Bob Hunter

'Making space for real knowledge'

THE TRUE MYTH Reviewed by a Work student

ITS limited print run suggests that this is a specialist book. Confirmation is given by its subject for, although the Fourth Way teaching of George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff has steadily attracted attentionin philosophical circles since early last century, even academically in recent years, his Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson remains a formidable work to comprehend.

It may be argued that, even if given the opportunity, the majority of people probably would not want to understand it. For few would perceive any advantage in having their fond hopes and beliefs, their world picture, deliberately deleted, a painful exercise in unknowing that the Tales promises to execute. On the other hand, that very point, the misconception that Beelzebubis predominantly destructive, makes it a pity that The True Myth is not more widely available. For those seeking glimpses of reality should know that the term "unknowing" means more than an absence of information; it implies a sweeping away of nonsense to make room for useful knowledge, which is Beelzebub's function.

Beryl Pogson's approach to the ideas hidden in the Tales evidently assumes that Gurdjieff does not demolish existing notions without giving clues how they can be supplanted by essential ideas ideas with the potential to help develop a responsive person's whole being. It is typical of what we see here of her teaching that she illustrates the need to avoid a void of this type by drawing a moral from the gospel parable of the room swept clean of a devil that then attracts seven worse devils.

The True Myth examples of her teaching are not so much about explaining whatthis or that word mightmean, as much as that might be desired, but in translating Gurdjieff's imaginative ideas into practical work. The book is a record, mostly verbatim, of Beryl Pogson's talks on these ideas to her Work groups in southern England. (The Work is the term given to Gurdjieff's "system" or "method" of human development; he is not seen as the originator of the Fourth Way, but as the agent of its resurfacing in our era.)

In the main, she puts Beelzebub's ideas to work by assuming that its characters represent psychological elements of Everyman, particularly of course as represented by the pupils in her group and, interestingly, of Gurdjieff himself. The question-answer format of The True Myth allows readers to judge whether fresh understanding of themselves is gained by students who accept that the numerous "unbecoming" qualities detected by the alien but exceptionally perceptive Beelzebub apply to each's own psychology.

It does not require the broad hint given by the title for readers to realise that to Beryl Pogson the term "myth" describes neither a fictional nor a literal account, but a story whose inner meaning lies in its imagery. They are likely to come to feel that both personal and cosmic aspects of these images can be understood more by intuition than by intellectual analysing. According to her reported talks, many images in the Tales can be perceived, and presumably were conceived, with the help of teachings ranging from the Gospels and ancient Mysteries to astrology and the Hermetic code. Her argument that this is because the principles of all the major spiritual disciplines are basically the same makes this eclectic spread of correspondences seem inevitable, and amenable to the "law" of analogy.

Of course, Gurdjieff's ideas are not limited to traditional formulations. Here again, Beryl Pogson is adept at bringing out the practical application of his more radical teaching, such as in the relative degrees of human consciousness, when his descriptions of the subconscious seem to relate to Jung's findings about the unconscious, and in his universal "uncertainty" and "reciprocal maintenance" themes, which suggest, in some ways perhaps anticipate, present-day scientific theories. Many of the transformation processes that Beelzebub unveils are on a scale to overawe the ordinary seeker of truth, setting goals that seem to require superhuman effort to achieve.

It is notable therefore that Beryl Pogson stresses that spiritual growth is gradual particularly as shown in her favourite technique of "doing the next thing". She says that an inner teacher continually presents us with our next task, the next essential step, but we consistently ignore or reject it as being too trivial, or unpleasant to our False Personality. This is one of several parts of her teaching that recur through this long book. They may give the impression that the compiler, Bob Hunter, has been more intent on sharing Beryl Pogson's teaching than elucidating Beelzebub's intricacies. Even if that were accurate, however, the result shows that, 35 years after her death, she still has a valuable message for those who feel they have more to understand about the invisible side of themselves. The True Myth suggests that had she lived to fulfil her wish to write about Beelzebub, Beryl Pogson would surely have produced some deep insights into Gurdjieff's veiled revelations. While that was not to be, this account of how she taught that people on all levels can use the Tales in work on themselves may well serve as the next best thing.