Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson
The Penguin paperback edition
|Author||G. I. Gurdjieff|
|Language||Russian and Armenian (original)|
E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc. (1964, 1973)
Two Rivers Press (1993)
Penguin Arkana (1999)
|Media type||Print (Hardcover & Paperback), Audiobook|
|Pages||P. 1248 (Penguin paperback edition)
p. 1152 (Tarcher hardcover edition)
|ISBN||0-14-019473-8 (Penguin paperback edition)
ISBN 1-58542-457-9 (Tarcher hardcover edition)
ISBN 0-919608-16-7 (Audiobook read by William J. Welch)
|Followed by||Meetings with Remarkable Men|
Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson or An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man is the first volume of the All and Everything trilogy written by the Greek-Armenian mystic G. I. Gurdjieff. The All and Everything trilogy also includes Meetings with Remarkable Men (first published in 1963) and Life Is Real Only Then, When 'I Am' (first privately printed in 1974).
Because the book was intended to be the main study tool for his teachings, and because the idea of work is central to those teachings, Gurdjieff went to great lengths in order to increase the effort needed to read and understand it. Gurdjieff himself once said, “I bury the bone so deep that the dogs have to scratch for it."  The book treats of an enormous number of subjects and questions. It is a vast allegorical myth structure in a literary form all its own.
The plot of Beelzebub's Tales primarily revolves around the ruminations of an extraterrestrial known as "Beelzebub" to his grandson Hassein, as they travel through space towards Beelzebub's home planet "Karatas" on the spaceship Karnak. It mainly recounts the adventures and travails of Beelzebub amongst the 'three-brained beings' (humans) of the planet Earth. Beelzebub covers the entire history of the strange behaviors and customs of these beings.
Beelzebub's Tales is included in Martin Seymour-Smith's 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written, with the comment that it is "...the most convincing fusion of Eastern and Western thought has yet been seen."
- 1 Overview
- 2 Publication
- 3 Summary
- 4 Complication of the plot
- 5 Notes
- 6 External links
In his prospectus for All and Everything, printed at the beginning of each part of the trilogy, Gurdjieff states his aim in publishing these texts:
- FIRST SERIES: Three books under the title of “An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man,” or, “Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson.”
- SECOND SERIES: Three books under the common title of “Meetings with Remarkable Men.”
- THIRD SERIES: Four books under the common title of “Life Is Real Only Then, When ‘I Am.’”
- All written according to entirely new principles of logical reasoning and strictly directed towards the solution of the following three cardinal problems:
- FIRST SERIES: To destroy, mercilessly, without any compromises whatsoever, in the mentation and feelings of the reader, the beliefs and views, by centuries rooted in him, about everything existing in the world.
- SECOND SERIES: To acquaint the reader with the material required for a new creation and to prove the soundness and good quality of it.
- THIRD SERIES: To assist the arising, in the mentation and in the feelings of the reader, of a veritable, non-fantastic representation not of that illusory world which he now perceives, but of the world existing in reality.
Gurdjieff was most notable for introducing the Fourth Way. He claimed that the Eastern teachings brought by him to the West expressed the truth found in other ancient religions and wisdom teachings relating to self-awareness in one's daily life and humanity's place and role in the universe. It might be summed up by the title of his third series of writings: Life Is Real Only Then, When 'I Am', while his complete series of books is entitled All and Everything.
After Gurdjieff was in a serious car accident in 1924, he decided to pass on something of his theoretical teachings by writing a number of detailed books. After many writings and rewritings, the first volume was released under the title Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson. Gurdjieff first mainly dictated Beelzebub's Tales in Russian and Armenian between 1924 and 1927, as he was initially unable to write personally because of his condition after the accident. After realizing from the various public readings of his texts that those people who were not familiar with his form of mentation and expression would not be able to understand anything, he decided to completely rewrite everything.
Many other details of Gurdjieff's other activities while writing the book can be found in his third book Life Is Real Only Then, When 'I Am'.
Throughout his writing career Gurdjieff often held various readings of his texts to both his students and strangers. William Buehler Seabrook noted that Gurdjieff asked him to invite some of his friends to Gurdjieff's apartment, where Gurdjieff gave a reading from his manuscript Beelezbub's Tales. Apparently the listeners (who included the behaviorist John Watson, Lincoln Steffens, and George Seldes) were perplexed and unimpressed.
