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THE MASTERS SPEAK: a Joseph Azize review

The Masters Speak”

The Masters Speak: An American Businessman Encounters Ashish and Gurdjieff, Quest Books, Wheaton, Illinois and Chennai, India, 2010 (Originally published as In Search of the Unitive Vision, 2001. (305 pp., including bibliography and index)

Introduction

Let us suppose you meet a master of the spiritual life, someone who has approached the beatific vision, and who feels the oneness of existence in the embrace of God. This person has necessarily walked in your shoes, and can help you find your way. Would you have a question? What might you ask? And when the master spoke, how would you listen? If the master gave advice which went against the grain with you, how would you respond?

Sy Ginsburg lived through such questions, meeting Sri Madhava Ashish on many occasions, and corresponding with him. Ashish challenged his fundamental ideas of himself, and guided him to his own direct experience of inner reality. Now Ginsburg shares his experiences with us, generously providing the abundant quotations from Ashish which alone would justify the re-publication of this book now that In Search of the Unitive Vision is out of print. Consider this, for example:

One may say that you are certain that you have (a soul). But you have not yet identified it. Until you have found it and are living in its presence, you do not know its qualities. It is far greater than you – you in your limited state of ego-integration. Until you have found it, it is other than you – not you. Even when you find it, you will find that its powers are not “yours”. However, they are, as it were, available to you. (p.66)

If the concept of “living in the presence of the soul” touches you, this book will support and deepen that feeling, because one of the strengths of a well-told biography is that it sets ideas in a narrative context and illustrates them from life. When the thought is brought to life, it is not received simply as an abstract idea: it’s presented in an informative landscape, and therefore we more readily understand and relate to it. Further, wihtout wishing to sound maudlin, I always find that the aging and eventual death of the main figures adds a feeling element. If it is handled lightly, as it is here, sickness infuses one’s reading with a soft autumnal poignancy, and the book swells to its inevitable human climax. Death is always the master’s final teaching.

The Story

What’s in this story? It’s basically the tale of Sy Ginsburg’s relationship with Ashish, the Scotsman Alexander Phipps, who went to India during WWII, where he settled and became a Vaishnav monk, gradually achieving wide recognition as a guru. Ginsburg travelled to meet Ashish in Mirtola, India, in 1978, remaining in contact with him, in person and by correspondence, until Ashish’s death in 1997. So it is partly Sy’s autobiography and partly a biography of Ashish, or at least of those parts of their lives which came into contact along the road of pilgrimage.

Early on, Ashish advised Ginsburg to join a Gurdjieff group in the USA, which Ginsburg did, meeting some of the senior identities in the international Gurdjieff groups, and eventually co-founding a new one, the Gurdjieff Institute of Florida. This is the narrative spine of the book, while it’s fleshed, so to speak, with Ashish’s letters to Ginsburg and four of his essays (these occupy the entirety of chapters 5, 10, 14 and 15).

In addition to Ashish’s own writings, now made more accessible than before, some motifs dominate the book. Perhaps the most apparent theme is that of the “master”: who or what is a master, and what relationship is possible with one? Here the answer is sketched, rather than defined, as it were. We watch the master as he gently undermines Ginsburg’s notions of his own identity. Few of us will have had the worldly success which Ginsburg did, but that doesn’t count for much in this context, as his confident assumptions are scrutinized in the light of Ashish’s transcendent perspective and values. If we share Ginsburg’s aspirations to pierce the veils of the world, we can share in his search, and perhaps even sense that we, too, are living in a “limited state of ego-integration”. Ginsburg makes no claims whatsoever to have transcended that state. Neither does he claim to be humble. He just tells his story, leaving interpretation and judgment to the reader.

Perhaps the real question in this book is: who is the true Sy Ginsburg? Because of what I’ve already said about the nature of biography (and, of course, autobiography), the question applies to each one of us, too, if we will accept it. The issue has many aspects. One dimension of the search is potently summed up in a quote by Sri Krishna Prem (born in England as Ronald Nixon), Ashish’s guru, thus:

Rebirth there is, but whether he who is reborn is you is for yourself to judge. The stream of life is one, ebbing and flowing, weaving through many lives, with other streams, the Pattern of the Whole. That stream which was yourself, which, if you like, is still yourself, flows forth … (p.260)

This leads directly to what Ashish called “the whole game of finding the true person, the true identity, not the personality of this life only, but the identity with what has been there through the whole series of lives.” The letter continues, stating that the mind cannot serve two masters: “It either serves Sy or it serves the Self.” (p.132). In 1981, Ashish wrote to Ginsburg about his pursuing a spiritual goal. The lines blaze with an almost acid illumination: “Seymour Ginsburg will never find it. Seymour Ginsburg is a tissue of sensations and memories.” (p.59). I’d like to pause for a moment here: it’s ideal not to rush past such a question.

Am I, too, a “tissue of sensations and memories”?

And if I’m not, what am I?

A worthwhile answer can only come from my own experience.

Ashish’s Reasoning

One of the very most critical significance of this book is the extraordinary quality of Ashish’s thought on, it seems, any topic that came before him. It is not just that Ashish wrote well, although he certainly did that: “Security is an inescapable factor, but I would prefer a risk of robbery to living in a bank vault.” (p.99).

Ashish’s thought had a rare quality: he could follow a thread of thought over the years, and not lose sight of it. The thread he held in mind was the challenge he addressed to “Sy” to question the motives and understanding from which he was manifesting, and to reconsider from a more impartial perspective every position he would find himself in. The entire book tells that tale.

Time and again, Ashish displayed his formidable way of cutting through intellectual conundrums and come to the central issue of doubt and certainty. In 1987, he wrote to Ginsburg:

It seems you are going through a crisis of doubt. You are taking your doubts seriously at their own level, which is rather foolish because they cannot be answered within their own coordinates. (p.101)

Many people seem lamed by useless doubts, and because, as Bennett said somewhere, certainty is not necessary. If it were, we would not get out of bed (and in extreme cases of doubt, a person can be so crippled as to be unable to leave bed, at least for a while

In respect of the seemingly indefatigable scepticism which Ginsburg felt, and which probably saved him from pursuing some rather pointless avenues, Ashish had a fabulous line: “The intellect is a lawyer who argues in behalf of the person who pays him” (p.60, and don’t miss a different approach to the same line of thought at p.147). For another memorable formulation, see the “mamba bite” quip at p.139: it is as true as it is witty.

