Gurdjieff's teaching: for scholars and practitioners

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


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A note on the dog Gurdjieff buried

Here is a brief look at two specific ways in which Gurdjieff referred to dogs in relation to his teaching. Firstly, he warned his pupils that if they did not perfect themselves they would ‘die like dogs’.

Secondly, as his pupils struggled in an attempt to unravel his long complex and confusing text, he would tell them that he had ‘buried the dog’ in Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson. Gurdjieff watched his pupils while the Tales was being read aloud to them, and if pupils looked as though they might be understanding something he would then ‘bury the dog deeper’ altering his text to make it more difficult.

Perhaps confused by their own notions of dogs burying bones, something they wanted to hide from other dogs, his pupils, believing that Gurdjieff’s lack of fluency in the English language had caused him to make a mistake, tried to convince him he meant that he had ‘buried a bone’, he said ‘No,’ he had buried the whole dog.

It is true that burying is a method of hiding something. The interpretation most usually made by readers was, and still may be, that Gurdjieff had hidden something which they were required to find. A secret that would reveal something to them, and they did want to find it. But there are other considerations. Taking the ‘burial’ in a more literal sense, burying is interring a body after death. After death a body rots, so finding a buried dog would not be like finding the usual hidden treasure, the jewel or golden chalice of story and fable. It would be an unpleasant experience and one we would want to avoid.

Perhaps what Gurdjieff has buried is dead. Maybe what he says he wants to bury deeper, is the one thing we already hide from which is the inevitability of death itself. But telling of a secret is a sure way of drawing attention to it, so  this method might help us to remember death. ‘The sole means for the saving of the beings of the planet earth’ is to have implanted in them an organ that makes them continually aware of their own and everyone else’s death as Beelzebub declares at the end of the Tales, (1183).

The process of reading the Tales is one that draws the reader deeper and deeper into a recognition of the inevitability of ruin, loss, decay and death. Gurdjieff himself described the Tales as a destructive book and it tells of the span of the Earth’s existence in a series of Gnostic Falls, the situation for human beings worsens through time. Occasionally there are short narratives of improvement, or the flows of disaster slow down, but time, what is termed ‘Our Common Master, the Merciless Heropass, will bring all of us irrevocably to death.


A brief look at dogs in the Tales

1. The first reference to dogs is told in Gurdjieff’s voice rather than Beelzebub’s. The gruesome story, at the end of Gurdjieff’s opening chapter, is about unlicensed, stray dogs, entangled in the catcher’s net, taken to the local slaughterhouse, and if not claimed by an owner were, ‘with a certain solemnity’, driven down a passageway to be burnt in an oven which renders their fat and discharges substances that the municipality can make money from.

One of the dogs is wagging his tale at a bitch when the bells of a church ring out calling people to morning prayer, this frightens him, and he runs off avoiding capture, (Tales, p. 47-9).

 It’s not difficult to read this story recounted by Karapet, the man who blows the steam whistle at the railway station each morning to wake up the town’s workers, as a fable showing the connection between sex and death, exhorting us to wake up become aware of something beyond our instinctive drives,or they will lead us only to death: to capture and cremation in the municipal oven, from which only an accidental ringing of the church bell can save us.

In this story Gurdjieff is suggesting the dangers of instinctive sexual behaviour in a city which demands that money should be made from the dogs, either by licence or from their dead bodies. Later Beelzebub will extol the sexual instincts of wild dogs over that of human beings.


2. Gurdjieff’s next reference to a dog refers to the sun as ‘almost always’ freezing cold like the “hairless dog”‘ of Mullah Nassr Eddin. This comes in Chapter Seventeen, ‘The Arch -Absurd; According the Assertion of Beelzebub, Our Sun Neither Lights nor Heats, (p. 135). Here his ‘almost always’ is an important qualification, if we are being asked to consider sleep and night as tropes for the state of waking consciousness defined by Gurdjieff as hypnotised sleep, then the source of heat and light within us is ‘almost always’ buried, naked (hairless), cold and dark as is the sun at night.

This image of a dark, cold, land sounds like the underworld of the dead, described in the myth of Osiris, who is by day the heat and light giving sun above, but by night enters the realm of the underworld where he gives neither heat nor light. However, the ruler of the Underworld who preceded Osiris was the Jackal headed dog god Anubis.  So we can also connect  him with the image of the ‘hairless dog’.


3. On pages 199-200 of Chapter Nineteen, ‘Beelzebub’s Second Descent to the Earth’, having established that every being ‘occupies its definite place among beings of other forms’, Beelzebub compares dogs unfavourably to cats who have memories and remember the ills done to them. The dogs forget. Their forgetfulness of being hurt or beaten is guaranteed. ‘If you pet your dog a little and get it used to anything you please, it will become obedient and affectionate to the point of abasement’. In return for some affection the dogs can be trained to accept whatever mistreatment is handed out to them. The fact that cats remember for a long time and can later take revenge shows that they are on a higher rung of the ladder of evolution. Dogs are undone by their desire to please, the ease with which they form habits and their lack of memory. If a cat takes its revenge by biting the neck of a man while he sleeps the cat should not be despised for this. Beelzebub asks, ‘is it its fault that it is a cat and that owing to the merits of its ancestors, its presence occupies such a gradation of “consciousness-of-self?’ 

