Reijo Elsner

Comments on Beelzebub's Tales


In her 'Philosophy and Art in Gurdjieff's Beelzebub' Anna Challenger quotes on p. 29 from Idries Shah's book 'Thinkers of the East':

"Someone said to Bahaudin Naqsbandi: 'You relate stories, but you do not tell us how to understand them. "He replied, 'How would you like it if the man from whom you bought fruit consumed it before your very eyes, and left you only the skin?'"

In a similar way Gurdjieff never explained any of his writings to anybody. If you have not tasted 'red pepper pods' before the only way to find out what they are like is to eat them yourself.

In 1943 Gurdjieff said:

"For example, in Beelzebub, I know, there is everything one must know. It is a very interesting book. Everything is there. All that exists, all that has existed, all that can exist. The beginning, the end, all the secrets of the creation of the world; all is there. But one must understand, and to understand depends on one's individuality. The more man can be instructed in a certain way, the more he can see. Subjectively, everyone is able to understand according to the level he occupies, for it is an objective book, and everyone should understand something in it. One person understands one part, another a thousand times more."

"Now, find a way to put your attention on understanding all of Beelzebub. This will be your task, and it is a good way to fix a real attention. If you can put real attention on Beelzebub, you can have a real attention in life. You didn't know this secret. In Beelzebub there is everything, I have said it, even how to make an omelette. Among other things, it is explained; and at the same time there isn't a word in Beelzebub about cooking. So, you put your attention on Beelzebub, another attention than that to which you are accustomed, and you will be able to have the same attention in life."

The Versions of Beelzebub's Tales

There is a Russian original manuscript of Beelzebub, which was used as a basis for the English version. The Russian original text was published by Traditional Studies Press in the year 2001. (There are apparently two unauthorised translations of Beelzebub into Russian that are translated most likely from the English.)

Gurdjieff wrote and dictated Beelzebub's Tales in Armenian and Russian. From these was rendered the English version. with which Gurdjieff worked from the beginning of his writing in 1924 until 1949. There were many changes made to the English text. Therefore it can be considered to have in it what Gurdjieff wanted to put into it -it is his final version.

The English text was used to work out the German and French versions. Later Beelzebub's Tales has been translated into Dutch, Japanese, Spanish, Italian, Russian and Hebrew. According to The Traditonal Studies Press Armenian, Finnish, Greek and Portuguese translations are in work. As far as known to me the new translations are based on the English version.

Some months ago I received an e-mail from Mr. Jack Cain (Traditional Studies Press) in which he pointed out the importance of working with both the Russian and the English text when translating (I am translating into Finnish). He wrote:

"I do hope you can involve someone who reads Russian--just last night as we were working on the final proofing of our "Guide and Index to Beelzebub's Tales" we found a case of poor translation in the English 1950 edition which was quite clear in the Russian. We have noticed such things with some regularity but have failed up to now to start a compilation of them!"

The Mysterious Manuscript

Soon after I started a study of The Tales in our forums I received a complete manuscript in html format. This came from an e-mail address that I have not been able to trace back to anybody. The sender did not tell who he/she is. It looks like I will never find out about it either.

This electronic version is not the 1950 version and by comparing some texts I have been informed that it is not the 1992 version of the text either. What is it then?

Just in case you, the reader, know or can find out the origin I quote the following text from it. This is different from the printed and published texts in a 'typical' way, i.e. the language used is simpler and seeming to be less 'bon ton'.


(Instead of a Preface)


Everywhere on the Earth, before beginning anything new, it is customary first of all, to pronounce aloud, or, at least mentally, the following words understandable by every contemporary even quite illiterate person - namely: "In the name of the Father and of His Son and in the name of that Holy Ghost who, if not understood by all ordinary mortals, is, at any rate, understood and beyond all doubt known by our priests and theologians.

That is why I also, setting out on this for me new venture, namely, authorship, begin with these same words and even pronounce them aloud very distinctly and with the proper intonation, with the intonation, of course, arising from the data crystallized in my common presence in the course of my life, those data, which, in general, engender in a man's Being, a quality of intonation manifest of the impulses of "faith", "doubt", "superstition" and so on.

"In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen."

Having begun in this way, I ought to be quite assured and to be able to count without any essence anxiety, upon everything further now gliding along, as is said, "on-oil-to-an-Italian-hurdy-gurdy-accompaniment."

