Gurdjieff's teaching: for scholars and practitioners

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

Esoteric Codes and their Keys: Part Two

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Esoteric Codes and their KeysA Brief Note in Relation to Texts: Part Two.

Collecting Folk Tales, a growing interest in the European Oral Tradition


Wilhelm (left) and Jacob Grimm (right) from an 1855 painting by Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann

The Grimm brothers are known most widely for their collections of stories which were also later edited or adapted for children.

They were German academics, linguists, cultural researchers, and authors who collected folklore (the unwritten lore stories and proverbs and riddles and songs) from the confederacy of 39 small- to medium-size German states whose major unifying factor for the German people of the time was the use of the German language. The brothers research reflected their desire to help create a German identity.

They were not the only people interested in collecting folk lore and stories, but they were with others the founding fathers of Germanic philology.  and

In 19th-century Europe, the study of linguistics was largely from the perspective of philology (or historical linguistics). This is important for our exploration of specific esoteric codes because the academic discipline of phonology, a part of linguistics that deals with the sounds of language, (different from phonetics which looks at how sounds are made) examines sound usage which we find within coded texts, but explores them quite separately from magical or esoteric definitions, functioning, or understanding.

Linguistic scholars provide us with links between the sounds found in oral traditions which  became incorporated in written form in texts. The differences between reading silently, which employs sight, and listening to a text being read aloud, result in a loss of the sound aspect of language, and though puns, for example can be recognised easily, other forms of word play, slang, and games with the sounds of words may remain completely hidden from the reader, unless of course the text is read aloud.

Crosswords, which we mentioned in part one of this essay, have well-known rules. In an anagram all letters must be used, (an example by Mike Morton is Debit card – Bad credit, ). If there are letters left over, solvers know they are mistaken.


Spoonerisms named after Dr. Spooner, Dean of Christ College Oxford from 1876 to 1889, he ‘is remembered for a peculiar speech error he was wont to make: the transposition of the initial letters (sounds) of adjoining [or closely positioned] words.’ One of those attributed to Spooner is that he once ‘raised a toast to Her Royal Highness, Queen Victoria, and proclaimed: “Three cheers for our queer old dean!”

If this did happen, it might have taken a few moments of shock before his transposition of the letters q and d were restored to conform to the toast he intended to give.

But some forms of auditory language coding, for example the reversing of non-adjacent syllables are complex and not easily recognized unless the rules that govern them are known.

The academic discipline of metathesis – a branch of phonology

 which does set out clear definitions, allows readers to recognize, and confirm as intentional, more complex manipulations of language.

The ‘MetaThesis Ultegra’ www.meta-bikes.combike from above gives a helpful visual image, if we relate syllables (parts of words) to the parts of the bike that have been moved from their usual position.

This comic image is recognisable as a bicycle even though the parts are jumbled. Recognising the bike involves acknowledging the transposition of parts from their usual places, and visualising where and how they have been reassembled. This functions to arouse questioning or reassessment which activates the attention of the reader or listener.

If a reader was expecting to find the word bicycle they could. It does seem a complex and obsessive way to draw readers’ attention to the word bicycle. So an analysis of this kind of coding needs to have a lot of evidence that this is happening and there needs to be some rational given for the need or desire to encode the word.

If we return to the notion of a metathesis that can be heard: a splitting up of sounds that need to be re-ordered we could use the sounds of bicycle for example in the words buysigh and the syllable cl in clothes

together they can by read as buy sigh cle

in a sentence, with the order changed to sigh cl buy

such a sentence might read:

She gave a sigh, I have no nice clothes I’ll have to buy some.

While metathesis is not as common as other processes affecting sounds in language, such as assimilation or deletion, it does, nonetheless, occur as a regular phonological process in synchronic systems in a wide range of languages.  ( )

Oragean Modernism: a lost literary movement, 1924-1953 , (2013)

In his Oragean Modernism Jon Woodson explores the 20th century usage of metathesis, long in use by alchemists who referred to it as ‘phonetic cababla’, by a large group pf American novelists. These include: Carl Van Vechten, Djuna Barnes, Nathaniel West, John Dos Passos, Arna Bontemps, Dawn Powell, James Agee, Maxwell Perkins, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, C. Daly King, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and Dorothy West. For further info on ‘phonetic cabala see also:


‘Oragean’ refers to A. R. Orage, Gurdjieff’s representative in New York from 1922 – 1930. His lectures on Gurdjieff’s ‘system’ with strong emphasis on Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson included groups who took his writing courses. Many of these wrote coded books which merged personal esoteric, and wider political aims. The reader (who was aware of coding and as we have seen above Gurdjieff’sTales was regarded by Orage and his followers as coded) could:



Find access to the teaching in order to awaken


seek to become one of the two hundred conscious individuals necessary to avert widespread planetary catastrophe; (see Ouspensky, P D. In Search of the Miracuolous, Arkana, London 1987, pp 309-10).


Should contemporary readers fail to understand these aims the books would preserve the teaching for future generations.


Woodson shows that the ambiguity of secrets which must be both hidden and revealed was resolved in a number of ways: by following Gurdjieff’s example in the Tales of a ‘legomonism’ that is a ‘lawful inexactitude’ to alert the reader to listen and be on the look out for coded content, and also by coding Gurdjieff, Orage and Ouspensky’s names and important aspects of the teaching within their texts.


As a result of Woodson’s research the existence and aims of this ‘lost literary movement’ of American authors have come to light.



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February 11, 2012 at 10:29 am

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