Friday, 11 April 2014

"Neo-Sufism: The Case of Idries Shah"

by James Moore

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 The backwater where modern sensibilities are impinged on by a refurbished Sufism is a vexed and peculiar one: erudition sits uneasily with popularisation; spiritual leaders of a stature almost forgotten in the West are jostled by impudent careerists; and the erratic pattern of translation lends a disproportionate influence to the towering minds of Ibn Arabi (AD 1165-1240) and Jalaluddin Rumi AD (1207-1273). Our contemporary British scene affords few more successful figures than Idries Abutahir Shah -- and few more pitiful.

For twenty five years Shah [Shah died in 1996 -- ed. note] has been lit, as by St. Elmo's fire, with a nimbus of exorbitant adulation: an adulation he himself has fanned, an adulation which has not failed to arouse -- in quieter Islamic, literary, academic, and Gurdjieffian circles a largely unheeded contradiction. The coterie of serviceable journalists, editors, critics, animators, broadcasters, and travel writers, which gamely choruses Shah's praise, is entitled to enjoy undisturbed its special value-judgment. Where however, more eminent apologists have made debatable assertions of fact,' and where the traditional orientation of Sufism and indeed the canon of truth have suffered distortion, certain caveats concerning Shah must be refreshed.

In 1975 Doris Lessing brought to a climax her long years of enthusiasm in a 'Guardian' article of reckless ardour, appropriately entitled, 'If you knew Sufi....' In this hagiography -- no other noun will serve -- Shah was advertised as a saintly but genial polymath, who had attended several Western and Eastern universities; commanded 60 million adherents; and quite disinterestedly dispensed the 'Secret Wisdom':

"Idries Shah is one of these (great Sufi Masters), and from his birth has been prepared for the specific task of establishing this teaching here in the West."

An elitist spiritual education is one of Shah's two main planks: the second -- echoed below by Robert Graves -- adduces 'silsila' the Sufic initiatic chain:

"Idries Shah Sayed happens to be in the senior male fine of descent from the prophet Mohammed, and to have inherited the secret mysteries from the Caliphs, his ancestors. He is, in fact, a Grand Sheikh of the Sufi Tariqa..."

Such claims by such claimants deserve the compliment of attentive scrutiny, and necessarily invite discreet interrogation of Shah's antecedents.

Shah's Origins

Idries Shah's pretension to be a Sayed (in common incidentally with a million or more putative descendants of Muhammad's younger grandson Husain) may be conceded 'grosso modo,' without its conferring on him the spiritual authority he implies. But the wilder boasts of his posterity -- that he springs from Abraham's loins and from the last Sasanid kings -- belong to the melancholy area of creative genealogy; and indeed in so far as they rely on his vaunted place in the senior male line of descent from... Mohammed,' they labour under the unconsidered difficulty that all three sons of the Prophet died in infancy.

Shah's traceable paternity places him within an obscure Afghan clan from Paghman, a resort fifty miles from Kabul. Ironically enough, his great-great-grandfather Muhammad Shah was awarded the title 'Jan Fishan Khan' (The Zealot) in 1840, for supporting British interests against his Muslim co-religionists. If it is over-censorious to call him (as I. P. Elwell-Sutton has) a 'ruffian,' it is preposterous to call him (as Idries has) 'chief of the Hindu Kush Sufis.' The specific Sufic link claimed by Idries is first defined and rendered remotely plausible in the person of his grandfather Amjed Ali Shah, the self-styled 'Nawab of Sardhana' and 'Naqshbandi Paghmani.' The Naqshabandiyya were an important central Asian Sunni tariqa, associated with the name of Baha'ud-Din Naqshband (AD 1318-1389). Yet Amjed Ali's religious dedication is less well attested than his dissipation of the family's estates at Sardhana near Delhi.

Ikbal Ali Shah (1894-1969), the son of Amjed Ali and father of Idries, settled in Britain before the first World War, only to meet rebuffs. Behind his compensatory inventions of private conversations with King George V lay his failure at Edinburgh Medical School and -- equally predictable -- his ignominious treatment as a son-in-law. Charming and personable, Ikbal was a lifelong sufferer from Munchhausen's syndrome -- a condition first diagnosed in 1929, when he tried to compromise the P. M. Ramsay Macdonald, and Foreign Office investigation revealed there 'was hardly a word of truth in his writings.' Towards Sufism, Ikbal's stance was ambivalent. He did write one innocuous popularisation, "Islamic Sufism" (Rider & Co., 1933). However, he dipped his pen in the inkpot of Voltaire when alluding to the Rifa'i, Mevlevi, and Ansariyya tariqas; and he positively applauded Mustafa Kemal's abolition of the fez and the Turkish dervish orders on 2 September 1925. As to orthodox Islam, Ikbal's conduct over the notorious 'halal' meat scandal in Buenos Aires in 1946, provoked the British Ambassador to describe him as 'a swindler.'

However powerful and unusual were the influences to which Idries Shah was innocently exposed in his formative years, they were hardly Sufic.

A Youthful Tourist

Idries Abutahir Shah was born in Simla on 16 June 1924. Before long, he was brought to England where he grew up -- a timid child -- at 'Northdene,' Brighton Road, Belmont, Sutton. His boyhood with his brother Omar Ali Shah was uneventful -- though, even in Belmont, not entirely insulated from pockets of inexcusable prejudice against Anglo-Indians. In August 1940, when German bombing began in earnest, the family evacuated from London to Oxford, where Idries's two or three academically undistinguished years at the City of Oxford High School, in New Inn Hall Street, evidently crowned and concluded his formal education. To the decade 1945 to 1955 Idries assigns his "Wanderjahre," assiduously cultivating the impression of far- flung and audacious travels in Asia as a 'student of Traditional Sufi sheikhs.' He may indeed have used his father's oriental contacts. Incongruously enough however, it was to Uruguay that he went in winter 1945, as secretary of his father's 'halal' meat mission, and to England that he returned in October 1946. All that is certain apropos this period is that Shah has made portentous and inherently improbable claims, without elucidating (and indeed largely clouding) the biographical record.

Our subject emerges somewhat from the shadows with the publication of his first books, which are important in indicating the voltage and orientation of his mind, before he gained support from literary agents and research assistants, and, crucially important in situating him vis-à-vis Islam and Sufism, before he had furbished his 'Sufic' persona. Shah's first book "Oriental Magic" (Rider, 1956) will survive, if at all, as the prototype of his recourse to antecedent writing, and of his pretensions as a mystery figure. It finds him, at 32, primarily concerned with matters like 'Mungo' the ectoplasmic force, garters for distances, and Himalayan leopard powder. Only chapter 7, 'The Fakirs and their Doctrines,' approaches the Sufic theme, and it is replete with errors. His ensuing travel memoir "Destination Mecca" (Rider, 1957), although intrinsically slight, is certainly more important for its unconscious self- depiction. What do we find? Regrettably, we find a tourist who (Shah's own words) 'had lived for years in the West'; a mind embarrassingly superficial and banal, lacking the least resonance of religious feeling; a photographer obsessed with his Robot f/2.8 rapid action camera, exultant at his furtive and sacrilegious snapshots of the Kaaba; a materialist repelled by the 'unhygienic bodies' of the Muslim Brethren but intrigued by Mecca United football team; a man meeting his first practicing Sufis around the age of 30, only to find their sacred books unfamiliar:

"These were the actual Dancing Dervishes -- of the Bektashi Order -- in action! I would have given any thing to have had my camera with me."

Alike in his conflation of the Bektashi and Mevlevi tariqas and in his voyeuristic reaction -- the real Idries Shah exposes himself.

