The Mnemonics of Gurdjieff’s Trilogy

George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff
  1. All & Everything or “Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson”.
  2. Meetings with Remarkable Men.
  3. The Self is Only Real, Then When I am.

Much of Gurdjieff’s teaching or “philosophy” was ostensibly an oral process of transmission, but after his accident he decided rather reluctantly to delineate its essence for mankind in the form of 3 written volumes. The First volume entitled “Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson” or “All & Everything” is composed of three books or sections. The second volume is entitled “Meetings with Remarkable Men”, and the third “Life is Only Real, Then when I am”.

One important factor relevant in understanding the sophistication of Gurdjieff’s System was the language he employed to write these literary works. All of them were originally written in Armenian and contained numerous esoteric word ciphers which required a knowledge of the keys to the cryptic clues required for deciphering their real meaning. The Armenian language is derived and partly based on the Georgian Language which was in turn largely a combination of the Indo-Iranian and Caucasian languages. The Georgian language strangely enough is like the Greek in that numerically it is an isosephic tongue whereby all its’ letters contain the number range from 1 to 1,000.

Two distinct writing styles developed within the Georgian alphabet – the “Khutsuri” or priestly letters which are somewhat square in shape and the more cursive “Mkhedruli” or warrior letters developed around 1,000 CE. As a direct result of the development of the more cursive script the Georgian language itself was reduced from 39 to 33 letters. This mathematically reflects the symmetry contained in the number 9 and the number 11 – these two numbers reoccur within Arabic and Sanskrit esoteric number symbolism (See 99 Names of God). In Sanskrit cosmology they re-emerge as the 33 consonants which represent the 33 joints of the human spine, the sum total of 25 Varga letters & 8 Avarga letters symbolically represent the 33 Gods of Heaven (Sura) and the Goddess Kali herself. They can also be found within Cabalistic doctrines where the 33 degrees represent the entire range of Masonic levels of initiation. The Chinese Lo Shu Magic Square and the talismanic seal of Saturn is composed of 9 cells arranged in a manner that contains a series of four numbers: 3, 9, 15 and 45. The first number (3) is the number of squares of any given side. The second number is 9 – the total number of cells which correspond to the nine points of the Enneagram. The third number is 15 – the sum total of any 3 cells read vertically, horizontally or diagonally. The fourth number 45 is the total sum of the entire nine numbers of the magic square. These 4 numbers therefore govern the symbolic arrangement of the Magic Square acting as symbolic metaphors. Before the discovery of the outer planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto the planet Saturn was the “King” or ruler of the other six planets Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter.

As many students of the Gurdjieffian system are aware G.I. Gurdjieff was well travelled and studied the components of esoteric Arabic mathematics and the Greek “Soma Sophia” from Neoplatonic and Gnostic symbolism. He no doubt aligned much of his work along the lines of the abstract numerical symbolism contained within these particular occult systems. It is therefore a subtle blend of Eastern Mysticism aligned to Sufism, and Gnosticism or Esoteric Christianity. No doubt some students will discover echoes of Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, Confuscianism, Zoroastrianism and aspects from other sources. In this respect Gurdjieff’s system is often defined as eclectic or hybrid. But these three literary works, intended primarily as manuals to accompany his Method which was taught at the Prieure in Fontainbleu. I shall endeavour to delineate this mnemonic structure as follows:

It should be noted that the First Book or section contains 27 chapters which correspond to the 27 Lunar Mansions or “manzils” of Arabic astrology defined by al-Arabi‘s astrological scale. The major calendrical and cosmological systems of the world have corresponding asterisms each with various names or titles. These lunar asterisms usually contain an additional intercalary “month” thus bringing the final total to 28. Based again on the laws of the octave, there are 4 Palaces representing the four cardinal directions, each one containing 7 asterisms (4×7=28). The Chinese Compass Plates used in Divination and Feng Shui are also relevant to this form of geomantic division of the 360 degrees of the Celestial Sphere where conveniently 4 x 9 = 36.
However, the 12 signs of the conventional zodiac are evidenced as a sequence composed of 4 chapters for each sign. Therefore, Aries = chapters 1-4, Taurus chapters 5-8, Gemini chapters 9-12 and so on till we have chapters 45-48 representative of Pisces. Since the First Book is ostensibly “destructive” it represents the involuntary course that man is forced to adopt or accommodate himself to while the second book is the evolutionary course adapted by an evolving individual who is essentially self-determining and illuminated consciousness.

