Sunday, January 1, 2017

Myth and the Law of Falling

Now there are two reasons for creating types for the typeless, for giving shape to what is actually without shape. First, we lack the ability to be directly raised up to conceptual contemplations. We need our own upliftings that come naturally to us and which can raise before us the permitted forms of the marvelous and unformed sights. Second, it is most fitting to the mysterious passages of scripture that the sacred and hidden truth about the celestial intelligences be concealed through the inexpressible and the sacred and be inaccessible…
—Pseudo-Dionysius, The Complete Works, Trans. Colm Lubheid, Paulist Press, 1987, p. 149

"If two of the goals of the intellectual tradition are to overcome dogma and to assert the absoluteness of the Real, the third is to recognize the proper role of myth in human understanding and, if necessary, to revitalize mythic discourse. The Enlightenment succeeded in establishing supremacy of instrumental rationality by rejecting the cognitive significance of myth and symbol, which are characteristic of Scripture and much of religious discourse. The invisible realms to which the traditional language referred — God, the angels, life after death, human perfection — were seen as unintelligible and meaningless, because they could not be addressed by the empirical methodologies of instrumental reason.”
—William Chittick, "Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul," One World Publications 2007, page 69

Some people tend to object whenever someone tries to “explain” what Gurdjieff wrote about in Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson; and from a certain point of view, indeed, the book is to be swallowed whole like a pill, where it will do that subtle work of the soul that must be done out of the sight of the ordinary mind. 

Yet there are times when it’s enjoyable to try and understand the allegory of the book, even though it has many layers.

Last night, a friend of mine asked about what the chapter, The Law of Falling, along with The system of Archangel Hariton, might mean

The chapters are exceedingly brief, and seem to offer no expository information related to the remainder of the book; yet their inclusion is beyond any doubt intentional, and they ought, therefore, to have a specific meaning. After all, one can’t say “bury bone deeper,” if there is no bone.

Saint Venoma  discovered that “everything existing in the world falls to the bottom.” In his words, “this stability is the point toward which all the lines of force from all directions converge.” 
— Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, from the chapter The Law of Falling

Now, from the point of view of the physical world, of course we’re dealing with gravity. But in terms of the metaphysical world — the world of the intellect, the soul, and Being — all the lines of force from all directions converge on each point of consciousness as it manifests. Thus, each consciousness represents a “world.” So everything around it “falls” towards conscious being wherever it exists. This reflects one of the three basic principles of conscious Beings: we are vessels into which the world flows. That is, all our internal worlds of experience are vessels for the external worlds of manifestation.

Now, when an “object”— that is, an event, circumstance, condition, or idea — arises, it falls into the receptacle of the conscious being closest to itThis captures the gist of St. Venoma’s analysis of the situation. 

Venoma’s conclusion was that this cosmic property could be utilized for the locomotion needed between spaces in the universe. 

What he meant by this is that the law of falling can be used to bring different consciousnesses, or worlds, into relationship— that is, to bring them into communication with one another. 

Let’s recall, here, that the entire contents of Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, all of which is, in its entirety, a body of information, takes place on a spaceship that utilizes this law of falling. We can say, allegorically, that the information generated on the spaceship Karnak “falls” into our conscious being when we encounter it.

There is, however, a problem with this form of transmission, as St. Venoma discovered. That is, “the atmosphere surrounding most of the cosmic concentrations would hinder the direct falling of the object dropped in space.” That is to say, the planets, or worlds, onto which the information needs to be transmitted are resistant: they don’t want to accept the information. He therefore constructed a ship with special glass walls and shutters that destroyed the resistance in the path of the ship (the information being conveyed.)

Let’s pause here for a moment and consider the “ships” as bodies of mythology—information and/or religious teachings—which, as he points out, have “wings” attached to them — much like the mythological creatures we call angels, which appear in religious art of the ancients all across the planet. These bodies of intelligence and tradition are easily attracted to every planet (being) they come near; and yet because of that proclivity, they need constant maintenance:

great care and considerable knowledge were needed to keep the ship from falling off course. While the ships were passing near any center planet, their speed often had to be reduced hundreds of times below their usual rate.

Now, when considering the idea that Gurdjieff called his fourth-way system “haida yoga,”or, hurry-up (accelerated) yoga, perhaps we get a clue as to what he was talking about here.

The new means of travel invented by the Archangel Hariton consists of creating a chamber where, when anything enters, it is more or less automatically expelled. The substances in the chamber are thus always being changed. From a material point of view, one might say this describes a jet engine, more or less; and indeed, that’s what my old group leader Henry Brown said about it many years ago when he read us the chapter. Yet Henry (God rest his soul) never brought up the possibility that Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson itself was the spaceship; that the mythology it was transmitting (in the form of Beelzebub and Hassein) was its living cargo; or that the propulsion method of this “ship” is designed to expel anything from the outside world that comes in, using it as a means of propulsion but at the same time rejecting it: in other words, an allegorical way of representing the action of questioning everything.

The description of the spaceship Karnak, with its new means of propulsion, has a characteristic property of freedom: when surrounded by other external influences that might affect it, it expels them and uses them to help it move forward; and when it is not surrounded by such things (a world without atmosphere, that is, what Gurdjieff would call objective circumstances), it naturally falls in the direction of the nearest planet, that is, into the deepest part of being.

 Gurdjieff’s final remark at the end of the chapter on Archangel Hariton is as follows:

… both in convenience and simplicity, contemporary ships are beyond comparison with the early ones, which were often exceedingly complicated and at the same time had none of the possibilities of the ships we use now.

Gurdjieff was well known to use the classic Zen master’s technique of braggadocio when referring to his own work. Here, it certainly appears he's telling us his method is superior to that of other schools: something that he certainly made no bones about telling people quite directly in other situations.

As to the efficacy of his methodology: 

I opened this particular essay with Dionysus the Areopagite’s quotation about how some things must be hidden from the ordinary mind. Gurdjieff’s principle of “bury bone deeper,” often cited by his followers, is an old idea which Gurdjieff simply thought up new words for. 

The point is that mythologies need to be constructed to bypass the ordinary, opinionated and compromised mindset of the average person so that the undamaged, deepest inner parts of the human psyche can ingest and digest them. Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson is exactly such a work, the only work of modern mythology specifically so designed. It “bypasses the atmosphere” of resistance in people so that it can reach the surface of their planet, that is, fall into their being. 

All of this, mind you, in service of this revitalization of mythic discourse proposed by Chittick, the necessity of which was realized by Gurdjieff almost a century ago. 


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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