Gurdjieff's teaching: for scholars and practitioners

G. I. Gurdjieff's teaching, research, books, conferences

Archive for October 2008


John Robert Colombo Page


Margaret Flinsch

Here she is telling stories to the children of Blue Rock School

His Master’s Words
JRC reviews a newly released spoken-word “Beelzebub’s Tales To His Grandson”

I am not really knowledgeable about “Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson” or about the commentaries that it has generated. Much has been written about G.I. Gurdjieff’s masterwork, and this is only reasonable given that it is a singularly difficult work to read aloud. One reason for this is the tome’s length, which rivals that of James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake” and Marcel Proust’s “A la recherche du temps perdu,” literary works that were written in Paris and Zurich in the late 1920s, at the same time that Gurdjieff at the Café de la Paix in Paris was labouring over the manuscripts that make up the Tales.

All three texts make mammoth demands on their readers, demands that include patience, application, concentration, commitment, and imagination. (By imagination I mean the powers of association, what
Ouspensky has called “psychological thinking” as distinct from “logical thinking,” necessary for an appreciation of this labyrinthine and often rococo work.)

Next year I will be in a better position to discuss the Tales as I plan to attend the “All & Everything Conference” which is being held in Toronto from April 22 to 26, 2009. I hope to cover the event in detail – presentations, seminars, panels, banquet, etc. – for readers of this blog who might wish to attend but do not live near Toronto and hence are unlikely to be there except in spirit. So I will not presume to discuss the Tales, short of reminding its readers of two facts.

The first fact is that the author has ordered his readers to read his text three times, all in different ways for different purposes and presumably different centres in man. The second fact is how the text itself begins, it commences with these words: “Among other convictions formed in my common presence during any responsible, peculiarly composed life …. ”

Now that fact introduces a problem because, as I write this review on my computer, I am listening to its audio system play the first of the four disks that comprise a newly released recording of the Tales
its entirety. Disk one begins, “Well, my boy …. ” What gives? What is happening? Let me back up and try to explain.

From time to time I have reviewed the books published by Dolmen Meadow Editions, which is the imprint of the Toronto Gurdjieff Group. Members of that group are quite active. They are responsible for the appearance of a Russian-language text of the Tales, a mammoth undertaking, as well as the first English editions of “Gurdjieff: A Master in Life” (the recollections of Tcheslaw Tchekhovitch) and “Inner Octaves” (the English translation of Michel Conge’s classic talks). Some of these publications are for general sale; others are not.

Some years ago members of Dolmen Meadow issued a set of four CDs in MP3 format of William J. Welch reading all of the Tales, I have yet to purchase those CDs of Dr. Welch’s reading, but one day I will. I recall he had a heavy and hearty voice and he always spoke “with a twinkle in the eye.” Then I will be able to compare and contrast his reading with the present one, which is an impressive and very womanly one done by Margaret Flinsch.

The four-disk set of CDs in MP3 format (suitable for playing on both a computer and a CD player) is titled “G.I. Gurdjieff: Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson: An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man as read by Margaret Flinsch.” Dolmen Meadow’s website offers this details: ISBN: 978-0-9780-661-2-3. List price: US $60.00.

The jewel-box includes a model eight-page booklet that sketches in the background of the book and identifies the reader. Margaret (Peggy) Flinsch is one of those names that crops up in the literature of the Fourth Way, always in pleasant and positive contexts, for she knew Gurdjieff well, was respected by one and all, and at gatherings regularly recited passages from the Tales. She was born in Glendale, Ohio, in 1907; she taught in experimental schools; she married an Olympic oarsman and raised a family; she assisted in the preparation of the revised edition of the Tales which was issued by Penguin Books in 1992.

All of that information comes from the booklet. Let me add that Ms. Flinsch was associated with the Blue Rock School, a progressive primary and secondary school located in West Nyack, N.Y. Her sister made a contribution to the Work: the late D.M. Dooling, founder of the influential journal “Parabola.” The Work seems to run in her family.

The author or authors of the booklet relate the Tales to reciting, reading, and listening: “Peggy stresses that this book is meant to be read aloud. And Gurdjieff states that his book is designed to reach both the waking consciousness and the subconscious. ‘For me,’ Peggy has said, ‘listening is the path to the subconscious mind.’” Such is the power of the spoken word.

The recordings were made at her residence over a five-year period between 2003 and 2008. Volume levels of some sessions differ from those of other sessions, as one would assume, given the five-year eriod of recording. They also give the reader something of a jolt, a shock, a “stop” – perhaps not a bad experience in the circumstances! “Peggy is one of the last people alive who read from ‘Beelzebub’s Tales’ in Gurdjieff’s presence. She has studied the book all her life and is an advocate of its being read with the correct pronunciation of Gurdjieff’s special words.”

Not having a copy of the Penguin edition handy, I diverted myself by listening to Ms. Flinsch read the text while following it with a copy of the first edition of 1950 published by Harcourt, Brace and Company. After a couple of minutes of listening, it became apparent that the differences between the editions are mainly on the level of streamlining the expressions. For instance, on page 20, the text has a power “proceeding within.” Ms. Flinsch has it “aroused within.” I suppose this makes a difference, but how much of a difference I will leave that to specialists to determine – or to wiseacre.