Ashish and Gurdjieff

Let us briefly look at Ashish’s perspectives on Gurdjieff and the Gurdjieff movement. We could start with this surprising, almost startling sentiment:

… I (i.e. Ashish) try and get people to clarify their inner aim first. On the other hand, current G groups appear to knock people around and shake up or demolish their socially conditioned assumptions about themselves and the false values they have adopted, while giving exercises that should bring the individual essence into real existence … (p.58)

This struck me for the simple reason that Gurdjieff himself also insisted that one should start with aim. In Paris in 1949, Gurdjieff said that everyone needs an aim, and suggested one which anyone could take “without wiseacring”, that is, the aim of dying an honourable death (this is movingly related in Bennett’s prologue to his Talks on Beelzebub’s Tales). I am not saying that Ashish was wrong. But it does a raise a question: could a Gurdjieff group omit to help a pupil develop a three-centred understanding of their aim, and yet remain a true Gurdjieff group? Ashish was also critical of the Gurdjieff groups in 1984, saying that:

The G groups offer a method of changing … but offer no reason why anyone should want to change, except out of a sense of the meaninglessness of life as it is. No resolution is made merely by mixing two poles. While G himself was there, he provided the “something extra”. If Theosophy has degenerated into a new religion, so has the G work. Rare individuals may exist in both movements, but this does not prove anything. They also exist within Christianity or any other religion (p.97).

Analysis of another line is offered by Ginsburg’s question about the notion present in his Gurdjieff group that one needs a connection directly with the “inner circle of humanity”, and that this connection was available through the groups because their “hierarchical leadership” is itself (still) connected with Gurdjieff (p.135). Ashish’s observation was succinct: “It’s complete bosh! These are things which get put out in the vested interests of the hierarchy …” (p.136).

Ginsburg wrote to Ashish in 1983 that many people in Gurdjieff groups had conceded that they had attained nothing, “even after many years of the Work …” (p.66). Yet, Ginsburg gives some particularly deft descriptions of the practical methods at pp.53, 101-2 and 113-5. From whence comes, then, this lack of a harvest when the field is rich and the tools are available?

Ashish stated, quite truly, in 1981 that “one has to be able to stop thought”, and that if becoming aware of sensation helps one to do so, then one should use that technique. But he also stressed the need for awareness of thought (pp.43-4), (I might add, confident that Ashish would agree, awareness of feeling).

Another connection between Gurdjieff and Ashish lies in his approach to service. On 7 July 1989, Ashish stated the principle with full clarity, and made a fresh connection with Gurdjieff’s ideas:

Remember G’s saying that one has to put someone onto the step one is standing on before one can move up to the next. This is not to be taken too literally. The point is that dedication to all that inheres in the unity of being will result in a sort of altruism which leads one to help others – who are oneself. Helping others, even before one has that transcendental perception, helps to attune one to its truth (p.139).

Ashish actually practised service, and he did so in more than spreading ideas and practices, good as such work is. Similarly, Gurdjieff ran his own soup kitchen from his back stairs, where he fed a stream of paupers. Gurdjieff also, I believe, hid people from the Nazis (I think I have only read a general reference to this in Gurdjieff: Anatomy of a Myth. If anyone has more detailed evidence of this or any of Gurdjieff’s charitable works, I would like to hear from them at Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com). Ashish’s service, as disclosed in this book, was in sustainable agriculture. He started on his own property, and then helped people around him. Ashish also addressed a wider audience about these matters through his writings (p.35). So Ashish’s efforts embraced the two necessary spheres of altruism: those who are near myself and those who are further away.

In any service, we need to balance effectiveness and practicality on the one hand with aspiration on the other. To this I would add what Catholics call “the principle of subsidiarity”. That is, aid should be delivered as closely as possible to the intended destination, by people as close as possible to that destination. Part of subsidiarity is that there should be a minimum of brokers and co-betweens. Overall, the best aid is that which directly and effectively helps people to help themselves. Too often, charitable schemes are rather like arranging for the people in one city to brush the teeth of people in another city.

Gurdjieff had the insight that I first need to learn how to brush my own teeth. Then, perhaps I can help others. But I think that Ashish’s statement “Helping others, even before one has that transcendental perception, helps to attune one to its truth” provides a necessary balance to Gurdjieff’s “become a good egotist first”. My own involvement in charitable work has convinced me of its truth. I have seen people becoming more available to feeling, more sensitive, through doing such work. Often we do not appreciate the need for it until we do it. Certainly, I did not really appreciate this until I started the hands-on work of helping the handicapped. Once, while feeding someone with cerebral palsy, I had the feeling-realization: “this man is like me and I am like him, the differences are trivial”. I almost felt that I was him and vice versa.

This is a truth which I think Gurdjieff’s emphasis on first becoming a good egotist may have had the unwitting effect of obscuring. I doubt that Gurdjieff meant for people to pass from being “good egotists” to becoming “damn wonderful egotists”. And it would be remiss not to mention that in certain cases the Gurdjieff groups have in fact proceeded beyond “good egotism” to altruism, chiefly by establishing schools (such as in Oregon, where Mrs Staveley established one on the group property). I will be glad to hear from readers of any instances where they are involved in say, hospice work, or assisting the homeless.

Miscellaneous Points

There are many odd points I would like to discuss, but the review would end up as long as the book. The book is very well written. Ginsburg does not intrude himself and his personality, but his sound intellectual portfolio is everywhere apparent.

If you are interested in what Ashish and Ginsburg have to say about dreams, and I would suggest that the interest is worthwhile, you could do worse than read pages 39, 59 and 95, in addition to those tagged in the index.

Ashish’s comments on knowledge in his letter of 6 March 1981 are priceless (p.59).