Marketing Sufism

The opening of the 1960s found Shah veering towards occultism, and acting as secretary-companion to Dr. Gerald Gardner, Director of the Museum of Magic and Witchcraft in the Isle of Man. However, a nouvelle orientalism was in the air (articulated amongst others by Daisetz Suzuki, Pak Subuh, and the Maharishi); and the Sufi niche was temptingly unfilled. 'People must have labels,' Shah concluded. 'The scramble is to get the right one and then hold on to it...' A scramble certainly -- for the assiduous revisionism which yielded him his 'Grand Sheikh' label generated a corpus of pseudonymous literature, unparalleled in our century for its magnitude, coherence, and ignobility.

Shah has conceded his own recourse to pen names (v. "Reflections," p. 88), without divulging details; many of his disciples emulate him, Given this obfuscation, it is problematic which of the score or more queerly named authors stylistically and thematically assignable to the 'Shah-School' (e.g. Omar Michael Burke Ph. D., Arkon Daraul, Rafael Lefort, Hadrat B.M. Dervish and so on) have independent physical existence? Pending investigation, it perhaps suffices that none show a scintilla of independent philosophical existence. Shah- School productions date from May 1960, and throughout them Shah receives -- ostensibly from disinterested third parties -- intemperate praise: he is 'Tariqa Grand Sheikh Idries Shah Saheb'; he is 'Prince Idries Shah'; 'King Enoch'; 'The Presence'; 'The Studious King'; the 'Incarnation of Ah'; and even the Qutb or 'Axis.'

Someone deeply impressed by the idealized Shah was the former Marxist Doris May Lessing (b. 1919) who, while writing "The Golden Notebook" underwent a sort of Damascene conversion. For 20 years she has remained the spearhead of Shah's defence, again and again pitting 'half-truth, irrelevancy, double think, misquotation and invention' against the scholarship and deadly fairness of Shah's redoubtable critic Laurence Elwell-Sutton, Reader in Persian at Edinburgh University. Innocent of any oriental tongue, she has plunged deep into debates which turn on a command of mediaeval Persian; lacking any indigenous Sufic experience, she has set her judgment against that of profound Sufi thinkers like Professor Sayed Hossein Nasr. Beyond all exasperation, it is impossible not to feel for the loyal Quixotic Mrs. Lessing something akin to regard. Gurdjieffians Wanted

No single element in Shah's whole life has proved more materially advantageous -- or psychologically revealing than his stratagem concerning the philosopher-savant George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff (c. 1866-1949). Hardly had Shah-School productions appeared, than they began to belittle Gurdjieff -- adding in coded language the preposterous rider that Shah (who never even met him) had assumed his mantle. This campaign reached apogee in 1966. First came the distasteful fabrication "The Teachers of Gurdjieff" by Rafael Lefort (a botched anagram of 'A Real Effort'). Here young 'Lefort' pretends to have sought out Gurdjieff 's teachers in Asia (a chronological absurdity), who demeaned their former pupil and pointed towards Shah. Next, extrapolating from Gurdjieff's references to a certain 'Sarmoung Brotherhood,' Shah-School productions impudently claimed that the Sarmoung were extant and had one emissary in Europe - - a figure strangely redolent of Shah himself. At last, in "Special Problems in the Study of Sufi Ideas," the reborn 'Naqshbandi' ventured an explicit and attributable statement:

"G. I. Gurdjieff left abundant clues to the Sufi origins of virtually every point in his 'system'; though it obviously belongs more specifically to the Khwajaghan (Naqshbandi) form of dervish teaching."

But why Gurdjieff and why 1966? To explore this we must briefly advance the singular figure of J. G. Bennett.

John Godolphin Bennett (1897-1974) was a complex, gifted, sincere, and indefatigable eclectic searcher strangely deficient in common sense. Having been successively the pupil of P. D. Ouspensky, Gurdjieff himself, Jeanne de Salzmann, H. H. Lannes. Emin Chikou, Abdullah Daghestani, Pak Subuh, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and the Shivapuri Baba, and even received into the Roman Catholic Church, he wondered at age 69 if he was making sufficient headway. His predicament was compounded because he himself had accumulated a numerous and serious following and a prestigious house at Coombe Springs. Bennett, with his Messianic and millenarian promptings was that 'rara avis,' a guru in search of a guru; and from 1962, when the Shah-School began propagating its Gurdjieffian allusions, the hook had been temptingly baited for him.

How Bennett took that bait; how the older man became persuaded that Shah had come direct from Gurdjieff's 'Sarmoung Monastery' with a 'Declaration of the People of The Tradition'; how Shah pressed Bennett ('The caravan is about to set out') to give him Coombe Springs outright; how Bennett agonized, and in January 1966 complied; how Shah promptly repudiated Bennett, and sold the establishment for 100,000 [British pounds]; how Coombe Springs with its sub-Goetheanum Djamichunatra passed under the bulldozers; how Shah with the proceeds founded the Society for Organising Unified Research in Cultural Education (SOURCE) and the Society for the Understanding of the Foundation of Ideas (SUFI) and established himself at Langton House, Langton Green, near Tunbridge Wells -- all this defies both précis and belief, but is indelibly recorded in Bennett's autobiography "Witness."

Robert Graves Stung

Within two years 'The People of the Tradition' had claimed an even older, more vulnerable, more eminent victim: the poet Robert Graves. His ill-fated work "The Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam -- A New Translation" with critical commentaries (Cassell, 1967) was written with, and at the instigation of, General Omar Ali Shah, but in aid of Idries Shah's highly tendentious thesis that Khayyam's was 'the Sufi voice.' Entering the spirit of the thing, Ikbal, who had dismissed Khayyam in 1928 as 'the Bacchus with the mind of a Rabelais,' now felt happy to endorse his piety. As for poor Graves, his book was exposed by academics as a nullity cubed; a 'translation' (which was not a translation but a copy of a Victorian commentary); of the twelfth century 'Jan Fishan Khan MS' (which did not exist); of a composite stanzaic poem by Khayyam (which he did not write). As Graves laboured hopelessly to defend himself, Idries twice promised to produce the elusive MS 'from Afghanistan,' only to renege finally on 30 October 1970. No MS, no photocopy, no detail of format or location, no substantive text, no colophon ever transpired -- and Graves like Bennett reaped the harvest of his credulity.

Summing Up

With Shah now over 60 it is not too early to take stock.

Yes he has made a contribution of sorts in popularising his invertebrate, humanistic 'Sufism,' and in pleasing the Mrs. Lessings of this world. It is not nothing. But consider the cost: the rearing of an unsavoury pseudonymous literature; the clouding of Graves's reputation; and the injection into the world's biographical dictionaries of a false prospectus of Gurdjieff. Yes Shah is affluent and famous now and a member of the Athenaeum: but Baha'ud-Din Naqshband sought only spiritual riches, and forbade his followers to record the least word about him. Yes, Shah has brought energy and resource to his self-aggrandizement; but where is the evidence of conscience or real 'dasein'? Then is not Shah's life -- all in all -- as opaque in terms of genuine Sufism, as it is transparent in terms of Adlerian psychology?

Beyond this ad hominem critique, inescapable as an antidote to Shah's personality cult, what of his work? Many people will enjoy his dervish anecdotes and Mullah Nasruddin stories unaware how cavalierly they lean on unacknowledged and out-of copyright sources). But their spiritualising action on middlebrow European readers is surely nil. Plucked from their true cultural, linguistic, and didactic contexts, and from the rich oral tradition which gave them life, they have been ignobly reduced to the level of 'The Hundred Best After-Dinner Stories.' And if they are truly exemplary tales, they are marvellously at variance with Shah's own example.

Idries Abutahir Shah and his Sufism await judgments immeasurably beyond the competence of 'Religion Today': the judgment of history, if not the judgment foretold in Surah LXXVIII. But some provisional comment may be ventured without malice: that his is a 'Sufism' which Baha'ud-Din Naqshband would find unrecognisable and repugnant; that his is a 'Sufism' without self-sacrifice, without self-transcendence, without the aspiration of gnosis, without tradition, without the Prophet, without the Quran, without Islam, and without God. Merely that.

