One of the very cool things that the Temple of Set has turned me on to (especially the Esoteric Order of Beelzebub) are the great insights that can be gained by an initiate in more fully appreciating the Gurdjieff Work. The Temple employs numerous ways for seeking to actualize the Self, but the framework offered by the Fourth Way teachings of Gurdjieff and his followers provides a nuanced language for the pursuit of awakening within daily life.
Now even a cursory glance at either Gurdjieff’s own writing or that of Ouspensky (cf. “In Search of the Miraculous”) will demonstrate the complexity of the teachings both in terms of their cosmology and ontology. With its deliberate obscuration, coined phrases and frankly bonkers pseudo-gnostic mythos, the Work provides us with a set of ideas that are as intriguing and infuriating as the twighlight language of tantra.
In short the Work views humanity’s normal state of being as machine-like. The demands of culture, family, our bodies and our lives have made us automaton. We are on autopilot, we are asleep. The aim of the Work is wake us from this sleep. The existence of our soul cannot be presumed upon, it must be worked for, and fought for-Soul must be created. But how is one to accomplish such a task?
Gurdjieff recognised that throughout humanities’ history we have sought to connect to God/HGA/True Self etc. He believed that these efforts could be typified via the centre or starting point from which the began their journey. In short, these paths are the way of the body (the fakir), the way of the heart (the monk) and the way of the mind (the yogi). Whatever benefit may have been gained in the past through the pursuit of these means, in our age and within a life lived outside of monastery walls we need something more. For Gurdjieff this is the Fourth Way.
The Fourth Way is the way of “the cunning man”-the one who seeks to harmonize body, heart and mind as they seek to awaken solar consciousness. The Work challenges us to Self-remember, to become more awake within the bodymind. The methods we may employ, like Beelzebub, are legion, but the goal of seeking soulful awakened depth remains.
Folks like me who are into postmodern magic are always banging on about “the map is not the territory”. But we still need maps. Frankly, if lost I’d rather make use of a sketchy map than none at all. Now maps can always be improved upon and there is the danger that we spend so much time looking at the bloody map that we miss the incoming weather front…. Maps hopefully provide us with a sense of where we are in the landscape and where we need to travel in order to reach our destination.
Magic without a teleological goal can easily descend into what Chogyam Trungpa called “spiritual materialism”. Without some general sense of direction, we can end up endlessly turning in circles, covering the same territory and end up feeling completely exhausted (sound familiar?) The Work potentially provides us with a helpful (if at times eccentric) map for avoiding such a pitfall.
Personally the Gurdjieff Work provides me with a more “western”, hermetic take on my mindfulness practice. This Zen Odinist doesn’t have to retreat and seek a rarefied atmosphere to awaken, the way of the cunning man lays open before me now. My current spiritual preoccupations may lead me to focusing on a particular Centre or “Way”, but the other paths act as challenging voices asking to me to come back to that liminal place where I can walk the knife-edge.
The sleeper must Awaken.