I relish the wry understatement of this comment from 1986: “Contrived symbolic buildings are usually flops” (p.99).

Ashish’s comments on the development of “mental sciences” strike me as true to what I know of them. His statement of the true value of studying insanity is both deep and extraordinarily well phrased (p.124, he says that studying the insane can show us tendencies in ourselves which were so slight that we could not have identified them without first seeing them writ large).

A Further Hesitation

Generally, I have praised this book its style, and its contents. I have one hesitation, which arises tangentially, yet should still be addressed. Some, whom Ginsburg refers to, such as Sathya Sai Baba, are given to saying that they are God. In this respect, Ashish wrote in 1978:

I personally accept Sai Baba’s status as a man of spiritual attainment. … his status ‘shows through’ his words: it is not in his words as such. As to his statement that he is ‘God’, it is true that in his essential nature he stands united with the divine unity. So do we all. As he himself says, ‘I know it. You don’t’.

Ashish went on to add the important rider that “if he is God, he is God in a limited vehicle.” (p.25) Nisarga Datta is said to have likewise claimed that like all of us, he is God, but whereas he knows it, we are ignorant (p.27).

As stated, this is of course an obvious nonsense. If we were all God we would have to know it: no ignorance could exist in us. God in a limited vehicle and ignorant is no longer the “God” which appears at the start of this sentence. The only way such paradoxes can be true is to rob the word “God” of all meaning and have it signify something like “substrate”. The statement isn’t so interesting that way: “I am substrate. You are substrate, too. But I know it whereas you don’t.”

When young, we were almost drunk on such high-sounding phrases, but I think it’s a sign of immaturity to remain mesmerised by them. Far more real and truthful was Gurdjieff’s attitude which insisted that such as we are God is very far from us, and that while we may be in relation, we always remain separate. As for being God, when Zuber told Gurdjieff that he “created” films, Gurdjieff roared at him: “You? You create nothing!”, if he did not use stronger language (I don’t have the volume Who Are You, Mr Gurdjieff? with me). In languages with a developed sense of the sacred, such as biblical Hebrew and Syriac, the verb “to create” can only be used of God. And rightly so.

Ashish’s willingness to “accept” Sai Baba’s status strikes me as anomalous, especially given his forthright comments on Jung (“… he is writing arrant nonsense”, p. 236). I could explain why in some detail, but this review is already long enough. It suffices to cite two pieces of proverbial wisdom. From the English language, “You don’t have to taste the whole sea to know that it’s salty”, and from Lebanese, “maa metit, bus shifit meen mairt”, or “I haven’t died but I’ve seen (those) who have died”. I would make exactly the same comments in respect of channelling (chapter 11) and “masters” of the Koot Hoomi variety. I don’t like to be so dismissive, it can come across as arrogant. But that is how I see it, and if that’s arrogance, I shall have to wear it. I accept that Sai Baba has done a tremendous amount of philanthropical work, and he deserves full and unstinted credit for that. I’ll leave the topic while I can speak well of him.

Corrigenda

I noted two minor typographical errors at pp. 79 (‘Fontainebleu” for “Fontainebleau”) and 136 “Its ridiculous” for “It’s ridiculous”).

Finally, the technique Gurdjieff taught, and which Ginsburg refers to at p.221, did indeed become known as the “sitting”, and some, like Ginsburg, call it “meditation”. But I believe that Gurdjieff himself referred to it as a “preparation”. Certainly, George and Helen Adie did, and Dr Sophia Wellbeloved tells me that Henriette Lannes, who taught that technique, did so too. This is not an insignificant point. “Sitting” and “meditation” import practices well known from Hindu, Buddhist and other traditions. In Beelzebub, Gurdjieff refers to “Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation”. He could have said “sitting” or “meditation”, but he didn’t. And it is not the same as any other practice I have ever come across. If I am correct that Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation is the foundation of Gurdjieff’s practical teaching, then to assimilate it, even by subliminal suggestion with different practices, should be avoided.

Conclusion

Ashish’s wisdom and writings changed my prejudiced view of what I could expect from a Scotsman living in India. Beyond that, I feel that in reading this book I received an education. It’s a solid book. It’s very good, indeed.

Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com

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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.

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MASTER OF MYSTERIES: MANLY P. HALL


The John Robert Colombo Page

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manlyhall_cvr

John Robert Colombo reviews the recently published biography of metaphysical writer and teacher Manly P. Hall

Is anyone really comfortable with the words “Western Wisdom Tradition” or “Western Esotericism”? I know that I am unhappy with these words, but try as I might I am unable to find better ones.

I have always liked the words “Perennialism” or “Perennial Tradition,” but they have pretty well been appropriated by Messrs. Guénon, Schuon, and Nasr to describe their early 20th century tradition of introspection influenced by Sufism. Of all the terms in common use, my favourite is “The Perennial Philosophy.” It was coined by Gottfried Leibniz, but most people identify it with the title of Aldous Huxley’s ground-breaking and influential compilation of mystical texts which first appeared in 1945.

I also like the two words employed by the late James Webb, the historian who documented occultism’s rises and falls in excruciating detail in Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. He referred to the subject of such studies as “rejected knowledge.” He had in mind knowledge (not merely information, not chiefly wisdom) that was dismissed by one generation of mainstream thinkers only to be embraced by the next generation of such thinkers, yet all the while was highly prized by disciples of occult doctrines and studies: the hidden thought through all the ages. So let me call it, simply, “occult thought.”

Huxley and Webb to one side, there is one person who has done more than anyone else to popularize the notion of occult thought – that there is a current of energy and a set of symbols common to all the religions of the world, to all the philosophies of man, and to all the sciences that have emerged. That person is Manly P. Hall. His name may not be on everyone’s lips, but I have long known it and so have countless millions of North Americans who may be forgiven for regarding it as synonymous with a popular version of occult traditions of thought and practice.

