the nightmare years, then came the same thing over again, mad as the moon which watches over the plains”. Now appear trains of a type he’s never seen before: the trains which take the doomed to concentration camps, riding “to death along the clicking wheels of trains”. Rather grimly, their lives, too, are “just a smudge of smoke against the sky”.

Now forty years have come and gone …
And I ride the Amtrak from New York City to Philadelphia,
And there’s a man to bring you food and drink …
But I can’t tell if it’s them or if it’s only me,
But I believe when they look outside, they don’t see.
Over there, beyond the trees,
It seems that I can just make out the stained fields of Poland
Calling out to all the passing trains.

Trains, I suppose that there’s nothing in this life remains the same.
Everything is governed by losses and the gains.
Still sometimes I get caught up in the past, I can’t say why.
All our lives are just a smudge of smoke, or just a breath of wind against the sky.

Stewart cannot say why he gets caught up in the past: we all do, although few so reflectively as he does. I would venture that the reason is the one given at the very open of my last Stewart blog: “(God) also puts eternity in their minds”, as Solomon said. Or another factor, which maybe comes down to much the same thing, is that we are our past. (As Mr Adie said, “Repairing the past is the whole of our work because we are the past, and here we are, dead things,” quoted in “The Sixth Sun: Part One”). Our sense of passing is heightened by comparison with what abides, the way when a close one dies, we wonder why they should die while everything else survives. “Trains” has both change and continuity: the historical train system and by the jeweller-like setting of memories in the piece. I think “Trains” is an extraordinary achievement, yet not the greatest on this album. That honour, to my mind, belongs to “Night Rolls In”, a song with the simple dignity if not grandeur of “Mull of Kintyre”. The lyrics are short and simple:

Night rolls in, gone is the wind,
Fireflies dancing in your eyes,
Now you’re holy again.
Oh, night rolls in, oh, night rolls in.
It’s like a dream of a long time ago,
A footprint lost in the snow,
That covers the ground where we summered our lives,
Watching them grow from seeds that you sow,
But now the world in all its works and ways
Grays our novembering days.
The fire still glows that once was a rose a long time ago.

But the most powerful message is not actually in the words, but the music. It opens and closes with a calm, almost contemplative 20 second theme which, to my ear at least, conjures up visions of twilight as a fog, or a tide, quietly moves in. At the close, the same theme is repeated, but as the 20 seconds ends, an organ is heard, adding a religious if not devotional tone, and bringing the piece to an entirely satisfactory, and, I would say, a higher feeling of completion.

The word “rolls” nicely conveys the sense of advance, of the ineluctable but gradual movement of time. As I have shown by reference to Gurdjieff’s ideas, the great forgetting factor is indeed, just what Stewart refers to, “the world in all its works and ways”. Stewart’s art undoes the power of time: from the words “ It’s like a dream …” through to “The fire still glows that once was a rose a long time ago”, the music has more guts and power than something like “Eye of the Tiger”. Whereas “Mull” used bagpipes, “Night” evokes their spirit, the mix of poignancy and unquenchable determination.

And, indeed, the fire never goes out: the fire is the soul.

Part Three: Evoking the Timeless

In conclusion, with each of these song, it is not just the lyrics, although Stewart’s lyrics are, on the whole, amongst the very best in popular music, but also the way they blend with the music and arrangements. I have not covered the entire album: “Angel of Mercy”, is strong, perhaps Lennonesque in its acerbic clarity, while and track six, “Trespasser” is edgy. But they aren’t relevant to our study of this masterpiece.

Having been told at the outset that Stewart feels like “A trail that runs forever through a forest of evergreens”, and having feasted on a smorgasbord of history, a ghost and a necromancer, it is difficult not to feel that Stewart’s interest in history and reincarnation come together. Stewart seems to me to be aware of personal history (what has happened to Al Stewart born in the 1940s), the history of humanity (with which Al Stewart feels an extraordinarily deep empathy), and the history of the greater self (Al Stewart reborn at different points in history). The third of these is the thread on which the other pearls are strung.

When “Trains” says that early years pass like eternity, a fact noted many times, not least by Thomas Traherne, the reason is, I think correctly, indicated in Gurdjieff’s psychology. When we are born, he says, we are more in essence: personality has not yet formed. Essence being in eternity, the relationship is natural. But more than this, as children all of our faculties: organic and physical instinct, feeling and intellectual are closer together and to the higher faculties (see George Adie under “higher centres”). Also, they vibrate at a tremendously fast speed. As we grow up, they separate out more, they slow down, and the simplicity, interest and vibrancy of childhood is lost.

Because the child’s impressions both contain more of the whole person (all the faculties) and are so much faster, far more impressions are received at that time. This, for example, is how children manage to learn languages so quickly: they can intuit what words mean while we have to puzzle it out, and they absorb far more content than we do. We just receive the impression of what we’re thinking about, or of our latest obsession.

And this, in a way, is the great value of artists like Stewart. They receive fine and subtle impressions, express them, and transmit them. Because we listen to songs about the past, a sense of timelessness is created. By this magic, eternity is briefly evoked.

Post Script

For those with a strong interest in the Gurdjieff ideas, and have read “The Sixth Sun”, if there are ascending and descending types of lives, this suggests that our deaths are always manifestations of the third or reconciling force. If death is “3” in the triads, then our lives taken as a whole are either 1, 2, 3 – what I have reasoned is the triad of creative art – or else 2, 1, 3, the triad of dismantling. I did not realise this when I started this blog, so to me it is an unlooked for and striking confirmation of what I wrote about triads there.

Joseph Azize has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book “The Phoenician Solar Theology” treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The third book, “George Mountford Adie” represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.


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