Original English version
Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson was first published in 1950 by Harcourt, Brace & Company (New York) & Routledge & Kegan Paul (London). This first translation was made under the personal direction of the author by a group of translators chosen by him and "specially trained according to their defined individualities." It was republished in 1964 by E.P. Dutton & Co., again republished in 1973 by E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc. in paperback (3 volumes), and then republished in 1993 by Two Rivers Press. Finally republished in 1999 by Penguin Arkana in paperback with corrections of errata and insertion of two paragraphs omitted from page 568 of Chapter 32 "Hypnotism" in earlier editions.
A revised translation of Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson was published in 1992 by Arkana, an imprint of Viking Penguin, which created a point of contention among Gurdjieff's followers.
This revision was begun on the initiative of Jeanne de Salzmann. The translation team included members of the Gurdjieff Foundation of New York, the Gurdjieff Society (London) and the Institut Gurdjieff (Paris), as well as Triangle Editions, the holder of the copyright of the new translation. This translation was regarded by many of Gurdjieff's followers as a major degeneration that showed disregard of Gurdjieff's work. The introduction to the revised edition claims that the 1950 edition was overseen by Orage, whose limited knowledge of Russian produced, "in many passages an awkward result." The introduction states that Gurdjieff left his teaching in the hands of Jeanne de Salzmann, that he had to rely on her knowledge of Russian and English for the accuracy of the translation, that he had called the translation a "rough diamond," and had asked her to revise it at a later time.
Opponents of this view, such as John Henderson, claim that Orage had worked closely with Gurdjieff to produce the original English translation.
They point out that the revision resulted in changes to nearly every paragraph, and included substantial changes to both content and presentation. Following are three short representative examples taken from a digital comparison between the 1950 and 1992 versions.
Ordinary text indicates passages that are present in both the original and revised versions.
Struck out text indicates passages that were in the original but not in the revision. Underlined text indicates passages that are in the revision but not in the original. Page numbers refer to the 1999 reprint of the 1950 version.
"So, my boy, when, as "As I have already told you, those three-centered beings there among the second and third generation of the contemporaries of Saint Buddha in whose psyche, already my boy, from the time of the loss of Atlantis, that peculiarity had been fixed, Atlantis the property called the 'organic-psychic 'psycho-organic need to wiseacre,' began-unfortunately for wiseacre' had become fixed in the psyche of your favorites. (sentence continues in original version)
"Little by little they so completely changed these indications and counsels of His that if should their Saintly Author
Himself should chance to appear reappear there and for some reason or other should wish to make Himself acquainted with learn about them, He would not be able never even to suspect that he himself had given these indications and counsels were made by Him Himself. counsels.
Page 750: (note that the original is hyphenated into one word)
'The flow of forces follows a line that constantly deflects at specific intervals and unites again at its ends.'
Gurdjieff said that he had answered every question that could possibly arise in a person's mind
In his introduction to the book Gurdjieff states the following:
- Friendly Advice
- [Written impromptu by the author on delivering this book, already prepared for publication, to the printer.]
- ACCORDING TO the numerous deductions and conclusions made by me during experimental elucidations concerning the productivity of the perception by contemporary people of new impressions from what is heard and read, and also according to the thought of one of the sayings of popular wisdom I have just remembered, handed down to our days from very ancient times, which declares: “Any prayer may be heard by the Higher Powers and a corresponding answer obtained only if it is uttered thrice:
- Firstly—for the welfare or the peace of the souls of one’s parents.
- Secondly—for the welfare of one’s neighbor.
- And only thirdly—for oneself personally.”
- I find it necessary on the first page of this book, quite ready for publication, to give the following advice:
- “Read each of my written expositions thrice:
- * Firstly: at least as you have already become mechanized to read all your contemporary books and newspapers.
- * Secondly: as if you were reading aloud to another person.
- * And only thirdly: try and fathom the gist of my writings.
- Only then will you be able to count upon forming your own impartial judgment, proper to yourself alone, on my writings. And only then can my hope be actualized that according to your understanding you will obtain the specific benefit for yourself which I anticipate, and which I wish for you with all my being.”