The Second Book contains eleven chapters which accord with the 11 degrees of the Cosmic Ladder of Consciousness. An additional chapter entitled “The Material Question” suggests an attempt to correlate the 12 signs of the zodiac to the characters Gurdjieff encounters or forms alliances with as central to his analogous biographical narrative.

  1. Aries – Karpenko
  2. Taurus – Akim Bey
  3. Gemini – Solviev
  4. Cancer – Vitvitskaia
  5. Leo – Lubovedsky
  6. Virgo – Yelov
  7. Libra – Pogossian
  8. Scorpio – Bogachevsky
  9. Sagittarius – Gurdjieff’s Tutor
  10. Capricorn – Gurdjieff’s Father
  11. Aquarius – Elderly Persian
  12. Pisces – Skridlov

Finally, the Third Book contains 8 chapters which accord with the Geomantic Ogdoad. The last chapter is a subtle addition entitled “From the Author” and can be set aside from the entire three volumes thus totalling 45 chapters. The number 45 as a multiple of three, five, seven and nine forms the basis of Gurdjieff’s system and its numerological correspondences and mystical content. The last chapter entitled “From the Author” contains a description of the automatic or mechanical nature of the human psyche analogously expressed as a Horse and Carriage. All the written work was meant to be read aloud among the group and then discussed between them. The test of any written work, as many authors fully appreciate, is whether or not it can withstand this type of scrutiny. The arrangement of the entire work of Gurdjieff is in no way arbitrary, it is in essence quite metaphorical and contains esoteric parallels which can be clearly delineated. For example, as already stated each chapter of the first volume of “Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson” is symbolically and mystically linked to one of the 28 letters of the Arabic, Hebraic or Greek alphabets. As far as I am aware, I am not the only person to have discovered this “hidden structure” in Gurdjieff’s literary collection since I posted this information on Facebook over twenty years ago and received a huge deluge of criticism from various quarters some on the basis that revealing this structure was a “useless exercise”, pointless, meaningless and not in accord with what Gurdjieff actually taught. So, like it or not I will not be answering queries or contestations, ridiculous comments or “trolls” after I have made the post. Life’s too short and I have other important matters to deal with personally and professionally.

The 28 Lunar Mansions

The Asterisms

Ten years after his death Gurdjieff’s pupils decided to publish the next in the series of written material. While “Beelzebub’s Tales” was meant to destroy mercilessly erroneous beliefs and views held by mankind for centuries, his second volume entitled “Meetings with Remarkable Men”, was intended to furnish fresh material required by his followers of a new world, throwing light on a fundamentally new perception of the self. This was written in the form of an autobiography relating events from his childhood to his years spent in search of the answers to religious and philosophical questions. The following is a quote from the foreword of “Meetings with Remarkable Men”.

“With his companions, after many great and unexpected difficulties, he succeeded in finding a very few individuals and isolated communities, each time acquiring fragments of a lost knowledge – until the moment when the doors of a certain school opened for him, where he came to understand how to bring together all the principles of an esoteric teaching. This school he calls simply The Universal Brotherhood, without telling more.”

This literary material is arranged as ten chapters with a foreword and an additional section entitled The Material Question. Again this material is arranged so that it corresponds to the 11 Sephirotic Spheres of Cabalistic Cosmology. However, in this autobiographical work Gurdjieff features 9 characters as archetypes in his life which correspond to the nine points of the Enneagram.

I. Introduction.
II. My Father (Saturn)
III. My First Tutor. (Dean Borsh – Jupiter)
IV. Bogachevsky. (Mars – A quarrel or duel between two people)
V. Mr. X or Captain Pogossian. (Venus – Search for a lost Brotherhood-)
VI. Abram Yelov. (Bookseller – Mercury)
VII. Prince Yuri Lubovedsky. (Sun – A noble aristocrat)
VIII. Ekim Bey. (Moon – )
IX. Piotr Karpenko. (Earth/Asc)
X. Professor Skridlov (Stars).
XI. *The Material Question (Lunar Nodes).

The 9 Points on the Enneagram can be viewed as a “dance of numbers” moving in the order 1, 4, 2, 8, 5, 7, 3, 6, 9. Utilising Raymond Lull‘s Cabalistic Latin attributes the esoteric aspects of the Enneagram as Sephirotic The Tree of Life can be decoded.