If you want to hear six or so minutes of the text as read by Ms. Flinsch, check the Dolmen Meadow website and click on to “Becoming Aware of Being Duty.” If you do so, you will hear a representative part of the whole. You will hear a compassionate woman used to speaking with assurance and authority; an elderly person used to reading to classes and groups of younger people; a teacher used to articulating without pontificating; a human being who is certain the text has meanings that may be conveyed with intelligence and insight. She takes the text slowly, and her rhythm is that of someone who wishes to be heard and understood without the need for drama or melodrama.

Ms. Flinsch speaks the English of an educated professional person in an accent that is close to what Canadians describe as “mid-Atlantic.” She has no problems with the tome’s specialized vocabulary – “Sacred Vznooshlitzval” and “Askalnooazar” and so on – and indeed makes these expressions sound like English words. The key to her performance is that she reads these strange syllables quite slowly, whereas the attempt of the less-experienced reader would be to rush upon them and give them foreign intonations based on the derivations of their component parts. They are neologisms and legominisms, but they sound less like inventions than they do everyday expressions that are inescapable in the circumstances.

Amusingly, the only peculiarity is the pronunciation she gives to the French words “bon-ton” – a scowl comes through! Perhaps the sole surprise is that Ms. Flinsch speaks the language like an American: flattening some word-endings, dropping the occasional “g,” and turning the “t” into a “d.” These are minor matters indeed.

There is one other surprise. While the disks are playing, there are quasi-fractals that appear on the screen in shimmering colours. There is no relationship between the shapes and colours, on the one hand, and the words from the passages being read on the other.

I still do not know why the recording begins, “Well, my boy …. ” At first I had supposed it had something to do with the Penguin edition of the text, but upon replaying the opening, it does not recur. The text begins where the text should begin, so it must have been my computer’s fault: we all hear and read different things.)

My overall sense of the recording, however, is that this set of disks is Ms. Flinsch’s lasting legacy to readers and listeners of the Tales for decades to come. We sense in her voice an authority that seems to derive from that of the book’s author. She gives voice to the author’s words by finding each chapter of the book to be a repository of humour and folklore and insight into the human condition viewed from a cosmological perspective, lightened with verbal pranks and rogueries, all of which she recites with a straight face.

Here is a story-teller with a mission as well as a story-reader with a message. Indeed, she has shown how contemporary – and how postmodern – the Tales will sound when they are beautifully read.

John Robert Colombo is known in Canada as “the Master Gatherer” for his compilations of lore and literature. His current publications include “The Big Book of Canadian Ghost Stories” and “Whistle While You Work,” a collection of essays about Canadiana and consciousness studies. He is an Associate of the Northrop Frye Centre, Victoria College, University of Toronto.




John Robert Colombo Page


Pierre Bonnasse

JRC reviews “The Magic Language of the Fourth Way”

Pierre Bonnasse, the author of the book that I am about to review,
lives in Paris and calls himself “a student of the Fourth Way.” His
photograph on his personal website shows him to be a young,
late-blooming hippie, complete with long hair and an appearance that
may be described as “determinedly poetic.” Biographical details are
sparse, but it seems Bonnasse holds a doctorate in literature from the
Sorbonne where he has taught writing.

He is the author of a book of poems “Dans la nuit d’Aghtamar” and an
anthology of passages about psychedelics called “Les voix de l’Extase.”
“Mode d’emploi de la parole analogue” is a book about words and
esotericism and it was published by Editions Dervy in Paris in 2005.
In 2008 it was translated into English as “The Magic Language of the
Fourth Way” and published by Inner Traditions, the Vermont-based
imprint devoted to quality books that are stocked –or should be
stocked – by the proprietors of metaphysical bookshops.

On his website Bonnasse describes himself as a “chercheur d’inspiration
transdisciplinaire.” A critic describes him in an amusing phrase as “a
provocateur of epiphanies.” The author himself writes, “I feel an
incredible closeness” to René Daumal and André Velter. I am familiar
with the writings of the French poet Daumal, but not with Velter’s
books about travel in the Orient or his poetry, despite the fact that
he is a holder of the Prix Goncourt. The late surrealist writer
Charles Duits is another of Bonnasse’s favourites. Bonnasse is widely
read in the literature of the Fourth Way though not widely read in
contemporary poetry generally.

Enough said about the author; here is some information on his first
book in English. “The Magic Language of the Fourth Way” bears the
subtitle “Awakening the Power of the Word” and has been feelingly
translated by Ariel Godwin, an American who is a professional editor
and translator of books largely devoted to the mysterious from four
languages: French, German, Italian, Spanish. I have yet to read
Bonnasse in French, but Godwin has created a “speaking voice” for
Bonnasse in English. (The slip-ups are minor: the proper abbreviation
of Neuro Lingusitic Programming, the spelling of T.S. Eliot’s last
name – on that level, hardly worth a mention.)

Inner Traditions has produced a quality trade paperback, 6″ x 9″,
xxxvi + 348 pages, with notes, bibliography, and detailed index. A
special feature is ten pages of diagrams and five pages of photographs
of Daumal, Charles Duits, Jeanne and Alexandre de Salzmann, Thomas de
Hartmann, G.I. Gurdjieff and P.D. Ouspensky. $24.95.