There is a very sketchy biography of Manly Palmer Hall (MPH) on Wikipedia that gives a few of the essentials and more than a few of the inessentials. He was born in Canada, in Peterborough, Ontario, in 1901. (Hence my interest in him and in his works.) He died in Los Angeles in 1990, an influential teacher, a millionaire, who had established in that city his own non-profit research institute. A Freemason must have written the Wiki entry because it exaggerates the influence of Masonry on his life and thought, which I regard as negligible. It ignores some interesting personal facts: he came from a broken home and was a high school dropout; in 1918, he accompanied his mother (who was something of a healer) to Los Angeles, where he met a series of self-styled preachers who led their own small congregations of spiritually dissatisfied men and women (many of the latter elderly and wealthy) and instructed them in the principles that are “behind” or that “transcend” New Thought, not to mention Theosophy, “I Am,” AMORC, etc.

MPH, at the time in his early twenties, was drawn to these men, and them to him. He was an imposing figure of a man, well over six feet in height, though in later years he was given to corpulency (so that his first wife teased him when he reached 300 pounds and described him as her “Canadian bacon”). Photographs reveal a face with chiselled features and with piercing eyes that lend him a somewhat demonic expression. Recordings preserve his soothing voice and his authoritative manner of exposition. He could speak seemingly without effort for an hour and a half on any number of arcane subjects, and at first he did so in the small parishes and study groups throughout the Los Angeles basin. Then he graduated to larger venues including sold-out performances at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

In 1932, despite the Depression, he was able to fund the founding of the Philosophical Research Society (PRS) and house it in a purpose-built, neo-Mayan structure of some beauty on Los Feliz Boulevard close to the famed Griffith Observatory and not far from “Karlofornia,” the science-fiction-strewn residence of the late Forrest J. Ackerman. The PRS structure is now a protected landmark.

The PRS served as MPH’s headquarters and as a magnet for mystically minded Californians who attended the lecture series delivered by MPH and his colleagues. Here he established a gallery of symbolic art of considerable interest and value and a collection of 50,000 books which includes some rare alchemical texts borrowed by C.G. Jung for his studies in this field. From here MPH published and distributed his own books. (There are said to be close to 200 of these, though many of them are little more than booklets or texts of lectures, rather than full-fledged works of continuing interest.) They were sold in bookstores but mainly through mail order. Many PRS publications got as far as Kitchener, Ontario, where as a teenager in the early 1950s, I devoured them, easily digesting their contents.

As I did so I noticed that the writing was breezy and the details were somewhat repetitious. Stock phrases were used and reused to describe the ancient cultures of the past of the Near, the Middle, and the Far East. Everything was always a little bit “mysterious.” There was no scholarship per se, but there was familiarity with classical texts. MPH read these texts and digested them, at least on their moralistic levels, finding in each and every one of them elements of an idealistic philosophy that would remain his mainstay through his life.

The aim of these texts, in his eyes, was to help mankind with a some sort of “divine plan” accessible through “transcendental idealism” – perhaps a faith in the powers of the imagination – that would be character-bracing, spirit-respecting, and morale-building. It seems “the Ancients” (whether Ascended Masters or Prophets or Gurus or Saviours or Sages) had not only messages for their own times, but messages for posterity, for us today.

In his writing there is plenty of theoria but a poverty of praxis. For us “Moderns,” the message has something to do with Right Thinking and being Respectful of the Ancients and what in other circles might be called Positive Thinking. MPH of the PRS was there before Alfred Adler and Esalen and the self-esteem movement that morphed into what passes for New Age thought, EST, and the bromides of Tony Robbins (who is married to a Canadian) or Eckhart Tolle (who is a Canadian).

In point of fact, he predated such movements. He was able to capitalize on the genius of H.P. Blavatsky and the principles of Theosophy. He seemed to have been unaware of Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy or G.I. Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way. But what he had and what he added to his reading and thinking was his own genius – and I hold it to be that. In 1928, at the age of 27, this uneducated young man published his magnum opus, a remarkable work titled “The Secret Teachings of All Ages.” It is indeed an amazing book and it is still in print. It is one of the biggest and most influential of all the best-sellers in what is now a crowded field.

Open before me is a mammoth copy of “The Secret Teachings of All Ages.” It is the Diamond Jubilee Edition of Hall’s chef d’oeuvre, and even in its reduced format it is gigantic: It measures 13 inches high, 9 inches wide, with 245 pages – affectingly numbered in Roman numerals (so there are ccxlv double-columned pages). The original edition, which I have examined, is even larger in format. Both the original edition of 1928 and the various reprint editions have forty-eight, full-page plates (brilliantly coloured in the original edition, black-and-white in the reprint editions) with about 190 text illustrations. Although the page is large, the type is tiny. My quick estimate is that the text consists of more than half a million words, completely indexed.

The full title of this amazing work is as follows: “An Encyclopedic Outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic and Rosicrucian Symbolic Philosophy … Being an Interpretation of the Secret Teachings concealed within the Rituals, Allegories and Mysteries of all Ages … Diamond Jubilee Edition … Reduced Facsimile.”

It would take too long to reproduce the entire Table of Contents, but there are forty-five chapters with such chronologically arranged chapter headings as “The Ancient Mysteries and Secret Societies Which have Influenced Modern Masonic Symbolism” (the first) and “The Mysteries and Their Emissaries” (the last). In between, the reader will find the whole panoply of subjects – Pyramids, Isis, Zodiac, Pythagoras, Human Body, Animals, Stones, Magic, Sorcery, Elements, Qabbala, Tarot, Rose Cross, Alchemy, Baconism, Freemasonry, Mystic Christianity, Islam, American Indian Symbolism, etc.

The treasure-trove treatment does full justice to the labours of a young enthusiast, something of an evangelist who has no single secret interpretation of the Book of Revelation but is excited by Holy Scripture in toto, a young man with no foreign languages, no academic contacts, and no publisher’s advance, who researched, wrote, and published this opus on a subscription basis, single-handedly. That in itself is one of the “wonders” of the age.