-James Moore

[This article first appeared in Religion Today. Moore is the author of "Gurdjieff -- A Biography," "Gurdjieff and Mansfield," and is currently working on his memoirs. Email: james.moore@g...]

Author's Note

This article constitutes a footnote to L. P. Elwell-Sutton's magisterial 'Sufism & Pseudo-Sufism' (Encounter Vol. XLIV No. 5, May 1975, pp. 9-17). which in certain sectors it augments and corrects. My 25-year-plus interest in Idries Shah has been enlivened by correspondence with Elwell-Sutton, Elizabeth Bennett, Edward Campbell, Martin Seymour-Smith, K. E. Steffens, Richard Thomas, and Colin Wilson; by contact with Professors James Vickie (Yak Sake), Sayed Hossein Nasr, and Anne Marie Scheme; and by collaboration from the PRO, the Doris Lessing Society and the Society of Genealogists. Of Shah's apologists I have listened most attentively to Ahmed R. Bullock. I am especially grateful to J. I. Somers, archivist of The Gurdjieff Society and director of Fine Books Oriental. For reasons of typography and disparate provenance respectively, I make no attempt here at scholarly or consistent transliteration from Arabic or Persian.


Contemporary British scene. Contemporary neo-Sufism presents three ideological backcloths -- Sunni, Shiite, and 'Gnostic. 'The traditions of Alawiyya, Chisti, Halveti-Jerrahi, Mevlevi, and Nimatullahi dervishes are variously articulated by strongly contrasted figures like Hasan-Lutfi Shushud, Frithjof Schuon, ('Isa Nuruddin'), Suleiman Hyati Dede, Dr. Sufi Aziz Balouch, Sheikh Muhammad Muzaffer-eddin Ashki, Pir Vilayat Khan, Dr. Javad Nurbaksh, and Bulent Rauf.

Coterie of serviceable journalists.... Among the more notable are Edward Campbell, Geoffrey Grigson, Desmond Morris, Isabel Quigley, Ted Hughes, Pat Williams, and Richard Williams.

Brought to a climax. Doris Lessing's admiration of Shah first emerged on 18 September 1964 with her review 'An Elephant in the Dark,' Spectator 213:373. The personal context is briefly evoked in her interview by Nissa Torrents for the Spanish journal La Calle (No. 106 April 1-7,1980)pp.42-44.

'Secret Wisdom. 'Doris Lessing, 'If you knew Sufi...' The Guardian 8 Jan. 1975, p. 12.

His ancestors. Robert Graves, Introduction to The Sufis by Idries Shah (New York: Doubleday 1964).

Sons died in infancy. Muhammad's line of course descends through his daughter Fatima and son-in-law Ali; of his two grandsons the elder was Hasan (whose progeny bear the title shatif) not Husain (whose progeny bear the title sayed). See Philip K. Hitti, History of the Arabs (Macmillan & Co. 1953) p. 440 n. 8.

Ruffian. L. R Elwell-Sutton, Letter, 'Sufism and Pseudo-Sufism' Encounter, Dec. 1972, p. 92. For the basis of this condemnation, see inter alia Sir John William Kave. History of the Indian Mutiny 1857- 58 (Vol.11), p. 145.

Chief of Hindu Kush Sufis. Idries Shah, The Sufis, p. 168.

The Naqshabandiyya. Shah's claim to lead the Naqshbandi Order is baseless. For the historical background see J. Spencer-Trimingham, The Sufi Orders in Islam (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971). For some cryptic pointers towards the authentic modem silsila, see 'The Naqshbandi Order -- A Preliminary Survey of its History and Significance' (Berkeley, California, 1977) pp. 123-52 by Hamid Algar, the world authority on this tariqa. For Naqshbandi encroachment into certain contemporary political arenas, see for example Turkish literature surrounding the National Salvation Party led by Mr. Erbakan.

Failure at Edinburgh Medical School. During World War I, Ikbal avoided military service by attaching himself as a volunteer to the Indian General Hospital at Brighton. In 1933 his frustrated medical and social aspirations dominated his unintentionally hilarious novel Afridi Gold, whose hero Colonel Francis Challenger of the Indian Medical Service, would 'devote the same remitting (sic) care and attention to a black body as a white' (p. 9).

Ignominious treatment. Ikbal Ali Shah's wife (mother of Idries and Omar) assumed on marriage the tide Sharifa Saira Khanum, her maiden name being usually cited as 'Elizabeth Louis MacKenzie.' Questionable rumours -- which Idries appears neither to confirm nor deny -- have circulated that Ikbal in fact married into Scotland's premier family the 'haughty Hamiltons 'the bride, to Ikbal's chagrin, feeling obliged to register pseudonymously to circumvent parental obstruction. Suggestions that her father was actually 'Chief of Clan Hamilton' seems particularly extravagant: neither the 12th nor l3th Dukes of Hamilton had daughters available to Ikbal; nor is such a liaison mentioned by Lt. Col. George Hamilton in A History of the House of Hamilton (Edinburgh, 1933). The connection, if any, was more plausibly through the eccentric Sir Abdullah Archibald Hamilton, formerly Sir Charles Edward Archibald Watkins Hamilton, who embraced Islam on 20 December 1923. Incongruous Scottish allusions permeate Shah-School productions e.g. in Destination Mecca Idries appears as 'Laird... of the Fatimite Family' returning to his ,native Afghan glens. 'He himself is married to Bibi Kashri Khanum (nee Kabraji) by whom he has a son, Tahir, and two daughters.

Hardly a word of truth. 'Notes on Sirdar Ikbal Ali Khan.' (PRO, FO 37 1, 129, N.3024/2824/97): a detailed and condemnatory report on Ikbal's integrity and veracity. (Damaging material on Ikbal abounds throughout FO, 371 and FO 395 from 1926 to 1950).

A swindler. Gordon Vereker (British Ambassador Montevideo) letter of 17 July 1946 to Victor Perowne. (PRO, FO 371, 1946, AS/4439/46). For the basis of this condemnation see FO, 371 Piece 52194.

Undistinguished years. Although its headmaster was entitled to attend The Headmasters' Conference, the School was evidently in decline by Shah's day; and is now defunct. Its most famous old boy, decades earlier, was T. E. Lawrence -- a powerful allusion ironically denied Shah, because his English childhood sat so uneasily with Sufic and Sarmoung Brotherhood allusions.

Returned to England. Sailing on the SS DARRO out of Buenos Aires on 26 September 1946.

Lived in the West. Idries Shah, "Destination Mecca" (Rider, 1957) p. 48.

Dancing Dervishes. Ibid. p. 177.

Scramble. Ibid. p. 11.

'Shah-School' productions. A thematically and stylistically, homogeneous literary oeuvre, eulogizing Shah and/or his 'Sufism' -- promulgated by Shah's Octagon Press. Four categories emerge:

1) Overt writing by Shah e.g. The Sufis (New York: Doubleday,

2) Pseudonymous writing reasonably ascribable to Shah himself e.g. work by 'Arkon Daraul'(see. Note 20) and by 'Rafael Lefort' (see Note 25);

3) Overt writing by Shah's admirers e.g. Doris Lessing's 'If you knew Sufi...' (The Guardian 8 Jan. 1975) p. 121;

4) Pseudonymous writing by Shah's admirers e.g. The People of the Secret (Octagon Press, 193 1) by 'Ernest Scott' (reputedly Edward Campbell, former literary editor of The Evening News). Given the peculiar motivation for this genre, there seems a persuasive case for detailed investigative and stylometric research, to extend firm knowledge. of authorship beyond Shah, his literary agent, and The Registrar of Public Lending Right.

