George Ivanovich Gurdjieff starts his book ‘Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson’ with some friendly advice; he explains to us how to pray, how to pray with real meaning. Then he advises us to read the book three times.
Mr Gurdjieff wrote these books after his car accident in 1924. He had been driving back from Paris to the Prieure, the home of his ‘Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man’, which was in Fontainebleau France. It was night-time, the roads were lined with trees, he never revealed what happened but he was discovered in the morning lying on the grass unconscious; his car had hit a tree.
Gurdjieff was bedridden for some weeks and during that time he decided to put his teachings into book form. The whole series was to be titled ‘All and Everything’, the first book in the series had the subtitle ‘Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson’ (BTTHG).
The hero of this book was none other than Beelzebub himself. Why did he pick this character to be the protagonist? Gurdjieff mentally drafted the book on his sickbed whilst he recovered from the motorcar accident.
‘First of all, I am not young, I have already lived so much that I have been in my life, as it is said, “not only through the mill but through all the grindstones”…’ BTTHG G I Gurdjieff
He dictated the chapters to students he had allowed to remain at the institute, and as he healed and was able to get out and about, he would write it whilst sitting in cafes in the town.
“…I decided to make the chief hero of the first series of my writings…do you know whom?…The Great Beelzebub Himself..”
Gurdjieff goes on to write that he knows that the name of this character alone will evoke all kinds of thoughts and feelings from readers and even those who only glimpse the cover. He wants them to react to this name, to the thought that this character has had a whole book written about him.
Beelzebub, the Lord of the Flies, he is often associated with the Devil, some think it is another name for the devil. Those that know their theology will know Beelzebub was said to be one of the seven princes who ruled in Hell, who had once been one of the heavenly angels that had been cast down after the war in Heaven.
Gurdjieff confesses that he picked Beelzebub “not without cunning”. If he gives Beelzebub attention then maybe Beelzebub will return the favour. And why does Mr Gurdjieff want Beelzebub’s attention? Because Beelzebub suffers from vanity and so anybody promoting his name he will surely help out.
So, Mr Gurdjieff gets Beelzebub, who is regarded as a devil, a demon, to help him bring attention to and distribute his teachings. The book, which is a fictional tale with his teachings woven into every page, is about how to harmonise oneself into a real man or woman. This is the essence of the book told to the reader by a fallen angel.
So, what is the book about? It is like a space age opera or as P L Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins series, wrote, “Into this vast allegory of Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson top-heavy from its sheer weight of argument and at the same time soaring off into space, like a great, lumbering flying cathedral, Gurdjieff gathered the fundamentals of his teaching.”
I thought of it as a science fiction novel when I first read it back in 1997, Beelzebub watches the human race develop on the planet Earth, but since then I have been rereading it, and each time I discover new teachings and new thoughts, I am now aware that it is a book with instructions for living, as the main title says, it is ‘All and Everything.’
Joshua Denny’s books ‘Reflections on the Bezel Hub Tails‘ Vol 1 & 2 are now available at Amazon and his blog on Gurdjieff and his writings can be found here- https://gurdjieffandbeelzebub.wordpress.com/