A comparison with Fransico Giorgio’s Three Worlds

Ramon Lull‘s Latin or Christian Caballa also utilised an onomantic astrological system whereby he was able to categorise the characteristics of a natal chart from the name of a person, he summarised the whole of astrology by simply attributing the elemental order with four Latin letters as follows:

(A)Air (Sanguine-warm & moist) – Tin/Jupiter *Gemini, Libra, Aquarius.
(B)Fire (Choleric-hot & dry) – Iron or Gold/Mars or Sun *Aries, Leo, Sagittarius.
(C)Water (Melancholic-cold & moist) – Lead/Saturn *Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn.
(D)Earth (Phlegmatic-hot & dry) – Copper or Silver/Venus or Moon *Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces.

With (ABCD) representing all 4 elements Aether – Quicksilver/Mercury. *The Zodiac

In a somewhat naïve attempt to convert Muslims and Jews to Christianity Raymond Lull (14th century Alchemist) added another seven letters to the enneagrammatic schema to develop a series of elemental counter-changes. These were intended to produce a 16-fold grid allowing the 4 elements to interact in this way, thereby creating the 40 Tarot court cards or suits in the minor arcana.

Lull’s Correspondences for the elements

He employed two basic cosmological tables commonly known as the “circular” which was composed of three interlocking wheels to produce 729 triadic letter combinations, and the “triangular” composed of 36 possible pairings of the 9 letters. The members of Gurdjieff’s Russian Theosophical School (Ouspensky, Charkovsky, & Butovsky) improved on this computational system by dividing each of the 3 “wheels” into 36 divisions, thereby allowing for 4 sets of nine attributes for each wheel. This slightly more advanced system of classification meant that a grand total of 46,656 permutations could be created, examined or worked out.

In the 16th century other metaphysicians from Italy (Francesco Giorgio), England (John Dee) and Germany (Robert Fludd) went on to define further the secrets of the nine-fold system.
That being composed of 9 x 3 + 1 whose total = 28 (where A1  the zero value or 1,000) which conveniently created a numerical matrix onto which they could then align the Greek, Hebrew and Arabic alphabets. 24 letters of the Latin alphabet in terms of their numerical values.

Literary Analogies and Anomalies:

Q: “Is Beelzebub’s Tales an objective work of art, scientifically explained or a subjective work of science artfully conveyed?”

Much of what Gurdjieff communicated made sense, and much is of course was very contradictory – due largely to the technical limitations of his teaching and the various methods of transmission he employed. For example sometimes he argued for astrology, at others he condemns it. This is a common factor in all philosophical and religious texts, so it does not surprise me that this phenomena existed amongst the intelligentsia associated with Gurdjieff’s School. The danger is often to take things out of context and hope that some common fusion will naturally take place. As for instance “the example of a day in the life of a Renowned and Respected Man,” in the last chapter of Beelzebub which appears in a different context yet again in “Views from the Real World”.

Astrology: Lull’s Magical Figure. The alphabetic system of Ramon Lull, from ‘Ars Brevis’, 1617 edition. The central A represents the trinity, the nine divisions of the outer circle, the Absoluta (first) and the releta (second). The ten letters are the basis of his complex system of astrologican analogy.- © Topfoto / Fortean

In actual fact the impetus or topic of this original lecture was the striving for freedom, search for self-knowledge and development of will in mankind – Not MECHANICALNESS.

Its location in Beelzebub as I have pointed out may have some significance to “mechanicalness”, but is nevertheless taken out of context. As a work of literary art, Beelzebub’s Tales would be a better book without it. It was supposedly a real-life example but it followed on from the following statement by Gurdjieff in answer to a specific question:

Q: “What is free will?”

A: “Ask yourselves are you free? Many are inclined to answer yes..(blah, blah)…But this freedom is only a question of external conditions. You have plenty of money, let us say. You live in luxury and enjoy general respect and self-esteem. The people who run your well-organised business are absolutely honest and devoted to you.” Etc

It goes on to add:

“Tell me where is the freedom when people and things possess a man to such an extent that he forgets his mood, his business and himself?”

  • You understand better now that a man need not necessarily be what he appears to be, that the question is not one of external circumstances and facts but of inner structure of a man and his attitude toward these facts. But perhaps this is only true for his associations; with regard to the things he “knows” about, perhaps the situation is different.