Arkon Daraul. Arkon Daraul, "Secret Societies Yesterday and Today" (Frederick Muller Ltd., 196 1). Material from Chapter 5 "Me Path of the Sufi' (giving a risible account of initiation into a 'Naqshbandi Lodge' in a country house in Sussex, all too identifiable by the 'Arms of the Princes of Paghman' p. 72) is excerpted in Davidson's 'Symposium' promulgated by Shah (see Note 2 1).

Date from May 1960. W. Foster, 'The Family of Ilashim,' Contemporary Review Vol. 197. No. 1132, May 1960) pp. 269-7 1. A convenient anthology of ensuing Shah-School productions in the vigorously expansionist period Jan. 1961-Dec. 1965 is Documents on Contemporary Dervish Communities, ed. Roy Weaver Davidson (SOURCE, 1966). A more recent and unintentionally piquant production is "The Diffusion of Sufi Ideas in the West" (more accurately subtitled "An Anthology New Writings by and about Idries Shah") ed. L. Lewin (Boulder, Colorado, Keysign Press, 1972).

Spearhead of Shah's defence. See Paul Schlueter. 'Lessing and Sufism' a checklist compiled for the Doris Lessing Society: English Dept., Old Dominion University. Norfolk, VA 23508, USA.

'Half-truth, irrelevancies...' L. Elwell Sutton. Letter 'Sufism and Pseudo-Sufism, 'Encounter (Dec. 1972) p. 9 1.

Against that of profound Sufi thinkers. See for example Nasr's review of Shah's "The Sufis in Islamic Studies" (1964). For their part Shah and his School display a patronizing, even dismissive, attitude towards scholars like Arberry, Corbin, Massignon, Nicholson, and Rice -- while simultaneously leaning on their work.

Distasteful fabrication. The persistent rumour (and reasonable inference) that Shah himself is 'Rafael Lefort' was first publicly bruited by Nicholas Saunders in Alternative London (Nicholas Saunders, 1970) p. 109.

Sarmoung Brotherhood. Space precludes consideration of the complex literary, historical, geographical, and etymological questions posed by Gurdjieff's purported contact with a 'Sarmoung Brotherhood' in Central Asia c. 1899. Independent and trustworthy corroboration of the Order's existence is thus far lacking, and the self-serving exploitation of the name, both by the Shah-School and Irv Garv B. Chicoine, the egregiously self-styled 'Chief Sarmouni,' hinders serious investigation.

Khwajaghan (Naqshbandi) form of dervish teaching. The 11th-13th century Khwajaghan Masters were protagonists both of the Naqshbandi and Yesevi tariqas. See Trimingham op. cit. p. 62ff. and Algar loc. cit. pp. 131-134. For more problematical formulations see the work of Hasan Lutfi Shushud, e.g. "Masters of Wisdom in Central Asia" Systematics Vol. VI p. 310 (Coombe Springs Press); and J. G. Bennett, "Gurdjieff -- Making a New World" (Turnstone Books, 1973) Chap 27 "The Masters of Wisdom"; and J. G. Bennett "The Masters of Wisdom" (Turnstone Books, 1977).

Bennett. J. G. Bennett was fluent in 10 languages: his mathematical paper (written with R. L. Brown and M. W. Thring) 'Unified Field Theory in a Curvature-Free Five-Dimensional Manifold' was published in The Proceedings of the Royal Society in July 1949: his major opus "The Dramatic Universe" conveys, despite its opacity, his colossal intellect.

Shah pressed Bennett. Idries Shah q. J. G. Bennett, "Witness" (Turnstone, rev. ed. 1975) p.361.

Djamichunatra. The nine-sided Djamichunatra (or Djameechoonatra) at Coombe Springs was designed and built by J. G. Bennett and his pupils, notably a dozen architects led by Robert Whiffen; the building was begun on 23 March 1956, completed on 29 October 1957, and demolished by 'developers' in 1966. For its inspiration see G. I. Gurdjieff "Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson" (RKP, 1950) p. 1160; for Bennett's vision of it see his "Witness" (Hodder and Stoughton, 1962) p. 323f and 348f, for further technical details see A.G. E. Blake "A History of the Institute for the Comparative Study of History, Philosophy and the Sciences Ltd and the Influences upon it" (Daglingworth: privately circulated, 198 1) p. 5; for Frank Lloyd Wright's aesthetic criticism see Anthony Bright Paul "Stairway to Subud" (Coombe Springs Press, 1965) p. 116; and for its wanton destruction see Witness (rev. ed. 1975) p. 362.

All this defies belief. J. G. Bennett, Witness (Turnstone, rev. ed. 1975) pp. 355-62. Bennett's introduction to his limited edition of "Witness" (Coombe Springs Press, 1971) had enthusiastically announced a forthcoming Bennett-Shah paper elaborating both men's motivation. This eludes researchers.

Khayyam. Idries Shah, The Sufis (New York: Doubleday, 1964).

'The Bacchus with the mind of a Rabelais.' Ikbal Ali Shah, Westward to Mecca (H. R & G. Witherby, 1928) Chap IX 'Omar and Shakespeare,' 181. Cf p. 184.

Exposed by academics. Between 1968 and 1973 virtually every eminent Persicologist in Britain, America. and Iran pronounced against the 'Jan Fishan Khan MS' and the Graves-Shah 'translation': none for it. Credit for first exposing the hoax goes to L. P, Elwell-Sutton for his 'The Omar Khayyam Puzzle'(RCAJ Lv/2, June 1968. pp. 167-79); credit for burying it to J. C. E. Bowen for his 'The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: A Critical Assessment of Robert Graves' and Omar Ali Shah's 'translation'(Iran: Journal of Persian Studies Vol. XI 1973, pp. 63-73). Idries Shah went to ground throughout the debacle but his major role became apparent with the publication of "Between Moon and Moon: Selected Letters of Robert Graves 1941-1972," ed. Paul O'Prey (Hutchinson, 1984) pp. 281-83.

Renege finally. See O'Prey op. cit. p. 281ff.

False prospectus of Gurdjieff. Thanks to Shah and Bennett, the misconception of the preponderantly Sufic provenance of Gurdjieff's ideas has now a tenacious hold in works of reference e.g. Encyclopaedia Britannica 15th ed. (1985) Vol. 5 of Micropaedia. For a more balanced -- though somewhat superficial -- analysis, see James Webb, "The Harmonious Circle" (Thames and Hudson, 1980) Part 3, Chap. I 'The Sources of the System' pp. 499-543. It needs emphasis that Shah did not, as mistakenly conveyed by Elwell-Sutton, fall heir to the mainstream Gurdjieff movement in Britain, which in fact under H. H. Lannes held fastidiously aloof.

Mulla Nasruddin stories. In "Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson" (RKP, 1950) G. I. Gurdjieff gave high significance to the 'incomparable Mullah Nassr Eddin, 'the mediaeval wise fool of Turkish folklore. Shah, in the expansionist year 1966 (see text), almost predictably published "The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin" (Jonathan Cape); this was shortly followed by "Nasrudin's Pleasantries" (1968), both books evidently aimed at capturing a specifically Gurdjieffian readership and allegiance. In this Shah failed. By 1973, with publication of "Nasrudin's Subtleties" and the incorporation of Mulla Nasrudin Enterprises Ltd., proselytism had become secondary to normal commercial motive. Although, characteristically, Shah fails to specify the origin of his Nasrudin stories, their provenance is transparent to scholars familiar with the enormous out of copyright Nassr Eddin literature (dating back to 1937 in Turkish and 1857 in European languages). For an authoritative review of this literature and of Nassr Eddin's historicity, see Fehim Bairaktare -- vic's entry in "Enyclopaedia of Islam" Vol. 3, pp. 875-78.

