Gurdjieff, poet

            © 2018 Richard Hodges

            Armstrong Woods


People often take Beelzebub’s Tales as infallible scripture, as revelation of eternal truths that when dug out from their obscure formulations must be “verified” and then “believed in.” We have a different view: if on the very first page the reader is promised that his beliefs and views, by centuries rooted, will be mercilessly destroyed, why would he be content to merely be told new truths, and be expected to believe in them?

The work of destruction is more radical than that. The aim is freedom. Beelzebub warns us that belief, faith, as it is known by people, is the enemy of freedom[1]. First the tangled web must be burned away. What happens after that is unknown: it is the business of the man, once he is free, to discover it for himself.

Therefore, I approach Beelzebub’s Tales not as revelation but as literature, as—tales, lies, if you like; not as a constitution for a new state but as a terrorist attack upon the old one. And I approach Gurdjieff not as teacher, but as poet. “Poet”, from Greek ποίησις, means “maker,” creator of images pregnant with subconscious resonance.

Creation always entails destruction, its tantric consort. One loves the poet, but first one hates him because he shakes the ground one stands upon. Remember Luther: in history class one may have learned that his 99 theses, nailed to the door of a Cathedral, were a watershed. From that moment a fire began to burn in the heart of the West, a fire that still rages. But few know what his theses said. Here is the first one: “Unless you hate yourself, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” What did he mean by this? It will be left as an exercise to the reader.

Could we read Gurdjieff as a twentieth-century Luther? Have we seen this thesis nailed on our own door: “Unless you hate Beelzebub, you will not enter Purgatory.”

Love and Hate are an old married couple, never far apart. They face each other in a hidden whirling dance, which is the Life Force. Am I free enough yet to welcome both, and attend their transmutations?


[1] From Beelzebub’s Tales, p. 361:

Faith of consciousness is freedom

Faith of feeling is weakness

Faith of body is stupidity