Dogs are pack animals and so could be said to have less consciousness-of-self as individuals than do cats.

 In relation to what seems to be a sub-theme of death in relation to Egyptian myth, in later attributes Bast was the Egyptian Cat Goddess of childbirth, valued for killing rats and mice. While Anubis, the Jackal-headed god of embalming, was the dog that led the dead into the underworld.

In connection with Gurdjieff’s reference to the ladder of evolution, both the cat and dog gods had devolved from earlier more powerful roles, one in the above and the other in the underworld. The earlier ancestry of Bast had been as the fierce Lioness Goddess, associated with the eye of the Sun god Ra and therefore belonging to the realm of the above, the sun in the daytime. She acted as the instrument of  the sun’s vengeance. Anubis, as mentioned above, had been the ruling God of the Underworld before Osiris took on that role.




Above: Bast the domesticated Cat Goddess is present here on a candle holder which reveals her as a daughter of light-giving sun father.


Here we see Bast in her earlier incarnation as Egyptian Lioness Goddess with the solar disk, she was a divine mother thus life-giving, but with the cobra that suggests her fierce killing nature. All mothers give the joint gift of life and death to their children, who if they were not born could not die.

The lion and sun symbol is based largely on astronomical and astrological configurations: see the ancient sign of the sun in the house of Leo.


The former coat of arms of Iran, the flag of Iran between 1423 and 1979 shows the enduring symbolism of lion with power. Other images of the lion and sun can be found under ‘Lion and Sun’ on Wikipedia.



Anubis  had earlier been the God of the Underworld


later he was the God of Embalming, who led the dead into the underworld. Thus in the Tales Beelzebub suggests that on earth even the gods are fallen, devolving rather than evolving. Niether life nor death are given the correct respect and value due to them.

The cat/lion’s powers are over life and death, but the dog/jackal’s powers are only over the already dead.


4. The next time dogs are mentioned they have become one of a number of  ‘stray beings’ though still indirectly affected by the then current belief about life after death, (220).

This is as a result of Beelzebub’s intervention during his third descent to Earth to further his aim of eliminating animal sacrifice to the gods. He achieves this by adding to a religion previously invented by King Konuzion to stop his people becoming delusional through chewing poppy seeds. Here the Zion part of the King’s name Konuzion suggests that we are in Israel or Jerusalem, the Kon prefix referring to the Kohen priests of Judaism.

His invention, according to Beelzebub, includes a single ‘Mister God’ and a series of islands on one of which the the inhabitants of that country live, one where ‘Mister God’ dwells and two others which are Paradise and Hell. The destination of souls after death depends on the reports handed in by two invisible beings who note down every deed and thought a person has during their life time, and these are looked at on the Day of Judgement, (217). The description of heaven and hell are not Judaic, and, although in Judaism the deeds of the dead are examined by God, no soul can be separated from God.

The Fall or loss through time demonstrated here is from mnay gods to one and that one is fictional.

After Beelzebub has successfully preached that these invisible reporting beings were the animals themselves the practice of sacrificing them diminished, and the people began to care for their animals presumabley out of fear for what they would report back to ‘Mister God’.

The dog has no divine properties or powers, he is only a possible go-between the living and MisterGod, although in this he is echoing the role of Anubis who does go between the living and the dead. But here he is only  one of the ‘stray beings’ of ‘various forms’ who benefited from this change of attitude, being fed in the mornings by ‘choicest morsels’ of food given by the people, who also fed the fish in the sea at sunrise. (215-226). Later on we find that Beelzebub was pardoned and restored to his home planet specifically for his work in relation to animal sacrifice.



5. The next mention of dogs is also related to death, and comes in Chapter Twenty-eight of the Tales, where Beelzebub tells how Ashiata’s labours were destroyed by Lentrohamsanin (who is an anti-type of Ashiata and also of Christ) who purely out of a desire for fame aggravates an apparently unnecessary discontent among the populace comparing the state of human beings to that of chained dogs.

‘Haven’t we to labor and sweat to get the barley indispensable to us to live and not to starve to death like chained dogs?’ (396).

 This suggests a further fall in the fate of dogs, no longer fed by their local population, nor free to stray as in the previous mention, they are now according to the simile chained and starving. Here death is final, there is no mention of any life after death.

 Lentrohamsanin provokes political unrest that results in civil war in order to establish a republic, and further wars in order to impose the new form of state-organisation on their neighbours and thus destroys the labours of Ashiata. This suggests a completely secular state where the notion of life after death does not exist.


