Notes for a RILKO lecture

The Arabic Roots of Western Culture
A Review of some literature

E.G.Matthews M.A. (History), M.Sc. (Applied Linguistics)

Arabic Roots of Western Culture
Notes for a RILKO (1) lecture(2)
Review of some Literature
1. Introduction
I would like to make it clear that I don't pretend to any special knowledge other than what I have found in books, which others can read as well as me. I would especially like to emphasise that I prefer actual scholarly evidence to fantasy and speculation. Anything I am going to say can be checked in the books I mention and I have provided a book list. (None of the books are by me!) It is quite possible that other readers of these books might come to a different conclusion (though I don't come to any). That is the nature of literature. I do not wish to engage in scholarly disputation - the banging of empty pots(3) - merely to suggest people might look into this collection. I am not saying that I believe what I am going to say.

I have no practical interest in occult matters and suspect that there are real dangers in undertaking some of the practices some people are using, without supervision by qualified persons. (Who is qualified? I can't answer?)

I am grateful to RILKO for providing a forum where people can come and tell us a variety of things and say what they like and get a hearing. In the official academic world many people are looking over their shoulder for fear of not getting promotion, and since the abolition of secure tenure independent thought becomes more dangerous. This is a pity as almost all advances have been made by independent thinkers and often against bitter opposition. Sometimes at a lecture I am conscious of hearing some news.

My reason for offering to give this lecture, apart from egoism, is to pass on what I have found in the books and allow people to compare it with what we have been told by other speakers.

If there are any questions at the end of this lecture, I expect most of my answers will be: "I don't know".

I come to these meetings to hear new things. That doesn't mean I intend to believe everything I hear. Belief is not necessarily the most useful habit. I try, however, not to bring too many prejudices with me, as these can literally prevent one hearing what people say. It is only fair to say that some of my friends would tell you this is nonsense and that I am as stuffed full of prejudices as most others: for example I refuse to have anything to do with astrology, and am fairly prejudiced against psychoanalysis. Both seem to me suspect as the practitioners fail to make clear how they know what they say they know and whether it is knowledge, anyway. In the late Karl Popper's terminology, neither are falsifiable or testable by experiment.

We have had speakers here who have claimed special knowledge outside the normal sources of observation and scholarship. Actual observation of their speeches often makes me very sceptical, especially when, like a speaker on UFOs they refuse to reveal their sources.

These are the roots of Cults, which I dislike and will deal with later.

2. Idries Shah
This is the place to state that the body of literature I want us to consider is the books by Idries Shah and his associates, many of them from the publishers Octagon. It is worth emphasising that I am not advocating that he is a guru of the rather familiar manipulative type. For our purposes perhaps he should be regarded as a historian and scientist and source of useful though unfamiliar information. I know nothing personally of his other activities and have not taken part in them.

The books are a remarkably various lot. Simply as an author Shah's output is very large. Thus on history there is The Sufis. There are jokes: the three Nasrudin books and others. There are the Tales of the Dervishes, traditional teaching stories. In the Way of the Sufi there are copious quotations from the Classical Persian and Arab writers. Some are perhaps unclassifiable. There is Caravan of Dreams, which includes sayings, proverbs, extracts from classical writers, teaching stories and many other literary forms. By his associates there are some notable travel books: O.M.Burke's Among the Dervishes; Louis Palmer's Afghan Adventures. There is Shah's own Pilgrimage to Mecca. H.B.M.Dervish's Journeys with a Sufi Master may also be a book of travel, though it is also a good deal more. A book about time rather than geographic travel but particularly interesting is The People of the Secret by Ernest Scott, which suggests evidence for the new visibility of a Hidden Directorate influencing human evolution. I note that Octagon also publish or distribute work on Sociology and Psychology by mainstream researchers, such as Deikman and Ornstein. (This is contrary to the experience of cult publishers which tend to publish works only by people who could not gain any respect outside the cult: there is the example of the Maharishi International University - those works I have seen have no academic merit.)

Taken together this collection is certainly worth noticing as a tremendous outpouring, whatever its exact meaning. And I might note that unlike writers in the so-called occult field the language is easy to understand. There are no mysterious passages where one has to puzzle out the meaning through a tortured syntax or archaic vocabulary. As I will point out below, this may be because he is not trying to conceal anything because there is no need. Some say Shah has modelled his style on that of Robert Graves.

His publishing house has also issued numerous translations of classical writers, such as Jalaludin Rumi's Masnavi, sometimes called the Koran in Persian and on a par with Shakespeare. There are also some practical books on such subjects as brainwashing and how to avoid it, cults and how not to get into them, and, ominously, nuclear protection.

My title is the Arabic influence on Europe, though I mean rather more than that. It might be more accurate to say that it is roughly the Sufic influence.

Arabic is frequently referred to in these books and I shall refer to it from time to time. However, I don't actually know much Arabic and therefore all my references are to report what others have said. But we should note that at the beginning of the present phase of western culture the founding scholars studied Arabic and made great use of Arabic sources, mainly in Spain but also in the Middle East. The founders of the modern European culture are often said to be the monks of Cluny. Soon after the abbey was begun in the tenth century some of the monks went off to Toledo for the Arabic knowledge. The main theme I want to put across is that we owe a great deal to these Arabic sources and if they are ignored, a very distorted view of our past is obtained. Indeed we can only make sense of the present of Europe by understanding the influences from "outside". Idries Shah indicates that these are more than translation as we understand it. Even here, when European scholars remember the Arabic sources they tend to believe that the Arabs only *transmitted* the Greek knowledge and didn't originate anything. This is mainly racism, going back to the Crusades.

We particularly need to be aware of a constant undertow of Arabic in western culture. For example, all the mysterious words of the Witch Cult are actually Arabic; Thomas Aquinas quotes Al Gazali; Shakespeare and Chaucer are full of quotations from Persian and Arabic sources; King Richard the first shows knowledge of Arabic symbolism; the Troubadors sang Arabic poetic forms; the Gesta Romanorum are Middle Eastern stories in Latin. Almost all RILKO's interests cannot be considered without the Arabic dimension.

2. Shah's "Sufis"
I suppose that some people will have read Idries Shah's famous book. When it first came out (1964) I was impressed by the fact that the light it shone on history seemed to make the history degree I had just taken rather trivial - we had had no lectures on non-European history.

He details how our western culture is deeply indebted to the Islamic world: or at least to the Sufic strain within it. These influences come at several different periods in European history, if indeed they have not been continuous. Thus it is not just at the beginning of our culture that external influences can be detected. Our science got its start from Toledo in Spain where scholars from the north came to get the translations of the Arab texts on mathematics, philosophy and other matters. The origin of western science is based on the Encyclopedia of the Brethren of Sincerity of Basra (Ikhwan al Safa) through the school of translators at Toledo. Probably too there was an active school of alchemy. We can of course question whether the translators did a good job or whether Muslim science actually operated in a context of Sufic study which was not passed on to westerners. It may be that the defects of western science occurred then. Roger Bacon (Robert Grossteste, Albertus Magnus et al) taught and practised experimental science, which he got from the translations of Aristotle and Arab scientists. However, he may not have learned the more spiritual studies which in their Central Asian home accompanied scientific study. Idries Shah indicates this in the first chapter. Even so, we should perhaps compare Roger with Francis Bacon. Of the two Bacons Roger introduced Islamic or Sufi science to the west in the 13th century in his lectures at Oxford and Paris; Francis may have perverted it by advocating the military industrial model which we are now cursed with. (Someone has recently pointed out that Francis Bacon was not much of a scientist himself - more like a Minister of Science.)

As an aside it seems to me that Bacon's interests of this kind completely dispose of the possibility that he had anything to do with the writing of Shakespeare. (Shah hints at Shakespeare's role in our culture by pointing out that in Persian the words Sheikh Pir would mean Ancient Sage. This reinforces the Sufic themes in the plays(4).) Scott refers to a book by John Evans(5) which investigates the origin of the Shakespearian writings. He tackles the obvious problem that the Stratford actor does not seem to have had the necessary education to produce the immensely learned poetry. He produces evidence to suggest that the plays were produced by a group of aristocrats led by ?John Stanley Earl of Derby who can be shown to have had the kind of experiences necessary: travels in Europe including Venice and Verona and France. Shah indicates that the presence of Sufic themes in the plays suggests they were a deliberate cultural invention. We might speculate that they helped the English language expand to take on its world role. The actor Shakespeare was made the front man for the group, but perhaps Salisbury (Wilton House) and its Avon should be the true site of the cult of England's greatest poet. The evidence Evans marshals would seem quite convincing if it were about any lesser figure. If the Shakespeare corpus was produced by a Sufic activity it would be unsurprising that we cannot pin down easily the people involved as it is the usual pattern for the details to be obfuscated.

Shah indicates(6) that such an apparently minor cultural form as Morris dancing - means Moorish dancing - came into Britain with John of Gaunt and his Portuguese wife who was of Arab descent (and therefore so is the present Queen). He cites Cecil Sharp as an authority. (This disposes of the theory displayed in my local heritage centre that it represents "fertility rites from time immemorial" - whatever the habits of the dancers in the pub afterwards.)

He shows that the Order of the Garter appears to have begun as a Sufi cell of which the king Edward III and the Black Prince were leaders. The origin seems to have been the Order of Khidr in Syria and Central Asia. This puts new light on English history. The name Coeur de Lion applied to Richard the first can also be decoded via Arabic - Qalb al Nimr - to show that he was a student of Sufism - which we should expect, considering his Troubador activities. In "Adventures in Afghanistan" there is the interesting information(7) that the rise of the Freemasons in Europe can be exactly parallelled with the expansion of a Sufi society in Afghanistan, using the same mysterious words ya buland a mixture of Arabic and Persian meaning all-highest - words which are not at all mysterious in Afghanistan. (The Freemasons are reported to have used an expression Jahbulon which critics alleged was some reference to a pagan god, and now the Masons have deleted it. Such is the result of ignorance).

Daraul(8) points out that the expansion of the Illuminist cult in 16th century Germany occurs simultaneously with its similar Central Asian parent - The Roshaniyya. (Quite possibly this was not a useful activity, and merely an imitation.)

In the middle ages Europe was a rather barbarous fringe to a brilliant civilisation. Now many westerners tend to believe it is the west that has the brilliant civilisation which now influences the whole world - despite its many defects. If we take notice of the external influences we can realise that our habit of believing that we did it all ourselves is rooted in the imperialism of the recent past, which is supposed to be over now. On the contrary, it can be shown that there were many influences into Europe from outside. Among them seem to have been the society which built the cathedrals, possibly now represented in a fossil form by the Freemasons (much altered in the 18th century), but perhaps originating in another Sufi society known as Al Banna (the Builders) founded by the Egyptian Dhu'l Nun. Shah indicates that the Solomon referred to is not the Solomon of the Old Testament but a later teacher: Suleiman bin Daud.

The mediaeval journeys of some of the people from the other side have been recorded in Arabic texts, though not by the then illiterate Europeans. Idries Shah quotes(9) Najmuddin Gwath ed Dahar Qalandar, born 1232 who travelled in thirteenth century England. There is an easily accessible account of a Muslim meeting the Crusaders. James Kritzeck's Anthology of Islamic Literature contains the fascinating account of Usamah ibn Munqidh, a Muslim doctor's encounters with the Crusaders - a learned and civilised man meeting the 11th century ancestors of our football hooligans. It is now well accepted that the Crusaders, or at least some of them, learned something in the Middle East. They brought back forks for eating, and perhaps the habit of washing. They seem also to have brought back important cultural habits which are now embedded so deeply in our culture that we no longer remember that they came from the east. We may note the Italian Commedia del Arte with its Harlequin (Arabic Aghlaghin) and its derivative Punch and Judy. What about the Dark Man at the Scots Hogmanay? Or even the Eightsome Reel, which certainly looks like a version of a Dervish dance?

Tarot & Kabbala
I have heard people here talk about the Kabbala. It is worth mentioning the assertion by Idries Shah, a man of wide knowledge, that the Tarot and Kabbala contain coded information but that both have been disabled deliberately to prevent public use. I would compare this process to the method used to prevent use of sample computer programs: a disc is handed out which contains a part of the program but cannot be used to save the documents produced. He specifically mentions that the Kabbala ought to contain eight elements instead of ten(10) and that the Tarot as generally known has had some of the names altered(11). I have no knowledge of what this means but it seems to be a warning not to take it too seriously. In the case of a sample computer program the customer is supposed to buy the full version later. What we are supposed to do with the disabled Kabbala, I have no idea.

3. Important Questions
Before I go any further we need to consider some nonsense. How do we know what we know? Do we know what we think we know? Is what we know knowledge? The rules of scholarship, perhaps originally derived from the techniques used by scholars studying the Hadith - Sayings of Mohammed, are there for a purpose. They distinguish worthless writings such as Von Dänikin's from reliable non-fiction. We do need to be able to check how someone knows what he claims with ordinary documentary evidence. Is the Shah material part of the nonsense?

There is an excellent book called "The New Nonsense" by Charles Fair (Simon & Schuster 1974). He has the somewhat pessimistic opinion that no matter what the standard of education in a society people will believe a certain amount of nonsense: that the nonsense in society is constant. He once took part in an organisation called Silva Mind Control: an American cult of the 1970s. The founder claimed that he could teach the art of mind travelling. Fair suggested (subversively) that they should explore the Moon and planets and then compare their findings with NASA's. The guru refused, implying that the "art" would not stand up to review. Fair quite reasonably assumed that it was fantasy.

After listening to several of our speakers I think we might identify a number of what we might call "self-referential" systems of thought. That is, there are a number of subjects people think about which make up a complex system of terms and thinking, but in which each part refers only to another part of the same system. It has either no contact at all with what we regard as the ordinary world, or else rather few. Astrology is the best known. A huge literature is based on no observations in the ordinary world. The reasons for this kind of thinking need investigation.

What we may call a Cult usually possesses such a system. In fact, it is one of the diagnostic signs. Charles Fair identified Emmanuel Velikovsky as a prime example, and noted that he had got his start as a psychoanalyst, and so had practice in using a fantasy system. In general his books do not obey the rules of evidence and scholarship. (His one alleged hit, the temperature of Venus, is surely a fluke?) In some parts of Africa, to my distress, the books of T. Lobsang Rampa(12) have a huge sale. I use them as examples to teach the rules of scholarship on the principle of "Learn to behave from those who cannot". Velikovsky is another good example to use for this purpose, by going over every statement and analysing it for: "How does he know this?"

So when someone stands here and tells us something that is unfamiliar we have a duty to ask ourselves: how does he know what he tells us?

We should not despise the methods of modern science. Science as organised thinking is one of the greatest achievements of humanity. Because we are living in this time of its great flourishing there is a danger that we don't appreciate the grandeur of the edifice of knowledge built by the use of the scientific method. Especially, many people don't appreciate enough what it is like to live in a society where science is unknown - our own recent past and many present societies in the world. I think we should accept that for our time science is the main vehicle for all types of knowledge and has created new possibilities of making known traditional knowledge.

Science is a powerful tool for testing what people claim. This does not exclude the possibility that there are different types of consciousness and therefore knowledge, but a lot of what we have been told here in RILKO is contrary to ordinary experience. I think we need very compelling reasons to accept such things. Personally, I don't think it does me any harm to be very cautious about believing what people tell me. For this reason the printed version of this lecture is full of footnotes. I believe the world of scholarship requires a reference for new observation. My footnotes mostly refer to the books mentioned. I note that this transfers the problem of authority to the books. That is, you read the books and decide for yourself whether the books seem reliable. As far as I can tell, where they contact the ordinary everyday world they do not contradict ordinary scientific knowledge. They do add to it, especially in the field of anthropology. If there is one thing anthropologists have learned, it is that there is a huge variety of human customs and activities.

Arthur J. Deikman's The Observing Self(13) has a discussion on the nature of intuition as a concept both in western philosophy and psychology and in traditional non-western systems. He concludes that there is a state of knowledge of the world as direct perception which is the aim of mystic studies. This may be what is called "other levels of consciousness". I suspect that it is unwise for people to pretend to possess this direct knowledge, and maybe some of our speakers are doing so. Perhaps the Pope is claiming it with Papal Infallibility.

I can't provide evidence to show that we can take Shah more seriously than the nonsense mongers, but where his books mention testable things I don't find myself saying Nonsense. And so we come to:

4. Lost Knowledge? (The basis of this society)
How far is it true that there was knowledge in the past which is not known today? I observe that Idries Shah was asked this question (Among the Dervishes)(14). He said that useful knowledge is never lost. The fact that we, or the academic community, do not know something does not mean that nobody knows. Perhaps it means that knowing would not be of general benefit and therefore the techniques or knowledge are not taught publicly. Or maybe that some kinds of knowledge only work if the person has a certain state of consciousness, or what seems to be described as spiritual development. As with many aspects of this kind of study there is a need to take into account many types of condition: Time, Place, People. Thus if there is hidden knowledge those looking after it will take care not to let it out if it is not appropriate. Louis Palmer's fascinating account of travels in Afghanistan(15) tells us there are stores of documents and artifacts in secluded places in Central Asiawhere much written knowledge may be held. Skills and rare arts may also be preserved in remote communities. Judged by Palmer's descriptions a satellite could not photograph some of these Central Asian stores, if the operators did not know what to look for. Palmer describes Russian forces as being near to some of the stores but being unable to "see" them.

He was told they are being moved from Afghanistan to India.

Past activities: Design

It's not just 'lostness'. There is a related question. How far are the practices of the past useful to us today? It is interesting to go to Avebury and speculate that it might have been the site of an assembly where ecstatogenic dancing took place, and a shaman prophesied, perhaps after preparation in the dark of the chambered barrow there. Similar assemblies have been observed among the so-called stone age peoples in Africa and other places. It seems at least plausible to imagine this as the function of Avebury. Does that mean we should try to revive it? We are not stone age people. Our conditions are different.

There are warnings in the body of literature about not taking seriously advice given to people of former times. This is sometimes the case with ordinary school curriculums. Are we sometimes teaching children how to deal with Sabre Toothed Tigers, while ignoring the dangers of drugs?

We hear about the practices of witches or read about past descriptions of witches. Would it be useful for us to revive them? (I'll come to that later.) The Cathedrals do seem to be built according to a mathematical plan and may well have both symbolic and practical effects. Can we imitate them in modern buildings? Can we put ourselves into the minds of the people who designed them? Should we? Suppose they were designed by people with a type of consciousness different from our usual sleepiness - one of the useful ideas introduced by George Gurdjieff. When I look at the geometric designs that many lecturers show us I feel that the mathematics looks nice but I don't understand what it means. I suspect that it is only the outer sign of whatever was done. What I feel I don't know, and couldn't learn from the mathematics, is when to use the design and what effect is intended by it. There is some discussion of this in Palmer(16).

There are other types of design mentioned in some of the books. Thus it is stated(17) that a story or other piece of literature can be intended to have effects which are a result of a structure, different from the analysable structure of the grammar or the discourse. I suspect that the ordinary consciousness cannot work out what this structure is. One of the patterns may be the gematric which I shall mention at the end. There is a very curious episode described in H.B.M.Dervish's "Journeys"(18) which indicates that ordinary conversations might contain all sorts of information other than the surface meaning of the words - a long conversation about nothing much is shown, some time later, to contain detailed information about the lives of some of the people present. Shah explains it by saying that we all could recognise it but that we filter it out through mental censorship. I don't understand what that is about.

It is also stated that carpets and prayer mats can contain designs which have an effect - perhaps the real meaning of the term "flying carpet"? Can we learn to recognise them? I have no idea. In a rather hippyish book on building(19) it is stated that there is a mosque in Central Asia which is so designed that everyone entering it for the first time bursts into tears. I once experienced something that might have been similar in Lincoln Cathedral. What is the effect or effects of the traditional Islamic designs? Some of them can be decoded as elaborate calligraphy(20). Others seem purely abstract. But I suspect some of them have a purpose. Palmer was told that we should be careful about keeping them about. The wrong or inappropriate type could have a bad effect. All these are part of the traditional science of Design (Naqsh) associated with the school called Naqshbandi (masters of the design). It would be silly for me to say any more.

5. Present odd things
Curious people claiming to be teachers have come into the west, apparently from the mysterious east. Should we imitate their activities? Are their teachings useful to us? Do they come from an authentic tradition linking them to the general tradition of humanity? Or are they not what we think? And how mysterious is the east, anyway?

There is a saying: the time, the place, the people. That is, useful action always requires knowledge of the conditions suitable. Prescriptions that were useful in the past may not be useful today. The famous old rogue, whom after Private Eye I can never think of except as the Bagwash(21), used to encourage his rather silly followers to do what he called "Sufi dancing". As far as I can gather from books, the movements which may be given this name can only be undertaken when a suitable teacher knows that they are useful for the student. Shah says it is on record that Jalaludin Rumi prescribed the activities of the famous "Whirling Dervishes" for certain people, probably Greeks, in the Konya (Iconium) area to lighten up their seriousness - for a bit of fun? There is no point in other people whizzing round to make themselves dizzy. (But Francis of Assisi is reported to have ordered one of his disciples to do it as a form of divination). Palmer was told that many of the more bizarre "eastern" practices are the remnants of an ancient experiment to find out the effects of exercises on people, even though it was known that they would cause insanity in almost all the subjects(22). The experiments are finished now and there is no need for endless repetitions (unless a suitable teacher orders it). I assume that the late Mr. Bagwash was not serious but was in the trade of providing sensations and entertainment for rich westerners - two of whom are being entertained by the State of Oregon right now.

As an aside we can notice that he was an astute businessman. He observed that his western disciples spent a lot of money on air travel coming to see him in Poona. That money would be available to him if he moved towards his customers, so he set up in Oregon. The colonialists once sold worthless beads to the natives for real land. Are they now reciprocating by sending us equally useless "spiritual" activities and being paid with good money? If so, it is mainly a laugh and the laugh is on us, or at least on our fellow citizens who are taken in.

There is a breathtaking statement in one book(23) John Grant says:

"The Sheikh of the Qalandars of Delhi said: 'We often have sent out teachers with whole ranges of ideas which were useless, just to see which people would be attracted to them. This not only helped us choose promising students, but also key the people who would be useless, since they would be occupied believing the "truths" of the concocted cult'".

The implication is that some of these teachers were deliberately sent out into other cultures, including our own, to see what state the people are in, what they will accept, what they believe and so on. I think if we imagine this is true we can look at the curious assemblage of teachers, and their students, with new eyes. At one level this is a sort of test to see what kind of old rubbish people can be persuaded to believe in.

We may remember the Fat Boy (Guru Mahara Ji), the Maharishi and his Transcendental Meditation (or as Private Eye called him: the Veririshi), as well as the Bagwash: all coming to the west from India, where so many westerners had the vague idea that there was something interesting. I used to admire the Fat Boy's Chutzpah. He had a chain of Whole Food shops in which his disciples worked for very low wages. Of the low wages he expected them to donate ten percent to him. In the words of Chris Patten, I call that the Double Whammy of gurology.

However, what was being provided was a "playpen" to amuse the unserious students, so that they would not distract the serious teachers. The idea here is that people find the kind of teacher they are ready for. If they are unconsciously looking for a fraud, they will find one. That is, most people - and I include myself - are unable to see the real teacher. I believe that in India such people are held in much the same regard as double glazing salesmen here, that is, there is a widespread realisation that such people's claims should be taken with a pinch of salt.

This brings us to George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, who caused a great stir in the first half of the 20th century. Was he one of the test teachers? There are two accounts of his activities which might throw a little light on his history. In "Among the Dervishes"(24) it is said that he had learned something in the Central Asian schools but had run off half-baked, which may have detracted from the value of his teaching. Another view(25) is that he did have some kind of mandate(26) but that it ended on his death (the "last year of the first half of the 20th century"). Thus those places like the oddly named School of Economic Science, just down the road from here, which purport to continue his teaching have no right to do so, or at least there is no point to it(27). From this point of view his function was to prepare the way for work which is now going on by inserting into western culture the idea of human development, even if he didn't do much towards promoting it, as far as I can tell, which may not be far. The main concept that comes out of his activity may be that there are other states of possible consciousness such that our normal state is mere sleepiness. This was followed up by one of his disciples, Ouspensky, though probably rather inaccurately - Rafael Lefort says he omitted some parts of what Lefort believes may already have been a defective practice.

Both of the interpretations could be true at the same time because his running off half-baked could well have been foreseen by those in charge of the work.

6. Remnant organisations
The later history of the Gurdjieff teaching is an example of the fact that there are a large number of these former schools in the world: assemblages of people who are carrying on activities which are no longer useful. Included in these may be: Freemasons, Witches, the Order of the Garter, the Vehm(28) Courts of Germany, the Carbonari, the Kabbala, the Tarot, Alchemy of all kinds, even perhaps Morris dancing. Perhaps too such things as the Sikh religion, and if we may dare a speculation perhaps they include the Christian religion as a whole. All can be traced as former Sufi schools which perhaps ought to have been dissolved when the original teacher died. (What is supposed to happen is that the students must look for another genuine teacher, who may not be where they think he is. This is indicated in Wisdom of the Idiots - The Seal Bearer(29) in which the real successor of Bahaudin Naqshband advises the disciples to disband rather than carry on his exercises.) [I read the extract] All of the organisations I have mentioned use Arabic in one form or another.

We can't of course be sure that they are entirely useless. It is also possible that the condition of running down has been allowed for by the founders when starting them going. Thus religions may have some useful functions in keeping society together and teaching basic morality. But if the organisers pretend to knowledge they don't really have there may be a lot of harm.

There are, however, two references which suggest that some of these organisations might be potentially active.

Abode of Wisdom A teaching institution set up by the Fatimite Khalifs (909-1171) in Cairo.
The founder of the Fatimite Caliphate claimed to be a descendant of Mohammed, but his claim is denied by some. The importance of this claim is that the true Saiyids are said to inherit some kind of inner teaching passed on by Ali, the son in law of Mohammed. Possibly the Fatimites were originally authentic but later they ran down and practised for political purposes some powerful psychological techniques (which Scott(30) explains as being a "leak" from the authentic tradition). Scott says that Amir Ali and Daraul(31) claim that out of the Abode of Wisdom came the Assassins and the Jesuits and possibly the Templars. With all these groups there are disputed appraisals. Were they useful or not? I suspect that we should not lay so much importance on the Templars as some people do. Whoever the Templars really were, they certainly used Arabic: Shah points out that the famous Baphomet [show card], which so confused their mediaeval Christian contemporaries, has nothing to do with Mohammed, but is the Arabic Abu Fihamat - Head of Wisdom, developed man, a sign of mystical activity.

One complication here is that the effect of a certain organisation may depend on the general public having a bad impression of people in it: malamati=blameworthy. Thus the Assassins may not actually be the evil crew everyone thinks them. Perhaps they claimed responsibility for assassinations actually carried out by others. Their name may actually mean the People of the Foundation - Asasayeen. In Burke(32) it is stated that their descendants the Ismailis are a community in suspension, whose Hidden Imam actually exists but is unknown to the ordinary members. Burke quotes someone as saying that the community could be activated in the future and would recognise the real leader. Whether the Aga Khan knows, I have no means of learning. The Fatimite Caliphate itself was an ambiguous entity. According to Scott its spiritual exercises may have been misguided or stolen, though according to Scott quoting Amir Ali an offshoot appears to be the foundation of the Jesuits(33). That is, there is a question of where Ignatius Loyola obtained the Spiritual Exercises, which actually appear to be a translation from the Arabic of a Fatimite document(34). All these are imponderables and it may be that only an increased consciousness can resolve the problems, or a very extensive amount of study and travel using the major middle eastern languages.

In Palmer it is suggested that the Masons may also be a society which could be activated in the future. I have to say that as far as I can see from the literature about them, they are just a husk from which the kernel has long ago disappeared. But who am I to judge?

Running down
In summary: What seems to happen is that a person or persons of real knowledge sets up activities for a purpose which he knows. Some of the students misunderstand the activities and assume that they are good in themselves at all times, rather than just for the occasion. When the teacher dies or goes away they continue them. But they are no longer appropriate. It seems possible that all the so-called religious activities, especially the most elaborate ceremonies, are derived from this process of deterioration. This may be the source of the ambiguities about the Fatimites and the Ismailis - perhaps the earlier activities were useful, but the later were deteriorated. The Steinerites seem to me another example: Steiner seems to be interesting; his followers not.

Religions as remnants?
We might wonder what the Christian organisation was like in the years immediately after the time of Jesus. In an apocryphal Gospel Lefort finds some evidence(35) that Jesus used some of the exercises now associated with Sufis, but which are not found in any of the present day western churches. If he did use and teach these techniques, when were they given up? According to Burke(36) they are still in use among a group in Herat in Afghanistan which claims to be Christian - in the sense that they trace their teaching back to Jesus - but after the events portrayed in the New Testament. These Heratis deny that the western churches are passing on the authentic teaching. Like most Muslims they say Jesus is buried in Kashmir at Yuz Asaf, the name by which he was known in India. I don't say I believe this, but I am open to persuasion by evidence.

Palmer also discusses(37) the persistence of the practice of movements in connection with a Greco-Buddhist site in Afghanistan.

As an aside, last Christmas, as usual the former bishop of Durham said he didn't really believe in the Three Wise Men. There is an interesting comment on this in "Journeys"(38) quoting the Fakir of Ipi that at the birth of certain important people mysterious "other-worldly beings" are seen, indicating that such people "receive something" after birth. Perhaps Bishop Jenkins is going too far.

Did Jesus prescribe an elaborate organisation of Priests and ceremonies and a system of political power which makes the Church in some places and times seem very similar to the Communist Party? There is no New Testament evidence for it. On the face of it it seems unlikely. Ernest Scott(39) suggests that the Christian Church lost its spiritual usefulness at the Council of Nicaea (325) when the mystical disciplines were finally outlawed by a political manoeuvre. As a result Gnosticism finally became heretical, the equivalent of Trotskyism. According to Scott the two representatives of Arius were excluded in order to produce a spurious unanimity. Arius had taught that God the Father was above Christ. That is, he included the ancient doctrine of a hierarchy of being, which the doctrine of the Trinity denies. We might wonder whether what is called the Christian religion in Europe may perhaps in reality be a synthesis of Greek philosophy, Mithraic ceremonies, Near Eastern mystery cults and perhaps other elements, put together in the name of Jesus but without the actual mystical teaching. Could a historical reassessment take place? Is there enough evidence to do it? What would be the consequences?

Thomas Jefferson believed something of the kind. After he had been President he wrote a version of the New Testament(40) in which he tried to exclude all those statements which he believed had been added to the teaching of Jesus by others, such as Paul. H.B.M.Dervish suggests(41) that the creation of the United States owes much to a deliberate effort by "resident Sufis" who went with the European settlers. It would not surprise me if Jefferson was one of these. Benjamin Franklin as an outstanding polymath also fits the bill, and perhaps many of the Founding Fathers(42). Someone has pointed out that there is something interesting about the family of Adams (two presidents). What is the purpose of the United States in the scheme of things? I wouldn't dare venture an opinion, appalled as I am at the present day dominant culture and economic habits of that country. Presumably these are outweighed by other more positive qualities, or a future better than its present.

I wonder if the Dead Sea Scrolls are a time bomb waiting to go off. Apparently we should not blame the Popes for trying to suppress them, but it has taken a long time to release them. If there were a conspiracy it would surely have the same effect.

The Sikh religion seems to be a more recent (16th century) development of the same kind. Its founder was a Hindu who got interested in Sufism. At the time people interpreted his activity as a desire to reconcile Hinduism and Islam. His followers called themselves Sikhs, a cognate of our word, to seek. He may have passed a version of the teaching on to his successors, but at some point the organisation developed a life of its own and moved closer to the Hindu form with temples and ceremonies, probably quite different from the intention of the founder. At this point developed the hostility to the other religions, admittedly in reaction to persecution by Hindus and Muslims. By this time there was perhaps nothing left of the original content. The result is fanaticism. (Even so, in the Punjab some members of a family may be Sikhs while others are Hindus.)

I hope no-one from Iran is here as I would cautiously wonder whether even Islam itself, as a religion, may not be entirely what it was in the time of Mohammed. He specifically ordered there to be no priests, which puts the Shi'ite Ayatollahs and Sunni Mullas in a difficult position, as they seem to have formed an order of clergy (admittedly they call themselves religious lawyers and preachers).

There are a great many fragmented and deteriorated organisations present in the western world (and of course just as many in the eastern world too).

7. Therapies (New Age)
I am a bit puzzled about the concept of New Age. I note that the name seems to get up the noses of evangelical Christians, who seem to think it is the work of the Devil. If it means that people should try to see the meaning behind the theological prescriptions and look for spiritual teachers, I would, cautiously, say that it might be a useful concept. However, if it is just another package of things one has to believe such as: astrology, leylines, auras, and so on, I suspect it is no better than orthodox theology. I am not impressed by people who seem to believe the package.

What about the curious "therapies": crystals, feet, eyes, aromas, and so on? To me these all have the feel of fragments. There seems little doubt that the real teachers may employ all sorts of means for producing useful effects. And some of these, such as the hidden structure of literature, may be unknown to us. But they do not use them by sitting in the Suq and offering them to anyone who comes up. It does seem to me very suspect when people suggest that their method has universal benefit, when at most it might be suitable for certain conditions, perhaps rare. People criticise the medical profession for a certain over-reliance on physical diagnosis and treatment, but I think we should praise the method of public criticism and peer review. In the end it can filter out dangerous or useless practices. For those of us who do not experience other levels of consciousness, if they exist, the scientific method is very useful. On the whole I don't notice the New Agers allowing review of their techniques - indeed as Duncan Campbell noted in the Observer (17 April 1994) they get very hostile at any attempt at objective study, thus showing themselves to be ordinary cults - incidentally, the same behaviour as many evangelicals. There are so many obvious quacks that I am unwilling to take any of them seriously without independent review.

8. Science Fiction
One of the most interesting subjects in Scott is a short discussion of Science Fiction. An example I noticed some years before I read Scott is a short novel by Robert Heinlein, 'Orphans of the Sky'. It is about a huge space ship travelling to one of the nearest star systems. Something has gone wrong when the crew revolted against the hierarchy of scientists and ship's officers. When order is restored it is on a new basis of a superstitious agricultural society. Generations pass. The people claiming to be scientists are now merely a kind of priesthood who know nothing about science, or rather know a little but misinterpret the scientific texts they teach. Thus the theory of gravity becomes an allegory of sex. The whole story of the true function of the ship, which is to take a colonising group to look for new planets, is reinterpreted as applying only to the individual life. To state that there is anything outside the ship is a heresy punishable by death. The Captain's Cabin and Control Room have become legendary and the new elected captain never goes there. Some dissident "scientists" begin to question the official story and with the help of "mutants" eventually manage to make it to the Control Room and then make their escape and land on a new planet, thus fulfilling the plans of the earth foundation which sent them out. They could only do this by learning the true meaning of the doctrines taught in their society.

This seems to be a useful allegory of our real situation, and is surprising coming from a writer who is generally extremely cynical and seems to have been a follower of the ludicrous theories of Ayn Rand, the inspirer of Reagan and Thatcher and the extreme right wing marketisers(43) - not to mention the militaristic and fascist atmosphere of his "Starship Troopers".

Scott indicates that if Shakespeare in the 16th century represented some kind of literary input to our society, there is also something strange about Science Fiction in our time. What actually was the cause of this extremely imaginative type of writing which enlarged the scope of what we can think about? It is probably impossible to answer this question, but it is worth asking, nevertheless. The genre's usefulness to us is probably that it enables people to be prepared for the sort of futures which are likely, not by prophesying but by inducing the habit of thinking about alternatives.

Scott draws attention to the prize-winning novel "A Canticle for Leibovitz" by Walter M. Miller. This subtle speculation about the post nuclear holocaust world describes the same process of 'running down' as religion transmits information without understanding it. The monks of the Leibovitz Abbey in the deserts of Arizona guard the documents of the scientific civilisation which was lost, but can do nothing with them, until one of them makes electricity apparently by inspiration.

There are several types of popular fiction which might be worth thinking about: Star Trek is quite a strange literary enterprise; so is the 1970s series Patrick McGoohan's Prisoner; and nowadays we have the very odd series on tv, Quantum Leap.

Was it J.B.S. Haldane who said that the universe is not only queerer than we think, but queerer than we can think? (Summary only)

Jorge Luis Borges
Another important contributor to western literature that we ought to consider is Borges. Prof. Giovanna de Garayalde has drawn our attention(44) to the numerous quotations from Sufi literature found in his works. She suggests that there may have been a connection with Sir Richard Burton as Borges quotes from a limited edition of Burton's "Thousand and One Nights" which was probably circulated only to certain favoured people. Burton of course is said to have been a member of the Qadiri order of Sufis. How else could he, like Burke, have visited Makkah?

Chaucer and the Arthurian cycles
Scott indicates that much earlier in our history there are literary influences which show an input from outside. The Arthurian cycle seems to be a complex vehicle linked to the Troubadors and the Courts of Love of the time of the Angevin kings. All of them have Arabic in the language. The Grail could be from the Syrian Arabic(45). The Courts of Love associated with the Arthurian Cycle might have been a complex cultural activity to civilise the Europeans and perhaps raise the status of women. The Troubador's songs can be compared with similar Arabic poetic forms.

Chaucer has several tales straight from the Persian. And he was a mathematician. Could he have been a Resident? H.B.M.Dervish claims that there are always a number of Residents in every part of the world, whose role we can imagine may be to keep an eye on things and influence developments. Some of the US Founding Fathers may have been this kind of person. As their role is probably not to teach but to act they will not usually be noticed.

One of the notable features of the modern world is a highly developed system of sports, mostly invented in Britain by Public School men. There is a suggestion in Journeys with a Sufi Master by H.B.M.Dervish(46) that this culture has been set up to correct various possible weaknesses. That is, it is given as a possible example of Sufi action to correct cultural tendencies which if left unchecked would be harmful. This may not be to say that Cricket is a spiritual activity (a.k.a. the English rainmaking ceremony?) but it may help to remind us that the activities of a spiritual society may be quite different from what is generally considered "religious".(summary only)

9. Possible Harmful influences
There are indications that not all the "eastern" influences in the west are useful. Some may well be similar to the way some of the less admirable aspects of western culture - Rambo, electronic pornography, drugs - have permeated the cultures of so many other parts of the world. An example is the Witch Cult. Arkon Daraul(47) and other writers point out that, far from being just an ancient fertility cult or the Original Religion, most of its practices can be traced linguistically to Arab sources, almost certainly from Muslim Spain and North Africa. Examples are the words for a witches' meeting "sabbath" derived from Arabic Al Esbat - forceful occasion; adhame - the ceremonial knife also from Arabic. Ernest Scott says that it seems to be a synthesis for harmful purposes of the work of a Jewish magician "gone to the bad" (Ishaq Toledano) and dissident Arabs or Berbers from the Aniza tribe. (It should not be necessary to state, but I will just the same, that Ishaq does not represent Judaism as a whole). It was aimed at undermining the Christian kingdoms which had reconquered Toledo and other parts of Muslim Spain. It was intended as an act of revenge for persecution. Its earliest practices included acts intended to bind the members and make them ready to do anything, much as modern armies train torturers. (Judging some of these kingdoms by modern criteria we can see they practised "Ethnic Cleansing" and other totalitarian activities unfortunately familiar to us in the 20th century). Scott's accounts indicate that the witch cult is a dangerous misuse of some other activity(48). People who try to practice it therefore should be careful, and it may even be that the rest of us need to protect ourselves from their activities. I am thinking of a recent lecturer here. She may be dealing with dangerous activities.

10. Schools today
I suspect that there are schools of study and cultural influences working amongst us now but that they look look like ordinary university departments, or cultural organisations, or may be informal groupings of people which would not be noticed. I would note the Club of Rome which helped spark off the ecological awareness that swept the planet in the 1970s (Idries Shah was a member, and perhaps instigator). I am sure that esoteric societies are never labelled as such. Scott draws attention to the International Red Cross, the first modern transnational organisation, in some respects the modern equivalent of the mediaeval religious orders: such as St John and the Hospitallers. He says its origins are mysterious. Certainly it has been a useful body, to ameliorate the effects of the extremely brutal modern wars. I wonder how Greenpeace got going?

11. Europe & the world
Having given up formal colonial control, Europeans and westerners in general can now rejoin the human race and come to realise that our culture is not really separate from the rest of the world. It is time to remember these connections again, if only to defuse the still widespread racism in European society.

Cultural changes are needed to solve the very serious world problems, which can only be tackled on the basis of the full range of human culture, some aspects of which are more strongly developed in other societies. Our politicians, reflecting their electors, frequently show lack of perception of the situation as a whole by concentrating on single strands. Thus they want to influence the economy but ignore the ecological effects of industrial growth - despite the advice from the various reports of the Club of Rome and other workers on world systems which show that we have to think of every aspect simultaneously - something that is easier with a computer model.

Responsibility for the earth
As an example we must note the traditional wisdom found in many cultures and expressed through the metaphor that the earth is the mother and must be treated with respect and restraint, and that it must be handed on to our descendants in at least as good condition as we inherited it. Western achievements are great but many of them are destructive.

Chemical Mysticism
In the west there is no sensible teaching of the use of drugs as mind altering substances. In "Caravan of Dreams"(49) there is a quotation from Mulla Do-Piaza that "Drugs are the source of the mystical experience of the ignorant". In some non-western societies there is undoubtedly knowledge about the use of plants which is not generally available. (One suggestion that occurs to me is that westerners tend to use common substances in concentrated form when it would be better to use them as the original plants(50). Coca leaves would not do a lot of harm if chewed; beer, wine and cider are better than the spirits made from them. Gin was 'the crack of the 18th century'. Opium is less harmful than heroin.) Western medicine could benefit from attention to the effects of the plants themselves rather than constantly trying to find the "active principle". Originally the herbal healer took into account all the substances in the plant or combinations of plants. Some of them may well moderate the effects of the 'active substance' and should therefore be considered as active also. That is, the definition of 'active' needs to be changed. Western drug companies spend money searching the Amazon forest for medicinal plants in the hope of extracting 'active substances'. They would do better to ask the people who lived in the forest how they use them, but it is almost too late.

There is a certain lack of subtlety in western practices, also shown in the enthusiasm by which agriculture practice has made use of the nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus theory of plant nutrition by ignoring all the other components of the soil, almost certainly affecting the health of millions. Is what is sold in the shops as 'food' really nutritious, in the sense of containing all that is necessary?

Spiritual Disciplines
To the extent that we have allowed the spiritual disciplines to fall into disuse and be ignored, the problems will get worse. How far is western culture suffering from the absence of knowledge about meditation, a better way of altering mind states? And how much are we suffering from a lack of knowledge about mind states themselves? To indicate the complication of this sort of thing: the Sufi teachers I have read warn that altered mind states - however induced - are dangerous and nothing to do with genuine study. But official practical teaching about spiritual change was abandoned at the Council of Nicaea (325).

A Common human culture
But more important than helping Europeans to rejoin the human race is the introduction of the idea that there is a common factor to the many cultural forms: which might be identified as the body of knowledge known as Tassawwuf (Sufism) in Arabic or Sufism in western languages. I must not pretend to understand what that really is, merely that there is something hinted at in the books.

Idries Shah has published many collections of tales. He says that these stories are designed to have an effect on the human mind, perhaps preparing it to be woken up by other methods. Especially important are the philosophical jokes about Nasrudin, similar to some kinds of "Irish" jokes.

In his World Tales he has collected stories from many parts of the world. He notes that some quite familiar European stories - such as Cinderella - can also be found in distant communities, even as far as the Amazon rain forests. I once found a Sufi story among the people of Botswana, though there is no obvious connection with the Middle East. This suggests that the human cultures are more connected than we might have been aware. What that connection is, is not so easy to find out. Is it a telepathic connection? Scott has a chapter on it which suggests this should not be ruled out. (He also says that he was told scientists are discouraged from studying it.) Is it from teachers in ancient times travelling from continent to continent? Thor Heyerdahl's voyage suggests this too cannot be ruled out. The Aztecs' belief in "gods" coming from the eastern ocean is an indication.

As soon as one starts thinking about these books it becomes clear that Gurdjieff was referring obliquely to Sufis in his books(52). Blavatsky appears to have had a distantly filtered picture of the same thing, that is, rumours of Masters in the Himalayas. However, if she had actually been there perhaps she would not have described them in the way she did. (According to Scott Rene Guenon observed(53) that there was not enough time in her life for her to have done all the things she claimed, and Denis Saurat(54) worked out that everything could have been compiled from books available in the libraries of Russia. However, Scott says that she was a member of the Carbonari, an Italian secret society which Shah showed had a Sufi origin; also that she had a connection with the Druses which themselves may be traced back to the Abode of Wisdom). In our time there is no need for distant rumours as there are quite prosaic accounts by Burke and Palmer which state quite plainly what is there and some of what they do.

12. Occult (hidden knowledge)
There are many people apparently obsessed with the Occult. Is there actually hidden knowledge? My impression from reading is that it is not so much that there are things hidden in obscure corners as that finding them is a matter of the student's own condition. That is, the so-called hidden knowledge is in fact in full view but can only be seen by those who can make use of it. Perhaps such things as the desire to use such knowledge for bad ends makes it impossible to find it. Even the desire to find it might disqualify the student. That's one of the things I don't understand, so I can't say anything useful about it. Perhaps the best advice is to read the books, use common sense and avoid the joining of cults.

13. Cults
A useful recent book on Cults(55) points out that the psychological factors giving rise to cults are common in ordinary organisations. These include:

1) Reliance on the thinking of one dominant personality (Stalinism) however irrational and nonsensical his theories might be.
2) Fear of contradiction leading to "disciplining" by other members of the group and ultimately expulsion from the group. The members' feelings of dependence change towards fear of the leader.

3) Isolation from the outside world, believing the leader's ideas superior (avoidance of evidence which might allow comparison with others' views).

Members may come to spend more and more time with each other and break off relations with non-members.

4) Belief in external enemies.

It is not just people with schizophrenia who can imagine that everyone else is against them. The members of any cult can come to believe that all non-members or former members are enemies, usually egged on by the leader whose power is enhanced by the campaign. There are the examples of Stalin as well as the Scientologists and some other groups. Cults often turn into what we might call voluntary totalitarian societies. One of the benefits of our modern pluralist societies is that people can belong to such groups and then leave. In the Middle Ages membership was inescapable except for a very few. (And of course in such modern states as Iraq.)

Deikman says that the desire to join or form cults is the result of the desire to get back to the trusting, passive condition of the child "asleep in the back of the car" as the parents drive. As adults, we have to avoid this condition of looking for someone to make all our decisions. If we can all grow up the desire for cults will disappear.

It is not hard to find numerous examples of this collection of traits, which are not at all confined to religion and quasi-religions. The Communist Party showed it. Dogmatism and authoritarianism and submission are all too common. Some persons of a biassed and suspicious mind might detect them in the government of this country, if not now then in the recent past. Fascism in general probably relies on the desire of many people to have someone else make all the decisions(56) - illustrated by the December 1993 elections in Russia, when people voted for Zhirinovski. Deikman shows that the same situation can be seen in ordinary businesses, where authoritarian leadership often leads to lack of success of the business. General Motors changed from a decentralised management style to a centralised management and started to lose huge sums. Many people have lost their jobs. As Britain has become very centralised in recent years we also may be suffering from this condition.

For our purposes it is worth noting the probability that a good many of the world's existing cults have developed from run down spiritual schools. Perhaps even the Christian Church itself is a grossly run down outgrowth of a spiritual school. Some individual sects certainly show some or all of the characters of a cult. Could Christianity be revived as a living spiritual school? I have the uneasy feeling that like all the other husks it cannot, which would mean that Christians must look for the real successors of Jesus outside the nominal Christian community. The reason is that a spiritual school can only be directed by a person of developed consciousness. To accept the truth of this requires giving up the belief that Jesus was the only possible teacher and that Christianity is the only possible source of spiritual truth, while at the same time developing a critical sense to distinguish what is nonsense from what is useful. But the real situation may be that, as in the 12th century, we are receiving the equivalent of Al Gazali's famous book Ihya al Ulum ad Din (the Revification of Religious Sciences). This work in turn influenced Thomas Aquinas - one of the numerous connections between the mediaeval Muslim and Christian worlds. At that time the Muslim world had become fossilised in ritual and had forgotten the reality. Al Gazali made mystic activities acceptable to the Orthodox Mullas.

Augustine of Hippo seems to have believed something of the kind when he said that Christianity had always existed. He presumably did not mean that a church form had always existed, but that the spiritual teachings had. If they had, they must have been held by the people of the time before Jesus and in places where he did not visit. It is reasonable, though heretical nowadays, to believe that they might be found outside the church - and this includes both the Christian church in its various forms and the Muslim organisations. If the Christian fundamentalists do not represent the real teaching of Jesus, the Ayatollahs and other types of fundamentalists may not represent the reality of the Quran.

Where are the real schools of today? Undoubtedly they exist, but presumably only those who are ready for them will find them. The warning is that those who only think they are ready will find the Bagwash and his imitators. Watching the Bagwash and his disciples is good fun for the outsider but not much fun for the participants, in the long run, as we can see from two of his disciples who are facing conspiracy to murder charges, derived from the typical institutional paranoia which developed in the more or less closed compound in Oregon. In Waco 1993 and Jonestown ?1978 mass deaths occurred from the same paranoia. As Norman Cohn has pointed out in 'Pursuit of the Millennium' similar examples can be found from the 16th century and earlier in John of Leyden and the Anabaptists at Munster.

Perhaps it is not so much that the schools are hidden as that people should be able to learn from anything. I wonder if it is the nature of the universe as a whole that we have to understand. "Learn to behave from those who cannot."

15. Astrology and Psychoanalysis
At the beginning I mentioned that I don't like Astrology or Psychoanalysis.


On Astrology I have noticed only three references in the entire body of literature I am considering.

1) In one reference(57), a person of knowledge has a warning to a certain king. He is advised not to tell the king how he knows - from his intuition derived from mystic practice - but pretend it came from a study of astrology. In modern times the Club of Rome issued warnings on the state of the planet. The impact of these was enhanced by saying they were the result of the study of a computer model, even though the information is actually based on common sense - or wisdom. Modern society is in some respects little more sophisticated than the ancients'. The computer model is only a way of arranging the known facts and doing some calculations. It is not an independent intelligence. Thus if the most important thing is to issue a warning then the form must be devised so that the listener will take notice.

2) In another(58) reference there is an account of an unnamed teacher who used to set his students exercises in preparing horoscopes, and then compared them to show the unreliability of the process. I think we can take it that the serious teachers do not use astrology. The scientific attitude is therefore confirmed: ignore it unless evidence is produced.

Astrologists complain that scientists do not take them seriously. But the reason is that scientists only take seriously phenomena which require explanation(59). As Astrologists cannot produce any phenomena to explain, there is no work for the scientist.

There are indications(60) that there is a cosmic element in alchemy which causes alchemists to study the sky, but this does not seem to be related to what astrologists are advocating. (Curiously, the historical evidence for alchemy(61) is apparently better than for astrology. I wish it wasn't.)

3) There is the Nasrudin(62) story in which he is asked what sign he was born under. He replies: the Donkey.

They say: there is no such sign, but he replies: there have been some new ones since you were born.
That's what I always answer when astrologists pester me. I refuse to divulge my birthdate.

There are references(63) which indicate that the work of Freud and especially Jung was anticipated seven hundred years ago by the Persian Sufi writer Saadi, at least to the extent that the ordinary consciousness is not sufficient to explain the workings of the human mind. Perhaps some of Freud's constructions upon this idea are not so useful. Some people are pointing out that the whole edifice of his theory rests on the study of rather few patients. People seem to have formed a fairly obvious cult out of his activities (see below). This is contrary to the methods of science. It may be that the material in this literature supersedes Freud, and probably Jung too, in much the same way that it makes Blavatsky completely unnecessary, or for that matter as any modern science text supersedes any earlier text.

Freud's name is often linked with Darwin's as one of the founders of the modern intellectual climate. We might also remember that Jalaludin Rumi seems to have anticipated the idea of evolution six hundred years before Darwin and Wallace. He detailed the steps which brought us from clay to human life: he also points us towards future evolution, which Darwin is not interested in. It has been left to the SF writers who have speculated about the future evolution of humanity.

The main theme of Ernest Scott is that this future evolution is, in a general way, planned.

16. Notes on Gurus: (Why do you need one?)
Someone once published a "Good Guru Guide". It made me think of the following.

1. Why do you think you need to find a guru?
a) Do you know your own needs?
One of the main preliminary teachings is that the student doesn't necessarily know his or her needs, usually being preoccupied with wants.

b) Are your needs to be met by someone else?
In the modern world most information on these matters is available by reading. Only in the pre-literate ages did most work have to be done by personal contact. Now there are many books which explain how to do the preliminary work needed before contacting a genuine teacher.

These state, among many other things, that having the wrong intentions automatically bars a student from meeting a teacher. That is, even if he finds physically the teacher he will be unable to gain anything from the teacher and probably won't even recognise him (or her). A person looking for the wrong thing will of course find a fraudulent teacher(64). One of the functions of these teachers (perhaps without their knowing it) is to distract the unsuitable from troubling the real teachers by creating a "play-pen"(65). The modern as well as the ancient world is full of these play-pens. Some may be "adventure playgrounds" with an element of danger.

Observations suggest that the members of these associations may pass from one to another but some of them learn to notice why they are false.

Those who need social or psychological therapy probably need to deal with these needs first before expecting to find a real teacher. Many of the present day soi-disant gurus are in fact in the therapy field. Some are more effective than others. Most of course are in the business of business. Caveat emptor is the motto of the free market. It applies to gurus as much as to anything else.

3. "When you know the difference between the container and the contents, you will have real knowledge"(66).

This advice may contain the information needed to judge gurus, as well as other things.

4. It is possible that westerners need to learn what is better known in such places as India: that there is as much fraud in the guru culture as there is in the western advertising culture. On the whole westerners are sceptical about advertising claims because long experience has inoculated them against it, and the reasons for advertising are well known - commercial competition.

Many Indians are aware that similar considerations should be applied to gurus, or self-proclaimed holy men. Sceptical westerners do not try to abolish advertising; sceptical Indians do not try to run the gurus out of town (though some such as Kushwant Singh and the "Rationalists" are beginning to expose their tricks, mostly of the conjuring variety).

5. Jokes
I suspect that so-called spiritual teachers who don't joke are rather suspect. Too much solemnity may be a bad sign, as in politics. We must remember that the Nasrudin jokes are said to be spiritually active.

17. UFOs
Are there people from outside the earth present among us? It seems possible that the belief in UFOs and Aliens may be a 20th century version of ancient myths of Gods and so on. (Of course the reverse of this is to say that the ancient "gods" were space travellers. I don't suppose anyone can prove they weren't. But one of the rules of science is that it is up the person proposing an odd idea to support it, not for anyone else to disprove it.) It also seems at least possible that it is another belief, like Theosophy, derived from a vague knowledge of the existence of people of developed consciousness. Some of these sometimes state: "I am from beyond the stars(67)" Does this mean they have come in a spaceship? On the whole I doubt it.

Doris Lessing in her Canopus in Argos series gives a SF mythology, which appears to owe something to J.G.Bennett(68) or a similar source - she does of course quote Idries Shah in her books. I think we must be careful to classify it as fiction, that is, a work of the imagination, not as a description of reality. Lessing is especially strong on the dangers of mistaking fiction for fact, which is common in western society. (Apparently she is constantly asked by "students" about the details of her African novels, assuming that Martha Quest is entirely autobiographical. She has to explain carefully that it is a fictional character, and observes that many western readers do not believe in the existence of imagination: something the Ayatollahs also suffer from.) Isaac Asimov had less of a problem. He said: I make 'em up.

However, her main theme is that what Scott (and J.G.Bennett) call the Hidden Directorate, or the people of the Sufi tradition, might be identified with influences from 'outside'. But whether "outside" means other planets in our universe or else 'people' from another type of reality is impossible to judge. SF has given us the tools to think about this, but not the means of deciding. If it is the second then it is impossible to observe their "arrival" or departure as they would not use space ships.

I am very doubtful about people who claim there is a worldwide conspiracy to conceal the existence of aliens - of the physical spaceship type. I don't believe such secrets could be concealed. Like the Iraq arms scandal, all these secrets come out eventually. If there is a worldwide concealment of knowledge of aliens, it would be the only successful government secret. However, Sufis frequently state that "the secret protects itself". This would seem to mean that it cannot be perceived except by those suitable. Perhaps this leads to the rather frustrating conclusion that if aliens do exist, in this sense, most of us will never know for certain.

18. Arabic and Weird (or unofficial) History
Some of the people lecturing to RILKO have been interested in the numerical equivalent of letters, especially in Greek and Hebrew - Gematria. It is of interest that languages using the Arabic alphabet still use the system, at least among Sufis. Shah gives a large number of examples in "The Sufis".

The effect of the system is to produce a poetic vocabulary in which words can be converted mathematically. The system works in Arabic and classical Persian and perhaps also in Urdu and some others. Hebrew may be considered a deviation from Arabic, perhaps a dialect developed via Egyptian influences, but I would prefer more detailed knowledge of when the divergence occurred. I assume that when Jacob's sons migrated into Egypt they could be best described as Arab Beduin. Were they still Arabs when they came out?

Shah says(69) that Arabic shows some signs of being a "constructed language". This statement alone should give us cause to think. What sort of people could construct a language? What principles were employed? When could such a thing have happened? Clearly, in the distant past before Arabic and Hebrew diverged. Arabic is certainly several thousand years old, and is a very conservative language, at least in its standard form which closely follows the language of the Quran still spoken in the deserts of Saudi Arabia. The only modern example, Esperanto, shows how difficult it would be to construct even a utilitarian language, let alone a complex poetic language. Despite Esperanto's enthusiasts, it seems to me a rather limited sort of language. A complete natural language is a task that no person of ordinary consciousness could undertake, or even a team. If Arabic was constructed, perhaps the concepts the constructors wanted to build in were those needed for mystical activities. I have no reason to believe that Dr. Zamenhof had any such intentions or capability when constructing Esperanto.

It is very frustrating to be so ignorant of the real bases of human history. How were the languages we now use developed? Was it by accident, as western theories tend to prefer? Or has there been a process by people of developed consciousness, as suggested by Scott, probably following Bennett? We may note the Indo-European group of languages from which English has descended. Greek and Latin may show a similar gematric system but probably it has not been active for a long time. Such groups of words as: life and love, brother, mother, father etc. look as though they might be a pattern, or perhaps only the fossil remains of a pattern.

J.G.Bennett(70) confidently asserts that the core languages were created in certain centres during the Ice Age, but doesn't state how he learned this plausible story. Bennett had some connection with Gurdjieff, so perhaps he got the idea from him, and perhaps he got it from Central Asia. Among these core languages we ought to include the Bantu group of which Zulu and Swahili are the best known. Others are the Indo-European, the Ural-Altaic which may include Japanese as well as Turkish, Finnish and Hungarian. Presumably also Chinese. Nevertheless, in 1993 there was some discussion among respectable students of language of the possibility of detecting the remains of a former universal human language from which all the existent languages may have developed by evolution. I don't know enough about comparative linguistics to judge whether this project is plausible. If a structure of linguistic forms common to all the modern language groups could be detected, would this invalidate Bennett's theory?

Is it possible that among the various teaching centres described by Palmer and Burke the true knowledge of ancient human history is in fact recorded? If it is, all the puzzles we stretch our minds over: the origin of Stonehenge, the meaning of Australian stories, the glazed camps of Scotland and so on could be solved. How frustrating! Palmer says that the Sanskrit documents which are the foundation of Hinduism were composed when the Aryans were in Afghanistan, in the vicinity of Balkh, perhaps alongside the ancient Sakai Sun whom Shah identifies as the ancestors of the Scythians and Saxons (but whom I have so far failed to find independent references for). Thus such works as the Mahabharata would refer to events in Central Asia rather than in India. Do they describe atomic warfare? If they do, it ought to be possible to detect residual radioactivity somewhere in the area, though as the Russians and Chinese have both exploded nuclear tests in the interior of Eurasia it may by now be impossible to do any conclusive investigation. It seems possible that Balkh might be a good place to look for the origins of the Egyptian and Sumerian civilisations as it is of huge size and very ancient.

The ancient Anglo-Saxon poem Beowolf may also refer to events long before our ancestors arrived in western Europe. Apparently it contains some language with affinities to Persian and the Indian languages rather than modern Germanic. The details of our ancestors' migration from Central Asia are otherwise completely lost.

What conclusions can be made from the above? None I think. I find this material interesting but I think any conclusion can probably only come from the kind of spiritual developments described - or at least hinted at. I think the true scientific attitude is to observe but avoid jumping to conclusions and to bear in mind always that conclusions may not be possible. One of the things which gives rise to cults is premature conclusions: the Elephant in the Dark. In fact, I believe the ancient advice to be 'detached' is better realised now in the attitude of the modern western scientist than in the allegedly eastern monk.

However, we may speculate about some consequences of some of these ideas. In some circles these are dangerous things to say. Thus, any hint at purpose in evolution is very bad news among mainstream western biologists, who perhaps are more attached to dogma than they ought to be. For example, there is the case of Jacques Benveniste(71). Observe the books by Richard Dawkins. The whole idea that there might be a Hidden Directorate is very unpleasant to almost all scientists. This may be the result of the malformation of western religion where the conventional followers of God opposed science for so long and retreated into irrationality. On the whole Science did better in Muslim countries, though probably not among so-called fundamentalists. Scholars could at least point to Mohammed's specific approval of learning. Western religions, while accepting the theoretical possibility of God, tend to deny that any of the biblical actions may still continue, and most of the officials of the Church have no practical belief in such things as miracles, which are described so prosaically in this material.

There are political implications too. Alongside the general western belief in chance as the ruling factor in history and evolution is the current dominant political and economic theory propagated by various economists and political writers such as Milton Friedman. This is that the Market is a blind god which will always produce good effects and that governments and individuals not only need not plan the future, but cannot or must not. As a member of the Labour Party I find this view very offensive, stupid but apparently inescapable, for the time being. As a somewhat Green person I despair at the paralysis it causes in the face of the world ecological crisis. The belief denies that individuals or committees can make plans for other people, except when making purchasing decisions. It is surely a result of the loss of belief in a Greater Plan. Writers like Doris Lessing and the popular SF writers are putting it back.

A spiritual society may not look like what we think a spiritual society ought to look like and may act in quite different modes. One aspect of the chance theory is the belief that the Industrial Revolution was caused by the adoption of market economics. Bennett and some other writers are pointing out that perhaps the Hidden Directorate chose Britain and western Europe, or prepared the area with cultural developments dating from as much as six hundred years earlier. The exact process is probably impossible to unearth by historical research. My own modest and unoriginal researches indicate that the 17th century growth of science occurred in the Dissenting Academies, rather than Oxford or Cambridge, and the conventional elite were taken by surprise when industry developed - I think they are still surprised and still don't understand it. But if there is a Directorate, this is information with a practical consequence. If our culture continues to rely on blind chance as the dominant force in decision making we shall go on causing chaos. We may observe the effect on the former Soviet Union where the total abandonment of planning has had even worse effects than the previous effects of too much planning. Thus a belief in the existence of what used to be called the Divine Plan might start people asking what the plan might be and then require something more than just opening the shops on Sundays and removing all controls on human activity. It is fortunate that I don't aspire to any academic post, as everything I have said tonight would render me unsuitable.

© E.G.Matthews
1) Research Into Lost Knowledge Organisation, London
2) 30 September 1994
3) Wisdom of the Idiots p37
4) Noted by R.A.Nicholson in "Selected Poems from the Diwan of Shamsi Tabriz (Cambridge 1952) But I have not read it.
5) John Evans - Shakespeare's Magic Circle (Barker, London 1956)
6) Sufis
7) .p167
8) Secret Societies p 220
9) Sufis p 223
10) Scott p75 quoting Shah in "The Sufis"
11) Sufis p398
12) Real name: Cyril Henry Hoskin. Died in Calgary, Canada in 1981. Was a former British seaman from Cornwall. His books are of course fiction disguised as fact. They are astonishingly badly written. Analysis of the language suggests errors made by an English speaker, rather than a foreigner not familiar with the language.
13) (Boston, Beacon Press 1982)
14) O.M.Burke p126 "Nothing worthwhile dies out, nor can it die out."
15) In Adventures in Afghanistan by Louis Palmer (Octagon).
16) pp 83, 139 This is also similar to Plato's theory of Ideal Forms, but more detailed.
17) Among the Dervishes, Caravan of Dreams
18) page 128
19) Shelter - Domebook 3 - Random House ?1972
20) Baghdad book p 91
21) Bhagwan Rajneesh
22) Louis Palmer. This sounds bizarre, but there it is.
23) John Grant: New Research on Current Philosophical Systems p14.
24) O.M.Burke.
25) In "Teachers of Gurdjieff".
26) From the Afghan schools, perhaps the Sarmoun, now not at all mysterious (after Burke's visit).
27) According to the Observer magazine 27 March 1994 and Andrew Hogg & Peter Hounam "Secret Cult" (1984) this organisation gains its beliefs from a variety of sources, including a quasi Socialist economic theory (Henry George) and various 'eastern' teachers including Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and the Maharishi.
28) Arkon Daraul "Secret Societies". A semi-secret Kangaroo Court system which operated in Germany in the absence of political authority. From Arabic for Wisdom. Probably long defunct.
29) p143 "It would be better if they were to disband"
30) Scott p 192
31) Amir Ali Spirit of Islam (Methuen 1965)
32) Burke p155.
33) Secret Societies p 38
34) But I can't produce this document.
35) 'Teachers of Gurdjieff'. He quotes from the Manichaean Gospel of Leucius, the Acts of John.This is to be compared with Burke's account of dervish practices in Tunisia, which seem identical.
36) p107
37) p188
38) p136
39) People of the Secret p42
40) Quoted in Stephen Mitchell - The Gospel according to Jesus (Harper Collins 1991)
41) 218 et seq.
42) My speculation.
43) Try "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" for Randite ideas.
44) Prof. Giovanna de Garayalde Jorge Luis Borges: Sources and Illuminations (Octagon 1978)
45) Sufis p106 The word Grail has an origin through Andalusian Arabic. He says it is from Qarael Muqaddas - Holy Recital. This would tend to suggest that the real Grail is the Quran.
46) Dervish p151
47) Witches and Sorcerers
48 People of the Secret p198
49) p131
50) Palmer p100. He meets a herbalist who finds that the influence of plants is affected by the conditions in which they are growing, including the other plants.
51) Cautiously, one might mention Barry Fell - America BC (Simon & Schuster 1976), indicating possible evidence of precolonial transatlantic contacts. But his evidence has been disputed and may be illusory.
52) e.g. Meetings with Remarkable Men, all of whom seem to have been Sufis.
53) Scott 178
54) Literature and the Occult Tradition Bell London 1939
55) Arthur J. Deikman.-The Wrong Way Home
56) Erich Fromm - The Fear of Freedom
57) reference lost
58) Thinkers of the East p89
59) Michel Gauquelin - The Cosmic Clocks (1969) - is a case in point. The phenomena he discusses can be explained by non astrological means. Essentially he is describing a seasonal effect. To explain his data climate variation would be enough, including temperature changes or food variations. Only if these had been eliminated could anyone look for "cosmic" influences.
60) I.Shah - Oriental Magic - Account by Morag Murray of an alchemist who restlessly studied the sky. One speculation is that he was aware of some influence unknown to current physical science. He is described as making real, testable, gold (but pointlessly as he was unable to do anything else).
61) the art of Al Khem=the Black country, or soil of Egypt, hence both Alchemy and the Black Arts refer merely to the Egyptian arts.
62) Idries Shah -Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin (Octagon 1969 et seq.)
63) H.B.M.Dervish Journeys with a Sufi Master p 222
64) Journeys p69-70
(65) see the story The Sponge of Troubles in Wisdom of the Idiots p 141 and New Research into Philosophical Systems
(66) I. Shah - The Book of the Book
(67) several references
(68) The Dramatic Universe: I have an ambiguous attitude to this book. The air of confidence about things which are unprovable is impressive, and the tone is plausible and unlike that of the cult writers. Nevertheless I would like to know more about the sources of his "knowledge".
(69) The Sufis: Annotations
(70) The Dramatic Universe.
(71) His apparently well-designed experiments point to the persistence in water of the biological activity of a substance, even though the substance is no longer present. His findings were rejected by mainstream scientists. (Since writing this I have become a lot more sceptical on this episode. I will go with mainstream science.)

Interesting reading

Gordon Strachan

Jesus the Master Builder: Druid Mysteries and the Dawn of Christianity

John Evans - Shakespeare's Magic Circle

Shakespeare's Magic Circle. Maintaining that the plays were the work of a group of authors, not including the actor Shakespeare


Dramatic Universe: Foundations of Moral Philosophy

Jorge Luis Borges

Burke - Among the Dervishes

Arkon Daraul

Secret Societies: A History

Robert Heinlein

Orphans of the Sky (Gollancz S.F.)

Arthur J. Deikman "The Wrong Way Home" Beacon Press Boston 1990)
A description of the way people find themselves in cults and how they get out

H.B.M.Dervish Journeys with a Sufi Master (Octagon 1982)

Rafael Lefort Teachers of Gurdjieff

Die Sufi-Lehrer Gurdjieffs

Doris Lessing Canopus in Argos series of SF novels- Shikasta

Shikasta. Canopus im Argos: Archive I

Walter M. Miller A Canticle for Leibovitz

Lobgesang auf Leibowitz.
Louis Palmer
Adventures in Afghanistan

Ernest Scott People of the Secret

Der Geheimnisträger

Les gardiens invisibles

Idries shah - the Sufis

Die Sufis

Les soufis et l'Ésotérisme

and many others e.g. The Book of the Book (Octagon 1969) Wisdom of the Idiots Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin (Octagon 1969) New Research into Current Philosophical Systems (Octagon 1969)
Giovanna de Garayalde - Jorge Luis Borges: Sources and Illuminations (Octagon 1978)

James Kritzeck - Anthology of Islamic Literature

Some people suggest that several of the names of authors are in fact pseudonyms for Idries Shah - thus:Arkon Daraul, Rafael Lefort and possibly others.
Charles Fair - The new Nonsense

The New Nonsense: The End of the Rational Consensus

Montague Rhodes James - The Apocryphal New Testament

Discussion about Shah


Last revised 23/04/12

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