I shall begin by placing my own hand - though somewhat injured through a misfortune which recently befell me, yet nevertheless indeed my own - upon my heart, of course also my own, and frankly confess that, for myself, I have not the slightest wish to write; but unfortunately for me, I am constrained to do so by surrounding circumstances, not dependent on my individuality, which have either arisen accidentally, or perhaps have been intentionally created by an outside force, and which constrain me to write not just "so-so" but "weighty-fat-tomes".

And so I begin. But how?

Just in this case, experienced people, "who-know-what's-what", always talk about "being-on-three-horns-of-a-dilemma".

Hurrah! Eureka!

If you find out about the origin please let me know!

I have later received information that this manuscript is to be found amongst the Jean Toomer papers at Yale. It is suggested that it is a version worked out by Orage around 1930 -31, perhaps in co-operation with Toomer, who was engaged in the translation as reported by Paul Beekman Taylor in his 'Shadows of Heaven'.

Study Tips

The following is helpful:

- All & Everything Conferences are held yearly in the Spring in Bognor Regis, UK.
- Guide and Index to Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson is made by Traditional Studies Press. I have used the index to find definitions for the 'heptaparaparsinokhs' etc. and to go to the pages relating to them.
- The second revised edition of Dr. Sophia Wellbeloved's thesis, Gurdjieff, Astrology & Beelzebub's Tales. The Key Concepts by the same author provides also lots of help.
- There are audio tapes available. CD by Tony Blake called Readings from Beelzebub's Tales - please ask Tony how to obtain it!
- 'Orage's Commentary' in Stanley Nott's Teachings of Gurdjieff is helpful. The commentary has been published also separately by Two Rivers Press, 28070 S. Meridian Road, Aurora, OR 97002, and can be found at By The Way Books.
- J. G. Bennett also published an interesting book called "Talks on Beelzebub's Tales".
- Nicolas Tereshchenko "Mister Gurdjieff's Hapax Legomena" defining the strange words.

The above, other books and many of the translations of Beelzebub can be also found in the GIG Books - you will find them with the category search under Beelzebub.

In addition to the above there are articles on the site by Kevin Roberts, Sophia Wellbeloved, Seymour Ginsburg, Will Mesa and Plavan N. Go. There are many comments in the appropriate forums, which all visitors can read.

The Fairytale quality of The Tales

After translating the first 50 pages of Beelzebub I saw much more of the "fairlytale" character of the book. In fact it now looks surprising that I was not so much aware of this before. Why I did not see it?

Is it that I get this sense of the fairly tale when I read what I have translated into Finnish? And both when reading it sound on and off. It seems to be connected with reading it in my own language.

How do I know what is true and what is 'airy fairy'? It actually means that the translating and reading the book becomes much more a kind of an adventure in itself!

Consider the fairy tale quality of:
- the sun neither lights nor heats
- observatory on Mars
- intelligent three-brained ravens on Saturn
- our existence is becoming shorter
- sports shorten our lives
- use of electricity shortens our lives
- the cause of apes are the women

The above points are pointed out in the recent Stopinder Number 11 in an article written by Solomon Ethe, who writes:

"Certainly, it makes it easy for conventional wisdom to dismiss the book and its ideas as the product of a 'madcap brain', as Gurdjieff himself puts it. But for those of us who persist, like the aforementioned Kurd, 'whose face...was aflame...his eyes streaming with tears,' who are the foolish and who are the wise?"

Another point is made by Sophia Wellbeloved in her book 'Gurdjieff, Astrology and Beelzebub's Tales':

"...if the reader is meant to laugh at the Tales, which bits are jokes? Is the whole of the Tales a joke? If it were would that make it less valuable than if it were not?"

Gurdjieff was often, if not all the time, acting. Much of the time he was acting wearing the role of a clown. He could very quickly become again 'the poor Russian carpet seller', but he could also play serious roles like that of 'the seeker after truth'. Much of the time he was just clowning.

Putting everything in question (or bringing everything back to question) is one of the basic principles in Gurdjieff's teaching. The situation can become ridiculous if I am in a middle of a joke and don't know it or if I am reading something 'deep and serious' and think it is a joke.

Yet another quality of the Tales is the 'abstract' - it is like an abstract painting in the sense that when reading it what I see may be different from what others see and it may also be different to-day from what I saw yesterday.

Is it meant to be a mirror in which I can see myself?