 6. In Chapter Thirty-one, ‘Beelzebub’s Last Sojourn on the Earth’, (542-43) Beelzebub tells Hassein about the profession of contemporary physicians whose desire to help their patients are entirely dependant on the patient’s wealth. If the patient is rich the physicians’ desire to help the being increases so that he manifests the form of a ‘beaten dog’ with a ‘bootlicking’ expression and ‘their bobtails become pressed tight almost glued between their legs’. But if the patient is poor the physician writes a prescription and leaves as soon as possible. Once outside he disdains the people in the street saying ‘… you curs, look out! otherwise I shall crush you like cockroaches.’ 


Curs are a lesser, inferior category of dogs, and represent a further splitting from the unity and fullness of the whole. They can be defined as an inferior dog, or mongrel, and used informally in contempt, those who, according to the physician, may be killed like despised insects.

Humanity is likened to a pack of dogs their positions in rank defined solely by wealth. The physicians ‘bobtail’ shows he has suffered some deformity, perhaps connected with being beaten, dogs are not born ‘bobtailed’ but are mutilated by people who claim ownership of them for aesthetic or other reasons. Later in the Tales Beelzebub refers to ‘bobtailed’ again in relation to other aspects of humanity’s disablements and inabilities. The tails which Beelzebub’s tribe have are a sign of a male’s masculinity and activity (712) and were once common also to men. The physician has lost this essential part of his body.



7. In Chapter Thirty-four, ‘Russia’ Hassien learns little about how Beelzebub is prepared for presentation to the Tzar he explains that:

‘His High Excellency … ‘showed and directed my presence … about this we can neither speak now in the language of Scheherazade nor describe it with the pen of a Mr Canineson.’ (617).

I’ve included this lightly coded reference to a dog: Mr Canine – son or ‘son-of-a-bitch’ in American slang terms, because it suggests a Fall from the oral story-telling of Scheherazade ‘a spoken language’ to the ‘pen’ of a writer. Gurdjieff himself was creating a bridge between the oral and written transmissions of story, he dictated the Tales and they were read aloud to groups of listeners, often preceded by music.

 In relation to death, Scheherazade, probably from Shirzade meaning ‘lion-born’ (see Burton, Richard F. The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, Burton Club, p.14, footnote) gives the reader a link back to Bast the Egyptian Lion Goddess, so we might see this as another cat and dog pairing.

As a story teller Sheherazade, with cat-like memory, never forgets death. As we know, she is telling stories for her life, if she does not create a need to listen to more of the story the following night, she will be killed. Mr Canineson, as interpreted here, is descended from a bitch, this indirectly casts shameful doubt on his paternity. Sheherazade is female and Western myth gives the spinners and weavers of story to women.

In the Tales both dogs and Scheherazade represent loss and remind the reader of death, but they may well fulfil different roles in ‘Meetings with Remarkable Men’.


8. In Chapter Thirty-seven, ‘France’ Beelzebub is sitting ‘in solitude’ in a busy restaurant in Montmartre, Paris, now the chief centre-of-culture, lamenting at some length of the passing of continents, of great cities once centres-of-culture, and discerning that there is now no difference between the men he observed a thousand years ago and the contemporary ‘three-brained beings’. He mourns the end of whole cities and cultures, and looking around he notices:

‘…these waiters, exactly like dogs with their tails between their legs, who serve the people sitting there . . . are they not ‘Asklay-slaves’?’

 So although great cultures have arisen and fallen, and sacred Individuals have been sent down to help them, men are still like servile, submissive dogs, and by implication other beings must still be willing to enslave them. They have failed to create higher being bodies. There are consistent recurring losses, nothing changes time destroys everything.


Above: Egyptian book of the Dead


  Above: Hebrew Scripture

[The scriptures were written down, but not to be read by the populace they were written for the priests who would learn them and then speak them from memory.]

 After this moment of observation Beelzebub continues to lament and his lamentations can be read as echoes of other ancient lamentations recorded in sacred books, (Of Isis and Nephthys for Osiris in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the lamentations of Inanna for the death of Demuzi, in the Hymns of Sumer, and more specifically in the Bible in the Book of Lamentations, five poems ascribed to Jeremiah, which lament the fall of the city of Jerusalem.

 Verse one begins:

1.  ‘How doth the city sit solitary that was full of people! how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!’

Beelzebub begins his own lamentations ‘sitting then in solitude’, in the midst of a busy restaurant (674).

In Jeremiah the fall of Jerusalem is accepted as just retribution for the sins of the populace, while Beelzebub ascribes blame for the fall of cities and the enslaving of men to mistakes made by the ‘Most High, Most Saintly Cosmic Individuals’.

