Gurdjieff is quoted as mentioning that one could recognize a particular nationality by the way they danced and moved etc. The forms present in cultural dances have been seen as the very thing which actually gave birth to the given culture. The forms present in the dances may be seen as pre-existing forms that manifest through the action of the dancers. By acting upon the people, the forms could organise and inform the beings as to the arising and maintenance of the given culture.
Gurdjieff has also said that Sacred dances can contain vast amounts of higher information (1). Although he expressed this in one aspect, by saying that such forms and information were intentionally created and utilised by conscious individuals, there is also scope for the reality of pre-existing independent forms; which may then be considered as either the creations of a higher order of intelligence above Man, or may even be considered as being such an intelligence itself rather than an expression of it etc.
We tend to think of a dance as something that is made out of the combination of the movements that the performers make, but in terms of the idea of the reality of different ‘worlds and cosmoses’ (2), the dance is not just the result of the physical performance. The form, or in-form-ational aspect to the dance, is of a different and higher nature and reality to that of the physical movement and performance of the dance. In this sense, it is the form or in-form-ational aspect of the dance that organises and gives rise to the physical performance and movement etc. In terms of the idea of the Law of Three, ‘the higher acts upon the lower in order to actualize the middle’, this being in the sense of evolutionary development and ‘Harnel Miatznel’; as expressed in in Beelzebub’s Tales.
Dances may be seen as having their own Being and Spirit, and as having the nature of a creative and organising influence upon man’s culture, the same being so for his inner experiential world. Many different cultures see dancing and singing as being involved in giving birth to the Creation and Man.
There is also the idea here of the ‘collective consciousness/unconsciousness’ which serves as a kind of ‘hive mind’ to which each individual is connected. This idea has been used as a way to explain the fact that certain ideas or discoveries happen to different people in different parts of the world at the same time etc. The collective consciousness is seen as containing information that is in the process of being realized, and it is seen as being in a process of evolution itself. Different individuals have varying degrees of access or ‘communication’ with the collective consciousness, and everyone is seen as serving its evolution to varying degrees, some more significantly than others.
The collective consciousness is seen as containing ‘Archetypes’ (3) that are forms of Truth, and hence it is said that the same Truth is repeatedly revealed to mankind in varying forms. It is known that different religions have almost exactly the same stories and series of events that are related to Creation and their given ‘Prophet’. This is generally explained as resulting from inheritance, one civilization comes into contact with another and passes on its religious teachings or accounts and hence there is similarity. A different view says that the similarity is due to the nature of Truth, that the Truth of the Creation and Man’s place in it is externally expressible or communicable only in a certain kind or form of symbolism (4). The reason why such religious stories and accounts are so popular is then because they express a Truth that is registered by people, even if only ‘subconsciously’. This is then seen as what gives the religious accounts of ‘Prophets’ and Disciples etc such ‘potency’ and gives them their extreme potential for ‘good’ or for ‘bad’.
An ‘Archetype’ necessarily lends itself to multiple forms of interpretation, like a ‘skeleton key’ it can seem to fit many locks. If such religious teachings and accounts, and rituals, are Archetypal, then they are structured in a way that mirrors the structure of the human ‘mind’ or ‘consciousness’ itself. This could be explained by saying that as the stories and accounts are made up by early man they are necessarily more ‘primitive’, or a more basic expression and reflection of the nature of mans ‘mind’. The more ‘esoteric’ view sees such religious stories, accounts, and rituals as ‘revelations’ that are gifted to mankind from ‘above’, and it is then considered that these ‘revelations’ are made to evolve the nature of man’s mind, something akin to a ‘download’ of a higher information, information that leads to the evolution of the mind that receives it because it has a higher order of structure ’embedded’ in it. We could see this as Active information that in-forms, or organises, man’s ‘mind’ to a higher level of order, or higher degree of ‘mind’, that is more conformable to, and synchronous with, the Cosmic order or the Truth of Man and Creation or God.
The Revelations that are linked to the great Religions, which we have collectively inherited, could be seen as leading to the evolution of man’s ‘mind’, or even providing the very ‘stuff’ of mind itself. In the same way that the patterns and cycles of nature are seen as providing a pattern or structure for the emergence of one form of mind, the Revelations could be seen as providing the structure or ‘scaffold’ for another form of mind. The patterns of nature in-form man’s mind, or the stuff that mind is made from, they sow the seed or till the land of man’s ‘natural’ mind. The Revelations and their rituals could do the same for Man’s ‘Spiritual’ mind.
