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Meetings with Louise Welch in Toronto: reviewed by John Robert Colombo

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I have in front of me a copy of a newly published book titled “Meetings with Louise Welch in Toronto.” It was issued in November 2012 by Traditional Studies Press in Toronto, which happens to be the city in which I now reside. The book will be of interest to students of traditional thought and this is expressed in the wording of its subtitle: “On the ideas and practice of the teaching of G.I. Gurdjieff.”

To me the book is of especial interest because, in a limited way, a long time ago, I knew Louise Welch – Mrs. Welch, as she was always called. That was a long time ago – some fifty years ago. Memories sometimes serve as bridge-builders, connecting the past and the present. They do so in this instance.

Before I discuss the contents of this book, I will describe the volume as a physical object. It is a sturdy production, a new book designed to outlast the years, as are so many of the titles issued by Traditional Studies Press, which is the publication wing of The Gurdjieff Foundation: The Society for Traditional Studies. (The organization’s website identifies the organization as The Gurdjieff Foundation of Toronto: Society for Arts and Ideas.)

The publication has no dust jacket but the pages are bound in heavy boards covered in dark green cloth, and the pages are sewn together rather than glued together, so the book may be opened without worry that any of its pages will loosen or fly apart! The volume measures 6 inches by 9 inches, and the pagination goes like this: xxii + 181 + i. It is curious that the first twenty-two pages, which offer the reader an analytic table of contents (like those in P.D. Ouspensky’s “Tertium Organum” and in many of Colin Wilson’s books), appear without page numbers.

The typography is more practical than pictorial; the type is large and the lines are well “leaded” or spaced apart. The text is fairly short (perhaps 60,000 words) and each page is easy on the eyes. There is a frontispiece photograph of Mrs. Welch, taken in Halifax in 1984, which makes her look much older than the women I remember meeting over a period of two years in the second half of the 1950s.

In memory I recall Mrs. Welch as sharing some of the facial features of Maria Ouspenskaya, the Russian-born actress and acting teacher. Here she looks rather more like Marie Dressler, the Canadian-born, Academy Award-winning comic movie actress. I prefer the image in my memory to the portrait in the book!

Louise Welch’s vital years are 1905 and 1999 (so she is not to be confused with the similarly named Louise Welsh, the much younger, English-born, Scotland-based author of psychological thrillers). Mrs. Welch – Louise Michel Blinken Welch, to give her name in full – was born in New York City of Ukrainian background. She was raised in a dysfunctional family setting and received little formal education, but through her own efforts she found work as a journalist and editor. At one time in the 1920s, she wrote the “agony column” for the New York American. (Walter Winchell quipped about her that “Louise Michel went from bad to Hearst.”) Later in her varied career she worked as a director of a writer’s group for the WPA – the Work (or Works) Project Administration, the U.S. federal government’s employment program of the 1930s, now despised by Republications and forgotten by Democrats.

During the Depression she married and bore a son and a daughter. She was abandoned by her husband so she became their sole support. (Her daughter is Patty de Llosa, a writer and leader who is well respected in the circle of the Work, has has written warmly about her mother and her stepfather, Dr. William J. Welch, in a memoir that appears on one of the webpages of the “Gurdjieff International Review.” The information shared here is derived in part from that source.)

In the 1930s, Mrs. Welch worked with Benton & Bowles, the renowned advertising agency, and there she met and was befriended by a somewhat younger co-worker, who later trained to became a medical doctor, qualified as a cardiac specialist, and eventually became her husband. Together the Welches were what later came to be known as “a power couple.”

This is not the place to review her meetings in the 1920s with the English editor A.R. Orage or how through him she met G.I. Gurdjieff, in both Fontainebleau and New York, if only because she accomplished all of this in her finely written, book-length memoir titled Orage with Gurdjieff in America (1982). Offhand I would say her temperament had much in common with that of Orage. The two of them appreciated fine writing, they were practical people and skilled editors, they had an understanding of the emotional problems of other people as well as the social problems of their times, and they were entirely committed to being leaders in the Work.

Hardly any of the above information appears in the pages of “Meetings with Louise Welch in Toronto,” a fact that limits the readership of this volume to readers appreciative of the subtleties of the Work. To all other readers, the book will be seen as a tribute to a well-liked person rather than as a valuable record of transactions and experiences. Traditional Studies Press did what it set out to do; that was its aim. Perhaps a wider perspective might have resulted in a more imposing publication. Yet readers of all persuasions should express gratitude for what has been achieved.

The Toronto group was founded in 1954, the first of the ancillary groups to be recognized by The Gurdjieff Foundation in New York which had then entered its second year of operation. Its seeds were planted by Olga de Hartmann and her husband Thomas, the composer who had worked so closely with Mr. Gurdjieff on those marvellous compositions for the piano. In fact, way back in 1919, it was the de Hartmanns who had introduced Alexandre and Jeanne de Saltzmann to Mr. Gurdjieff. In the same way, while the couple were living in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, anticipating their move to the United States, they introduced the Work to Canadians in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Halifax.

Among the prime movers of the Gurdjieff Foundation in New York were Dr. and Mrs. Welch. The latter was delegated to head the Toronto group, which she did from 1955 on. I met her a year or two later, never guessing that the Toronto group was not “ages old” but “brand new.” On our first meeting, I asked her if I could join the Work, once I had moved to the city and enrolled at the University of Toronto. She delayed answering that question. Instead she asked her own question, “How did you first learn about the this work?” It was a good question because there was very little information available to the public about Gurdjieff, especially in a small city like the one in which I was born and raised. (This was well before the arrival of the so-called New Age.)

I replied that I had borrowed a copy of “In Search of the Miraculous” (published four years earlier) from the local Carnegie library, and read it cover to cover, not once but twice. Etched in my memory is her grim rejoinder: “The Table of Hydrogens is quite difficult, you know.” Then I backtracked and admitted that I had not understood all that I had read! She was happier with that reply. In general, I knew about the Priory at Fontainebleau from Ouspensky’s description, but it was months before I heard anything at all about J.B. Bennett and the foundations, institutes, and societies, not to mention the estate at Mendham. I was nineteen years old at the time.

My first meeting with the Toronto group leader took place in the upstairs bedroom of the home of Mrs. Margot Dustin and her husband Ernest whose nickname was “Dusty,” both former Theosophists, about a mile from where I now live and am keyboarding this account, and I was regular in my attendance at weekly meetings for readings and for Movements held here and there throughout the city, especially at the monthly meetings convened by Mrs. Welch. She would fly into the city from New York to conduct the sessions, on occasion with Dr. Welch, a man of genuine presence and strong voice. Once, in later years, they brought with them a 16 mm, black-and-white print of performances of the Movements in Paris, which was shown to a small group at the Ontario Science Centre.

Sometimes in attendance at the meetings were film producer Tom Daly, teacher Peter Colgrove, Dr. Paul Bura, an engineer, and his wife Sheila, who was adept in Movements, who were “refugees” from a Bennett group in England, not to mention a stunning, exotic couple: an exquisite, half-Burmese, half-French woman of great beauty (named Olga, oddly, and former wife of BBC executive Cecil Lewis) and her tall, stylish architect husband who may have come from Cornwall, where they subsequently settled. Yet in general I found the original members to be drawn from the professional middle-class of the city, almost everyone being older than I was, and it was a somewhat staid gathering of people, certainly not one given to small talk or big pronouncements. There were occasional visits from the very Gallic Alfred Etievant who would lead the Movements with lithe assurance.

Mrs. Welch’s contributions were not limited to oral instruction, for she encouraged the group to break into print. She kindled the publication of “A Journal of Our Time,” a literary and artistic “little magazine” of some deft and delicacy; she wrote a play which the group produced and staged for public performance; she generated publicity for the commercial showing at Cineplex (the world’s first “cineplex” or multi-screen movie theatre) of Peter Brook’s film “Meetings with Remarkable Men”; she served as editor-in-chief of the first edition of “The Guide and Index to G.I. Gurdjieff’s All and Everything,” which remains an invaluable resource to this day.

References to a few of these activities appear in “Meetings with Louise Welch in Toronto,” which is dedicated to the memory of Mrs. Dustin, the very woman in whose house I first met Mrs. Welch. According to the editorial note, “This publication is compiled from notes taken at meetings spanning the years 1955-1965 and 1973-1989.” My experiences relate directly to the first period, not at all to the second period, and I have no idea what happened between 1965 and 1973, a span of years that I assume were busy ones for the Toronto group, which eventually acquired valuable real estate both in Toronto and outside the rapidly expanding city.

When I was in attendance, each one of us was encouraged – even required – to ask questions, and to ask them slowly, so that the two note-takers would have time to record them, whether in longhand or shorthand I never knew. Apparently these scripts exist today, and they form the basis of the text of this book. From time to time the questions themselves are recorded here, but in most instances it is only Mrs. Welch’s answers that are given. The text itself begins like this: “My search is your search. We must each have a common wish to find out who we are and the direction in which we can grow to reach the truth.” (For symmetry’s sake, the text proper ends like this: “We have a little help here.”)

Reading these passages I am able to imagine myself in her presence and hear her refined, modulated American speech tones and pronunciations. The content of the presentations brings to my mind the content of the entries that appear in the five volumes of Maurice Nicoll’s “Commentaries.” Dr. Nicoll’s presentations are quite technical, whereas Mrs. Welch’s are conversational, parallelling normal thought processes. Both books are organized topically with long, analytic tables of contents. Mrs. Welch is a communicator of attitudes from Mr. Gurdjieff; Dr. Nicoll is a conveyer of detailed information from Mr. Ouspensky.

Her expositions make good use of “I” and “me,” though they do so with great care so as to generalize about the “I” and the “me” and make the words apply to each and every one of her listeners. For instance, she writes as follows: “The important thing is my inner work. My presence is important. I live without meaning because I am not here.” Imagine hearing these words: the “my” and the “I” are those of you, the listener.

In later years, in an attempt to understand the thrust and direction of the Work, I came to define its essence in a single word, a compound word that is a personal neologism. That word is “psychopraxis.” Here the discipline is psychological even psychical rather than psychiatric, but it is also physiological, for it is concerned with physical expression and practice; it is also blessedly free of religious, theosophical, and psychological terminology. Such ideas would have been regarded as novel at the time. Mrs. Welch avoids such exercises, and the introduction into the text of specific Gurdjieffian terms is minimized. One unexpected exception is this one: “Trogoautoegocrat,” from “All and Everything,” which is defined as “real sacrifice” or “I eat myself.”

Preserved are instances of the common touch: “If you tell me you cannot Work for fifteen minutes a day, I say that you don’t want to …. Five minutes of struggle is better than twenty-four hours of daydreaming.” There is no attempt here to innovate or improvise; the expressions of insight are refreshingly free of argument and cant or special pleading. The result is the exposition is effective and the prose is durable and in no sense dated. There are no potted expressions meant to impress the listener or express the private opinion or reservations of the speaker.