Here the dog reference though short and re affirming previous references to tails between legs, is placed centrally, it is flanked on each side by the recitation of the fall of cities, and before and after the whole lamentation there are short passages where Beelzebub rebukes the Most High, Most Saintly Cosmic Individuals’ (672, 677,) who were responsible for the original errors that cause this continual perishing due to the flow of time, rather than caused by men themselves.

This is an example of a specific pattern used in oral story telling. There is a pattern of subjects that starts with subject A moves on to subject B has a central subject C and then repeats subject B followed by subject A again. The whole pattern of this is

A  B C  B A

there may be many more subjects leading to and away from a central subject. This patterning can also be found in verse forms and music (as well as in dancing and weaving).

It has the advantage for listeners because when listening to long recitations the change of subject matter allows them to know where they are in the whole episode, poem or story. Gurdjieff gives this poetic oral structure to Beelzebub’s reflections and thus links them to the tradition of ancient spoken lamentations.

 In fact Gurdjieff uses many forms from the oral tradition in his Tales, so we might connect this central reference, to the waiters as being like servile dogs, in relation to Beelzebub’s oblique questioning of what kind of language, neither Sheherazade’s or Mr Canineson’s, can be used to describe absurdities, which he raised in the previous reference.



9. The next reference to dogs is in Chapter Thirty-nine, ‘Purgatory’. In this chapter, Beelzebub explains that only with the help of intentional suffering, will sexual ‘being-acts’ lead to the perfecting and evolution of an individual, but if there is no practice of intentional suffering sexual activity causes the individual to involve, be prone to illness and have a shortened life span. The other purpose of sexual activity is for the procreation of children, but contemporary men regard this as a misfortune because it hinders gratification of their vices, and so they practice abortion. Everywhere else in the universe beings recognized this ‘being’ act as the most sacred of divine sacraments. On Earth this is still recognized by beings called:

 ‘hyenas’, ‘cats’, ‘wolves’, ‘lions’, ‘tigers’, ‘wild dogs’, ‘bagooshis’, ‘frogs’ and many others …’ (795). instinctively sense the act as sacred and manifest it only during spring time,

[Ba-gooshi means cow in the Navaco language]

The dogs here are ‘wild’ and not domesticated, but their instincts are superior to the men who have domesticated them and then taken on the servile submissive characteristics of the dogs they feel superior to.


The improper use of sex that Beelzebub describes leads to illness and earlier death. According to St Paul and later Christian doctrines the original sin of disobedience by Adam and Eve, which caused their expulsion from Eden became the cause of the ‘original sin’ whereby mankind is born already in a state of sin, must toil for food and bring forth children in pain. The fruits of the Fall from eternal life in Eden are work, suffering and death. Niether Judaism nor Islam share this doctrine. We can see from the first dog reference above that in the Tales sex is a distraction that can prove fatal.  Here we learn from Beelzebub that unlawful, or incorrect sex together with a lack of intentional suffering will prevent self-perfecting.



Persephone and Hades in the underworld


10. Chapter Forty-one, ‘The Bokharian Dervish Hadji-Asvatz-Troov’

This chapter takes place in the underground dwelling place of Asvatz-Troov, inside a mountain and entered through a cave and through which an underground stream flows. It seems to echo the underworld of Hades (the unseen), which is the name of the place and the god who ruled it, with its river Styx. In fact the dwelling place is also the tomb of Asvatz’ friend. And we can see that this is a different representation of the dwelling place of the dead from that ruled by Anubis or Osiris, or that of King Konizion’s Paradise or Hell, and although the Hadji part of the Dervish’s name tell us he has made a pilgrimage to Mecca this underworld has, as mentioned above, traits of the dark Greek mythological underworld, whereas Christian and Islamic hells are said to be fiery.

The narrative of this chapter, taking place deep underground, deals with deep feelings of grief. Asvatz-Troov grieves for his friend whose burial mound is visible in the room where he talks with Beelzebub (885). Asvatz-Troov tells movingly of his love for his mother and his grief at her death from a pitiless disease (896), and of his European friend’s grief for the death of his wife (912-14).

The Dervish’s experiments with vibrations of the living have found that when comparing his own vibrations and those of a younger man with the vibrations of a dog, a sheep and a goat, the dog’s vibrations are three times greater than the sheep’s and twice as many as the goat’s but only ‘a trifle less’ than his own or his younger friend’s. He explains that his has come about because in contemporary men:

 ‘the function of emotion, which actualizes the main quantity of subjective vibrations, is already almost completely atrophied, and therefor the sum total of vibrations in them proves to be less than in this dog’ (904-05).

In the previous reference to ‘wild dogs’ we learned that their sexual instincts were superior to those of men. Here what seem to be domesticated dogs are superior in emotional functioning, while in both cases men, ostensibly their masters, have deteriorated. Perhaps they have ‘buried’ their instincts and emotions?