The book ends with an excited invitation that gives a taste of Hall’s style and moralistic message, surprisingly relevant today: “The great institution of materiality has failed. The false civilization built by man has turned, and like the monster of Frankenstein, is destroying its creator. Religion wanders aimlessly in the maze of theological speculation. Science batters itself impotently against the barriers of the unknown. Only transcendental philosophy knows the path. Only the illumined reason can carry the understanding part of man upward to the light. Only philosophy can teach man to be born well, to live well, to die well, and in perfect measure be born again. Into this band of the elect, – those who have chosen the life of knowledge, of virtue, and of utility – the philosophers of the ages invite YOU.”

Who can resist such an invitation? Hall’s approach reminds me, a bit, of that taken by the scholar Joscelyn Godwin in his most recent book, “The Golden Thread: The Ageless Wisdom of the Western Mystery Traditions.” When I reviewed that book for this blog last year, I wondered, “What do all the ‘wonders’ in Godwin’s book have in common? Is there indeed a ‘golden threat’?” Now I know the answer to that question: The wonders are also found in Hall’s “The Secret Teachings of All Ages.” This is Occult Thought in Illuminated Capital Letters!

Also open before me is a copy of the recently published biography of the man himself. It is written by Louis Sahagun, a staff writer with “The Los Angeles Times,” and it is titled “Master of the Mysteries: The Life of Manly Palmer Hall.” It was published in paperback in 2008 by Process Media, Fort Townsend, Washington, U.S.A. (There is a website for the book.)

As a newspaperman, Sahagun covered MPH’s life and work and death – indeed, the way he died is as mysterious as the way he lived is unusual. It might be that in his eighty-ninth year he was murdered. Sahagun investigates all of this and the court cases that followed and the assumption of the PRS into the welkin of an institution that grants a Master of Arts degree in Consciousness Studies. As a biographer with an eye on both the man and the spirit of the times, he effectively compares and contrasts the ambience of Los Angeles, MPH’s favourite city, in the 1920s and in the 1960s. Sahagun knows little about occult thought, but he is effective when he describes what he does know, which is MPH’s milieu.

Overall, MPH emerges as a preacher, a man (like say Fulton J. Sheen or Billy Graham) with a message. That message has nothing to do with Roman Catholicism or Protestant Evangelism, but it has a lot to do with a recognition of arcane symbolism, of the “transcendental” nature of religious paths, of the brotherhood of man, of the powers latent in both nature and human nature, and of the “wisdom tradition” … oops … Occult Thought.

John Robert Colombo is nationally known as the Master Gatherer for his compilations of Canadiana and for such collections as “The Big Book of Canadian Ghost Stories.” In the interests of disclosure: JRC is mentioned by name in the pages of Sahagun’s book. The passage is innocent enough: “Hall was so hungry to be in the public eye that he welcomed the 1988 publication of a book ‘Mysterious Canada: Strange Sights, Extraordinary Events, and Peculiar Places’ by John Robert Colombo, which lumped Hall’s birth in Peterborough with sightings of UFOs and abominable snowmen in Canada, haunted houses and curses.”

BEHIND THE LOOKING GLASS


John Robert Colombo Page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————–

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

————————————————————————————————–

GURDJIEFF AS MAGUS OMISSIONS AND REDEFINITIONS OF THE WORK

The College of Charleston

This paper given by Sophia Wellbeloved at the Association for the Study of Esotericism’s
Third International Conference
at the College of Charleston, South Carolina in June 2008, is one of five papers given relating to Gurdjieff. The others were given by Michael Pittman, Joseph Azize, Richard Smoley and Jon Woodson, to see the full program copy and paste this link:
http://www.cofc.edu/ase//program.html to see the full programme.

‘Gurdjieff as Magus’ looks at G. I. Gurdjieff (1866?-1949) in his role as a magus. He taught pupils the acquisition of will, use of symbolism, inter-relationship of macrocosmos to microcosmos and a manipulation of cosmic laws so as to form a set of new bodies of ever finer materiality and longevity. It shows the centrality of hypnotism to his teaching about consciousness and how hypnotic techniques function in his texts and oral teachings. Gurdjieff used the imagery of black and white magic and reflects the roles of both black and white magician, using alcohol, drugs and intense pressures to entangle pupils usually for short periods of time. Lastly we will look at how the teaching has become institutionalised, necessitating omissions and redefinitions of both Gurdjieff and the Work.

Gurdjieff as Magus: Omissions and Redefinitions of the Work

Gurdjieff is not an easy man to define, and we are not going to attempt to impose a fixed definition of him here. What we are going to look at is:

1.
How he presented himself in his writings

2.
How he presented himself to his pupils in his oral teachings

3.
Present day omissions and redefinitions of the Work

—————————

1.
Gurdjieff as Hypnotist

Gurdjieff was known as a hypnotist who cared for and cured drink and drug dependency and other conditions, a role which he regarded as separate from his role as a teacher and which he continued throughout his life, (Peters 1977: 214, 220-223. Webb: 1980, 473).

Now we will look at how Gurdjieff presented himself in his texts in relation to hypnotism. You can see below the full titles and the abbreviations I am going to use when I refer to the texts
————————————–

GURDJIEFF’S TEXTS

HERALD
The Herald of Coming Good, privately published Paris, 1933

TALES
First series: An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man or Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, London: Routledge & Keegan Paul, 1950

MEETINGS
Second series: Meetings With Remarkable Men, trans. A. R. Orage, Londond: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963

LIFE
Third series: Life is real only then, when “I am”, New York: Duton for Triangle Editions, 1975

———————————————-

In all these writings Gurdjieff refers to hypnotism; in the Tales, the two central chapters are devoted to the practice of hypnotism, in these Gurdjieff’s life story merges with that of his hero Beelzebub. Mesmer is perhaps the only historical person mentioned in the Tales who is not vilified by Beelzebub (Tales: 561-2). In the other three ‘autobiographical’ works he gives examples of practicing hypnotism himself (Meetings: 197-98, Life: 25, Herald: 11-13, see also Wellbeloved 2003:100-02). Herald focuses almost exclusively on his study of hypnotism and other occult practises.