At the time I identified Mrs. Welch’s message with a simple, three-letter word – “aim.” It seemed to me at the time that she was always after us to define our own “aim.” I was surprised to realize how difficult it was to comply, difficult when not impossible! Not much about aim has found its way into the text at hand.

What I took away from the Work, right away, was the notion that what lies at the root of most personal and social problems is mechanicality … in “mentation,” emotion, and action. “Mechanicality” is a word that is instantly meaningful, yet is seldom heard or used in this sense by the outside world. On one occasion, she asked a provoking question: “My pet mechanicality is what irritates you. What is there in me that I am unconscious of, and need to be conscious of and know better?”

If I had more time and space I would compare and contrast the records of these meetings, as fragmentary as they are here, compiled not by an individual but by “The Editors, The Gurdjieff Foundation,” with more elaborate records kept of meetings with Ouspensky, Madame Lannes, Conge, and other group leaders. But there are readers (perhaps those who have been exposed to multiple teachers) who are better equipped to do so than am I.

The beating heart of the book lies in its most extended passage, a veritable lecture, which runs from page 66 to page 97. This passage covers most of the subjects germane to work on self. Unlike the shorter sections, which range in length from one sentence to one paragraph or to one or two pages, some dated, the narrative arc of this passage moves from one aspect of the subject to another aspect of the subject, and it builds, as dramatists like to express it. It begins, “I can be stirred into uneasiness … ” and it ends, “We rejoice in the joy of the possibilities.” The beat of this heart marks the ending of the first section of the book.

The second section, which records exchanges between 1973 and 1987, preserves the question-and-answer format – observation and discussion – so it is somewhat more digressive than the first section, but perhaps more engaging. Its heart beats faster. In many ways it may seem less exciting but it is more experienced, less promising but more polished, yet not having been there I cannot comment on how well it represents the occasions themselves. I would say that they do show a leader who is probing, more deeply than formerly, the content of the Work, perhaps because the members of the group are able to absorb more than they did formerly.

The book ends with a selection of aphorisms. Here are some of the book’s aphoristic expressions or pensées, most of them taken from the text itself and not from the selection devoted to them:

* “Our search is not for miraculous results, not to achieve a result, but to learn a process.”

* “My body knows what it wants, not what I want. I must teach all of my parts what I want.”

* “My Gurdjieff said, ‘I don’t bring you a system of morality, but how to find conscience.’ We must find the outlines of a structure that is more valid.”

* “Only when I have a certain level of being can I be open to a certain level of knowledge.”

* “I remember Mr. Orage saying, ‘I love you,’ said the man. ‘Strange that I feel none the better for it,’ said the woman.”

Readers of the book today may find the presentations of procedures of “the work” and the attitudes that are described in these pages less engaging than did listeners at the time. Some of the passages are more than a half century old; others have aged by at least a quarter century. Much water has passed under the bridge since then, and truisms and oral teaching techniques that were once novel are now found in best-selling books and courses on the human potential movement, leadership training, self-motivation, cognitive therapies, mindfulness training, and on the TED Lectures on the Web. Many of the formulations are indebted to Mr. Gurdjieff, who gave gifts of insight to the world, few of them acknowledged. Nevertheless, here are some of Mrs. Welch’s formulations that struck me as still valid, informative, or interesting:

* We want to go on repeating what belongs to another period. “Mr. Gurdjieff said that he wasn’t interested in anyone over five or under fifty-five.”

* “Gurdjiefff said one third of one’s life should be spent in pondering. Why was I born? Who am I? What is meant by waking sleep?” [This statement comes from the second section. I recall no earlier instances of the use of the word “pondering” in the earlier period, or any references to the importance of “sittings,” now staples of the de Saltzmann period.]

* “To me it is such an extraordinary thing that a Way exists in which one does not have to leave one’s life.”

* “In Movements we have enormous help. We have a taste of what it means to be close to attention.”

* “We are all members of the human race in a bigger way. All this is common to us. If you see this enough you can’t even hate Hitler. He was just a biological mutation of the wrong sort.”

* “When I first went to Mr. Gurdjieff’s apartment, I couldn’t bear the thought of where he was living. After I was there for ten minutes it was the whole world.”

* “Madame Ouspensky said we always have time for a love affair. This is the human condition.”

* “Mind is the greatest thing we have – excuse me, we do not have it. It is there. How do we find access to it?”

* “If wish doesn’t exist, the wish to wish does exist.”

I will end this appreciation of “Meetings with Louise Welch in Toronto” with one oft-repeated remark of Mrs. Welch’s. It is a favourite of mine and I distinctly recall her uttering it on at least two occasions.

She said, “Your aim is to find your aim.”

John Robert Colombo is a prolific author and anthologist with a special interest in offbeat Canadiana and traditional studies. His latest publication is the Foreword to Paul Beekman Taylor’s book “The Real Worlds of G.I. Gurdjieff” (Eureka Editions). Colombo was recently honoured as one of the “100 Graduates of Influence” of his alma mater, University College, University of Toronto. He holds the Harbourfront Literary Award, an honorary D.Litt. From York University in Toronto, and Bulgaria’s Order of Cyril and Methodius (first class). His website is . If you wish to be informed of forthcoming reviews and commentaries on this website, send him an email. His email address is .

Joseph Azize: on Elton John and Leon Russell’s ‘I Should Have Sent Roses’

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I Should Have Sent Roses

Sublime, poignant, elegiac: the first words to spring to mind when I think of this melody from the album The Union, by Elton John and Leon Russell. In Gurdjieff influenced terms, I would say that the person who wrote this had to be in a heightened state of emotional self-consciousness. He had to be present to the workings of his feeling centre to allow this lyrical and sensitive melody to emerge without constricting it. Some melodies owe more to moving centre, others owe more to emotional or intellectual centre, and some, such as this, are products of the higher emotional centre. But you can tell straight away that this was written from somewhere essential. (For an explanation of the centres, see Sophia Wellbeloved, Gurdjieff: The Key Concepts, 133-5; and for “essence”, see 71-3.)

Leon Russell, who has produced some of the most lyrical melodies of the last fifty years (e.g. “This Masquerade” and “Superstar”), reaches new heights with this masterpiece. I would place it almost on a par with the melody of Lennon’s “Jealous Guy”. And yet Leon Russell did not create it: no one but God can create. However, it is to Leon Russell’s credit that he could arrange the melody which arose from somewhere within his “common presence”. What happens in such work, and how we can recognize the operation  are matters I shall address on another occasion.

While my response is, and must be subjective, I feel that the melody perfectly matches the lyrics by Bernie Taupin, which tell the story of a lost love from the point of view of the man who has lost. The boy knows that the girl has gone, and that he bears responsibility. When he was with her, he took her for granted. Ambivalently, he goes on to say both that he would treat her better now, and that she deserves someone more thoughtful. He addresses her with understanding and self-deprecation:

Are you standing outside?

Looking up at the sky, cursing a wandering star?

Well, if I were you, I’d throw rocks at the moon

And I’d say, “Damn you wherever you are!”

This is so apt that it’s almost humorous. A “wandering star” because, perhaps, he did not fit into his place in the order of things. Throwing stones at the moon, maybe because the moon is for lovers and lunatics: she being the lover and he the lunatic.

I don’t know where to start,

This cage round my heart locked up what I meant to say,

What I felt all along the way,

Just wondering how come I couldn’t take your breath away.

At various times we all feel something like this expression of mixed confidence, self-doubt and exasperation – at the same time that he believes she should have been overwhelmed by him, he confesses that he is confounded that she was not. Like Russell, we often feel that we have long wished to express something but that we could not, just could not, because of a sort of emotional tightness. It is as if we would choke were we to try and say it.

‘Cause I never sent roses. I never did enough.

I didn’t know how to love you, though I loved you so much.

And I should have sent roses when you crossed my mind,

For no other reason than the fact you were mine.

This is strange but true: we often feel that we love but do not know how to put that love into action. And of course, there are two errors: to think that an overt action is always needed, and to forget that actions are often needed. It is only people who are thinking philosophically who imagine that no action is needed. If you have read In Search of the Miraculous, it is fatal to take the idea that we “cannot do” in a formatory way to mean that we cannot therefore do anything at all.

Looking back on my life,

If fate should decide to let me do it all over again,

I’d build no more walls.

I’d stay true and recall the fragrance of you on the wind

This is the paradox which Ouspensky paints in unforgettable terms in The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin. We make a mistake, we forget ourselves and our higher aims. Then we believe that if we had the opportunity again we would not fall into the same trap. But should the occasion arise again, we would make exactly the same error: we would forget at exactly the same place. And yet, there is a way to escape from the curse, and that is to remember oneself, hence the importance of Gurdjieff’s ideas and method to religions and religious systems.

The reference to fate is especially interesting to me, because it is a topic which is exercising me at the moment. Fate acts only upon essence, and this song, as I have said, is an essence-song. It is only when we are closer to essence that we can start to have any sense at all of what our destiny or fate is: that is, what it is that we are called to above and beyond the vicissitudes of life. If there is a “law of accident”, there is also a “law of destiny” which works itself out despite whatever other causal connections and chains may be playing themselves out and, I would suggest a “law of miracles” (see “Fate” at 80, “Law of Accident” at 115-6 and “miracle” at 144).

You’ll do better than me.

Someone who can see,

Right from the start give you all that you need

And I’ll slip away, knowing I’m half the man I should be.

There is genuine love here: for love seeks what is best for the beloved irrespective of the cost to oneself. Also, love brings impartiality, and the statement, “knowing I’m half the man I should be”, is a good impartial description of each one of us.

The topic of “lost loves” is a significant one: a person who never wonders about past friendships and romances and why they ended, to use a neutral term, is quite possibly incapable of reflection. I have published on this blog one of the most important pieces I ever transcribed from Mr Adie’s diaries, just on that topic. Bernie Taupin is also responsible for one of the most touching songs Elton John ever wrote, the much under-appreciated “I Feel like a Bullet in the Gun of Robert Ford”. And in each case, “Robert Ford” and “I Should Have Sent Roses”, Taupin was working with one of the greatest songwriters of his generation, and each result has been a masterpiece.

And that brings me, briefly, to the topic of Leon Russell. There is no doubt of his uncanny talent at playing the piano and song writing. As I have already said, I feel that he produced some of the greatest songs of our time. For my money, his piano playing is better even than that of Elton John, and I am an Elton John fan. I remember, in the 70s, thinking that Leon Russell would go on to conquer the world, as they say. But then something happened. What? To an extent, perhaps, he sabotaged his own career. It was never the same with him after the 1975 album Will O’The Wisp. Then, Elton John enticed him to The Union in 2010 (Elton did not have to seduce very hard, it would appear), and Russell’s own account of the production of that album is found on “In the Hands of Angels”.