[Reprinted from "Telos", Volume 6, Number 4, Autumn]    Source Ref HERMES PRESS

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كيف تنظَّم دورات حياة البشر على الأرض
إعداد وتنسيق ج.ب.م.
ISBN: 978-9953-405-83-4

شراء عبر الشبكةمحتويات الكتابصورة الغلاف
"الأشعّة الروحية- الإنسانية- البشرية (كيف تنظَّم دورات حياة البشر على الأرض)" هو الكتاب التاسع والأربعون ضمن سلسلة علوم الإيزوتيريك، بقلم د. جوزيف مجدلاني (ج ب م)، منشورات أصدقاء المعرفة البيضاء، بيروت. يتضمّن الكتاب 256 صفحة من الحجم الوسط، كما ينطوي على حقائق غامضة تُكشف للمرة الأولى لتكون دليل كل إنسان أو باحث في أصوله عن أبجدية سِفر الخلق والوجود، فيستنير عقله بمعارف جديدة وترتقي حياته على أسس ثابتة واضحة المعالِم في الحياة العامة والخاصة.
رحلة في خفايا الذات الانسانية (مترجم للفرنسية) Print E-mail
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Joseph B. Majdalani (JBM)
ISBN 978-9953-405-72-8

Cet ouvrage de Dr. Joseph B. Majdalani (JBM) évoque les moments-clé de la vie d'un homme qui décide un jour de trouver le sens de la vie. Il consacrera désormais son temps à chercher à se connaître car il a compris que le Connais-toi toi-même de Socrate est le chemin de l'Homme. Il apprendra à contrôler ses émotions par le biais de l'amour, la volonté et la sagesse et à épanouir ses pouvoirs latents par une pratique assidue qui deviendra une seconde nature, non sans peines.
Il découvre dans les Sciences Esotériques une méthodologie d’application pratique à la technique de Connais-toi toi-même et parvient graduellement à pénétrer les profondeurs de son être, élucider ses mystères, comprendre ses sentiments, le motif de ses actions, et l’ambiguïté de ses relations vis à vis des autres et de la vie intrinsèquement.
A wise master’s letter to his disciples - Reincarnation a reality or an illusion Print E-mail
A wise master’s letter  to his disciples - Reincarnation a reality or an illusion (2 Books in 1 – Tête-Bêche Format)
Joseph B. Majdalani (J.B.M.)
ISBN 978-9953-405-70-4

In the wake of the success of the Esoteric publications in Arabic: “A Wise Master’s Letter to his Disciples” and  “Reincarnation – A Reality or an Illusion?!” by Joseph B. Majdalani (JBM), the two books were translated into English and bound together in one Tête-bêche publication of 128 medium size pages, published by Society of Friends of the White Knowledge, Beirut.
This comes further to the high demand from the four corners of the world to translate the Arabic Esoteric teachings and surpassing 70 publications of Dr. Joseph B. Majdalani (JBM) into English, French, Spanish, Russian, Bulgarian, and other languages... which turns upside down the entrenched conventional assumption that only foreign publications are usually translated into Arabic. As expected in the Esoteric Sciences, the originality is carried over from the mental to the mantle, to an unconventional Tête-Bêche format (a French idiom meaning head-to-tail), where two books are printed together, but upside down and back-to-back. According to “The Guardian” newspaper (UK) on 28 July 2011, tête-bêche unconventional format is making one of its periodic returns to favour!
The Initiate Of The Aquarian Age (Translated to Bulgarian) Print E-mail
Joseph B. Majdalani (JBM)
“THE INTITIATE OF THE AQUARIAN AGE” is the fourth esoteric publication in English, in addition to forty six books in Arabic and one in French, and another in Spanish and Bulgarian, so far… all written by Dr. Joseph B. Majdalani (JBM) and published by the Society of Friends of the White Knowledge, Beirut. This futuristic masterpiece expands in 112 pages of concentrated instructive speeches and illuminating teachings, revealing the inner truths of the Aquarian Age and its Initiates, together with the prerequisites for effective advancement in self-development towards self-realization.
حب في كنف المعلم Print E-mail
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بقلم زياد شهاب الدين
ISBN 978-9953-405-78-0

شراء عبر الشبكةصورة الغلاف
صدر حديثاً  ضمن سلسلة علوم الايزوتيريك رواية ايزوتيريكيّة بعنوان "حبّ في كنف المعلّم" تأليف الأستاذ زياد شهاب الدين. تضمّ الرواية 160 صفحة من الحجم الوسط، منشورات أصدقاء المعرفة البيضاء، بيروت.
المشاعر، هذا العالم الساحر بمختلف جوانبه الذي فاضت دواوين الشعر تعبيرًا عن تفاعلاته، يستحوذ على وعي الإنسان ويسيطر على أغلبيّة تصرفاته. حقيقة القول أيضًا انّ الانسان، ومع تطوّر وعيه، سيتفتّح على أهميّة تشذيب هذا البُعد في نفسه، وتنقيته من سلبيّاته كالغضب، الغيرة، البغض والكره الخ... عبر وسائل عمليّة تقدّمها علوم الإيزوتيريك لإستئصال تلك السلبيّات من البُعد المشاعري، والذي يدعى في عرف الباطن، الجسم الكوكبي. أهم تلك الوسائل هو تفتيح بُعد المشاعرعن طريق إكتساب عاطفة الحب الواعي الذي يزاوج بين المشاعر وبين الفكر والجسد، ويخلق تناغمًا باطنيَّا بين كل تلك الأبعاد في النفس البشريّة.

Esoteric Knowledge in the Perennial Tradition

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In this essay we'll examine the conception and application of "esoteric knowledge" in the Perennial Tradition.  The concept "esoteric" includes all the connotations to the right. (Ref Hermes Press)


Esoteric: known or knowable only to initiates; secret or mysterious knowledge; cryptic; hidden; concealed; clandestine, covert

      The concept and reality of esoteric knowledge (esoterikos gnwsis) are used by groups in accordance with whether they possess a spurious or genuine nature.
Use of the Concept and Reality of Esoteric Knowledge

Groups With Pretense of Knowledge Only

Groups With Genuine Knowledge

To create invidious distinctions such as "those who know the secret" and "those unworthy of the secret"

To protect unprepared persons from knowledge that might be perilous to them and others

To fool persons into believing that the cult leaders are magnanimously allowing them to be included in a supposedly "secret" or "magical" organization

To protect genuine esoteric knowledge from misuse by intellectually, morally, or spiritually unprepared persons

To program and condition the victims, using the spurious "esoteric knowledge" (actually mumbo-jumbo and cant); to delude victims into believing the cult has "secrets" or doesn't have "secrets"

The use of knowledge which possesses the power to produce psychic upheaval in a prepared mind and transport that mind to a higher dimension, effecting a transmutation of the person from one state of being to another

    Masons in an initiation ritual       Spurious groups such as the Masons or Internet "spiritual" training cults pretend to possess "esoteric knowledge." When you examine their so-called wisdom it turns out to be potted nonsense or psycho-babble.      Gullible simpletons waste countless hours in useless rituals, memorizing twaddle posing as Truth.
      Depraved cults such as the Roman Catholic Church possess brainwashing stratagems with which they condition young children into accepting vile dogmas which communicants continue to believe throughout their lives. The mental programming is so indelible that even the knowledge that their priests are sexual predators does not shake their deluded "faith."
      The Roman Catholic Church keeps these mind conditioning stratagems "secret," in the sense that they claim not to brainwash their supplicants and deny that they have any "esoteric" knowledge whatsoever. Roman Catholic scholars asserts that there never has been an esoteric strain in Christianity.
"From the importance given to the clergy and from the habit in the early Christian Church of keeping certain doctrines secret from the pagan--the so-called disciplina arcani--some have assumed that Christianity too has a similar division [between esoteric and exoteric]. But this would be a mistaken conclusion. There is no esoteric as contrasted with an exoteric doctrine, and all are called to the same spiritual perfection. The reserve of the early Church was due to its fear of the coarse-minded pagan misunderstanding such spiritual doctrines as the Eucharist, the partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ. The wisdom of the other religions, on the other hand, is almost always a form of gnosis, something secret and hidden, and it belongs to a chosen few. Even amongst the few there are degrees of initiation, as there are in jujitsu, and the rare masters hand on their technique and their counsels and sayings to disciples who create a school and a tradition." 1
      It is certainly true that the Orthodox, Protestant, and Roman Catholic "brands" of orthodox Christianity possess no genuine esoteric knowledge, since they have all devolved to mere sacerdotal autocracies bilking their parishioners.
Preparing for Esoteric Knowledge

      Certain knowledge within the Perennial Tradition is made available to people in general, knowledge that allows serious students to prepare for later, esoteric knowledge.