Ever since it was written, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson has been intended not to be intensely studied alone, but to have various pieces of understanding conveyed to the reader through oral tradition to enable a much greater degree of understanding as to what is being written about.
Beelzebub is the protagonist of the book, who ruminates his past experiences in a solar system called "Ors" (our solar system) where he had been banished for rebelling against His Endlessness. He spent his exile in observation of the solar system, and of Earth and humans in particular. He visited Earth six times and observed it from just after its creation until 1922. Because of his help in the eradication of animal sacrifice on Earth, Beelzebub was pardoned from his sentence.
Beelzebub tells the tales to his grandson Hassein while they are traveling together on the spaceship Karnak for his conference on another planet, shortly after his return from the exile. He took Hassein with him so he could use his free time during this journey for the purpose of giving a proper education to his grandson. Hassein listens to his grandfather's stories patiently, and with admiration. Ahoon is a devoted old servant of Beelzebub who accompanies him and Hassein throughout the space journey.
The name Beelzebub is a derogatory Hebrew renaming of the pre-Judaic Canaanite god Baal, meaning literally "Lord House-fly" (Baal-zevuv) (monotheistic Jewish reference to Baal was almost certainly pejorative, and grew to be used among other terms for Satan. The name later appears as the name of a demon or devil, often interchanged with Beelzebul), while the name Hassein has the same linguistic root with Husayn (Arabic: حسین). Sigmund Freud theorized Judaism and Christianity as expressing a relationship between father (Judaism) and son (Christianity). In this light, Gurdjieff's choice of grandfather and grandson suggests a pre-Judaic and post-Christian relationship.
The spaceship Karnak derives its name from a famous temple in Egypt, located on the banks of the River Nile. When humans are liberated enough to ascend through the ancient knowledge, they could travel through the universe, hence the temple's name for the spaceship.
Another possible allegory about the three main characters in this book is that they might represent Gurdjieff's representation of the three human brains, or centers.
1) Beelzebub – Intellectual center
2) Hassein – Emotional center
3) Ahoon – Moving Center.
Also, "Karnak" could be translated from Armenian to English as "dead body", and thus, this analogy shows how the mind educates the emotions.
Other major characters
Mullah Nassr Eddin is an impartial teacher who had a wise saying for every life situation.
Lentrohamsanin is a being who destroyed all of the traces of the Holy labors and teachings of Ashiata Shiemash.
Gornahoor Harharkh is a scientist on the planet Saturn who specializes in elucidating the particularities of Okidanokh, as well as he was Beelzebub's essence friend.
Archangel Looisos is the Arch-Chemist-Physician of the Universe who invented the special organ Kundabuffer, which was implanted at the base of the human spine in order that they should not perceive reality. The original word Kundabuffer was at some period in history transformed into the word Kundalini. Looisos approached Beelzebub for the problem of the widespread practice of animal sacrifice on Earth, the quantity of which was endangering the formation of an atmosphere on the moon.
Belcultassi is the founder of the society Akhaldan which was, and still is, unmatched in terms of knowledge on Earth.
King Konuzion is the one who invented "Hell" and "Paradise" as a means of making people stop chewing opium.
Choon-Kil-Tez and Choon-Tro-Pel are Chinese twin brothers who rediscovered the law of sevenfoldness, and invented an apparatus called "Alla-Attapan".
Hadji-Astvatz-Troov is a Bokharian Dervish who is well familiarized with all of the laws of vibrations and their effects.
Saintly cosmic individuals
Ashiata Shiemash, Saint Buddha, Saint Lama, Saint Jesus Christ, Saint Moses, Saint Mohammed, Saint Kirminasha, Saint Krishnatkharna
Minor characters and historical figures mentioned
Leonardo da Vinci, Pythagoras, Alexander of Macedonia, Menitkel, Darwin, Ignatius, Mesmer, Mendelejeff, Various Angels, Various Archangels, and many others.
Throughout the book, Gurdjieff gave certain meaning to many of his original words such as Triamazikamno – law of three, Heptaparaparshinokh – law of sevenfoldness, Solioonensius – certain cosmic law, and so on. Whether Gurdjieff invented these words, or applied certain concepts to them is unclear. Many of these words have roots in modern languages, while others have roots in ancient languages. Another possibility is noted in Life Is Real Only Then, When 'I Am', where Gurdjieff wrote that he accidentally learned of the word Solioonensius from a Dervish.