I have carefully praised the melody and the lyrics rather than the track. I feel that the production is too heavy. Very often, a beautiful melody is obscured by too much backing. If you do listen to this track, try and imaginatively screen out the brass. My own guess is that T-Bone Burnett sensed the beauty of the melody, and tried to raise it to prominence with the trumpets and trombones. But I don’t think it’s worked.

Still, while the arrangement is rather more heavy than I would like, it is extraordinary that after so long out of the public eye, this artist of astounding abilities would return and reveal so much about himself. I think that took strength: the sort of strength which this remarkable song reveals.

8 July 2012

JOSEPH AZIZE has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.

The third book, ‘George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia’ represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.

“Maronites” is pp.279-282 of “The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia” published by Cambridge University Press and edited by James Jupp.

Sufism and the Way of Blame: Azize review


Joseph Azize Book Review


Sufism and the Way of Blame: Hidden Sources of a Sacred Psychology, Yannis Toussulis, with a forward by R.A.H. Darr,

Quest Books, Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, Illinois and Chennai, India

(264 pp. including glossary and bibliography).

This is an important book: it is the most accessible serious living study of Sufism I have read since Reshad Feild’s The Last Barrier, which features Feild’s teacher Bulent Rauf (under the pseudonym “Hamid”). I say “living” study, because it strikes me that its chief aim is not so much to “detail the relationship between Sufism and the controversial way of blame”, as the preface might indicate, as it is to communicate some taste of the life of contemporary Sufism. Toussulis achieves this when he presents the interview in chapter 8 with Mehmet Selim Öziç Bey, which demonstrates that there exists in today’s Sufism a beneficent and tolerant spiritual dimension which is suited to the needs of the time. The rest of the book could be considered as background, setting the stage for this interview. Bey is the only living successor, of Mahmut Sadettin Bilginer (p. 150), while Toussulis is Bey’s pupil (a photograph of them can be found at Bilginer, in turn, was the youngest son of Haci Maksud Hulusi, a Naqshbandi shaykh who was initiated by Pir Nur Al-Arabi (140). On Toussulis’ account, Pir is the pivotal figure in the modern development of the malamatiyya, which is a way of referring to those who follow the way of blame. As Toussulis states, Pir exemplified the “adaptability of Sufism and Islam to contemporary conditions” (118). The icing on the cake, as it were, is appendix 1, the eight page Risala i Salihiyya or “Testament of the Righteous” by Pir himself, translated by Öziç and Darr.


The entire book, therefore, builds up to presenting the formidable figures of Pir and Öziç. Toussulis makes no small claims for them, especially for Pir. Before his death in 1888 (136), Pir Nur Al-Arabi declared that he was a qutb or “pole” (134), meaning that he was the spiritual axis of his own time, at least as far as some Sufis are concerned. Toussulis believes, reasonably enough, that this was critical in his attempt to “unify all the malamatiyya under his own direction” (134). The significance of this appears from chapter 7 of the “Testament”, where Pir writes that the highest station (or “achievement”) possible for anyone is that of qutb. Pir writes of this station: “… I am neither able to explain it, not can you grasp it through anything I might say of it. This station is called ahadiyya al-ayn, or the Station of Muhammad. This station belongs to the Pole of the Age (al-qutb al-zaman). … We are prohibited from striving for it. However, if the Prophet of Allah personally initiates us, it can be tasted, Otherwise it is impossible.” (This passage at 216 is also dealt with and interpreted at 191-192 in the text). {“Ahadiyya al-ayn” literally means “oneness or unity of eye” and “oneness or unity of essence”; the word “3ayn” (the 3 indicates an Arabic letter without European equivalent) means “eye”, “spring”, “source”, “essence”, etc.}


The deepest rationale is to present Öziç and his teaching, at least so far I can discern. This is not simply an academic study for Toussulis. His web site states that he: “is the current director of The Center for Human Inquiry in Emeryville, California where he teaches and conducts research in the practice of cross-cultural negotiation, leadership skills, and contemplative practices. … (he) combines academic qualifications … with practical expertise gained from his thirty-year long experience in Mental Health Services. (He) conducts a separate private practice as a family psychotherapist … So he is an interesting character and is attempting to take his Sufism into areas of broader life where it can have an effect on people who are not themselves Sufi. As I have often said in this blog, I think that more “esotericists” should be making this effort.


But the book attempts to also project a new picture of the relationship between Sufism and the way of blame. In doing so, it aims to reconfigure our picture of what we might expect to find within Islam (along with those elements more in the public eye). The book is both a scholarly study and an accessible account of one aspect of modern Sufism. It therefore combines readability with a solid, directed focus. Unlike most scholarly works on Sufism, it is not too dry; and unlike most popular books on Sufism, it is not too weak on content. There is still profound knowledge in certain areas of modern Sufism: and Toussulis has managed to convey something of this.

 However, the heart of it really is the interview, and sadly, I don’t feel that I can do that justice without lengthy quotes. It means that the review will be a little lopsided, but there are other issues I can cover where I think other reviewers are less likely to speak, and so, while stressing the book’s value and the significance of the interview with Bey, I shall pass on to four matters: Toussulis’ treatment of Sufism in general, of three modern mavericks (Gurdjieff, Schuon and Shah), of the way of blame, and the title.



Toussulis states that: “The core of Sufism … is to discover one’s non-existence in the face of something more convincingly real” (6). This is a plausible interpretation, but of course, it is very vague: this is true of other systems. Also, I find “non-existence” more misleading than phrases such as “inchoate reality”, or even “relative” or “uncompleted”, because it is not right to say that we don’t exist. But it is true to say that we don’t exist as we could. So, what is specific to Sufism? Toussulis does not address other philosophies and systems, and when he speaks of Gurdjieff, he wrongly sees him as a Sufi of sorts, so Toussulis does not answer this question. If I could garner an answer from this book, it would probably be the Islamic dimension makes Sufism specific, especially, perhaps the position of Muhammad (who features prominently as a visitor in dreams and visions, a matter which I find unhappily redolent of Leadbeater and the “masters”).


I think that there’s a problem with Toussulis’ definition of Sufism: as he very correctly states: “… Sufism is a multiplex phenomenon and … the essence of Sufi spirituality can never be fully examined outside of its varying interpretations and sociohistorical contexts” (8, a point he makes again at 31 and 36). This being so, one cannot really speak of the core of Sufism, but only of the core of a particular strand of Sufism. If Toussulis can see an anomaly here, he does not directly deal with it. This brings me to what I perceive as the major weakness in Toussulis’ treatment of Sufism: I do not accept that “Sufism” is a homogenous entity, although everyone speaks about it as if it were. I doubt that it is even as coherent a phenomenon as “socialism”, for example. Indeed, it seems to me that “Sufism” is as often as not a misleading term. Some Sufis are little more than Islamic-political groupings, and others are effectively magician/exorcists within Islam. Some Sufis, on the other hand, cannot really be called Muslim at all: Frithjof Schuon whom Toussulis seems to see through but fails to expose (20), was one. Other Sufis are genuine mystics, and so on. All that these various Sufis have in common is the name. To think that all Sufis, sharing the one name, must share some essential quality is to believe in words.


Our ignorance does not end there. Although Toussulis is of the view that “Sufism is … rooted in, and shaped by Islamic thought” (201), the fact of the matter, at least as I see it, is that we do not know the true origins of Sufism. “Sufism” is a congeries of currents: each must be separately studied. Some – even most – Sufis are rooted in and shaped by Islamic thought, but not all. Attempts to locate Sufi origins within Islam are tendentious: many dogmatically declare this to be so. Even Hans Küng, in his study of Islam, accepts the standard line. But the Muslim accounts of the origins of Sufism are late, and even these associate it with characters such as “Suleiman the Persian” (note that he bears a Jewish/ Christian name and hails from outside Arabia) and other mysterious personages. Attempts to link Muhammad with Sufism are simply unpersuasive. Too much which is well-established about Muhammad tells against this. I do not believe that a mystic could have massacred the Jewish tribe of the Qurayza, as Muhammad did. True, I have a particular view of what is involved in mysticism, and I should be prepared to be surprised: but I am not prepared to be that surprised, Gurdjieff’s puzzling view of Muhammad notwithstanding. Julian Baldick amongst others sees Isaac of Nineveh and Syriac Christianity as having been instrumental in the origin of Sufism. I have some sympathy with their position, but although his Mystical Islam: An Introduction to Sufism, easily demonstrates that historical strands of Sufism have owed tremendous debts to extra-Islamic sources, such as shamanism, he does not demonstrate Isaac’s influence. As matters stand today, we do not know what the origins of Sufism were. We can only describe various people and movements who either called themselves Sufis or were called that by others. However, the type of Sufism I find interesting is the type which is not exclusively Muslim. One of Toussulis’ chief goals is to promote this Sufism. For his treatment of Sufism and Islam, and the possibility of “supraconfessionalism” where Muslims and Christians combine in one Sufi order, refer to pp. 42, 116-117, 132, 149, 187-189 and 202-203.


Three Mavericks: Gurdjieff, Schuon and Shah


Unfortunately, Toussulis is not a historian, and his account if Gurdjieff is flawed. The bibliography lists only one book by Gurdjieff (Meetings) and none by Ouspensky. Without reading Gurdjieff’s own material, especially Beelzebub and (for the practical side) the lectures in Life Is Real, with Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous, it is not possible to have a sound idea of Gurdjieff’s ideas. Toussulis relies too much on Moore, who while competent and confident, is not always reliable. If one is to use Moore, one should have regard to Taylor’s New Life, which corrects most of Moore’s errors, but Toussulis does not.


Even so, some of Toussulis’ mistakes cannot be laid to Moore’s account. Toussulis states that the film of Meetings opens with “the young Gurdjieff traveling throughout the Near East with a group called the ‘Seekers of Truth’ (44). But when it opens Gurdjieff is with his father: the Seekers come sometime later. The Babylonian period does not date to “ca. 2500 BCE” (45): it is at least 700 years later. Gurdjieff did not assume “that all of humanity was gradually evolving into a new form of consciousness” (49). In fact, I have no idea how this idea comes to be associated with Gurdjieff. I see no similarity between Gurdjieff’s idea of a “unified I”, and anything in Freud (50). Gurdjieff did not say that there are “seven form of self” (51). However, he did give a seven-fold definition of man (Miraculous 71-73) which is not at all “directly derived” from the Sufi maqamat: Gurdjieff’s concern is with entirely different categories. Toussulis affirms a Sufi origin for some but not all of Gurdjieff’s movements (46). I will grant that point for the Mevlevi turning, and that he called some of his movements dervishes, but the strange thing is that no dervishes are known to have used them. I would like to see some evidence, for the “dervishes” and especially for the Obligatories, the most basic movements of all.