The Ritual of The Idiot.
Everyone is an idiot, whether they are ‘identified’ or not. This is shown in such as Gurdjieff’s ritual of the ‘toast of the idiots’ (5). In the esoteric sense, to be an idiot is to really be oneself, to be in possession of one’s own individuality and manifest this to the full, independent of the influence of the changing surrounding circumstances. We may see here, that to be an idiot means to be ‘initiated’. Gurdjieff has said here that the only real initiation is ‘self-initiation’ (6). Given that such initiation concerns the very individuality of the being, it cannot be forced from outside and requires the decision and commitment of the whole of the being themselves. It is only this act of decision of the individual that can enable there to be real initiation, and this may express that initiation is something that is centred in the Will.
Initiation, as self initiation, must involve an authentic action that arises from within the being themselves. This authentic action may, of course, be facilitated by the external performance of some ritual and its attendant setting and circumstance etc. This ritual and its conditions may involve the presence of others, other ‘elders’ perhaps, and there may be the use of various tools and technology that are seen as the collective inheritance of the given people. In this sense, the one who is to undergo initiation draws from the collective wisdom and knowledge of his ‘tribe’, and this material serves to aid him in his work. This material can only bring the individual to the threshold of initiation, and of itself it cannot provide what is required. This may be seen as portrayed in the element of ‘ordeal’ that is present in most initiation practices, where the choice to persist through the given ordeal can only be made by the individual themselves, and it is this very choice that can make such an ordeal fruitful in regard of real initiation.
The element of ordeal can, of course, have a wide variety of forms of expression, and it does not have to necessarily involve intense physical suffering. However, all initiation ritual is seen as something that must be intense by its very nature, it must involve the whole being and involve a radical transformation and revelation. We can see here the notion of ‘apocalypse’ which has connotations of ‘removing the veil’ such as to give revolutionary change. The physical ordeal is one means, and expression, of the intensity of real and significant transformation and revelation. A revelation of meaning can be just as painful as physical ordeal.
In the ideas of The Work, there is the notion of real Conscience, which is said to be something that is ‘buried’ in the ‘subconscious’ of man (7). For this conscience to be active and manifest in a person’s life, it was necessary to remove the ‘buffers’ that provided a means for the separation and segregation of the different, and contradictory, aspects of a being’s identity and nature. These ‘buffers’ provided a means to hinder any shock and disturbance that would result from the contact of two or more contrary and/or different aspects and features or our identity and nature. When two or more contrary and/or different aspects of a being’s nature came into contact, this would then give a significant reaction in the being. This reaction could give different results, including significant mental and emotional disturbance and outburst. In the extreme, such a contact of contrary aspects could produce a significant mental break, something overwhelming to the given psyche. In this sense, a serious work of preparation was required in order to make a being able to experience such contradictions present in their identity and nature.
To go through the experience of these inner contradictions enabled not just a greater self knowledge, bringing all the aspects of oneself equally into the light, but it also enabled a transformation concerning the unification of the contrary and diverse aspects of a being. This then enabled the being to act as one whole, establishing a principle of authority and unity within, a greater form of coherence and inter-connectivity between the different aspects of a being. This transformation may also be pictured as finding one’s true individuality and finding an inner source of guidance regarding one’s own particular needs and talents and potential contribution.
Self initiation, though centred in the individual and essentially concerning their relationship to themselves, also has a communal aspect in the sense that going through the ritual of initiation was considered as the means of entry into the given society or tribe etc. It was the way to become a real member of the society, enabling one to take their true and appropriate place and role in the given society. Here, we may see that it is true individuality that is the means of real communion and community, only real individuals may have real relationships, individuality is required in order to actually and meaningfully relate and participate. Prior to initiation, a being is not really considered as part and member of the community, such an un-initiated being is only considered as something of a potential being, a potential member of the group.