Readers of this review will know about René Daumal whose principle
works are now available in English. The writings of Charles Duits,
mentioned above, are less well known to English readers than they
should be because they have not been translated. Duits died in 1991
and is remembered as a French writer of fantastic fiction who was
influenced by the surrealists and by Gurdjieff. In turn Duits had a
big influence on Bonnasse.

The English-language title draws attention to the Work, unlike the
title of the French original, and in doing so it expresses the author’s
indebtedness to Daumal, Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, and Duits. There are
only passing references to Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophists, to
René Guenon and the Traditionalists, and only one to Rudolf Steiner of
the Anthroposophists. Yet if there is a skeleton key to unlock the
theme and subject of this book, it is the one remark quoted from
Steiner: “Enthusiasm carries the spirit in itself.”

In terms of etymology, the word “enthusiasm” includes the notion of
“theos” or “god,” and in terms of Bonnasse’s book his personal
enthusiasm carries the entire book. To a rare degree he finds the Work
so meaningful that he has internalized it, so that one taste leads to
another taste, one perception to another perception, and one concept
to another concept. The book is his one long re-enactment within a
charmed circle of what excites him and inspires him about esotericism
and how it impacts on the seven-levels of language.

In structure the book is divided somewhat arbitrarily into three acts
with a total of twelve scenes. Each scene is an “essay” or “talk.”
Here are the acts: Part I is called “The Terror of the Situation” and
it describes “word prostitution” (to which I will shortly return).
Part II is titled “The Awakening of Hope” and it sketches in the Law
of Triamazikamno (three) and the Law of Heptaparaparshinokh (seven) as
embodied in the figure of the enneagram. Part III is named “The
Esoteric Work” and it deals with “legominisms.” As for the scenes,
these chapters seem to be organized on the basis of a course on the
Fourth Way, one that focuses on personal transformation through the
creative (read conscious) use of words.

Bonnase is concerned with “word prostitution,” a notion introduced by
Gurdjieff and used by Daumal. It refers to the mechanical or
manipulatory misuse of wordages and wordings. The author is so wrapped
up in the Work that it never occurs to him to see “word prostitution”
as a human condition that has been addressed by the world’s major
religions through the ages. I will digress a bit and suggest that in
its widest context “word prostitution” is really catchy and
contemporary shorthand for the old sin of simony.

Simony has never been included on the traditional list of the Seven
Deadly Sins, but it should appear on any new, updated list. It sounds
out of date because it recalls the name of Simon Magnus, the sorcerer
rebuked by St. Paul in the Acts of the Apostles because he offered to
purchase the secret behind Paul’s miraculous powers. Simony is one of
the cardinal sins of the Western world in the Twenty-first Century.

Usually defined as the specialized sin of buying or selling
ecclesiastical favours, simony is more significant and prevalent than
that. It refers generally to the misuse of spiritual gifts –
imagination, sensitivity, talent, ability, insight – for gross or
ignoble ends. “Word prostitution” is a specialized form of simony,
familiar to us in the form of election speeches, advertising, TV
situation comedies, ministers’ homilies, televangelists, etc. As he
expostulates, “Rare are those who do not propagate word prostitution,
and there is no lack of candidates for the position of universal
Hasnamuss.” The idea goes back to Francis Bacon and forward to
Stephane Mallarmé and T.S. Eliot.

Bonnase knows simony in the form of “word prostitution” and he becomes
something of a moralist or preacher or instructor himself in his
attempt to define it, expose it, and expunge it. The misuse of words
is a sacrilege. He sees simony in terms of the hierarchy of man. On
each level, man must use the language appropriate to that level. There
are seven levels, ranging from the material to the spiritual. He gives
each man on each level his own label. These labels are
“Pseudoanthrope, Romantic, Savant, Apprentice Speaker, Authentic,
Objective, and Master. These “name tags” relate to men’s centres and
so correspond to Gurdjieff’s human types. The first name is new one to
me; it comes from one of Druits’s books.

As I mentioned earlier, Charles Duits is something of a discovery.
Perhaps some enterprising publisher will commission translations of
such books of his as Le Pays de l’éclairement (1994) and La Salive de
l’éléphant (1999). While we are at it, Bonnase has whetted my appetite
for the books of other French authors who are alive to the Work, but
whose works are still unavailable in English. Here are some authors’
names from his index: Jean Biès, Christian Bouchet, Jean-Yves Leloup,
Georges de Maleville, Patrick Negrier, Jean-Yves Pouilloux, Michel
Random, Jean-Philippe de Tonnac. I find characteristic of the French
texts about the Work is a subtlety of observation and expression that
is often lacking in comparable English texts. But then that is a
quality of much French poetry, fiction, philosophy, and religious

Bonnasse explains, “The goal of this work is to present a new theory
of language …. ” He makes that statement on the first page of his
book, yet because he lacks his own particular theory and fails to
develop concerns that are recognizably his own, Bonnasse tacks from
one theory to another, including those of Count Korzybski, Roman
Jakobson, and Gurdjieff. The latter’s theory, to the degree that it is
at all theoretical, is filtered through Daumal’s writings which are
amazingly sensitive to nuance yet vigorously imaginative. Bonnasse is
a great appreciator of modern mystical literature and he sees it not
in light of Tradition as such but in light of the Fourth Way.