The assertion that Ouspensky grafted Theosophical ideas into Gurdjieff’s system (48) is baffling. Ouspensky was a purist. He meticulously noted where ideas he taught came from other sources. The only significant examples of this I know are his use of the Philokalia and his idea of recurrence. Neither of these are “theosophical”. In fact, Ouspensky was an arch-critic of Theosophy, having good words for very few of their productions. It is unfairly dismissive, to say that “Madame de Salzmann, Madame Ouspensky and others continued to spread remnants of the method” (58). What does Toussulis mean by of “remnants” of the method? Toussulis implies a sort of second-rate blind continuation of a barely understood legacy. I am far from being an uncritical admirer of de Salzmann, but this is cavalier treatment of someone who, from what I can see, had understood Gurdjieff as well as anyone else and better than most. To my mind, these women were towering figures.


Toussulis described Shah as “hardly an impostor” (56). Then, why does he provide some good grounds (54, 57 and 59) to say that Shah was fully a fraud? Even on Toussulis’ account, Shah comes across as deeply cynical and miracle-mongering. Unfortunately, after Gurdjieff’s death, Bennett was in a very emotional state, and already disposed to believe that “all his geese were the Archangel Michael” as he said once, and so he was vulnerable to Shah’s impostures. But this line is rather sad: the real shame is that Gurdjieff and Shah are tangential to Toussulis’ central point. He could, and should, have left them out, and said more about Pir and his direct predecessors and successors. The deeper reason, perhaps, for Toussulis’ interest in Gurdjieff is that – it seems to me from the slender indications in this book – that Toussulis came to Sufism through reading Bennett (63).


But Gurdjieff is not within Toussulis’ areas of expertise. Toussulis does not refer to Random’s essay on Gurdjieff and the way of blame in Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections. The lure of including Gurdjieff and making the book more comprehensive led Toussulis astray, and more is the shame.


I am also puzzled by Toussulis’ take on Schuon and his Maryamiyya. In Sufism: Veil and Quintessence, if I remember correctly, Schuon makes the most extraordinary blatantly racist comments about the “rich poverty” of Islam and Semites in general as contrasted with Aryans (if you can believe it!), and, as I recall it, rather casually made a defamatory remark about Semitic spirituality. I do not have my library with me, but when I read that, I felt that he had to be unbalanced, at least. What I later learned about the “sacred nudity” of the Maryamiyya, vouched to me by someone who had been a member of that movement, confirmed my opinion. Incidentally, a member of the Gurdjieff Foundation once told me, at least a trifle amused, that S.H. Nasr had expostulated to her when she asked a question about Schuon, that Schuon was “most certainly the predecessor of the Mahdi”. This makes me wonder how sincere Nasr can be in saying that the tariqa or spiritual way can be reached only through the shari’ah or Islamic law (21). Nasr must know that this is untrue.


The Way of Blame

Toussulis presents a new picture of the way of blame. He basically sees it as that aspect of Sufism where one is prepared to be critical of oneself. He summarises Ibn al-Arabi as follows:


malamatis … were called blameworthy because their rank, or spiritual station, did not reveal itself. They did not appear different from ordinary people because they did not make a show of religious devotion, nor did they crave any miraculous powers. Instead, they remained focused on removing the slightest taint of egoism from themselves. … they “blamed”, ceaselessly critiqued their own egocentricity for obscuring their access to God” (41, see also 73, 82, 84, 113 and 189).


The idea that all malamatis were heterodox and performed shocking or socially unacceptable acts is noted (84), but Toussulis explains why that is not true of all the movement. I found that very interesting, especially the role of Hallaj in this (79), but I am not convinced. Material available on Wikipedia, states that: “According to Annemarie Schimmel, ‘the Malāmatīs deliberately tried to draw the contempt of the world upon themselves by committing unseemly, even unlawful, actions, but they preserved perfect purity of thought and loved God without second thought’ (Schimmel 86). Schimmel goes on to relate a story illustrative of such actions: ‘One of them was hailed by a large crowd when he entered a town; they tried to accompany the great saint; but on the road he publicly started urinating in an unlawful way so that all of them left him and no longer believed in his high spiritual rank’ (quoted in Schimmel 86).” The book the anonymous Wikipedia refers to is Schimmel’s classic Mystical Dimensions of Islam. The quote is one that I more or less remembered, because, I cannot see that Gurdjieff – or Toussulis’ teachers – fall within just that tradition.


So, how do we reconcile the two? If the way of blame is nothing but being prepared to be critical of oneself, it differs from no other religious system. Every religious and spiritual system demands self-understanding, although how they express this may differ (examination of conscience, etc.). In the end, it seems to me that we’re speaking about two different things, but calling both of them the way of blame. In this respect, Toussulis’ treatment is similar to his approach to Sufism. The new theory of the way of blame is interesting, but too weak to cover all the people assigned to it.


Incidentally, I have never been convinced of Hallaj’s spiritual understanding, and it is typical of Toussulis’ strengths that he feels the need to balance out some of Hallaj’s extreme statements (bottom 80). That is, the common idea of “union with God without distinction” is not the whole truth. As Toussulis states, there is a necessary separation of the individual from God both before and after these experiences. I am surprised that Toussulis attributes this sensible and accurate qualification to Muhammad, and disappointed that he provides no reference for this. In reality, as Gurdjieff said, there is no complete and true union with God, although I can well imagine that – as Gurdjieff said – daydreaming associated with intense work of the emotions may produce a sensation of “cosmic consciousness” (Miraculous 116).


The Title

I am not sure about the subtitle. No spiritual psychology emerged with real clearness, at least not to my mind. There are references to the many selves and to human faculties, but these are not major themes. It could have been subtitled “spiritual visions” with as much if not more justice. Neither were the sources really “hidden” so much as abstruse.


There are hidden sources for Sufism, but this book does not refer to them, and I think that one has to respect their decision to remain hidden, and not publicize them.


A miscellaneous point: there are some minor errors, for example, on p. 19 Schuon died in 1984 while on the next page he died in 1998, the accurate date. Falcons will find typos on pp. xx, 11, 91, 131, 137, 189, 191 and 205.



As I have said, the book is the best work on Sufism I have read in a very long time. Toussulis aims to, and succeeds, in presenting an attractive and stimulating picture of the modern strand of Sufism to which he belongs. But Toussulis’ strength is making positive statements. His is not a particularly discriminating intellect, and when he deals with people like Shah and Schuon, he seems to feel that if he is intellectually critical, this will mean that he is giving in to negative emotion. But this is not so: as Ouspensky correctly said, we have so many negative emotions because we do not have a sufficiently negative attitude to them. If someone suggests rape, pillage and murder, the only sane response is robustly negative. So, too, Toussulis has not, in my opinion, sufficiently critiqued the materials before him.


Sufism is not a unity, in any sense of the term. And Toussulis has all the knowledge needed to see this, but he does not sufficiently follow through his own research and findings. The same issue means that he does not see that the way of blame is not a unity: which has the unfortunate result that, in the weakest chapter of the book, he wrongly assigns people like Gurdjieff to it, when it would be better if he left the “mavericks” out and told us more about Turkish Sufism, and covered people like Rauf and Feild.

Joseph Azize (


 JOSEPH AZIZE  has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies.    His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.

The third book, ‘George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia’ represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.

“Maronites” is pp.279-282 of “The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia” published by Cambridge University Press and edited by James Jupp.


Constantinople Notes on the Transition to Man Number Four

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Joseph Azize

Constantinople, Turkey c 1890 – 1900

Mindful of the approach of 29 October 2010, I have prepared extracts from a typed and manually corrected manuscript which Mr Adie gave me to study called the “Constantinople Notes of Mr. Ferapontoff”. If I understand correctly, the author was Boris Ferapontoff, who was a pupil of Gurdjieff in Russia, in Constantinople, and was again with him at the Prieuré. At the Prieuré, he was a movements demonstrator, and apparently correctly predicted that he would die young. I am pretty sure that I read somewhere that he travelled to Australia. That is all I know. Attempts to locate his literary executors, if any, have proved fruitless.

What is the material? I think that, as one person said, much of it may be based on lectures Ouspensky gave in Turkey. Some of it seems to me to be pure Gurdjieff, although Ouspensky could quote Gurdjieff directly, so one cannot be dogmatic. Various ideas in these notes, e.g. those concerning karma, were never referred to by Ouspensky in “Miraculous”, “Psychology”, “New Model” or in any of his reported questions and answers. That makes me think that these notes are unlikely to be Ouspensky’s words alone, because had Ouspensky ever expressed these powerful ideas, why would he apparently discard them, especially as he stated that he aimed to pass on the system as he had received it and as a whole? Also, one of the comments about the Absolute (not in this selection) makes the Absolute sound like God, and Ouspensky repudiated that suggestion. If the sound of Gurdjieff comes through loud and clear in this extract, it’s in the pithy comment about “perspicacity”.

At the end of the day, there seems to me something unique about these notes which makes me conjecture that they represent the fruit of Ferpontoff’s own understanding of his time with both Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. I think that the material deserves full publication, and would suggest a properly edited production with cross-references to other published material, including Tchetchovitch’s French notes.

I have chosen some short extracts from passages titled “Attitude to Psychology”, “The Emotional Centre”, “Work in relation to Centres”, “Work of Centres”, and “Matter of Centres”. I have edited the extracts to have a loose theme of the transition to man number four. This sample begins by stressing the necessity of having an aim. It states that the system is, above all, practical (one might add that if it isn’t taken practically, it turns into its opposite: it becomes a soporific drug). I was also struck, even warmed, by what is said about the work of the emotional centre, and pleasant sensations.

Sometimes the text is enigmatic, if not obscure. I have not tampered with it at all except to exercise editorial discretion and sometimes remove entire sentences where I judged that the material was not sufficiently striking to warrant reproduction. It isn’t as if the material isn’t all of a remarkable quality: it patently is. But for a piece like this, I thought it better not to needlessly restate here what is already familiar to us from other books. I trust, however, that enough of the background has been included to provide a good background to the practical hints with which the text abounds.

I have used three dots to indicate where I have omitted text. In Mr Adie’s typescript, there were some corrections. I have reproduced below the text as corrected, that is, I have omitted the excised typed words and have not given any special indication of the few words which were written in by hand. None of the amendments were mine, and neither is the handwriting Mr Adie’s., or respond via comments box at end of post

Attitude to Psychology

Everything is from outside. … The system is purely practical. Everyone who begins to study it must ask himself what he wants. … We have in us a possibility of a higher, finer knowledge. … Study of man is useful only in connection with study of possibilities.