"Esoteric knowledge can be given only to those who seek, only to those who have been seeking it with a certain amount of consciousness, that is, with an understanding of how it differs from ordinary knowledge and how it can be found . . . "This preliminary knowledge can be gained by ordinary means, from existing and known literature, easily accessible to all. And the acquisition of this preliminary knowledge may be regarded as the first test. Only those who pass this first test, those, that is, who acquire the necessary knowledge from the material accessible to all, may hope to take the next step, at which point direct individual help will be accorded them. A man may hope to approach esotericism if he has acquired a right understanding from ordinary knowledge, that is, if he can find his way through the labyrinth of contradictory systems, theories and hypotheses, and understanding their general meaning and general significance. This test is something like a competitive examination open to the whole human race, and the idea of a competitive examination alone explains why the esoteric circle appears reluctant to help humanity. It is not reluctant. All that is possible is done to help men, but men will not or cannot make the necessary efforts themselves. And they cannot be helped by force."
Ouspensky. A New Model of the Universe

        In the general context, "esoteric" refers to knowledge available only to a narrow circle of enlightened or specially trained people. "Esotericism" involves an additional requisite element of initiation. Such knowledge may be kept secret not through the deliberate intention of its protectors, but by its very nature. For example, esoteric knowledge may be accessible (of interest to and understandable by) only to those with the necessary intellectual, moral, or spiritual capabilities.
     "The occult is what is hidden. But not to everyone. Wherever there is something hidden, there is necessarily someone who knows. Nor is the occult something that is merely ignored. It has, by implication, been concealed, by some agent and to some purpose, to all except those same inevitable knowers. Thus to ignore the occult would be folly, the equivalent, in parabolic terms, of failing to submit a bid on the Pearl of Great Price.

"The occult is doubly occult: it is a hidden knowledge of hidden truths or powers. These latter were concealed, it is agreed, by the Maker of Truths who appears to have been generally reluctant to cast his Pearl before swine, while those who possess them are careful to keep a close guard on their treasure. Indeed, in many societies those 'knowers,' who everywhere and always constitute an elite, banded together in guilds and brotherhoods to stand guard over the extremely useful and valuable knowledge that was theirs.

"The secret knowledge these adepts possessed--gnosis for the Greeks, hikmah to the Arabs--was more than useful; it was highly sensitive and indeed dangerous, having passed, as it did, from the dimension of the divine, the Other, into the realm of the human." 2

Perennialist Esotericism
      Perennialist sages teach certain ideas and exercises to the general public. These exoteric teachings can be read and practiced by all who are interested. Advanced, esoteric teachings must be reserved for the tested initiate for a number of reasons:
  1. Only a qualified initiate has the specific skills and personality traits which make it possible for her to understand the esoteric teachings:
    • Moral qualities which make it possible to discern what is being taught (e.g. a psychotic killer cannot understand the sanctity of human life)
    • Moral qualities which make it safe for her to be allowed to hear about extraordinary ideas and participate in advanced exercises (just as certain physical skills are required by a coach before allowing a person to engage in a rigorous sport)
    • Intellectual and philosophical skills which make it possible to understand advanced material

  2. It sometimes seems that the Perennial Tradition is reluctant to help seekers, but it only seems that way because, as Meister Eckhart explained in his writings, "...if you haven't the truth of which we are speaking in yourselves, you cannot understand me."
  3. It's not a matter of Perennialist teachers making things deliberately arcane, it's simply the fact that unless you have made a truth a part of your being you have no capability of understanding it.
  4. Only a qualified initiate has a genuine interest in advanced teachings and can therefore appreciate their value; to the merely curious or the scholastic, advanced teachings seem commonplace and lackluster
  5. There is danger in proceeding on one's own because the mind and active imagination are very tricky, and other entities can appear disguised as one's guide or Angel. Only a Perennialist teacher of inner development can instruct the aspirant in the genuine procedures for testing and banishing these tricks of imagination.

During times of religious and political tyranny, it's necessary for the Perennial Tradition to take on a clandestine aspect. Perennialists might then work through other organizations or activities, making their esoteric teachings available to tested initiates and divulging secret knowledge only as a student became capable of using and preserving this higher knowledge. This is why we now find tinctures and traces of Perennialist concepts and practices in such organizations as the Masons and in such traditions as hermeticism, magic, sorcery, shamanism, and alchemy.
Persons within these organizations or schools might be completely unaware of the Perennialist undercurrent, remaining on the surface because of their inability to qualify for esoteric instruction. Scholastics take great pride in pointing out what they call "mystical imprints" in these groups, complimenting themselves for discovering the hidden "mysteries." Often what they are tracking is only the spoor of a tradition in retrogression, a Lamp Shop which not only no longer contains lamps (illuminating elements) but contains no knowledge of what lamps are for or how to find a lamp.   If we place esoteric knowledge in the context of ordinary knowledge it is misinterpreted by unenlightened persons as common, familiar information. As Rudolph Steiner says in his Christianity as Mystical Fact, "The wisdom of the Mysteries is like a hot-house plant, which must be cultivated and fostered in seclusion. Any one bringing it into the atmosphere of everyday ideas brings it into air in which it cannot flourish."

The Esoteric Tradition

Clement of Alexandria (died 220 CE)

  • "The Lord . . . allowed us to communicate of those divine Mysteries, and of that holy light, to those who are able to receive them. He did not certainly disclose to the many what did not belong to the many; but to the few to whom He knew that they belonged, who were capable of receiving and being moulded according to them. But secret things are entrusted to speech, not to writing, as is the case with God."

  • "Many things, I well know, have escaped us, through length of time, that have dropped away unwritten."

  • "Even now I fear, as it is said, 'to cast the pearls before swine, lest they tread them underfoot, and turn and rend us.' For it is difficult to exhibit the really pure and transparent words respecting the true Light to swinish and untrained hearers."

Maurice Nicoll. The New Man       "In the esoteric schools of which we can see traces in ancient literature, many very severe disciplines existed before a candidate was allowed to receive esoteric knowledge. He might have to serve in a most menial position for years, subject to insults that were a test on the side of being. If he passed these tests successfully and developed in himself strength and patience he was allowed to receive some knowledge. But if he broke, if he pitied himself, if he complained, if he was weak in his being, if he lied, if he behaved maliciously, if he took advantage of others, if he was resentful, if he thought he was better than other people, he received no knowledge."

     Esoteric knowledge within the Perennial Tradition instructs deserving students in the science of achieving a higher state of being.

     We live in a state of sleep or amnesia, not aware that what we imagine to be our "selves" is "concocted from beliefs put into us by others and is not ourselves at all."
         We totally identify with our physical self, unaware that we also have a spiritual self which is our ultimate reality. Spiritual teachers remind us who we are and assist us in learning how to "come awake" or "remember ourselves."