Storytelling has recently become a tool for business managers in product branding and strategic development. It is also playing a big role in the propaganda stories of countries engaged in acts like war etc. If you have a story to tell your product can even have faults in it, but they will be often disregarded. A typical example would be an excessively priced product like Coke or Rolls Royce. The story sells.

The elements in a 'tale' are:
- the message
- creation of a conflict
- the cast of roles
- the story itself

In Beelzebub the main message is clearly stated as:
"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."

It is interesting to note that even this main objective creates a conflict situation. Will I accept the merciless destruction of my beliefs and views? Can I trust Gurdjieff and Beelzebub to help in destroying this? Do I believe, as he says, 'any old tale'?

Conflicts and contradictions are needed in all stories - they are made alive with the help of them.

A typical conflict situation with the text of 'The Tales' is that it gives rise to all kinds of questions. The basic question most of the time is 'is this serious or a joke?' and what are the consequences of the organ Kundabuffer?

One of the difficulties in reading the book are the statements that cause 'a chaos of questions'. When the sun neither lights or heats!

Oral Tradition in Writing - inspired by Will Mesa and Guy Hoffman

That Beelzebub is a unique book becomes apparent when we study it. The key for seeing this is given by Gurdjieff in his "Friendly Advice" written impromptu on delivering the book to the printer and in this way drawing special attention to it.

His advice is to read the book 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 to fathom the gist of my Writings."

He adds that only then can we form our impartial judgement and only then can his hope be actualized that we can obtain the specific benefit for ourselves, which he wishes for us with all his being.

My first reaction to this was that it sounds very strange and the question: is it really necessary? I did not believe that it would make any difference if I read in this way. Nevertheless I read through once, then aloud as if to another person, which had no immediate effect, and since that I have been studying the book.

But there is a lot more to this than what is apparent at 'first glance'!

I am committed to a fairly large amount of reading books when putting them on the site and writing reviews on them; I also read much on the site itself, when articles etc. are added to it.

Some months ago I found out that fairly often when I had read a sentence only halfway I involuntarily finished it and started to read a new sentence. This happened particularly when I was tired and was no doubt connected with it.

In other words the sentences were finished for me. Still another way of saying this is: "'it' finished the sentences for me". Reading on was not always understandable and that helped me to 'find myself out'.

When I had noticed this to happen fairly often I started looking back to the sentences that I had read. The bits that 'it' had added were nowhere to be found in the book at hand! They came from my store of all kinds of nonsence and 'it' put them on. The immediate alarm on this was of course that there is something wrong with me - which always is a difficult thing to accept.

I've now studied my 'reading' habit for three-four months. The conclusion I've come to is that the immediate alarm was right, but perhaps ringing in the wrong place. I was seeing my own mechanicalness. The machine simply took over my reading without any control.

A similar thing happens when I wake up in the morning. The machine starts 'talking' and if I am not there, aware of myself and seeing it, then it just 'takes over'. I think I know now what Gurdjieff meant when he said that if you can observe yourself then there is no need to go to a cinema. I've had a 'great time' seeing what kind of pictures turn up and had some laughs on them too.

So I got interested in learning how to read without 'it' adding anything as I feel that at least this seems to be proceeding in the right direction. But what is the right way of reading?

To put the question in a more specific form: can I read anything without the unwanted 'it' mixing into the content and adding its interpretation? What is the action of 'it'? Gurdjieff gave an answer to this in his 'Friendly Advice'. My reading is the 'mechanized form of reading'.

What does the 'reading as if aloud to another person' mean? Why aloud? Who is this other person anyway?

I told of the above experience to Will Mesa and Guy Hoffman. This resulted in an e-mail correspondence that was centered around the question and is still going on.

Will wrote: "Many people are still trying to analyze and/or explain the Tales instead of using it for their own work." The analyzing and explaining looks to me to be the same mechanical process of delving into the 'rubbish' that we have in our thinking-machine and similar to the process that I saw happening when reading. To be more specific it is writing down what 'it' interprets and has very little to do with 'the specific benefit for myself' that Gurdjieff wished for me with all his being.

To explain what I am trying to write let us take an example from music. It can be read and listened to and the experiences are completely different. If you can read musical notes then you are able to imagine how it would sound. But it would never be even close to a great orchestra or virtuoso playing it 'live'.