Until initiation, such a being may be seen as something of a drain on the given community, having no particular and contributing role and identity. The un-initiated may also then be seen as potentially dangerous to the community and its integrity and harmony, but they are also seen to be needed as the means of the future persistence of the group. The un-initiated may then be considered as a group responsibility, just as children are regarded. In the Work, there is the notion of the obligation to ‘pay for the debt of one’s arising’ (8), and this has the connection to initiation and the realization of individuality. Individuality is seen as the means of this payment, and until this payment is made there is the sense in which a being may be a further drain and disturbance on their surroundings. Without individuality there may not be the means for individual contribution, without individuality a being may be at odds with themselves and thereby with their environment.
A ritual, as a means to self initiation, may also be seen as a means of the connection between different worlds or natures, such as Man’s physical and Spiritual natures. This connection and reconciliation of the different natures of Man, has been expressed as requiring a degree of physical integration and coherence. This is because the process of initiation is also a physical transformation involving the energies and processes of the body. Hence there is the idea in various forms of Shamanism that higher information is contained in the body and/or accessed through the body. Nowadays there is the notion of the information in the DNA which may have something higher embedded or encoded into it, and which may be accessed from within through the consciousness of the individual.
Physical ordeal may then be seen in the context of either the preparation for the higher energies and information that are present in the body or elsewhere, or the physical ordeal may be seen as a necessary element in the direct accessing of such information and energy. A degree of physical and mental stability and integration may be required in order to bear the higher meaning and information. Many depictions of contact and meeting with the Sacred and Divine are expressed in terms of a traumatic experience, such as the biblical ‘fear and trembling before the lord’. Physical ordeal may then be seen to be present in initiation ritual so as to express the physical nature that is involved in the process, and it may also be used as the easiest way to engage the psyche in a significant and intense action.
Physical stimulation may be seen as the easiest and quickest way to stimulate the psyche, providing it with a challenge or demand. In this way, it may be the easiest way to generate intense energies in the being, which intensity of energy may then potentially be directed into another channel, as related to the contact and reception of higher meaning and insight etc. The use of physical performance in initiation ritual may also be seen as a way to engage all the sides of the being at once, both the mind, feelings, and body. With the apparent disregard of the body in favour of giving attention to the mind, which we might see as a symptom of our modern times, the presence of physical ordeal and performance in ritual initiation may serve as a reminder as to the value of the body and its needed role in real learning.
Due to the ‘structure’, or ‘pattern’, present in a ritual, the engagement in it can lead to a communication or revelation of that which is ‘within’ the ritual. The information and its communication are not ‘in’ the ritual, its form and sequence, but due to this form and sequence something can come through of a higher level. The ritual and its external engagement can serve as a vessel or medium. It serves as a sign, which, when seen, points to something beyond itself. Every activity is ritual. Or it could be said that the given activity only becomes a ritual when it is seen, when it is seen from within its engagement, when one’s own place and role is seen within the larger pattern of the ritual, in relation to it. There are different levels, or degrees, of the seeing of ritual. There are different levels or degrees of meaning, and thereby different levels or degrees of participation. Different levels are connected and there is exchange and movement between or through them, and this relates to the nature of self-initiation which requires help from above and from below.
Gurdjieff mentions that the relevant information for a being’s own self initiation, the communication and the signs, are everywhere, though we may need to be ‘initiated’ through some particular ‘form’ that is itself ‘altered’ and which makes room, or allows for movement, for seeing, for adjustments, for re-correction etc. What is left out of a ritual, or what is missing in it, is ourselves, and none other can do this for us, can play or portray our part or make our contribution for us. The alteration and ‘intentional mistakes’ present in rituals are a compensation for our lack. In ritual there is a presented ‘image’ that says ‘insert here’, ‘insert yourself here’. There can be an enactment of our missing part and what should be present in us, and this may be displayed in different ways. This enactment for the missing character makes the ritual an ‘act’ rather than an action. There is absurdity to highlight the absurd to the absurd. The enactment of the missing part, or the acting as if it was present, can never match the actuality of the presence of such part, but it is all that can be done until the vacancy is filled, all that can potentially give the recognition of the absentee themselves.