The emotional centre.

Even for it distance no longer exists. Feeling cannot be permanent in man, unless it is connected with consciousness. Inverse unwinding of impressions. There is no control of emotions, even apparent control does not exist. Spinoza: emotion can only be conquered with emotion. Categories in emotional centre: fear, curiosity. Fear and lies. Only they can conquer emotions in sleep. Work has other methods.

Lying to oneself. Calling the bad good. You cannot help lying and you will not help it. Distribution of time is such that no time is left for self-observation.

What a tremendous number of fears! This emotion should only be studied; all the manifestations of so-called bravery are fear. Real bravery is something quite different. It is hard to give up suffering. We like to dream about unpleasantnesses. … Prevailing emotions may become the negative force. The emotional centre can be moved by different motors, different accumulators. Often the accumulator of emotions takes part in intellectual work. Emotional centre can understand the work of formatory apparatus. The principle of passionlessness in religions.

The emotional centre solves problems quicker but it is impossible to remember. … All pleasant sensations are useful. For, instance, smoking in a given form is balanced. Biological meaning of an unpleasant sensation is a warning of danger.

Work in relation to centres.

In the domain of moving centre: observation of pulsation. Pulsation must be mastered, otherwise many experiments will be impossible. 2) sensation of parts of the body, 3) relaxing muscles.

For the thinking centre: concentration, stopping thoughts.

For the emotional centre it is first of all necessary to free oneself from unnecessary unpleasantnesses. All pleasant sensations are useful.

The emotional centre is the starting point. Only after acquiring the second emotional centre can one acquire the thinking, making it connect with the others.

Perspicacity. It should be stolen from another centre which has it.

Work of Centres.

Incomplete work. Only formatory apparatus works to its full capacity. Man works with a very small part of his energy. A cultured man is a man who is being cultivated, who has deve1oped all that is possible. Uncultured man is divided into three categories. Man No 2 and 3 is usually the result of work.

The outpouring of energy from one of the centres. It is as though the driving belt has been taken off. We do not know how to use the emotional apparatus, we do not know how to set tasks for our thought.

With incomplete work of the factory not all the substances are produced. Dullness with a chronic cold in the head. Each organ has several functions, even the stomach.

Matter of Centres.

Each centre produces its own substances which spread out like a cloud. It also spends.

Theory of hormones. Each function requires a definite substance. To possess all substances. Not only to wish, but to be able, and to have the wherewithal to awake.

Fa 96 also feeds the organism by collecting radiations. Some throw away the ends of rays, others absorb them. Imagination and worry throw them away. One can be more tired after an hour of dreaming than after a day of work. We dream more of unpleasant things. The matter of formatory apparatus is more coarse, that of the moving centre is finer and that of the emotional still finer. We are too fond of being tired. We have huge reserves. What he1ps and what hinders. The apparatus proves to be stronger. To add qualities by accumulation of matter.

Excess. Normal work corresponds to accumulating matter. We must have excess. Only then is the work of higher emotional centre possible. There are means of increasing accumulation.

Man No 4. Each centre does its own work without interfering in the work of another. Work without superfluous expenditure of energy. No 4 is not produced by life. Broadening knowledge only by perfecting the apparatus. The first task is to balance the centres. It is necessary to find the memory of each centre. Which centre is working now? Does it work rightly? As a rule the work of centres is automatic. Noteworthy moments. To catch and to continue. To seeks means of awakening. Only when you know the taste of each centre is it possible to judge whether a given work is right. Concentration is at present impossible: adjusting the apparatus. Observing separate centres is the beginning of self-study. It is the first step. To begin from the central point with the representation which evoked the thought. Cramming. Saturation. The organism has to be saturated with substances. New organs may result from deposits of substances. Connection with the emotional centre as a result of a deposit. No driving belts.

Crystallisation after saturation. Only with saturation. But there is too little of some substances, a special effort is required.

Fusion. Our usual consciousness is consciousness of what is on the surface. Vessel with powders. Powders change place. No fusion. Man No 4 is a man who always understands in the same way. Understanding depends on what one understands with.

Fusion means a whole. Personality as one whole. Magnetising the alloy. Imbibing the substances. Acquired qualities can be lost. Fixing is acquisition of the fourth body. Fire can be due to many causes. Fixing by means of fire. Fire as the result of friction. Friction as the result of struggle between “yes” and “no”. A long process. If one conquers at once there is no struggle. Fire as result of effort. Struggle to create some kind of unity. Inimical attitude to oneself: one begins, another ends. If all struggle is concentrated on increasing consciousness there can be no wrong fusion. Struggle with the unconscious.

Wrong fusion can result even from arduous work. Necessary to break up. Wrong fusion may make the formation of the second body impossible. Wrong fusion can result, for instance, in connection with understanding what is good and what is evil, or on the basis of some fear. Wrong crystallisation in sleep when a mask is being formed.

At first struggle is only to accumulate material. The method is individual. One needs one thing, another another thing. Another may need not only not to destroy his small ‘I’s but to acquire new ones. One should begin with some very small habit. Sometimes it is very

difficult to conquer it, for it is connected with others. If one struggles with one habit several disappear.

One can increase energy only by the struggle between “yes” and “no”. If one wants one thing, to do another. Awakening needs energy. The most difficult thing is to see one’s  preponderant desire. Intentional and unintentional lies, fear, greed. Usually the chief feature is the best hidden from man. Until one begins to dissect oneself. All other features are also bad. We do not realize that we have never once made an effort in our life. But effort influenced by necessity or desire is no effort. To remember oneself is an effort, because no external shock can force us.

Effort for the sake of consciousness. Passive life. Struggle with habits gives a taste of effort, inner effort. Effort of the whole mass of shocks. If there is no struggle, there is no fixing. Struggle between different qualities. Only that which conquers can become fixed. Much will be thrown away. Inner struggle and struggle between centres


JOSEPH AZIZE has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.

The third book, George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.

“Maronites” is pp.279-282 of “The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia” published by Cambridge University Press and edited by James Jupp.



October 25, 2010 at 1:40 pm



Conscious change starts when a person sacrifices their unconscious suffering in order to intentionally experience the impulse of conscience. Prior to that point, everything is preparation. Awareness of sensation, self-observation, even “remembering oneself”, only prepare the ground for that sacrifice and for the new life which immediately follows, being, as it is, under both the law of grace and the law of cause and effect. Or so I believe.

If our spiritual efforts do not include feeling, they will atrophy and falter, and everything can be lost. We can come to the starting point, turn away, and end up as far away as we ever were. In fact, a person’s fate is harsher if they have finally found the threshold, but then turned back. Why? Because one then has a history of having retreated from that point. It becomes easier to retreat a second time. There is something in us which is practically waiting to justify retreat, even to turn negative in respect of the way. Having once backed off, you know that you can back off, and it becomes harder than ever to make the indispensible commitments to conscious labour and intentional suffering.

These commitments are, I believe, indispensible to crossing the threshold to more durable states. There are states available for us in which the entirety of our feeling is positive feeling. Negative emotion is utterly passive, even impossible, in such a state. Such states can last not only for days, but for weeks, and if they can last for weeks, they can last for months. You can see where the equation is heading. Permanent change of being to a significantly higher level is possible. And it always begins with a growth in feeling. I mean that it immediately begins with a growth in feeling. For that, we must earn many small and one major victory over negative emotion.

To die to the life of negative emotions is to awaken from a fever: it literally feels that way. The air becomes brighter, the world acquires a further visual dimension, and memories of how we used to be seem not so much unreal as “now impossible”, like some former House of Parliament in sepia postcards.

Mysteries are resolved by the peaceful light. For example, how is it that the more we feel our separate individuality the more we feel a connection with other people? Doesn’t that strike you as odd? It has puzzled but not perplexed me that when I identify with others, there is actually less relation between us, and less feeling than when I am more aware of myself and not so identified. In a state where feeling is active for more than a flash, our eyes have sufficiently continuous light, and all falls into place: we see that different levels coexist.

Our unity is at a higher level. Difference and diversity do really exist at one level, perhaps even exists more truly than we had ever appreciated. We simultaneously perceive, without having to enquire, that at another level we are in a more intimate relation to each other than we could ever have thought. It is as if we are inside each other. On that level, each of us is also more truly themselves, and the ground of our unity is so bright we cannot miss it. This ground of unity is nothing other than the fact that, as Gurdjieff said, behind real ‘I’ lies God. We really do come from God, and we really are made to return to him. That is the divine plan Mrs Staveley spoke of.

So it seems to me that self-observation and self-remembering can lead to conscious change only to the extent that they include an affirmative feeling of conscience; otherwise, the action of self-remembering will always be preliminary. I don’t like to be too dogmatic about this, but my experience is as it is. Also, this interpretation corresponds to Gurdjieff’s ideas, being supported by comments made by both himself and Ouspensky.

It is not that self-observation and self-remembering won’t lead to change. They will. But with only a modest amount of conscious feeling, they have only a modest an effect. A small effect is better than none, but will take literally hundreds of years to lead to a change of level of being, if indeed the results are not forever being swept away before they crystallize.

No one can live without feeling, and if I can see or remember myself, then feeling will be there more consciously. So we can never say that we don’t have some feeling. But if it’s not sufficiently present to be the temporary centre of my consciousness, then, for practical purposes, it’s absent. From one perspective, it’s worse to have glimpses of this feeling-presence than not to know that glimpses are possible. People often find that a moment of presence has an after-effect which leaves us depressed, rather like coming down. “Why,” we wonder, “is this freedom so elusive? Where was this power when I lost my temper the other day?” The experience of making effort after effort and perennially coming only to temporary change of being can lead to despondency and even to despair.

It is, of course, significant to come to a point preliminary to genuine change, to stand before the doorway to another level of life.

But preliminaries only mean something if they lead to achievement: their meaning is realized when I go through the door. If we start to fete the door and forget that we have to go through it, we may as well never have found it.

It is feeling which motivates and enables us to make the passage, leaving behind the old, and entering the new life, unknown and yet, at the same time, intimately intuited. To be precise, the experience of sacrificing unconscious suffering and its fruit in the gnawing of conscience lead to an entire octave of motivation and capacity: we feel at once the fever of the past, our present position, and the objective promise of the future, and we also feel other things, perhaps even ineffable. So I won’t try and describe that more.

The minds of the body and the intellect don’t like blind corners: and neither does the feeling intelligence. But feeling can “see” around corners, so to speak. The intellect needs data for comparison and deduction, while feeling has only one datum, as it were. But feeling penetrates that datum, and can perceive its multiple layers or aspects. A naked feeling of confidence grounds trust in a way that a thousand reasons never will.