It is well known that Gurdjieff made a notable distinction between
“objective art” and “subjective art,” but for all the fascination of
that dichotomy, it is regularly illustrated with instances of great
architecture (Sphinx, Mont-Saint-Michel, etc.) but seldom with works
of great literature (other than, perhaps, some scriptures). Still, I
found interesting the statement that Gurdjieff divides writings into
three different modes. These modes are said to be the scientific, the
narrative, and the descriptive. It sets me thinking … but again it
is difficult to use such distinctions to shed any light on literature
itself. Bonnasse persists in calling the spiritual use of language
“word magic” without dealing with any single concept of magic and or
any real sense of how it differs from the miraculous, the mythical,
the spiritual, and the metaphysical, if indeed it does.

Bonnasse is more convincing when it comes to the figure of the
enneagram. What has always appealed to me about this nine-interval
schematic diagram is that it is unicursal, which means that it may be
traced with a single line without backtracking. (I spent many
otherwise idle moments figuring out how to do this without pen and
paper and without peeking.) The author knows his enneagram and shows
how it combines 3 and 7 and he uses it to illustrate how one may
advance in stages: from Word (3) to Sound (6) to Rhythm (9); or from
Word (3) to Thing (6) to Consciousness (9); or from Speaker (3) to
Listener (6) to Message (9). He works in the “intervals.” It occurs to
me here for the first time that we are dealing with more than Hegel’s
“thesis, antithesis, and synthesis” for the reason that whereas Hegel’s
final “synthesis” is viewed as the extinguishing or exhausting of
forces, Gurdjieff’s “third force” is indeed a force in its own right.

Bonnasse has some original thoughts to convey on poetry – for
instance, how rhythm is not to be mistaken for metre. The key to this
is the fact that rhythm is seen as the synthesis, indeed a force in
its own right (9), not the neutralization of either the positive force
(3) or the negative force (6). Without rhythm the word is dead, the
language is not alive, and man remains in a stupor or a state of
sleep. The notion is advanced that the things of this world have
rightful names and sounds, but only in certain circumstances and in
certain ways are these names to be pronounced or sounded. So step by
step the author moves in a spiral-like fashion and in his own magical
way to arrive at the statement that “a poem is a portal between
different realities.”

There is a statement beloved of creative writing instructors who
assert that you should only write about what you know. I have always
found that to be a dubious piece of advice – did Dante visit
Purgatorio? did Tolstoy meet Napoleon? did Arthur C. Clarke set foot
on the spacecraft Rama? Certainly the writer must know himself or
herself and the self-knowledge might come through the process of the
writing. Whether it is doubtful or not, Bonnasse gives the statement
greater resonance, when he states: “If the goal of objective
literature is the awakening of readers, writing must first be a
technique of awakening and consciousness for the author, otherwise
there will be no evolution of saying, no advance in the level of the

Bonnasse sees writing as a conscious act, a form of praying, a way of
being, a state of consciousness. If that is so, it is also true that
reading is or may a conscious act, a form of praying, a way of being.
Jeffrey Kirpal in his mammoth book “Esalen” makes an interesting
observation about mythologist Joseph Campbell. He does so in these
words: “Campbell commonly denied any real interest in actual spiritual
experience or religious experimentalism. He made it quite clear that
his spiritual practice consisted of reading, reading, and more
reading. He thus showed little real interest in many of the
meditative, somatic, or explicitly religious practices in which Esalen
had put so much hope. Or rather, he proposed deep and extensive
reading as the transformative practice.” The path may be that of the
pen travelling across the blank scrap or sheet of paper, or a pair of
eyes tracking words line by line and sensing their sounds and

The real poet or writer is not the fakir, the monk, or the yogi, but
the “sly man,” for the reason that the experience that Gurdjieff
offers is “by definition _transpoetic_.” In real writing the real
writer works on and with the centres: “In writing, he must observe the
functioning of his machine in order not to be duped by his
mechanisms.” By way of illustration Bonnasse leans on two of Daumal’s
literary works: “A Night of Serious Drinking” (an essayistic novel in
the spirit of the Platonic dialogue “Symposium”) and “Poetry Black,
Poetry White” (an essay that distinguishes between what in other
contexts might be called writing “in bad faith” versus writing “in
good faith”). He reproduces all five pages of Daumal’s prose poem “The
Holy War” and in this context the discursive work (it is not a
dramatic work) takes on a live of its own.

In another way Bonnasse makes a contribution. He describes “the Way of
Blame” and identifies it with Gurdjieff. It is apparent he regards
“Beelzebub’s Tales” as the literary expression of the notion of
“blame,” for he writes, “‘Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson,’ that
magnificent work containing some twelve hundred of the prickliest
pages ever written, is a perfect example of this master-disciple
relationship transferred to the author-reader relationship: satire
incarnate, the highest achievement of the art of bad taste.”

Bonnasse is able to detect the expression of “blame” in the literary
modes of satire and irony. Earlier in the book he refers to Beckett’s
“Waiting for Godot.” It is obvious there is a parallel here between
the ironic mode and the mythic mode (a key point in the work of
Northrop Frye). “Beelzebub” is seen as one elastic-like work which
stretches across time and languages, securing the myths of the past to
the ironies of the present day.