In seeing that it is oneself that is missing, and that it is one’s own contribution that is being depicted and called for, we can then attempt to rise to the challenge to fill our place or play our part. Even this we cannot do of ourselves, and we have to be helped because we do not know ourselves and lack ableness to be ourselves, even when ‘shown how’. There is then the ‘offering up’ of ourselves in order to be ourselves, an offering of ourselves to the ritual and to the ‘name’ in which it is done, to that which can ‘incarnate’ in or through the ritual, or rather, to that which can incarnate the ritual itself into the ‘name’, incarnate its members as actual members. In our offering, of ourselves, we ourselves become the ritual, or become a ritual within the ritual. We become a vessel that can be filled, that can become itself through its ‘image’. We become the host within the host of the ritual, the true creative communion in which we are made and made one.
The Postures of Thinking and Ritual (Self Initiation).
In our modern culture we do seem to have lost ways of experiencing the feeling of belonging and connection, whether this feeling is towards other people in the physical realm or other people ‘in Spirit’. We could say that we have lost the ‘Art’ of the ‘Ritual’. We do have some rituals handed to us, like perhaps going to a grave in order to lay flowers, or going to other religious or secular service. There is even the ritual of going out on a weekend, but because these rituals are second hand they can be unfulfilling. It can be hard for us to actually enter in to them or get anything out of them; in which case they do not serve their purpose. We can create our own ‘rituals’ as a means of establishing a sense of contact and connection, belonging and participation. We do have this creative capacity through which meaning can be realized, and this creating of rituals may be very close to what is spoken of in the Bible as the entering and making of the Kingdom of Heaven.
A ritual could be anything, it does not necessarily have to involve lots of candles and wearing some fancy robe etc, whatever floats your boat. We might think that making a ritual could do nothing for us, and yet most people appreciate that art, of any kind, can be a potent means of ‘therapy’, it can be ‘cath-artic’, and what is an art but the practising of a ritual.
The passionate painter, for example, sets up an action into which he can fully enter and, to an extent, be ‘consumed by’. In this total commitment there can be the sense of a contact, connection, and belonging; a communication with something ‘higher’. The actual painted picture might be seen as ‘just’ a by-product and means of this process, being used in order to facilitate the potential that is in the performance of a ritual. The picture may also become a means of re-entering the contact and communication, a means of re-member-ing it.
This sense of fully entering something, some process, and also being consumed by it, has something of the nature of the ‘Holy Communion’ about it. It is a form of ‘interpenetration’ or ‘inter-permeation’ between different worlds or natures, such as the Spiritual and the Physical. It is this quality in the contact and blending of the different worlds that can give the ‘impregnation’, or even ‘transubstantiation’, that leads to the re-birth; the ‘being born of the Spirit’. This birth may be like establishing communication with the realm of ‘meaning’ and ‘creativity’ itself. This kind of communication can lead to one being ‘in-formed’ of how to further proceed, how to find one’s own way of transformation.
In psychology, there is the notion of gaining contact with one’s own ‘subconscious’, and this can be done through various means. Once there is some degree of contact established, then one’s own ‘subconscious’ can point the direction. One becomes ‘one’s own source of initiative’, one’s own teacher etc. This process may not involve knowing beforehand what to do or what will happen, it may be a case of finding the way in the moment, like the way is being created each moment. So here it is not like there is some pre-defined path that we all simply have to follow, instead we are all called to create, or participate in the creation of, our own way. Entering this creative action may be entering the Kingdom.
There is a problem with our modern attitude, and this is connected to how we see ‘belief’. In our general kind of ‘pseudo-scientific’ attitude, we see ‘belief’ as something to be avoided, and yet in medicine we know the power of what is termed the ‘placebo’. It is only our belief that can enable us to fully enter into something, enabling it to be really meaningful for us. This may then may lead to something that is transformative, ‘Revelationary’, or ‘Revolutionary’. Due to our conditioning, we are taught to regard ‘make-believe’ as childish, and hence even alone by ourselves we can be ’embarrassed’. We can have aversion to doing something that we regard as ‘acting’, we can ‘feel stupid’ etc. All these things can keep us from exploring our own creative capacity, our potential for transformation that can come through ‘performance’.
Getting a handle on our own power of belief, and engaging with it intentionally through the use of performance and ritual, can be revolutionary. There is something at work here that is more than mere ‘self suggestion’, and as has been said, there is the belief or Faith can ‘move mountains’. The difference between the ‘mere’ belief, or ‘blind faith’, and the belief and faith that can ‘move mountains’ may simply lie in the degree of our own intentional engagement of this capacity..