Gurdjieff said that the way begins above the level of life, and that much work is needed to come to the threshold. I think that some of his meaning may have been this need to have feeling operate as the centre of consciousness for more than a short time. Conscience can be present long enough to persuade us that permanent change of being is possible. Without that, I rather think that something sceptical or “faithless” in us will always want reassurance. This, to my mind, sheds light on Mr Adie’s statement that “faith is based on fact”. Gurdjieff said that faith was a divine impulse. Yet, we say little about faith unless we mean “blind belief”. The faith which provides a light when all seems eclipsed (to paraphrase Aquinas) is barely acknowledged. I think this is because that faith can only be an active fact or in us when one can bear the gnawing of conscience long enough for feeling to penetrate to something essential in us.

Because we can only work on bodies – we have literally nothing else to work on – a growth in feeling must be a crystallization of the Body Kesdjan (Persian for “the spirit of the soul”, or, in Bennett’s paraphrase, “the vessel of the soul”, if I recall correctly).

As the feeling body crystallizes, it evokes a conscious sensation which is deeper, more whole and inclusive than anything otherwise imagined. Of course we’re bound to make our first efforts by using our minds, such as they are. If one is fortunate, one can participate in movements classes or something else which can help us more continuously sustain consciousness of sensation. But conscious sensation is only a means to the end of consciousness of feeling. All too soon, the physical body must die. Endurance and immortality are properties of the other bodies (in religious terms, the soul and spirit).

There is even a danger in focussing on sensation with the eye of a Cyclops: if we forget about feeling, all our efforts with sensation will serve only to mesmerize us, to keep us in a state of obsession with sensation.

If you’re reading this blog you probably know that the role of sensation is tremendous. It is necessary for physical life. But that is only its first function. Like much else in nature, it is designed to serve multiple purposes. One of these purposes is that consciousness of sensation seals in the Body Kesdjan, or perhaps helps to keep the formation of the Body localised so that the higher hydrogens used in its crystallization are not dissipated. Further, the sort of sensation one has when the initiative has come not from the mind but from the feeling is beyond words. I say that when feeling is available for long enough, it calls the sensation because, being of a higher intelligence, it knows what it has to do to preserve and sustain itself. But it is too weak to do so until a certain stage has been reached.

That stage cannot be attained to unless the struggle with negative emotions has reached a critical level, when the human machine has been substantially cleaned. Even before negative emotion is made utterly passive, significant changes will start to appear. That is one of the beauties of the human organism: it is flexible enough to allow encouraging anticipations, and we can see what lies ahead, at least for one step. It is like anything else in life: the development is subject to the law of octaves. We advance, fall back, advance, fall back and so on. But if we’re wise, and we use our heads (instead of disparaging the intellect and giving all the emphasis to sensation) we can even profit from our setbacks.

I shall pause here: I want to try and make this clear, assuming, of course, that what I say bears some relationship to the truth of the matter. I am saying that a sense of presence, of being “different” as is often said, is good and necessary. But it is good and necessary because it is a means to a higher end. Even if we described that end as “a greater intensity of presence”, we would be wrong. It’s a presence with unique qualities of dimension and duration.

Higher levels of presence include dimensions of feeling, intelligence and, I would say, intuition, of something inimitable and ineffable. And these levels of presence become more connected and longer lasting. When they retreat, they don’t retreat in the same way: they remain nearby, you can feel their touch through a membrane somewhere inside, as it were. They bring us back more quickly when we fall, and they enable us to see more clearly what is needed. Having had continuous consciousness of feeling for a period of weeks, you can never cease to believe in the reality of the new man. This greater intensity brings us to the raw moment of work on ourselves, that is, immediate work on our bodies, not merely on our thoughts or reordering our emotional lives, necessary as those efforts are.

I’ll take the analogy of travel. I want to go, say, from Clyde to Carlingford by train. I could tell you, quite truthfully, that to get there I must go through Rosehill to get there. In fact, Rosehill is the first station after Clyde. But I could also have equally truthfully said “no gets from Clyde to Carlingford unless they first pass through Camellia”. To get to Carlingford, I also have to travel through Rydalmere, Dundas and Telopea, which are further down the line. The statements are all true, but if I think in a formatory way, I will see a contradiction. The whole truth and the nothing but the truth is that each of these stations must be passed in a given order.

I think (I would say that I am sure), that something similar happens in respect of the inner journey. We can only get there through self-observation. We can only get there through self-remembering. We can only get there through sensation, through feeling, through conscience, through awakening the mind, and so on. All are true.

But what is this aim for which all of these steps are necessary? The far aim of which I speak is, and only sanely can be “theosis”, the experience of the Absolute: the infinite and eternal, all-encompassing presence which depends on nothing else. I am speaking, then, of the beatific vision, mystical communion with God. Even what I have said about feeling is subject to this.

But our position is that we, and everyone we know and know of, are stuck at Clyde. We’ve never seen anything else, and no one we know unarguably has, either. Not surprisingly, some people deny that there is anything beyond Clyde. If we eventually even get to the road sign to Rosehill, we’re rapt in wonder, at least for a while. The sense of wonder disappears, and to keep it alive we invent rituals of anointing the sign and laying flowers before it. Anyone who can make a good claim to have been to Rosehill strikes us as extraordinary. We start to identify with them, and imitate them. We think that we’re honouring the journey and the destination, but really, all our little reverences have the effect of keeping us where we are, miles from feeling. We get so used to hearing that Carlingford is so far away that we come to think “Rosehill is good enough for me”.

I have written before about the romance of the search: that is pertinent here. Searching only has meaning if there is a possibility of finding. Anyone who thinks that there’s virtue or merit in looking without hope of discovering is, literally, mad. Of course, they might not be mad in every possible respect, but in that one they are. It can be dressed up however one likes, but the idea that we are always searching is lunacy. We search only until we find. Maybe then a further search will beckon: that is quite possible, but that’s a different matter.

The practical vice of the “romance of the search” is that it keeps us at preliminaries. Too often, material I have read states or implies that a permanent change of being is not possible: we can only be present “in-between”, as it were. This is true, but it isn’t the whole truth. If we are present for a moment, even “present in-between”, we can be present for two moments, and three moments, and so on. We can be present at a higher level of being. That higher level can be long-term, and therefore it can be permanent.

It is possible to become man number 4, but how would this be possible if one did not have faith (not belief) in the possibility? I cannot imagine that the chances of a change of level of being increase if one never even thinks about man number 4, and what qualities such a person would have. I’m rather inclined to think the opposite.

And according to Ouspensky, who I am sure was speaking from his own experience, but may have had it from Gurdjieff, too: the chief difference between man numbers 1, 2 and 3 and number 4 is that number 4 has conscience. In other words, such a person is available to feeling. That is the difference. The impressions which usually would call forth, as it were, negative emotions, are received. We can even sense that something in us is ready to react in anger, jealousy, or hatred, and so on. But feeling is present, or at least its influence is, and the third force (the self-indulgent attitude) required for the manifestation of negative emotions is not there at the locus of these forces. The moment passes, and rather than negative emotion , feeling, and perhaps even a representative of conscience appears.

In A Record of Meetings (a much under-utilized book which has fortunately been reissued by Eureka), someone asked Ouspensky whether man number 4 was free of negative emotions. No, replied Ouspensky, not free of them, that would be too much to expect. So number 4 is vulnerable to negative emotion, but has conscience in respect of them. He is changing in respect of them, he is profiting from them and making them passive. He is, so to speak, eating them.

When sustained feeling is available, one is present. Not absolutely present: perhaps only God is absolutely present (Ouspensky says that perhaps only God can say ‘I’). But if we cannot say that we are absolutely present, yet we can know that we have reality. We feel safe both inside and safe to other people. We see where we went wrong, and why. This by no means makes us infallible: it’s a danger to believe so. But we have an intuition that we could come to a stage where we could actually think: and in such a state the possibilities of thinking appear astounding.

3 July 2010

Joseph Azize has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.

The third book, George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.

“Maronites” is pp.279-282 of “The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia” published by Cambridge University Press and edited by James Jupp.


review of ‘IT’S UP TO OURSELVES’



John Robert Colombo briefly notes the characteristics of an enjoyable tome of a book by Jessmin and Dushka Howarth

It was in the middle of the 1950s that I first encountered the writings of P.D. Ouspensky and through his ideas I engaged with the theory and practice introduced by G.I. Gurdjieff. To this day I visualize the Work from the vantagepoint of an unreconstructed Ouspenskian as well as through the filter of the Fifties, the period of the Cold War with all of its polarities, with the battle between ideologies, and with the ever-presence of subversive ideas in both East and West.

I am inclined to visualize the scenes of Ouspensky in Moscow and Gurdjieff in Paris in the tone of sepia but framed in black and white. The Work is in soft-focus and far in the past. It is not yet called the Gurdjieff Work, or not yet called the Fourth Way. Instead, it is known as the Special Doctrine, which was the term Ouspensky used to permit himself to distinguish between this “school of thought” from his earlier philosophical, theosophical, and mathematical speculations. That continued to be a problem for him.

The special and private perspective that I have been describing may very well be shared by people who came to maturity with “fragments of an unknown teaching” in the late Forties and early Fifties. The perspective is that of a Wisdom tradition that is inimical to Western values generally, a tradition that appeared in the West in 1912 and over the next two decades came to the attention of a discerning public in literary and artistic circles through through Ouspensky’s lectures in London and Gurdjieff’s activities in Paris and at Fontainebleau-on-Avon.

So in my mind’s eye, I still see the appearance of these ideas as accomplishments in the past, not contributions to New Age thought of the Sixties. Students of the Work who are younger than I was then have the opportunity (especially after reading the book that I am about to discuss) to view the Work on a wide-screen in Technicolor with Dolby Sound. No sepia or black and white for them! What grew with effort out of the soil of pre-Revolutionary Russia was able to survive the Communist Revolution, the Great War, the Great Depression, and the Second World War. Now much that was merely words and counter-revolutionary history has been brought to life and given flesh and blood through the efforts of two extraordinarily able women, a mother and a daughter, inspired by G.I. Gurdjieff.

In due course I discovered books by Rom Landau, Kenneth Walker, J.B. Bennett, and others, and eventually the foundation, institute, and society were established with their many affiliated groups, not to mention offshoot organizations with no particular provenance. Thus the work was rounded out for me. For a short time I was a member of the Toronto Group, which was founded only a few years after the New York foundation. In Toronto, I met the Welches – Dr. William Welch and Mrs. Louise Welch – the movements instructor Alfred Etiévant, not to mention Paul and Sheila Bura and other students of the Work, whom French participants are inclined to call “adepts.”

All of this activity seemed at the time to be of marginal interest to society as a whole. Except possibly for a handful of Theosophists and Anthroposophists, nobody I knew had ever heard of movements, the enneagram, kesdjan bodies, the formatory centre, etc. Soon the Special Doctrine would sea-change into the Work and these would enter into common parlance. If there is a year with which to mark that metamorphosis, it is the year 1979, which saw the commercial release of Peter Brook’s remarkable film, Meetings with Remarkable Men.