This sequence of ten references to dogs seems to pose a questioning of the relative value of the ‘wild’ and the ‘natural’  which are our past, set against later domestication or civilization, our ‘centers of -culture’, as well as to the changing series of religious beliefs and present these, contrary to usual opinion, as evidence of a continuing involution rather than evolution.


 11. In Chapter Forty-two ‘Beelzebub in America’ Beelzebub comments on the degeneration of religions. Good customs instigated by past religious teachers are ignored. The teachings ‘of the Divine Jesus Christ’ (1009-10) have declined, and Beelzebub gives the example of how the custom of fasting is now misunderstood by Christians so that their fasting does not give them the shock it was designed to give.

 ‘But as to what should and should not be consumed as food during a fast – just in that question “is buried the left paw of the curly-haired dog of the ex-Emperor Wilhelm.”

This rather convoluted and surreal sentence suggests that even the question of what should be eaten during fasts [which is an important one] is now of no understandable consequence. The dog’s paw is buried in the question, rather than what at first seems to be suggested that the question is buried in the paw. The idiom of ‘putting a foot in it’ suggests itself here.

Here we have merely a fragment of the curly-haired dog: his left paw. The ‘left’ hand, or paw, as opposed to the  right carries cultural implications carried over partly from the meaning of left derived from the Latin word sinister, while the word right also has the meaning of ‘correct’ and derives from dexter. The dogs paw was not dextrous,  it ‘went into the question’ but not in a constructive or right way. Gurdjieff regards the curly hair of Beelzebub as a sign of his vanity, (43) so we could see this dog as a vain high-ranking dog, although his status has diminished as has the important question of what to eat during fasts. His status echoes that of the the ex-Emperor’s diminished status. Overall the dog has lost status throughout this series of references.

 from god



 to embalmer



to stray



 to starving and chained



to beaten and bootlicking

only the wild dogs which are free of men


do better

This passage about the qusiton of fasting goes on to relate a kind of hymn of praise to fishes eaten during the lenten fast (1014). We can connect this with the brief mention of fishes in reference four above where fishes are held sacred and fed at sunrise in the Sea of Beneficence by the populace.  








12. The final dog reference which is to ‘a dog in the manger’ comes in Chapter Forty-three, ‘Beelzebub’s Survey of the Process of the Periodic Reciprocal Destruction of Men, or Beelzebub’s Opinion of War.

 Beelzebub reaffirms the consequences of ‘the accursed organ Kundabuffer’ thanks to which men cannot think unless their appetites for food and sex have been fully satisfied. There are a few power-possessing beings on Earth who are able to gorge themselves and they ought to receive the associations of thoughts inevitably following these shocks to their sex organs and stomachs.

 However their thoughts ‘wander freely in all directions’. Beelzebub gives four examples of their thoughts. The first relates to sex, as in taking revenge on a man who ‘looked at a woman he “liked”, not with his right eye but with his left.’ We find here a reprise of the ‘left’ rather than the ‘right’ part of the body. (and this is another thread of references worth following in the text). The second and third examples relate to loss of money via racing and stock markets, the fourth to jealousy and fantasy relating to money, a man thinks:

 ‘“If I were in John Smith’s shoes who invented a new method of breeding flies for making ivory from their skeletons, then from the profits obtained I would do this, that and the other, and not as that fool, who like a dog in the manger, will neither himself eat nor let others eat,” …’ (1060-61).’

The reference to flies indirectly connects us to Beelzebub himself, Biblicaly demoted to being ‘Lord of the Flies’, and in the Tales demoted from the Sun Absolute to our solar system himself guilty of war mongering, that almost brought the Megalocosmos to the edge of revolution (52). Flies are also associated with death and sex as they feed and breed on corpses. Sex, food and death are intimately connected in the series of reflections in this chapter. Death results from the wrong functioning of the sex organs and stomachs, which do not allow men to reflect on war and take steps to prevent it.

 The ivory -making project mentioned is clearly fantasy as flies do not have white bone skeletons, but exo-skeletons or shells. 

The result of these wandering thoughts described by Beelzebub is that even the people who can sate themselves never think of war and death, except perhaps briefly when someone they know dies, or when their own death is near.

The ‘dog in the manger’ attribute can be applied to people who withhold something they don’t want or need from someone who does want or need it. This could be food as in the ancient fable attributed to Aesop, where a dog falls asleep in a manger of hay, and when woken variously in different versions, by an ox, a horse, or cows as in the image above, is angry at being woken and refuses to let them eat. This can also applied to behavior that thwarts political or sexual desires, even if these can not be gratified by the ‘dog’ in question. There is also an element of being prepared to suffer hunger for example, in order to inflict hunger and suffering on another.

