Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson

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Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson
AuthorG. I. Gurdjieff
LanguageRussian and Armenian (original)
PublisherHarcourt (1950)
E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc. (1964, 1973)
Two Rivers Press (1993)
Penguin Arkana (1999)
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardcover & Paperback), Audiobook
PagesP. 1248 (Penguin paperback edition)
p. 1152 (Tarcher hardcover edition)
ISBN0-14-019473-8 (Penguin paperback edition)
ISBN 1-58542-457-9 (Tarcher hardcover edition)
ISBN 0-919608-16-7 (Audiobook read by William J. Welch)
Followed byMeetings 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).

Purpose and significance[edit]

The book was intended to be the main study tool for Gurdjieff's Fourth Way teachings. As Gurdjieff's 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."[1] The book covers many topics. It is an allegory and myth in a literary form all its own.[2]

In his prospectus for All and Everything, printed at the beginning of each part of the trilogy, Gurdjieff states his aim in the first volume of "destroy[ing], 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."

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 [that] has yet been seen."[3]


Beelzebub's Tales uses the framing device of the musings of an extraterrestrial known as Beelzebub (who shares a name with the demon of the same name, to his grandson Hassein, as they travel through space towards Beelzebub's home planet, Karatas, on the spaceship Karnak. Beelzebub recounts his adventures and travails amongst the "three-brained beings" (humans) of the planet Earth. Beelzebub details the history, custom and psychology of humanity and relates the esoteric theory behind the workings of the universe.


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,[4] 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.

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'.


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 the manuscript of Beelezbub's Tales. The listeners (including the behaviorist John Watson, Lincoln Steffens, and George Seldes) were apparently perplexed and unimpressed.[5]


Original English version[edit]

Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson was first published in 1950 by Harcourt, Brace & Company and Routledge & Kegan Paul.[6] 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."[7] It was republished in 1964 by E.P. Dutton & Co, in 1973 by E.P. Dutton & Co (in paperback in three volumes), and in 1993 by Two Rivers Press. It was republished in 1999 by Penguin Arkana in paperback. The 1999 edition contained corrections of errata and the insertion of two paragraphs omitted from page 568 of Chapter 32 "Hypnotism" in earlier editions.[6]

Revised translation[edit]

A revised translation of Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson was published in 1992 by Arkana, an imprint of Viking Penguin. This created a point of contention among Gurdjieff's followers.[citation needed]

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 to both texts.[6] The latter edition was regarded by some of Gurdjieff's followers, outside of the membership of the International Gurdjieff Foundations, as "a major degeneration that showed disregard of Gurdjieff's work."[8][9] The introduction to the revised edition states that the 1950 edition, overseen by Orage, who did not know Russian and was unable to read Gurdjieff's original text, produced, "in many passages an awkward result." The introduction states that before Gurdjieff's death in 1949, he entrusted the book and his other writings to Jeanne de Salzmann, his closest pupil, with instructions for future publication. De Salzmann had followed Gurdjieff for more than thirty years and played a central role in his decision in the 1940s to organize the practice of his teaching. As for the first edition, Gurdjieff had called the translation a "rough diamond," and had asked De Salzmann to revise it at a later time.[10]

Opponents of this view, such as John Henderson, claim that Orage had worked closely with Gurdjieff to produce the original English translation.[11]

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.[12]

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.

Page 242:
"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)

Page 240:
"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.'

The intent of the book[edit]

Gurdjieff said that he had answered every question that could possibly arise in a person's mind[citation needed] and advised readers to read his work once, "for the welfare or the peace of the souls of one’s parents", then "for the welfare of one's neighbor" and a third time "for oneself personally".

Although not indicated in the text, it appears that ever since it was written, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson was 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.[citation needed]


Main characters[edit]

Beelzebub relates 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).[13] Sigmund Freud theorized Judaism and Christianity as expressing a relationship between father (Judaism) and son (Christianity).[14] In this light, Gurdjieff's choice of grandfather and grandson suggests a pre-Judaic and post-Christian relationship.[13]

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.[15]

Other major characters[edit]

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 being 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 the 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[edit]

Ashiata Shiemash, Saint Buddha, Saint Lama, Saint Jesus Christ, Saint Moses, Saint Mohammed, Saint Kirminasha, Saint Krishnatkharna

Minor characters and historical figures mentioned[edit]

Leonardo da Vinci, Pythagoras, Alexander of Macedonia, Menitkel, Darwin, Ignatius, Mesmer, Mendelejeff, Various Angels, Various Archangels, and many others.

Unknown words[edit]

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

Difficulty of the text[edit]

Gurdjieff went to great lengths to add layer upon layer of complexity to the book. At times dry, long winded, or seemingly ridiculous, Gurdjieff also added a number of long words and phrases which appear often throughout the text. Many times, the definition of those words is given later on in the text, which functionally necessitates more than one reading of the text. Gurdjieff believed that knowledge which comes without any effort from the student is useless. He believed that true knowledge comes from personal experiences and individual confrontations actualized by one's own intentions.

The first chapter, entitled "The Arousing of Thought", was edited or rewritten by Gurdjieff thirty times. Gurdjieff would expound 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.

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.


  1. ^ Gurdjieff International Review
  2. ^ Shirley, John (2004). Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas. Tarcher. p. 43. ISBN 1-58542-287-8. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ 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. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ 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. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ William Buehler Seabrook (1940) Witchcraft: Its Power in the World Today Part Three: White Magic, Professor Rhine, the Supernormal, and Justine
  6. ^ a b c "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. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^ Verso page of the 1999 Penguin Compass reprint of the original 1950 text
  8. ^ "A Protest Made In Sorrow on the Revision of Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson". 1993. Retrieved 2011-08-01. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)[unreliable source?]
  9. ^ Moore, James (1994). "Moveable Feasts: The Gurdjieff Work" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-01. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  10. ^ Editors Note on the Revised Edition Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson, Tarcher/Penguin 2006.
  11. ^
  12. ^ "An analysis of the publishing history of Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson". Retrieved 2011-07-31. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)[unreliable source?]
  13. ^ a b Wellbeloved, Sophia (2002). Gurdjieff: The Key Concepts (Routledge Key Guides). Routledge. p. 22. ISBN 0-415-24897-3.
  14. ^ Freud, Sigmund (1939). Moses and Monotheism. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  15. ^ Shirley, John (2004). Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas. Tarcher. p. 232. ISBN 1-58542-287-8. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

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