Gurdjieff’s represents hypnotism in both passive and active functions

————————————————–

WAKING (hypnotic) SLEEP
(our usual waking state)

HYPNOTISM(can function passively or actively)

SUBCONSCIOUS
(usually inaccessible to us but made accessible by hypnosis )

———————————————–

We can relate hypnotism to the central tenet of Gurdjieff’s teaching. He taught that what we usually regard as being our daily waking state is in fact a state of sleep. Not ordinary sleep but hypnotic sleep.

In brief summary: our ‘true’ consciousness resides in what he terms the ‘subconscious’ which we are usually unable to contact. As a result of this division in our consciousness, he says that, as we are, we cannot ‘do’, our actions are merely mechanical reactions.

In Chapter XXXII of the Tales Beelzebub explains that hypnotism is the means of linking these two states of being. It can be used to act on these separated consciousnesses in different ways, for example, it can put the usual waking state, where the personality functions to sleep so that the subconscious which contains the essence can function. The advantage of doing that is that according to the teaching essence can grow and develop while the personality is a prison in which we respond mechanically to what ever happens.

So we can see that a passive experience of hypnotism, being hypnotised by events or surroundings, may function to trap us in ‘waking sleep’, while an active hypnotism, may liberate us from waking sleep and give us access to our subconscious.

Hypnotism in Gurdjieff’s terminology is thus ‘a stick with two ends.’

——————-

Here I want to look at Gurdjieff’s four texts in relation to his law of three which expresses two possible outcomes for the interaction of negative and positive forces. Hypnotism is the third force that can reconcile these forces in an evolutionary/positive way, or in a devolutionary/negative way.

The diagram below show how Gurdjieff’s texts embody his law of three.

————————————

+ LIFE
Results from reconciliation in an evolutionary/upwards direction

– TALES Hypnotism is the third force capable of reconciling positive and negative forces + MEETINGS

– HERALD
Results from reconciliation in devolutionary/downwards direction

——————————————————-

We can regard each text as representing a positive or negative force according to Gurdjieff’s own intention for the books stated in the following way:

The Tales – functions as a negative force intended to destroy the reader’s beliefs and views
Meetings – functions as a positive force – because it is to provide the reader with good material for a new creation.

Life – functions as a result of an evolutionary reconciling force – because it is to help the reader realise the world existing in reality rather than in his fantasy.

Herald – functions as the result of a devolutionary reconciling force, this is the book that Gurdjieff withdrew or ‘exiled’.

In the two books which show how the positive and negative are resolved Gurdjieff presents himself as a predominantly wise white magician in Life, and the personification of a psychotic, black magician in Herald.

Gurdjieff instructed his pupils not to read Herald, but writes in Life, that we ought not to read it. This is not a convincing strategy for someone who wants his book to be ignored. Herald shows the chaotic state of a devolutionary descent in to madness, and it is necessary to include it in order to show the full expression of his law of three.

Gurdjieff employed hypnotic techniques in all these texts. Some of these are defined by Dr Joseph A. Sandford a psychologist and clinical hypnotheapist with Gurdjieffian interests and professionally trained in the hypnosis methodology of Milton H. Erickson. Sandford gives some examples of the hypnotic techniques that are used by both men: ‘story telling, metaphor, indirect suggestion, confusion techniques and implied directives, and shocks (Gnosis through Hypnosis: the Role of Trance in Personal Transformation, Proceedings of the All & Everything Humantities Conference,2005, privately published. See also (Runyon, Carroll, Magick and Hypnosis). http://nightbreed.tribe.net/thread/33226a91-c71c-49f4-90dd-dd1f0c997091 ‘<em>Ceremonial magic is ritual hypnosis’).

Gurdjieff himself said that breaking the connection between the emotional and mental centres will cause a person to become hallucinated (Gurdjieff, 1976: 263, 192), ‘Centres are without critical faculty … when a person looks with one centre only, he is under hallucination’). All his texts are intentionally confusing: misleading, contradictory, and paradoxical, he defined himself as:

‘unique in respect of the so to say “muddling and befuddling” of all the notions and convictions supposedly firmly fixed in the entirety of people with whom I come into contact.” (Tales, 26).

2.
Now we will look at how Gurdjieff presented himself to his pupils.
Gurdjieff’s teaching emphasised specific methodologies according to where he was and what was happening, but the content of the teaching remained the same in all periods. Here, because of time constraints, we will look at two periods indicated in the chronology below.

—————————————————

G. I. GURDJIEFF 1866? – 1949

1866? Born Alexandropol, Armenia, (now Gyumri)

1885?- 1910? Undocumented travels to Middle and Far East

1910? – 1917 In Russia teaching: P. D. Ouspensky meets Gurdjieff
records teaching from 1915 – 1922
In Search of the Miraculous (Search) Ouspensky 1949

1917 – 1922 From Russia to Europe with pupils

1922 France: Gurdjieff founds The Institute for the Harmonious
Development of Man outside Paris,
fully functional until 1924

1924 -1930 Visits USA begins writing. Closes the Institute but
continues to live there. Will visit the USA a further
nine or ten times.

1932 lives in Paris

1935 – 1940 Paris teaching the Rope group [and others].

1940-1945 Teaching groups in his flat in Paris

1945 Gurdjieff continued teaching pupils until his death in
1949.

———————————————————

P. D. Ouspensky

1915-1922
During this time Ouspensky records Gurdjieff’s teaching pupils: the acquisition of will, the use of symbolism, the inter-relationship of macrocosmos to microcosmos and a manipulation of cosmic laws so as to form a set of new bodies of ever finer materiality and longevity. Gurdjieff expressed his teachings with reference to alchemical processes, (Search,176, 180), transmutation and transformation (Search,193), and in relation to the symbologies of astrology, magic and tarot, among others (Search, 278-295) and Webb, (The Harmonious Circle 1980, 499-525) gives a good account of some of the likely western esoteric origins of Gurdjieff’s teaching (Webb, 1980, 499-525).

