Wednesday, March 8, 2017

On the subject of angels, part I

 Virgin and Child with two angels
Maestro de la Leyenda de Santa Ursula
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

A recent question on Facebook about what Gurdjieff meant by this quote prompted me to do a bit more thinking.

The questioner said:

Gurdjieff said in his early lectures, "cosmic forces know humanity en masse, not individuals at all, but help the "quickest" through intermediaries."~. Perhaps some folks can tell what are 'intermediaries'?

Now, readers will note that I have quoted this section myself before, because it is a quite interesting and unfiltered comment.

I answered the Facebook question as follows:

Gurdjieff heavily populated his cosmology with angels (see my compendium of all the angels at Doremishock.) There are a number of cosmologies that discuss angels (the three abrahamic religions; zoroastrianism; neoplatonism etc, as well as a definite and extensive iconographic tradition in Buddhism, where one might perhaps least expect them) yet Gurdjieff's angelic hierarchy was unabashedly Christian. There were other striking references to Christianity in the first drafts of his book (see the earliest circulated typewritten versions in english, which differ from the final published version of the book.) One is led to infer he was referring to Christian angels, although perhaps not the peculiar winged creatures of our artistic traditions. Angels, in Gurdjieff's cosmology, would be akin to electromagnetic Beings, that is, conscious creatures on a higher (planetary or solar) level than man.


This doesn’t, however, quite make the cut in terms of my own experience with the subject, I felt that it might be appropriate to come clean with the readers in some more detail, since I am sure individuals are reasonably interested in whether angels actually exist, what their nature is, whether anyone actually encounters them in the way that it said in the Bible, and so on. After all, 99.99% of our ideas about angels are derived from art, where long-standing traditions have solidified their appearance so thoroughly that the imagination— which ought to be able to form real impressions of their potential nature —cannot touch them anymore. The associations eclipse anything real.

We live in a century where reports of actual visits with angels are relatively rare. Discussions of them, when they do crop up, are largely confined to the Christian right, where evangelicals claim such contacts. That being said, it is notable that personal encounters with evangelical heavenly beings are much more likely to be credited within any Christian community than in the Gurdjieff community. As I have pointed out in the past, folks who follow Gurdjieff are interested in searching for the miraculous… but if anyone finds it, the reaction is usually either skepticism or rejection.

In any event, angelic visitations can be and are in fact definitely possible and very real, but they don’t follow scripts or necessarily take place in the way that biblical (for example) texts present them. In order to understand them, one first needs to understand a bit about their cosmological nature; and this is a definite thing, not a matter of conjecture, since their nature is determined by law.

Swedenborg’s angelic hierarchy is perhaps one of the most accurate, extensive, and correctly structured presentations on the nature of angels, from a spiritual point of view. Yet Swedenborg did not have the same intensive understanding of cosmological hierarchy that Gurdjieff did; while his three levels of heaven and hell are correct on the whole — of course both heaven and hell have to be structured on the law of three, according to the underlying energies which drive them — each of the levels is driven by a circulatory mechanism following the law of seven and the system of evolution described by the enneagram.

This is complex stuff, and in fact probably not worth studying in depth unless one wants to become a specialist on angels. What can be said in the general sense is that angelic beings have, in Gurdjieff’s terminology, been crystallized on either planetary (earth/other planets) or solar (our sun/other suns) levels. Angels receive names according to the level on which they are crystallized: Cherubim, Seraphim, Archangels, for example. There are a bunch of other subdivisions and assigned names and various hierarchies, but we will use these three as an ascendant group that roughly describes the three levels of Swedenborg’s heaven. Archangels are closest to God.

 This essay will continue on March 11.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

1 comment:

  1. Been reading a little there's a resonance there!


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