 This indirect reminder of awakening clearly connects, not just generally with Gurdjieff’s teaching on awakening, but more specifically with Karapet who appears in the very first story, (which also has a flavour of fable) about the dogs caught by the dog-catcher. The church bell awakens the dog who escapes capture, which make the dog-catcher angry and Karapet also suffers from the anger of the townspeople, woken each morning by his steam whistle (45-50). This suggests an oral story-telling pattern as mentioned above, when the teller returns to the opening theme at the end of the sequence. So we can see that the sequence of short references to dogs has been presented as a whole, a text within a text, a story within a story.


Aim and Method of Reading

My aim in following the above thread of dog references, is to explore them as best I can, to give my findings but without insisting that they are in any sense the final or only ones. I’ve been astonished at how these short references are interconnected and how they follow a trajectory and become a whole commentary, an exposition in miniature of the main theme of the whole book which tells us remorselessly about Fall, loss, deterioration, diminution and death.

I’ve followed Gurdjieff’s specific instructions to his reader and made three separate readings. Where I have differed from the practice I’ve known or heard of in Gurdjieff groups is that instead of attempting to read the whole book three separate times once in each of the required modes, I’ve read just one paragraph or small section.

Reading at first in the usual way of reading, then secondly I’ve allowed the reading to come into meaning during a day or two while my unconscious begins to suggest additional or alternative connections to what I’ve read, and which is experienced as expanding or revealing more about what I’ve read. Then thirdly I sit down gather and think through the results of these two processes in an active way, looking closely and each sentence, paying attention to each of the words used. I find writing a useful way to begin to sift and collate the matter that’s accumulated, this is the third ‘fathoming the gist’ process. At the end of this process my understanding of what I’ve read has grown significantly.

In my experience this process makes Gurdjieff’s instructions beneficial and practically possible, whilst a reading of the complete text in in three separate ways is more or less impossible, and to only read it without questioning, comment, interpretation or conclusion seems to me to miss out one of the calls of the book which is to examine the provocative narrative in its content and structure.

There are many more aspects of these references to explore, for example a brief search on the internet shows that the book of Jeremiah is itself a coded text. By presenting Beelzebub’s words in a form that suggests Jerimiah’s lamentations Gurdjieff draws his reader’s attention to the fact that what is being ‘said’ or written is not just an account of emotions, but an artificial construct through which he can refer to other layers of meaning.

What I’ve written above is the result of my reading processes. My aim is to share these processes in an admiration and appreciation of Gurdjieff’s writing. Which I hope will be fruitful for both practioners of the work, and others interested in his writing. I remember reading something, I think by one of Gurdjieff’s early pupils, which stated that Gurdjieff could not be considered a writer, that he’d had neither the training or experience necessary, but I disagree.


The Guide and Index

I’ve been greatly helped in all the research I’ve done over the years by the ‘Guide and Index to Gurdjieff’s All and Everything Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson’ made by a study group and first published by Traditional Studies Press in Toronto in 1971. My gratitude to the people who worked on this increases the more I refer to it. Reading the Preface to see if I could find someone to whom I could express my thanks, I found that the editors write of their discovery that the examination of one word:

 ‘would become a thread to the entire teaching as it wove through explanations, parables and humorous anecdotes attaching to itself more and more clusters of meaning.’

 I must have read this years ago, but forgot, and took no notice of the notion of following threads. I found the book useful in helping me search for words, or remember what they referred to without giving more than the occasional thought to the people who had compiled it. Re-reading the Preface now gives me a joyful feeling of affirmation and companionship. So, although by now, forty years after its first publication, it cannot possibly need any further recommendation, I would like to express here my lasting gratitude to the editors of ‘The Guide and Index’.




February 18, 2011 at 11:31 am

13 Responses

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  1. Sophia, thank you for your research. Now one begins to see how dense in connections Beelzebub’s Tales is. Remembering Gurdjieff’s promise not to use ‘bon ton literary language’ and his acknowledgement of the popular wisdom of Mullah Nasruddin, I see that none of the colloquialisms he uses can be taken at face value.

    Michael Ball

    Michael Ball

    March 6, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    • Many thanks for your comment Michael which I appreciate, I agree that taking at ‘face value’ is probably going to be mislleading, and not just for the collquialisms, I am glad my writing has been revealing of this, all best wishes, Sophia.


      March 17, 2011 at 8:37 am

  2. Hi Sophia,
    amongst the many questions and reflections that your article triggered in my mind, I’ll ask two:
    1. what does the Alexander the Great coin at the beginning have to do with dogs? I missed the reference
    2. Were do I find some guidance on the meaning and practice of intentional suffering? I know of many references, but have not come across any “guide”. I mean it seems to me that one can’t just go and inflict on oneself intentional suffering – it must be done in the context of a path and with the help of some directions along the way…
    Thank you for your replies


    June 19, 2011 at 4:10 am

    • Hello Mariano,

      thanks for your comment, ‘Intentional suffering’ is a difficult term and can so easily seem to be a promotion of masochistic tendencies. Life brings enough suffering to everyone, a ready supply of it in differing degrees, some great and hard to bear and many small irritations and discomforts. I’m not a work teacher, so I’ll just answer from my own experience in relation to small everyday irritations and annoyances which can form an almost constant soundtrack in the inner life.