“Reading is then no longer passive and mechanical, but active, and it
becomes real teaching. All great texts are either like this or they
are not.” I like the word “not” for it is double-edged. “Beelzebub”
requires active reading. “Each reading is a new experience, forever a
fresh source of knowledge. This is because this work, in particular,
is a _legominism_ – an initiatory mode of transmitting the truth.”

Bonnasse continues in this vein and makes some excellent points that
are fully relevant, which I will summarize in point form: legominism
in art and artifacts = legominism in beings who are initiates
(“leomanism?”); repetition = mnemonic aid; obscurity = requiring
exacting work; tales = truths; author’s distancing effect = reader’s
perspective on self; myth = Eliade’s “sacred history”; words = speech;
text = context of reader’s life. Many of these insights into
“Beelzebub” are derived from Duits’s writings, especially those
passages quoted by Michael Walberg in “Gurdjieff: An Approach to His
Ideas.” To the points made above, Bonnasse adds this one from the
enneagram: from Seeker (3) to Knowledge (6) to Myths and Symbols.

The use of psychedelics in ancient and modern times is the subject of
the second-last chapter. It considers Gurdjieff’s view and use of the
same, including “a special chemistry that could be used for
maneuvering the human machine.” Interestingly he refers to such
hallucinogenics as “unlimiters” and even discusses how language and
sound are employed by shamans under their influence. The autochthonous
power of speech is discussed, and it is noted that in an inspired
state it seems that when a man speaks the truth (as Octavio Paz
observed) “it is the language that speaks.”

The last chapter, titled “Movement in the Creative Process: From the
Dance to the Word,” is a condensed but concentrated account of
“movement” in the Work and its relationship with “the word.” It is up
to us to embody this movement: “Nothing remains but to act, to
remember ourselves, to engage in the harmony of things and being, to
form ourselves with the power of experience, and to dare to seek this
absolute, in order to _become_ and recover the primordial word intact
in the crucible of revelations, the primordial speech that has never
ceased living and shines in the hearts of all with a thousand lights.”

This last chapter is followed by a Conclusion and an Afterword, just
as the first chapter is preceded by a total of not two but four
subsections (Acknowledgements, Preface to the American Edition,
Preface to the First Edition, and Introduction). The book seems not to
end; it runs on like a periodic sentence. There is a sense in which
Pierre Bonnasse’s book resembles a music box: Lift its lid and it
plays. Open this book and it offers the leitmotif of the Fourth Way
with scores of variations.

Pierre Bonnasse is possessed with his subject, and by his subject,
with the result that “The Magic Language of the Fourth Way” brims over
with good spirits and bubbles over with enthusiasm and recurrence and
reiteration and recapitulation. The argument may be diffuse, even
scattered, but the insights are so pivotal that the reader is left to
wonder why the points did not occur to him or to her before Bonnasse
gave them expression. This is language itself at work in the spirit of

The feeling I have is that Bonnasse is a third-generation Gurdjieffian
in the sense that he is steeped in the work through the availability
of formerly withheld texts and that he is living in a time and a place
marked by the ready acceptance of ideas of personal transformation so
that he is able to internalize work principles to an unheralded

The first generation of pioneers of the Fourth Way have receded into
the honourable past; the second generation of organizers and
systematizers have done their landmark work by building their
organizations and leaving their marks; so it is now the time for the
third generation, a still-young young group of creators, to take root
and grow in individual and distinct fields of expression … in
composition or performance, be it in music, dance, writing,
literature, philosophy, fine art, film, and so on. There has always
been a spiritual dimension to poetry, something “magical” about all
the arts. So our time may truly be “the dawn of the magicians.”

John Robert Colombo is known as “Canada’s Mr. Mystery” for such
compilations as “The Big Book of Canadian Ghost Stories.” He combines
two of his interests – Canadiana and consciousness studies – in his
recently issued collection of essays (many reprinted from this blog)
titled “Whistle While You Work.” He is an Association of the Northrop
Frye Centre, Victoria College, University of Toronto.



John Robert Colombo Page


A review of Michael Hayes’ The Hermetic Code in DNA

I quite enjoyed reading this book, but its title is a mouthful of
words, so I have found myself referring to it, in conversation with
friends, as “the new book which I am reading that tries to find a
relationship between the so-called ‘hermetic code’ and the code that
informs the structure of human DNA.” When I say that, people look
amiss or agog, and I know why. I repeat that the author is “trying to
find a relationship” and that it is an struggle worthy of the
exertions of a Sisyphus (an uphill battle) or the frustrations of
Tantalus (an ever receding reward).

The author who so resembles Sisyphus or Tantalus is Michael Hayes is
described on the cover of this quality paperback as “an administrator
at the University of Central England” (formerly Birmingham
Polytechnic) and “the author of ‘The Infinite Harmony: Musical
Structures in Science and Theology’” (McArthur & Co. / Orion Con Trad,
1994). I have yet to see a copy of that publication. After reading the
present book, I find myself moderately curious about it.

The present book is not a new title, for it was originally published
in England in 2004 by Black Spring Press, a quality literary publisher
in London, under the title “High Priests, Quantum Genes.” The edition
that I am reviewing is titled “The Hermetic Code in DNA: The Sacred
Principles in the Ordering of the Universe” and was published earlier
in 2008 by another quality house, Inner Traditions, Rochester,
Vermont, which specializes in book of a specular and spiritual nature.
(Both companies have readily accessible websites.)