Many if not most of Gurdjieff’s pupils had some knowledge of Theosophical ideas, so his cosmology, ideas about the formation of different bodies would have been familiar to them. What Gurdjieff offered pupils that differed from Blavatksy’s Theosophical teaching was an occult practice that would enable them to transform themselves, not just a theory about different bodies but methods for creating them. This brings Gurdjieff’s teaching into the realm of magic (Versluis, Arthur, 2007: 1. ‘Magicians seek direct spiritual insight and use it to affect the course of events’, and 4. ‘the Magus seeks to have effects in the world’.)

Gurdjieff defines magicians as men who understand the laws of nature and know how to use them to transform substances and also to oppose mechanical influences, and this is not a bad summary of what Gurdjieff himself taught. He gives Christ as an example of a magician who had this knowledge (Search: 226-7, see also (Views 1976/ 1st pub 1973 in a talk in Essentuki in 1918). Gurdjieff’s definitions of both black and white magicians are inconsistent and confusing (Search: 227). He does say that ‘Black magic does not in any way mean magic of evil’ and this is representative of a theme he returns to throughout his teaching. The pupils who took part in his revue ‘Struggle of the Magicians’, had to dance the roles of both black and white magicians.
Gurdjieff agrees with Ouspensky that narcotics are used for the creation of states that make magic possible, but says that they are not merely narcotics although substances used may be prepared form opium or hashish (Search: 8-9 see also 162, 195).

There is a short paper on Narcotics and Hormones by G. I. Gurdjieff, ‘evidently taken down by Ouspensky’. Here Gurdjieff relates some of the uses of narcotics including as a help in ‘the work of Self-Observation and self study,’ he stresses that the use of narcotics is dangerous and needs to be carried out by an expert.

In 1959 the Stourton Press in Cape Town published a short paper Narcotics and Hormones by G. I. Gurdjieff, ‘evidently taken down by Ouspensky’, some of the material is in his In Search of the Miraculous. Republished in Unforgotten Fragments, Pogson, Beryl Chassereau, and Lewis Creed, 1994. Gurdjieff states that narcotics can be used to change the state of consciousness. He refers to medieval literature as a rich source on the subject. He defines hormones as ‘clouds of fine matter, finer than the gaseous matter known to us which is given off by various organs of our body. The 1920s and 1930s were a time of great interest and medical research into hormones. In 1922 insulin was first used to treat diabetes, (see also http://www.uwyo.edu/wjm/Repro/classica.htm) There are references to opium in the Tales including an complex passage pages 826-40 detailing research into the properties of opium).

———————————————–

Solita Solano

1935 -1939/40
Gurdjieff was teaching’ the Rope’ a group of women pupils in Paris, seeing them once or twice every day. According to Gurdjieff’s pupil J. G Bennett this group progressed at a much faster rate than earlier pupils, Bennett attributed this to the use of drugs (Bennett 1976: 232), Bennett writes that Gurdjieff carried out ‘a very extraordinary experiment, making use of methods that brought them into remarkable psychic states, and developed their powers far more rapidly’ than those of earlier pupils. He saw memoirs but is not allowed to quote from them, he hopes they will be published as they throw light on Gurdjieff’s methods as a teacher and upon ‘his use of drugs as a method of developing not only psychic experiences, but also opening hidden channels of the human psyche’. Although he was castigated for making this suggestion, there are diary entries concerning courses of injections, which Gurdjieff himself gave to the pupils, recorded in:

Notes taken by Solita Solano from October 1935 – April 1939 in Paris, with additional notes about Gurdjieff’s visit to New York in 1948
(Janet Flanner and Solita Solano Papers, Library of Congress, folder 6 box 6).

There are twenty-three direct references to piqures (injections) and courses of injections that Gurdjieff gave Solano and other members of the Rope group. He gave inner exercises for them to do related to the injections.

Solano quotes Gurdjieff saying:

‘After a certain age this effort [his teaching] is very difficult and often impossible. There is an artificial aid by means of physico-chemical substance… for example a substance can be injected which will furnish artificial help for prayer … If the effort and the amount of the chemical are not balanced, it becomes a dangerous poison for the organism.’ (In January, 1936, p. 18).

He had already given her ‘My first piqure and my first exercise’ (16th November 1935).

These notes are greatly abridged and there is no mention of the actual substances he was injecting, but he did take blood and urine samples from the group to check what adjustments to make to their medications. The exercises are not give in the Notes, and the results of the injections are not referred to in detail, Solano reports feeling better after the first course. Later the group are strongly affected by the injections, two of them cry and feel suicidal, Solano fears loosing her memory. Another time she asks about an increase in menstruation which Gurdjieff attributes to the injections this last suggests injections of hormones (Notes 39-40).

The group also take other medicines given them by Gurdjieff (Notes July 18, 1936, 42-43).

There are references to magic, in the first (June 18th 1936) Gurdjieff refers to ‘the mag’, Solano writes in brackets after mag ( magus, adept, master) and says that

The mag (magus, adept, master) is cunning.

… The mag is the highest that man can approach to God because only he can be impartial and fulfil obligation to God. In old times the mag was always made the chief because he had cunning. Other mags could do either white or black magic but the mag who had cunning and canning could do both white and black and was the chief of the Initiates. Man with real cunning is man without quotation marks. Angel can do only one thing. Devil can do all.’ (July 18th 1936, Notes, 42-43).

A month later he says: “Both cunning and canning are necessary to all things. This is why there are two magics. Black magic is cunning – often also is cunning and canness – you understand the difference? Black magic is ideal for being. Cunning and can-ness is like conscious and unconscious, or like two words used in Bible for meaning two kinds of evil voluntary and involuntary sin”. (Notes 49).

Gurdjieff continued to teach pupils his mix of esoteric ideas and occult practices. He was at pains to present himself in his writings and in his oral teachings in the roles of both Black and White Magician. He never sought to present himself as solely good, or other than he was which was capable of both constructive and destructive relations with his pupils. I suggest that this duality is fundamental to his teaching because he is an embodiment of his Law of Three, showing the good and bad possibilities open to a human beings and how these may be reconciled.