       According to Perennialist esotericism, man in his present state is unfinished; he is a "seed."
    1. A seed may remain a seed - and enjoy a seed existence - or

    2. A seed may die and become a different kind of being - a "plant."
    What in a seed would keep it a seed?
    1. The assumption that its present state of being is complete and final
    2. Fear of what it means to die as a seed
    3. The presumption that it is already a plant (There are many seeds pretending to be plants.)
    4. Suspicion of the idea that seeds can become plants
    5. Complete satisfaction with its present state as a seed
    6. Laziness, lethargy, obsession with seed-pleasures

     An esoteric tradition such as the Perennial Tradition never evangelizes, never tries to remonstrate with people that they ought to achieve a higher state of being, never argues with a seed that it should become a plant.

      The Perennial Tradition simply makes available the knowledge that a seed can become a plant--if it learns how to die to being a seed.

     To be able to hear about esoteric knowledge within the Perennial Tradition, a seed must realize that:
  • It is a seed, an unfinished being with a potential for a higher state of being
  • It does not now have the capacity to understand what plants are or how to become one
  • It must study itself to see what keeps it a seed--what conditionings limit its being
  • Knowledge of an esoteric tradition is not a right but a privilege earned by effort
  • There is no automatic development--correct desire must be followed by sustained effort

     "The esoteric teaching about knowledge and being refers to the fact that knowledge cannot be understood unless there is a corresponding development of being. A man may know a great deal and understand nothing because his being is not equal to his knowledge. As a consequence, no inner union can take place between his being and his knowledge . . .   The man of poor being and great knowledge can only give out meaningless material that leads nowhere. And not only this, but he can only complicate everything and make it unintelligible . . . The conditions of knowledge are no longer understood because the side of being is ignored."
M. Nicoll. The New Man

         An illustrative Perennialist teaching about esoteric knowledge reveals how completely explicit material contains its own "screening" power: making it impossible for the unprepared, merely curious dabbler to understand the inner meaning and effect.
    "Unself yourself . . .
    until you see your self as a speck of dust
    you cannot possibly reach that place;
    self could never breathe that air,
    so wend your way there without self."
    Hakim Sanai, The Walled Garden of Truth
     This esoteric passage refers to a Perennialist theurgic rite in which the initiate is led into a "death" state (the unselfed self breathing spiritual air) and then introduced to a hidden capability of traveling ("wend your way") to other spiritual domains ("that place").   Both Sufi and Hindu teachings refer to this esoteric practice dealing with the human breath:
"God stops their very breathing, imprisons their breath within them so that their life's breath circulates only in God, and they are, as it were, made one with him. This is but part of the science of Unification which God indicates to His chosen." 3
     "And there are even others who are inclined to the process of breath restraint to remain in trance, and they practice stopping the movement of the outgoing breath into the incoming, and incoming breath into the outgoing, and thus at last remain in trance, stopping all breathing. Some of them, curtailing the eating process, offer the outgoing breath into itself, as a sacrifice." 4

      This reference to an esoteric teaching within the Perennial Tradition may give you some idea of the possible danger involved in such teachings.
Know Yourself: Esoteric Knowledge and Dialectical Interchange

     Esoteric knowledge is personal information about you, knowledge which possesses the power to produce psychic upheaval in you and transport you to a higher dimension, transmuting you from one state of being to another       Such esoteric knowledge originates from an advanced teacher analyzing your reaction 5   to her ideas and distilling the essence of what your reaction reveals about you. Such esoteric knowledge is potentially dangerous, so it's not shared with you unless you request the information and the teacher judges that you are capable of:
  • Receiving the information without negative effect: e.g. emotional turmoil
  • Using the information to positive effect: e.g. personal transformation
      We attain self-awareness through this kind of esoteric knowledge most comprehensively in Dialectical interchange by co-participants utilizing a common language of spiritual inspiration. Dialectic becomes a continuing mode of relating and interchanging with others, particularly those capable of philosophical understanding. The extra-normal element of Dialectic comes into play when participants realize that they are co-creators of ontological events and other phenomena.       If esoteric knowledge were made available to some debilitated persons, they might allow themselves to become so despondent about their intellectual, moral, or spiritual state that they would harm themselves. In a less extreme reaction to esoteric information, they might judge themselves to be of no worth.       Some debased persons might misuse esoteric information as a pretext for rejecting the teacher or the esoteric information, when carefully considering the teacher's knowledge would be the only real chance the individual had of ever achieving enlightenment or personal transformation.
      Esoteric knowledge is the essence of Dialectical Interchange: participants sharing esoteric information with one another. This is why Dialectical Interchange is perilous and why an advanced teacher only allows persons to participate in it who are of a specific level of spiritual attainment.      Esoteric knowledge within the Perennial Tradition allows us to realize union with our Higher Self. Perennialist teachers treat such Higher Knowledge with the respect it deserves, never allowing it to be debased or distorted by unprepared, heedless persons.

Notes:1 Martin C. D'Arcy, S.J. The Meeting of Love and Knowledge2 Francis E. Peters, "Hermes and Harran: The Roots of Arabic-Islamic Occultism," Intellectual Studies on Islam3 The Personality and Writings of Al-Junayd4 Bhagavad Gita, 4:295 The reaction is most often an unenlightened knee-jerk rejoinder or tirade, not a measured or considered response.

Derren Brown

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Derren Brown
Derren Victor Brown.jpg
Brown in 2009
Born(1971-02-27) 27 February 1971 (age 43)
Purley, Croydon, London, United Kingdom
Other namesDarren V. Brown[1]
OccupationIllusionist, mentalist, hypnotist, painter, writer, sceptic
Years active1992–present
Partner(s)Mark[2] – (2007–present)
Derren Brown (born 27 February 1971)[3] is a British illusionist, mentalist, trickster, hypnotist, painter, writer, and sceptic. He is known for his appearances in television specials, stage productions, and British television series such as Trick of the Mind and Trick or Treat. Since the first broadcast of his show Derren Brown: Mind Control in 2000, Brown has become increasingly well known for his mind-reading act. He has written books for magicians as well as the general public.
Though his performances of mind-reading and other feats of mentalism may appear to be the result of psychic or paranormal practices, he claims no such abilities and frequently denounces those who do. Brown states at the beginning of his Trick of the Mind programmes that he achieves his results using a combination of "magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship".

Personal life[edit]

Brown was born to Chris and Bob Brown[4] in Purley, England, and has a brother nine years his junior.[5] Brown was privately educated at Whitgift School in South Croydon (where his father coached swimming),[5] and studied Law and German[6] at the University of Bristol.[7] While there, he attended a hypnotist show by Martin S Taylor, which inspired him to turn to illusion and hypnosis as a career.[8] Whilst an undergraduate, he started working as a conjuror, performing the traditional skills of close-up magic in bars and restaurants. In 1992, he started performing stage shows at the University of Bristol under the stage name Darren V. Brown.[1]
Brown was an Evangelical Christian in his teens, and became an atheist in his twenties. This is discussed by Brown in the "Messiah" special, and in his book Tricks of the Mind.[9] An interview as part of Richard Dawkins' two-part documentary series The Enemies of Reason, where Brown explained various psychological techniques used by purported psychics and spiritual mediums to manipulate their audiences, Brown also said he sought to strengthen his belief and provide answers to common criticisms of religion by reading the Bible and other Christian religious texts, but upon doing so found none of the answers he sought and came to the conclusion that his belief (in Christianity) had no basis.[10]
The Big Issue website described Brown as being "playfully mendacious".[11] Although it has been said that Brown is banned from every casino in Britain,[12] other sources report that casinos welcome the publicity from his visits.[11]
In an interview with the Independent in 2007 Brown stated that he is gay.[13] In an interview with the Radio Times in 2011 Brown talked more about his sexuality, stating that he is blissfully happy in a relationship. He said, "I spent a lot of time thinking about me and working on what I wanted to be before I came into a relationship. In some ways, it’s bad because you come into relationship quite late without a lot of experience and you have a lot to learn. But that can also be exciting. Certainly, it’s lovely to have somebody love you and it’s lovely to love someone else."[14]
Since 2004 Brown has been the patron of the registered charity the Parrot Zoo Trust at Friskney in eastern Lincolnshire near Boston, England.[15] In an interview with LeftLion magazine he said "I’m a big fan of parrots – I think they’re fascinating creatures. Many of them live for longer than us humans and it's interesting to me the way they learn to mimic human voices even though they don't really comprehend what they're saying."[16]


