Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Be Ye Wise As Serpents, Gentle As Doves...,

gurdjiefflegacy |  In 1888 the 16-year-old Gurdjieff witnessed a strange incident: he saw a little boy, weeping and making strange movements, struggling with all his might to break out of a circle drawn around him by other boys. Gurdjieff released the boy by erasing part of the circle and the child ran from his tormentors. The boy, Gurdjieff learned, was a Yezidi. He had heard only that Yezidis were "a sect living in Transcaucasia, mainly in the regions near Mount Ararat. They are sometimes called devil-worshippers." Astonished by the incident, Gurdjieff made a point of telling us that he felt compelled to think seriously about the Yezidis.(1) Inquiring of the adults he knew, he received contradictory opinions representative of the usual, prejudiced view of the Yezidis. But Gurdjieff remained unsatisfied. 

This story is embedded in the narrative of Meetings with Remarkable Men, like one of the monuments in Turkestan which Gurdjieff said helps people find their way through regions in which there are no roads or footpaths. In chapter five Gurdjieff placed another such marker, an echo of the earlier story. There, he and Pogossian set off to find the Sarmoung Brotherhood, even if they must travel, as Gurdjieff says, "on the devil's back." Enroute, far from any city, Pogossian throws a stone at one barking dog in a pack, and he and Gurdjieff are immediately surrounded by fifteen Kurdish sheepdogs. Like Yezidis, the two men cannot leave the circle of dogs until they are released by the shepherds who own the dogs.(2)
Where does this incident happen? If we set out Gurdjieff's journey with Pogossian on a map and, following Gurdjieff's instructions, draw a line from Alexandropol through Van, we see it passes through the Lalish Valley, location of the tomb and shrine of Sheikh Adi, the principal saint of the Yezidi religion. Extending the line further, it reaches Mosul, the major town in the region and a center of Yezidism.(3) By setting such markers, is Gurdjieff advising that we too should "think seriously" about the Yezidis? 

Gurdjieff has said that the teaching he brought is completely self-supporting and independent of other lines, was completely unknown up to the present time, and its origins predate and are the source of ancient Egyptian religion and of Christianity. Why then, has he as much as asked us to look into Yezidism? Some, swayed in a superficial sense by the subtitle of Ouspensky's book, Fragments of an Unknown Teaching, went hunting for the "missing link" in Gurdjieff's supposedly incomplete teaching. They tried to find this or that source from which he put it together, little realizing that it was they who were fragmentary, not the teaching. 

The questions become instead: what ideas do we encounter in a study of the Yezidis—and do these tell us anything? As we acquaint ourselves with the Yezidis and their beliefs, we may see that Gurdjieff has led us to materials for a deeper understanding of the nature of an esoteric teaching, of the implications of a teaching transmitted "orally," and of the reasons for his unlikely choice of Beelzebub as the hero of the First Series.