Here are some bibliographical details for the American edition under
review: Trade paperback, 6″ x 9″, xviii + 334 pages, ISBN:
978-1-59477-218-4. $18.95. There are 17 chapters with notes,
bibliography, and index. Also included is the arresting Foreword, to
which I will now turn my attention.

The Foreword is a long personal essay from the fountain pen or
personal computer of Colin Wilson. I am second to none in my
admiration of Wilson’s oeuvre, and I really enjoy reading what he
writes for his choice of subjects and his agreeable style. His
strength has always been his remarkable ability to present the
unconventional ideas of “outsiders.” He is a great explainer of
ancient and advanced thinking, though lately he has become more of an
advocate more than an interpreter.

Here, for instance, is the first paragraph of the Foreword to the
present book: “I suspect that the name of Michael Hayes is going to be
remembered together with those of Stephen Hawking and Watson and Crick
as a thinker who has made a revolutionary contribution to our vision
of modern science.”

That is taking a giant step. Indeed, it is equivalent to the step that
Wilson took when he completed “Alien Dawn: An Investigation into the
Contact Experience” (1999). That book about the contactee dimension of
ufology concludes with the statement that the author believes that not
only do aliens exist, but aliens are here right now, walking the
streets of our cities, moving among us. The evidence for this claim is
lacking, but people will believe what excites them and what they want
to believe.

Indeed, when the atomic scientist Leo Szilard was asked if he believed
in the existence of alien beings, he replied that he did. Then he was
asked, “If they exist, where are they?” He replied, “They are here
right now. They live among us. They are called … Hungarians.” Unlike
Szilard’s aliens, Wilson’s critters are creatures or characters from
outer space, from other times, or from other dimensions – hybrid
humans, perhaps. Maybe.

I doubt that Michael Hayes’s name will ever be linked with those of
Hawking, Watson, or Crick – at least not as long as the names of those
scientists are honoured. And Hayes has yet to make a contribution to
“our vision of modern science,” but he has modestly contributed to our
view of “the wisdom tradition.” From now on Hayes’s name will be
linked with a lively and intelligent discussion of a range of subjects
of popular speculative interest. This book of his will be shelved
alongside works of dozens of writers who have contributed to the
“occult sciences” or what I have called in another context
“speculative non-fiction.”

Numerology is one such subject and it has been newsworthy for the last
decade. For instance, the Fortean movie “Magnolia” (1999) features the
number 8. “A Beautiful Mind” (2001) drowns in a tsunami of coded
numbers, zillions of digits. The comedy “The Number 23” (2007) makes
much use of the correspondences of the unlikely number 23. Behind much
of this is the Kaballah and behind that cerebral discipline there are
the 613 Hebrew laws (curiously, the number of bones in the human

In the present book Hayes devotes chapters to different traditions, so
each has its own special number or numbers. Hayes finds special
relevance in such digits as 3, 3.14157, 4, 7, 8, 22, 64, 838, etc. The
Law of Three and the Octaves of the Ray of Creation are featured. But
no special importance is given to the numbers 1.6, 9, 13, or 613,
perhaps because these come traditions that are not surveyed here– in
this case, sacred architecture, Bahá’i, the superstition of folklore,
and the Kaballah.

Excuse me if I am a little light-headed or flippant, but unlike the
scientists named by Wilson, Hayes undertakes no research, contributes
findings to no scientific publications, and demonstrates no special
scholarly or linguistic abilities or aptitudes. However, what he does
display is an omnivorous curiosity and the ability to respond
creatively to extensive readings in many popular books and a few
serious ones (although it is with the latter that he does express some
serious reservations).

By popular books I mean “eye-openers” like Robert Bauval’s “The Orion
Mystery” (1994) and Christopher P. Dunn’s “The Gaza Power Plant”
(1998). By serious books I mean Richard Dawkins’s “The Blind
Watchmaker” (1988) and Giorgio De Santillana’s “Hamlet’s Mill” (1992).
I am limiting myself to titles selected at random from the first page
of the three-page bibliography. Hayes also credits reprints of G.I.
Gurdjieff’s “Beelzebub’s Tales” (1964) as well as P.D. Ouspensky’s “In
Search of the Miraculous” (1976) and “A New Model of the Universe”
(1977), recalling here and there some of their pertinent passages to
good effect.

“The Hermetic Code in DNA” is hard to beat for a fast-moving survey of
current thought about the interaction of the wisdom tradition from
archaic times to the postmodern period and its possible connection
with the recently revealed structure of the human genome, specifically
its basis in the DNA. It makes use of comparisons and contrasts,
similarities and analogies, and above all it uses associative thought
processes, what in another context Ouspensky called “psychological
thought” to distinguish it from “logical thought.”

I am not going to pursue them here, but two general criticisms that I
have are that there is no discussion of the tendency of the human mind
to find symmetry where none exists, and there is no discussion of the
nature of language itself, the appeal of metaphor, or Northrop Frye’s
“order of words.” Nor is the insight of the poet as distinct from that
of the scientist mentioned. At some later point I may tackle those
criticisms as subjects worthy of consideration in their own right, for
such shortcomings are characteristic of “occult literature” generally.