Some of the methods that Gurdjieff used to hypnotised and entangled his pupils were:
intense pressures
conflicting demands
contradictory teachings
exhausting physical efforts
lack of sleep
use of alcohol and drugs
and fasts

The demands of both Gurdjieff’s writings and oral teachings entangle the reader or listener in hypnotic paradox and contradiction . The demand for students to observe themselves was contradicted by the teaching that they were mechanical and unable to ‘do’. The statement that pupils must have a critical mind was subverted by belonging to a regime in which they had agreed to be incapable of ‘doing’ and therefore of being critical. The constant demand for ‘making effort’ was reinforced by Gurdjieff’s instruction that leaving the teaching before having reached a certain stage would be injurious. It would be better for pupils to die making ‘super-efforts’ than to continue living their mechanical lives. He stressed that the teaching was dangerous. Pupils could not avoid danger, they had to face either the danger of the teaching, or of leaving it. Gurdjieff’s teaching always took place in the last chance saloon.

But he did repeatedly warn pupils against taking his cosmological ideas literally (Wellbeloved, 2003: 216-17). He also gave clues. The astute reader or listener will find the contradictions and begin to question the texts and maybe also the teaching. The process of freeing themselves from this hypnotised state might also free pupils from much of their usual mechanically hypnotised state and allow them to connect with their subconscious (Webb 1980: 560-573). Entanglement and liberation are two ends of the same stick. One of the properties that Gurdjieff defined as belonging to the subconscious is ‘confrontative criticism’ (Tales 568). Or to express it differently, they might be able to define themselves and the world around them in terms other than those used by Gurdjieff.

Ignoring the contradictions, both those created by him and those arising in his life, the pupil may defeat the point of the teaching. Gurdjieff himself usually made sure the pupil ‘got it’ that is could not ignore the contradictions inherent in his teaching by ‘orphaning’ pupils, sending them away, behaving to them in such a way that they chose to go, or by simply disbanding the whole group. This forced pupils to reassess him the teaching and themselves (The Fourth Way, i.e. Gurdjieff’s teaching is never permanent, Search: 312).

3.
Present day omissions and redefinitions of the Work
Once the Magus dies, his presence as embodiment is not longer there and his teaching ends. Thus, he has to be reinvented and his teaching restructured and this has happened. Gurdjieff and his teaching have inevitably been institutionalised and redefined.

Today, in foundations (organisations set up after Gurdjieff’s death by his successor Jeanne de Salzmann) and other groups, as far as I have discovered, there is no focus on Gurdjieff’s use of:
Magic,
Hypnotism,
Narcotics and other drugs.
While the teaching was defined by Gurdjieff as a dangerous but quick way to acquire knowledge, membership is now for long periods, or for life. The effort required is not ‘dangerous’. The pupil is focused on ‘searching’ rather than ‘finding’, ‘receiving’ rather than ‘stealing’ or ‘making efforts’ (See https://gurdjieffbooks.wordpress.com/ “Doing” and Not Doing” on the Joseph Azize page where he gives examples of the passive form of language used in the 1980s by a Foundation work teacher.). Gurdjieff is generally presented in a version ‘cleansed’ of occult practices. For example, the website of the New York Foundation does not include Herald in its list of Gurdjieff’s writings (http://www.gurdjieff-foundation-newyork.org/work2.html ).

The foundations have remained secretive and closed to general scrutiny. There are ‘not for public release books and videos’, one of the videos I have seen presents Gurdjieff in a romanticised sepia vision of his life as related in Meetings, where none of the contradictions of his life or teaching are mentioned. The Work has now spread out and become more widely known in versions that are entwined with other teachings (see Wellbeloved ‘Changes in G. I. Gurdjieff’s Teaching ‘The Work’ http://www.cesnur.org/2001/london2001/wellbeloved.htm A paper presented at The 2001 Conference (CESNUR-INFORM) in London).

What we might ask now is: why is there a reluctance to mention occult practices, magic, hypnotism and the use of drugs in this teaching, not only by the teacher/practitioners but also by scholars? This is a question that is important for the establishment of the discipline of western esotericism as a whole.

Traces of Gurdjieff as Magus, can be found in pupil memoirs and in Chaos Magic.
He remains fully alive in his roles as both black and white magician in his texts.
—————————

Bibliography

Azize, Joseph, https://gurdjieffbooks.wordpress.com/2008/04/07/doing-and-not-doing/

Bennett, John G. Gurdjieff: Making A New World, London: Turnstone Books, 1976

G. I. Gurdjieff, The Herald of Coming Good, privately published Paris, 1933

All and Everything, Ten Books in Three Series:
First series: An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man or Beelzebub’s
Tales to His Grandson, London: Routledge & Keegan Paul, 1950.

Second series: Meetings With Remarkable Men, trans. A. R. Orage, Londond:
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963.

Third series: Life is real only then, when “I am”, New York: Duton for Triangle
Editions, 19

Views from the Real World: Early Talks of Gurdjieff: London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1976, 1sr pub. 1973.

Ouspensky, P. D. In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching, London:
Arkana, 1987, 1st pub Harcourt Brace and World, 1949.

Peters, Fritz, Gurdjieff: containing Boyhood with Gurdjieff and Gurdjieff Remembered, London:
Wildwood House, 1977 (1st pub. 1965).

Pogson, Beryl Chassereau and Lewis Creed, Unforgotten Fragments, York: Quacks Books, 1994

Solano, Solita, unpublished Notes taken by Solita Solano from 1935 – 1940 in Paris, Beinecke Library, Kathryn Hulme Papers YCAL MSS 22 Box 19, folders 484-93 Solano, Solita 1951-75, n.d.

Versluis, Arthur, Magic and Mysticism,: an Introduction to Western Esotericism, Lantham,
Boulder, New York, Toronto, Plymouth UK: Roman & Littlefield, 2007.

Webb. James, The Harmonious Circle, London: Thames & Hudson, 1980.

Wellbeloved, Sophia, ‘Changes in G. I. Gurdjieff’s Teaching ‘The Work’ 2001 CESNUR-Inform
Conference in London. http://www.cesnur.org/2001/london2001/wellbeloved.htm
Gurdjieff: the Key Concepts, London & New York: Routledge, 2003.