      Gurdjieff also used the term ‘voluntary suffering’. I think this gives a clearer indication of what was being suggested. To suffer ‘voluntarily’ in my understanding means to acknowledge the suffering, not deny it, but at the same time not to become totally immersed in it, by taking it personally. I was much helped when I understood ‘taking things personally’ as a more mundane expression that conveys Gurdjieff’s notion of ‘identification’.

      This way of living offers the practitioner, or follower of Gurdjieff’s teaching the opportunity of not being subsumed or entangled, especially in small sufferings, in chains of resentment, blame and anger which drain energy away to no useful purpose and are usually destructive for relations with others. ‘Stay out of it’ might be a colloquial expression for this. The benefits of this are a sense of being freed, and a certain transformation. Similar notions have been expressed elsewhere, you can find them in Christian and Buddhist teachings, and I expect in many other teachings which address the difficult subject of suffering.

      I want to reaffirm that in my own understanding there isn’t any need to look around for extra suffering, nor to voluntarily stay in a circumstances which are emotionally, mentally or physically destructive, abusive or violent, that would needlessly damaging and not at all useful.

      As far as guidance goes, there are many Gurdjieff groups throughout America and Europe, they will differ in usefulness and if you try one you can form your own opinion, and if it does not seem helpful, look for another, or some other contact that helps you.

      Thank you also for your pertinent question re Alexander the Great, I am in agreement with your bemusement, there certainly was a reason for him being there, and when it comes back to me I’ll let you know. If it doesn’t I may change the image.


      June 19, 2011 at 12:11 pm

  3. Hello Mariano,

    The thinking behind the image of Alexander the Great was this: when I started this post I put up his image at the head of it and at the very end I put the image of a mummified corpse. Taken together they represent the two, related great themes of ‘Beelzebub’s Tales’ which are the Fall, and death.

    The final lines from Shelley’s sonnet Ozymandias were also in my mind:

    “My name is OZYMANDIAS, King of Kings.”
    Look on my works ye Mighty, and despair!
    No thing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that Colossal Wreck, boundless and bare,
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.


    June 29, 2011 at 5:39 am

  4. Sirius ( dog star ) has a huge place in Freemasonry. Bennett comments that G had said that what the buried dog referred to was in fact about Sirius. Of course G lies, and says not to believe what he says. You haven’t stumbled across anything along these lines have you?


    January 29, 2012 at 2:47 am

    • Many thanks for your comment. I do remember, though not the source and not precisely, that Bennett writes about Gurdjieff telling him that he was going to have or build an observatory for star watching. Bennett admits he was excited by this project, but then realizes that Gurdjieff was teasing him. My own view is that dogs are referred to in the Tales symbolically as descending from Gods to wretched curs, thus standing in for the descent of humanity as a whole. But as symbols are multivalent it is quite possible for them to be interpreted in other ways.

      Gurdjieff’s text does offer a variety of opportunities for interpretation, and that is something that attracts and captures readers. Sirius could seem to belong in the Tales in relation to Freemasonry. Wikipedia tells us that: “the heliacal rising of Sirius marked the flooding of the Nile in Ancient Egypt.” I haven’t heard of an interpretation along Masonic lines, but if anyone has suggested this it would be interesting to hear about it.

      What you write also touches on the often mentioned idea that Gurdjieff lies. Gurdjieff did like to wrong foot his pupils, to confuse and ‘destroy their world view’. Paul Taylor points out that Gurdjieff: “played clown and trickster. Everything he said could be taken as a joke an absurdity, or a profound observation in disguise.” (Shadows of Heaven, p. 182, 1998).


      January 29, 2012 at 8:24 pm

  5. Dear Sophia,

    I discovered an interesting tidbit to add to this splendid meal.

    Paul Taylor, in an article entitled “The Making of All and Everything, 1924 to 1950” and posted on the Gurdjieff Club website, quotes Olga de Hartmann’s unpublished memoir “What For.”

    “This took place on December 16, 1924, at 47, Blvd Pereire [sic]. On this specific night, Mr. Gurdjieff called his talk The Conversation of the Old Devil with the Young One.” Gurdjieff dictated three pages that evening which I quote here.

    That happened in the 123rd year after the creation of the world.

    Through space, flew the ship ‘Karnak.’

    It went from ‘Sirius’ by the Milky Way to the planet ‘Karatas.’ On the ship was Beelzebub with his kinsmen and near attendants. He returned home after the quite extraordinary events on the planet ‘Karatas,’ by the demands of his old friends. He consented to go to the conference about the events in which he was to take part.