Basically what Hayes has done is offer a discussion of the scientific
basis for the existence of the spirit, as well as the spiritual basis
for the existence of science. What we have here is a convergence of
two disciplines – call one of them “science,” the other “occult
science.” (Hayes handles this distinction by distinguishing between
“regular science” and what he calls “Science with a capital ‘s’.”) If
I can encapsulate Hayes’s aim in writing this book, it is to find a
convergence and ultimately an identity between hermetic studies and
the structure of the gene. In other words, we have in our genes –
coded in our genetic structure – the wisdom of the ages. It evolves
physically and psychologically through the Law of Three and the Law of

Hayes encapsulates this theme for the reader in the sole detailed
footnote of any length. Here it is: “One would not expect exact
superimpositions to be visible at every level, because the universe is
continually evolving, constantly in flux. But as long as the various
symmetries link in at these main ‘points of entry’ the Hermetic Code
is valid. If anything, the fact that the code can be directly linked
to all of these various symmetries – and many other found throughout
the natural world – is precisely what one would expect of a ‘theory of

Apparently mathematicians and cosmologists are johnny-come-latelys
with their own physical “theory of everything,” trailing by centuries
if not by millennia metaphysicians associated with obscure schools and
monasteries in claiming to have found “a key to the enigmas of the
world.” But enough of beating around the bush. Hayes in his book
focuses on the following subjects and argues in the following fashion.

Introduction. Proponents of all the major belief systems agree that
there is an existence after death, the author writes. Matter is
composed of particles or vibrations of light. There is a timeless or
eternal form of reality. The major religions harness very real forces.
Creation is the result of the Law of Three and the Law of Octaves
embodied in the nature of the mathematical ratio pi. The DNA in the
cells of human bodies has four chemical bases. There are parallels
here with the 64 permutations of the I Ching. Music and specifically
musical harmony offer a scientific key to the tones or wave-lengths
under discussion. He writes:

“As the first recorded version of this archaic science first appeared
in the Nile delta about five thousand years ago, I have called this
musical symmetry the Hermetic Code, after Hermes Trismegistus, the
Greek name for Thoth, the ancient Egyptian god of wisdom …. This is
the Hermetic Code, a universal formula that as we shall find out,
encompasses within it practically everything.” This is another form of
the axiom: ‘As above, so below.’”

The author’s Introduction takes the reader this far. As a reader of
the book, I like the handling of the details that appear in the
seventeen chapters. As a reviewer all I can do is point out a few of
the approaches that the author takes. Suffice it to say the author
writes very readably, he is familiar with standard popular books on
offbeat topics, and he seems intent on proving that there is a
numerical code if not a Hermetic one that underpins the genetic code
and acts as a cipher for philosophical and theosophical systems.

Here is my simplification of the author’s argument: There is the
four-fold nature of the DNA. There are the four traditional elements
in the natural world. There is a parallel here between scientific
discovery and metaphysical inquiry. Could this be a coincidence? (I am
inclined to say that in many cases the “resemblance” or
“correspondence” is an artifact of the question itself.) Now here is
the author’s argument chapter by chapter (with one sentence or two for
each of the seventeen chapters).

1. “The Sacred Constant.” Ancient wisdom first appeared in Egypt some
5,000 years ago B.C. and it holds the “sacred constant” expressed in
the number 8. This is the Law of Octaves, counting the two do’s. Note
that 8 x 8 = 64, another type of greater harmony associated with the I

2. “A Different Way of Seeing.” Rhythms and harmonies of the universe
are expressed by the Hermetic Code, especially as evolution proceeds
by octaves, and this is seen in music and art (Gurdjieff’s distinction
between subjective and objective art) and architecture (René Schwaller
de Lubicz’s views on architectural forms of man).

3. “Music over Matter.” Music (all those octaves) may have managed the
construction of the megaliths, evoked by the phrase “musical magic,”
and perhaps the phenomenon of the “group-mind” as advanced by Colin
Wilson was used by early peoples to great effect: mental building
cranes and cranial forklifts.

4. “The Electron and the Holy Ghost.” Subatomic particles and the
theory of “quantum potential” advanced by David Bohm are considered,
as are the views of Sri Aurobindo, leading to the conclusion that
matter is alive and composed of vibrations and / or light.

5. “Further Light.” Christopher Dunn’s speculations on “sonic /
ultrasonic stone carving and drilling” and Princeton physicist Robert
Jahn are, in a sense, compared. This chapter and indeed much of the
book is “metaphysical” in the sense that literary scholars call John
Donne a “metaphysical poet,” for there is a roping together of
heterogeneous elements to create a greater whole. A sense of the
greater whole may be felt in these two long sentences:

“So the Great Pyramid, the most impressive monument to light ever
created on Earth, massive and imposing as it is, is really no more
than a foundation stone upon which has been constructed another,
infinitely vaster, metaphysical structure, a creation of sorts, whose
indeterminate dimensions are even to this day expanding ever outward
and upward. I am referring here, of course, to the ongoing evolution
of human consciousness, which began its present stage of development
at the time the Great Pyramid was designed, and which has ever since
been guided subconsciously by the also-embracing hermetic principles
embodied within it.”

This is indeed “metaphysical” prose. In another comparison, it
embodies the principle of the hologram, for from a single fragment may
be generated or regenerated the multifaceted whole.