This is just a suggestion and food for contemplation: We can experiment with intentionally evoking an emotion and expressing this in some intentional form. The quickest and cheapest thing we have to hand is our own body, which we can use as such an intentional form of expression. We are already given some bodily forms of ritual, some ritual postures, such as the touching of hands in prayer or the lotus position of meditation etc. We can create our own ritual postures and gestures,, explore posture or gesture. We can experiment with endowing a posture, gesture, or movement with a particular emotion, or a particular wish and intention. This is, in one sense, the meaning of prayer; a fully embodied action or performance, not just a mental petition. Aside from praying for something particular, we can use intentional action, such as posture and gesture, or some other form of art, as a means of inquiry, as a means of ‘thinking’ or contemplating. Perhaps I have a question about what is ‘honesty’, I can literally ‘work this out’ by the performance, bringing the question into the ritual.
We have, in modern times, relegated ‘thinking’ to the ‘head’. We have limited the means of working things out, the means of learning and knowing and questioning, to the ‘head’. We thereby cut ourselves off from the greater part of our own nature, we do not utilize the full means we have at our disposal. We limit ourselves to one room in the Temple in which we try to work things out, instead of bringing the whole temple, our whole being and all its facets and capacities, into action. It is only by a whole act of the temple that the Father can come to visit the temple, and perhaps even come to dwell in it.
We say ‘think outside the box’, so why do we box our thinking in our head ? What about thinking with our hands, or feet ? Instead of adopting the static ‘the thinker’ pose, with hand on chin, why not dance a question, or literally ‘pose’ a question ? Put the ‘motion’ back into a ‘notion’, or literally ‘wrestle’ with a problem, or abstractly paint ‘E=Mc2’ ? Perhaps I need not only read the Creation story, read about it, in the hope to understand it. I may also be able to perform this Creation story, and thereby actually participate in it. The Creation then coming into being in, or through, my own ‘Image’.
In the general kind of engagement with rituals, they can become ‘ends in themselves’ rather than means. I may think that just by superficially repeating some ritual I am going to get somewhere. I may then be seen as putting the ‘fruit’ of the ritual somewhere in the future, outside of the ritual itself. It may be be untrue to say that even the superficial repetition of a ritual has, or can have, no benefit. Many of the common rituals are performed by large numbers of people, and so even in the superficial performance someone can be linked to the collective who engage in the same ritual or form. This form itself may be connected with something higher. For instance, there is the idea of ‘Baraka’ or enabling grace, which is usually associated with special people or places, but may also be associated with large ritual practices. The collective may produce some of this, which some people may be able to access, or it may be portioned out according to ‘merit’ or need etc.
Along with the ritual of posture and gesture, there is Symbol. A symbol may be seen as another potential means of connection and entry into something of a higher order. In Christianity, there is the idea of creating Sacred Images and Holy Icons, which can serve this same purpose. In Islam, the power of image is also recognized, as with the example of not allowing images of the Prophet, and in secular terms we know the potential power of a flag, for better or worse.
In regard to the attempt to change habits, such as may be used to reduce suffering or economize energy, it can be useful to practice getting in touch with ‘intention’ itself. This can involve putting attention into an intention in order to ‘clarify’ it, and also in order to get to know the stuff of intention itself. It is rare for us to direct attention into intention itself, and it is rare for us to put attention into the ‘translation’ of the intention into manifest action/behaviour. This kind of work can aid the connection and communication between the ‘mind’ and ‘body’, and it can also give us ‘more energy’ or aid in being more ‘economic’ in the sense of quality over quantity.
The Will in/of the body, or the Sensing Brain in Beelzebub’s Tales, is not limited to the general conception of the ‘physical organism’, it is one expression of the Trinity. We can use the physical body as a means of ‘re-member-ing’ ourselves, as a means of communicating with ourselves or with our ‘subconscious’. Posture and gesture can be used to communicate a Wish and/or intention to ourselves. The intentional adoption of a posture/gesture can be used as a means to ‘concentrate’ the ‘energy’ of ‘intent’.