    Although he was already old to go such a long way, with all the inconveniences it presented, and it was not an easy work for his age, he in memory of his old friendship decided to accept this invitation. Only some months before this trip, he had returned to his home.”

    Gurdjieff has made Sirius “the dog star’ the very home of Beelzebub!

    Further, a quick web search reveals that the appearance of Sirius in the sky played a significant role in ancient Egyptian and Persian cultures and was seen to “herald” coming events. It is also worth mentioning that one of the stars in Canis Major is named Murzim (Al-Murzim, Mirzam). The star’s name comes from the Arabic word for “the herald,” presumably referring to Murzim’s position in the sky. (The star rises before Sirius, i.e. it heralds it.)

    Richard Miller

    Richard Miller

    February 14, 2012 at 1:32 am

    • Thank you for sending this first draft of the Tales, and your intriguing info about the herald.

      I notice the date Gurdjieff gives in this draft the 123rd year, any idea of why he changed it later to the year 223? It could well be because 2 + 2 + 3 = 7 . Gurdjieff frequently includes symbolic numerological renderings of the number seven: see Ouspensky reporting on theosophical addition, (Search, p. 283) which in its turn leads the reader on to further and further speculations, but with Ouspensky’s warning not to take any symbol in a final or definite meaning. kind regards, Sophia..


      February 16, 2012 at 10:12 am

  6. Dear Sophia,

    Reading your reply to Richard Miller’s comments and in particular your observation that Gurdjieff may have changed the year from 123 to 223, because of symbolic numerological rendering, If this is so 123 (1+2+3) = 6. The number 6 may have referred to the six points on the Enneagram, which is the inner movement that takes place in the Enneagram (overshadowed by the triangle of shocks at points 3, 6 and 0/9. Many of Gurdjieff’s movements comprise rows of six people.

    Could the change, from 6 to 7, be to emphasise the Law of 7, i.e. the complete process rather than the inner movement within the Enneagram ?


    Michael Ball

    February 16, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    • Dear Michael,

      Apologies for the late response to your comment above, I had written one but somehow failed to upload it. I wanted to say that yes, numerology offers an endless number of suggestions for possible understandings and this is legitimate within Gurdjieff’s teaching given his views on the symbology of numbers

      “for a man who understand the unity of everything existing and has the key to this unity th method of theosophical addition has a profound meaning, for it resolves all diversity into the fundamental laws which govern it and which are expressed in the numbers from 1 to 10.” Ouspensky, Search, reprint Arkana,1987 p.283.

      Although, not making them any the less useful, the results of these connections remain primarily of personal value.

      Then I discovered a quite different approach to the date 223 given by Paul Beekman Taylor in his “The Philosophy of G. I. Gurdjieff: Time, World and Being in All and Everything”, 2007, p. 65 in which he calculates that according to Beelzebub:

      “the flow of time in his home planet Karatas is forty-nine times faster than on the Sun Absolute, and the Earth revolves about its sun 389 times faster than on Karatas (128). In Karatas time, then, the world was created 6,927 years (49 x 223 before Beelzebub’s voyage and sine the Earth revolves about its sun 389 times faster than Karatas does, the time passes 19,061 times faster on Earth than on Sun Absolute (49 x 389). This means that the world i.e. the universe was created 4,260,603 years before 1921, if I trust my math.”

      Taylor gives us a critical reading which examines the information given by the author within the text itself , rather than a readerly symbolic interpretation which as Gurdjieff said of symbology
      cannot be taken in a final and definite meaning. ( Search, p.283). I think that both these methods of reading are useful and that it’s valuable to distinguish between them.


      March 4, 2012 at 2:08 pm

  7. just passing through this website and came across your interesting article regarding dogs referenced as part of Gurdjieff’s teachings. I am reminded of a story but can’t pinpoint the source. I think it’s in the memoir of a student.

    Anyway, Gurdjieff is speaking with compassion about dogs. He talks about how they know something – how they have an inkling that there is something beyond the limits of their own condition. He goes on to talk about all those huge emotions which we define as human and somehow noble in their passionate extreme are actually felt by dogs….desire, fierce jealousy etc

    pat murphy

    March 11, 2012 at 6:38 am

    • Thank you for your comment Pat, yes, this is expressed in Fritz Peters’ Boyhood with Gurdjieff,[ 1976, p. 76] Peters writes that Gurdjieff is talking to him about kindness and says:

      Reason for necessity to treat dog and horse with kindness … is because unlike all other animal, and even though he know he cannot become man, cannot acquire third brain like a man, in his heart all dog and horse who associate with man wish become man.

      He goes on to say that this sadness can always bee seen in the eyes of dogs and horses, they wish for the impossible, and it is man’s fault for corrupting them. This is close to, though not exactly what you remember, and there may be other references to dogs in a similar vein to the above.


      March 12, 2012 at 6:38 am

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