talks with gurdjieff
george ivanovich gurdjieff (1866-1949)

essentuki, 1918

everything in the world is material and—in accordance with universal law—everything is in motion and is constantly being transformed. the direction of this transformation is from the finest matter to the coarsest, and vice versa.

between these two limits there are many degrees of density of matter. moreover, this transformation of matter does not proceed evenly and consecutively.

at some points in the development there are, as it were, stops or transmitting stations. these stations are everything that can be called organisms in the broad sense of the word—the sun, the earth, man and microbe. these stations are commutators which transform matter both in its ascending movement, when it becomes finer, and in its descending movement, toward greater density. this transformation takes place purely mechanically.

matter is the same everywhere, but at each different level matter has a different density. therefore each substance has its own place in the general scale of matter, and it is possible to tell whether it is on the way to becoming finer or denser.

commutators differ only in scale. man is as much a transmitting station as, for instance, the earth or the sun; he has in him the same mechanical processes. the same transformation goes on in him of higher forms of matter into lower and of lower into higher.

this transformation of substances in two directions, which is called evolution and involution, proceeds not only along the main line from the absolutely fine to the absolutely coarse and vise versa, but at all intermediate stations, on all levels, it branches aside. a substance needed by some entity may be taken by it and absorbed, thus serving the evolution or involution of that entity. everything absorbs, that is, eats something else, and also itself serves as food. this is what reciprocal exchange means. this reciprocal exchange takes place in everything, in both organic and inorganic matter.

as i have said, everything is in motion. no motion follows a straight line but has simultaneously a twofold direction, circling around itself and falling toward the nearest center of gravity. this is the law of falling which is usually called the law of motion. these universal laws were known in very ancient times. we can come to this conclusion on the basis of historical events which could not have taken place if in the remote past men had not possessed this knowledge. from the most ancient times people knew how to use and control these laws of nature. this directing of mechanical laws by man is magic and includes not only transformation of substances in the desired direction but also resistance or opposition to certain mechanical influences based on the same laws.

people who know these universal laws and know how to use them are magicians. there is white and black magic. white magic uses its knowledge for good, black magic uses knowledge for evil, for its own selfish purposes.

like great knowledge, magic, which has existed from the most ancient times, has never been lost, and knowledge is always the same. only the form in which this knowledge was expressed and transmitted changed, depending on the place and the epoch. for instance, now we speak in a language which two hundred years hence will no longer be the same, and two hundred years ago the language was different. in the same way, the form in which this great knowledge is expressed is barely comprehensible to subsequent generations and is mostly taken literally. in this way the inner content becomes lost for most people.

in the history of mankind we see two parallel and independent lines of civilization: the esoteric and the exoteric. invariably one of them overpowers the other and develops while the other fades. a period of esoteric civilization comes when there are favorable external conditions, political and otherwise. then knowledge, clothed in the form of a teaching corresponding to the conditions of time and place, becomes widely spread. thus it was with christianity.

the true meaning and significance of many events in the gospels are almost forgotten now. for instance, the last supper was something quite different from what people usually think. what christ mixed with bread and wine and gave to the disciples was really his blood.

to explain this i must say something else.

everything living has an atmosphere around itself. the difference lies only in its size. the larger the organism, the larger its atmosphere. in this respect every organism can be composed of smoke, steam, waste materials and certain admixtures which evaporate in the process of production. the value of these component parts varies. in exactly the same way, human atmosphere is composed of different elements. and as the atmosphere of different factories has a different smell, so has the atmosphere of different people. for a more sensitive nose, for instance for a dog, it is impossible to confuse the atmosphere of one man with the atmosphere of another.

i have said that man is also a station for transforming substances. parts of the substances produced in the organism are used for the transformation of other matters, while other parts go into his atmosphere, that is, are lost.

so here, too, the same thing happens as in a factory.

thus the organism works not only for itself, but also for something else. men of knowledge know how to retain the fine matters in themselves and accumulate them. only a large accumulation of these fine matters enables a second and lighter body to be formed within man.

ordinarily, however, the matters composing man's atmosphere are constantly used up and replaced by man's inner work.

man's atmosphere does not necessarily have the shape of a sphere. it constantly changes its form. in times of strain, of threat or of danger, it becomes stretched out in the direction of the strain. then the opposite side becomes thinner.

man's atmosphere takes up a certain space. within the limits of this space it is attracted by the organism, but beyond a certain limit particles of the atmosphere become torn off and return no more. this can happen if the atmosphere is greatly stretched out in one direction.

the same happens when a man moves. particles of his atmosphere become torn off, are left behind and produce a "trail" by which a man can be traced. these particles may quickly mix with the air and dissolve, but they may also stay in place for a fairly long time. particles of atmosphere also settle on a man's clothes, underclothes and other things belonging to him, so that a kind of track remains between them and the man.

magnetism, hypnotism and telepathy are phenomena of the same order. the action of magnetism is direct, the action of hypnotism is at a short distance through the atmosphere; telepathy is action at a greater distance. telepathy is analogous to the telephone or telegraph. in these, the connections are metal wires, but in telepathy they are the trail of particles left by man. a man who has the gift of telepathy can fill this trail with his own matter and thus establish a connection, forming as it were a cable through which he can act on a man's mind. if he possesses some object belonging to a man, then, having thus established a connection, he fashions round this object an image out of wax or clay and, acting upon it, thus acts on the man himself.