By combining the intentionally adopted posture/gesture with an intensity of feeling, we can then ‘imbue’ it with ‘life’ and ‘meaning’. The posture, or the act of adopting it intentionally and bringing feeling into it, can then serve as a means for ‘exercising’ the Will and our creative potential. This may lead to results that are seen to far outweigh the investment. The body can serve for two way communication; not only can we communicate to the subconscious through intentional bodily use, but the subconscious can also communicate to us through the body. This is to say that, an initial use of the body, that is stimulated by us in relation to an intention, can begin a ‘dialogue’. This ‘dialogue’ may remain related to the intention, but it may also range outside of this into to other areas that may be just as ‘useful’ or relevant for us
We, in the ‘modern western mentality’, seem to have lost the notion of learning through the body, we limit the scope of such learning to physical actions such as riding a bike. Gurdjieff talks of ‘cosmic knowledge’ that is able to be imparted into ‘body-language’, being present in such things as his Sacred Dances. Not only can we ‘read’ this ‘body-language’, but we can also come to ‘speak’ and ‘articulate’ it ourselves. By engaging our bodies intentionally, bringing intention and meaning into the body, into certain postures and gestures, we can then ‘refine’ this meaning. In doing this, we can ‘learn from ourselves’ and ‘understand ourselves’ more clearly and deeply.
Developing the means of self expression, developing the ‘articulation’, also develops the content, meaning, or intention. When a meaning or intention is clearly articulated by/in the body, or when there is a degree of correspondence and congruence between the meaning/intent and the bodily manifestation or enactment, there is then a kind of ‘liberation’. There is an act in which the varying worlds are united in a meaningful way. This is part of the nature and role of Man in the Cosmos, and it relates to his capacity to ‘Name’ and be ‘made in the Image of God’.
We ‘modern westerners’ rarely experiment with expressing ourselves solely in bodily gesture and posture. We rarely put ‘new content’ into our acquired postures and gestures, we rarely experiment with ‘new’ and unaccustomed bodily positions and motions, putting ‘new’ meaning or significance into them. The meaning to be expressed, the notion put into motion, could be something specific or it could be as ‘abstract’ as ‘love’ and ‘honour’ etc.
We can contemplate with our whole body and our whole range of postures and motions. We don’t have to confine our ‘mentation’ to the classic static ‘the thinker’ pose. Why not put the ‘mind’ into motion, use it to put the form into information. Shake the ‘mental dust’ from one’s feet, using one’s feet. Put ‘sour mental grapes’ under one’s feet and stomp them into a fine wine, or if the ‘mental hand’s’ grasp is sticky, then wash it with the other hand that can hold water.
1- See ‘In search of The Miraculous’ by P.D Ouspensky; ‘Objective Art’ and ‘Sacred Dances’.
2- See ‘In search of The Miraculous’ by P.D Ouspensky; ‘Ray of Creation’, ‘Diagram of All Living’, ‘Hydrogen Table’.
– See also ‘Gurdjieff: Making a New World’ by J.G Bennett; ‘Appendix’ of Cosmic Laws and ‘Essence Pentads’
3- See Carl Young; ‘Image and Archetype’
4- See ‘Legominism’ and ‘Art’ in Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson by G.I. Gurdjieff
5- See ‘Gurdjieff: Making a New World’ by J.G Bennett; ‘Gurdjieff as Teacher’,
See ‘Idiots in Paris’ by J.G Bennett
See also any other personal account of time with Gurdjieff, particularly in his later life.
The ‘Toast of the Idiots’ was a regular feature of Gurdjieff’s later work with people. It involved a literal toast in which various ‘idiots’ were extolled. Each idiot corresponded to both a psychological and cosmological component, as related to Man’s potential development. In giving the toast, there was also the requirement to put forth the particular idiot that one considered themselves currently to be. One’s given idiot was changing and not static or linearly developmental. Gurdjieff gave descriptions and names to the various numbers of idiot, such as ‘square idiot’, ’round idiot. ‘zig zag idiot’, ‘enlightened idiot’, ‘swaggering idiot’, ‘squirming idiot’ etc.
6- See ‘Glimpses of Truth’ as presented in ‘Views from the real World’ by ‘Anonymous’ pupil of Gurdjieff, likely compiled by several senior students of Gurdjeff.
7- see Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson by G.I Gurdjieff, particularly the chapters dealing with ‘Ashiata Shiemash’.
8- See the ‘being-obligolnian strivings’ in Beelzebub’s Tales