6. “Live Music.” So-called “scientific creationists” and evolutionary
scientists are contrasted and Richard Dawkins is taken to task for his
notion that “stumbling blindly through geological time” led to life as
we know it today, not a noble notion of “transcendental evolution”
whereby “it is possible for individuals to emulate the living cell and
to achieve a similar condition of ‘optimum resonance.’”

Here the author expresses his naked thesis: “I stated above that I
believe that the growth and development of consciousness is an organic
process. Logically it has to be, because the Hermetic Code and the
genetic code are fundamentally one and the same system.”

7. “Extraterrestrial DNA.” Another extension of “the theory of
transcendental evolution” which leads to the Pyramids (“The Lights” is
apparently how these structures were known to the Egyptians of old)
which leads to the star systems above them, Sirius and Zeta Orionis,
as well as to the starry-eyed speculations of Rodney Collin.

8. “Interstellar Genes and the Galactic Double Helix.” Robert Temple’s
“The Sirius Mystery” is discussed, along with Gurdjieff’s “missing
semi-tones,” to suggest that the universe is a being that is fully

9. “The Hermetic Universe of Ancient Times.” The Pythagorean
cosmological system is considered with respect to reincarnation, the
nature of the universe, modern science, metaphysics, and “zoon,” the
Greek term for “a living thing.”

10. “The Hierarchy of Dimensions.” So the universe is “organic,” but
it exists on a hierarchy of planes or levels or dimensions.
“Confused?” the author questions the reader. “To be perfectly honest,
so am I. Frequently. But then we are trying to come to terms with the
imponderable here, and left-brain logic alone can take us only so far
in the quest for the ultimate reality.”

11. “The Fate of the Universe.” Speculation on the fate of the
universe gives equal weight to science-fiction writer Wilbur Wright in
“Time: Gateway to Immortality” and writer-scientist Paul Davies in
“The Last Three Minutes,” to build the argument that there is “music
literally everywhere, in the chromodynamic and atomic scales of
matter, in DNA and the genetic code,” etc.

12. “Inner Octaves.” Outer octaves were explored, so here the
investigation narrows and deeps into the inner octaves, through the
symbol or structure of the Ray of Creation.

13. “The Holographic Principle.” Michael Talbot, author of “The
Holographic Universe,” is a big help here to demonstrate that a part
is as great as a whole, a whole as great as a part.

14. “Quantum Psychology.” What the author calls “quantum psychology”
sheds light on the findings of particle physicists (notably Karl
Pribram), parapsychologists, and neurophysiologists, permitting the
reader to see that there are ways the brain resembles subatomic
particles in their “non-locality.” Here I recall the delicious pun in
the movie “The Golden Compass”: Lord Asriel is described as “a
particle metaphysicist.”

15. “QP2: The Universal Paradigm.” Man is composed of “triple octaves”
of resonance, so we are “‘walking trinities’ composed of our
sensations, emotions, and perceptions,” a point that Hayes argues in
his earlier book “The Infinite Harmony.”

16. “The Shapeshifters.” Mayan and Egyptian texts and Graham Hancock’s
“Fingerprints of the Gods” all lead to an examination of
“extraordinary mental and physical powers” shown by members of “the
Egyptian elite” to permit them to build their monumental structures.

17. “‘Al-Chem’ – the Egyptian Way.” Octaves of resonance are invoked
to account for the harnessing or focusing of exceptional powers for
exceptional effects. The author writes powerfully:

“We know that in the natural course of Darwinian evolution successful
genes can survive all manner of catastrophes: ice ages, rapid
meltdowns, deluges, earthquakes, cometary impacts. In the same way,
the hermetic ideas we are dealing with here – the metaphysical
equivalent of successful genes – have survived all kinds of social
upheaval: wars, dark ages, periods of total ignorance and barbarism,
inquisitions, revolutions, and so on. Therefore we are not speaking in
metaphor: we are talking about organic processes of creation and
evolution, both microcosmic and macrocosmic, which are identical in
every way, with a difference in scale only.”

So much for this Baedeker-like tour of the countryside. My own view of
Michael Hayes’s achievement is that “The Hermetic Code in DNA” is a
literary composition written in an underrated literary form, that of
the “anatomy” – think of Robert Burton’s “Anatomy of Melancholy” – and
that through accumulation of detail and organization by association,
rather than by classification and disinterested pursuit of its thesis,
it embraces other subliterary forms in an attempt to reveal common
characteristics and congruent conceptions that have to do with the
evolution of nature, man, and spirit. It is an ample and in a way an
impressive anatomical achievement.

How successful is it? That is for the reader to decide, the reader who
is familiar with associative thinking as well as the material that is
included and the material that is excluded, or the reader who is
flustered by all the material and perhaps overimpressed with it. Hayes
is committed to his point of view (Hermetic Code = Genetic Code) to
the exclusion of criticism of sources and common sense reservations.
Even so, Robert Burton was ultimately unhappy with his classic
“Anatomy of Melancholy,” perhaps because most people read it for its
bits and pieces rather than for its “metaphysical” whole.

John Robert Colombo is an author and anthologist who lives in Toronto.
His current publication, 500 pages long, is called “The Big Book of
Canadian Ghost Stories.” He is an Associate, Northrop Frye Centre,
Victoria College, University of Toronto. His website is www.
colomb-plus. ca.

%d bloggers like this: