Mysterious Ethiopia: Gurdjieff & Abyssinia
Posted by addisethiopia on January 16, 2013
My note: He was by any account one of the most remarkable men the human race has produced.
His name was George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (pronounced “gur-jeef” or “gur-jeff”), and he proved to be one of the most challenging, paradoxical, and enigmatic spiritual teachers of our time. He is chiefly remembered for imparting, through the most extraordinary and difficult methods, the fundamentals of an esoteric system known as the Fourth Way – also called, austerely, “the Work.” “Fourth Way” author William Patterson postulates that Gurdjieff’s teachings can be traced to prehistoric Egypt, where it was transmitted from Abyssinia (Ethiopia).
I don’t support the teaching/position of Gurdjieff on “universal spirituality”, yet his philosophical thoughts are simply mind blowing.
Among some of the distinctions that I was able to make between individual Eastern European / Orthodox Christian thinkers/travelers/explorers and Western European or Asian thinkers/travelers/explorers is that the European Orthodox Christian ones (Gurdjieff, Vavilov, Ouspensky, Bulatovich) go down to countries like Ethiopia not to glorify their individual-selves or nations, rather to learn, to satisfy their curiosity, with a principal aim to expand their horizon, to study and practice new ideas – to search for the truth, and later herald it to the wider world. Whereas, most Western, Arab, Chinese or Indian (except Kerela’s Orthodox Christian Indians) scholars sneak into countries like Ethiopia mainly, either to express their empty superiority complex, or to steal ancient manuscripts (e.g. James Bruce), animals, crops and minerals, or to steal human-souls. The demons of their racially motivated Eurocentrism, Sinocentrism, Indocentrism or Arabocentrism don’t allow them to go and search for the truth, as a consequence, humanity is forced to be taken as their hostage. We are warned by the Bible of these thieves who come only to steal and kill and destroy. Mind you, thieves like James Bruce and fascist murderers like Graziani still are celebrated as heroes in their respective Britain and Italy. Just ridiculous!
are celebrated as heroes
From Thebes we traveled up the Nile to its source, and went on into Abyssinia, where we stayed for three months; and then coming out to the Red Sea we passed through, and finally reached the ruins of Babylon.” This is the whole of the account that Mr. Gurdjieff gives of his and Professor Skridlov’s trip to Abyssinia, modern day Ethiopia and Eritrea. One could be forgiven for not placing much importance on it. Compared to what Gurdjieff writes about his treks through the Hindu Kush in Meetings with Remarkable Men, his trip to Ethiopia would appear to have been uneventful. But could this be an instance where Gurdjieff buried the dog, that is, purposefully hid his sources?
Said J.G. Bennett, “I do know that Ethiopia was very important to him because to the very end of his life he spoke with great love for Ethiopia. Once he said he thought of going to spend the rest of his days there. He said that the two places where he felt he had ties were one, Central Asia, that is, Bokhara, and the other is Ethiopia…. His visits to Ethiopia formed quite an important part of his total searches.”
Bennett seems to indicate multiple visits to Ethiopia occurred. Obviously Gurdjieff found something extremely valuable there. Was it a school? Gurdjieff once told Solita Solano that he was initiated into the Egyptian Mysteries four times. Did this occur in Ethiopia? Before investigating what Gurdjieff found in Ethiopia, the question of what caused him to go there in the first place should be addressed.
What would have drawn Gurdjieff to Ethiopia? To this day most historians would argue that there is very little of cultural or historical importance in Ethiopia. In recent decades this Eurocentric view has begun to be refuted, but in Gurdjieff’s time historians firmly believed that anything of value in Ethiopia was brought there by other people. This backwards view of Ethiopia persists even today and is best described by historian Amadou-Mahtar M’Bow, “In writing the history of a large part of Africa, the only sources used were from outside the continent, and the final product gave a picture not so much of the paths actually taken by the African peoples as of those that the authors thought they must have taken.” Regardless of what his contemporaries thought, Gurdjieff would have found numerous indications of Ethiopia’s actual historical role in his pursuit of ancient knowledge.
Perhaps Gurdjieff went to Ethiopia in order to understand what drew Moses there. Moses married an Ethiopian queen and, according to the early Jewish historian Josephus, this happened on a military expedition in Ethiopia. But much more surprising is the Jewish oral tradition which states that Moses spent 40 years in Ethiopia. This only begins to make sense if we accept that Moses was between 120 and 140 years old when he died.
Similarly, Mohammed married a woman whose dowry was provided by the king of Ethiopia. While there is no record of Mohammed going to Ethiopia, he was nursed by an Ethiopian woman, and Mohammed’s maternal grandfather, who raised him, frequently traveled to Ethiopia. It is not too far of a reach to imagine Mohammed accompanying his grandfather on one of these trips, especially since Mohammed would later send a number of his family and followers to Ethiopia for refuge. It is also interesting to note that according to Plutarch when Set betrayed Osiris he was assisted by the Ethiopian queen Aso.
Was Gurdjieff seeking the legendary Christian kingdom of Prester John that played such a role in the Grail myth, the legendary kingdom that Medieval Europe put such great hope in for assistance in the Crusades and the fight against the Mongols?
Possibly Gurdjieff was researching an astrological clue. The constellations Cepheus and Cassiopeia, mythical king and queen of Ethiopia, circle around the pole star without ever dipping below the horizon. In addition to having such an exalted place in the heavens, the constellations of Andromeda, Perseus, Pegasus and Cetus all play supporting roles in these stellar myths of Ethiopia. What is it about Ethiopia that enshrined it so prominently in the stars?
The Book of Enoch Rediscovered
Perhaps Gurdjieff was trying to track down the Book of Enoch and the people who had preserved it. The Book of Enoch was lost to the world except for a few fragments in Greek. But in 1768 the Scottish Mason James Bruce traveled up the Nile into Ethiopia and stole an illuminated manuscript of the Book of Enoch from an Ethiopian monastery. It took over 50 years for the first translation to be published in 1821.
Certainly Gurdjieff knew of the Book of Enoch and he must have had a general idea of its contents, but had he read it prior to traveling to Ethiopia? There is no indication that the book was translated into a language that Gurdjieff read, but recall that Gurdjieff’s friend Abram Yelov was a master of languages and spoke English. In fact, Gurdjieff discusses his search for ancient books in Meetings with Remarkable Men. Gurdjieff met Yelov in a Tiflis book market where Yelov worked. But this was not just any book market. Recounts Gurdjieff, “I returned to Tiflis chiefly because I could obtain there any book I wanted. In this city, both then and the last time I stopped there, it was easy to find any rare book in any language, especially in Armenian, Georgian and Arabic.” Certainly Enoch, the lost book of the Jews, set before the flood and describing the first human to perfect himself, must have been at the top of Gurdjieff’s shopping list. Were Gurdjieff and Yelov able to get their hands on it or was Enoch the book that got away?