It is not by chance that since then I keep encountering people who know “all about” Gurdjieff.” They proceed to share their “information and insights” with me. When this happens it is diverting but also dismaying, yet it remains instructive. Indeed, I recall the story told a few years ago by the theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson (I think it was) about the middle-aged man who boarded an airplane and took his seat beside that of a distinguished-looking older man. The two passengers began to chat.

During the course of the flight, the middle-aged man waxed eloquent about the intricacies of “string theory,” basing everything he knew on article that he had enthusiastically read about it in a popular science magazine. When he had finished with his disquisition, he asked the older man what he thought – and it turned out that he had been explaining “string theory” to Murray Gell-Mann, the Nobel laureate!

I am no Murray Gell-Mann – not even a Freeman Dyson – and I also assume my readers are neither – but I am also sure we have all had this experience at least once. Indeed, I have been having a similar experience while reading this massive new book that I am about to review. It is indeed massive. It measures 10″ high and 7″ wide and 1.25 inches thick! It has a four-colour coated cover and it is quite long at xxvi + 512 pages. It is not strictly new – though a book is “new” to anyone who has yet to read it – for the title page says it was published in 1998, twelve years ago! Could that be true? (If so, I am uncharacteristically late catching up with it!) The tome to which I am referring bears a title with subtitles that are awkward yet not inaccurate. Here it is:

“It’s Up to Ourselves”

A Mother, a Daughter, and Gurdjieff

A Shared Memoir and Family Photo Album

By Jessmin and Dushka Howarth

Gurdjieff Heritage Society

Copyright, Dushka Howarth, 1998

To me in the 1950s, the Work represented ideas and effort. To the men and women who lived through that period as adults from 1912 to the 1950s, who were in daily and often intimate contact with Ouspensky and Gurdjieff, it was work and effort too, but it was also a lively time that was rich in character and personality, in idiots and toasts, in events and experiences that were seen to be teaching situations. There was the sprightliness of the Twenties and the literary and technological innovations of the interwar years generally – with inventions like the Theramin – which seemed outwards signs of inward change.

Now down to the book itself. The table of contents tells the story of the emergence and evolution of the Work chronologically: The Early Years, Twenties, Thirties, Forties, Fifties, The Later Years. Also included are a Preface and Introduction and then Postscripts, Appendices, Bibliography, and Index. The index is something of a shock because it consists of a list of names without a single page number. Yet the names that appear here! Some 800 people are mentioned, celebrities like Walter Winchell and Ed Sullivan and Steve Allen and Mrs. Wallace Warfield Simpson … as well as the seven Bennetts, the six Gurdjieffs, the five de Salzmanns, the four Stjernvals, the three Andersons, the two de Hartmanns, and the single Denis Saurat.

What I have yet to mention is this book’s unique and indispensable feature: its photographs. As well as a collection of informative letters, it is an album of close to 900 photos, ranging from studio portraits and publicity shots to candid snapshots. The latter are exceptional and even emotional in appeal. By comparison, I once edited for a publisher the memoirs of a Canadian colonel who had served as the aide-de-camp to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip during their Royal Visits to Canada. On the side-tables in his living-room in his gracious residence in Oakville, Ontario, there were framed snapshots of members of the Royal Family. These candid shots were inscribed and they showed the royal personages in their leisured moments. It was something of a shock to see Liz and Phil lounging about on the lawns of Balmoral, toying with corgis, smiling at each other, relaxing with the colonel, etc.

The sense of surprise that I experienced in the general’s living room was recreated when page after page of this tome I saw candid photographs of the names of most if not all of the people who “made” the Work. There is hardly a double-page spread without its agreeable photograph or photographs. I realize now for too long I had been starved for images. And also for gossip.

No way am I am able to summarize the wealth of the contents of this publication, other than to briefly allude to its structure and straight away recall a few of its highlights, a personal selection at best. The tome may lack the high-seriousness of purpose characteristic of James Moore’s Gurdjieffian Confessions: A Self Remembered, published in 2005, and it may miss the earnest quality of life exhibited in Frank R. Sinclair’s Without Benefit of Clergy: Some Personal Footnotes to the Gurdjieff Teaching (2009), which I hope to review in the future, yet its informality and its air of indiscretion are its characteristic charms.

It is a work of great gaiety. It has the air of one of today’s blogs or of one of yesteryear’s family scrapbooks or private diaries: the family being that of Gurdjieff’s kith and kin and karass (to use Kurt Vonnegut’s ingenious term). It takes the form of the long, detailed, and delightful letters that were exchanged by Jessmin Howarth and her daughter Cynthia Ann (Dushka) Howarth (one of Gurdjieff’s children). A sense of how the Work impregnated the lives of these two correspondents and their array of friends is apparent on every page of this book, yet the import of all of these references will be lost on readers who lack knowledge of what it is all about, being J.K. Rowling’s muggles and squibs.

I mentioned earlier I would “review” this book. Since that is impossible, even given the measureless space available on a blog like this one, I will content myself by merely “noticing” some references in the book. I will comment here and there on passages that have struck me as particularly interesting over the month that I spent dipping into it, reading here and there. There is an old saying that goes like this: “You do not have to drink the ocean to learn that it is salty, as one drop is enough.” I will take a sip here and there. It will satisfy the curiosity of the reader who is needy and wants to sense the shape and feel of the Work, as it evolved, in terms of people and their relationships. The details will help historians of ideas for decades to come. Right now it is time for the reader with a taste for these ideas and feelings.

Allow me to begin by noting the “Canadian content.” There is a snapshot of James (Jim) George and of his daughter, dancer Dolphi Wertenbaker, and a photograph of Sheila Bura, who also taught the movements. There are references to Peter Colgrove, who nursed Madame de Hartmann through her last days, and Tom and Ruth Daly, guardians of the Gurdjieff / de Hartmann music. Honourary Canadians are the Welches who guided the groups in Toronto and Halifax.

I was pleased to see many references to movements instructor Alfred Etiévant, whom I found to be a stern taskmaster, but whom wiser and older people knew to be so sweet as to be described as a “pushover.” I learned he was urged to marry Dushka Howarth but he ended up married to Lise Tracol. I could go on. There are lovely photographs of the “work periods” in Halifax with Ravi Ravindra. There is even a photo of Walter Driscoll, the bibliographer.

I had long nourished a curiosity about life at Franklin Farms at Mendham, N.J. There are photographs of the attractive residence and of activities that took place there, as well as pen portraits of the personalities who worked there on weekends or who resided there for years. There are references to the site at Armonk and photographs of Lyne Place, Colet Gardens, Coombe Springs, and Sherborne House, all fabulous and semi-storied places in my eyes.

Jessmin Howarth, an orphan, was an student of Dalcroze’s Eurythmics at Hellerau where she met fellow student Jeanne de Salzmann who subsequently introduced her to the movements, which Christian philosopher Jacques Maritain is credited with calling “meditation in motion.” (The same description is independently used to characterize the discipline of Tai Chi.) Jessmin met Gurdjieff in Paris in 1922. Over the years she learned, like many another woman, to dissever the teacher from the man.

Throughout the book appear photographs of Madame Gurdjieff and Madame Ouspensky as well as snapshots of Ouspensky himself travelling through Ceylon. In fact, the women whose stories are told and whose photographs are reproduced play a great role in the story. Dushka herself has done a fine job explaining the background and significance of the references that appear in the correspondence.

In addition to the women already mentioned (in no order whatsoever, a little confusion being catchy) here are some names redolent of activities in the past and the present: Lily Galumian, Madame Ostrowska (Gurdjieff‘s mother), Olga de Hartmann, Jessie Dwight Orage, Katherine Mansfield, Olgivanna Hinzenberg Wright, Edith Taylor Swaska, Elizabeta Stjernvall, Louise Goepfert March, Ethel Merston, Tania Savitsky, Edith Taylor, Rita Romilly Benson, Petey Taylor, Solange Claustre, Lise Tracol, Marian Sutta, Peggy Flinsch, Henriette Lannes, Rina Hands, Elizabeth Bennett, Dorothea Dooling, Pauline de Dampierre, Marthe de Gaigneron, Tania Nagro, Luba Gurdjieff, Rosemary Nott, P.L. Travers, Patty Welch de Llosa, Svetlana Wright Peters, Dorothy Caruso, and Lady Lucy Pentland, not to mention Kathryn Hulme and Margaret Anderson and the talented women who were members of The Rope. I hope I have not overlooked too many talented and energetic women!

I will forego any attempt to summarize what Jessmin and Dushka took from the work or from Gurdjieff personally and privately. It resists summary. The enthusiasm for the Work that is displayed by them for the man and the techne and praxis speaks for itself. Jessmin’s letters to Dushka and Dushka’s replies are the threads that stitch this crazy-quilt of a book together. It is apparent that the daughter inherited her verve and personal style from her mother. (I will leave up in the air what she inherited from her father.)

Both women are lively correspondents, uninhibited letter-writers, whose words are a joy to read. Not a few of these pages are devoted to accounts of Dushka’s own and varied activities. A glamorous professional guitar-player, she was also a spunky and adventurous licensed press agent, translator, and guide working in Paris. For all of this froth and frivolity, I am grateful to her for capturing the excitement of the people who were involved in the work, changing my impression of it from something solemn and remote and sepia to a dynamic way of living, what Paul Beekman Taylor has recently described as “a new life.”

It’s Up to Ourselves is published by the Gurdjieff Heritage Society, which has its own website. The selling price of the book is in given as US$75.00. It is worth every penny of that amount. (With a workable index, it would be worth at least twice that sum.)

John Robert Colombo is known across Canada as the Master Gatherer for his compilations of the lore and literature of the country. He is the author, most recently, of End of Greatness, a collection of poems, and Indifferences, a collection of aphorisms. Yevgeny Yevtushenko told him, “You must be the most sophisticated of poets.” Andrei Voznesensky wrote, “The searchings of John Robert Colombo are significant and profound.” Check his website with its podcasts: www.

CARLOS CASTANEDA Recalled and Reconsidered

The John Robert Colombo Page


New Mexico Desert

New Mexico Desert


Carlos Castaneda

Carlos Castaneda Recalled and Reconsidered

A Short Review of William Patrick Patterson’s “The Life & Teachings of Carlos Castaneda” by John Robert Colombo

Carlos Castaneda (hereinafter CC) and William Patrick Patterson (hereinafter WPP) are names well known to students of consciousness studies.