In other words: is it so that in reading thinking needs to be used and there is no direct access to emotions and that in listening the effect is without thinking? Gurdjieff used to ask: what does it make you feel?

The effect of listening is direct and if the message is to the emotions then the thought does not put its own interpretation on it. Like 'it', the animal, doing it - instead of the correct center or more exactly, instead of both thinking and feeling being involved.

Will Mesa then wrote further: "What you say is very much related to the two kind of mentations, mentation by thought and mentation by form. Gurdjieff says that mentation by form is formed in one's childhood and consequently has to do more with listening than reading. Mentation by thought is associative and is formed later in one's life. It contains no feeling. Mentation by form, on the other hand, contains both feeling and thought. We need both of them, but one is associated more with personality while the other is more of the essence. It may very well be that hearing goes straight to the essence, while seeing passes through the personality and is distorted."

And Guy Hoffman added: :"I am listening from two centers: the thinking center and my emotional center, that have been activated from my own personal experiences. So that if someone is talking or writing from the two centers, and I am listening from my two centers, there is direct communication."

Was this the gist of the 'Friendly Advice'? It looks like it. Going back to the initial remark that Beelzebub is a unique book is very well expressed by Will's next e-mail:

"I think there indeed is a difference between reading and listening and it is physiological. So, transmission of knowledge is higher through oral transmission than through reading. I'm now convinced that Gurdjieff made tremendous extra-efforts such that the Tales, and even Meetings, be a form of oral transmission through reading. Probably he is the only person who has been able to do this and I don't doubt it because he was an innovator in everything he did. He knew that he had to leave his teaching in writing but he also knew that knowledge can only be transmitted orally. So, he invented a new form of transmission that combines both oral and written."

Perhaps it is also called Legominism, which is connected with self-perfection, the Law of Sevenfoldness, not natural, but artificial and based on inexactitudes. Then again there is a connection to Art and transmission of true knowledge for future generations.

Legominism and Art are dealt with in the chapter Art, p 449-523 1950 edition. When talking about how the contemporary people sense new impressions when they in their 'daily life' go to thee contemporary theaters then they are said just to sleep better.

"The chief harm for them from these theaters is that they are an additional factor for a complete destruction in them of all possibilities of ever possessing the need, proper to three-brained beings, called the 'need-for-real-perceptions'....although they are in their usual waking state, yet every kind of association, both 'thinking' and 'feeling' proceeds in them exactly as they proceed during their complete passivity or sleep." , p. 507.

I wrote in an e-mail to Will and Guy: " I've just watched Discovery Channel on brain activity connected with seeing. At the end of the program, which described our sense of sight with examples mainly derived from people whose brain had been accidentally damaged, there was a scientist saying: "We do not see anything with our eyes. The act of seeing is the same as 'dreaming'. When we dream we can experience all the same things as when we are seeing something, like pain, beauty etc.. " Putting it in the context we are discussing this was the same as saying that it is 'the animal', 'it' that sees, whether we want it or not. "Something happens and the machine takes over."

Will answered: "I find very interesting what one of the scientist says about seeing in the sense of the act of seeing as being the same as dreaming. What about the act of hearing? Is this act different from that of seeing? I find all this very interesting because during my fourth reading of the Tales I discovered that there are two different tales in the book. One of the tales is to be read and the other is to be listened to."

The crucial question is: Who is the other person I am adviced by Gurdjieff to read the book aloud to? And what if he is not listening? These questions may well be connected with how to learn to read!

Note by a reader 'John' Tuesday, September 29, 2009 (anonymous email)

Having read Reijo's comments on Beelzebub's Tales he mentiones a socalled "manuscript-version" of "Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson"

Somebody has sent it to him by email and he does not know the sender.

I don't know either but I know of the origin.

Manuscriptversion is misleading. It was the first version Mr. Gurdjieff wrote before he rewrote everything. In the Third Series "Life is Only Real, When I AM" he writes about it.

He changed this version because he knew that only his students who had worked directly worked with him could get through it.
Reijo will find out, that chapter 35 is missing. This is not quite correct, it is not missing but was added later on, the early version had 1 chapter less.

Important notice: This commentary will be continued for some considerable time and updated monthly. some of the material has been included in comments in the forums and the newsletters.

Copyright © Reijo Elsner

This material is left as Reijo Elsner left it online, it is not updated regularly on this website - editor Katinka Hesselink Net 2006