Addressing one of the people present, Gurdjieff said…..” and just three pages later in defence of this “story”:
“No, it is a photographically exact snapshot, taken from life.”
It is a reaction to Gurdjieff’s first reading of Ouspensky’s manuscript for “In Search of the Miraculous”. My understanding is that after Ouspensky’s death in 1947, Gurdjieff was given the manuscript, read it, and said it was a “New Muddle of the Universe”, yet still encouraged its publication. Gurdjieff was in effect drawing a satirical portrait of Ouspensky. When more surely, mechanical behaviour was aptly illustrated more formally by the Coach & Horse analogy highlighted previously. The need to extend this in the “Renowned and Respected Gentleman” is in my view subjective, and superfluous.

I am tempted again to remind students of Gurdjieff that the test of any sculpture or work is not the experience or words of a man of great vision but on the contrary – the gut impressions of a blind man. That is why I feel compelled to point out that the section highlighted is without doubt an editorial insertion from a lecture or question and answer session by an anonymous individual who has inserted his personal “I” over that of Gurdjieff’s into the text, but not his identity. At least that is how it reads in my version. This is tantamount to altering a clause in somebody’s will after they have passed away, as when he wrote the chapter Gurdjieff was then seriously ill and attempting to conclude his “Opus”.

The Aphorisms of Gurdjieff:

One of the rooms of the Institute for the “Harmonious Development of Man” was decorated with the 38 letters of the Georgian alphabet. Each letter had a corresponding aphorism attached.

The following is a list:

  1. Like what it does not “like”.
  2. The highest that a man can attain is to be able to do.
  3. The worse the conditions of life, the more productive the work, always provided you remember the work.
  4. Remember yourself always and everywhere.
  5. Remember you come here having already understood the necessity of struggling with yourself – only with yourself. Therefore thank everyone who gives you the opportunity.
  6. Here we can only create conditions, but not help.
  7. Know that this house can be useful only to those who have recognised their nothingness and who believe in the possibility of changing.
  8. If you already know it is bad and do it, you commit a sin difficult to redress.
  9. The chief means of happiness in this life is the ability to consider always, internally never.
  10. Do not love art with your feelings.
  11. A true sign of a good man is if he loves his father and mother.
  12. Judge others by yourself and you will rarely be mistaken.
  13. Only help him who is not an idler.
  14. Respect every religion.
  15. I love him who loves work.
  16. We can only strive to become Christians.
  17. Don’t judge a man by the tales of others.
  18. Consider what people think of you – not what they say.
  19. Take the understanding of the East and the knowledge of the West – and then seek.
  20. Only he who can take care of what belongs to others may have his own.
  21. Only conscious suffering has any sense.
  22. It is better to be temporarily an egotist than never to be just.
  23. Practice Love first on animals, they are more sensitive.
  24. By teaching others you will learn yourself.
  25. Remember that here work is not for work’s sake but is only a means.
  26. Only he can be just who is able to put himself in the position of others.
  27. If you have not by nature a critical mind your staying here is useless.
  28. He who has freed himself of the disease “tomorrow” has a chance to attain what he came here for.
  29. Blessed is he who has soul, blessed is he who has none, but woe and grief to him who has it in embryo.
  30. Rest comes not from the quantity but from the quality of sleep.
  31. Sleep little without regret.
  32. The energy spent on active work is then and there transformed into a fresh supply, but that spent on passive work is lost forever.
  33. One of the best means for arousing the wish to work on oneself is to realise that you may die at any moment. But first you must learn how to keep it in mind.
  34. Conscious Love evokes the same in response. Emotional Love evokes the opposite, physical Love depends on type and polarity.
  35. Conscious faith is freedom, emotional faith is slavery, mechanical faith is foolishness.
  36. Hope when bold, is strength, hope without doubt is cowardice. Hope with fear is weakness.
  37. Man is given a definite number of experiences – economising them, he prolongs his life.
  38. Here there are neither Russians nor English, Jews nor Christians, but only those who pursue one aim – to be able to be.
The links to my publications “Shakespeare’s Qaballah”, a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my anthology of poetry, “Parthenogenesis” are as follows:


Published by Leonidas Kazantheos

In the early part of my career I have worked extensively in media, the arts and theatre as an innovator and environmental conservationist and much later took on a role as an investigative journalist and commentator on the Shakespeare Authorship Controversy.

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