CC was a Peruvian-born American author who made a considerable reputation for himself with the publication of his first book of mystical, visionary, spiritual, or magical adventures titled “The Teachings of Don Juan.” It appeared in 1968 and was such a success that it was followed by eleven more such books, which further enhanced the author’s reputation as an apprentice of a “brujo” or sorcerer in the Mesmoamerican tradition of shamanism. The final book of this series, “The Active Side of Infinity,” appeared the year following the author’s death. CC’s vital years are 1925 and 1998. At the height of his fame he became a recluse and WPP tells us why.

WPP is an indefatigable researcher, editor, writer, author, publisher, public speaker, director and host of documentary films on the Fourth Way, and seminar leader – someone concerned with “esoteric perspectives” and “the ways of self-transformation” (to quote the pertinent words on the back cover of the current book). WPP may know more about the history of the Fourth Way than any other living writer, excepting, perhaps, Paul Beekman Taylor and James Moore. He was a student of the late Lord Pentland, who oversaw the Work in America, and the present book is dedicated to his memory (“To my don Juan”).

In my last contribution to this website, I outlined many of WPP’s accomplishments and achievements. In this review, I will focus on his book “The Life & Teachings of Carlos Castaneda.” It appeared in cloth in 2008 and in paper in 2009. Oddly, on the title page it is identified as “Volume 1.” Whatever will fill the pages of “Voume 2”?

The present volume is a handsomely produced, medium-sized trade paperback (xviii + 270 pages) with a Prologue (but no Epilogue), a Chronology, Notes, Bibliography, two Appendices (CC’s reply to R. Gordon Wasson, an academic critic; “Ouspensky on Dreams,” ten quotations from “A New Model of the Universe”), and an index. It also reprints anthropologist Daniel Brinton’s 1894 essay “Nagualism: A Study in Native American Folklore and History” (a source of some of CC’s conceptions). Brinton’s essay, about one-third the length of the book itself, remains a model of its kind.

The entire work was edited by Barbara Allen Patterson and published by Arete Communications, Publishers, Fairfax, California. (By the way, “Arete” is a word known to Aristotle. It means “inner excellence.” In English it is pronounced “A-re-tay,” and WPP regards it as “a working aim.”)

I gather that CC attended the University of California at Los Angeles where he was awarded a B.A. in Creative Writing and Journalism in 1962. Thereafter he switched his major to Anthropology and apparently that institution awarded him a Ph.D. in that discipline in 1973 for an dissertation on “A Yaqui Way of Knowledge,” which is the subtitle his first book, issued by the University of California Press, an academic imprint rather than a trade publishing house.

Thereafter the books were enthusiastically published and promoted by Simon & Schuster, a major trade publisher. (The above details appear in CC’s Wikipedia entry, and there are discrepancies between them and those that appear in WPP’s book which, on the whole, is thorough, appreciative, and non-critical. A critical biography of CC may never written; in the meantime, WPP’s is “as good as it is likely to get.”)

CC’s reputation was made by “The Teachings of Don Juan.” Is the book a work of Anthropology? Does it contribute to our knowledge of Shamanism? Or is it a work of creative writing, imaginative recreation, or “wishful thinking”? Perhaps it is both. CC says it is based on notes taken down in Spanish but the notes do not seem to have survived.

I know where I stand on what kind of book it is. I read it a year following its original appearance and had no problem concluding that it was an instance of “creative non-fiction,” rather than a contribution to field research in Anthropology, one of my minors at the University of Toronto.

CC’s book I found to be “a thrilling read,” like millions of other readers, but I also found it impossible to take it seriously – at least as seriously as I had in younger years taken Paul Brunton’s “In Search of Secret Egypt” and “In Search of Secret India.” (In passing, Brunton’s pretensions to Sanskrit scholarship were effectively and affectionately debunked by the Sanskrit scholar Jeffrey M. Masson in his memoir “My Father’s Guru.”)

CC’s work constitutes a romance of mystical thought (in this instance sorcery) in the same way that Erich von Däniken and Immanuel Velikovsky are purveyors of a science of the imagination. In no way did CC’s book resemble the Anthropology texts that I had studied. Nor have more recent contributions to the discipline begun to resemble his.

It did not surprise me that CC had opened a Pandora’s Box of insights into what he calls the “tonal” world (of ordinary reality) and the “nagual” world (of non-ordinary realities). Readers in the late 1960s were receptive to that distinction, a cornerstone concept of the New Age, and the times were ripe for a shaman (even if called a sorcerer) named Don Juan Matus, a Yaqui Indian, knowledgeable about the effects of the ingestion of psychotropic plants.

Later, I read with surprise Time magazine’s cover story on the man, “Don Juan and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” March 5, 1973, which referred to CC in facetious terms (“the man is an enigma wrapped in mystery in a tortilla”). Time’s editors had problems with the elusive CC, but they gave respectability to his work by granting a passing grade to his accounts of outlandish and otherworldy experiences.

No so the novelist Joyce Carol Oates, who penned a letter to “The New York Review of Books” on November 16, 1972. It was headed “Anthropology – a Fiction?” and it was followed by a flurry of critical reactions to the books as they rolled off the presses. The result was that CC retired from public life (rather like another touchy recluse, J.D. Salinger). The standards and integrity of the University of Southern California were called into question for dealing with a work of fiction as if it were a work of scholarship and even publishing it.

CC re-emerged in the 1990s, the last decade of his life, and what a life he had been leading! WWP is good on these details, which first appeared in his journal “The Gurdjieff Review,” for they describe an unconventional California lifestyle – a man driven by demons to the point of obsession – with his own coven of three witches (named Florinda, Taisha, and Muni) whom he sexually dominated. The women conducted popular seminars devoted to the practice of sorcery. Then there were seminars that promoted Tensegrity, a discipline of “magical passes” that adopts a term previously introduced by Buckminster Fuller.

At the same time CC was married to Amy Wallace, the talented daughter of the popular novelist Irving Wallace. She outlived the three witches and subsequently described CC as a “sexaholic” who near the end was afflicted with glaucoma and diabetes and died of the liver cancer that he boasted he would never have.

While he was alive, CC was adamant that there would be no Hollywood film version of the novels, as he did not relish the sight of Anthony Quinn playing the sorcerer-warrior Don Juan! CC did meet with Federico Fellini in Rome who described the author as “a smiling Sicilian.” The Italian director was intrigued and repelled by the vision offered by the novels – it was “as if I was confronted with a vision of a world dictated by a quartz! Or a green lizard!” He was not far wrong!

Why was WPP drawn to CC? “By the sheer force of his connection with intent, Castaneda brought to life and inseminated into Western culture an age-old sorceric perspective long ago rendered insensible by the modern world’s pursuit of rationality.” What I detect here is a rapidly emerging appreciation of the depths and dimensions of “magical thinking,” “as if,” “active imagination,” shamanic spirit journeys, hoaxes and hypnotism and dreaming, and the antics and adventures of the Trickster Hero of North American Native culture. Here we have “A Yaqui Way of Knowledge,” not “The Yaqui Way of Knowledge.” Indeed, it might even be said that what we have here is “A Yankee Way of Knowledge.”

WPP devotes many pages to early influences on CC: Aldous Huxley’s psychedelic trips and the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl. Then there was the person and literary effect on him of Anais Nin, the memoirist who spoke of “mensonge vital” and “déboublement.” WPP suggests “Don Juan Matus” was named after Nin’s father, Joaquín – if not after the Mateus brand of Portuguese wine so popular with beats, hippies, and New Agers!

It is assumed that Don Juan Matus (described as being born in Arizona of Yaqui and Yuma parentage) was not a single person but an amalgam of various teachers both spiritual and academic who were meaningful in CC’s life. WPP devotes ten interesting pages (pp. 65-75) to outlining the dynamic universe occupied by Don Juan and then five pages to pointing out “difficulties” with his accounts of the “sorceric” universe. Five further pages (98-103) are devoted to CC’s exchanges with Swami Muktananda with parallels between the world of sorcery and Hinduism.

There are ten pages (81-91) that measure the trace elements of Fourth Way material to be found in these books. “Awareness of the total body – this is the foundation to everything Castaneda is saying,” writes WPP. “Many of the fundamental ideas Castaneda puts forth can be seen to have a correspondence with Gurdjieff’s teaching. It is not in the province of this book to summarize it, but the following are some examples of the cross-referencing.”

Thereupon WPP offers twenty-nine instances of dynamic parallels in the sorceric and Fourth Way traditions. Here are five parallels:

* “‘Shifting the assemblage point’ is moving the specific gravity of attention so that one is in a higher stage of self-consciousness or self-remembering.”

* “‘Buzzing’ is an initial inaudible frequency which prepares for reception of the Niroonossian-World-Sound.”

* “‘Real mind’ is the higher intellectual center connected with the higher emotional center.”

*”‘Human mold’ is founded in self-love and vanity, i.e., Kundabuffer.”

*”‘Energy body’ is the Kesdjan body developed through practices of self-sensing and the impartial observation of the functioning of the physical body.”

WPP writes, “Castaneda did have an actual, as opposed to simply a theoretical, connection with the Work, as it is sometimes called. His first direct encounter was in 1970 when he attended Movements demonstrations in Los Angeles. Later, he accepted an invitation from Lord John Pentland, the man Gurdjief appointed to lead the Work in America, to spend a weekend at St. Elmo, the home of the Gurdjieff Foundation in San Francisco. There Castaneda met Kathleen Pohlman, aka Carol Tiggs, a student of Pentland’s. He is said to have also attended meetings at the Los Angeles Foundation for some time.”

Carol Tiggs played an active role in CC’s life, less so Claudio Naranjo. WPP concludes, “The teaching Gurdjieff brought is based on sacred science; what Castaneda brought is based on sorcery. Both aim to awaken one from the dream of ordinary life, but while Gurdjieff rejects working with the dream state and insists on grounding consciousness in ordinary life in order to come to real life, dreaming for Castaneda is the basis of sorceric exploration.”

WPP sees CC’s life in terms of “octaves,” but I will leave the interested reader to turn to “The Life & Teachings of Carlos Castaneda” to appreciate these phases. Overall what he finds absent from CC’s cosmology is “a spiritual appreciation and valuation of the scale of Being and the duty to serve and offer ‘help for God,’ as Gurdjieff says.”

The author concludes, interestingly but somewhat debatably, “In the end Castaneda’s significance and value rest on his ideas and sources, not the strangeness of his story.”

John Robert Colombo has yet to find any Canadian references in the work of CC or in the writings of WPP, but he keeps searching. On August 9, 2009, he delivered the academic keynote address at the Worldcon, the convention for 3,500 fans of fantastic literature held in August in Montreal. His address was called “Up! Up! And About!” For more details, check his personal website: www. colombo-plus. ca.

John Robert Colombo
Colombo & Company
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Toronto M6B 2T6 Canada
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See Also Osho on Castaneda


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