Brown heavily relies on misdirection for his tricks, helped by the audience viewing him as having deep psychological insights. He relies on a wide array of techniques to prevent audiences from deducing the techniques he has used.[17]
In a Daily Telegraph article published in 2003 Simon Singh criticised Brown's early TV appearances, arguing that he presented standard magic and mentalism effects—such as the classic Ten Card Poker Deal trick—as genuine psychological manipulation.[18] On Brown's television and live shows he often appears to show the audience how a particular effect was created—claiming to use techniques such as subliminal suggestion, hypnosis, and body language reading. Singh's suggestion is that these explanations are dishonest. Furthermore, Singh took exception to the programme's website being categorised under Channel 4's "Science" section. The mini-site was moved to Entertainment for later series.
In an October 2010 interview, Brown conceded that Singh may have had a point, explaining that at the start of his television career "I was overstating the case, overstating my skills. I thought there'll only be one show, there'll never be a repeat, so I might as well go for it."[19] In his book Tricks of the Mind, Brown writes,
"I am often dishonest in my techniques, but always honest about my dishonesty. As I say in each show, 'I mix magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship'. I happily admit cheating, as it's all part of the game. I hope some of the fun for the viewer comes from not knowing what's real and what isn't. I am an entertainer first and foremost, and I am careful not to cross any moral line that would take me into manipulating people's real-life decisions or belief systems."
Brown claims to never use actors or "stooges" in his work without informing the viewers. In Tricks of the Mind, Brown writes that to use such a ploy is "artistically repugnant and simply unnecessary"; furthermore, he "would not want any participant to watch the TV show when it airs and see a different or radically re-edited version of what he understood to have happened".[9]

Suggested methods[edit]

Brown uses a variety of methods to achieve his illusions including traditional magic/conjuring techniques, memory techniques, hypnosis, body language reading, cognitive psychology, cold reading and psychological, subliminal (specifically the use of PWA – "perception without awareness") and ideomotor suggestion.
In an interview in New Scientist in 2005, when asked how he "acquired his psychological skills", Brown says that he learnt skills as a hypnotist, which he was not sure how to apply until he started performing close-up magic. When asked whether he is able to detect lies, Brown claimed to be able to read subtle cues such as a micro-muscle movements that indicate to him if someone is lying. Concerning his apparent success at hypnotizing people, he stated that he can normally spot a suggestible type of person and chooses that person to be his participant. He believes that the presence of a television camera also increases suggestibility.[20]
Several authors have claimed that Brown uses neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) in his act which "consists of a range of magical 'tricks', misdirection and, most intriguing, setting up audiences to provide the response that he wishes them to provide by using subtle subliminal cues in his conversation with them."[21] In response to the accusation that he unfairly claims to be using NLP whenever he performs, Brown writes "The truth is I have never mentioned it outside of my book". Brown does have an off-stage curiosity about the system, and discusses it in the larger context of hypnotism and suggestion.[9][22] In his book Tricks of the Mind, Brown mentions that he attended an NLP course with Richard Bandler, co-creator of NLP and mentor of Paul McKenna. He also describes the NLP concept of eye accessing cues as a technique of "limited use" in his book Pure Effect.[23] The language patterns which he uses to suggest behaviours are very similar in style to those used by Richard Bandler and by the hypnotist from whom Bandler learnt his skill, Milton H. Erickson. Brown also mentions in Tricks of the Mind that NLP students were given a certificate after a four-day course, certifying them to practice NLP as a therapist. A year after Brown attended the class, he received a number of letters saying that he would receive another certificate, not for passing a test (as he discontinued practising NLP following the course), but for keeping in touch. After ignoring their request, he later received the new certificate for NLP in his mailbox, unsolicited.[24]

Other appearances[edit]

Brown appeared as himself in the Sherlock episode "The Empty Hearse".[25]
Brown appeared in a skit at the beginning of the 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Deal or No Deal special (a cross between 8 Out of 10 Cats and Deal or No Deal).[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jump up to: a b "5 Things you might not know about Derren Brown". Derren Brown. 28 May 2009. Retrieved 18 September 2012. 
  2. Jump up ^ "Interview – The Times". Derren Brown. Retrieved 2013-12-03. 
  3. Jump up ^ 10 things you need to know about the magician Daily Mirror. Retrieved 25 March 2012
  4. Jump up ^ Derren Brown: Behind the Mischief, Channel 4
  5. ^ Jump up to: a b David Jenkins (9 June 2009). "Derren Brown interview". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 4 September 2009. 
  6. Jump up ^ "Derren Brown Interviews". Loaded Magazine. Retrieved 4 September 2009. 
  7. Jump up ^ "Bristol Uni Alumni". 5 January 2007. Retrieved 11 March 2008. 
  8. Jump up ^ Fleckney, Paul (18 February 2008). "Be careful what you think — it's Derren Brown". Your Local Guardian. Retrieved 29 November 2013. 
  9. ^ Jump up to: a b c Brown, Derren (2006). Tricks of the Mind. London: Channel 4. ISBN 978-1-905026-26-5. 
  10. Jump up ^ 'The Enemies of Reason', Channel 4
  11. ^ Jump up to: a b "The Big Issue in Scotland – Features – Derren Brown". Big Issue Scotland. 10 September 2010. Archived from the original on 10 September 2011. Retrieved 29 November 2013. 
  12. Jump up ^ Wells, Dominic (26 January 2008). "The Derren Brown factor". The Times (London). Retrieved 1 May 2010. 
  13. Jump up ^ Pryor, Fiona (24 June 2008). "Inside the mind of Derren Brown". BBC News. 
  14. Jump up ^
  15. Jump up ^ "Our Patron". The Parrot Zoo. Retrieved 2013-12-03. 
  16. Jump up ^ Wilson, Jared (1 April 2012). "He's Not The Messiah, He's a Very Naughty Boy". LeftLion. Retrieved 29 November 2013. 
  17. Jump up ^ Hill, Annette (2010). Paranormal media : audiences, spirits, and magic in popular culture (1. publ. ed.). London: Routledge. pp. 142–149. ISBN 0415544629. 
  18. Jump up ^ Singh, Simon (10 June 2003). "I'll bet £1,000 that Derren can't read my mind". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 12 March 2008. 
  19. Jump up ^ Aitkenhead, Decca (17 October 2010). "Derren Brown: 'I'm being honest about my dishonesty'". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 29 November 2013. 
  20. Jump up ^ Clare Wilson. "The great pretender", New Scientist. London: 30 July – 5 August 2005. Vol. 187, Iss. 2510; p. 36, 2 pages
  21. Jump up ^ John Ozimek. Journal of Database Marketing & Customer Strategy Management. London: Apr 2007. Vol. 14, Iss. 3; p. 161, 3 pages
  22. Jump up ^ "Does NLP work? Is it the basis of Derren Brown's "mind control" act?". The Straight Dope. 20 November 2007. Retrieved 12 March 2008. 
  23. Jump up ^ Brown, Derren (2000). Pure Effect. p. 108. 
  24. Jump up ^ Derren Brown, Tricks of the Mind, Transworld Publishers, 2006, ISBN 978-1-905026-38-8 Specifically Part Four: Hypnosis and Suggestibility, Section Neuro Linguistic Programming, Sub section, The eyes have it (some of the time)
  25. Jump up ^ Kelly, Emma (2 January 2014). "Sherlock death twist revealed in confusing season opener featuring Derren Brown". Daily Star. Retrieved 14 January 2014. 
  26. Jump up ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)

External links[edit]