Gurdjieff applied these words to minor concepts, as well as some major ones. One of the major concepts is where Gurdjieff applies the word Hasnamuss to certain types of people. According to Beelzebub's Tales, Hasnamuss is a being who acquires "something" which creates certain harmful factors for himself, as well as for those around him. According to Gurdjieff this applies to "average people" as well as to those who are on "higher levels".
This "something" is formed in beings as a result of the following manifestations:
1) Every kind of depravity, conscious as well as unconscious
2) The feeling of self-satisfaction from leading others astray
3) The irresistible inclination to destroy the existence of other breathing creatures
4) The urge to become free from the necessity of actualizing the being-efforts demanded by nature
5) The attempt by every kind to artificially conceal from others what in their opinion are one's physical defects
6) The calm self-contentment in the use of what is not personally deserved
7) The striving to be not what one is
Complication of the plot
Gurdjieff went to great lengths to add layer upon layer of complexity to the book making it some of the most difficult and challenging reading one can take up. At times dry, long winded, or seemingly ridiculous, Gurdjieff also added a huge list of complicated words which appear frequently throughout the text. Many times the definition of those words is given later on in the text, and thereby further understanding of the book is further complicated.
The first chapter, entitled "The Arousing of Thought", was edited or rewritten by Gurdjieff 30 times. Gurdjieff also expounded one of the book's most controversial ideas in an early chapter entitled "The Arch-absurd: According to the assertion of Beelzebub, our Sun neither lights or heats".
One of Gurdjieff's chief criticisms of modern society, expressed quite clearly even to the casual reader in this particular volume, is the inexactitude of modern language. What follows is the first sentence of Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson:
- "AMONG other convictions formed in my common presence during my responsible, peculiarly composed life, there is one such also—an indubitable conviction—that always and everywhere on the earth, among people of every degree of development of understanding and of every form of manifestation of the factors which engender in their individuality all kinds of ideals, there is acquired the tendency, when beginning anything new, unfailingly to pronounce aloud or, if not aloud, at least mentally, that definite utterance understandable to every even quite illiterate person, which in different epochs has been formulated variously and in our day is formulated in the following words: "In the name of the Father and of the Son and in the name of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
The reason for complicating so far the plot of this book is to increase the effort and the attention required from the reader to understand this book. This is because of Gurdjieff's conviction that knowledge which comes without any effort from the student is completely useless for that student. He believed that true knowledge comes from personal experiences and individual confrontations actualized by one's own intentions.
The complexity and the length of this book limited the readers to only those who are interested in Gurdjieff's ideas. Thereby it also significantly limited criticism towards it.
- Gurdjieff International Review
- Shirley, John (2004). Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas. Tarcher. p. 43. ISBN 1-58542-287-8.
- Seymour-Smith, Martin (2001). The 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written: The History of Thought from Ancient Times to Today. C Trade Paper. pp. 447–452. ISBN 0-8065-2192-9.
- Driscoll, J. Walter (1997). "Beelzebub's Tales – Page Correlation Table". Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing. Archived from the original on 13 April 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-15.
- William Buehler Seabrook (1940) Witchcraft: Its Power in the World Today Part Three: White Magic, Professor Rhine, the Supernormal, and Justine
- "Gurdjieff International Review – Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson". Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing. 1998. Archived from the original on 20 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-11.
- Verso page of 1999 Penguin Compass reprint of the original 1950 text
- "A Protest Made In Sorrow on the Revision of Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson". 1993. Retrieved 2011-08-01.[unreliable source?]
- Moore, James (1994). "Moveable Feasts: The Gurdjieff Work" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-01.
- "An analysis of the publishing history of Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson". Retrieved 2011-07-31.[unreliable source?]
- Wellbeloved, Sophia (2002). Gurdjieff: The Key Concepts (Routledge Key Guides). Routledge. p. 22. ISBN 0-415-24897-3.
- Freud, Sigmund (1939). Moses and Monotheism.
- Shirley, John (2004). Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas. Tarcher. p. 232. ISBN 1-58542-287-8.
- Description of the Characters mentioned in the book
- Gurdjieff Heritage Society Free website copy – Gurdjieff's original 1949 version of Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson